My sister recently sent me a link to a conference paper entitled In Praise of Bad Habits. It is a little academic (of course so is my sister) but is otherwise a very entertaining rant.
I took great pleasure in reading phrases like ‘lifestyle coercion’ and ‘focus group fascism’ – you can almost hear the author spit ‘healthism’ as a Nuremberg lawyer would ‘Nazi’.
The disdain with which contemporary society holds those who smoke, eat red meat, drink alcohol or otherwise enjoy themselves, is often a frightening spectacle. Collectively, humanity will always find new an interesting ways of alienating huge chunks of itself.
I quit smoking this year, to the endless praise of friends and relatives. You know what? I miss it everyday. Smoking was an incredibly pleasurable thing for me. I harbour some resentment towards the medical community for discovering that it is bad for me. However, a small child made me promise to quit. I can manage to break promises to adults when necessary, but I’m helpless in the gaze of that little kid. Dr Johnson is quoted as saying “He who makes a beast of himself, escapes the pain of being a man”. Giving up the indulgences you love to better yourself or someone else’s life requires discipline and purpose. Wallowing is easy. Occasionally, these habits can be identified as being ‘bad’ with some purpose.
I sometimes miss a friend I had at work years ago: Dan. Dan was one of the best organized, most thoughtful, and polite and yes, healthiest people I ever knew. He participated in an endless list of energetic outdoor activities and was in phenomenal shape. He was also smart – a trained engineer. Despite my natural suspicion of healthy, good-looking people Dan and I became friends. Dan absolutely refused to be judgmental. He never had a negative comment about my smoking, red meat eating or other degenerate practices. He never chided me on being out of shape. He enjoyed my cynical, bitter sense of humour. We lost touch over the years but I often think of him.
Whether health-nazi or consumptive hedonist, the real issue is intolerance isn’t it?
My mother’s dog died today.
Over fourteen years ago she brought home this tiny four-week old puppy – it fit easily in two cupped hands. ‘Ginger’ had been taken away early from her mother. She had been neglected as the runt of the litter and required special care. We had to bottle feed this little hairball for a couple weeks. She ate pabulum. She slept curled up on a blanket in a small box.
This was the last year I was in high school – the last year I was at home. Clearly the beast had been acquired as a sort of replacement for the presence of children in the house.
In the fourteen years she lived, Ginger ate scraps of steak from her quiet vigil beneath the dinner table. She got to go on regular drives down to “George’s” for her own little cup of ice cream. She slept every night on her own blanket at the foot of my mother’s bed.
I often remarked to Ginger that I had seen dogs in Africa that were probably only a few steps away from being eaten by someone – she had it very easy. Ginger would only reply by rolling over so I could reach her belly.
She recognized me on my visits. She had a unique spirit that is now gone. Some of my family is mourning tonight for a missing member.
A lot of people would read this and say, “c’mon it’s just a dog” – and yes, I know there are more important issues and greater suffering in the world. I know I’m a hypocrite who will happily chow down on something that had parents and big soft eyes. But I also know that in fourteen years you can bond with an animal.
I will miss that little mutt more than some people I’ve known.