September 27, 2022 Comments Off on The exoskeleton
Everybody has one. It’s the form of your life that everyone else sees, including you when you look in the mirror. The exoskeleton is formed by community, #socmed, clothing, job, family role as father, grandfather, son, daughter, mother, and it’s formed by the lattices of language and culture that harden into your external shell.
The exoskeleton is you but it is not you.
You are the internal skeleton. The actual bones and muscles, the genes, germs, neurons, memories, mores and morals, consciousness and unconsciousness, childhood experiences, gray and white matter, the cells, the mDNA, the ideas, emotions, and pattern responses to the external world. It’s this internal skeleton that we want to believe is the real us because it is the real us, but more often than not, it isn’t.
The older you get the harder and the more you the exoskeleton becomes. We ride the same loop five days a week, watch the same teevee shows, follow the same #socmed feeds, spout the same narrative about our lives, do the same mind-numbing job, swill the same alcohols, exchange the same banal pleasantries, jab the same barbs, smear the same gel over the bald spot, chimp repeatedly at the sinking or rising Fidelity balance, blink stupidly in the mirror telling ourselves that we’re not that much older, stupider, uglier, weaker, closer to death.
And we believe it because the exoskeleton has a hardness approaching HRC 70 the older we get. Nothing gets through. Nothing scratches the diamond-hard exterior, and so the inner skeleton slumps and rots. At the end there’s nothing but a mausoleum in the exact shape of you, a perfect Egyptian sarcophagus made up of your external life, with the inside nothing but dust wrapped in rags. This is a happy ending, with pallbearers and mourners weeping over a beautiful and beautifully polished shape containing all the simulacra of you.
But it is not you. It never was.
I’ve been unfortunate to die early. My exoskeleton was smashed. The outside forces holding it together were unbound and it melted away leaving a soft and exposed exterior that cut easily, bled more easily, and feels pain all the time. Like the skin on my feet, though, each abrasion hardens what’s inside.
The vast increase in pain has led to a vast increase in the ability to withstand pain. As the new adage goes, “The more you do, the more you can do.” The things that once hurt are barely even perceived, and the new failings, the real ones, are greater, vaster, more profound than you ever imagined.
It is hard to see yourself without the comforts of the exoskeleton papering over the blotches and to know that everyone sees you naked, and that everyone who wants to take a shot can, and that the only defense you have is internal. It’s hard to walk upright without the hardened shell because you have to develop muscles, tendons, ligaments, the whole inner structure to hold the meatbag together. Without the exoskeleton, though, you also stop caring about how the thing looks. You start caring about how the thing is.
Things that once marked success now mark disillusionment. Things that once heralded happiness now proclaim sorrow. Things that once looked like failure now look like bravery. And things that once looked like hopelessness now glimmer like starlight, brilliant unless you look at them directly, scintillating only if you look off to the edge.
The edge of the known, the known edge, that’s where you have to look beyond, that’s where things shine brightest, that’s where it takes all the strength you have, not the strength of the exoskeleton, but the strength that’s inside.