I have always kept books in my bathroom. I used to line the bathtub with them, because we so rarely took baths. It was a great storage space for the the haiku of books. I chose those that could be nibbled. I realize now there is only one book stationed there, a book on wabi-sabi, something that is very important to me, that little bit of un-used space, allowed to find and fill its own way, like the workings of the heart.
Now, I read this essay in the NY Times by Henry Alford called "Chamber Plots." He begins:
"In the mid-18th century, Lord Chesterfield wrote that he knew "a gentleman who was so good a manager of his time that he would not even lose that small portion of it which the call of nature obliged him to pass in the necessary-house; but gradually went through all the Latin poets, in those moments." Today, many of us still read and keep books in the necessary house, even if our reading material is sometimes less Ovid and more Gary Larsen. When I redecorated my guest bathroom recently, I put 42 books on top of the toilet tank, arranging them so as to highlight the more brightly colored ones. Decoration was my motive - I had just painted the ceiling with gold leaf, aiming to create a destination bathroom. But what prompts others to place books in the loo? Are the books we keep there a reflection of our deepest selves? Many people read in the bathroom to escape family life; Freudians say we read there to distract ourselves from shame (the shame that arises from wanting to spite our parents by playing with our ordure). But what other motives are out there, and what do our motives say about us?"
I pause here, to say I don't feel any motive in my placement of books in the bathroom. I see them as comforting, as friends. Of course, I want them there. I will say my favorite elimination places are out-of-doors. I loved those moments in the mountains of Nepal. I would go out early, as did others, and find the perfect place, and squat with a view. The mountains were my books, holding the clouds, like pages. I was read, as I read. We shared a finite stage.
Henry Alford gives us some information on reading while eliminating.
"Most scholars contend that bathroom reading is largely a modern pursuit: the chamber pots and outhouses prior to the 1920's and 30's were not ideal for perusing texts. Yet Roman baths contained libraries wherein one could pore over scrolls, and "The Life of St. Gregory" (1296-1359) recommends the isolated retreat of the medieval fortress toilet - located high up in towers, close to heaven, so as to offset the perceived baseness of the act being committed - as a place for uninterrupted reading. "The Old Farmer's Almanac" whose pages were often ripped out by people in outhouses and put to practical use, has always come with a hole in its upper left-hand corner for easy hanging."
I, again, return. In the mountains of the Everest region of Nepal, if there is an outhouse, it is often built over the river, so everything just drops discreetly, or openly away. Of course, that means you have to boil and disinfect the drinking water. It happens that way.
In some societies, eating is done with one hand, and "wiping" with another. In makes sense in those places where disinfectants don't abound. It seems that each time I use a public bathroom now, there is someone concerned about touching the exiting bathroom door, after they have just washed their hands. I think somewhere we have to trust, just as we trust when driving on the freeway that most people are paying a great deal of attention.
I remember now a dream this week where I did miss a huge amount of driving time, and yet, all was well. Hmmmm! Perhaps, my automatic pilot system is just fine. We learned on this trip that a GPS navigation system has some trouble on a small island, or near the sea. She would so proudly announce that we had reached our destination, when, clearly, our idea of destination and hers had not yet met on the same plane.
Henry Alford continues:
"A collection of summaries of literary works published in 1991 as "Compact Classics" fared poorly in the marketplace until it was renamed "The Great American Bathroom Book," whereupon its first volume sold a million copies. Indeed, so profitable is this publishing niche that you can now buy waterproof books and books shaped like toilets. And, as George Costanza said on "Seinfeld" when he was forced to buy a book he had taken into a bookstore bathroom, "I got news for you - it it wasn't for the toilet, there would be no books."
Well, now, we know that is not true. I was reading today of the creative ways independent bookstores are renewing their existence. One way is to ask readers to become a member of the local bookstore. That way you support your favorite bookstore as you would the symphony or ballet. We live in creative times, and we always have, or we would not be where we are. I mean that positively. : )
Paint richness, variety, and color in your world today, or, just sit, like one simple Zen line in the circle of yourself, that includes and excludes all. Here is to the fullness of emptiness, and the richness of the hole, the whole, and the constant filling and emptying that renews and gratifies us all.