Okinawan slime potato, are you for real?
Okinawan slime potato, will you be my spirit animal?
If you were my spirit animal, I could stop striving. I could go to yoga class, and every time there was an “optional flow,” I’d go into Potato Pose instead, like Child’s Pose with all the striving taken out of it. Potato Pose is a lot like Moose Turd Pose, only a little more shapely. Moose Turd is more advanced, because it requires willingness and ability to be scattered, to be unhinged, to fall to bits while still remaining connected in some indefinite way.
Okinawan slime potato, if you ran for President, I would definitely vote for you. Your cabinet appointees might be a bunch of fungusy root vegetables, but none of them would have shady petrochemical pasts. I choose the optics of a bunch of lumps over yet another polished pupu platter of the patriarchy. Okinawan slime potato – may I call you OSP? – your values are dark and subterranean, but in a healthy way. You prevent global warming by never actually bothering to do any of the things that cause it.
Okinawan slime potato, you are the end of every career and non-career, and in fact, you don’t distinguish one from the other. It’s all slime to you, Potato. Just another slimy day underground. I open my heart to the sky, I bring my heart down to the ground, I balance on steady legs, backbend, shovel snow, initiate community arts projects, and meanwhile you, OSP? You just potato along underground, maybe multiplying yourself like dahlia tubers, and maybe not. What’s going on down there? You’re not a blogger gently coaxing others into recovery. You’re not a partisan, nor an expert, nor a buffoon. You’re a slime potato, for gods’ sake, and I’m beginning to think you’re genius.
This morning I woke up with two fur-potatoes neatly curled up on the right side of my bed. Which proves they know how to orchestrate themselves in this way, and also confirms my suspicion that, when they take up 98% of the bed, they’re fucking with me. Dogs can be fur-potatoes, and they know how to be polite about it when they so choose. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.
Fur potato, slime potato.
Why make use of Okinawa? Because it’s right there in the name.
Are you a truffle, Okinawan slime potato? At special occasions, do people slice into pâté with you as a treat in the middle? Foie gras sometimes comes in trapezoidal cans, which you have to heat up with warm water in order to melt the outer grease layer just enough so that you can push the whole loaf out from one end through the other. As a child, I remember eating quite a lot of this on toast: whenever it was someone’s anniversary, or birthday, or even Jesus’ birthday, though I suspect he’d’ve preferred we’d stuck with hummus. Then someone told me about force-feeding geese and I gave that whole scene up. One less trapezoidal slice doesn’t mean the loaf’s still not being squeezed out of the can. Do they at least use the geese’s feathers for pillows and coats? Or is there a strict separation between different types of geese-Inquisitors?
Okinawan slime potato, if we ate you instead of foie gras, would the geese get a break? Probably not. We are not good at giving creatures (including ourselves) a break. This week I found out about mulesing, which I had never heard of, from an ad online for something I didn’t want to buy, even though it was mulesing-free. Mulesing is when you flay the buttocks of sheep, so that the skin will grow back naked. It is basically a permanent bikini-wax for our woolly friends, only much, much worse. The claim is that this process prevents a terrible skin infection that sheep sometime die of. I am horrified. All the socks and long johns and sweaters are from tortured sheep? What the fuck? Okinawan slime potato, this kind of thing makes me want to join you underground, where it's probably warm enough not to need to mess around with long johns and down coats. It makes me want to grow full-body fur like those German Mary Magdalenes who surely never again turned to the garment industry for anything.
Okinawan slime potato, you don’t have buttocks, do you? No buttocks, no wings, no abs. You are one potato, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, amen. Amen. No buttocks means you can sit anywhere. No buttocks means nothing to excrete. How do you excrete, Okinawan slime potato? Through your skin. Through the tendrilly leaves you send spiraling up through the soil, once the temperature is right. Your leaves and stalks, eating sunlight. Your potato-ball nourished by the soil. What a wonder! What a gift.
Slime potato fries can’t be a thing, because you can’t fry slime.
On the other hand, you can fry ice cream, so what do I know?
Slime potato fries and coleslaw.
I oscillate between being thoroughly sick of everything and wanting to play a part in relieving the suffering of all beings. I suspect this is not unusual – it’s just that many of the suffering-of-all-beings types keep quiet on their don’t-give-a-fuck days. They don’t write slime potato essays. They don’t flip the bird at teenagers who don’t know how to make a decent playlist. They don’t admit just how difficult it is to keep coming back to involvement, though maybe they should. And, to be clear, I’m not talking about graceful expressions of we’re-all-human-here. I’m talking about the kind of mood where you want to burn down the house and snort cocaine, even though you’ve never done either of those things, and likely never will.
