Main Themes & Subplots.
What does it take for a person who has survived trauma, to survive life?
Can a person who has survived trauma develop close human bonding?
Is there ultimately a spiritual quest in all humanity that pushes us to grow through life experiences, and if we do survive, eventually leads us to seek meaning, fulfillment at a higher level than the said, ‘American Dream’?
Skinless opens with a quote.
“In each of us, there is another whom we do not know.” C. G. Jung
This, an intertwining theme. Charmay’s inner whippings, her self-hatred and self-depreciation. Her flashbacks coupled by a refusal to see herself or be seen as a victim. Her constant questioning of societal mendacity, and whether she feels she could ever partake in its seemingly soulless rituals. Her dependency on a false persona to help her get what she needs in the world. Her higher devotion to believing in intimate love, music as her ultimate goal, savior, and expression of truth.
Charmay leads with the idea: “Now, I don’t wanna lose you, all my jumping around. Present, past, present. I’m not here to teach you anything. I heard from a friend that Native Americans said, like, “past, present, future, all happening at once, inside us.”
Skinless lures us to dwell inside the psycho dynamics of a woman living with trauma. Riding with Charmay, as she lives out loud we experience first-hand glimpses through her window at what it might be like for a young woman enduring repeated objectification, minus protection from her elders. We begin to understand actions she takes to defend against the emotional pain, like using alcohol, detachment from intimacy, distractions through material gain, the fantasy of persona to blur her truth, and her need for admiration as survival mechanism to make up for total family rejection.
The Psychological Effects of Trauma.
From Charmay, excerpts from SKINLESS.
“ I couldn’t wait to get out of the sublet dive and into the semi-hell-safe-cash-paid fabricated and fleeting intimacy with strangers. Perhaps, it was a way out of getting too vulnerable, comfortable—meaning possibly fucked over by Sam, or anyone else.”
“I had learned at a young age, my sex: powerful. Make a grown man weak and kill me if the wrong person fell victim to their desire for me. So, I learned that the real world was not a place to express attraction, but the strip bar was. And I always walked with cash—so I’d never be homeless again.”
“I had never attempted to explain to Mom about my dancing. She wouldn’t get it. There were parts I actually liked. The energetic transformation that happened in my body; a transference of sensual force between myself and the customer. That the quiet survivor inside me had finally found solace. Naked. Moving. Alive.“
“I had kept hard liquor in the bedroom since I was fourteen. By then, always kept a nip in my bag, closet. Mom’s drunk has always stashed it around the house. I learned from him, I guess. Jealous of his power, wanted to be like him, really. He was the one in the house with all the power over Mom, and eventually over me. To this day, I still have to remember I am giving him power by letting what he did rule my emotional life, my feelings, actions.”
From Charmay, excerpts from SKINLESS.
“Pondering, I was suddenly starting to think, Maybe something’s natural to shifting…Is this a beautiful, feminine kind of malleable? A girl’s instinct when safe in her man’s strength—is it weakness of mine, am I a dumb submissive girl? The reprehensible thought that any feminist and my own inner lasher would have scolded me for, but I was thinkin’…If I go with my wish to meld with Sam, change some, will it actually make me stronger? I wrote. Would I let myself depend on Sam? I have never thought about giving over to this kind of mutuality before. In my mind, a woman who does that is ultimately weak. I hate weakness in anyone.”
“It’s a delicate balance; the bullet line or bedsheets,”
From Charmay, excerpts from SKINLESS.
“As the city whirled by, lower east side junkies turned three-piece business suits. . .
Hows and whys of old Rex getting me to say yes, stuck like tiny pinpricks in the layers of my unsettled mind. Challenge old Revan to a duel, I guessed, told myself. Downing a gulp. Accepted his offer on the stupid blue Chanel suit over a chilled martini, Hudsons . . .”
“Yes,” she, Cindy had said—I couldn’t quite settle on who, which one of us, me—had said, “yes.”
