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.
It’s hard to write when you are cracking yourself up, but I’ll take that problem anytime, over the hard-to-write that comes from tears pooling at the lower rim of your glasses.
Junk food, oh, junk food! Cotton candy clouds of ecstatic-bad-for-you. I am reminded of my friend Deanne’s Dear Sugar Daddy poem, a pornographic festival of her now-relinquished passion for sweets, which she performs in a sultry flurry of blonde hair and big, winning smiles. Deanne is the queen of naming junk food for what it is – an addiction – while simultaneously extolling the pleasures of swooning into its sticky embrace.
I grew up in a household mostly ruled by my mother’s authority in food, which inclined to Grapenuts and organ meats over Dingdongs and Coke. I was in college when soda started showing up in her refrigerator – a treat she wanted for her youngest, my brother, but could never quite stomach when I was living in the house. Something about loose morals in the young female? My brother drank whole milk, while I was commanded to 2%. Frosted Mini Wheats for my brother, frozen cheesy bits for him. Am I remembering this right? Am I making this shit up from the part of me called Orphan Black Sheep Daughter? Maybe, maybe not.
Anyway, when I left home for college and left my mother’s rules behind, I did fatten up, in layers made of beer, dining hall omelettes, lasagna, and whole round loaves of brown raisin bread stolen from the kitchen, while my friends and I wrote all-night papers. I didn’t really have that much access to hard-core junk food unless I bought it myself, and I was perpetually broke. But desserts took their toll, in conjunction with my then-disdain for all forms of exercise besides wild dancing at parties. I remember buying cranberry-colored jeans in a bigger size. I remember the fug of long study, and being often quite ill. On one bronchitis-motivated visit to Undergraduate Health Services, the nurse told me to stop smoking, and I replied indignantly that I’d never started in the first place. I didn’t quite know it then, but my young person’s disembodiment allowance was running out. For the first 20 or so years of my life, environment, youth, and a high metabolism had stood in for what would soon require a much more active commitment to the body’s thriving.
Yesterday I went to my first Deep Water class, the latest development in my love affair with Old Lady Aqua Aerobics. Not old lady: mature lady. Strong lady of many years. Anyway, it was awesome. In the water, I don’t have to worry about fucking up my knees. I can totally go for it, and not get injured. I can stretch to what feels like 8 feet long, and there’s no problem. Splash like an orca. Bounce around. I could feel my muscles unknot and the young horse part of me whinnying and perking up her ears. If it doesn’t hurt and I don’t care how foolish it might look, lots and lots can happen. In this way, some of the cheap thrills of junk food can show up in the midst of something that nourishes the body, instead of rotting its teeth and inflaming its joints. I was potato-chip-ecstatic, and yet left the pool empty and clear, rather than holding yet another crappy wrapper to add to the world’s reefs of bad ideas.
When I was a kid, my dad would sometimes take my brother and I to McDonald’s for Happy Meals, which were to us the stuff of total bliss. We would get McNuggets. Plastic garbage-toys! Fries! Sauce in little space-packets. Puzzles to solve, right there on the box. I don’t know if I noticed then that the prizes ended up being a pain to know what to do with, afterwards. I don’t know if that food disagreed with my young body. Probably not. Probably it just pitched into the project of constructing a six-foot Julie from all available materials.
To be fair, my mom would also sometimes take us on junk food adventures. Her favorite was Long John Silver’s, and we liked it there, too. I remember especially the chunks of Fry Itself that always wound up in the bottom of the box, underneath the fish and other creatures. How exciting! You could let go of the batter as an envelope for actual food, and just mainline the crispy stuff straight. Tartar sauce was like mayonnaise, but also sweet and crunchy. Yes, my mother was possibly the only person in Fresno special-ordering brains from the grocery store, but she also knew good junk food when she saw it. She knew when to surrender, and was not one of the hyper-vigilant parents who enforced no-birthday-cake rules. Instead, she let us eat other kids’ rosy sheet-cakes, and baked for us: amazing rabbit-shaped confections with bowties and M&Ms for eyes.
