Columnist for Friday, 5/4 - Cindy



So the experiment is over. And what did the last two months teach me?

Mostly small, practical things I might not have picked up on otherwise.

I learned that waking up early every day is quite pleasant, if I'm doing it because I want to and not because I have to. The hours I add to my day by staying up ridiculously late aren't nearly as pleasant as the hours I add by waking up at the crack of dawn. The exception to this rule is when I have something very specific to do while I'm up late, like drinking, dancing, or the odd all-nighter with friends and loved ones. Squandering the midnight-3am hours on chat groups and computer games just isn't worth the time spent.

I learned that the middle lane of the intersection leading from Clares St. to 41st avenue has a thoroughly broken pressure sensor, and the light will *never* turn green, unless another car comes along triggering the sensor in the far left lane. (Cars behind you do not help -- you just get a stack of angry cars honking at the one in the front for no logical reason.) During the day this intersection is busy enough that you'd never notice, but you can be stuck there for 10-15 minutes between 11:00 PM (on your way to late-night drinking and dancing) and 5:30 AM (to get to the Zen Center half an hour before dawn). There are too many bored cops in Capitola to risk running a red light, so really, just remember to stick to the leftmost lane.

I learned that working out at the gym every day for a month made me gain weight, and cutting out exercise while adding sugar back into my diet made me lose weight. I don't know if this principle applies when taken to extremes, but it's always nice to discover that common sense can be dead wrong. As for red meat, God DAMN I like a good steak now and again. It's staying on the menu.

You know what else I learned? Health food stores are full of total crap. I don't mean stuff that *tastes* like crap, (although it frequently does), but totally unhealthy sugar-bomb, super-carbohydrate, high fat, no-protein fare that's only "healthy" for the micro-organisms that thrive in the absence of preservatives. It's all whole wheat cinnamon rolls and fried yam chips and fourteen thousand kinds of fruit-flavored sugar water with four milliliters of the herbal tincture du jour. Gas station mini-marts offer a wider variety of genuinely nutritious foods. Their produce selection may be better than some chain markets, but other than that they're just big, overpriced snack shops.

I also learned that if you want to take a lot of weird chemicals with a lot of friends, you've either got to have a lot of nearby friends who regularly take weird chemicals (which I don't) or plan such occasions well in advance (which I didn't.) One more victory for the forces of Puritanism.

I learned I don't really like marijuana. I'd like to, but I don't. As a good citizen of Santa Cruz, I still support its legalization, subsidization, and forced distribution to people at all levels of medical need -- but personally it just makes me scatterbrained and paranoid. Maybe I need some of that $2000 an ounce stuff I hear they use in the US Military.

I also learned that I have a SERIOUS caffeine problem. If heroin is a monkey on your back, caffeine is a leprous skunk ape crapping on my forehead. Caffeine provides a brief, mildly pleasurable rush after a long absence from it, but by the next day it puts me in a bitter, foul mood and I CAN'T STOP DRINKING IT. It doesn't really perk me up, but it *does* keep me from sleeping, which keeps me up too late and starts the whole cycle all over again. I've resolved to cut it out of my life completely. Just as soon as I've finished the crate of Red Bull I got at Costco. Waste not, want not.

The most important thing I learned was something I already knew, but was worth re-examination: It's important to throw a wrench into your habits now and again. Not because habits are inherently wrong, but because they end up shortening your life. Not by the clock or how old you are when you die, but your own perception of how quickly it's passing.

A quick example: set a timer for five minutes, and spend it playing solitaire. Then set it again and stare at a blank wall. Which went faster? And no, it's not about boredom. Try being in a bank robbery that lasts for five minutes -- better still, rob the bank yourself (or jump out of a plane if you've got some sort of "moral" issue) -- and you'll see just how long five minutes can really last. Perception of time is largely about the repetition of familiar events. Forcing yourself into unfamiliar territory decreases the frequency of these events, and you literally get more time out of life.

Properly spent, you can stretch your time out to *several lifetimes* longer than your neighbor. Not as efficient as the traditional time machine, but 93Successore paradox free.

I'm not sure I'll do this experiment again. I'll try to get a little mileage out of not being hedonistic enough during Hedonism month -- it's a good excuse to be bad for a while yet. Since I didn't really "get it out of my system" I can justify a little further debauchery under the auspices of Science. Other theme months might be possible: Good Citizen vs. Closet Anarchist might be possible, or perhaps Social Butterfly vs. Total Hermit. Maybe I could just do a one-off, like a month-long vow of silence.

Should probably check with the wife first on some of these.

Previous day's column (jims)