”Quick-side-swipe, I was struck by a sharp-chill-shudder, the nut of the whole goddamned cog: It isn’t even me Rex wants. It’s her: Cindy. The Graceful. Oh, Mysterious. Confident…When he gets wind the dirty bag laundry girl I am at home, inside; the little trash girl who, soon as someone gets close I spontaneously fizzle and flip-flops, lose footing, begin grasping at quicksand, and then starts hissing evil—fiercely frightened. He would leave— surely the Rex would bolt. How embarrassing would that be, left by an old prune. I was ordered by me to: Stay in, hide that part from him, the world.”
“Cindy. She was a part of me I had developed to take care of a different part of me: was becoming more difficult for me to unravel; Rainbow Girl, I called the young one in me that needed protecting. I also called her Trash Girl.”
Fast paced street philosophy, riddled with with race conflict, sexuality, domestic violence, gun toting, class resentments and entitlements, hard knocks courage and perseverance — how far will each character go to get their fair stake, the American Dream. Dangling every turn is a unconscious wisdom manifest: we grow through life experiences, and if we do survive, eventually come to seek meaning, fulfillment.
-Sam. Charmay’s husband is a Cuban-American man whose family was forced to re- establish in the United States under Castro’s regime. Sam was brought up in a community that had a collective feeling of being an outsider in the US culture. Having to fight for economic recovery, resenting the fact that they were forced out of their own wealth at home.
Sam feels slighted, added simply because he is a Latin man in a white culture, and wants his share, dibs on The American Dream. He is a dog-eat-dog mentality and a high rolling coke and weed dealer, from early teenage years, way before pot was legal in the US. In the story, Sam has been ducked over by hi previous Miami partners and wants an “easier, softer life,” so is just focused on pot dealing. Sam is trying to partner with Jesse, a Caucasian man who was given all the comforts of an American suburban upbringing. We begin to see how Sam seems to want to be Jesse in a way, he takes him into his world with a generosity that confuses Charmay from the onset. Yet, Sam is keenly aware of his resentment toward the entitlement Jesse has, and feels Jesse treats him like a “less than.” The rage and need for revenge is personal but it is also cultural, an immigrant under a white man’s power. A man whose property was stolen and he seeks war to get it back.
– Mom. Charmay’s mother is married to African American man. During the 90’s this was still gawked at a bit, but he is a very successful Ivy League educated self-made man from a hard- working and well-meaning suburban family.
Mother discusses her frustrations over racial differences in a relationship, claiming “I don’t see color, we are all one color.”
To which Charmay has all kinds of feelings and opinions about, All American White Suburban tastes – race and culture.
From Mom and Charmay, excerpts from SKINLESS:
“He doesn’t even eat my cooking anymore!” mother wailed. “My fridge is filled with her Tupperwares! She gave them to him to bring home on Sunday. Seven-day rations of her fried chicken, her mac and cheese, her corn hash, her grits…” Clearly, by way, the Mom said the word her…Mom had turned Lenny’s mom Evelyn into her nemesis.
“Comfort food?” I said, meekly. Lenny might want that food because it’s what he was raised on? I silent. It’s called culture. I held tongue. I mean, Race is a tough walnut, I often thought. Flip it around different angle viewfinders eventually, casing becomes transparent, inside exists a dilemma that just is. It’s true, we all have God’s light in us, suffer the same internal conflicts. Each human, at any minute, is capable of going any which way—and we’re all born, raised with different interests, tastes…Fuck do I know. Probably some massive marital curveball slap, when a man stops eating his wife’s food.
Listening to Mom rave on an on, drinking the ice droplets my James…suddenly, my new perception of Mother’s flag-waving: “all one color” propaganda jingle seemed to soar, clear as a bell through a crisp blue sky in my mind—and transfixed itself a velvet pink settee. I did know that Mom had never budged from making him eat her homogenized all-American 1950s Mrs. Cleaver-land, love-our country, apple-pie-and-baseball, frozen food, cardboard boxes, white bread, powder oatmeal. Probably what her own mom, Flo, made at home when she was a kid. Hissing: Not one color, like treated equally. Sounds like she wants all people across the board to be exactly the same, and that means: just like she is!
