Shoulder pads make women into linebackers and linebackers into tanks.
Shoulder pads could double as codpieces or bra-pumper-uppers in a pinch, but usually don’t.
In the 1980’s shoulder pads were key: many of my memories of moving from girls’ clothes into women’s involve them. The jackets of course had them – big meaty ones – but then also the V-neck cotton sweaters, dresses, and coats. It became possible to wear two or three layers of shoulder pads on top of one another, like some upper-body Pea Princess bracing against the pain of the world through her foamy, foamy armor.
The pads folded in half along their vertical axes and were covered with slippery polyester material. It was easy to get them bunched up in weird ways, even when only one layer was involved in that day’s outfit. Pads of any kind share this property: the ones inside swimsuits and cheap bras; the ones I wore between my legs until the Gospel of Tampon came to save me from misaligned adhesive and innocent pubic hairs ripped out before their time. Pads depend on some static notion of the body, improved. Don’t move so much! We are addressing your flaws, lacks, and leaks. Be still. We know what is best for you.
I had a fuchsia mohair coat with a huge black plaid pattern early in high school – it was obnoxious and I loved it. The lining was silky raspberry-colored stuff and the shoulder pads were legend. I have distinct memories of wearing it at debate tournaments, paired with a striped gold lamé skirt my aunt had made for me, and some kind of giant hot-glue-gunned bow in my hair. I needed all that to enter into the high-speed bouts of verbal sparring that were four-man cross-ex debate. I needed them for a field where smart girls were encouraged to enter, but not to win. If I looked flamboyant enough, maybe I could tell myself the visual assault was what cost my partner and I the match, and not the many ways our gender disqualified us from being taken seriously. If I’d showed up straight, and still lost despite getting it all right, my heart would have broken. Fight for a crappy plastic trophy in ridiculous shoulder pads and lose – you can write the whole thing off as a nerd’s game you were never really in. Fight in earnest and lose, when you know the judges and odds were always stacked against you – and real pain will find you.
There are no shoulder pads in my clothes anymore. No room for them, really. In this climate, with the number of layers required for survival rising daily, everything needs to be streamlined to fit together. Which are the under-sweaters, and which the over? Which are the under-coats? I tromped through this morning’s slush and rainfall in two pairs of pants, two sweaters, and two jackets. And this is only the beginning. Till at least May, I will need layer upon layer of unpadded clothing to keep me safe.
Besides the climate-related reasons for going padless, I also feel something shifting around the kinds of pain I expose myself to and the ways I respond to it. Today, you’d not find me at a South Georgia debate tournament, barking away the weekend on a sporadic diet of cheese dip, NoDoz, and Diet Coke. You’d not find me trying to argue some kid into submission over proper US policy in Central America, or sitting through a bleary-eyed ceremony were neither winning nor losing offer relief. There are places I won’t go these days, and South Georgia high school debate tournament are some of them, even though the grownups are supposed to come back and serve as judges.
Then there’s an unpadded way of being with pain. Last night I went to see Bohemian Rhapsody, the film about Freddie Mercury and Queen. I went because something about Freddie Mercury’s embodied joy and sexuality interested me – because in his unpadded Live Aid performance, his body told me something of my own potential. And, oh my goodness, I cried. There was a choice point: hold the tears in check or melt into them. I melted, and they rolled down my cheeks to soak the inside of my collar. Some deep nonverbal grief arose – for how hard it is to be human, for how hard it is to live one’s truth and stay connected to others, for courage in the face of the death sentence we all carry, but seldom account for. I cried a bucket of tears in the movie, then more in the car, and still more at home. I took the precaution of surrounding myself with fur: my fake fur bolero, my real dogs, my newly-acquired old mink cape. Some unpadded sobs came wanting voice and I gave them voice, till they subsided and I noticed I was hungry, empty, and free. Sobs, then avocado and fake chicken nuggets. That was the unpadded order of things.
Still there are some forms of padding that feel non-optional. Nipples are forbidden, so padding in the bra. Straightforward female wrath is forbidden, so carefully couched, nonviolently communicated requests. Drop the first, and your chest becomes an outlaw state. Drop the second, and the relationships you hold most dear feel in danger of rupture. What have I done? Nipples out, wrath out, is there a place for me in this world? Maybe, maybe not. Freddie Mercury’s nipples were pretty much out, and there was a big place for him in this world, until AIDS cut his life short.
This week I took a daily-practice photograph of myself in my Suit with the zips undone to my waist. My nipples aren’t showing, and yet, it’s pretty unpadded, in a way that many men wouldn’t think twice about, with regards to their own bodies. Bare-chested at the beach, at the picnic, while running. Why not? Natural. Duh. But for a woman, bare-chested in the USA in 2018 Means Something. It didn’t in France in 1978, when I was a child, but here and now it does. I am the Madonna of 108 Eyes, breasts unpadded, Suit unpadded, unsure of where this places me within the cosmology of my connections. Will Facebook take this down? Will my friends wish I’d kept a little more padding on, or think I have finally gone too far? Risk, padding. Risk, padding. So it goes. I warm my being at the fires of nakedness, getting as close as I dare, without going up in flames.
Vermin’s just another word for nothing left to lose
And nothing’s all my drawers left me.
Vermin good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my mousies, you see.
La de da
La de da de da de da da
I like mice, and mice like me. If you live in New Hampshire, any sane rodent is going to do her best to find her way into your house. Negative twenty-two degrees, or the spoon drawer? Duh. Eternal snowfall of the endless winter, or curled up in a boot in the basement? Honey, please. I like mice, and mice like me, my house, and the places formerly assigned to hold cutlery and kitchen implements. It’s not like I’m a mouse-hoarder, or anything – I don’t precisely collect them – it’s just that I don’t despise them and destroy them, either.
A few times we used a hav-a-hart trap in the middle of winter. There would be a sweet brown field mouse in the morning, bright eyes, little delicate hands and feet. Now what? I would scoop up the cage, an old sock full of walnuts and raisins, and head up to the forest at the top of the hill. We would scout out a hollow among tree roots – I’d stuff in the woolly bits and food, do a little chanting, and release the creature with best wishes.
That was all pre-dogs. Now the mice don’t leave the cover of their wall-dens and cupboard-fortresses. They hunker down and do their dances far from where we can see. I know they’re still around, because new turds appear in the drawer where we keep clips and rubber bands – things that are three-quarters of the way to being garbage, without ever quite arriving. Twice, we’ve reached for the glass pitcher we use for water when guests come to visit and found a dead mouse inside. Mostly what I feel, then, is sorrow. Dear furry one! What a terrible way to die. I hope you did not suffer, trapped, alone, for long. Now we keep the mouth of the pitcher covered in cling film. It’s a weird thing to have to remember, but not hard to do.
