Live, from the Bathroom

Live, from the Bathroom

By Lisa Deng

Kaya Kaminski advises I should work to love myself as much as I can. Not more than the people around me but not so much less. Actually, she just said black salt tastes divine on scrambled tofu as an egg substitute. But I know what she meant.

Kaya is my guru. I discovered her wellness podcast at the end of a five-hour long hyperlinked rabbit hole that began with a simple Google search of “left eye twitch meaning.” Since I started living in the upstairs bathroom in my house, I’ve relied on her voice to keep me balanced. Kaya lives at Joshua Tree. Like, in the park. She makes ceramic art in her trailer/studio on an artist grant from Siskan-Aldrich Foundation. She wears a hand-sewn uniform year-round and nobody judges her because she is a thin white woman with a calm voice and clean face and was featured in a 1997 issue of Artforum. She’s been recording these podcasts as part of a site-specific installation piece to commemorate the 7th anniversary of her marriage to herself which happens to coincide with the day the courts finalized her divorce to Tuvan throat singer Maxim Sokolov.

“The sounds of quotidian life are overdetermined.”

They totally are, Kaya. In the meditative portion of the recordings, she often tells me to do disturbing things with my imagination like think about nothing at all. I’m not like one of those people, like my husband, who can shut off their brains on command. My husband is someone whom, if you ask what he’s thinking and he says “nothing,” you can truly, vociferously believe. I envy that.

Short of nothing, Kaya says erecting an exogenous spirit container will suffice. Your “exogenous spirit container” is a compartment in your mind that houses your most authentic self. In other words, your happy place. Good thing I know what mine is because I just answered a question like this on the Buzzfeed quiz “Which Cereal Are You?” I couldn’t decide between a desert landscape with the stars in full view at the end of a challenging but gorgeous hike or a dramatic stormy beach at sunset. I finally went with the latter. In any case, my authentic self was not going to bloom in a sunny resort or fancy nightclub surrounded by attractive strangers.

Standing on the sands of this wuthering beach, with the winds generating a force I can only describe as Beyoncé-esque, my most authentic self feels euphoric but not at peace. I’ve always had a hard time relaxing. Excess effort for modest gains is a family inheritance—which is to say I come from a long line of women inconveniencing themselves for no good reason. My mother, when she immigrated to the states, slept on the floor until she finished her master’s degree. She had a bed that came with her rented room but she just used it as an extra book shelf. My grandmother washes all her clothes by hand and sews her own bras and underwear. She uses the washing machine we bought her to store her homemade rice wine. I don’t need to know what she did with the stuff we got her from Victoria’s Secret. Me, I once walked two miles to buy a book at Barnes and Noble instead of ordering it on Amazon. Turns out the book wasn’t available at the store, which taught me the importance of calling ahead while pushing me over 10,000 steps on the pedometer.

The morning I entered the bathroom and decided to never leave again I had taken up flossing. The day before, my doctor casually suggested I could live up to 100 which threw me into immediate chaos because I’m pretty sure my oral health is only prepared to take me up to 64. I’ve never flossed consistently in my life. I didn’t even properly learn how to brush my teeth until I was 11, when I was invited to my first slumber party. I’m pretty sure some senior citizens have lasted longer in bed than my average brushing time. By sheer luck, I’ve only managed to get three cavities. Some days I admit I don’t brush my teeth at all. Meanwhile I have maintained the same twelve-step skincare routine for the last fifteen years. This is what some might call shallow. It occurs to me while I assault my bleeding gums that I don’t know how many teeth are in my mouth. It’s not a fact with which I previously cared to take up bandwidth in my head. I count twenty-eight. According to Google an average adult should have thirty-two. Wait, what the fuck?

Just then my daughter appears next to me with a shit-eating grin.

“What?” She looks like she’s going to burst.

“What is it, Vi?”


“Purvis? What’s purvis? Do you mean ‘purpose’?”


“Why would you say that?”

