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Wagon Week

January 8, 2012

Right now, my Gmail in-box is jam-packed with messages sent from me to me, things I’ve seen online and want to remember for later. Delicious links marked “important” and waiting for January’s austerity, restraint and righteousness to be replaced by February and a bit of Fuck It, the Holidays Are Done and Gone, the Winter Seems Here to Stay, the Skies are Grey and Like I  Said…Fuck It. These messages have subject lines like “chocolate mascarpone brownies”, “lemon curd with sun-dried cherries”, “a great big gigantic cake for baking and shoving in your face”, “endless wine”, “nothing but non-stop eating, drinking, and eating and drinking”, “the best cocktail syrup of all time, ever” and “gin, seven ways”.

But, right now, it is January. Early January. Those recipe-containing emails will have to patiently wait.

2011 made me happy, and it tuckered me out. It was a year made of good things and frosted with sweet stuff, too. And, the year was hard. Really damn hard. I worked like a total banana, at work-work, at creative-work, at life-work, and getting-it-together-work, and worked at going easy(ier) on myself. In an effort to balance out how much energy I was funneling toward things like learning labour case law, collective bargaining strategies, sussing out a book outline, and wrestling with insomnia, I decided it was ok to say “no” from time to time, to stay home, quiet and idle instead. I also worked to convince myself it was ok to decline freelance work and not freak out that retirement poverty would be a direct and immediate result. Reminded myself that there are roughly thirty-five years remaining in my pre-retirement work span, so quite likely the opportunity would arise to recoup the financial loss of saying, “that project sounds great but I am so busy I simply cannot squeeze 10 hours of copy editing into October, 2011.”

But, all work and no play makes Welltailored a dull boy(ish girl), so I made sure to offset my industry and studious dedication with an equal quantity of laziness, indulgence, insobriety, late nights and activities strictly predicated upon fun. There were cookies…cookies shaped like lobsters! Cookies shaped like bunnies for the lobsters to chase, and pig-shaped cookies to give the lobsters a good run in return.

There were bittersweet truffles filled with white chocolate, marzipan and liqueurs. Parcels of red meat straight from farm to butcher to me then stewed in jacuzzis of port and red wine, bobbing amidst onions and herbs and other things entirely devoid of fibre but loaded with cholesterol and salt and good times.

And, there were evenings on the sofa, glass in hand, head propped against cushions, athletic pants on legs, and nothing resembling physical activity going on. Mmmm, those were tasty nights (and afternoons).

The Collective We says this every January 2nd, but enough was ultimately enough — it was time to call the indulgence off. I’ve said this many consecutive January 2nd’s, and thirds and fourths. Said that I need to give my belly and liver and head and heart and calendar a break, and to become more intimately and regularly acquainted with physical exercise. Actually developing, declaring then attempting to enact a New Year’s Resolution, though, is a recent thing.

In my teens, I believed — indeed knew, just like I knew everything else back then — that I was shit-hot, in great shape, invincible, and destined to never gain an ounce more than I wanted on my frame, nor contract a disease or develop a condition as a direct result of poor habits (because my habits weren’t poor, they were cool plus also great and some of these habits made for such great stories, it would be criminal to give them up). I didn’t need resolutions because there was nothing better than my life at that moment, precisely as I was living it.

Probably in my twenties, I invented some resolutions as a joke between friends or as The Thing To Try. Probably, they lasted till morning, just like the plans my friends and I would cook up shortly before sunrise after a really long night of drinking and chatting and solving whatever we believed then ailed the world. When 30 successfully came and went without a flinch, I suspect I revisited my teens and the attendant arrogance of “why would I change?” Indeed, what could be more awesome than being thirty, looking barely twenty, and still easily slipping into the same clothes I’d worn in high school? (PVC trousers adorned with rubber bats! You can’t buy shit like that anymore! So lucky mine still fit!) Clearly, I was doing something, perhaps everything, right.

But, then along came 2010 and its cousin, 2011, to kick me in my smart ass. I gained weight. Stopped sleeping, not that my sleep had ever been great. Developed horrendous bulges on the sides of both feet, which my doctor swiftly labeled “bunions, with a touch of arthritis”. A condition developed directly from bad habits, for instance wearing high heels and eating too much red meat. Often, I arrived home from work so damn tired I took naps while dinner roasted in the oven. Juggled chores and tasks and pleasure and meals and travel and family and friends and plans and commutes and dates and bicycle rides and skating meets with girlfriends at the park around the block. Attended friends’ weddings and met their new babies and congratulated their old babies on completing high school, earning a driver’s licence, or moving up to grade nine. You get your own locker in grade nine, and have spares between classes. Grade nine is awesome. I remember it pretty well. Grade nine was, well…it was a bunch of years ago. Two bunches…big ones.

