December 15, 2014


Analisa Raya-Flores

There’s this music video.  It begins and ends in the high desert, among wheel-shaped cactuses and cartoonish tumbleweeds.  It’s either sunrise or sunset, and you’d make that call on account of being a glass half-full or glass half-empty kind of soul.  I’m half-full, myself, so the yellow near the horizon looks young, and go-getterish—with some upward mobility.  It could just as easily be tired and apologetic, taking its last tour of the office before it retires.  Like I said, it all depends on your glass.  There are a few houses off in the distance, all similar in color and shape, distinguished only by how far they’ve sunk into the earth.  None of the windows or doors face one another, which seems intentional.  They are siblings in a sandbox, back to back, showing but not telling you they are similar, but not the same. 

The backdrop never changes, and when you first see a figure running toward the camera, she’s a backlit silhouette.  If I were being a responsible, gender queer academic I’d say, the person, not she.  But a. I’m not in a classroom, and b. the person is me.  But as I’ve been told, it doesn’t look like me.  Or even a person.  In the first thirty seconds, it’s just a sprinting shadow with ropey limbs, accented with splashes of hot pink at its crown and below its middle.  After a few frames, this creature emerges from behind a shrub into the daylight.  That’s when it’s clear that it’s just a running lady wearing a crown of lit smoke bombs, an electric pink bikini bottom, and nothing else.  And this topless, literally smoking lady runs at this pace for another two minutes; so, not long.

It’s worth mentioning, at this point, that I do not self-identify as an actress, model or quote unquote video girl.  I even hesitate to say “self-identify,” because I don’t think anyone with working eyeballs would identify me as such, either.  I do, however, identify as a runner.  And since I was fairly self-deprecating about my statuesque beauty, I’m going to be fairly immodest about my athletic prowess.  When I say I am a runner, I don’t mean I jog about the local reservoir or take my dog for a neighborhood loop.  I run marathon plus distances in mountainous terrain.  Some call this Ultra Running, and others call it Fucking Bonkers—the latter of two being more accurate.  After all, it’s not entirely sane to spend hours running up and down hills for the sole reward of a diverse, inner-shoe rock collection.

Several famous writers have written about running, and some pretty famous runners have dabbled in writing about, well, running.  It makes sense.  Both are solitary endeavors, sometimes in a liberating way (I answer to no one!), and other times in a crushing, black hole of loneliness kind of way (can anybody hear me?).  Anyone who spends time writing, trail running, or both will tell you it is a constant pendulum swing between sincere gratitude (what a privilege, to be in this body use its gifts!) and self-loathing (why even bother taking another step, you plodding, shitty butthole—just lay down and never get back up!)

Running wasn’t always something I enjoyed or even wanted to talk about.  I understood what it was, where it was done, and how people did it.  I just couldn’t piece together the why.  I disliked it on a personal level, and in a wider scope, had disdain for it.  Regardless of context, it always seemed like a punishment: something coaches inflicted upon children during P.E. class; something housewives did midday in the place of lunch, between tennis lessons and charity meetings; something retirees took up on their spouse’s or doctors advice, or maybe because it helped them mark the passing of time.  And if the physical repercussions weren’t enough, it had to be psychologically damaging, to trick yourself into a harried fight or flight mode.  I imagined the brain working the body into a frenzy, rallying the muscles and bones—convincing them what they were about to do was not only necessary, but valorous; troops into a doomed, suicidal battle.  A run wasn’t just unpleasant.  It was Gettysburg, from the South’s point of view. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it changed, when the would-you-rather scale of running vs. anal cavity search tipped from the latter to the former.  I’d like to think it required a bit of personal growth or profound realization of mortality, but it probably only required getting older, and wanting to feel better in and about my body.

