Soleil is walking and talking. It’s crazy, my baby isn’t a baby any more. All of a sudden, she’s a toddler. She says much more than we can understand (stupid grown-ups!) but, thus far, aside from our names, we’ve identified hola, luz, agua, all-done, piso, banana, puerta, piso, something that sounds like bath-time, and, poo-poo. Combined with her baby sign language, she bosses us around pretty-darn well.
She is also learning to announce when she poops–the first step, apparently, in getting out of diapers. Noni has been here visiting for the past month, and she’s taken full charge of Intro to Potty. It’s been great having Noni here, not just because it’s sweet to see Sol bond with her grandma, but because I enjoy being able to unapologetically gush without fear of annoying her. When it comes to Sol, Noni and I are two peas in a pod…until the poop comes out.
Approaching Sol’s next milestone, I’ve grown quite contemplative over what we euphemism-happy Americans call ‘going #2’, and I’ve written an essay on the subject.
Get ready Sprinter Lifers. Here comes one of my crazy, spin it on its head, did she really just say poop is like god, what-what? kind of posts.
The world can be divided into those who hate shit, and those who love shit– and, right now, Sol is undecided.
Those Who Hate Shit
When I first started dating Tree, I used to go to the neighbor’s house to take a shit. We had one of those torrid long distance love affairs where we’d spend four days in bed together living off buttered toast and jam, and then we’d be apart for a month, spinning our wheels in the muck of loneliness and Take-Out. With such a short window of time to make a lasting impression, the last thing I wanted to do was accidentally make a fart sound or stink up the bathroom.
The problem was that I lived in a small guesthouse with an open floor plan, and the bedroom was in the living room, which was also in the kitchen, connected to the bathroom. In other words, the only way for me to discreetly disappear into another part of the house to do my business was to walk over to someone else’s house and do it there.
Friends of mine were full of less drastic suggestions. Scottie said that what she does is pull her butt cheeks apart so that the air and matter pass silently without flapping the glutei. Jen offered her solution of playing music: “You casually wander over to your stereo, put on some tunes, walk to the refrigerator, open and close it, and then discreetly slip into the bathroom like it’s an afterthought. Oh, wow, how did I get in here?” But assuming I made it that far, there would still be the problem of afterwards. How would I cover up the odiferous evidence? If I used air freshener, would it make my bathroom smell like I just baked a fresh batch of warm vanilla cookies–or, like I just expelled a fresh batch of warm vanilla cookie-poo? It’s hard saying, but my friend Jeremy is a firm believer in an honest match or a stick of incense, preaching that the effort far outweighs the results. He claims that there is an implied redemption in the inevitable poop-pourri scent that says, “Yes, I am a shitting human…but I care.”
What my friends didn’t understand, though, was that I wasn’t trying to mask or make amends for my need to defecate. I was trying to completely deny its existence. I wanted my lover, would-be future husband, to believe that I actually did not poop. Ever. Never had, never will. I wanted him to think that I was beyond human. A perfect being. A beautiful and brilliant non-shitter.
What I didn’t know at the time, but slowly discovered, was that Tree is a poo-hater, too.
We really are perfect for each other, even in our idiosyncrasies. For years, we lived together comfortably, assisting one another in a pact of denial, that is until we headed southbound on the Pan-American highway and got food poisoning so many times that we were rudely forced to admit our frailty, at least until the violence passed; to this day, despite the many times we have suffered by the other’s side in compromised positions, the next day we retreat back to our characteristic modesty.
Still, one particular bout of food poisoning forever changed me. I refer to it as the Holy Shit! Angel Falls incident that happened in Venezuela around two and a half years ago. If you don’t have time to read it, I’ve pasted an excerpt in orange below. Tree and I had been violently ill for four days at this point and had endured a gnarly journey by plane, boat, and foot to get to the lookout point of the tallest waterfall in the world: Angel Falls.
I’m squatting around 50 feet away from the lookout, my ass hanging off the side of the trail, letting the demon go. Foul and fluorescent. Out, demon, out! Thank god I brought toilet paper. I cover it all up with leaves, say I’m sorry to the jungle for defiling it, and walk back to the lookout to properly enjoy the fruits of my labor.
Tree and I take pictures, but we know that there is no way for us to capture the glory and impossibility of it all. Sitting on the edge of the cliff, looking out at the tallest waterfall in the world, I feel a profound sense of awe, wonder, and humility. It becomes so clear to me that all of us humans are but a tiny part of an enormous context: We are one bright speck in a planet shimmering with awareness. I feel the divine immanence of nature and I give myself up to it. I hand myself over to my mystical potential, to the possibility of surrendering to something much larger than my daily self, to transcending the boundaries of the temporal, shitting in the woods, worm-food self!