Vermin is a word that can only be used without an understanding of interbeing. You need a hard and fast (and false) understanding of life to be able to thrust any living creature into so toxic a category of Other. Is your toenail vermin? Your nose? Your mother? No? Well, neither is that mouse, who’s been your grandmother millions of times. To whom you’ve given birth. Who’s fed you. Vermin is as vermin sees.
My friend sent me a recording he made of Brian Turner's poem, “Hwy 1,” which evokes the convoy routes of the war in Iraq as the descendants of the ancient Spice Road, and scries traveling ghosts, both old and new. In the poem, a soldier casually shoots a crane from the road. Was the soldier seeing vermin? Did holding a gun put a vermin-filter over his eyes? Did going to war change what and how he saw? How did my condemnation and indifference bring soldier and bird together in this way? Before, I would never have asked this question. Being against the war in Iraq made me incurious about what happened there, and I didn’t want any of it coming close enough to my heart to contaminate it. Stay away! I put up a vermin-filter against Bush, the war, and military violence.
That is changing. Some kind of veil is lifting, pulling away with it my resistance to seeing male suffering and male experience. It’s risky, because my former anger and rejection were ways of shielding myself from experiences where I felt treated as a paradoxically seductive form of vermin. Not whole, not human, not interesting and complete and worth knowing. I decided over time not to come close to male worlds because approach felt unsafe. Not safe from the outside. Not safe from the inside either, harboring as I was a whole ancient, enculturated register of poor boundaries. Serve the men. Seek the men. Attend the men. Fuck all that. I would just stay away. I would vermin them: seductive, but dangerous. This is an exaggeration for sure, but it is a way of describing the Othering I engaged in. Mutual assured destruction, said the foreign-policy of my youth. Mutual uneasy distance, said the best strategy I could manage, for much of my life. And now, part of what I am working with in this moment is the courage to stand in a certain kind of brotherly tenderness with men, that also incorporates owning desire and its unpredictable flows.
I have a kind of creepy ex-cop neighbor – or at least, I’ve seen him as creepy ever since he came unannounced to my studio at night with his Doberman bitch on a short leash. She peed on my floor. No one else was home (again – pre-dogs), and as he explained how he’d been watching me build my space over many weeks, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. Now I see maybe he thought he was reaching out to a fellow artist, and couldn’t understand how his behavior could be perceived as creepy. Anyway, I saw this same neighbor again today, standing outside our polling place, holding signs for himself as a candidate. As I walked up, he thanked me for coming to vote, and I greeted him. For the first time I could see the valiance of his endless candidacies in a staunchly Democratic town that will never elect him. I could see in his quest something akin to my own stubborn practices. True, I will never vote for him, or for anyone whose approach to abortion rights is that “women have the right to become mothers,” but I don’t see him as dangerously Other anymore. I see someone willing to be vulnerable and public about what he believes. My vermin-veil against him is thinning.
Is that what the woo-woo contingent means, when they say The Veil Is Thin? If so, I’m all for it. Let the veils thin. Let the cheering be for something other than separation and scorn. My friend, a veteran, spoke to me from outside a Trump rally this weekend. He wasn’t especially close, but I could still hear the roars of approval as Trump’s voice stoked and thickened vermin-veils at stadium scale.
Maybe tenderness doesn’t work at that scale? If you ask someone about Millions of Mice Invading Our Homes, or Those Immigrant Hordes Coming to Take Over Our Country, they’re likely to respond with more horror than they would to that little creature with the hands so much like mine, or that nice man who’s been feeding me all these many years. Contact, tenderness, and specificity, are all risky, and the work of building up confidence to embody them is its own deep path. I swing a sword, dance like a Valkyrie, speak up when it is uncomfortable to do so, and pay attention to what does not fit, all so I can come closer to interbeing with others, without being overwhelmed.
The air has been leaking slowly out of my tires for weeks now, and so last night just before closing time at the tire bazaar, I finally went in to have them checked. The man at the front desk sloughed me off. He called me, “Miss,” which, as a forty-six year old, six-foot woman wearing a mechanic’s jumpsuit with eyes sewn all over it, had me wondering about his veils. Then he tried to sell me on buying new rims. Whatever. Because I actually noticed the all-caps warning clause on the paper he asked me to sign, he grudgingly told me to come back the next day, to have the lugs on my wheels checked.
In the morning Front Desk Man called me “Miss” again, and then uttered a magical sentence: Ask any of the guys out there for a re-torque and a re-learn. Exactly, I thought. That is what I am after. I stood for a while, watching a man about my age whale on my wheels with a wrench, so hard the whole car shook with each effort. Something in me was touched by the physical effort he was making, the commitment of exerting his will so completely for something that was just a routine part of his workday. That was the re-torque. The re-learn involved a more mysterious and nuanced dialogue, which at first didn’t seem to be going anywhere. More men gathered around the car, clearly wondering about something. I left the safety of my observer’s stance and came forward with what I’d noticed in my own explorations. They listened. I listened. More checking. None of us knew. We huddled together not-knowing, noticing how similar our hands were to one another’s, taking one another’s side. In that moment, there was no space for vermin, only beings, tending to one another along the endless road home.
I am allergic to Cipro, which causes elephantiasis-hives in my hands, groin, and armpits.
I am allergic to the word “panties.”
I am allergic to the word.
I am allergic to the feeling.
I am allergic to the mindset that created the word.
I am allergic to my own lazy thinking, and yours also.
I am allergic to either/or, and all the ills that spring from it.
I am allergic to Trump.
I am allergic to the collapse that Trump induces in others.
I am allergic to the puffing-up that Trump induces in others.
I am aware that allergies are battles.
I am aware that battles give the body a sense of aliveness.
I am aware that my body is alive even when I don’t have grapefruit-sized hives or virulent disagreements, but that either of these can have a tonic effect.
I am allergic to the brown dust coating anything that stays unmoved in my studio for more than one day. Where does it come from, this Lebanese dust? It is the crumbling of unmoved things. It is dog-fur powder, and the earth releasing from between muddy dog-toes. It is whatever was on top of the rafters that didn’t get sealed in when the insulation guys turned the whole place into a snow cave. I am allergic to the reminders of what a big fucking mess I am likely to leave behind, stuff-wise, when I die. Also, the big fucking messes everyone in my family is likely to leave behind.
When my husband and his friend parked the moving truck with his stuff outside the house and opened the rolling door, everything had tumbled into a heap, because our street is so steep. I took one look at that heap, and could only imagine setting fire to it, right there, right then. I was having an allergy to the idea of cluttering up our new house with old crap. I was having an auto-immune response to domestic life.
