I’m making a collage involving an image of shed skin, having been captivated by a passage in a book on reptiles that said most “higher land animals” shed their skin, but whereas mammals like us do it so gradually that it’s mostly imperceptible, snakes are unusual in shedding in “one elegantly complete operation.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about continuity and change (that Mary Catherine Bateson chapter, the one I quoted in a somewhat different context on February 5, tugged on some threads that have been in my mind for a long time), and the idea of changing oneself in “one elegantly complete operation” is intriguing. Do we ever do it? So many radical changes feel paradoxically like returning to our real selves, the person we’ve known we were or wanted to be for a long time . . .

Anyway, for this piece I need something that looks like what a person would leave behind if we shed our skin the way a snake does. After a couple of false starts–draw it? use tissue paper?–I realized that the perfect medium was white glue, white glue as it appears when it’s dried on your hands and you’ve peeled it off, as we all did in school. Well, maybe some of you washed it off with warm water. I reveled in peeling it off, and in fact, my friends and I would deliberately spread a little extra on the backs of our hands for the pleasure of doing it some more.

So I spread a 3- by 8-inch swath of glue on the inside of my left arm this morning, waited twenty minutes, and peeled. OUCH. Swath is right. A swath is what it felt like it was taking out of my skin. I couldn’t even take the advice I’d given to the munchkin just the day before when she was fussing about band-aid removal and pull fast!, because I didn’t want it to tear. Ow ow ow.

Joy said, “You’re suffering for your art.” Glad to do it, but if there’s a next time I might sacrifice the texture (which will probably be invisible in the final piece anyway) and just spread it on a piece of plastic.

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