The dishes were washed and put away. I’d cleaned the counters and gathered up what needed to go to the office and to the laundromat.
At 6 a.m., I’d walked and fed the dogs, started a Crockpot full of beans, made coffee, changed the bedding, started anther load of laundry and packed my gym bag.
I considered running the vacuum but figured it would wake up the rest of the house, including my two dogs who were already napping after their breakfast.
There had only been black coffee for me. I was fasting.
My clothes for the day were laid about on the bed, next to a towel. I looked at it. I needed to wash up. I’d skipped cleaning up the previous night when I’d come in sweaty from an evening workout at CrossFit WV.
I should have showered the night before, but I was going to change the sheets in the morning anyway and the dogs didn’t seem to mind.
But now there was a whole day ahead, and while looking a little sloppy for Casual Friday was OK, people still expect you to bathe. At least, they expect you not to stink.
New year, new month, Old Testament
For January’s “One Month a Time” project, I picked up Exodus 90, a program of prayer and self-denial that is a kind of spiritual boot camp which, like the Bible, focuses on dissolving the bonds of slavery.
The “slavery” the program hopes to help you free yourself from are bad habits that are probably just shy of being full-blown addictions. It’s a shock to the system and includes things to abstain from (like sugar and alcohol), activities (including vigorous exercise and scripture reading) and modifications of regular habits.
During this program, I would fast twice a week, pare down my internet usage to only what was really necessary — and take lots of cold showers.
I’m an active guy. It’s not unusual for me to shower a couple of times a day after workouts. Three showers in the same day isn’t unheard.
Sometimes, I spill things.
If I skip the good hygiene, it doesn’t take long before I end up looking like I’ve been rolling in a field of bacon. Eventually, I smell like a dumpster fire behind a Burger King.
When I’d first looked at the list of dos and do nots, none of them had really concerned me. All seemed well within my personal tolerances. After all, I’d spent a year as a vegan and had been watching what I ate for longer than that.
How hard would it be to give up meat during a fast twice a week or just not snack between meals? I didn’t need to eat dessert and I could forgo my occasional evening beer, if that was part of the plan.
Cold showers weren’t that big of a deal to me. I’d taken a couple.
Years ago, I’d had a water heater go out in my apartment. It took a couple of days for me to install a new one, and I’d managed just fine. There are even some who think dousing yourself in cold water instead of hot might be good for you.
Health gurus claim cold showers might help with recovery after a workout or help you lose fat. Beauty experts say cold water might be good for your hair.
I wanted to have good hair.
I could do all of this, but then nothing went like I expected.
Easy, but not easy
My first fast day, New Year’s Day, passed almost effortlessly, but that probably had more to do with what I’d done in the days leading up to cutting back on the calories.
Like a condemned man, I’d thrown everything but the kitchen sink into my stomach — chocolate, beer, Chinese buffets.
The last thing I’d done before calling it a night the day before was gorge myself on an oversize plate of nachos. I had a big, fat can of Big Timber Porter at midnight, but I knew, come sunrise, I could only have one full, vegetarian meal and two snacks that were not quite equal to one meal.
The overindulgence helped me sail through fasting on day one and probably had something to do with me forgetting to take the cold shower.
At first, the hardest part had been staying off my phone.
It was an hour by hour, minute by minute fight not to check Facebook, to not post some silly thing about the new month to my feed — a joke or even just a picture of my dog.
This felt a lot like when I quit smoking.
After a week, I was still fighting the urge to look.
I could have made it easier for myself, just delete Facebook and the messenger app, but a lot of people contact me through messenger for work. It’s how half my friends and family reach me, so I was kind of stuck with it.
It was a compromise, one of several. I also can’t completely give up television and movies.
The Charleston Light Opera Guild is about to open a production of “The Sound of Music” at the Clay Center. I wanted to write about the show, which opens Friday night, but the guild’s publicity officer was none-too-keen to have me come talk to the actors playing the Nazis.
In an email, she wrote, “Would you be willing to reconsider the Nazi angle? Please? There is so much beauty in the show — the music particularly.”
And maybe she’s right. Nazis, both real and posed, have gotten a lot of press lately. But that means I’ll have to watch the movie, which I haven’t seen in 20 years.
Still, that’s just one film. I can stay away from re-watching “The Mandalorian” on Disney Plus — unless it turns out that Baby Yoda is from Cross Lanes.
There were also a couple of things with Exodus 90 I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. What did “only listen to music that lifts your soul to God” mean?
Musical tastes are very subjective, and while I love talking to Christian music artists for the Arts and Entertainment section of the paper, I seldom listen to overtly religious music.
I don’t have hymns on my phone, and the only Christian pop music hit I can think of is “I Can Only Imagine,” by MercyMe. I’ve talked to the guys in the band a couple of times, and the song was the title for a heavily promoted movie I didn’t see.
On the other hand, while I can’t think of a favorite Christian pop song, I can’t think of one I absolutely hate, either — unlike say, Top 40 rock, pop or country.
I have a longstanding dislike of almost everything rock superstar Jon Bon Jovi has done beyond “Runaway.” The song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” a 1980s hit by the Proclaimers, makes me want to saw my own head off, and I’m not even sure where to begin with pop country.
Still, I was willing to give Christian music a shot. I found the Christian music stations on my car’s satellite radio. Good-bye “Ozzy’s Boneyard” and “Lithium.” Hello “The Message.”
If that became intolerable, I could put on Christmas carols or maybe switch to old U2 records.
That would count, right?
A few days later ...By day three, I was completely entrenched in the program and doing my best to make it work.
I started the day with an awful, no good, no fun and miserable cold shower, followed by a half an hour of scripture reading, prayer and meditation.
There was no breakfast, just black coffee and some dark thoughts about how long it would be until dinner.
This already was beginning to feel hard, but I hadn’t checked Facebook since Tuesday. I’d stopped checking my email at home, and I wasn’t burning my evenings half-watching something on Netflix.
I felt good about that. I felt like all of this together was somehow giving me leverage.
It was a start.