In that house-burning, cocaine-snorting mood, dear Okinawan slime potato, I turn to you. You have no words of wisdom, but you just sitting there, slimy and useless as a rotten log, reminds me not to compound harm with harm. It’s a hard thing, this being human. This striving/non-striving, this weathering storm upon storm, heartbreak upon heartbreak, and re-finding center. Okinawan slime potato, you are my unseen keel, the mass looming under my hull, beneath the waves, keeping the whole ship upright when nothing above the surface feels steady at all.
Worst scent ever. Who thought of llama-musk deodorant? Who thought of beanie weenie personal spray? Who did this to our collective aromasphere? Were they maddened by the Powder Fresh vs. Thundergod miasma we’ve been stewing in, these many years?
In many Buddhist centers and other assorted sensitive places, anything but unscented is considered the worst scent ever. I forget and show up with my rose-and-geranium face cream, with my thundergod deodorant, and feel exposed. Do I hold my armpit hygiene to be more important than others’ well-being? Or am I the sort of person happy to develop her own, biological worst scent ever, in an effort to keep the space free of dangerous chemicals? There’s actually no winning. It doesn’t need to be llama-musk to be bad. It can be standard path-of-purification, and still send a blunt prow up the noses countless silent meditators everywhere.
Travel with only three shirts in a tropical climate where it rains all the time, and you are well on your way to cooking up the worst scent ever, as day after day you pull on shirts mostly – but not quite – dry from the previous afternoon’s washing. Some sort of rich composting takes place in the fibers of your clothes, some powerful alchemy of mold, muck, and hotel soap. Eventually you find a slender pearlized roll-on in a village shop. Now it’s worst-scent-ever, plus mango-tango, and the situation’s subjectively better. The tango has entropy-reversing properties. The shirts are still probably biohazards, but now there’s an overlay of grooming that lands someplace valiant and busy. You’ve spent money on this project, and so from your perspective, it’s no longer a straight slide into irreparable decay.
The worst scent ever is sidewalk-crushed ginkgo berry.
The worst scent ever is the first flush of two dogs skunked in the face by the same fuzzy assassin.
Something died here, but I can’t find it.
It blows over and comes back.
Sniff Elliot’s head, and depending on the day, you might find pink SweetTarts, old skunk, fritos, or sunlight. Elliot’s scent is rarely the worst ever. Sniff Chloe’s head, and you’ll find something a bit more primordial: fox turds, peat, urine of wild animals, moose-breath, and bark. Chloe’s scent isn’t the worst ever, but you won’t find Unilever or Dior working diligently to synthesize it, either.
Scratch and sniff. Those matte, inch-wide stickers were a base magic of my childhood. I don’t remember learning where or how they were bought and sold – for me, they just appeared at the doctor’s office or on friends’ notebooks. Watermelon. Peanut butter. Peach. I found them all intoxicating, mysterious, evocative of the same hypersensual universe from which bubble gum flavors and shiny Trapper Keepers emanated. There was the world that yielded meatloaf and whole-wheat bread, and then there was the scented, glittery, saturated realm that sometimes breached my mom’s defenses of good health and good taste to come find me. Some children seemed to live almost 100% in that state. Their superhero lunch boxes were its diplomatic suitcases. Their brightly colored shoes and hair-ties were its regalia.
Meanwhile there were brown things to be eaten. Meanwhile there were beige corduroys. Meanwhile TV was for Nova, not Wonder Woman. I bided my time.
Here are some of the shoes I have subsequently bought or worn in attempts to become a citizen of the scratch-and-sniff, fluorescent-legwarmer universe:
Maybe in truth the worst scent ever is the smell of striving to be what we are not. At the moment, my feet are still cold from my morning snow-romp with the dogs, even though they are stuffed into fake-shearling boots with real-shearling insoles. I know my pointer-toe on the right foot is probably white right now, but I’m not pretending anything more inspiring is going on. I’ve worn these knee-high socks for the past few days, and I’m pretty sure they’re at a comfortable no-stink. No stink of extra effort. No stink of neglect.
The Zens, who have a lot of pungent expressions, sometimes accuse one another of stinking of Zen. What exactly this means probably varies from case to case. Are you on such an austerity kick that you’re bathing once a month? Stink. Are you convinced that beating your ego into submission is going to trigger the emergence of some transcendent butterfly of awakening? Worst scent ever. Are you boring others with tales of the Great Meditators? Pee-ew! Stinking of Zen is something that can actually be accomplished from within any belief system. You can stink of Catholicism, Republicanism, progressivism, parenting, social justice, and just about anything else you pick up in desperate hope of keeping others off the jackal reek of your own self-loathing.
