I’m beautiful—on the inside


I’m not a particularly attractive person. I’m your typical middle-aged schlub, someone you wouldn’t look at twice on the street. But I have a secret: there’s a part of me that is spectacularly beautiful, and every once in a while I get to take it out and admire it.

Tonight, while I was preparing dinner, I slipped and gouged out a small chunk of my thumb with a knife—it stung for a moment, but it was nothing serious, just large enough and deep enough to bleed copiously. It was gorgeous. It welled in cycles with my pulse, and it was like I was dripping rubies. Brilliant, scarlet rubies polished smooth that would splash and sparkle when they hit the countertop. I love the color. Fresh blood has that brilliant slick red hue to it you just don’t see anywhere else. I watched the pretty fountain for a while, and then I washed it and bound it up; the bandage slowly got more and more vivid. That’s the real me, this colorful, jewel-like thing imbedded in a clumsy, unattractive package.

I know it sounds morbid, but really, I’m harmless. I used to do animal surgeries, and blood would be all over the place, and in those circumstances all I wanted to do was stop it, quickly. And I don’t enjoy seeing other people’s blood at all. In those rare cases where my kids injured themselves and bled heavily, I’ve even felt faint. And no, I never want to injure myself intentionally—I don’t enjoy pain, for one thing—but I can observe myself fairly dispassionately.

I once had a particularly serendipitous opportunity way back when I was a grad student. I had tossed a few dissecting tools in my backpack after a day in the lab, and a scalpel punched through the fabric and just the razor sharp tip was poking out (stupid and sloppy, I know, I’m much more careful now). When I put the pack on, my hand brushed against it. Perfectly, delicately, the tip sliced open the skin of the back of my hand, a razor kiss going precisely deep enough to cut all the way through the dermis. I scarcely felt it. I looked at my hand to see the skin cleanly parted for several inches, and almost no blood at all; I could spread the wound open and look right inside, to see smooth pale pink muscle and paler connective tissue, all bunching and sliding as I moved my thumb. There was a lovely person under there! I put my hand under a dissecting scope and admired the elegant machinery for several minutes before common sense interfered, and I carefully washed it up and taped it all together. It healed very cleanly, and now I have this hair-thin, tiny scar on the back of my hand as a memento.

I’ve never been tempted by the piercing and tattooing and scarification fads, but man, if there were a way to install translucent windows in flesh, I’d consider it…until my wife reached over and thwacked me in the head, that is.

I guess this is a confession: I’m dreadfully vain. Not the kind who looks deeply into mirrors (mirrors make me vaguely uncomfortable, actually, and I avoid them), but the kind who is still convinced that he possesses a stunningly spectacular self, a virtual Adonis hidden away only a few millimeters from where anyone would be able to see it. I have this job where I have to perform in front of audiences fairly regularly—teaching is show business, you know—and one of my little confidence-building rituals before I have to go out on stage is to take a moment and visualize myself: firm tubes of smoothly streaming, rich red blood; cartilages like oiled pearl; a liver with the sheen of polished mahogany; intestines coiled and rippling; plump and furrowed brain carefully swaddled in delicate arachnoid and tough dura. That’s me. And damn, but I’m splendid, and I can strut out there and do my job.


  1. #1 XX
    April 2, 2008

    I already knew that from your writing. Now if I could just figure out how to be that way myself.

  2. #2 Bruce
    July 7, 2008

    But how many here are both male and geeky enough to have checked out their own sperm under a microscope? They really do swim, in a random sort of way. Its kind of awe-inspiring to see your own.

  3. #3 BeccaTheCyborg
    August 18, 2008

    This is still the most sensual piece of writing I’ve read in ages. I bookmarked it ages ago, and just decided to re-read. I recently spent a stay in the hospital, and got to watch all the imaging and tests I had, and found it fascinating and flattering, and thought of this essay while I was watching my heart via ultrasound.

    Thank you for the stunning writing.

  4. #4 Pteryxx
    November 9, 2008

    I just came across this post. For those who enjoyed it, I also recommend this stunning essay on Surgeonsblog, on the beauty of surgery:

    He’s got several other sensual essays there.

    December 21, 2008


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