On poo

“As a part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement.”
Deuteronomy 23:13-15

If you want to get to know someone well, ask them to tell you a story about poo.

Everyone has one.

Here’s mine.

I was on a three-week tour across China in 2006. I had a big blue backpack with twenty small ziplock bags, each held a fresh pair of underwear, ready for a new day of adventure. Dirty clothes moved to the top of the bag, and I’d pull a fresh plastic baggie from the bottom of my pack each day as we moved from Suzhou to Lijiang to Lhasa, and finally to Inner Mongolia.

Things were getting uncomfortable for me. Travel-induced constipation is the very worst, and if you’ve never experienced it—consider yourself blessed.

Once we reached Inner Mongolia, the situation was getting dire. While snow was falling outside, we drank alcohol, ate big legs of roasted yak, and huddled up in our round traditional tent—called a yurt. As the temperature dropped, our guides lit a fire beneath the yurt, assuring us that the warmth would help us get through the night.

It didn’t. The yurt caught on fire, forcing us into smaller, unheated tents for the remainder of the night. By morning, I was cold, hungry, and still constipated. We got on the bus to leave—and I couldn’t have been more relieved. Actually, I could have been. And that’s ween I realized, it was finally time.

In an odd twist of fate, the bus broke down, because the fuel was too cold to run properly. In a moment of sheer panic—I grabbed my friend’s hand, and made her follow me off the stopped bus and into a wide open plain. We saw one small red house, surrounded by an ocean of yellow grasses. We knocked on the door, asked for a bathroom, and were pointed into the field, where a small shack covered a deep 6-foot hole.

There, in the middle of Mongolia, my bowels’ three-week strike finally ended in a terrible, gut-wrenching finale. 

As with poo, so goes life. Sometimes things go very smoothly. Sometimes things feel utterly stuck. And sometimes, it hurts so bad you want to scream.

I think it’s the same with writing. At times, I feel like nothing is coming out of me, for weeks on end. Nothing good, nothing easy—and everything feels impossible. Then at other times, I feel the greatest satisfaction in my work.

I hope today is one of those days.