I had no inkling why Mother would want everyone to be the same. Control: fear of the unknown. Some people’s cases: if it all appears like one sum illusion, it equals safer.
Sure, we might all be human! I wanted to scream. But we sure as shit have had different experiences! I wanted to jump, rant, scream at her. Some people have been beaten down since childhood for no other reason than their own skin color when they walk into a room—I don’t claim to know that experience. But, I do think it has got to carve a gash; an undying hurt lurking beneath all things.
This is not a pity party.
Seemed to me, they, softees, Mom, live—riding atop a float: shiny people who got treated valid and important all their lives. Seem to act all perplexed, looking down their noses, wondering, “Why don’t those people behave! Let’s kick them in the ass!”
What they don’t see is, sometimes there’s just not enough hours to sit down, heal the shit before you gotta get out and start proving yourself the world. And sometimes there’s just never enough love to get it straight ever again.
–Dad. Charmay’s father. Southern Italian, but got the blue eyed gene. Abandoned his own brown eyed offspring and married a woman with three blue eyes sons from another man. He touts this proudly with photos around his Westchester condo, and stories of these other kids to his own kids, as though they are his. He even discusses the book, The Bell Curve Theory, and why he believes blue eyed people are inherently more intelligent than brown, to which Charmay is aghast.
Dad’s topic: “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by political scientist Harvard man Charles Murray. Its central argument is about how intelligence is influenced by genetics and environment.” Dad thought it, “brilliant research,” and read bullet points on his fascinations, ending his lecture with…“Bell Curve proves, people with blue eyes have higher IQs than brown.”
I was jaw-dropped. Dad was the only blue-eyed guy the table. Me, Aidan, and Wanda all had brown, like our mom and like my dad’s mother, Grace.
When I had seen him during high school years, Dad often did this ponder brag, (Definition for ponder brag: Passive-aggressive: Combination of exploring a thought and shoving something one didn’t want to say in another’s face.)
“I’ve become so close to Bridget’s sons; they are much more similar to me than any of you kids.” He’d tout. “They look at me like a real father. And they look like me too, with blue eyes and all. I still can’t believe I had kids with that woman and they all came out brown-eyed.” That woman was my mom.
I was appalled by The Bell Curve, insulted, “It’s a stupid test obviously structured by a pompous idiot trying to prove the blue-eyed yahoos have the right to slaughter and enslave due to intelligence.”
“The trait for higher-level thinking ability would get passed down recessively. Like stronger body types and interests get passed: DNA is chemistry, core vibration, mutable based on influence, repetitive experience. So, Higher education has been granted for a longer amount of time to people with blue eyes due to sociopolitical economic history; genetically higher levels of learning capacity, memory of data through trace DNA may have become recessive.”
Silence. I was the high school drop-out—an underachieving louse, to them. I was still mad that my dad’s university, the college I was trying to attend at the time. I hadn’t told him my feelings, some people you disagree with their beliefs or institutions they never talk to you again—Pops was that.
-Rex. A wealthy Harvard Educated, Foreign Exchange recent divorcee who picks ‘Cindy’ up and tries to make her. . .well this is what Charmay says,
It’s cool how we can dress anything up with money and make it shine. That’s what Rex wanted to do with me. Cindy I was at the club. Rex been coming in night after night, buying all my time, bringing me wine, better than the cheap champagne they served.
Turned five years shy big thirty over six months ago and still, I’ve got nothing. Ought to take what I can. Shit, I never even had socks. It was true. In fourth grade, I had been on the boheme campus, went to small-town Red Hook elementary. Teacher scowled at the sight of huge holes in my heels and toes. Scolded me, “Go get proper care.” I got sent home from school, for gaping holes in my socks. Embarrassing.
Touching finishes on my freshly painted face in the mirror—felt a familiar riddled rush to my hyper-sensitive lymphatic system, about Rex, about the drunk, about Mom, I don’t know, my answer: There are negotiations in life. You’ve always known that. Suck it up; do what you can to survive.