Those Who Love Shit
I can’t speak for every dog on the planet, but after having spent more than ten years together, I think I can safely speak for Kiki, and she loves shit.
She can’t form the words to avow her love, but her actions indicate a deep affection for fecal matter. For instance, when we go on our daily walks, she spends most of the time with her nose to the ground, hoping to unearth a poop pile. Once she finds her payload, or even just some crumbly remnants of it, she gets very serious and studies it. Sometimes, thank god not often, she even eats it. Try as I might to pull her away when she’s getting too close to the patty, she roots her paws in further, as if to say, Woman puh-lease! Can’t you see I’m in my happy place? Sometimes the scent is so intoxicating that she rolls around on her back, having what appears to be a doggy orgasm. With her tongue lolling out and the whites of her eyes freakishly exposed, I can only hope that she didn’t learn to make that face by watching me.
Soleil is at an interesting stage in human development. She’s still between a lover and a hater of poop, but leaning more towards Kiki’s side than ours. She doesn’t wrinkle her nose at the smell or say ewww when Noni shows her the contents of her diaper. But, if the moon is casting a certain light, she’ll rip off her nappy and fling poo around like a little monkey…like there’s nothing to it at all.
So, when does hating poop happen? Do we learn it? Does it develop on its own? Am I supposed to instill disgust, because I would actually rather Soleil stay poop-neutral, or, dare I say, even learn to love it? Although I’ve never liked it, I think pooping might be the most honest thing we humans do in a day.
In his autobiography, Memories, Dream, Reflections, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung described several days of torment in his childhood when his unconscious repeatedly erupted with an image of God sitting on a golden throne in heaven over a beautiful cathedral. Twelve-year old Carl knew he was somehow being tested, that he must let the vision emerge completely if he was to know God in his fullness.
Summoning all his courage, he let it come: God in the blue sky; and then, from under the throne, a massive turd fell to earth and shattered the cathedral. Bliss flooded Jung’s brain, and thereafter he knew God’s plan for him was to “think abominations to experience His grace.” But Jung never told his father, a conventional Swiss Reform minister, of his vision. He could not bear the responsibility of plunging him into the “despair and sacrilege” necessary for grace.
So let’s recap: God drops a giant turd from heaven and shatters the church–the clean, man-made construction that promises a future existence beyond this earthly plane. Then, God tells young Carl, instead of looking for grace through transcendence (as if the shit-bomb wasn’t clear enough), think ‘abominations’ or, in other words, think shit, death, and pestilence to experience grace. Why? Because, here’s the rub: the stinking shit of mortality, the worm-food self, the everyday-dying is grace. It is nature. It is Angel Falls. It is love and art, hurt and pain, music and literature, and everything else we know as life–miraculous life!–on this planet. We must embrace the despair of our imminent death to know life in its fullness.
The word “relgion” comes from the Latin word “religio”, which means “to bind together again.” It’s the same linguistic root as ligament. Throughout the ages we have always sought connection with higher powers in the sky or beneath the earth, or with ancestors living in other realms, and we have also bonded with one another in spiritual fellowship. This longing to transcend our bodies–to transcend our shit–to feel connected to something bigger than self, will always be with us.
But when we look outside of nature, beyond the earthly plane, and start manufacturing pie-in-the-sky stories about life ever-after, we are lying to ourselves. Ernest Becker, the pulitzer prize winning cultural anthropologist, called these stories “vital lies.” We tell them to ourselves to make living with the knowledge of imminent death bearable. The problem is that we routinely slaughter, kill, and oppress each other in their name.
In trying to escape the despair that comes with embracing our mortality, we lose our humanity.
I say to hell with the vital lies.
Why not locate these feelings of worship and deference to somewhere within the earthly whole? Somewhere right here, right now. Why not lose ourselves in the immediacy of the outdoors, the rhythm of wave breaks, the satisfaction of dirt under our nails? There’s a certain kind of rapture in the wild– and we are all a part of it.
We need not look beyond what IS to find god.
I’m going to teach Soleil to drop a metaphoric turd on the cathedral, the man-made walls that separate us from nature, sequester our humanity, and put fear and judgment in our hearts. I’m going to teach her to love the shit out of life.
Or, maybe, that’s what she’s been telling me, all along (stupid grownups!)–Stevie