Learned #16: Sh*t Happens

In which we learn to open up about dumping out. (NSFW Language Throughout.)


Welcome to Learned, a resource for all of us who are trying to keep our shit together. Or not. In this issue:

  • What We’re Learning: Everyone Poops. Even Adults.

  • What We’re Reading: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

  • Down the Rabbit Hole: Everyone Else’s Stuff is Shit

Let’s get to it.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

What We’re Learning:

This week, we’re learning about poop. I shit you not.

Recently, a fresh round of odd-Japan stories made the rounds, this time concerning a cute, cuddly, pile of poop, who's quite friendly and is helping kids learn their kanji.

Japan’s penchant for toilet humor is nothing new: Lucky Unchi-kun is a popular Tamagotchi character, Kin no Unko (Golden Poop) is a lucky charm, and there are poop emojis and stickers for every possible occasion.

To be honest, the first time I saw Unchi-kun in stores and on my student’s school supplies, I was a little grossed out. But I’m beginning to come around on him.

As interesting or funny as the idea of Professor Poop is, what a lot of those pieces failed to discuss was one of the underlying cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan: Poop is a normal, natural part of daily life that should be monitored and discussed (within private circles, naturally) without shame. Which is not how I grew up.

Growing up in fairly middle-of-the-road America, farts were gross jokes, poop was not discussed except in medical terms, and gastro-intestinal distress was the go-to cover story for a whole raft of troubles.

(While American culture has shifted quite a bit as far as kids are concerned in the past few decades, it has a ways to go before it becomes anywhere as open as Japan. Frankly, I remember the outcry over the publication of “Everyone Poops,” in 1993 but at this moment, Amazon lists several dozen similar books, all of which indicates how far things have changed. )

Contrast that to Japan where it is not uncommon to hear an impeccably coiffed, mid-thirties career woman respond to “How are you?” with “Not so good. I have diarrhea.”

Culture shock.

As my time in Japan lengthened and I met more people from someplace other than the U.S. or Japan, I started to see more examples of how different cultures handled the body’s functions.

Example One: An Australian friend was teaching us how to make a vegetarian curry: “It’s really good for making you have a strong poo that will clean out all the bad shit. Literally.”

Example Two: I arrived at work one morning looking a little grouchy. “What’s wrong? Ah, didn’t have a good BM did you? Get a cheeseburger in ya at lunch, it’ll sort you right out.”

I could go on, but the point is, as I’ve become a parent and house owner and everything else, I’ve come more and more around on the idea that poop should be a subject of daily conversation (at home). It’s a shortcut to someone’s physical health and comfort. And it’s not something that should be hidden or kept secret. Rather, it should be celebrated as a normal part of everyday life. After all, a good poop just might help you learn your kanji…

I am in charge of poop in my house. I am the Pooper-in-Chief, if you will, and I know you’re all right there with me:

  • In my house, I am the resident dog walker. Which means I am the resident cleaner of dog-poop.

  • I have a daughter not long out of diapers. Which meant lots of cleaning up of poop.

  • My house is served by a septic tank, which needs regular, scheduled maintenance. Which, in turn, means supervising the cleaning-up of poop.

  • And then there are the adults, who, thankfully, are generally responsible for their own poop. But life happens and we have to help family members even in the rough moments.

In other words, adulting is mainly dealing with everyone else’s shit. But you knew that.

Further Reading:

What We’re Reading:

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

by Mary Roach

I’m just going to start off by saying how much of a Mary Roach fanboy I am. Her books on death, space, and medicine were astonishing, so why would her book on the digestive processes be any different?

From my original review on Goodreads (2014):

The Alimentary canal is the path through your body that starts at your mouth and finishes at the bottom. Roach's book follows this route with a chapter for each of the major stops. Each chapter describes not just the mechanics of what happens to the food we put in our bodies but also how we came to understand those mechanics through the history of the scientists, doctors, and patients who brought knowledge to us. Finally, there are numerous asides and witty references to unexplored side passages off the canal, both literal and figurative.

All of which is, as I've said, engaging, witty, and informative. And gross. Author Roach does not pull any punches with regard to what happens in our bodies. She is absolutely unsqueamish about the sheer fact of food entering, becoming a mass of pulverized, acidic, slush, and then finally, excrement and is sometimes even delighted in delivering new, potentially life-altering, information.

It is a really good book. Just not one that you want to read at the dinner table.

All of which is still true, even after a second, recent read-through. Really, well worth a read.


joeldavidneff.net | joeldavidneff at gmail | @smileytoad | @joeldneff | coffee

Down the Rabbit Hole:

Not that the Japanese have a total lock on poop in the popular culture…

And, last but never least, the amazing and much-missed John Ritter:

That’s it. Stay strong, stay healthy. Learn something.