I am allergic to the itchy feeling at the back of my throat. I am allergic to the middle finger on my right hand turning grey the minute the temperature drops below thirty-five degrees. I am allergic to being soothed. Don’t try to soothe me when I’m feeling allergic – it will go poorly.
Once when Timothy was having an allergic reaction brought on by hiking through chest-high grass and we didn’t have any drugs along to help, I lay him down on a sleeping mat to cool off. I helped him breathe more slowly and held a damp cloth to his forehead. Slowly he brought himself out of the panic of allergy. Slowly his body remembered the existence of something other than battle.
Elliot is allergic to the propane delivery man, who came this morning. It’s confusing to him when I don’t endorse his sense of the apocalypse. One part of him is geared to attack, remove, protect. And then another part wants to align with what I’m telling him, which is, Shhh. It’s OK. I can see in his body how hard this is: his hackles are up, his teeth are bared, and he’s whimpering. I tell them to go in his crate and lay down. When he can do this, the fear passes. He doesn’t need to be in charge. The battle ends. He stands down. But it’s hard. It’s hard to let go of a good allergy, once it gets going.
I’m allergic to this election. It’s true. In one week, another round of we’re-not-sure, but… and late-night elect-o-meters will begin. When I’m having an allergy attack to election results, the worst possible feelings about other people show up as a symptom of battle. How could they? How COULD they? Giant hives form on my brain, and I need to lay down.
What is hypoallergenic?
Do a bunch of rabbits always have to be recruited into battle, to figure this out?
What if I committed, no matter what happens a week from now, to not think the worst of everyone? I would need to lay down in a hypoallergenic place like a safety closet and curl up with my dogs (who don’t care about elections). There, my hackles could come down and my whimpering could subside. I would learn there how not to gloat or grind my teeth, how to reflect on the vulnerable imperfection of our human systems.
I wonder how much discomfort I could commit to, towards undoing the allergies I have harbored all my life, the ones I’ve caught from others, and the ones I cooked up on my own? It could be like a dance-a-thon. Each minute I spent sitting in the fires of snotty-nosed not-liking would be a dollar for a good cause, a balm, an ending. All night, loathing by loathing, I would burn, and you could join me. We would wear our best itchy costumes and support one another through the shivers, swellings, shit fits, sneezes, wheezes, and barks of the detox-process of laying down arms. The buffet would be covered in everything we hate. We would nibble our way through canned mandarin oranges, green kool-aid, frosted lemon cookies, lima beans, sauerkraut, cottage cheese, and gnarly fruit taffee. We’d emerge exhausted the next morning, emptied, cleansed, and free to move around unhindered by what we once thought we could not abide.
Shilly-shallying makes a lot of sense, when the other options are hyperventilation or total collapse. Some forms of shilly-shallying are in fact quite pleasant, and even useful. Feeling paralyzed by that email you really need to send? Fear not! The anemones, raspberries, and roses need cutting back. The dahlias need digging up.
I dug up the dahlias that my friend at the women’s advocacy center gave me this spring, in the form of a brain-sized clump of root. When I put them in, I really had no idea what I was doing. I broke off bits and buried them here and there – among the tomatoes, behind the lavender – proceeding with all the deliberateness and expertise of a squirrel in a nut-frenzy. Then, also like a squirrel, I forgot all about them. There were other things to shilly-shally about.
Gradually, dark-stemmed, frondy-leaved creatures started to poke up in a kind of circle-chorus around the garden.
I did nothing for them, just watched. As everything else started to die off this Fall, they gained momentum, eventually shouting a deep-red chord of impossible complexity and grace. Then the frost came, and they withered overnight.
I dug up the dahlias and saw that each original root-bit had transformed itself into a multi-breasted fertility goddess, nodes and nodes of dahlia packed together into yam-like clusters of useless, harmless beauty. I loved them even more then, knowing that what I had taken for the dahlias’ shilly-shallying period was in fact root-building, storing up for the wild blooming yet to come.
Get it? I’m a little annoyed at myself for this metaphor, but it seems inescapable. Plants I took to be meh-meh shilly-shallying while the lilies and peonies Made an Effort were in fact following their own fertile, invisible cycle. I dug up the dahlias yesterday to keep them safe over the winter, and found that my friend’s gift had quadrupled during its obscurity in the ordinary-extraordinary ground. Next year we can have dahlias out the wazoo, or I can give dahlias to everyone I know. Either would be fine. I will keep the roots in the dark, unfreezing cellar for their long winter’s rest.
In fact, my own shilly-shallying can be a way of quietly working out the steps between where I am now and the places that scare me. Maybe my fear of that email is actually grounded in not yet having the tools and resources I need to elicit the responses I wish for. Better to wait, to grow root and depth, than to send another ill-formed squawk into the already-crowded airspaces of the world. I look for ways to find relationships with what’s already here, to ask rich and squirrely questions, without hope of immediate reply. My friend, in a similar place of transitions, says, “I know my rhythms.” Yes. Sometimes I do, too. I do the Shilly-Shally Samba and the Shilly-Shally Shake. I learn Shilly-Shally Stillness.
Out the small square window of this library room where we write on a cherry-wood table, some late leaves cling to the tops of otherwise bare branches. Who’s to say whether they are shilly-shallying or not? So much of what I call standstill is actually ripening. So much of what later appears in imagination begins imperceptibly. Here I am, laying down under gradually thickening covers, to sleep, clench my teeth and elbows, and dream. What will that accomplish? My mother, a chronic insomniac, complains of the waste of time that sleep (or in her case, serial novel-reading) represents. I don’t feel that way, welcoming instead the opportunity to breathe, to let go of control, to dream of beautiful old houses, handmade weapons, and communities fully-formed without the slightest conscious effort on my part. I sleep, I dream, my soul’s roots grow deep and fertile as the breasts of a grape-bodied goddess.
Soon I will be shouting in flowers.
Soon I will wither to the ground.
Soon I will be dug up for storage, and planted again when the ground is soft enough for shoveling.
This weekly writing itself has a quality of shilly-shallying, of lingering long enough in the company of my own experience to allow its cycles of growth and dying back. Often I finish with a sense of not-knowing how any of what has come through my hand fits together. Then I read it out loud and find: Yes. There is a thread, a chorus, a weaving-together. I did not know how word would follow word, or what form the finished creature might take. Only generous shilly-shallying has revealed what is here. Only time, space, and acceptance.
“I’ve never regretted time spent on the cushion,” says my Art and Dharma friend, and I know I’ve never regretted the kind of shilly-shallying that parts the curtains of intention, opening itself to listen deeper than thought.