Recently, a girlfriend joked, “everyone left our party before 11, and we had the place tidied by midnight. Old age: it’s here!” We agreed that we kind of like it, this “old age” thing. Going to bed early rocks. Not feeling shitty and hung over on Sunday is awesome. Gathering together and behaving like adults is really the wave of the future, and we’re glad it’s the status quo of our present, too. Not so much old, we are at least, at last, grown up.

This New Year’s Eve, we all laid low. Well, perhaps “lying low” is a stretch, but when we lay down, we slept quietly in the top bunk. There was public fun, but of the civil sort. There was dinner with friends, there were taxis and discussions of where to be at twelve o’clock. There was dressing up…there was a replica Michael Jackson coat with zippers and adorned with a keychain-sized Rubik’s Cube received as a Christmas cracker prize. I wish I was the one wearing that coat, but the credit goes to someone else. There was a DJ and dancing and my local spot for a quiet glass of wine was transformed into a press of bodies that prevented people from reaching the back of the space in less that fifteen minutes; a room that normally takes thirty seconds to cross.

I know. I just needed to see that photo a second time. Isn’t it great? The sleeves come off, and the back has about forty pockets, none wide enough to contain anything broader than a straw (which perhaps, back in 1985 when it was invented, might’ve been all a body needed for a night out).

January 1st was delightful. No hangover, unlike previous years. No willing my cat to stop prancing on the blankets and making such a head-splitting racket. No crumpled pantyhose on the floor in the hallway, bits of Bandaids gummed forever into the heels where unseasonal and tall footwear (also discarded nearby) had done their best on the dancefloor to rub my feet raw. The counter was not a city skyline of glassware short and tall, stems affixed to Formica by dribbled champagne. My hair didn’t stink like perfume, my face wasn’t riddled with blanket crinkles. I looked forward to breakfast because it would be delicious, not because I thought bacon might be the only thing with the power to save my life.

This was it. I was going to start the year right, for real this time. I was going to embrace moderation in all things: work; wine; yoga; time with people; time spent alone. Time spent online. Time spent at the office. Time spent thinking about the office. Time spent thinking about the things I ought to be doing instead of what I am doing right now. Time spent thinking about old shit, and time spent wondering about upcoming future shit. Delicious moderation! And what better way to launch a balanced year than with a super-ultra extreme month-long detox? Resolution made!

And, resolution immediately revised. Between bites of bacon eaten for its own sake and not to stave off death by hangover, I sipped coffee and ticked off things I was going to give up for this month on my fingers. Bread. Not just bread but all things made from flour. Not just wheat but ALL flour. Only whole grains allowed. Liquor. Sugar in all forms but honey. Red meat and perhaps pork, too. Definitely coffee and perhaps milk, too, since the only way I really consume it is with espresso. What else? Late nights. Weeknight social engagements. Shopping except for necessities and staples. Buying music and renting movies on iTunes. Taking the streetcar home after work, when it’s perfectly practical to walk. Chocolate.

By the time my plate was cleared, my resolution had ballooned into the sort of insanity that brought me to such an imbalanced place to begin with, and I had begun to scale it back. A month had been reduced to “as long as it all seems practical, or until it becomes so preoccupying that it begins to feel slightly foolish”. The list of give-ups had been tailored to a more rational length and scope. But, it remained stringent enough to actually feel like it’ll do me some good.

A friend emailed me a few days in, asking how I was doing with not drinking wine after work, a thing we both really enjoy more for the sake of the ritual and gesture than for the alcohol intake. I admitted that I was cranky about it, but only sort of. But almost, actually, not really. She told me about an article she’d read online, which claimed a month of abstention delivers pretty much zero health benefit, and that a more sensible approach is to never consume more than two drinks per week. Fair enough. Diets are not like Catholicism — you don’t get to behave like an asshole your entire life then offer contrition and gain entry to heaven when all’s said and done. Your body is unforgiving, and your arteries really know how to hold a grudge. Your face might look younger than your years but nature knows how old you really are, and being good each January doesn’t earn a free pass on eating and drinking like a monster the rest of the year. This is to say nothing of your liver, which can be pretty understanding and will take your shit for a long, long time. But eventually it’s going to get tired of being your bitch.

And so, Week One passed in a wineless, beefless, late-night-free state, and was a success on other fronts, too. All but one pair of jeans refuse to fasten over my holiday belly, and the ones that do were purchased just last week so they don’t really count. The same girlfriend that generously shared the Internet’s advice about not being a total idiot all year and thinking you can make up for it each January also had some tips for keeping day-to-day indulgence in check. The trick is to own one pair of brutally uncomfortable pants made of denim that is utterly unyielding. Jeans that fit across your belly like a board. Pants so rigid you practically have to propel yourself forward from the knees, legs swinging like pendulums from the hips. The moment you can no longer sit down in a chair and consume a meal while wearing those bastards, THAT is the moment you need to scale things back. Those jeans? They are the lifestyle police.

I think she might be on to something.

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