Oh, asshat! Such a rude, satisfying word, no matter how you look at it. You are wearing the ass of some other creature, qua hat, à la Davy Crockett. You are so backwards, you are wearing your own ass as hat. The simple pleasure of a small, creative detour from asshole, to something even more phonetically satisfying. In any case, “asshat” is what Larissa pulled out of the magic box of prompts this morning (in my handwriting, I will readily admit), and so asshat is my lodestone.
I remember a Gary Larson The Far Side cartoon in which a guy walks into a raccoon bar, where all the patrons (big raccoons, surprise!) are wearing human buttocks-hats. It’s a classic, and it also seems to sum up the teachings of karma pretty nicely. Any reality in which you are walking around, thinking, Oh, what’s the harm in shooting a few of those garbage-eaters, and borrowing their fluffy tails for my personal glorification and ear-warmth? is simultaneously evolving a parallel universe in which you will walk into the Raccoon Bar one cold afternoon, and think, Shit. Can’t a person grab a beer without the sins of the whole universe coming to visit?
This morning, harried, hurried, I literally surrender my ass to Facebook, click on the ad for Fancy Mouse Underpantses, and speed-order three pair of supposedly sustainable bamboo fiber not-thongs. What tells me these were produced by anyone other than orphans confined in some flammable, rickety factory somewhere in South Asia? Nothing at all! I didn't even click on the link about Why Sustainable Fibers Matter. My ass is in a hurry for some new hats, and so, voilà! $41.35 later, my perception is: problem solved. Meanwhile, reality may be setting me up for a date, sometime soon, with an underpants factory in Bangladesh.
To be clear, this is not because the universe has it in for me, or for any of us. It’s more like this: we are the ones who get to walk around embodied, actually doing stuff, and so the universe would strongly prefer that we get our acts together, sooner rather than later. My fleeting perception that the holes and near-holes in my ancient Target underwear present a problem uniquely well-suited to being solved via Facebook-ad represents a lapse in the deeper awareness that knows, Nothing is missing right now. Nothing is out of place. $41.35 to the Nature Conservancy, to humanitarian relief, or the ACLU, might be a better way of activating resources.
I don’t mean to excuse myself, but it’s worth noticing all the asshat-conducive pressures operating in our lives: the urgent voices insisting YOU NEED THIS. LIFE WITHOUT THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. YOU ARE RUNNING A GRAVE RISK BY NOT SMITING THIS RIGHT BACK INTO THE CAVE IT CRAWLED OUT OF. We’re very good at producing and perpetuating such messages for one another, in part because we depend on them for our livelihoods, and also because it would be so lonely to be left the only asshat in town. It’s easy to see how my underwear-story is stupid, and maybe harder to acknowledge other stupidities, such as the compulsions that underlie what we call careers, political activism, spiritual life, and education. In all these areas, there is goodness to be had, and the asshat part is what gets caught up to the point of rigid, defensive identification.
I spent some time on an hourlong group supervision call this morning, which included a fellow-student whose identification with the we of her internship clinical staff felt more deeply problematic with each passing minute. This well-meaning, expert we handles an array of defective they – parents, clients – whose ignorance prevents them from receiving the benefits of what we are offering. I know how easy it is to enter into this state of mind, and I also know how much relief there is to be gained in stepping out of it. No thank you, Raccoon Bar, not this time.
Back-to-school is showing up strongly in my counseling internship right now, in the form of fear and loathing among my middle- and high-school clients. They have correctly intuited that there is some asshattery going on in the educational-industrial complex, but they don’t know yet what to do about it. I had this whole Thing planned out for one young client who is dreading the end of the summer, and then she just didn’t want to do it. Like, not one bit: literally crossing her eyes with theatrical boredom. I decided to go ahead and do a pre-emptive Raccoon Bar switch, inviting my client to take on the therapist role, while I entered earnestly into being the client. She picked a Magic Animal card at random for me to embody – Wonder – and I gave her my seat and clipboard, and a few prompts for how the intervention unfolds. She did a tremendous job, obviously relishing the chance to drive the bus. And I, in the client role, found space to talk about how I sometimes struggle, as a therapist, to share my sense of wonder with clients.
Afterwards, when I asked my young friend whether she might be willing, now, to try the intervention as client, she readily agreed, taking on the role of Protect. She found a kind of boisterous, playful, boundary-setting energy that I hope comes back to visit her often in middle-school world.
That's the thing – none of our asshattery is unworkable, and none of it is wasted, as long as we are willing to attend to it. My friend George has (or had) a bright pink shirt that says I CAME TO DANCE. It's totally the best, especially on him, and it brings up the question, what does that mean for each one of us? Do we expect some sort of decorous waltz, where no one interrupts, only the right people are present, and there’s tight security at the door? If so, then the Raccoon Bar awaits us as surely as night follows day. If, on the other hand, we are attuned to something more like a mutant mosh-pit/contradance, where literally anything might be our next partner, and we need to be equally prepared for a smoochy Lionel Richie slowdance, or a wild tarantella with the angriest hyena in the universe, then we are probably in good shape. For me, I CAME TO DANCE encompasses not really feeling like getting out of bed this morning, taking a shower anyway, holding the gate open for Chloe-the-dog as she prepares to trundle down the stairs, remaining curious about what kind of good might still come out of this Trumpish era, and allowing for the fact that I will doubtless be joining all of you for a pint at the Raccoon Bar, sometime soon.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.