The Joy of Physicality

This week’s F5 is courtesy of Roganda, who asks a short and sweet question:

What 5 non-sexual, physical (tactile) sensations do you enjoy most?

These might be a little weird, but one thing I’ll say is that I really only began to appreciate these things late in life, maybe a few years ago at best. I used to be quite monastic about things like this, or, well, maybe it was just I was so distracted by the intensity of my emotional life.

Maybe the year before I left Korea, I began to appreciate certain physical sensations in everyday life, and really I’ve grown to savour physicality while living here. This is probably going to be reflected in my answers, doubly so since what jumps out in my mind are things I’ve discovered recently. It’s not an attempt at more blabbing about foreign, “exotic” stuff as much as me telling what comes to mind first.

  1. The full gamut of the physical experience of going to the public bath. It’s a treat for your body, once you get over the fact that a variable number of ignorant people are gonna stare at your white skin in curiosity or shock. The hot tubs; the saunas; the cold pool; the sauna again; the massage, if you spring for one. And especially the feeling which Koreans call 보송보송 (bosong-bosong), which describes that cool dry soft freshness of your skin after a good wash. It’s all good. I should go more often.
  2. The resonance in my jaw and skull and lower lip when I play sax using my new embouchre. This one is really new… you see, I’m working on my embouchre—that is, on changing the position of my lips and mouth in relation to the mouthpiece when I play the saxophone, and the way I use the muscles of my face to support and enhance the vibration of the reed. Now, playing sax is a very physical activity, because your breathing must be controlled precisely. It’s rather exhausting and makes me sweat a lot. Anyway, I’ve finally started applying seriously some of what my college sax teacher tried to get me to do years ago, namely using the muscles on the sides of my mouth more for support, which means lessening the load on the bottom lip. The result is not only a more rich, vibrant tone and an increased ability to hold long tones—it’s also a different feeling, when the reed more freely vibrates. It’s kind of a tickling, but also, because the mouthpiece is bracing harder against my top teeth, the resonance passes into my skull more directly, so I feel the vibration of the note much more clearly; I literally feel the music. It’s quite odd and words can’t do it justice. The feeling reminds me that I’m actually playing right, and while it’s frustrating to work at permanently changing how I play (during the transition process, one not only gets many squawks and squeals, but also a lot of muscle fatigue), it’s such a good payoff to get that feeling every once in a while. I savour it and look forward to it these days when it’s practice time. Hey, it’s idiosyncratic but it’s one of my favorite sensations these days.
  3. Eating good food. I learned to savour food in Montreal, with my friend Helen, and I haven’t looked back since. Every time I eat something I try to remember to carefully make sure that I focus my attention on it and really notice how enjoyable it is. It makes every meal appreciable, and makes me more aware of the blessing that each meal is for someone living in this world. And then there’s the serene joy of having some nice rich 김치찌개 (kimchi stew) in your mouth. Ahhhh. Like last night when I went with Heather to 어마 손 김치찌개 (Mom’s Homemade Kimchi Stew)… what a great restaurant. I gotta talk Lime into trying it sometime soon.
  4. The slightly exhausted, joint-cracking, muscle-aching goodness of having just exercised. Whether it’s having done my crunches and lifted my handweights, having just had a one-hour swim, or having cycled across town in twenty minutes (Korean cities are relatively smaller in surface area than North American cities, mind you, given all the high-rises), I love the feeling which I used to hate so, having put my body to work and having made it stretch, grow, strengthen, and do what, after all, it was evolved to do—to exert itself. Mind you, I still hate running, and the asthma kicks in badly when I do it for too long; but the exercise I do, I enjoy.
  5. Walking with Lime down the street with my arm around her. Actually, I suspect this may be cheating, according to the way I define “sexuality”. I don’t think that the category excludes things like holding hands or even just a certain look or a few words that can be shared in a room full of people. But I suspect it’s not cheating according to Roganda, so I’m including it. There’s this spot on her hip where my hand fits the curve so comfortably, and it feels like home. It’s too bad that Korean society is so rigid about these things; about half the time, walking this way is just not cool here.

I just realized, sadly, I haven’t really written any poems about these things. It’s wrong, really; physicality is one of the things poetry is supposed to sing. I’ll put that into the queue and see what comes out in a few months. As for the physicality of other Friday Fivers, I shall be confirming that in a few weeks, but you can read what they have to say about it by following links over in the sidebar, under Friday Fivers.

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