The Jamaican writer, Jean D’Costa, tells the most wonderful story about how her life as a creative person began. It is her earliest memory, she explains. And this explanation is to a crowded lecture hall at the UWI Mona campus. I am one of the nameless faces that make up the crowd. So Jean tells us the story, how she must have been two or even less, and how she remembers it so precisely – having the sudden urge to release something from her body. To say it plainly, she wanted to pee.
And of course, of course, babies pee themselves all the time – they cannot help it. But this is precisely what was so significant, she tells us. It was the feeling she had before it happened, and the conscious decision to make it happen. And that years later she should remember it – this moment. A yellow puddle had spread out from the epicentre that was her infant self. She observed it in amazement, knowing that she was responsible for this – that this thing that was not in existence before had come from her. She splashed her hands happily in her creation and giggled. When the adults realized and began to make a great fuss, she knew too that this was about what she had done. Yes. She had created something, and everyone was responding to it. Oh the exhilarating power! Her fate, as an artist, was sealed.
You see, I wonder if this kind of thing explains the compulsion we have (or maybe you don’t have it – maybe it’s just me – very well!) but this compulsion, when we are on our own of course, to excavate from our noses the yellowest and wettest booger, and to carefully examine it there on the tip of our fingers, thinking with a feeling close to pride – Wow! That came from inside me!
To extend this logic to where you don’t want me to go — yes, yes– I think this is partly the reason why we compulsively look behind in the toilet bowl. We want to see exactly what it is we have created.
Now for one of my own memories, though I was hardly a baby. In fact, it was no more than three years ago. Back in Jamaica. I was at my friend Douglas Harrisingh’s house. A group of us were playing cards. Deuces to be precise. And then the urge came on me. You know the urge – the one that makes your face fall – that makes you, without any explanation whatsoever, jump up from whatever you were doing, and bolt for the bathroom. On that night it was locked. Someone was in there. Blast! I did that ancient dance – that prancing from foot to foot, that furious fanning, that jiggling, all to keep what was trying to come out from coming out. And just when I thought it was all over, that it was going to end very very badly indeed, the door opened. An old woman showed her face. She was shuffling out at her own pace. I may have pulled this old woman out myself and slammed the door on her. Even then I thought I would not make it to the toilet in time. What was coming out was definitely now on its way. I zipped down and sat and it was just in time.
The relief of making it to a toilet in time – the sheer joy – must come close to an orgasm. I read somewhere that scientists had calculated the feeling we get when we have a good pee, and that it comes (no pun intended) to one eighth of an orgasm. Surely a good crap would come up even higher. Anyway. I did my business, and then, of course, I looked behind.
My dears, I was truly astonished! There in the toilet I saw the longest, unbroken turd that had ever come from me. And because it was unbroken, it had rounded in on itself a few times, in perfect circles, right to the centre. ‘My God!’ I thought, ‘I have created a Danish!’
What an act of creation! But how lonely the feeling after. What a let down. I mean, I couldn’t very well go outside to all and sundry and say, Come! Come! Look at what I have done! So after a minute of appreciation, my most miraculous piece of art was flushed, never to be seen again.
In Russia where I have just come from, I would have been allowed to appreciate this creation for a bit longer, or at least from a slightly closer angle. I was staying in a hotel in Moscow – slightly dilapidated, but charming in its own way. The toilet in my bathroom had a very strange design. I had never seen anything the like: it had two tiers – a lower and an upper shelf almost. It meant that no matter how I tried to point my ass at the lower half of the bowl, my very regular morning craps would always plop down heavily on the top shelf, waiting for the flush to slide it down into the water on the lower shelf. It just sat there then, high up and proud, as if for inspection. And maybe – maybe that was the point.
A friend once explained to me that it isn’t exactly pride that makes us look behind in toilets, or examine boogers, or anything of that sort. Rather it’s a primal instinct that helps us to survive. This is why dogs and cats also examine their faeces before burying it. They want to make sure that everything is in the right order. In their sniffing they are searching for signs of cancer perhaps, for spots of blood, and then being assured that everything is fine, they bury it. But what if everything isn’t fine?
That’s actually what prompted this whole scatological blog that has probably grossed you out already. Yesterday morning I had a moment of looking behind and panicking. Sheer, utter panic. ‘Oh my God!’ I whispered to myself, ‘Is that….? Could it really be…? Oh no! No! I’m too young.’
But then I remembered the two roasted beetroots I had made for my dinner the night before – all the red and purple juices that had stained my fingers from eating them, and I suddenly understood the purplish/reddish dye in the toilet bowl. The moment of panic passed. My heart slowed back down to normal. And then I looked again, at this colour floating in the porcelain, a colour I had never quite seen before, not in this context – and I felt again the distinct feeling of pride.