Have you ever smelled durian? People like to go on about either how gnarly it is, or how refined. To me, it’s just sort of comforting, like stinky cheese, and I love the way you have to crack through the fruit’s armored casing to get to the soft, slippery, sweet camembert inside. That particular worst scent ever is a reminder of what all our bodies are, and thus, a gift.
That wart. That bumpy, encrusted wart almost definitely has roots in the Apocalypse Bathroom, the one wainscoted in shit, with a smashed sink and matching toilet. Or maybe the Apocalypse Basement, where once a night hot water comes juddering out of a rusty pipe near the ceiling, serving as a shower if you’re willing to stand naked in the middle of the room. That wart has its roots in dank places never exposed to the possibility that spaces, like bodies, might be treasured, cleaned, and held holy. That wart drives around with Disabled Veteran plates and the war it comes from is the one we all try not to notice, until we have no choice.
That wart travels from foot to foot via shower stalls and puddly locker room floors. It makes public space queasy with the risk of exposure to others’ bodies. It justifies globby silos of sanitizer, mountains of rubber flip-flops, forests of toilet seat covers, and the privatization of everything. That wart is why people are afraid of public swimming pools and public gyms and the public good in general. How do you know you have succeeded? When the only warts you are exposed to are your own.
In the Delhi airport twenty years ago, there was a water fountain with glass tumbler. A single glass tumbler for everyone, and I was thirsty, and I drank Delhi tap water out of it. That wart did not grow on my tongue. A single glass tumbler for everyone means no trash to throw away. In India I drank Limca Cola out of glass bottles so many times reused that their shoulders were like beach glass. Velvety bottles so precious you were not allowed to walk away from the street seller who’d opened them for you. You stayed in place and drank squatting or standing or sitting on rickety little plastic stools. Your drinking was not private and free-floating. It was done in place, aware of the body and presence of the person who’d sold you the soda, and the bodies of all those who’d drunk from this bottle before.
That wart is a motivating force keeping millions afraid of one another. Build a wall against that wart. Wash your hands of that wart. Wart into your elbow. Wipe it with an antibacterial solution and make sure to let it dry completely before making contact. In such an environment, illness is an embarrassment, a failure of protocol. I am in the Dharma Hall, coughing so hard that I choke and gurgle and splutter. Who does that? Careless people. People who don’t know how to conceal their warts. People whose attention to the public sphere is faulty and incomplete. I cough so much tears flow. What was that lovely thing you were saying? That wart got in the way of my hearing you.
The warts of others.
Our own warts.
The warts of the Other.
My friend tells me how when he was little, there was a club for the white people and a club for the non-white people. Being brown, and also the grandson of an ambitious woman, he went to the white club with his family. What was better about this? The swimming pool at the other club wasn’t very clean, people said. Really?
Near my old apartment in Atlanta, there was a wonderful public swimming pool in the middle of the park. Some people wouldn’t go there because of that wart. I went and brought my snorkel stuff so the little kids could dive and play with it. Wearing a mask, we could see a hair extension floating like an eel. We could see a Band-Aid. Ah! Human bodies are here, we would think, grateful to be able to pay two dollars to get out the ridiculous heat.
Once I had a plantar wart on the ball my foot and my mother took me to see a white-coated doctor, who burned it alive with liquid nitrogen on a long cotton swab he stuck into a smoking, narrow steel flask. It was insanely painful while he burned me and then it was worse when a giant purple blood blister replaced the wart. Then the blood blister fell out, leaving a gaping, fleshy hole in my foot. That was medicine. It took weeks to heal.
Another time I had a plantar wart on the ball of my foot and my sweet hippie friend told me on a hike that if I took off my boot and wooly sock and dipped that wart in the water cupped at a tree’s roots, it would go away. He stood by while I stripped my foot and let mossy Georgia rainwater reverse the wrongs of the Apocalypse Bathroom. Sure enough, that wart decided it had done what it needed to do, and my foot became imperceptibly wartless.
Which is scarier? That wart, or all the measures we take to avoid and destroy it? If we think we will need to be burned alive in order to eradicate the wart, we might be willing to burn ourselves and others preemptively. If we think rainwater and kindness are available to heal us, we might have a lot more resilience around whichever warts arise or don’t arise.