If I move away from the cozily retrospective and look into where I am now, junk-food-wise, I see the tensions around my desire/not-desire to take up the challenge of eating a totally plant-based diet. At certain times, the choice feels completely self-evident: Duh. Stop participating in patterns of agriculture that harm animals. End of story. But then Timothy brings home leftover pastries and bread pudding. What then? The food already exists. What’s the harm in eating it? Or I’ll start thinking about how there are organic, pasture-based dairies right around here, with seemingly high standards for animal welfare. Meanwhile, I have no idea how the fancy almond-coconut creamer I’ve switched to for my tea is produced. Its manufacturers could be clearcutting the last wild habitat of the Sweetnosed Lemur to make that stuff, for all I know. They’re definitely flying it in from somewhere, because New Hampshire and Vermont are known for their cows, but not their palm-groves. And the coconut stuff comes in disposable, indestructible packaging, while the milk arrives in endlessly reused glass bottles.
Pretty much anything I eat will have some junk food components – some traceable pathways for harm to myself, to others, or to both. Even the admirable farmers who grow our CSA use a shit-ton of plastic bags. Even the local scrappy bulk-food wholesaler can’t resist sending me home with a half-dozen one-pound plasticized portions each week. The junk element is pervasive and inevitable.
I stop at the gas station for potato chips and encounter the sacred feminine. Wherever we show up, we show up in our wholeness, if we let ourselves notice. Cashewgurt (or at least the kind I tried) tastes pretty awful to me. Vegan pâté, by contrast, is delicious, especially with butter-sautéed chanterelles on toast. In the wrong frame of mind, I feel there’s nothing on this earth that could possibly nourish me. Other times, I’ll eat Little Debbie Nutty Bars with certainty that the universe cares deeply for each one of us.
I drink a glass of leftover rosé with ice cubes in it, unwinding from the knots that have arisen in the course of this day. A sense of humor returns: Oh, yes! I sure did get myself into a pickle there, but that’s not the last word, and anyway, pickles aren’t junk food.
Cough syrup with codeine! Cough syrup with witches’ tears! Cough syrup to help you keep down all those tedious reflexes that say no, no, no, no, no, and thus aren’t especially welcome in the meditation hall, during the department meeting, at the job interview, or at church.
I am driving to Notebook Club, listening to some Catholic priest on the radio who sounds like he’s about 27, talking about how the Church is not of the world, but in it, and how Jesus said people would hate the church because it loves Him. Which seems a pretty sassy response to the question of why people keep having to hate the church for raping their children. Nicely done, Father. You’re going to need some extra-large barrels of cough syrup for the congregation, going forward.
This past Sunday I turned in the final version of my thesis work. Then I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth, noticed something smelled funny, and stepped barefoot into a large, warm pile of dog shit. Ta-daa! Don’t expect applause, in action. I didn’t even need to take any cough syrup, because the whole thing was actually so funny, and so careful. After all, there was a bathtub right there to wash my foot in, plus a toilet to flush the poo down. No one had pooped in my bed or on the kitchen table. A dog had followed her canine intuition and chosen the place in the house that serves as an actual poo facility. End of story. Nothing to report here.
Then yesterday, in search of further celebration, I walked myself down to the thrift store closing. What’s left after several days of half-off is some pretty marginal clothing: no buttons, makes your ass look lumpy, see-through in weird ways, features an autocratic bunny appliquéd in lace on the front, sasquatch-sized. Also a basket full of watches whose batteries have run out and no one can figure out how to change them, even if there is a cute dog on the wristband. Then, inside the glass case where all the jewelry used to be, I spotted a black velvet painting of Jesus’s hands in prayer, nestled inside a rough-cut Mexican wooden frame. I asked to look at it, after passing it by a few times on my way to an empty 1950’s photo album, or a child’s latex swim cap with a fish-fin on top.
Caravaggio of the people! I imagined it in my therapist’s office, in my meditation space, in my painter’s studio, and knew every one of those places would be improved by it. I bought Jesus’s hands for half off 40 dollars and set off home, grinning. An older couple passed me by going the other way, and the lady said, “You sure know how to find the shade.” Which felt nice. If you know how to find the shade, maybe you need less cough syrup. Maybe getting out of the blistering sun and tooling around with some made-in-Mexico vintage Jesus tucked under your arm is the antidote to many of life’s aggravations.
Secretly, we, or at least I, crave aggravation. I just finally committed to something that was offered to me weeks ago and seemed too easeful to be possible. Faced with good pay, flexible hours, sensible colleagues, and an ideal location, I went looking for overwork, low pay, institutional kerfuffle, and long hours. Why? Because it seemed in some sense a proof of my sincerity. Because I needed to be validated as an employee, instead of just getting on with the work I know how to do. If you get used to the sticky soothings of cough syrup in response to your patterns of self-slavery, it’s possible to see no-slavery as a loss of sweetness.
