(Only a bit about language.)
[TMI Warning: The following posting contains information, opinion, or reflection that some readers might find uncomfortably or unwelcomely personal, private, or intimate in topic or content: too much information, as the saying goes. As a general observation, I’m willing to go almost anywhere in my postings, including some places that some readers don’t want to go.]
Despite the title, this posting is about the routinization of arrangements and activities, so that it becomes hard to imagine alternatives. Most of the household arrangements that got set up (rather hastily) when I came home from the hospital are like this. There were good reasons to do things in a certain way, but then my abilities changed, and maybe things could now be done differently — if only we thought about it.
The case at hand has to do with the 3-in-1 commode that came home with me from the hospital :
The three ways to use it are over the toilet, at the bedside, or as a shower seat. The point of the over-the-toilet use is to raise the effective height of the toilet; low chairs, including your typical (low) toilet seat, are bad news for my hip (were then and still are). After initial attempts to use the thing as a freestanding piece of medical furniture came to naught because my digestive system was not yet functioning normally, we turned to the raised-toilet use.
(Etymological digression from the Concise OED 11: commode is a euphemism, an 18th-century borrowing from French, literally ‘convenient, suitable’, used for “a piece of furniture containing a concealed chamber pot”, then in N.Amer. simply ”a toilet”. It’s a convenience, yes, but in a very specific way.)
There followed a lot of trial and error (the commode was simply delivered to my hospital room at some point, without any information or instructions), the goal of which was to set things up so that I could manage all the toilet stuff by myself, without the aid of family and friends. The arrangement then had the commode over the toilet, and all the toilet action was in the sitting position (there turmed out to be good reason not to use the commode with its seat down for defecation (I’m sorry, but neither pooping not shitting really works for me here) and up for urination.
Ok, in this arrangement, peeing was certainly possible, though a bit cramped. Then at Gordon Biersch for lunch on Wednesday I used a urinal there, and wondered once again about those commode arrangements. And a crucial thing had changed.
Earlier, I couldn’t manage to move around without using the walker, with two hands, so there was no way for me to move the commode around with me. But now I get around inside the house with my interrogative friend, the quad cane, and I can lift the commode off the toilet and stash it to one side — and get back to peeing standing up in my own toilet. This turned out to have some emotional value for me, so I just kept the commode to the side for the rest of the day, putting it back on top of the toilet for the night, as bedtime approached. I’ve always peed sitting down at night (and often during the day as well; standing up is a sometime thing for me); I’m not nutty enough to insist on aiming for a toilet bowl in the half-conscious gloom of the night.
That’s when I started examining the emotional values I was attaching to positions for peeing. I think sitting down is emotionally neutral for me as to gender associations, but standing up is a projection of masculinity, and since I’ve just been coming back to sex after a long dead time, the assertion of masculinity feels good. That will probably level off, but right now I value standing up. And I can get that — so right now I’m going for it.
Of course, guys who sit down to pee are seen by many Americans as contemptible figures of fun (“Hey, don’t be like mom and sis, be a man, stand up to piss”). The topic can get incredibly contentious. Periodically it bubbles up in one context or another, in different countries. The Usenet newsgroup soc.motss went over it in 2005 and 2006 (unfortunately I haven’t been able to find most of the postings), taking off from stories like this one, in Chuck Shepherd’s News of the Weird in the December 2006 Funny Times:
Fiddling With God’s Work — The headmistress of the Dvergsnes primary school in Kristiansand, Norway, proposed that boys be taught to urinate while seated, in order to reduce splashing and mistargeting, which burden the cleaning staff, but many parents and politicians reacted bitterly. Said Vidar Kleppe of the Justice and Order party, ”It’s a human right (for a boy) not to have to sit down like a girl,” adding that the school was “fiddling with God’s work.” Parent Nancy Bakke was proud of her 7-year-old boy’s ability to aim: “This rule goes against everything I’ve tried to teach my son.”
Against this were appeals for rational behavior, cleanliness, and orderliness. Some individual men, and in some places whole social groups, see the point of Sitzpinkeln. But many men feel deeply that it’s threatening to their masculinity; Stehpinkeln is the only way for a real man to go.
In Germany at least there have been campaigns for Sitzpinkeln as a public good, with the slogan “Bitte im Sitzen pinkeln!” ‘Please pee sitting!’ on signs. Not surprisingly there’s been some backlash, as in the many versions of a cartoon with the slogan deliberately misinterpreted as allowing extravagant displays of urinary control:
I remind you that that’s not my position. I’m fine with sitting, but at the moment at least standing has some emotional value for me, so I’ll take that route sometimes.
On to a very different case, the environment surrounding my bed. Remember that my bed is now (and has been for months now) a chair in my living room. When I came home from the hospital, the bed became a sickbed, in the sense that the table next to it picked up medical and assistive items it hadn’t had before — not just a clock, a box of Kleenex, and a water bottle and glass, but also 8 bottles of drugs, a device for splitting medicine tablets in two, an asthma inhaler, a sheet for keeping records of drugs, a bottle of body lotion, my iPad, and more.
Having re-examined the peeing thing, I went on to reconsider the sickroom environment by my bed. In fact, the bed, such as it is, had pretty much returned to being just a place to sleep, so why was it continuing to function as a little medical facility?
No good reason. Back into the bathroom with the drugs, inhaler, pill-splitter, body lotion, and so on — back to where they’d been before, in more normal life. And that too feels good. Eventually, when I can deal with getting up from and down to low furniture, I’ll go back to my orginal bed (now repaired), in my own bedroom, and the living room can be fully reclaimed as public space.
That leaves the dining-room table, which has become my work surface, in effect a giant desk. (My former desk is now mostly a printer table, plus a place for a 2 .3-quart electric tea kettle — hours of tea!) I’m putting off re-re-thinking the table; at the moment, it’s just so convenient.