We began talking about internal voids, empty hollows; about the hunger pains that we attempt to anaesthetise with ‘stuff’.
We stuff the hole with stuff – with commodities, with thrills, with fantasies, with food, with information, with fear – we stuff ourselves so full at times and yet feel so bereft.
We could choose to see this hole in another way; as an aperture, an opening and a space for growth…a spare room.
It’s a proposition…and one we will be working our way through over the year; each month we will fill this hole and keep ours free…
As Jo contorted herself I remembered a story about suiphagia, or self-swallowing; one of the Fragments From A Longer Thing by David Foster Wallace…
Every whole person has ambitions, projects, objectives. This particular boy’s objective was to press his lips to every square inch of his own body. His arms to the shoulders and most of the legs beneath the knee were child’s play but after these areas of his body, the difficulty increased with the abruptness of a coastal shelf. The boy came to under- stand that unimaginable challenges lay ahead of him. He was six.
There is little to say about the animus or motive cause of the boy’s goal of pressing his lips to every single square inch of his own body. He had been homebound one day with asthma—a rainy, distended morning—apparently looking through some of his father’s promotional materials. The asthma was congenital. The outside area of his foot beneath and around the lateral malleolus (the young boy thought at that point of the lateral malleolus as the ‘funny knob thing’ on his ankle) was the first to require any real contortion. The strategy, as he understood it, was to arrange himself on his bedroom’s carpeted floor with the inside of his knee on the floor and his calf and foot at as close to a perfect ninety-degree angle to his thigh as he could at that point manage, then he had to lean as far over to the side as he could, bending out over the splayed ankle and the foot’s outside, rotating his neck over and down and straining with his fully-extended lips at a section of the foot’s outside he had marked with a bull’s-eye of soluble ink, struggling to breathe against the dextrorotated pressure of his ribs, stretching farther and farther to the side very early one morning until he felt a flat pop in the upper part of his back and then pain beyond naming somewhere between his shoulder-blade and spine. The boy did not cry out but merely sat silent in this tortured posture until his failure to appear for breakfast brought his father upstairs to the bedroom’s door. The pain and resultant dyspnea kept the boy out of school for over a month. One can only wonder what a father might make of an injury like this in a six-year-old child.
The father’s chiropractor, Dr. Kathy, was able to relieve the worst of the immediate discomfort. More important, it was Dr. Kathy who introduced the boy to the concepts of spine-as-microcosm and of spinal hygiene and postural echo and incrementalism and flexion. Dr. Kathy smelled faintly of fennel and seemed totally open and available and kind. The child lay stomach-down on a tall padded table and placed his chin in a little cup. She manipulated his head very gently but in a way that seemed to make things happen all the way down his back. Her hands were strong and soft and when she felt the boy’s back, he felt as if she were asking it questions and answering them all at the same time. She had charts on her wall with exploded views of the human spine and the muscles and fascia and nerve-bundles that surrounded the spine and were connected to it. No lollipops were anywhere in view. The specific stretching exercises Dr. Kathy gave the boy were for the splenius capitis and longissimus cervicis and the deep sheets of nerve and muscle surrounding the boy’s T-2 and T-3 vertebrae, which were what he had in- jured. Dr. Kathy had reading glasses on a necklace and a green button-up sweater that looked as if it were made entirely of pollen. You could tell she talked to everybody the same way. She instructed the boy to do the stretching exercises every single day and not to let boredom or a reduction in symptomology keep him from performing the rehabilitative exercises in a determined way. She said the long-term goal was not relief of present discomfort but neurological hygiene and health and a wholeness he would someday appreciate very, very much. For the boy’s father, Dr. Kathy prescribed an herbal relaxant.