Oh damp and sweaty sheets of my many sickbeds!
Oh, honeyed Ricola lozenges and zinc lozenges that taste of desiccation!
Oh, nostril-purging and phlegm-horfing!
You are all something to do, just like sniffing glue, just like Joey Ramone said.
Bitching and bickering is something to do. Getting ill is something to do. Feeling betrayed, feeling flattered: all things to do.
Yesterday I went up the Ridge on Moose Mountain, from which you can see the White Mountains on one side and the Greens on the other. The bears and foxes and whoever had already eaten all the blueberries, and so there was nothing at all to do. Just: sit. Just: allow space to enter the bodymind. Just: feel warm stone through the legs and seat of my rolled-up jeans. The dogs would venture out to sniff and chase, then come sit next to me for a few moments’ stillness before the next call to their attentions. I am done writing this 152-page monstrosity. I can settle down and do the work I’ve been training in forever, and get paid. This earth is vast. That person must be firing in automatic rifle down there, because that is a lot of shots in a row. There are spaces in between even that idiocy, and thus no need for cough syrup in my ears.
I don’t mean to make light of illness. It’s real. In high school, I got viral pneumonia, and for a while no one knew that was what was going on, so my cough got deeper and deeper, tearing at the ligaments that hold my chest together, tearing at my lungs. Even when you do know viral pneumonia is what’s going on, it’s hard to do much about it. Fever, coughing, cough syrup. I passed out sitting on the toilet. I passed out in bed. Meanwhile my college applications were being processed for maximum aggravation. I wanted to follow the difficult, and I found it. I wanted exhaustion, takeover by some greater force, and I found those, too.
The thing about that Jesus-hands painting I bought yesterday is that it is actually really simple: two golden-skinned hands emerging from some naugahyde-blue sleeves, all floating on a jet-black background of faintly dusty, fuzzy cloth. That’s it. It doesn’t say Jesus anywhere, and doesn’t have opinions about whether you love or hate it. On the back it is stamped MEXICO in red ink. The layers of its frame are nailed together with shiny brads. It’s both totally straightforward and deeply woo-woo. Of course I love it. It is both cough syrup, and antidote. What are we really talking about, here? The body, or the disembodied? The ordinary, or the sacred? Willingness to be honestly with What Is, or total evasion? I prop the hands up on the stovepipe in my studio, so I’ll see them each time I come in to talk to the dogs. There they are – glowing, ridiculous, sticky-sweet as syrup, and plain as the light of day.
I choose plain and fancy, sweet and empty, the truest path I can sniff out from this right-here, to the next.
We don’t know much about subways, around here, unless you count the woodchucks’ burrows, and the squirrels’, and that one weird one, I couldn’t figure out who lived there, but whoever it was had three perfect red amanita growing in their front yard. Yes, there are ways under around here, subways among the underbodies of mushrooms and ferns, hemlocks and beech, dogfeet, and the feet of deer.
Elliot finally killed the woodchuck that lived under my studio. I say “the” but probably it’s more like “one of the.” Someone has been gnawing on the siding since this happened, and my guess is that those teeth belong to another member of that clan. Anyway – yes – I let the dogs out that morning, and they ran out, straight to the woodchuck’s corner. Chloe came back when I called to get in the car, but not Elliot. I called again, and he appeared, with the woodchuck’s portly body held in his jaws. “Oh, fuck, dogs!” I exclaimed in shock. “Fuck!” Elliot put the body down and got in the car, like I asked him to. A gift. A surrender. Fuck.
For various reasons, we have about six snow shovels lined up against the house, even though it is August. I picked up two metal ones, and scooped the woodchuck’s body up in one shovel, having first rolled it over with the other. Heavy. Very dead, though intact as far as I could see. I walked over to the sumac at the edge of the garden, carrying the body with the shovel, and then paused. Belly up. Strong teeth, dark whiskers, muscles relaxed. Something released a little more inside his body, and some urine trickled out.
I had a job interview to get to, plus I needed to get the dogs out into the woods beforehand. Having no time for a proper woodchuck funeral, I rolled the body out of the shovel, onto the shady ground under the trees, and walked away.
A grave is a subway.
For the next few days, the woodchuck would often come to mind. Was he really dead? Could’ve been an amazingly strong freeze response? I spotted his grey-brown-white fur among the blackberry leaves. Dead. Should I have buried him? I’d be walking in the woods under bright-blue skies and think, No. Better to have a sky burial and the chance to transform above ground. At night, I would sometimes get a strong sea-miasma smell of decomposing woodchuck. Hello, friend. Who knows what you will be next? You are free.
