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
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.
108 Names of Now