My shrinking hat won’t fit over the new realities that are swelling up like shaggy manes from the ground of being. That hat doesn’t stand a chance, now that a full-grown Buddha-bump is sprouting and swelling its way up through the confines of my formerly-stable skull-pan. That hat’s going to need a glide-out, like those RV’s where the dining room sort of ectoplasms its way out into the neighbor’s campsite, once you’ve got the generator hooked up. It’s going to need an elasticized panel, a pregnant princess’ tasteful bulge-suit. Really, we called those things blight-outs when we traveled near them. What’s the point of going camping if you need so much crap around you that you’ve basically just re-created your whole cluttered lair in the great outdoors?
My shrinking hat may not actually be shrinking at all: just yesterday, when the afternoon air felt raw and it was time to go out in the woods, I pulled it down from the shelf and found that it still fits. My grandmother knitted it for my mother when she was a girl, I think, which means it’s maybe sixty years old, and there it is – still fitting. It looks like something that a peasant in a Brueghel painting would wear while shitting behind a log, except it’s red. Same floppy earpieces, same central seam across the hemispheres of my brain. I try not to shit in the woods on dayhikes, but I pee gleefully, enjoying the opportunity to contribute to the forest ecology. My hat is also a scarf, thanks to my grandmother’s ingenuity. It’s like being a bloodhound with long floppy ears you can choose to tie under your chin. Or like long floppy breasts you can choose to throw over your shoulders while you run. Even sixty years from now, when I am hundred and six years old, I don’t think my breasts will be able to do that. Maybe, though. You never know, when you’re talking about crone-powers.
My shrinking hat is made up of all the stories of what should happen, but can’t. This email, that clever initiative, this undone task – all of these knit themselves into a sort of matted cap that does its best to keep the Buddha-bulge from bulging. It’s a head-erection-preventer. Luckily, in the last few years, I’ve learned a secret: I can take off my shrinking hat! I can forget about tasks, brain-expansion, enlightenment, or the password to that thing I need to take care of. I can let it all go. Sometimes being Without Hat is the best plan.
To keep my hat, my head, my heart from shrinking, I need to keep coming back to what’s actually happening, a surprising percentage of which is painful, at least on first exposure. It’s painful to be stuck with whatever longing shines through, and painful to abandon that longing. It’s painful to come out of dissociating and painful to meet what’s behind it. Here is this wanting to be seen and attended to, this tender ache for contact. Here I am, X marks the spot, in one role: longed-for. Here I am, longing. Aha! Now the whole dynamic can be seen without shrinking. This is what it is like. This is what it is like. Hat on, hat off, here in the burning quality of being alive.
My friend posted a series of snarky, and yet more or less kind, photo-commentaries on the fashions at a recent royal wedding. At such events, hats are apt to shrink, to mushroom, to mutate. One woman wears a tiny bull’s-eye out, of which seven or eight blue, plumed arrows appear to be jutting. Another sports some significant section of a bear. Knock knock, writes the commentator, Who’s there? No one. Why do I love looking at these pictures so much? Because, finery. Because, beauty, and an escape from my own daily jeans and clogs. What is certainly shrinking is my willingness to be inconvenienced in any way by my clothing, but I admire in some sense those who wear arrows jutting out of their heads for the sake of style. That same woman’s dress is so cut-through with lacy openings as to give the distinct impression of a darkness between her blonde legs. A dare is being made: I dare you to look at me, in my arrows, in the shrinking area of my dress, and see me as whole, unblemished, and clear.
Who gave us the power to shrink one another’s hats? Who said, one day in preschool, Your jobs with one another will be to impinge on space and expression in such a way that joy, vitality, loud feathery squawks, and abysses of grief are no longer possible? Not the children themselves, but those placed in charge of larger numbers of them than can be lovingly corralled at once. I used to watch the long lines of SUVs dropping off children at the school where I taught, and wonder, Really? What is it about me, about us, that gives you any sense that we will do a better job of spending time with your children, these many hours, than you yourself could? I watched the tides of dropping-off, the tides of picking-up, with a sense of how we shrink our days, our lives, into shapes that, while moderately convenient and (in a teacher’s case) deemed necessary for survival, do not honor the wholeness of what we are. Not that homeschooling is much better, necessarily. Just: what the fuck are we doing, shrinking ourselves into geometry classrooms and early-morning devotionals read from stapled-together newsprint journalettes?
My shrinking hat is a MAGA cap sitting on the head of Kanye West as he freestyles his way through and obeisance to Trump. My MAGA cap is my wish to be taken seriously and paid some attention in the world. Good attention, bad attention: it doesn’t matter. What matters is not to be shrunk into oblivion. What matters is to expand into voice, crowd, channeling fear into a collective wave. What matters is that greatness is the opposite of shrinking. Under this hat, anything could happen, so you’d better watch out. There could be armies in here, whole mountains of rich coal, the obedience of millions. This hat refuses to shrink, or to tell anyone what greatness really is. I won’t take this hat off for anyone. It’s here to stay, and all your mushroomy hippie-hats, your lady-hats with arrows sticking out of them, your grandmother-hats, and any other hats having to do with shady dealings south of the border, can go fuck themselves.
This hat is a pre-existing condition.
This hat is a caste-marker.
Some people still travel with hat-boxes: beautiful Black church ladies, Orthodox men, and probably people who go to royal weddings. I’ve seen the first two personally, and the last one is a guess. Royal wedding fascinator-boxes might look a bit like the tubes that single-malt bottles come in, except taller and featherier. Timothy and I have talked about trying to fly with Chloe and Elliot, not as companion animals, but as fashion.
An Elliot hat.
Knock knock. Who’s there?
A Chloe coat with a tail.
Neither of the dogs are willing to shrink, so these plans are unlikely to work.
Baby shoes. Oh, God, baby shoes– the thing I have been avoiding assiduously ever since age nine, when I decided that baby-having was not for me. Not. For. Me. People would say, Strange little girl, you will grow out of this! Baby shoes go with motherhood, and motherhood is what little girls grow up and aspire to. And even though, physically, I was only four and a half or five feet tall, I could feel the hugeness of my NO extend its roots down through the basement ping-pong tables, through stacks of old suitcases, through roughly-disturbed earth, through mole-holes and shrew-holes into bedrock, down through layers and layers of ancient time to
I’m not sure I was believed, then, but I’m pretty sure this whole no-saying was a little spooky for some adults. What to do with a female child whose NO negates so many of the yeses she’s supposed to gravitate towards? I was at the same time giving some yeses. Yes, I’ll learn to read, to write, though I’ll insist on handwriting one-quarter the scale you require. But no to baby shoes. No to baby dolls. No to wishing to be anyone’s baby, soon replaced by another baby, and another.