In April of 2013, I completed my first Ultra Marathon, a 50 mile race through the Pacific Coast Trail.  In May of that same year, it was time to shoot the music video.  It was perfect timing, really.  I was basking the glow of my hard-fought accomplishment, proud of my body for its tenacity and resilience.  Running all those miles had, of course, affected what I saw when I looked in the mirror.  More significantly, perhaps, was that I was forgetting to look in the mirror at all.  It seems obvious, now, that a sport known for its grit—for facial salt deposits, blackened toenails, and shit-smeared running shorts—would grant me a departure from vanity.

It’s worth mentioning that long before the opportunity arose, I had always dreamt of running naked, or almost naked.  I say almost naked because my primordial roleplay fantasy has always included a loincloth, or at least a pair of moisture-wicking underwear.  I had and have no desire to expose my vital orifices to the dangers of stinging nettles, poison oak, or industrious snakes with the desire and curiosity to delve into uncharted, warm holes.

It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve never felt particularly attached to my breasts.  In the dinner party of all my body parts, they would be the boring couple from work—coordinated outfits from an mid-range, new England style catalogue—solid colors and boat shoes.  Their conversation would never veer far from the daily pettiness of bad traffic or injustices at the office—can you believe they took away the microwave?  All because so and so claimed it could make people sterile.  They would be sterile.  Their sole contribution to the evening would be a sparkling wine—usually the same brand unless another next to it had a slightly less decorous label.  They’d want to seem sophisticated, but know that they weren’t.  If they were to suddenly stop attending group outings, you wouldn’t miss them. 

Aside from the fact that I have them (kinda), there isn’t much to say about my breasts.  They don’t sag, but aren’t perky.  And with the exception of a freckle that is either on the right one or the left (I just looked down my shirt and still can’t remember), the nipples aren’t particularly noteworthy, either.  For all of the above reasons (and a few more), I have never been shy about showing them to people. In junior high school, when truth or dare time inevitably turned into a game of flashing body parts, I had absolutely no compunction about lifting my shirt up.  With new partners over the years, I’ve always peeled my shirt off long before it was expected, or maybe even welcomed (sorry, y’all).  And when I had an idea to go as a spritely, boyish adventurer for Halloween a few years ago, it never occurred to me that wearing a suede vest over pasties would be result in an off-putting pseudo-pedophilic dream.  I spent the entire night shouting, “But that’s what he wears in the movie,” to a room full of slutty ghosts and drunken ghouls. 

It writes itself, really, and in a not so subtle way: exhibitionist history, meet newfound body positivity—cool now that you two know each other, let’s all go run naked through the cactuses.

The first time I saw the video, I was elated.  It’s beautifully shot, artful, emotionally evocative.  All the individual pieces come together in an almost artificial way—as if everything in frame were part of a diorama made for a science fair: crescent shaped pipe-cleaners for cactuses, shredded crepe paper for rainbow plumes of smoke, soap and matchboxes for houses.  Pieces that seemed so isolated at first now show signs of familiarity among them: faint lines emerge from doorways, extending toward other houses, succulent clusters, and the road.  The footpaths all walk toward the horizon, fingertips in search of a crowded handshake.

The one singular element, now, is the running creature.  With everything united behind her, the camera seems less certain of her presence.  She’s oddly incidental, a hair out of place, just waiting for a breeze to blow it back into formation.  At best, she is animalistic: a lean, muscular frame, economical movements, and a completely neutral expression—eyes focused on the middle distance.  Her exposed chest is as vulnerable as it is powerful, an epicenter of potential; here is where things continue to go right, or suddenly and irreparably wrong.

Watching it now, I walk the line between enthusiasm and sadness.  I look swift, graceful, and completely alone. And no amount of body positivity or pride in my abilities can absolve me of this animalistic loneliness.  There is running, sure, but animals run for all sorts of reasons: because they don’t belong to anyone, or because they desperately want to.  I guess it all depends on the fullness of your glass.

Analisa Raya-Flores, like most of her stories, is short. Her work has appeared online in Out of Nothing and in print in Monkeybicycle. She writes about dying, mostly, but for now she is alive in Los Angeles.

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