my 1980sWhy Art Is Always Emotional

Does philosophical rumination— whether it takes the meandering form of recitative, or the straitened form of aphorism— qualify as emotional? Think of Nietzsche’s rants and highs, or Wittgenstein’s hesitant, antiseptic propositions, which sometimes, at their edges, break into moods of exaltation, curiosity, and depression.


I did something this morning that I swore I would never do:

I picked up a steaming pile of dog shit—with my hand.

Dog owners do it all the time, and I assume it’s no big deal to them. They carry around their extra plastic bags from Target and Stop & Shop, and when their dogs take a crap, they stick their hands in a baggie, lightly grasp the turds, turn the bag inside out, and tie it shut at the top. Done. No shit on the street, no shit in your hands. Everything contained neatly in plastic.

But I’m not a dog owner. And the idea of touching a hot crap while it still holds the body’s heat disgusts me—even if there is a layer (or two) of plastic separating skin from excrement.

Before any pet owners jump on me, let me say: I see the need for this, and I support it wholeheartedly. Out here in Boston, where green space is limited and houses lack the spacious yards that I grew up with in Minnesota, the hand-bag-crap grasping is a necessity. Unless you want shit everywhere on every sidewalk, you’ve gotta do it. (When I went to Paris several years ago, I never saw Parisians chasing their puppies with plastic bags, so turds littered the sidewalks like confetti after Mardi Gras. It was repulsive.)

But I don’t own a dog. So I wasn’t planning on doing it.

Where I grew up, in a farming community 45 miles west of Minneapolis, my dog shit in your yard and your dog shit in my yard, and we called it even. Or, more often, my dog shit in her outdoor enclosure, and I took care of it later: hours later or days later. When I picked up the poo, I did it with a shovel; there was never any risk of physical contact.

This week, I’m dog-sitting for my sister and her partner, who are vacationing in Sanibel Island. It was 70 degrees and sunny there this morning. Here in Dorchester, it was 30 degrees: cold enough for shit to steam when it comes out.

They have four dogs. Four dogs make a lot of steaming hot crap.

Before my sister left, she asked me to pick up dog shit once a day or once every other day. “There are baggies under the kitchen counter, and you just reach inside, grab the poo through the plastic, and jooooooop!” she said, retracting her hand fast to illustrate.

That’s what she thinks.

I eyed the snow shovel on her pack porch. Yes, I will pick up Luca, Lily, Sweetie Pie, and Ginger’s crap. But, no, I will not do it with my hands.

The first day out in her yard on crap duty, I spent 15 minutes chasing turds with a shovel. It was like a frustrating game of hockey. Every time I thought I had a log ready for bagging, it would roll back off of the shovel onto the grass. Chase, roll, repeat. Quickly, I changed my strategy: instead of shoveling willy-nilly at the turds and futilely chasing them across the grass, I would scoop uphill or into a stationary object, like a fence, to keep the hardened logs from rolling away.

Sometimes it worked. Sometimes the turds just smashed all over the shovel, making a second mess for me to clean up.

I gave up and went inside.

This morning, after letting two days pass, I wielded the shovel again. I engaged in chase, roll, repeat with two piles of hardened turds. But then I came square against a mustardy-brown pile of hot, steaming crap, fresh out of Lily’s Chow Chow ass.

This would make a dastardly mess of the snow shovel. Then I would have to clean it off with paper towels—increasing the hand-poop proximity.

I exhaled, defeated.

Stuck my hand inside of two bags.

And gingerly retracted the poop claw.

I swear the dogs were laughing at me.