It’s true I sometimes refer to my two large furry monsters as offspring, but all the times we’ve tried velcroing shoes to their paws – to help heal wounds – have been chewing, spazzing, swamp-shoe-drowning fiascoes. Chloe’s original set of four is now down to one, and Elliott’s larger, more recent set has maybe two. That’s it. No baby shoes for my offspring. Barefoot and not-pregnant, for all of us.
I don’t have anything against other people’s baby shoes, within reason. It took me four months to locate a pair of grey leather booties with smiling diplodocuses on them for my dear friend’s little daughter. When I found them, I knew: Yes! These! I had come to the pharmacy with my father in search of cancer-support drugs for my mother, and these baby shoes surprised me with their clear perfection.
You aren’t supposed to say anything, these days, about how many babies it might be wise for any one person to have. Just like you aren’t supposed to say anything about military spending, or how public support for the town golf course basically adds up to the opposite of the vagina tax women pay on everything from haircuts to jeans to paychecks. Babies are meant to be surrounded by a veil of nothing-to-say-here, unless of course they’re unborn, in which case many people will have a lot to say.
My NO to baby shoes started firmly in the domain of the personal: I did not want to be tethered to a small person. I did not want the mother-role as I saw it performed by the women around me. I saw, felt, breathed the rage my mother experienced at having to go everywhere with us, when my dad could scarcely be corralled to bring his talk-radio-infused Volvo to afternoon school-pick up. I knew we were a weight. I knew we were an impediment. I knew she loved us, and I knew she raged at having to be with us. Nothing like that for me, thanks.
But then I grew up in an era where world population started exploding. One year, in social studies class, the right answer was three billion, and then the next there were four. I wasn’t such a scientifically-oriented kid, but even so, I could tell this meant trouble. Where would everyone fit? What would we eat? What would we do? What would so many more of us mean for all the other creatures, who so often made more sense to me than humans did? Baby shoes started to seem like a sinister cover-up for a global disaster in the making. Quit it, everyone! I wanted to yell. Quit it, Southern girls talking about your weddings-to-be, and the names of your children-to-be. The world is on fire with baby shoes, and you’re just making it worse.
Living in New Hampshire and Vermont, as I do, means living at some distance from the fire. Our populations are aging and shrinking, while our forests are expanding. Or something close to that. We have water; we have land; I can go any number of wildish public places all around my house to loose my dogs and let them run free. I go back to Atlanta, though, where I grew up, and it’s immediately clear that the whole place is on fire with traffic, with heat, with new housing and shops and megamarkets everywhere. All of which are ways of not-saying: on fire with baby shoes. Places I once knew as deserted, open, wild, are now endowed with big parking lots, if they exist at all. Quick trips across town to the movies are now sluggish odysseys down vexed rivers of big, impatient cars with the windows rolled up.
The city is on fire.
The roads are on fire.
The houses are on fire.
The world is on fire with baby shoes.
Little pink ones and blue ones with fire-trucks on them.
The world is on fire with aging-not-dying.
The birds are disappearing.
The butterflies are disappearing.
The bees are disappearing.
Our patience with one another is wearing thin.
If you see all of being as conscious, as I do, and believe in diversity of being as essential, as I do, then what is happening now can only be described as abomination. Grinding up the mountains and forests and villages and workers and young lives and old lives and black and brown and poor lives into one kind of food to feed the wide-open mouths of new white babies is no kind of way to live.
Yesterday I spent time I probably could have done something else with, responding to a white Christian conservative, who had exclaimed piteously that all he and his political ilk are doing is fighting a defensive war to be allowed to raise their families in peace. In peace? What peace? When your baby shoes require mass incarceration, endless war, atrocities at the border, and the destruction of public lands for private gain, peace is not what you bring. I wrote what I could. I did not say, but should have, that white American humans with their baby shoes are some of the most dangerous animals ever to roam the planet, all under the guise of being righteously cuddly and protective. Give me a velociraptor any day.
I have no memory of the baby shoes I may have worn, except maybe the idea that my grandmother may have knit or crocheted some for me. I was cared for well enough, as a child, to survive, to find NO, to open my eyes and heart to the wholeness of this world.
Let us know how many babies is enough.
Let us know we can say NO.
Let us not forget the babies of other creatures.
Let us not fucking eat the babies of other creatures, especially without acknowledging that that is what we do.
Gray leather baby shoes with green leather diplodocuses on them. One sweet, chubby, smiling daughter, long-desired, much-adored. A YES radiating throughout many lives. May all children be so received and so treasured. And may we not forget that other ways of YES, other ways of treasuring are open to us. I have given birth to no one, and yet I love, and yet am free.
The shelves in our mud room are lined with Timothy’s and my large-person shoes: sandals, muck boots, hiking boots, sneakers. It is enough, as I knew it would be, age nine, refusing baby dolls, pretty-lady dolls, and mother-play.
Halfway up the path is no place to eat your sandwich. If you’re going to eat that sandwich, wait till the clearing in the trees, where you can look down on the field shaped like a wood cutter’s axe. Wait till the windblown top, where ravens will eat your crumbs. Wait till you’re back at the trailhead, if good sense tells you to turn back. Halfway is no place to eat that sandwich. You’ll just feel bloated, and anyway, the field shaped like an axe is beautiful to look at.
Halfway measures have a bad reputation, but if what you’re measuring is essentially bad news, halfway’s more than enough. Stop while you’ve only done half the harm you could, and things will be better. It’s true that you’ll miss out on the full-catastrophe thrill that so many of us are chasing after, these days. Halfway idiocy is less glamorous than the whole deal, but the cleanup afterwards is much less of a drag.
That town is halfway to Hades, exclaims someone fictional in the Southern Memories Center of my brain. Does that mean far? Does that mean actually quite close? The mid-nineties edition of the Lonely Planet China guidebook claimed that Goldmud was a local call from Hell. When I got there, it wasn’t halfway bad. More like all the way: dusty, expensive, debased, depressing. Maybe the worst bus ride of my life took off from Goldmud. Halfway up the mountain, we got a flat tire, which, looking at the state of the tires when we all got off to wait for something to happen, wasn’t halfway surprising. When whatever it was had happened, and we took off again, I’m halfway sure we left behind an old Tibetan man in a dust-colored coat. That bus took us more than halfway to Hades.
