December 28, 2005

The Nonaddictive Personality

I was going to brag that I haven’t spent a penny in three days, but then I remembered that I put some gas in the car for $14.50 – why, I don’t know, since I’m not going anywhere – and rented two movies for $5-something. (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and TWO FOR THE ROAD, both excellent in their own ways.) So I can’t even say I’ve been extreme in renunciation: everything in moderation.

Sometimes I fall into a hermitic temper and I stubbornly narrow my life down to a few daily rituals. This week of solitude it’s classical music at breakfast, work through the sunlit hours, twilight walk or gym session, dinner with red wine and rented movie, bedtime reading with more classical music. Email and online surfing of course. I’ve been feeling as if the world is lying outside for me to resist. If I were single I’d be going out and trying to meet people, but with a wife and family far away I have an excuse for asceticism. I haven’t taken the country drive I thought I was going to take, and I haven’t gone to a restaurant by myself (the one time I went with others, they picked up the $8 check), and I haven’t been to a movie theater or concert. All of them, things I used to do enthusiastically when I was really solo.

It’s funny the pleasure I can get out of not buying things. In the normal course of life I spend too much money on restaurants and a goodly amount on vacation travel, but if I see something appealing in a shop window it never occurs to me to buy it. I Iove used bookstores and one of my pet pleasures is seeking out good bottles of wine for under $10. I have pictures I’ve been meaning to frame for years, but I can’t bring myself to find a framing shop and choose a frame and actually hang the things on a wall.

I hear people talk about their binges – how they ate a whole box of cookies or a quart of ice cream – and I’m bemused. Those are things I’ve never done in my life. No matter how much I love food – and I do – I don’t see the pleasure in overdoing.

A little exposure to a sensation is all I need. I get the point quickly and I don’t need a lot more. No need to drink twelve beers if two make you feel just right. As a teenager, if I smoked a joint and felt like my mind was opening ecstastically, I didn’t have to do it again the next day. Each experience meant so much, I didn’t have to keep hammering it in. “Be as one on whom nothing is lost”: Henry James’ prescription for a novelist.

The king of delayed gratification. I don’t even count my chickens after they’re hatched. After all, not all the chickens may survive. One might be eaten by a fox; one might be smothered by the hen; one might be drowned in the duck pond.

I’ve been drinking a comforting amount of wine this lonely week, but the idea that I might slip into excess is humorous. If I drink three glasses one night, I’ll wake up the next morning feeling fine but knowing I won't repeat it that day. I gorged pretty well on Christmas dinner, and since then I’ve been eating with utter restraint – tonight’s dinner was whole-grain bread, cheddar cheese, salad, and shiraz. I used to be a moderate caffeinehead but I cut way down a couple of years ago, and these days if I make a cup of tea in the afternoon I probably won’t finish it.

It’s sad, I know…

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