A diagnosis is a subway.
Right around the time all this was happening with Elliot and the woodchuck and the charnel grounds, my mom was navigating the transition between the initial, urgent manifestation of her cancer, and its subsequent steps. She texted me that her chemo would require “un boîtier” to be implanted in her chest. I freaked out. “Un boîtier”? That could be the size of a Tonka truck. Don’t go cutting up my mom to stick large foreign objects in her body, you disembodied medicine-ghouls! I talked with her. She told me the thing to be subwayed under her skin is the size of a five-franc piece. “It needs to be done,” she told me. It’s okay, insofar as any of this is okay.
Fear is a subway.
All fungal growth is the visible part of endless subways. The night after my mom went in to have her chemo port implanted, I ate black trumpet mushrooms I’d foraged from the top of the hill we live on. I texted my mom a picture of one of these in my hand, telling her that as I harvested them, I thought of her father, dead now some thirty years. “Trompettes de la mort,” she texted me back. Death is a subway leading back into appreciating my ancestors, who spent a lot of time hunting animals and mushrooms, and training dogs to help them do these things.
Memory is a subway.
I eat the dark mushrooms, sautéed in butter, with a single, long green onion from the garden, and mashed potatoes. My mother would’ve used shallots, but I like the double-foraged quality of this improvised recipe. I even like cleaning the black tunnels and shaggy skins off the potatoes before I cook them. Nothing’s perfect here: a meal from the subways. I don’t really taste death’s trumpets as I eat them, but then, isn’t that how it goes?
Transition is a subway.
Job interviews, job letters, speculations and agreements. I am on a train and I’m not sure where it goes, or which station will be the right one at which to disembark. I step off sometimes, run my fingers over the golden mosaic tiles, lapis squares, monuments of what’s above, or what has been. Then I wait for the next train to come along and carry me in its hard, plastic seats, its upholstered velvet seats, its clattering tunnels of connection.
You don’t want to stay in the subway too long, lest your eyes turn red and your skin rabbit-white and transparent. The woodchuck had to leave his borough for dandelion greens and marigolds. Most days, this worked out fine. One day, it didn’t.
From inside the subway, it’s easy to forget the qualities of the above-ground world – its brightness and busyness. It’s easy to get lulled by darkness and endless movement without commitment or stopping and staking a claim. I know the dark-dragon quality of the subway, and its power, but I also know that human life, this human life, can’t be lived there without surfacing.
I make mistakes, screw up the calendar, go into the places that scare me, and meet them. It’s not obvious how these awkward, searching steps add up, only, I know they work better than refraining does. They work better than staying in subways that bar memory, bar mourning, bar the clarity of struggle, and bury the wide-open sky.
Seasonal disturbance. Nice try. As if this season could be saddled with such troubles. It’s especially hard right now in New England to blame the season for anything, other than a generalized sense of gratitude for the beauty and harmonious functioning of the world. Sure, some monumental asshattery is unfolding in our public life. Sure, inequity and callousness, fear and confusion, thump and sneak about. But don’t lay any of that at June’s feet. June’s ticking along, cool nights, sunny mornings, vines growing leaf by leaf and fruit by fruit. It’s dry, and that can be a bit difficult, but it’s really not possible to name this limpid day as a disturbance. I’ve been sleeping nine hours a night – solid, restful sleep, in which I am aware of dreaming hard and working things through, though the stories evanesce on waking. This time of year is an endlessly replenished cycle of beauty. Peony stays the course, and delphinium joins in. Wild anemone grows tall and opens bright-white stars, while marigold keeps watch over new tomatoes. Asparagus goes into its wild fern-jungle phase and flowers madly, while raspberries prepare their fruit in giant, leafy mounds. It is the opposite of disturbance. It is a laissez-faire of keen abundance.
Probably the same can be said of every season. Divided from the burden of personal preference, autumn, winter, and even mud-season all shine forth in their just-rightness. Divided from the burden of personal preference? What kind of a way to live is that? It sounds brown and boring, coming from the lens of consumer society. It sounds dissociative, bleak, and deathly. But is it? (Ha! Rhetorical questions are seasonal disturbances within thought. These arise from the late arrival of half of Notebook Club.)
