Columnist for Friday, 3/2 - Cindy

The Asceticism/Hedonism Project: Day 1.


Today begins the first day of a grand experiment.

The human mind is a convoluted machine.

One part of it wants caffeine. It wants caffeine very badly. A cup of tea in the morning, a cola beverage or three in the afternoon, the occasional trendy energy drink - anything with the precious Vitamin C will do. Caffeine wakes up the mind. It summons sentience where there was sloth. It allows a person conscious control over the reptile mind that would otherwise demand sleep and inattention. And it feels so good, so nice, coursing through your veins. A simple daily pleasure like so many others that make life worth living.

But another part of the mind wants to abandon caffeine. Caffeine is an unnecessary stimulant. It tricks the body's inner workings into a false sense of stress, creating a contrived physiological reaction that ultimately achieves nothing. The effects are fleeting, and for every bit of heightened awareness there is an equal and opposite period of sluggish stupefaction. There is no long-term gain, you're just borrowing those tiny high moments, and you must pay them back later, with interest.

So you want to have Tea. And you want to have No Tea. Barring some extremely rarified conditions postulated by certain authors of interactive fiction, this is impossible.(1) But the question remains: which you is YOU? Is there a true identity that is somehow the essential you? And if so, is it the one that wants that cup of tea or the one that does not?

Now, if we were talking about a socially unacceptable drug, like crack, everyone would have an easy answer. Oh! It's the good side of you that wants to stop hitting the pipe. That's the real you. Weak, unfounded, wishful thinking. But tea at five, wine with dinner, a couple beers during the football game, that's all ok. You're allowed to have that be the real you. But really, is the habit part of you, or are you part of the habit?

There is an excellent, now-defunct cartoon strip written by Nina Paley, in which the author describes her mind as the bridge of the USS Enterprise. She enters Cafe Pergolesi, and is confronted with the daunting list of potential beverages available. "My readings indicate," says the voice of Mr. Spock, "that mineral water would be the logical choice." Naturally, Dr. McCoy chimes in, screaming "Damn it Spock! This woman needs an Amaretto Hot Chocolate with Whipped Cream!" The Kirk within must make the final decision, but he needs the twin voices of logic and emotion to guide him. Substitute Apollo and Dionysus if you prefer (we all pull from our own mythologies) but these opposing forces pull on our every decision. Somehow, the core of our identity must moderate between them.

But for the next two months, there will be no moderation. James Tiberius Kirk has left the building. For the first month, the ascetic impulse has the helm. There will be No Tea. I will wake at sunrise. I will exercise and meditate every day. I will purge my diet of refined sugars, caffeine, and red meat. I will live simply, doing one thing at a time, methodically accomplishing my necessary tasks day to day, and dedicating my remaining time to reading, writing, and pursuits of the mind. I don't want to go overboard, running off to join a monastery or putting myself in the hospital after a 12-day water fast, but to the extent that I can, I will pursue my personal image of a clean, ordered life.

Come April, there will be Tea. And coffee, and bagels with cream cheese. And wine and steak and beer and chocolate. Drinking, dancing, staying out late and waking up at noon. The hedonistic drives will be calling all the shots, and man, are there gonna be a lot of shots. Personal limits will be pushed. Living will be made better through chemistry. For practical purposes, I'll have to draw the line at getting arrested or cheating on my spouse, but anything I'm inclined to do that I can recover from later is fair game.

This is the first entry in my personal journal of this experiment.

Wish me luck.

1) 10 quatloos to the battle thrall who gets this joke!

Previous day's column (jims)