We’ll put this all behind us, my mind fueled resolution: Rex is a chump who is asking to be taken care of by me; I must dangle his carrot right back. Say whatever I need, he needs to hear; rotate me and Sam’s plan in motion. Make our dreams come true. I can’t say I even knew clearly what those looked like, but I knew I wanted to get out of wherever I was, as soon as I got there. Another piece to the spectrum of the bruised and addicted. Nothing is ever good enough, or feels safe. Everything is a plan for survival and escape. Until you start to see this for what it is and learn to feel, heal.
My father and his wife hadn’t spoken to me in a few years then. He rarely knew me growing up, and often told me he felt I wasn’t going to amount to anything but a teenage mother drug-addict on welfare—and so not worthy of his attention. Yet, the more I went out around the high-class establishments where these “socially respected” lived, the more I saw that everyone was doing some version in their own false way—and the club was just a distilled version of it, and place where people didn’t have to pretend and could just ask for what they wanted and see if the girl would do it, for proper pay and maintenance. It was honest, to me.
I had spent ample hours as a child climbing trees, contemplating in their branches. Innocent, naked legs crouching in a little skirt, high grass brushing knee, skin. I loved to touch the veins in flowers, blossom. “Play what’s in your heart,” Margaret’s soft, gentle drawl spoke in my ear as I practiced scales. Her knotted fingers touched my little hands, on black- white, pitter-patter. I would practice four hours a day at home, up and down the keys memorizing “Für Elise;” lose myself in the wind’s song alive.
Another part of me knew that I was just pissed because I felt in order to survive, I had to lie about myself. Rex’s treatment of me was a testament to what a good job I had done so far of covering my Trash with a pretty face, sweet persona. He is buying this, not the real you. Entertain him, I reminded me. Reveal nothing. Let him see himself in you.
I went on my usual then resentful rant, Doesn’t know what it is, people use the word love, throw it at you, yank it back, then yell your face for your being upset—and walk out on you. Rex was a vapid candy in my estimations.
SEXUALITY & GENDER
-Eric. Sam’s replacement for Jess, a gay man in Law School Sam becomes very close with. Charmay finds some tricky information on Sam’s laptop, and puts her into a spin to try to figure out if she could accept Sam’s bisexuality, if it were so, though he denies it. Charmay is faced with a group of Eric’s friends discussing unfulfilled sexual desires and the excitements of making it with a hetero married man, opening her eyes to the reality of bisexuality in the male population, hidden by the facade of marriage and societal standing.
-Le Trapeze. A swingers club Sam and Charmay visit.
Bright buxom-hipped ladies sucking each other’s cherry pussy. Men, balls sagging, heard them slapping against each other’s noses. Couples piled in closets. Hot tub bubbles lots of moaning. Made me shudder a little. Sounds similar to what I had heard as a kid growing up the house with mom, during her late-night parties, at the boheme campus. When I was nine years old, used to sit the top of the stairs, listen. Something about women over forty, moaning, banshees, primordial whining, cats in heat. My eyes hovered over skinny arms tied to walls, hanging upside down some triangle leather inside a circle. Three- on-one whippings, flogging. Legs hanging spread from ceiling fastened swings. Three to four bodies hitting it hard, slamming in on futons. Men painted green, five men spanking two men and three ladies meowing all fours.
Perhaps I was overstimulated. I don’t know. I almost fainted, all going to tear at my clothes, my skin.
A night in Miami.
They, rhythm…all three holding. She, his lover. Sam, imagined herself in Sam’s …Sweet, nature, bathing warm. Me, him; me, her…the girl…free lying off cliff…water-pool dive-bomb…his or her own lover. Sex that had taken place between me and Sam…Couldn’t bring ourselves together…she is me…I am he…She is ourselves…bring us together. The silent anonymous girl…the affection we feel for each other…can I…?
Something about being close to that girl; like little girls innocent, two girls playing. Felt something I hadn’t felt since I didn’t remember. Sweet, nature, bathing warm light, womb…
-Charmay’s envy of male strength.