Anyway: the burden of personal preference. Sometimes not a burden at all, but a revelation. Which one do I want? That one. So it shall be written, so it shall be done, and the ice-cream line can move along smoothly, because I’m not paralyzed over possible losses and missteps. Awesome! This coconut fudge sits just right in the deep nest of this waffle cones, and all is right with the world. Meanwhile, I’m so glad you’re enjoying your cup of orange sherbet with rainbow sprinkles.
But then, as we all know, that’s not the way it always pans out.
An email arrives. It is, I can tell, perfectly well-intentioned. And yet, it lands with a dull ache of I Don’t Like It. I can feel how it fails to meet my preferences. I can feel the hurt rising in myself. That’s not what I ordered. That’s not what I like. How dare she? But then: is there actually anything wrong with this situation? Not really. I am startled. I feel the truth of the hurt I experience, and I can sense the kind of work that would be required to address the email-sender, seek clarification, demand solace, etc. But what for? I can simply step aside, let it go by, and save the energy for something else. Like writing, or stitching fancy skulls onto my nurse hat. Like not doing anything, and letting the world remain undisturbed.
Seasonal disturbance is only disturbing if we have an idea of how things should be. That starts to sound wishy-washy and Yoda-like, but it’s actually fierce. Who do we think we are, to break the world? Who do we think we are, to harm souls, or to save them? Walking around without the burden of personal preference means sometimes we recognize there’s not a damn thing we can do about a situation. Meanwhile, right close, there’s something else we can affect, and should. I am lingering over the day’s report of governmental disturbances. Meanwhile, I really should be scheduling a mammogram, washing out the teapot, and getting back to work on my thesis. Choosing to orient towards disturbance makes sense when there’s some clear way to effect change, but at other times, it’s like refusing to notice all the ripening fruit, because that one weird-looking leaf over there seems more interesting.
Seasonal disturbance: the little green caterpillars and aphids arise on the roses that have never been super-happy, climbing on the trellis below the porch. I decided to Do Something. At the garden center are a whole array of poisons. Organic poisons! Old-fashioned poisons! Poisons never to get anywhere near your eyes, mouth, skin, or dogs. None of it sounds very good to me. I ask one of the employees, and she says she uses Systemic Poisons, but the store doesn’t stock these anymore. Wimps! Disappointed to leave the store poisonless, I walk away determined to shop for Systemic Poisons online. Which is how it comes to my attention that these are the self-same motherfuckers responsible for decimating bee populations. Which is more disturbing – some munched-on roses, or mass-killing of innocent pollinators? I find a garden wizard’s site, which recommends giving your roses a vigorous hose-down to dislodge creatures. I buy some giant fertilizer-suppositories and hammer them into the ground around the roses. Now the munching seems more like, OK, well, not my preference, but those roses aren’t the hardiest, and someone’s got to feed the aphids. I hose them down. In the immediate aftermath, they’re even sadder and more bedraggled, but by morning they look a bit perkier.
Seasonal disturbance is a tool for blaming the world. Seasonal disturbance is a way of alienating certain perfectly whole states. The state where all you can think about is soaking your feet in a bucket of hot water. The state where if you don’t find a river to jump in (or a potato chip) in the next 36 seconds, you are going to scream. The state where you honestly don’t give a fuck about anything, but a nap sounds nice. The state where everything has ended, and it’s impossible to know where-from anything new might arise. All, if unresisted and uncollapsed-into, no problem.
Seasonal disturbance. I refuse, actually, to sign on to the version of events where we are catapulting ourselves into oblivion. Who’s “we”? Awake awareness has been here since beginningless time, and no number of cow-farts or flights to Geneva can alter the fact that it will persevere. Will there be more Julie Püttgens? Choosing not to have children, I’ve declined certain versions of future personal preference. Spending time watching my dogs’ faces interpreting and scanning the world, I’ve let go of special preference for humans of any lineage. Awake awareness in the form of squirrels, as clouds, as sumac flowers ripening on their own wisdom, is fine with me. I refuse the disturbance of apocalypse-season, not because I don’t think humans are capable of destroying one another, but because I think it’s irrelevant. What Is, knows. I spend time in devotion to the ground of being, without fearing stories that make no sense on its terms.
The opposite of seasonal disturbance is seasonal exuberance. Inuberance? Not everything has to be yellow petals dancing in peals of sunlight. Beauty can be that huge, dead hemlock, suddenly sporting lacquered tree-ears. It can be the slow-moving orange efts waking up along the path. It can be the natural order of this body-mind, placing one word, then the next; one breath, then the next. Just like this.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.