That wart hurts whenever I put my foot down, until it doesn’t. That wart came from somewhere, with roots somewhere, and it goes somewhere else. Warren Zevon never went to see doctors and died of a cancer that might or might not have been burnt out by the doctors he never saw. Is it irresponsible not to go see doctors? I saw a doctor for the fierce cough I had earlier this year and he just recommended I keep squirting salt water up my nose twice a day. He refused to burn anything out of me, counseling patience and kindness instead. I didn’t like that answer. I wanted his white coat to burn out all my warts, which is what happens when I get scared. What happens when we get scared is, we call in the white coats, the military boots, the dark blue uniforms with guns and tasers, to burn out all the warts. We don’t want to think about the bloody craters before we see them, and even afterwards, some of us aren’t cratered, so it’s mostly alright.
That wart is a bellwether for my ability to tolerate discomfort and decay. It is a test of whether I mean it when I say I agree to complete embodiment. Am I holding onto an asterisk? That wart is the asterisk. It is the exception I wish I could make as I watch salt water and snot pour out of my nose. It is the fierce companionship I offer myself and all beings, all the way down.
That wart refuses to be prettied up with tape and concealer. It’s not going to shut up about the truth of these bodies and it can’t be gentrified into growing somewhere else. Build a wall around that wart, and its tunnels will be legion. Your wall will be the greatest wart of them all.
Raging hormones. Why not just say they sing?
“Raging hormones” sounds like something cooked up by a mind that mistrusts the body, a mind that sees body as an embarrassing, sidetracking distraction from the one true path of spotless disembodiment. Raging for, raging against. I rage for you. I rage against distance, inhibition, ill-health, ill-will, and the dissociative tendencies that follow trauma. Hormones don’t rage – they simply carry sex from one place to another – inside this body, between bodies, across space and time.
Last night I made an updated Sexy Jesus calendar for 2019, which is actually a Sacred Heart/Nature Conservancy mashup. Sexy Jesus and the Kamchatka Brown Bear. Sexy Jesus and the Cactus Finch. We are meant to believe that no hormones ever sang through his nail-pierced hands, his flaming, thorn-crowned heart, his Princey eyes. Really? What could it possibly mean to be The Word Made Flesh and have no hormones? Such flesh would have lost something essential in translation.
The Kamchatka Brown Bear stares at Jesus, unconvinced. Come on, Man, you’ve got hormones like I’ve got fuzzy feet. It’s not because you can’t always see them that they’re not there.
Both of our dogs are same-sex aggressive with other dogs. Is that raging hormones, and if so, what are they trying to accomplish? Chloe tangles with a dog named Molly. Both have their hackles up, giving them a distinctly disreputable hyena look, as they join in a rousing rendition of There’s Only Room for One Bad Bitch on This Trail, And That’s Me. Elliott, meanwhile, is willing to enter the fray, but not raging like Chloe is. If the interloper were a Buddy and not a Molly the roles would switch, and Elliott would become the lead monstrosity. No matter the gender, I have a dog who will hate your dog. It’s not what I want, but it is What Is.
I carry woven through me a strong strand of longing and compulsive seduction, whose awakened form is discernment. So really, my hormones don’t rage so much as they imagine, connect, and entwine. When I was an adolescent, they would swoon in waves, narrowing my sense of universal love around some boy-man or another, from behind a carefully maintained and inscrutable shyness. I would imagine; I would pine; I would relish being destabilized and obsessed. I still love the intensity of attraction, its magnetic quality, the way it heightens perception and lends meaning to everyday experience. And yet now I also know discernment: this, not that. This song, not that one.
Finding center in the midst of destabilizing flight is the opposite of raging hormones. I can feel where fear would go, where overwhelm would go, and instead I tune into the night sky, my hands pushing against the gate of the pink sparkly plastic bench in which Timothy and I are flying around. Stone parapets whirl by. The train station glows beneath us. I do not look down. I breathe deeply. Nothing is raging here. I am safe, the world is beautiful, and that woman is washing her dishes just beyond the round garret window to which the Star Flyer has hoisted us. The seat tilts, center tilts, but the realization of firm ground remains.
Do you know the feeling of wanting to lose control? Do you know the feeling of choosing otherwise? It is a small thing. Not this, but that. It is a choice that’s not at all always available: too much, too fast, too soon can happen to any one of us, and to pretend otherwise is just as much a fantasy as a Hormone-Less Jesus. Knowing deeply when I relinquish control and when I choose it is as essential as knowing the in-breath and the out-breath. Raging-singing hormones, bodies and souls know many paths to delight.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now