She shrieks. She’s unable to form words anymore. This is what her teachers mean when they say she is academically inclined but lacks self-control. She’s had to switch seats in class three times. She can’t help that her laugh is the loudest. She’s wheezing inconsolably on the floor now, pounding her fists on the ground.

Unwilling to deal with this I yell, “BABE! Get in here!” and my husband sprints in like a lifeguard at a community center pool who’s had dry trunks all summer. He picks her up from the floor and I push the both of them out.

I have never called my husband by his real name except maybe the first time I met him at my friend Marie’s housewarming. His name is Samuel. Not Sam, on account of him being spanked by his mother one time when she heard him introduce himself as such on the playground. “Your father and I named you Samuel, not Sam. It does NOT say SAM in the bible.”

Samuel yells from outside the door.

“Oh, it’s penis, babe! She meant penis. Mommy has no penis! Hey, where’d you learn that word?”

Purpose, penis, what’s the difference? I knew when I made the feminist choice to be a mother and raise her at home, this would never be as feminist as the women who made the choice to go back to work as soon as possible.

I miss the simpler days when Violet would say some bat-shit insane thing to me that didn’t hurt my feelings. Like “Mommy I have to tell you something… My love rectangles.”  Or “Can you rub my lucky foot thumb?” Or “I’m so excited for you and Daddy to die so I can go to an orphanage,” when I let her watch Annie. She said to me then, “I hope you come back as a caterpillar so I can keep you in a box under my bed.”

“Me too, honey.”

Samuel knocks. “Hey, are you okay?”

I say nothing. Then: “She’s right. I have no penis. That’s the problem. Maybe I should go back to school.”

“And do what?”

“I don’t know. Something that’ll get me a fuckton of money so I can buy the house next door and live there instead.”

“You don’t like living with us?”

It’s not so much them as it’s just that sometimes I fantasize about living next door to the reality of this situation. It’s just that some days you’re getting ready in front of the mirror and you look over at this man yoked to you for life diligently moving his hair part back and forth for ten minutes straight and you think, ‘Can I get a price check on this Eternity?’

“Actually, what’s the point?” I can’t resist adding. “We’re so close when we’re together it’s like I’m totally alone anyway.”

“I’m gonna take that as a compliment.”

Reclining back into the bathtub, I take stock of my future. I think the bathroom is the best place to be in the house, especially under self-enforced house arrest. I have everything I need here: a steady water supply, a toilet, and enough towels to take five families to the beach. The bathroom also has the best lighting. Every day I can take a selfie and by the end I might have something to give that decomposing fox video a run for its money.

“How long is this gonna go on for?” How many times has he asked me that? I don’t remember. I don’t know.

“This” is “a thing” that happens. When we were dating, I went radio silent on him for three weeks but left enough crumbs via our shared Netflix account for him not to call the cops, or worse, my mother. I had to be very careful in curating titles in the watch history. Two episodes of Mad Men is fine. Three documentaries on Mayan prophecies is troubling. Twenty-one Law and order SVU episodes in a row would be a medical emergency.

“Think of it this way, at least I’m doing this in the house. What if I actually ran away? This way, you always know where I am. We can still talk. If Violet starts drinking or doing weed, wouldn’t you prefer her staying in the house? We’re good parents.” I’ll still be here under the same roof, under the same light polluted sky, somewhere between living and undead, psychotic and iconic.

You don’t hear about mothers running away from home. They usually walk out. Tearfully exit stage left or some organization with initials rips them away. Why is that? Running away can be dignified, I think.

“And now is the time to consider the possibility of time travel.”

Tonight, Kaya tells me to imagine my grandfather as a small child. I picture us on his father’s farm and I pull his wispy frame in for a bear hug. I think about how today is the oldest we’ve ever been and also the youngest we’ll ever be again. One day no one will think about us again, thank god. Unless, in a millennium far away, when one of my distant relatives takes up the retro art of meditation and finds herself plugged into our frequency. My great-great-great-great-great-grand-daughter of my great-great-great-great-grand-niece waves her little cyborg arm at me. I wave back and say, Hey, does your love rectangle?