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.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.