On Piss

Moraji Desai, former Prime Minister of India, attributed his long life to the ritual of drinking his own urine. He began each day with a shot of it. An active follower of Mahatma Gandhi, Desai stated publically that drinking urine is the “perfect medical treatment” for the poor because it’s totally free. He also advocated for rinsing one’s eyes with urine to avoid getting cataracts.

Andy Warhol created an entire collection of piss paintings called the “Oxidation Series.” He asked his friends to pee on canvases coated with copper pigments and the uric acid oxidized into abstractions.

In Ancient Ireland and Egypt, women stood to urinate. It was the men who sat or squatted. The same is true of European women over 200 years ago. As a way of peeing discretely, they wore long, floor-length dresses and didn’t bother with underpants.

The Dwarf American Toad urinates on itself as a form of self defense. The toad releases a toxin from its kidneys to become less appetizing to predators like snakes, and may also inflate to become harder to swallow.

Women’s pee typically comes out in a wider stream than men’s because of sex and childbirth. Centuries ago, the stream test was given to women before marriage. If the woman pissed like a man, she was presumed to be a virgin.

Over 200 incidents of drowning occur each year in Canada as a result of men standing up on boats to urinate overboard.

I had kidney stones when I was sixteen, and assumed the pain was menstrual cramps. I described the sharpness to one of the male physicians as a clamp tightening on my abdomen. He said, “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about. We get lady problems all the time.”

The “GoGirl” is a device that allows women to urinate while standing up. It comes in pink and purple and it’s branded for “active, traveling, germ-conscious women who don’t have access to a sit down toilet or don’t want to use unfit facilities.” My aunt, a butch lesbian living outside of Denver, purchased an off-brand version: a cheap, plastic funnel that she uses to urinate on mountain hikes.

In 1987, artist Andres Serrano photographed a small crucifix in a Plexiglass tank of his own urine and called the piece “Piss Christ.” The piece garnered so much distain that for nearly three decades, Serrano received death threats. The artwork was vandalized on multiple occasions. Rather than self-censoring, Serrano defended the piece by claiming “Piss Christ” was an act of devotion.

In New York City, I lived with a Vietnamese artist who used body fluids in her work. My favorite piece of hers was a large, abstract work created with dismantled tampons and smeared menstrual blood. The clotted blood bound the cotton to the canvas and the tampons gave the painting three-dimensionality. I suggested she use pee or tears for future work and offered to supply her with massive quantities of both.

In Ancient Rome, women used to gargle with pee as a method of whitening their teeth.

Marcel Duchamp submitted a urinal to an art exhibition in 1917. He called the piece “Fountain,” and although it was intended as a Dadaist prank, it is now recognized as one of the most influential pieces of modern art. Artists in major cities like Dublin and Paris have recently begun painting politicians’ faces on bathroom walls to give users the sensation of pissing into an open mouth.

Once the doctors ruled out menstrual pain, they took me to have an ultrasound. After only a few seconds, the technician pointed to the dark screen but I had already seen the luminous constellation floating inside my body. “Stones are presumed to be the closest one can get to the pain of childbirth,” he said. “They bring grown men to their knees.”

Many countries like Germany and China practice contemporary urine therapy, including drinking one’s own pee. What interests me is not the concept of drinking urine “for a healthy glow,” but the rigorous process our bodies undergo to dispose of the incredibly dangerous waste that is excreted through our urine. Ammonia, for instance, is lethal in large quantities. Because there is no way to quickly and easily remove it from our system, our bodies transform this poisonous substance into something sterile and drinkable, which strikes me as quite beautiful.

Recently, a strange man approached me at the public library. He came up to the table where I was writing and started describing the sex he’d had the night before, grabbing his cock and staring at my breasts. I fled the library, ashamed, imagining for an instant he had followed me into the neighboring coffee shop. When I was sure I was alone, I sucked down enough water to extinguish my small fire. I imagined it running through me, unfiltered and ravenous, until I could hold it no longer. Along with the ammonia and the toxins, I pissed out the way he’d trapped me into a corner, the way I felt exposed and small. Then I flushed it away.

A male porcupine stimulates a potential mate by pissing on her. The urine comes out in a high-speed projectile, like ejaculation. The female porcupine then can either reject his advances by shaking off the urine, screaming, or tail swiping. It is impossible for a female porcupine to be raped.