Halfway-sure is a weird state to be in. As in, I think that’s true, but I’m not positive that impression is coming from someplace trustworthy. Could be intuition. Could be fear. Could be a story from the vast swamp of TV-generated narratives. Could be I can’t be bothered, or I am too scared to turn around and check the back rows of the bus for an old man in a dust-colored coat. What if we left him halfway up the mountain? He’s actually probably better prepared to deal with that problem than most people. After all, those halfway-falling-off Tibetan nomad coats convert into sleeping bags. I’m halfway sure we left an old man in cracked classes somewhere out there, in a muddy sheep pasture halfway up a mountain.
As part of this whole collective mess that we here in the United States appear to be in, it’s probably a good thing that there are some swing-voters halfway committed to their opinions, but it’s also kind of mysterious. How can anyone be kind of iffy on whether it’s okay to commit sexual assault with impunity? If I listen, I find out. Oh, some people just make such a big deal out of everything. Can’t they just relax? I mean, come on – they won’t even show the Roadrunner cartoons on TV anymore, because they’re too violent? What is the world coming to? People hold halfway opinions because allowing pain – our own, and that of others – to touch us is (duh!) painful. Better to be distracted. Better to be angry. Better to stay halfway connected to experience and move along.
Halfway-voting is the way it works in this country, on a good day. Half of those allowed to vote, which to begin with is by no means everyone. Halfway I’m too busy. Halfway it hurts to think about it. Halfway what does it matter anyway? I halfway thought I would travel South and do voter registration work this Fall, but then I all-the-way didn’t. Life has a way of continuing to require efforts in place, even when halfway good ideas might lead us somewhere else. The wood needs stacking. The dogs can’t be walked or fed halfway, and neither can I.
Halfway is related to I have half a mind to… which really means, I am going to threaten you with [whatever], and hope very much that you back down, because going any further will require efforts of me that I do not wish to make. It’s a shitty little pattern, and it reminds me of something that happened once down South. My friend and I went for a hike into Tallulah Gorge, in the mountains of Georgia. We saw a water moccasin coiled on a stone, just right where a person might step on a snake. We kept walking, taking care not to step on snakes. The river grew as we walked, and so did the heat of the day. When we got to a wide place at the bottom of the gorge, we at first waited patiently for the church group on the opposite shore to be done with their tunafish, and scram, so we could swim. We didn’t have bathing suits, and we wanted to eat our sandwiches after we swam. But they stuck around, and stuck around some more, piously clothed and mayonnaise-glazed. Fuckers! Eventually, we just stripped and swam anyway.
Then, on the way back up, having forded river-water up to our necks and gotten our clothes wet anyway, we encountered a Ranger in full tan and olive garb. Looking really angry with us, he growled, If I’d seen what they saw, I would’ve had to arrest you. Those mayonnaise-Christians had snitched on us! My friend and I entertained ourselves the whole way back, imagining this Ranger somehow trying to wrestle two wet, naked Miss Monsters in handcuffs up the canyon. We found this hilarious. We were not even halfway scared of the Ranger, or of the church group, even though they all had half a mind to see us arrested.
Halfway to Heaven
Halfway to Eternity
Halfway to Hell
What bullshit. Who’s measuring?
I have half a mind to box their ears.
I am halfway to the end of this life. Oh, really?
I am halfway to the end of the story. How do I know?
Larissa is the one who keeps time, and she’s sitting on the floor in the corner, where I couldn’t see her phone if I tried.
Anyone halfway conscious
Anyone with halfway decent credentials
Anyone with half a heart
Anyone with half a brain
Where are all the other halves? What are they made of? Is it all dark matter? All fake news? An agglomeration of the bits that get sucked out of people, when they’re re-adjusted?
Seriously, where is all the rest of the baking, hearting, and cocking?
Could we have it back, please? There seems to be bit of a crisis going on, out here. I’m crossing out words, and that’s not really part of how all this is supposed to work. Stream-of-consciousness doesn’t mean, halfway what’s actually bubbling up, and halfway some reservations about all that. Can I eat my sandwich yet? I’m hungry, and that field shaped like an axe might be totally different now. Someone could’ve cut down the whole forest around it with an axe. The trees up on the ridge could’ve grown tall and covered up the view. I don’t halfway want my sandwich now.
I want it all the way.
Lipstick on a pig. Lipstick on his collar. Lipstick to brighten things up around here, why not?
Lipstick, when I was small, seemed the destiny that awaited me, and the only question was, what kind? Would I follow in my mother’s footsteps, and choose vaguely scientific, slightly beige Clinique lipstick in green plastic tubes (for the highly motivating free samples) or in heavy, ribbed silver tubes (for the expensive stuff)? Or would my Omi’s influence win out – heavy YSL tubes, enameled in alternating indigo and lapis stripes across their octagonal bodies? My Omi’s lipstick smelled of musk and flowers, and it was fuchsia. It did not give a fuck about science, only seduction, opulence, and the deep sheen of red rose-petals.
Only once did I buy a lipstick of that caliber. I was with my friend Inga, or at least I was with her spirit. It was some French brand, not YSL, not Chanel, but fancy-fancy, in a sheer honey-garnet color lightly flecked with mica. The tip was faceted at a deep slant, and it went on with just the right amount of friction. This was me in my Asian Nomad incarnation: crew cut hair, skinny, tanned, wearing the silks and velvets I found in beautiful street markets, stuffed into my backpack, and carried home. The lipstick was a counter-measure for all the time I spent clinging to the edges of muddy landslides waiting to happen, or shitting wildly into unspeakable trench-toilets. The lipstick was a portable form of a kind of elegance I remembered from the women in my life. Out where I was wandering, tall as I am, skinny as I was, shorn as I was, sometimes people didn’t recognize me a woman at all. That suited me fine. No lipstick on the road.
I look, now, at the astonishing from-below images of the Kavanaugh hearings, and what I notice most deeply are the well-groomed women in the background. They’re sitting quietly, and they look as though they could sit that way forever, in their lipstick, their hairless stockinged legs, their neatly pretty hair. At some point I had to grow out of lipstick. Being a nun required it. Being located inside my body (as opposed to at some critical distance from it) required it. Now sometimes I’ll use lipstick as a form of self-kindness, and still you won't catch me rubbing on something rabbits have had poked in their eyes, as a necessary passport for appearing in public. But these women – these well-groomed, rapist-supporting women – I can’t really imagine them outside of their presentational, passive ways. They are here to cheer on their man. They are here to keep themselves in the proper orientation to his power.
Once, during a winter retreat, I found myself sitting behind a dear friend in the meditation hall. There was, I felt in my own body, so much work in showing up as her: hair dyes and lipstick, little silver bells, dieting, eating outside the diet, choosing outfits, etc. Since the retreat was a full three months, I found myself wishing for her: Use this time to shed all that. If you cut off all your hair now, it will have time to go back as itself for when Spring rolls around and this whole thing is over. Let it go. Let it go. Let the body rest. Let your charm rest. Die off, so that something new can grow back.
