Waxy nubbins come pebbling out of my ears. Do my ears create them, or do they come percolating out of my brain, a byproduct of tired thoughts, feral thoughts, lusting thoughts, thoughts of transgressions past, present, and future? There: I reach into my right ear, and extract a waxy nubbin, right on cue. The right ear is the greater nubbin-producer, just as the right nostril is the more profligate booger-factory. Why? Maybe being the dominant side creates more friction, more exhaust, more of a cycle of boom and bust.
Waxy nubbins. Who’s to say that embodiment isn’t an excuse for the universe to experience itself picking its own ears? If I were the universe I’d want to experience myself in dogs’ morning eye-boogers, long hair with split ends, behind-the-ear grease, and soft cheek-down. I would not be satisfied with triumphal arches and nebulae – I would require all that bodies do, think, and be. If I were the universe I would take pleasure in the workings of the world, the way stray threads stick to clothing long after a project is done, the way paint feathers into small channels on dry skin, the way toenails gnarl to protect feet from the wear of weight-bearing. I would commit to these things, and maybe I would remember not to complain of them.
If Oprah, Mindy, and Reese’s characters had richer relationships to their glamorous, absurd getups, this might have been a way to save the Wrinkle in Time movie. It’s not absolutely clear in the film, but those characters’ shapes are meant to emerge from this intention: We are billion-year-old angel-stars. For the sake of communication, we are taking on bodies. Bodies are not 100% our bag, but since they are what it takes to connect with you humans, we’re in. Here’s where something important could happen: the Mrses could pass through the filter of Hollywood lady-being, and comment freely on the rules they discover therein. Jesus fucking Christ! Who can run in a hoop skirt? If someone doesn’t stop freak-teasing my hair, and get these stupid crystals off my face, I swear I’m going right into the starcloud, and I’ll never, ever come back. There would be an opportunity to look at Hair and Makeup not as a given of female embodiment, but as a set of conventions that no cosmic being could ever take at face value.
A similar thing happens in the Wonder Woman movie. Because the protagonists’ guides (and the filmmakers) are invested in ideas of female modesty, beauty, and ca.1917 fashion, as soon as the character leaves the Island of the Amazons, she is hustled into some silly tweed outfit, without the chance to consider what might actually suit her needs and her nature. The Mrses and Wonder Woman pass into female form all glammed up, and in so doing, lose the chance to live out their waxy nubbins. They lose the chance to be fully human and fully divine.
Fully human AND fully divine makes us humans deeply nervous. We prefer splitting: either Jesus was fully divine (and never really touched down here on Earth), or he was fully human (and all that God stuff is superstition). The same goes for the Buddha, and for any prophet, guru, or great teacher. Split positions like these leave intact our limited views of what we as humans can be, and set up our hankering for some Other, quite unlike us, whose blessings or faults underwrite everything that happens here on Earth.
Did Jesus have sex? If no, then hoorah! We can dismiss the complicated realm of our sexualities as Not Relevant to the Spirit. If yes, and he was God, then what would that mean? He was a person, in a body, and also divine. He loved someone else, also human, also divine, and something happened here on earth that implicates all of us.
But, but, but: he was murdered. If he was God, why did he allow this to come to pass? Because being broken is part of being whole. Because getting everything right, and showing up in your whole self, is no guarantee of not coming to terrible harm. Because now maybe we can stop blaming people when awful things happen to them. Because the price of becoming human is pain.
I wanted Ava du Vernay’s movie to be wonderful, and in some ways, it was. Her greeting at the beginning of the screening delighted me: Hoorah! Here is this woman of color, Hollywood director, bright with her talent and success, taking time to express gratitude for me and my neighbor, out here snarfing popcorn on a Saturday night. Oprah’s good witch, Reese’s snarky one, and Mindy’s Rumi-quoting one all provide glimpses of the feminine divine. But there is something kind of shallow and superficial about the whole enterprise – it’s too happy with its glitter to engage meaningfully with the waxy nubbins of the story. I’m not satisfied anymore with absolute evil (the It’s gnarly black neurons) and absolute good (Oprah, 40 feet tall, immobilized by some costumer’s overreach). Can’t the Mrses be a little greedy? Can’t the It have been made so through some primordial wound? Can’t Charles Wallace be a bit of a shit, without this depending entirely on demon-possession?
Anyway, the path I am walking is a path of waxy nubbins, owning the shadows that keep me anchored in this tall body, this personality, this biography with its eases and sorrows. I am a healer and a monster; a maker of mistakes; a listener, and a filler of the ears of the world with nonsense. I have seen Harvey Weinstein, and he is me. I understand that attention to what is grubby, worn, and outside set narratives, is the safeguard that halts rogue ideas and delusions.
All of this, of course, informs the consent culture I say I want. Staying connected, moment to moment with another person requires my willingness to let go of what I think I want, what I think I want to be, and what I want the other to be and want. But, but, but, I want to be an ageless Angel with glitter lipstick and crystals spangling my brows. Tough. Right now, you’re pestering. Right now, you are frozen, he’s frozen, the whole world has gone lifeless. Right now, you have no choice but to recognize a story, falling apart. You can come back to What Is, and fall in love with that. You can force and suffer. You can collapse and suffer. All of these choices are here for you, but as for any possibility of a nubbins-free story, we’re sorry, but that just died.
What is it like, when we consent to be as we are? Scary, strange, quiet, magnificent, impossible. I pick up a round paintbrush and draw a clear red line down from my hairline to my chin. Then another line, from ear to ear. The lines become a double-vajra. The field around my eyes goes pink. Then white spots, silver bands, spears down my arms, another spear to my heart, ribs across my throat. No choice, then, but to wander in the snow, to ask to be seen, to put on my Healer/Warrior/Nurse Suit. No choice but to come eat ravioli with you, my beloveds, stars, booger-makers, fellow-delusionists, and heroes.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of now