The Writings on the Stall

It’s 12:30 a.m., and I am spending the middle of my midterm hell-week in the inferno known as the book stacks of Tisch. Facebook screens light up ghoulish faces and phones buzz eerily. I am down to the last drops of both my cup of coffee and my sanity. Wearily, I amble past cubicles filled with fellow sufferers to the bathroom. Avoiding my reflection in the mirror, I find myself in a stall. I look to my right. No toilet paper. Great.

Then, I look to my left. I see a curious question written in black pen and round handwriting.
“Is anyone else concerned that this door doesn’t close?”
I look at the door. Why yes, I am concerned that this door doesn’t close. If a girl walked in on me right now, she would see a crazy sleep-deprived girl tilting her head and mouthing words instead of using the restroom like a normal person.

I keep reading.
“I’m into it.”
“Makes me feel wild like peeing in a field”
“I’d rather be in a field…”
“Someone just walked in on me!”

Suddenly the simple act of getting rid of the coffee in my bladder becomes a source of opportunity. I don’t have to just pee. I can pretend to be a wild soul frolicking in a field! I can even talk about it with other people! If someone were to walk in on me right now, I could even share my experience anonymously with the rest of Tufts! Okay, so maybe a discussion about a broken door isn’t the most exciting thing ever. But just seeing the different types of handwriting on the lifeless wall gives me a good feeling somewhere in the jumble of lecture slides that my brain has become.

The things individuals think of with only four gray walls, a disgusting floor, and no toilet paper for inspiration are surprising. The writings range from witty-
“Tufts girls are easy!”
“to be friends with”
“to get along with”
“to talk to”

to desperate—
“I’m going to fail my chem test.”

to raunchy—
“When was the last time you had sex?”
“This morning”
“a month ago”
“1.5 years ago”
“I’m doing it right now”

to insightful—
“Gender is performative.”

Even the work that restroom artists do not themselves come up with is moving. The quotes that bathroom frequenters choose to highlight can take a student deep in studying far away from the bleak bathroom walls. The opening lines of a Robert Frost poem evoke the futility of longing and agonizing over a distant future:

“You’ll wait a long, long time for anything much
To happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud”

For a student worrying about how a grade on her next test will affect the outcome of her future, this advice is priceless. Another quote from online public speaker Ze Frank provides valuable guidance for the lost college soul fretting about what to do with her life.

“And God, please let me enjoy this. Life isn’t a series of waiting for things to be done.“

But the wise words of the famous do not hit as close to home as the discourse between Tufts students. Of course there are the standard responses to questions, like, “Who do you think is the hottest guy at Tufts?” but the questions people ask each other here reflect the nature of the typical Tufts kid. There are extensive lists of spirit animals, best classes, and best cities to live in. There are also more deeply personal calls for advice, like what to do after you can’t stop thinking about a guy, what the norms are for standard hook-up etiquette, and whether it is ok to name you daughter Billie. Of course, there were also the standard comediennes out there:

“don’t be pressured by the guy—their sex drive is always more than yours”
“lies—my sex drive is unparalleled”
“yep, I wanna name mine Ryan or Jordan”
“hmm, I feel that Adolf is also gender neutral.”

Surprisingly, snarky responses to these questions are minimal. Though anonymous, the written reactions of Tufts students are refreshingly supportive. People respond to these questions with advice to love yourself, or to imagine if you’ll care about your situation when you’re 30. In typical Tufts fashion, the question about naming a girl even sparked a mini-discussion about gender norms.

Despite the entertainment value of having something to read before you flush, the most poignant aspect of bathroom writings is not what is written but why the writing exists. Do people need an anonymous outlet to express their taboo desires that they cannot share with friends? Is announcing your despair about an upcoming test to strangers bizarrely cathartic? Or does a bathroom wall provide a blank canvas for the imaginative expression that a computer screen depletes? Whatever the reason, there is something paradoxically beautiful about the smudged ink on the metallic walls. From now on, whenever the jitters of too much studying in Tisch set in, I know I’ll at least crack a smile when I visit the bathroom. Though I have not ventured into the forbidden land of the boy’s bathroom or contemplated the writings in the variety of other restrooms on campus (I heard the men’s room at Eaton has some interesting content), I am sure the genius of the anonymous expressionists of Tufts extends beyond the walls of Tisch. So the next time you’re emptying that coffee, take time to stop and read the wall. Perhaps you’ll even forget about the perpetual lack of toilet paper and become inspired to add a creation of your own.

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