When I think about our current mania for all things wellness-related, I think of clean, bright rooms: white, flowing linen. I think of granola with flaxseed oil washed down with a jug of coconut water. Yoga. Pilates. I think of a nation of exhausted people yearning for something clean and simple and nourishing. If wellness were a person, it would be Michael Jackson circa 1985, and we would all be screaming, crying fans, just dying to get close enough to touch him.
I recently published a book, Yoga Bitch, about two months I spent studying yoga in Indonesia. That yoga retreat was nearly ten years ago, when yoga was climbing out of the smelly ashrams of the sixties and into the bright, glossy wellness centers it lives in now. My book chronicles my attempts to find enlightenment via a spiritual practice complicated by capitalism, egomania, and a persistent desire to smoke cigarettes and eat red meat. Well, this book of mine came out in August, and shortly thereafter I launched into a book tour that would take me to both coasts and Europe. I started tweeting and facebooking and doing all the obsessing I vowed not to do. So it was a measly three weeks post-pub-date that I found myself in New York City, exhausted and depleted and in desperate need of a little effort in the direction of wellness. I was at the point of mental and physical fatigue when I cry so easily that all you have to do is say the word "sad" and my eyes start leaking. So I knew I needed to find a way to chill out.
But let me tell you: it's pretty freaking hard to relax when twitter, facebook, goodreads, and google beckon the new author to obsess over her sales, her status, her rank and reviews. I felt like I needed to remove my head and put it in cold storage for a day or two. But I was at my dear friend Kate's apartment in Williamsburg, and her refrigerator really wasn't big enough for my head. So we debated how best to structure a day of recovery from the travel, the endless self-promotion, the micromania of having a book out. Here's what I would normally do:
- Yoga. Let me just say that the very last thing I wanted to do after spending weeks promoting a book called Yoga Bitch was yoga. I needed a prescription for Xanax just to think of the word yoga.
- Read. The second-to-last thing I wanted to do after spending weeks promoting a book of any kind was read. I had tried, and the book I was reading, Patti Smith's Just Kids, prompted such a powerful spasm of self-loathing I had to either put the book down or jump out of the airplane I was traveling in at the time. I hadn't dared touch a book since.
Kate suggested we take a walk. I figured that was probably a good start. Sounded healthy. But she had something in mind for me, something that would truly help me get well. She took me to one of those artisanal-everything shops in Williamsburg and ordered two organic pepperoni sticks. She bought popcorn coated in caramel and sprinkled with bacon bits. "We're going to watch TV," she said, adding an enormous bag of fancy beef jerky to her basket. At the thought of eating beef jerky, I cried a little, because when I'm this tired, happiness feels a little like sadness. I hid for a moment behind a wall of fleur de sel, and wept.
Within half an hour we were each settled on our own couch, and Kate had put the first of seven episodes of Downton Abbey on the television. During the opening Masterpiece Theatre promo, Colin Firth's face flashed across the screen. Colin Firth isn't actually in Downton Abbey, but I knew, at once, that I was going to love it.
I more than loved it. Downton Abbey is the greatest thing to happen to me since the BBC's 6-hour Pride & Prejudice, which I also watched with Kate back when I lived in New York and still knew how to watch television all day. It's an upstairs-downstairs British saga that starts the day after the sinking of the Titanic and ends at the onset of World War I.
Whenever I'm full of worry and prone to complain, my mother admonishes me to think about others for a change, that there will be relief from my own problems if I dwell, instead, on the problems of others. My mother is a very good person, and I'm pretty sure she means that I should go volunteer somewhere, or maybe pray for those who have less than I.
Well. Spending an entire day thinking about the inhabitants of Downton Abbey, both the aristos upstairs and the servants down below, may not qualify as charity, but holy God, did it relieve me of myself. The troubling vicissitudes of my own frail and trembling ego, the endless worry and strategizing that had deprived me of sleep and rest for months, were assuaged as I worried, wholeheartedly, for the Crawley girls, whose estate had been entailed away.
"But it's the twentieth century!" I cried. (Literally. I was crying.)
"I KNOW," Kate replied from her couch. "It's SHOCKING."
"It's so Jane Austen."
"SO Jane Austen."
I worried, fiercely, for the crippled-yet-proud Mr. Bates, that the pernicious a-holes O'Brien & Thomas would have their way and see him fired. What would he do then? He was a cripple, for god's sake, and the world is cold and cruel! And the eldest sister, Lady Mary? Would she succumb to her grandmother Violet's wishes and marry the lower-class cousin on whom the estate had been entailed? Would she whore herself out for the sake of her family fortune? And what about the hot Turk she KILLS with SEX?
Television. It's the greatest invention ever. By episode three I was a new person, wholly energized and as well as a yogini after her 108th sun salutation. Who needs Omega fats and deep breathing and flowing linen when you can wear the leggings & ripped t-shirt you slept in while gnawing on fancy beef jerky like a starlet's puggle?
"This is the happiest day of my life," I said to Kate. We were on episode 7. Night was falling. I could actually feel my entire backside growing into the couch.
"Seriously," Kate said. "The greatest." She caught a bit of drool with the back of her hand. "My wedding was nice, though."
"Mine, too," I said. "It's a tie."
"Yeah," she said. "Let's watch Harry Potter after this." And she passed me another slice of jerky.
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