Saturday, March 03, 2007

Existential Crisis!

I have some great news: I am not suicidal!

I'd always suspected that I was not suicidal, but how could I have ever known for sure? I mean, it's really easy to sit there and say, "I want to be alive! Living is great!" But where do you find your proof? How do you know your desire to be alive springs from a passionate lust for life, or some sense of purpose, and isn't just instinctive and reflexive, the product of the basic survival impulse?

However bad things get, however defeated I ever might feel in an individual moment, it seems that I generally return to an optimistic attitude. I know that I can probably have a good life and make a difference, and all that stuff. But sometimes I wonder, "what's the point of it all," and "why bother?"

I realize that I am not breaking any new ground here, and people far more well-read and well-spoken and intelligent and possessed of more philosophical curiosity than I have waxed eloquently about these questions for, like, a really long time. If I have nothing new to say about these things, then, what am I going on about here? Well, a week or two ago, this question popped into my head, unbidden:

"Why would I want to live even LONGER...when this is all meaningless, and I could die today and I wouldn't even care because I'd be dead, so I wouldn't know any better, right?" What would I want with all that extra time? Why not just "live it up" now and who cares when I croak, if it's at 50 or 80 or 120?

It occurred to me that this was a really, really important question to discover an answer to if I seriously want to do CRON (or any other healthful thing) for the purpose of longevity. It seems to me that if you are asking for more time, you should have some sort of idea what you plan to do with it. I realized I wasn't sure.

This sophomoric existential crisis was looming large a week or so ago when, in an intensely strange moment while I was preparing my (decidedly non-CRON) dinner, I vividly imagined having a massive heart attack and dropping right there in my kitchen. Making the moment more surreal was the fact that opera music was streaming from the living room (something from Prairie Home Companion). I felt like I was in some kind of artsy movie. The diva was wailing, and I imagined myself on my knees, clutching my chest, begging, "No! Not now!'s too soon! I have so much to do!" before slipping into the darkness.

I stood there, paralyzed, waiting to see if it was really happening. You know the funny way time seems to stretch out and everything goes slow-mo when something horrible and traumatic is happening, when seconds seem like minutes, and minutes seem like hours? I found myself stricken with the idea that I was in the midst of a sudden, surprising death, and time was stretching out forever, so I could experience every moment of it. Not that I was experiencing any bodily sensations or anything--this was all in my head.

When I'd recovered my senses (just in time to drain the gaky pasta I was cooking), I couldn't help but chuckle with relief, that kind of insane chuckle that really isn't because something was funny, but rather, served as a pressure-release valve we sometimes need after averting disaster. I mean, obviously I was relieved that I wasn't really having a heart attack. But more than that, I felt an intense relief to suddenly know for sure that I actually wanted rather seriously to be alive, as opposed to descending into the aforementioned sophomoric existential crisis.

I know that all sounds so silly, but I realized that I've never really been endangered in a way that made me seriously fear for my life. My mortality has never posed much threat. It's been more theoretical than actual.

I suppose that sureal moment (revelation? ephiphany?) was at least in part the result of all my new knowledge about health and nutrition, and the tension inherent between all that knowledge and my continued bad behavior.

I'm sure I was fantasizing what I actually do fear will be the likely consequence of my continuing the path I've been on. That path has been strewn with fitful, sporadic CRON practice, peppered with frightening bouts of ad lib abandon. I was in the midst of preparing macaroni and cheese, a meal so off my CRON list it shouldn't even be recognized as food so much as poison!

I realized something else: I've been thinking of my bad feelings about food as "guilt" and "shame," but those are imprecise characterizations of something that I think is much more primal. I think, at least for me, my bad food feelings spring from fear. I was suddenly imagining what was going to happen to me thanks to the very food I was preparing that moment.

Guilt came next, in the moment I realized I wasn't having a heart attack and everything was fine. As I shoveled greasy forkfulls of macaroni and cheese into my mouth, I felt like, "Ha! I've gotten away with it again!" But getting away with something always makes me feel guilty. This is why I cannot bear to play practical jokes on my friends--if I get away with it, if I fool them, I feel guilty!

So, what does all this mean? I guess the answer is, "I don't really know." It's a relief to be made aware in no uncertain terms that I don't want to die, that in fact I'd prefer most strenuously to remain alive. I never did think I was suicidal, but isn't it nice to know for sure? But I also know that if I want to stick with CRON, I need a plan. I need a goal. I need a rationale for prolonging the time that I plan to spend here, a justification for the greater amount of resources I will then have to consume in order to do that, for the greater footprint I will leave on the environment.

The answer, it seems to me, is that I must do something good. I need to prolong my life, and most especially, the period of my life during which I am most robust, because there are some good things I am meant to do, and they take more time than I'll have if I continue the way I have been. What are these good things I have to do? I have no idea. But I'd prefer to have the luxury of time in which to figure out the answer to that question. And so, I must do CRON.

Existential crisis averted, for now....


Anonymous said...

Hi Chris

Some comments. On the existential reasons to do CRON, well I would welcom whatever motivation helps you to achieve it. You will find some long term CRONies that don't do it for longevity necessarily - but for increased vitality, health, etc. For me being able to do yoga is a motivator. I notice that on good CR days, I can run to catch the bus without effort. On your good CR days I bet biking around Chicago is a breeze.

For more practical advice - if you crave macaroni and cheese, you could fool your body and give it a lower calorie, CRON-friendlier version. I was reading online a critique on the book "the uncheese cookbook", which Erin referred to in his blog, and there is a vegan version of macaroni and cheese in it. The cheese is made from nuts. I don't remember if the pasta is regular pasta. But you could see if glucamman pastas, which Erin also recommends, come in macaroni shapes. My recollection is that they do. So, if you prepare that pasta, which is very low caloric, and do the substitute for cheese, you could satisfy a craving and really not deviate from a CRONie way of eating.

Hope that helps, and nice to read your blog.


Anonymous said...

Since we’re sharing our existential, pasta-rific stories… well, I broke down and had an absolutely decadent extra large bowl of pad Thai with beef last night.

definition - gak-y… but also, definition - taste-y…

I must admit, as I was shoveling forkful after forkful of succulent Thai noodles into my mouth, I thought of nothing but how damn good the stuff tasted.

But, on other occasions, I too have had bizarre visions of ill health at a later time in my life… always when consuming “shitty” food.

So, you ain’t alone, my Chicago bloggie friend.

Mike J.

Anonymous said...

Come back to us! We miss you! JD

Anonymous said...

Oh Dear..he's gone again.