Most professional contortionists are in fact simply persons born with congenital atrophic or dystrophic conditions of major recti or with acute lordotic flexion of the lumbar spine or both. A majority display Chvostek’s sign or other forms of ipsilateral spasticity. Very little effort or application is involved in their ‘art’ therefore. In 1932, a pre-adolescent Saiwanese female was documented by British scholars of Tamiel mysticism as capable of inserting into her mouth and down her esophagus both arms to the shoulder, one leg to the groin and the other leg to just above the patella and was thereupon able to spin unaided on the orally protrusive knee at rates in excess of 300 R.P.M. The phenomenon of suiphagia, or self-swallowing, has subsequently been identified as a rare form of pica caused in most cases by radical deficiencies in cadmium and/or zinc.
The insides of the small boy’s thighs up to the medial fork of his groin took months even to prepare for. Daily, hours spent cross-legged and bowed, slowly and incrementally stretching the long vertical fasciae of his back and neck, the spinalis thorasus and levator scapulae, the iliocostalis lum- 3 borum all the way to the sacrum and the interior thigh’s dense and intransigent gracilis, pectineus and adductor longus which fused below Scarpa’s triangle and transmits sickening pain through the pubis whenever the range of flexibility is exceeded. Had anyone seen him during these two and three hour sessions, bringing his feet’s soles to- gether and in to train the pectineus, bobbing slightly and then holding a deep, cross-legged lean to work the great, tight sheath of thoracolumbar fascia that connected his pelvis to his dorsal costae, the child would have appeared either prayerful or clinically autistic or both. Once the thigh’s anterior targets were achieved and touched with one or both lips, the upper portions of his genitals were simple and were protrusively kissed and passed over even as plans for the ilium and outer buttocks were in conception. After these achievements would come the more difficult and neck-intensive contortions required to access the inner buttocks, perineum and extreme upper groin. The boy had turned seven.
The special place where he pursued his strange but now newly mature objective was his room, which had wall- paper with a repeating jungle motif. The room’s second floor window yielded a view of the back yard’s tree. Light from the sun came through the tree at different angles and intensities at different times of day and illuminated different parts of the boy as he stood, sat, inclined or lay on the room’s carpet stretching and holding positions. His bed- room’s carpet was white shag with a furry, polar aspect that the boy’s father did not think went well with the wall’s repeating scheme of tiger, zebra, lion, palm but the father kept his feelings to himself.
Radical increase of the lips’ protrusive range requires systematic exercise of maxillary fascia such as the depressor septi, orbicular oris, depressor anguli oris, depressor labii inferioris and the buccinator, circumoral and risorius groups. Zygomatic muscles are superficially involved.
• Affix string to Weatherly button of at least 1.5” diameter borrowed from father’s second-best raincoat.
• Place button over upper and lower front teeth and en- close with lips.
• Pull string fully extended at 90° to face’s plane and pull with gradually increasing tension on end, using lips to re- sist pull.
• Hold for 20 seconds.
Sometimes his father sat on the floor outside the boy’s bed- room door with his back to the door. It’s not clear whether the boy ever heard him listening for movement in the room, although the wood of the door sometimes made a creaky sound when the father sat against it or stood back up in the hallway or shifted his seated position against the door. The boy was in there stretching and holding contorted positions for extraordinary periods of time. The father was a somewhat nervous man with a rushed, fidgety manner that always lent him an air of imminent departure. He had extensive entrepreneurial activities and was in motion much of the time. His place in most people’s mental album was provisional, with something like a dotted line around it; the image of someone saying something friendly over his shoulder as he made for an exit. Most clients found the father made them nervous. He was at his most effective on the phone.
By age eight, the child’s long-term goal was beginning to affect his physical development. His teachers remarked changes in posture and gait. The boy’s smile, which appeared by now constant because of the circumlabial hypertrophy’s effects on the circumoral musculature looked unusual also, both rigid and overbroad, and somehow, in one Social Studies teacher’s evaluative phrase, ‘age inappropriate’.
Fan-made transcript of reading at Lannan Readings & Conversations, Dec. 6, 2000.