I used to sing in the children’s choir at St. Agnes Catholic Church. The choir director, Wendy, was an enthusiastic, affectionate woman and I made it my goal to project my voice above all the rest to impress her. During the mass itself, she always hoisted one of the littlest girls up, took her seat, and allowed her to sit on her lap until the next song. When she chose me, I got so excited I couldn’t control my bladder. I could feel the warmth spreading, but prayed Wendy wouldn’t notice. I also prayed the sermon would never end and that I could sit on Wendy’s lap forever. When the pianist signaled for us to all stand, Wendy put me back on the ground. When she stood to face the choir there was a dark stain on her long dress.

Havelock Ellis was a British physician who studied human sexuality. He was impotent until he was 60, when he became aroused at the sight of a woman urinating.

The saying “read between the lines” dates all the way back to Ancient Rome, when spies used urine as invisible ink. Once the secret message dried on the paper, it could only be read if heated.

Twenty percent of Americans and 99% of Olympic swimmers admit to peeing in public pools. The men on my college swim team not only admitted to it, but often challenged each other to pee in the middle of a workout. I became so accustomed to getting peed on that I could tell when the man in front of me was pissing because his legs would go limp and his powerful kicking would dwindle into slight twitches.

Male lobsters store urine in their heads. When they fight, they spray each other in the face with it.

In the early 1990’s, Helen Chadwick released a series of sculptures called “Piss Flowers,” created by urinating in the snow and pouring plaster into the cavities.

It’s not usually advisable to drink urine for survival. If the body is dehydrated, then urine will be even more saturated with toxins that would be harmful to reintroduce. At most, it may only help one survive for an extra day.

I drank water and juice excessively to flush the stones out of my kidneys, but they wedged themselves in my urethra and stayed lodged there for days. I longed for a souvenir to commemorate my experience: I wanted to catch the stones and squeeze the little crystals between my fingers, but I never did. My doctor told me that sometimes the stones just dissolve and fall out of the body like sand.

Regardless of gender, astronauts utilize a device called “Mr. Thirsty” to urinate. The pee gets vacuumed into a tank that spews the urine into space where it immediately freezes and forms stunning ice crystals resembling stars.

My grandpa was diagnosed with colon cancer nearly a decade ago. For a short while, he believed he cured it with paprika and positive energy. He attributed the cancer to his frequent consumption of Heinz ketchup and artificial sweetener and never took ownership of his history of inconsistent checkups and irregular screenings. He lived in a state of blissful ignorance until the cancer came back and turned his urine to blood.

Women only need to urinate vertically, but men have to urinate in both the horizontal and vertical directions, which can cause problems with aiming. Complications often occur at the beginning and end of the process, when men have little control over stream velocity. Billy goats use this technique to their advantage, and pee indiscriminately into their own mouths and beards when they’re trying to attract a mate.

A famous British writer read an early draft of “On Piss.” He told me that it wasn’t successful on any level and probably couldn’t be salvaged. I mentally shredded it to pieces, embarrassed I’d asked him for feedback. We sat in silence while he searched for something to say. Eventually, he said, “Pee is a rather repellent subject to write about.”

In medieval times, Scottish men walked through the streets with a big bucket dangling from their necks. For a small price, people could pee into the bucket. For a slightly higher price, the man would provide a cape for privacy.

The famous writer remarked of my writing, “There’s entirely too much sobbing in your work. People can only sob every 10 to 20 pages, max.” He then asked if I knew how the word “essay” originated. “To try,” he said, before I could answer. “It means ‘to try.’ And try you did. You should feel good about trying.” I did my best not to tear up in front of him, and afterwards I flipped through the edited manuscript. The only marks he had made were to point out every instance of crying. He’d written phrases like Tone it down! Please no more crying!! His marks were only written in pencil but he had pressed so hard an imprint was still visible on the next page, and sometimes the next.

The women of Ancient Arabia soaked their hair in camel urine because the pee gave it a reddish tint that men found attractive.

I wish I had told that famous British writer that I knew exactly the origins of the word essay and that I would make it my goal to write even deeper into what he loathed about my work and in me. I’d write about the body, about my vagina, about discharge, liquidity, shame. I’d write about sobbing. (After all, isn’t sobbing just another form of pissing?)

In Ancient Rome, women often consumed turpentine, a potentially lethal substance, because it made their pee smell like roses.

The Den of Earl

It was a favorite line of his. More than him saying it, I was frustrated by the expectation that a nine-year-old should know how to thaw and cook red meat. I was forever failing at things I was never taught to do.

My Mother's Name

When my mother said my name, not one of the three syllables was diluted or mangled, assimilated or Americanized.

An Index of Small Stings

My fingers stop moving over the keyboard. I command myself to react, to interrupt, to at least make light of his comments in an offhand way, but I am shaking. I pull out my notebook, write his words down, and pretend this attempt at record-keeping equals doing something.