This month, I’ve rolled back my consumption of carbohydrates, sugar, alcohol, and more generally, spending. I’ve wanted to lose some weight, especially the extra poundage put on during the All-American Assault of Holiday Foods. This has, of course, severely cut down on the amount of time I spend buying random food items, such as dinners out or long-spanning lunch breaks. Trips to bars and concert venues feel good – in a way I’m freer than I’ve been – but there’s a strange sense of ignoring a friend, comparable to making direct eye contact with someone you used to know before awkwardly looking down and away, pretending you didn’t see them.
An odd thing about life in Chicago’s winter – perhaps this is everywhere, regardless of season or geographic location – is the abject loneliness that makes itself known when one stops drinking and eating piss-poor foods during a month where these two past times serve as a cradler, a mother-like figure. It’s a culture here, in a big way. What are you doing on Friday night? Well, I’m going to go eat an Italian beef or a falafel or some Indian food on Devon or do a bang-bang and then drink a bunch of beers at the place with the old neon Special Ex sign out front and up to or perhaps the fancier place that boasts of its selection of Belgian and Brazilian beers.
This is normal. This is human hibernation, Chicago style.
Take this barrage of food and drink away and you have something of a lonely existence. Sure, there are movies and plays and walks and reading and writing and simply just being with someone, even if that someone is just you. That’s all quite good; I feel and experience things in real time, not letting my memory fall victim to the bludgeon or alcohol or allow my stomach fall victim to a grease trap that hasn’t been cleaned in four months (flavor country). However, my brain doesn’t seem to light up the same way by simply looking at things I have, feeling content, reading a book, enjoying a nicely cooked home meal, or drinking a glass of water as it does when I buy an ice cream cone, a burger, or a six-pack of beer. The brain also doesn’t experience the same sense of naked joy from buying a salad as it does, say, a sandwich. The rush of the body quickly processing the bread into sugar and turning it into fast energy isn’t happening, so the instant satisfaction and following stasis is stripped and traded for some feeling of “well-enough/satisfied.”
Booze doesn’t fill my stomach and make me think it’s a good idea to buy a few more glasses, deepening the night and likely diminishing the next day, a flickering effect that leaves you wondering if the life decisions you had made were in line with your ethos or on the shelf of depravity for the evening. The warm comfort of forgetting about a day becomes a mental task instead of a physical task, turning arm movements toward the mouth into concerted thought and extended meditation.
All of this, in a way, is fairly confusing for me, while also making complete sense. I’m at the point now where life feels oddly denuded, the stripping of topographical purchases ripping something away but also allowing me to see the things I had either been missing or taking for granted: The niceties of sober conversation. A good night’s sleep without intermittent waking. A certain casting away of feelings of shame. A look in the mirror with pride, realizing I’ve moved into myself instead of spreading another fold outward and stealing more of the world’s mass.
But still, the itch for something else remains. Just a moment ago, I sat here and clicked over to Amazon to see if I should purchase some books or other odds/ends. Nah, no need; the home stack of book is still big, odds and ends are plenty. Food? Eh, a pickle and some cheese as a snack should suffice, maybe adding a square or two of 85 percent dark chocolate. A desire to get fucked up? Not really, save for the always-present urge to experience altered consciousness in some way; this is also easily acquired in about three minutes of meditation, about the point when the muscles of my face seem to melt away into a neutral stance they haven’t been allowed to relax into on a regular basis since single digit age numbers. Not instant, but nice. Consistent. There.
A gnawing is still there, too. I don’t know what to do about it, but I do take a certain pride in ignoring it, in not having to fill a quiet moment with anything but the quiet. Even so, there’s also a bit of wistfulness with not simply giving into what I want right now as I normally do. Perhaps it’s a wild, consumeristic part of me that is being tamed, one I’ve always let run wild since the days of saving up allowances for sticky buns and Shawn Kemp trading cards. Perhaps it takes time to not be that way in the same way. Perhaps I’ll relapse February 1 and not look back again at this bit of psychic loneliness until Jan. 1, 2018.