I want to hold dying retreats for those whose diagnoses are no more alarming than simply being human. I want to hold space for the possibility of shedding, releasing, and re-growing. I want every person, every living being on earth to have the opportunity to show up here exactly as they really are, free of the stories of dominance and submission, decoration and judgment, value and non-value that distort our impressions of who and what we are. In the mornings, when I meditate, Chloe and Elliott hop up on my bed to sit with me. They’ve learned to wait until I’ve done making the bed. Anyway, before I begin formal practice, I extend each of my hands to rest on their dark, soft haunches, feeling into the life that joins us all. I reflect on all the ways that creatures just like these – women, dogs, people, animals – are misused, all over the world in this moment. And all the ways that lipstick is applied to that fundamental horror, to make it acceptable.
It’s for science.
It’s for medicine.
It’s for industry.
It’s for economic development.
They deserve it.
They don’t feel it.
They don’t matter.
Once I read an article about a medical team doing research on a new technique for extending the lives of people who’ve been shot and have lost a lot of blood. The basic idea was to throw the body into a vat of icewater, to mitigate the harm, slow down the system, and buy time. In theory, maybe that’s a great plan. But to practice doing this, the doctors “exsanguinated” dozens of dogs, submerged them in ice, and then gave them blood transfusions to bring them back. Even when they weren’t being bled nearly to death, frozen, and reconstituted, I am sure these dogs were living awful lives. The article describes the animals as “a special breed of large hunting dogs.” That could easily be Elliot. That could easily be Chloe. The absolute waste of consciousness that this involves is staggering to me. Living beings are not for playing with life and death. The doctor – the Principal Investigator – in the story reported that he does not like to think about all those months in the lab. I imagine not. It was a poor use of his life, too, especially since the primary targets for this new would-be miracle cure – young Black men shot in Baltimore and elsewhere – have proved suspicious of it. They and their families smell something unnatural and abusive, and they are not misguided in this. Lipstick it as we may wish to, grotesque disregard for what creatures need to thrive is always wrong.
What’s your color? Are you a Winter or a Spring? Perhaps some coral to make up for all your flaws? Have you ever seen a tree that was improved by lipstick? Or a mountain? Have you ever felt any need to move the clouds in the sky around, to better flatter your idea of how things should be?
Wear all the lipstick you want, from a place of play and authenticity. The TSA worker herding travelers into lines, issuing orders from a lush mouth in four quadrants – gold, teal, burgundy, and pale pink – is not making up for anything, nor feeling like she owes anybody her polish. She’s showing up as herself, destroying her stupid uniform from the inside, while continuing to wear it for the sake of livelihood. Wear your lipstick as drag, as challenge, as kindness, but not as compensation for any kind of perceived lack in yourself.
I want all the women at the Kavanaugh hearings to show up tomorrow as Maenads – hair wild, faces tear-stained, mouths wine-stained – and tear apart the idea that their proper place is respectful silence. I want them to throw ol’ Brett down and lipstick him, dress him in jeans and a T-shirt with a one-piece bathing suit underneath, and give him a good groping, while talking only to one another, and not to him. I want this not from a place of harm, but from a place of understanding. A study abroad in lipstick.
Breakfast in bed has crumbs, and crumbs are the way back out of the forest. Eat the breakfast, follow the path between big trees whose canopies overlap so you walk always among others’ shadows, instead of casting your own. The breakfast crumbs you left under the pillow. The breakfast crumbs your spine pressed into the creases in the sheets. The crumbs the ants are presently hauling away, but not before this footfall, and then the next, breakfast without end.
Breakfast in bed sounds great, until it’s Hospital Day 4, and you’re dreaming of your own dear toaster’s lopsided feet and sticky sides, and how you can shuffle up to it in your own good time, never mind the metal toast-cover and the patient-ID barcode. Breakfast in bed is different when you are living everything in bed, and you are a patient. Patience. Breakfast in bed as a patient is leaving crumbs on the unmarked paths of your own endurance. Who sees you? You would give a lot to see a wolf’s pelt fluttering in the breeze. You would give a lot to follow paths of smells and fox-turds, new glowing amanitas in morning light. You would give a lot to walk anywhere, but now is the time of breakfasts in bed.
Today’s breakfast is not in bed: it is two slices of toasted bread, buttered by my Love before catching the bus catching the tram catching the plane back across the ocean. And a cup of black tea in a white porcelain mug. Today’s breakfast is sitting in a narrow seat, writing, elbow-jostled by other travelers like me, as we prepare to cross the ocean. We are leaving a trail of security-scanned toothpaste and worn underwear stuffed into the corners of our suitcases. We are scattering a trail of those we leave behind. We are breakfasting on the adrenaline high of fastening our bodies into these unforested spaces. No wolves and no foxes. Our spines will press pretzel-bits into the dark-blue fake leather of our seats.
Breakfast in bed requires walking 500 miles across Spain. I arrive smelly and tired, having followed breadcrumbs of millions of pilgrims into my own body. Yellow blazes, cockle-shells, arrows, piles of stones. Arriving at the palace where pilgrims once stayed, I unfold the 500 franc bill in my pocket, given to me by my godmother, and ask, If I give you this, will you give me breakfast in bed? After one month of sleeping in orchards, on dirt roads, hidden at the edges of fields, I set down my backpack next to a heavy wooden bed like a forest sleigh. I peel off my sweaty socks, revealing feet like white fetlocks. I peel off my pilgrim’s clothes and slide into a deep, white bath. I sleep off the weariness of walking every day for a month, and the weariness of not walking anymore.
In the morning the form I filled out requesting breakfast in bed, and hung from the outside doorknob, has been replaced with a monumental tray bearing a heavy silver pitcher of hot chocolate, and pastries, butter, and jam. I spread crumbs between the damask sheets before heading to the train station for the long journey home. Breakfast in bed is the pause between before and after.
Here on the plane, breakfast is either a Chocolate Duet or an omelette, though neither will be served in bed. We eat breakfast in our chairs because there is nowhere else to be. Breakfast in bed presupposes somewhere else your legs could take you, but the fake-bear coat I am currently wearing is the closest thing to a forest animal around here, unless you count the pale sausages I avoided by ordering the unpopular Chocolate Duet. The steward says he feels sorry for the Chocolate Duet, because nobody wants it.
