Thomas King is a well-known author in Canada, probably the most famous and successful Indigenous artist up here. In his short story, Traplines, the narrator recounts the way his father would sit in the bathroom in the dark to get away from his family.
As I remember it, the author implies that his father, who grew up on an isolated Native reserve, missed the quiet solitude of sitting on the trapline.
I didn’t grow up on an isolated reserve. I grew up in Winnipeg. Yet I love bathrooms, occasionally even dark ones. The bathroom has been a respite at countless parties, and yes—even in my own home.
The bathroom is a haven for secret reading, a monastic meditation cell and even a place for prayer. I have retreated into the delights of the purely mental world in countless bathrooms with the help of a trusty book in a back pocket or bag.
Although I have never discussed it with anyone, I intuit that I am not alone in this.
I am sure that introverts everywhere, buffeted by social storm winds, over-stimulated by emotional electricity or just damned “sick of people” have chosen to sit in the Buddhific beatitude of a bidet-bedecked backwood.
Even the stall of a public bathroom can be better than nothing, although the quiet buffer of the gray walls is tainted by the anxiety of holding someone up, and the air occasionally less than pristine in that semi-sylvan solitude.
The best bathroom, introverts everywhere will agree, is far from the madding crowd. Say, a rarely used basement bathroom or an upper floor bathroom at a dinner party where you are unlikely to be interrupted. The more raucous, the happier the party, the better. It is less likely your absence will be missed or much cared about.
Bathrooms with soundly locking doors are also better. It is hard to relax when you think someone might storm in, especially if they will find you sitting on a closed toilet reading a book or pacing back and forth talking to your Maker. This recently happened with my three-year-old son at a family party, when he opened a flimsy sliding door with a cheap plastic latch to find me reading a Kindle book on my iPhone, seated on the toilet lid. “Do you sometimes like a secret place?” I asked him.
Recently a spate of books like Quiet, The Introvert Advantage, Introverts in Love, The Introvert Entrepeneur and even Introverts in the Church have argued that introverts need to claim their right to introversion, appreciate their unique gifts and stand boldly (and quietly) for their introversion. As a recent Facebook meme proclaimed, Introverts Unite! (Seperately In Their Own Homes).
I am all for that, because of my natural predilections and my sense that there is a growing lack of inwardness in our culture.
I wish our culture made more public room for inwardness, for stopping, for contemplation, for quiet. I love churches that are open to tourists in the afternoons for this reason. I cannot tell you how many buildings I have been in where I wished had a quiet meditation space or a chapel to disappear into. What if Hillary was not caught waiting in a pee line, but was alone in a stall stilling her mind and contemplating eternal verities before debating the future of her country in front of millions? Lord knows Trump could stand to spend a few more minutes in the can thinking things over.
While awaiting the arrival of the new monasticism, however, I have a feeling that my love of the lavatory will continue. For me, the quaint old term “comfort station” surely applies.
If I lived in a hunter-gatherer society, I imagine I might walk off into the jungle and not come back for a couple of days. Or maybe as a hunter my taste for solitude would be satiated—maybe in some dim genetic recess of my being that is the genesis of my introversion. Maybe I would also be good at hunting caribou, although that’s little solace in my quasi-veganity.
If I lived in warm Greece, or maybe even New York, I might wander off to a rooftop, like in the Drifters song:
When this old world starts getting me down,
And people are just too much for me to face—
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space…
So if you see me head off to the bathroom and I’m gone for awhile, don’t come check on me, and don’t worry. I’m not constipated, or drunk. I am putting my soul back on right before going back out to face the carnival.
Author: Matthew Gindin
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Michael Gil/Flickr