After that I sat back, thinking, drinking. They say that’s a bad combination. Sam said that. I said it’s thinking and not drinking, problem. I was looming, thoughts, words, ideas…I am a girl. I have limitations. Sure, I’m rather fiercely feminine. Strong for a girl…why I sex prowess and puissance over a man’s physical, that analyzing and reflecting in the swimming tank of my wet brain. Enamored by this feeling. My eyes repeatedly traced the limbs, forms, slopes of Sam cracking his knuckles, sternum. His pumped lats flexing through tight black T each time he hit a consonant. His deep growl, gruff, commanding voice: “Most important, just know I got your back. Remember: people do weird shit, drugs, and money in frame, they can’t help it. People have a low threshold for survival sometimes. So don’t invite it.”
“Trust me, Son, we’ll be in flowing in no time,” Sam to Jess.
I heard that, “son” and I wanted Sam to look at me like he looked at Jess. Desire: be seen as a solid partner, a comrade, a soldier. The way boys are with each other. I am so easily shiftable, so watery, so independent, never formed a tribe or group with anyone…I want to walk into a room and tell people what to do and they will listen…Like Sam can…
I couldn’t shake it. This incessant feeling. The lingering I’d woken up with, from my dream the night before, like something had been stolen from me and I wanted it back. Something gone. Only this was real. Cold, hard. I could touch it. I couldn’t reach it: Money. Money was the thing I thought I wanted, right then. I wanted what I felt was mine. I didn’t know then that money was just a symbol for something else.
The OTHER WE DO NOT KNOW/ SPIRITUAL GROWTH THROUGH EXPERIENCE
As Charmay overcomes each difficult situation, we experience her growing into a deeper level of self-awareness. Seeing herself through other people’s eyes (Dr Ski, Sam, Rex, Female Police Officer). Putting herself in a vulnerable place singing her songs live. Letting go of the co- dependence with Sam. She starts to search for a way to health.
I don’t claim, or care to be able to, scientifically—I mean, who can really prove anything. We live in a world of constantly changing vibrations; instinctively moving toward, pushing away, expounding off of, forming pattern, falling apart. Energy never dies; it only transforms. There is no real proof or way to cement a finite moment and call it ‘real.’ Perception is variable and is constantly changing, forward desire, backward glance, present realm.
I don’t know much, or claim to. I know what I’ve seen, what I feel. I’d buy options on betting: In our deepest unconscious hour—our soul decorates.
Who knows how—yet it is possible: We humans do know it all. In the unconscious pool, the space that all of life resonates: Life’s vibration carries a vast knowledge, and we each are being guided on some levels by soul intuition.
Rex’s words reminded me of a woman I didn’t know anything about, but whose every move I felt I had known the whole of existence, since conception. Maybe life is one big funhouse mirror, glaring back at me my innermost spiderweb chaos, I thought.In each of us there is another self we do not know. There is a formless form that wants to make itself form.
SKINLESS SUPER SUBPLOTS.
GUN VIOLENCE- Walther PPk.
FASHION / SOCIETY – Chanel. Fifth Avenue Shopping, dining, hotels.
HUMOR- Surprise surprise! There is lots of comedy throughout! Especially with the Dr Ski Therapy appointment and then Dr. Doggie. Diamond shopping with Stringbean. Sam and Charmay have some fun games. Charmay’s sharp perceptive, and satirical nature allows the reader to hear how she sees the world from within her private, silent inner mind.
CULTURAL CHARM – Charmay operates from a curiosity and thirst for knowledge. She notes that she got most of her education from reading books on the road, and loves libraries. She is constantly throwing out references of eclectic music, literature, theater, film, psychology, metaphysics and history references and discussions that make Skinless an intelligent read. [SKINLESS : CITED WORKS]
TOPICAL INFLUENCES: SEPTEMBER 1998- SEPTEMBER 2000.
Nostalgic Lower East Side venues/ clubs/ after hours
Sopranos influence on Sam as it because a new hit show during 1999, and he a fan.
Apple computer’s influence on Charmay’s music writing, as digital pixilation and music soft and hardware were just taking over, allowing for in home recording studios.