Rage Against The Water Closet

I want to relate an experience I had today and that has exhausted my battery of expletives. It is as banal as it can be: The flushing mechanism of the toilet in my apartment broke. At first, I scoffed at it, remembering that a friend once told me, “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown, well, one problem at the time.” But this type of problem doesn’t magically go away, nor does our digestive tract take into account the condition of our water closets. Soon enough I was flushing with buckets and the shower head tucked in the toilet bowl and my head clouded with self-pity.

So I headed to the store and explained the situation in my best Korean to a friendly lady, who eventually explained to me that they had replaced the old-fashioned floater with a new system. I gladly bought into that system and rushed home, borrowed a wrench and installed the system. The reservoir filled as I watched breathlessly. I had fixed it! But when the reservoir was full the device I had installed began to shake back and forth, continuously opening the water inlet so that the water kept flowing in short intervals, producing a maddening sound. I grabbed the new plastic with my hand, wiggled and turned it around hoping a little adjustment might solve the problem.

It didn’t, of course. I pulled back my hand, blue from the gooey stuff we put in the reservoir to prevent odor. Disgusted, but determined, I continued manipulating the flimsy device. How idiotic! Remember the movie Idiocracy? The reality is far worse! Here I was, sitting in my toilet, trying my best to fix a system that uses precious drinking water to flush down our excrements.

The idea that we have to “flush down” our excrements is the epitome of our refusal to understand nature. Treating our human waste in specialized faraway facilities has the advantages as it can be scaled up and properly managed, but detaching us from what comes out of our bodies reinforces a culture that reviles some vital parts of the human body – and I see a structural or Gestalt parallel between that attitude and the way we treat the body politic or the planet we inhabit.

I will keep raging against the water closet, perhaps smashing one to pieces like the German actor Klaus Kinski famously did.  I understand the dynamics of rage and how our inner fuse blows if circumstances force us to repair a system that we utterly and existentially disagree with, be it fascism or the water closet.

I appreciate the invention and register its contribution to the fight against diseases like cholera and typhoid. But our inability to move beyond a 19th-century Victorian technology in treating our bodily waste shows that we are far more stuck in old ideas than we realize. The old adage, that necessity is the mother of invention, holds true. We can only hope that this necessity will not come in the form of irreversible harm to our environment and the only physical body our culture inhabits.

A defining characteristic of any civilization is how it treats human waste, and I would like to see the day when we understand how full of shit we are.

Rage Against The Water Closet was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Vulture by Robinson Jeffers

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) wrote narrative poetry about the Californian coast. He was an icon of the environmental movement who loved nature more than man, influenced by Whitman and Wordsworth. He even called his ideas ‘inhumanism’ because he desired to change the focus from man to not man. Poets like Robert Hass , William Everson or Gary Snyder were influenced by Jeffers.
I read an observation about a wheeling vulture:

I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling
high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit
I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Bear downward staring. I said, ‘My dear bird, we are wasting time
These old bones will still work; they are not for you.’ But how
he looked, gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the
over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that beak
become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes–
What a sublime end of one’s body, what an enskyment; what a life
after death.

I see a sober yet intimate invocation of that longing to be part of something greater, to be literally incorporated in the vulture who glides overhead. Solemnity, veering away in the sea-light, great sails for wings, these will be interpreted as religious symbols just because we can. Let’s not. They word ‘enskyment’ is a great find, the literal opposite of ‘enterrement’, a life after death as part of the magnificence of nature.

It is a very simple event, a hiker who sees a predator bird in the sky. And look what poetry can make of it.

Reading: Vulture by Robinson Jeffers was originally published on Meandering home

A birthday wish

One year ago, for my 38th birthday, all I could wish and hope for was the absence of toothache. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get it. ‘If and only if’, my daily mantra became, ‘my mind is not distracted by that pain in the upper jaw, so very close to the brain, I will do great things’. My life pretty much revolved around this and it contitutes a dent in my biography, so to speak.

I have been working on a job that lacks even a shimmer of meaning when measured by my admittedly high standards (now, that sounds a lot more eloquent than ‘I hate my fucking job’ doesn’t it?) to earn the money for half a dozen dentists to drill, fill, crown, and whatever, my mouth. As of yet, that pain isn’t totally gone and for my 39th I wish, again, the absence of irritation and the ability to focus.

This might sound dramatic but it really isn’t so bad. I know of people whose wife died of cancer or, perhaps worse, suicide (read about our remarkable ‘ice man’ Wim Hof and how he overcame his wife’s suicide), people who have aids and tbc yet refuse to be defeated, athletes with hand nor feet and – I’ll be damned if life is a pissing contest of doom and gloom.

For this new year I wish focus. To me personally, that translates into no more nasty nervous distractions like that toothache, so that I can focus on getting focused. I can focus on doing my regular meditation, eating a healthy diet, taking cold showers, doing physical exercise, you name it. These things both seem to require and produce focus, so what I wish for the new year is a way into this catch-22 vortex.

a religion or some other story that pictures the unintelligible as an anthropomorphic and often sadistic power that manufactures ultimate meaning and always perverts one of our noblest feelings, that of humility.

It wil be my fortieth year and I am going to say here that a good way to celebrate such a milestone in a human life is to find a Cause that is ‘bigger than yourself’. By that I don’t mean a religion or some other story that pictures the unintelligible as an anthropomorphic and often sadistic power that manufactures ultimate meaning and always perverts one of our noblest feelings, that of humility. It is no trivial task either: I think that now, 129 years after Nietzsche collapsed on the streets of Torino, the specter of nihilism goes around again, and can poison our fragile idea of a shared goal that can claim ultimate meaningfulness. We may stammer our enlightened formula of the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and still the nihilist will shrug because the existence of humanity is no ultimate goal. Indeed I think we can speak of practical philosophy as a way of countering this nihilism, or to put it more aggressively, to cut off its oxygen supply.

So, what sort of goal could be ‘bigger than myself’? And should it be a whole lot bigger or is it enough when it’s just a little bit bigger? Could it be something like ensuring permanence of human culture on this blue planet (permaculture) or helping this human species and its successors to colonize the rest of our solar system and ultimately escape before the sun gobbles up the earth (elonmuskism)? Or are these ideas too big, so that ‘being a part of it’ is no meaningful concept, like it is not meaningful for an atom to be part of an acorn as much as it is meaningful for the acorn to be part of the oak. Perhaps I should ponder ideas that provide both myself and the greater whatever-it-is-we-are-in-it-all-together with the optimal amount of meaning, where optimal is something like the greatest leverage?

Above, I wrote I wish focus. In the last two paragraphs I lost that focus in an attempt to ‘flow’ writingly to someplace beautiful. To repeat it for a world in which the beast of nihilism has been slain (shouldn’t we slay it every night in our dreams lest we cease to be human?): Focus translates into our better cooperation on the rapidly aggravating problems humanity faces. More serious grown-up work that adresses inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, illiteracy, diseases, religious fanaticism, species extinction, habitat destruction, and here we go again – focusing on one thing that is only meaningfully bigger than yourself is not easy. But I have an entire year.

A birthday wish was originally published on Meandering home