I am watching The Post, also in my chair, which is not a bed. There’s not a lot of leisure in this story of secrets and competition. No one has yet appeared on screen, reading about government lies while lying in bed, though Meryl Streep will in the fulness of time be eating breakfast in a fabulous robe. It is an active story, with many people walking around, but hardly any forest animals, or people doing anything in bed. It is a story about fighting and tirelessness, lies and truths.
Being a therapist means entering into the territory of lies and truths, with and without fighting. Someone tells me a story about their life, and I follow the crumbs with them, down into anthills and the bellies of foxes. I say, Yes, I see the crumbs, too, even if they are eventually gobbled by the forest. I let my body be a part of the remembering we are doing together. This is really happened. I am here seeing the story with you, as we move through steady shadow. This is real.
What I am flying back to is the story I am trying to build. I have rented an office and joined a practice. Now what? I am preparing to be prepared. I am putting down crumbs in the world that lead back to me. Here I am. Have you remembered to follow the crumbs your dreams leave for you? Have you remembered your bed? How are the foxes and bears dancing with you, today? I have rented an office and am flying back to whatever will fill it. I am flying back to the two black bears I roam the forests with, their nostrils flaring as they find the crumbs. They will gather burdock and other stickers, scattering small twigs and other crumbs of the forest around the house, to make sure we know our way back out.
Breakfast in bed and other kindnesses: may we learn to look upon one another at dark bus-stops, in newsrooms, in airplane seats, and see the potential for such crumbs of comfort to lead us back to who we are.
The recipe calls for one hundred and eight skulls on a string. The recipe calls for a black fake-bear coat. The recipe calls for skipping the early bus, in favor of spending some time bringing order back into my studio space. Dust the incense box. Dust the embroidery box. Throw all the rolls of blue tape back into a brown paper bag. The recipe calls for going back to repack my suitcase, deciding to bring my shiny black Birkenstocks but to leave behind the oracle book and the plaid shirt. The recipe calls for going back to fetch my phone from the parking lot, so I can send my dad a flamenco dancer when he tells me to behave myself on the plane. The recipe calls for every emergency vehicle in Lebanon to deploy for a crash it also called for. The recipe calls for tree cutters on the way to the Mountain View Pet Resort to slow me down, and a young man in a hard hat to create a narrow passage between fallen oak limbs and fluorescent green plastic cones. The recipe calls for going back to replace an errant vermilion Swarovski crystal on my ring.
The recipe calls for longing.
The recipe calls for longing.
The recipe calls for great tears and sobs of longing, which are the heart’s leavening and its preheated oven.
The recipe calls for Kevin Costner in another movie about his unique abilities to rescue brown people. I know it’s not Dances with Wolves, because semi-trucks and smoke alarms are involved. Results may vary, but assumptions do not.
The recipe calls for two of the most important mentors of my life to be African-American artists. The recipe calls for them to challenge me with great heart, to see me, and to transmit to me my responsibility to see the world with care and magic and precision. I try to do this.
The recipe calls for everything that’s still in the kitchen and perishable. I sauté it all up in a big pan: peppers, tomatoes, spinach, chard. It’s delicious and has the benefit of following the directions of What Is.
The recipe calls for allowing the dogs to lead me deeper into rainy woods than I’ve ever gone before, up beyond where any traffic sounds reach, to mossy places and to the place where tall dead trees stand stripped bare, the first-seen masts of this hill-ship. The recipe calls for day to be falling as I loop in unknown uphill circles, wondering what it will be like to spend the night out here sandwiched between two wet dogs. The recipe calls for Chloe and Elliot to lead me out, for black trumpets still to be growing on the little slope near the bog, for Chloe and Elliot to disappear I walk out the last few yards in the streambed in my orange boots, for Chloe to refind her lost bone on the way back to the car.
The recipe calls for understanding of so many more ways of connection and being the than the hard and cruelly guarded categories I learned at a young age. The recipe calls for sifting together:
friend lover family challenger
colleague friend teacher boss
brother sister father mother child
partner priest son daughter confessor
Mix well, but do not overwork.
The recipe calls for honesty. It calls for moving towards delight and consternation with equal steps. The recipe calls for a hundred and eight skulls on a string, and for knowing that everyone’s head including my own is already on that string. And ever shall be, Amen.
The recipe calls for a dream in which I see an orphaned ocelot cub, brought to a museum case in which she is left alone, starving and trying to bite through a dead seal’s thick skin with her little teeth. The dream calls up a video about industrial-scale net fishing and fur hunting. Someone peels the soft white fur off a polar bear cub and throws his still-living, lox-raw body unto a pile of other “catch.” The recipe calls for outrage. The recipe calls for Elliot sprawled next to me in bed, belly up, two hind paws near my armpit. The recipe calls for getting serious about protecting animals, remaking the connections between whole human bodies, whole animal bodies, whole forests, and the body of the world. The recipe calls for recognizing cruel isolation, dissection, and cold scrutiny as abominations.
The recipe calls for working with clients in a space that conveys power, safety, and magic all at once, while being absolutely clear that these reside in the client. The recipe calls for working with distressing dreams and dreams of loss and exile. The recipe calls for restoring the body’s knowledge of how to move from its own truth. The recipe calls for unconditional love unfolding in its own rhythms. The recipe calls for the first shall be last the last shall be first. It calls for transfers of knowing that pull us out of our ideas of one another.
The recipe calls for freaks and weirdoes. The recipe calls for a stolen plastic cheetah in my pocket. The recipe calls for being queer. The recipe calls for turning my back on what will they think, while also recognizing my responsibility to prepare a dish that might in its own way nourish others and myself, while causing as little harm as possible.
The recipe calls for DVDs of movies I never heard of when they came out. It calls for more books than I can ever read. It calls for a lost-sheep library items and some hoarding that might actually be genius. It calls for my grandfather’s forty-pound red-velvet curtains, attic-aged to perfection. It calls for me to re-create structures of power, while taking them apart from the inside. The analyst’s office. The dokusan room. The professor’s lair. The oracle’s cave. The rich man’s study. I string them like skulls and invite you in.
The recipe calls for cancer.
The recipe calls for cancer.
The recipe calls for skin cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, sarcomas, glioblastomas, colon cancer, liver cancer, and many other mutations slowly or quickly growing in the soft and hard places of our bodies. The recipe calls for allowing one another to hold our sicknesses with kindness and ferocity. With deep-teal nail polish and with henna tattoos on bald heads. The recipe calls for us to hold one another in an infinite circle of Pietas. My body, this body, now spent. Please hold me. Please let me hold you.
The recipe leaves nothing out.
The recipe demands and devours everything.
Pour it all into a heart-shaped seventy-five-cent thrift store tin and bake till well done.
Do this every day.
Do this in remembrance of me.
Do this and it shall be done unto you.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.