Would you like a sprig of mint on top of that existential dilemma? How about some parsley, fresh ground pepper, or grated Parmesan?
Yes to all of it.
Yes to extra cheese.
Yes to dressing the whole thing up with some festive zing.
At least sometimes.
In my backpack I carry two versions of lip goo: sprig of mint and plain. Sprig of mint has some mica in it, and a little pinkness that earns it the name Peony. I bought it at the grocery store after maybe a ten-year lip-color fast. The Peony leaf-buds had just started showing red above the mud-season ground, and I thought, Why not? So when my lips feel chapped – which in the winter is almost all the time – I have a choice. Sparkle, or non-sparkle? Right now, sparkle. Notebook Club could definitely handle either, but my sense was, Why not? I like the sprig-of-minty taste of it, and the way it sticks a little as my lips meet.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? I’m mostly happy with showing up feral, but I don’t have to, just like I don’t have to show up groomed. Last night in the sauna, I met a woman who started talking to me as soon as my feet were comfortably up the wall. She’s new to this remote place, a recently transplanted New Yorker who works from home. The gym is her one outlet for connecting with other humans, and thankfully, she says, the sprig of mint quotient here is very low. Her hair can be however it is; her swimsuit can be whatever it is; no one is going to worry about it. This is a sprig-optional community, we agreed. I notice this most in the contrast I experience when I travel back to Atlanta. There, so many women have their hair Done, their skin Done, their hairless bodies Done. For me these encounters feel like interactions with another, proximal species. I feel uncomfortable in the presence of so much sprigging, and I suspect they feel dismissive of so little.
Sprig of mint in my julep
Sprig of mint in the finger-washing bowl
Sprig of mint on the sorbet
Sprigging and sprogging,
Frigging and frogging.
Last night I took a photograph that unnerved me. How it happened is: I saw a flash of the red comforter I have recently added on top of the large paisley one on my bed, to keep out the zero-degree nights. I went upstairs, found a place to rest the camera, set the timer, and let the body guide my gesture in the ten-second gap between button and shutter. I did this a few times and each instance elicited a slight variation on a back-turned, self-soothing curl. The one I gravitate towards has me in a sprigless crunch, hand at the back of my neck, hand on my shoulder, balled up below the large Five Elements thangka painting from Bhutan that I sleep beneath. In the moment the gesture felt comforting, and yet at a distance there is something braced, bracing, broken in it. Don’t hurt me. I’ve been hurt, and I am caring for that hurt. There is no sprig of mint in the wide world big enough to cover that truth. I feel you seeing me, and I will not meet your gaze.
The New York Times has been semi-regularly running reader response stories from men reflecting on MeToo. Some of it feels interesting to me. I don’t have other access to the dating traumas of eighty-year-old men, or the landscape of their sense of remorse. Other parts feel deeply frustrating and familiar. I’ve been a good man all my life and respected women. Don’t blame me for those scoundrels over there. Really? Are you ready to talk about how misogyny has benefited you, even if you (unlikely but possible) never actively participated in its rituals? Are you ready to call a sprig a sprig? Would you be willing to trade places with me, letting go of your privileges if you could? That’s a process I’m having to go through with respect to whiteness. When I was younger, my feeling was, I’m an immigrant. Whatever racist horrors you people have cooked up in your national past, they are nothing to do with me. Don’t talk to me about my sprigs. They’re mine, and no one else’s, and that’s that. I didn’t want to think about how the territory I occupied, even as an immigrant, was sponsored by systemic oppression. I didn’t want to be connected with Bad People, and I didn’t want to acknowledge the ways my ease came at the cost of others’ dis-ease.
A sprig in every pot. What would that look like? My favorite grocers – a small, scrappy, independent place – has just announced that they’re going to close. For me, that’s going to be deeply sad and hard, like losing a vegetable-church community. We can afford to get our sprigs elsewhere, if we have to, but I wonder about all the financially-struggling families I see there, all the East and South Asian restaurants that get their supplies there, all the new immigrants who depend on this place for vegetables and fruits that remind them of home. No one else is going to have fat sheaves of garlic chives for $1.75. No one else is going to stock fish sauce at wholesale prices. What will become of us without wide-leaf mint in plump bags, when we want it, at prices we can afford? In some ways, the store is sprigless – they don’t take produce out of the cardboard crates, they don’t take credit cards, and the only packaging they provide is the boxes that everything arrived in, to begin with. At the same time, it is the very Kingdom of Sprigs, stocking watercress, curry leaves, basil, cilantro, and rosemary – abundant, essential, and alive.
I wonder what it might take to save the store? The owners are physically exhausted from their work and ready to retire. But how about someone else? Money’s needed and also the physical strength and willingness to drive a truck through the night, load it up, unload it, and stock the shelves. That’s apparently a sixteen- to seventeen-hour day, and not everyone’s going to be willing to take up its call. I just wish the someones who would take joy and pride in it, who could make a living at it, would appear in this narrow window while there’s still a chance.
Sprig of mint to my nose on a hot and dusty day. Sprig of mint gifted to me by cooking friend that now occupies most of a garden bed. Sprig of mint growing spontaneously where the ground has been opened up for latent seeds and roots. Essential, strong, irrepressible. Mint will grow to meet the space offered it, sending out spreading, galloping rhizomes with little white centipede feet. It will come back once the winter ebbs, telling its stories of freshness distilled from frost-stilled mornings and soggy November afternoons. It will hold its essence, sprigged, chopped, muddled, or infused.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now