Shit-shame is something we are all taught. My first memories of shit-shame are vivid and haunting. It was in 1997, before I hit my double digits, that I encountered a literal shit-disturber, and I have not been the same since.
The doorbell rang. It had been ringing all evening; door-to-door sales were unfortunately popular in my neighbourhood. I answered, and was unenthused to find a pesky middle-school kid shoving newspapers in my face, asking if my parents were interested in purchasing a subscription. I adamantly belted a “no, thank you” and motioned to slam the door but was interrupted by an interjection: “C-c-could I please use your bathroom?” Unknowing and naïve, I let him in.
He immediately dashed to the toilet in a panic that was at once whimsical and disquieting. I innocently returned to my evening leisure activities: Lite Brite and Seinfeld. It wasn’t until the second commercial break that my father and I realized the boy was still in the bathroom. My mother rattled the doorknob and called out, “Are you okay in there?” We heard the toilet paper rip, and held our breath to hear the flush.
“Oh yeah, yeah, sorry, I’m fine,” he muttered, and flushed. Twice. I knew something was wrong. My father squinted and my mother glared. My sister began to bite her nails, while I remained quizzical. We heard him gasp.
“What’s going on?” My mother cried: she knew what was happening.
“Oh, nothing….” he groaned, unconvincingly.
My mother pressed her ear to the door. We heard the sound of running water.
My mother tensed.
“I think…your toilet’s…overflowing….”
It was chaos. My mother screamed, my father yelled, and my sister and I could only peek out through the corridor with trepidation. To this day, I have not heard the pitch of my mother’s voice reach such piercing heights. “You flushed twice!!!! I heard you!!!!!”
She demanded that he open the door, but he was paralyzed by fear. I think he cried. At last, he unlocked the door and my mother burst in to find his diarrhea streaking our bathroom tiles. Oh, the pandemonium. My mother wouldn’t let him go easily. She insisted he clean the mess he had made, with the only cleaning supplies he had with him: newspapers. It took him hours. I could hear his quiet sobs as he lined our bathroom floor with his part-time livelihood.
Given the epic scale of this turd-related trauma, it has taken me years to recover from the shame that this incident has embedded into my bowels. I cannot begin to imagine the paperboy’s psychological recovery. I wonder how deep is his shit-shame. In reality, who was to blame? The boy? My naïveté? His indigestion? Faulty plumbing? It’s almost impossible to say.
It has taken me years to work though my shit-shame. I am fortunate to admit that at this point in my life, shit is quite near and dear to me. It has been with me through the best and worst of times, taught me countless lessons and life truths, provided me with shock, awe, laughter, and tears. Hearing my grandmother casually ask about my “loose movements” when I’m feeling ill and getting phone calls from my sister to celebrate her particularly phenomenal scatological achievements are small tokens that have gradually allowed me to reconcile my disgrace with ease. This comfort level was not achieved overnight, however; it was a slow and complicated process, punctuated with denial and uncertainty.
My first breakthrough was initially minor, but later proved miraculous. Toward the end of my high school career, I was feeling overwhelmed, inferior, and intimidated by authority. There was one teacher in particular who simultaneously infuriated and fascinated me. He amazed me, and yet in his presence I felt reduced to mere rubble. I was a teenage pawn in an elaborate scholastic scheme. In a particularly pointed fit of existential adolescent angst, I convinced myself that I was nothing more than a piece of shit.
Ironically enough, it was at the moment of a bowel movement that everything came together. As I was about to wipe my ass clean, it dawned on me: everybody does this. We all shit. “Authority figures” shit. With the inelegant gesture that follows the act of defecation, the inexplicable power of my teacher’s authority was demystified. I realized that superiors and inferiors, people of all societal stations and positions, poo. So simple, so obvious, so universal; perhaps the only universal truth I can legitimately stake a claim toward. Both humbling and enlightening, this most basic fact is a reminder that so many contradictions embody the human condition. Grotesque yet gorgeous: shit brings us together.
There is nothing quite like a good shit. What’s Your Poo Telling You – a book of lighthearted and informative investigations of scatological truths – describes the euphoric sensation produced by a satisfying movement as “poo-phoria,” something to make “you feel energized, as if you just woke up from a great nap.” Pooing is an unavoidable reality in the lives of all humans and animals, and we do not celebrate it as often as we should. Instead, we expel this supposed waste from our bodies and discard it immediately – flushing it underground as our only sanitation option, estranging it from all our other functions and daily rituals.
Shit happens. Sneak a peek, look before you flush: you might learn something about yourself. They say eyes are windows to the soul, and I would say one’s shit is similarly telling of one’s inner constitution. At this moment, your digestive system is co-operating with your bowels to produce a reflection of your nutritional input and general health. Sure, shit never smells like roses, but to judge an integral and essential corporeal function as disgusting is to negate its positive contribution to one’s physiological well-being; it is self-destructive and contemptuous. Until we learn to positively value our bodily functions – their various shapes, sizes, smells, and scents – we cannot shit without shame.