We’re proud of our outhouse. It has unique design features which I'll share another time. But it’s not simply a functional and decorative double-seater. Like all the best outdoor salles des bains, it's so much more: it's a reading room, a cultural gathering place, a destination.
Outhouses have always been places of inspiration. I myself, during daily visits, consider topics like beauty, humanness, mortality. “All flesh is grass and its beauty like the flowers of the field,” I think, as I stroll through flowers on the way to its door. “Of dust we are made, and to dust we will return,” I ponder as I leave. I will doubtless need to devote another post to this building, but here, now, I am after something practical, answering a question posed for generations: what is the best reading material for the outhouse?
We subscribe to many publications, too many, but we find multiple uses for the 30+ magazines we subscribe to out here, among them fire-starting, package-stuffing, fish-wrapping and of course, outhouse reading and enrichment.
Jose Ortega y Gasset has famously written, “Tell me the landscape in which you live and I’ll tell you who you are.” My present version of this quote reads, “Tell me what you read in the outhouse, and I’ll tell you who you are.” I know I’m taking a chance with Too Much Disclosure here, divulging the contents of our toilette, but in the interests of reading, the ongoing health of magazines, and the hope that all outhouses will continue to double as reading rooms, I present the winners in each category, and invite you to consider subscribing to these fine publications:
Most Ironic Outhouse Magazine:
This geeky publication reporting on the futuristic-now makes us glad to keep at least one part of our bodies solidly in the past.
Most Likely to Create a Wait Line:
Excellent in-depth articles, but for outhouse placement, we stress the value of the cartoons. Quick, punchy, in-and-out---Next in line!
It keeps us elevated to the Artful and Mysterious
on days when the outhouse has too many flies and we're sure we know the end of all flesh.
The New Yorker wins again! (It’s especially fun to read The “About Town” section and marvel at how New Yorkers feel like they’re the center of the world. Whereas we in Alaska know we're not---nor do we want to be!)
Martha Stewart’s Living. We mostly just look at the photos. (I’m waiting for her Outhouse issue. It will likely be called “Re-fashioning the Toilette al Fresco”)
Books and Culture. After reading the scholarly reviews, you leave the outhouse feeling lighter in body, but gravid in mind.
One of my husband’s favorites. Excellent writing and photographs, but---does a 5-windowed outhouse
need another window? It's the same reason I don't have "Alaskan art" on my walls. I already have windows.
People’s Choice Award:
The Utne Reader. (The articles in this lively alternative digest not only report on the hopeful counter-culture, but they’re the perfect length for outhouse business.)
Most Theological and Personal All-Time Favorite (and not just because I write for it):
Christianity Today: This magazine considers all aspects of faith and culture from a refreshingly biblical viewpoint. (And with the new emphasis on a physical, embodied faith, this magazine fits right in at the outhouse, reminding us at just the right moment that our bodies are God-made and good---all the time.)
Most Likely to Incite Anorexia and Sex-Obsession:
I have nothing more to say about this magazine except: Our outhouse doesn't subscribe.
Most Likely to Be Used as Toilet Paper:
Too much fake beefcake on the covers. Do these guys know how to lift a hammer, run a skiff, build an outhouse? That's what I thought!
I hope you’ll be inspired to subscribe to more magazines, and to consider with me what this is really about. When we choose what we subscribe to, and then when we sift through the pile on our tables and in our bathrooms, looking for that article, that photo that nabs and stirs us, we're shopping for better selves. We want to be smarter; we want to understand this mysterious world better; we want to be moved and changed and enlightened. All this in three minutes or less.
And it happens. When returning on the long walk from the outhouse to the rest of my life, I am pondering something about astronomy, Handel, youth, New York theatre, grizzly bears, French fries, Jesus . . . The exchange is complete. I emerge lighter, more comfortable, ready for more work, and the world is a richer, vaster, deeper place.
Should you be one of the less fortunate, who doesn’t get to walk through flowers and grass on the way to the bathroom, even your inside room can become an educational gathering place.
What cultural offerings are on your bathroom shelves?