I’m sure we have all overdone it and “made a little too merry” at some points in our lives. Perhaps, against our better judgement, we have indulged in that second gin and tonic at the vicar’s charity lawn party. Or else we have gone out for a quick game night pint and some chicken wings with some friends, yet ended up entangled in a lost weekend of debauchery that would put both Catherine the Great and Keith Richards to shame.
If we’re being completely honest with ourselves, who among us has not started out sipping a nicely chilled bellini on a sun-dappled Granville Island restaurant patio, only to find ourselves, seemingly no time later, gobbling high grade hashish and downing shots of Jagermeister in some illicit, after hours, underground bar in Berlin? Or, perhaps a time or two too often, we have found ourselves standing on the roof of the provincial legislature, naked except for a tutu of chartreuse tulle, drenched head to foot in lizard blood, biting the head off a fruit bat, and screaming a raw throated death metal version of Petula Clark’s 1965 hit song, Downtown.
Experiencing, at some point in our lives, these high-spirited exuberances can be all to the good. It is only by overshooting the mark a little bit that one attains true personal growth. As the Romantic poet William Blake tells us, it is the “road of excess that leads to the palace of wisdom.” The great Oscar Wilde himself, reputedly no stranger to hedonistic impulses, once observed that the healthiest approach to life is “everything in moderation, including moderation”. Perhaps this sentiment is most eloquently expressed, though, by the Swedish synth-pop group Yello, who remind us that “you gotta say yes to another excess!”
Likely, many of you readers are nodding your heads and smiling to yourselves right now in sage recognition, recalling those youthful indiscretions that have resulted in taserings and tear gassings; that ultimately made you a sadder, wiser person. It is, after all, good to “live in the moment”.
But the rub is, one moment we live in tends to be followed by another moment, and another. Sometimes those subsequent moments can be a real bitch. For every night before, there is (hopefully) a morning after. And the problem with mornings is that they tend to show up quite early, when one is not awake, and wholly unprepared for them. Far from being a tabula rasa, these dawns frequently come bearing tainted gifts, such as life-altering hangovers, vague-but-dire recollections of the previous evening, along with inevitable self-recriminations. My partner likes to refer to these sorts of existential comeuppances as “natural consequences,” an attitude in which one cannot help but detect a note of smarmy, puritanical judgement.
Still, I get the point. As Wilde’s quip also recognizes, moderation is also a part of the equation. Moderation and excess? Perhaps the trick is to find a balance. On a societal level, prohibition has never worked. And a messy human life doesn’t necessarily have to resemble a didactic high school public service campaign. But neither does it have to be a reckless suicide mission. A friend of mine counsels her teenage kids to follow their hearts, but to always be sure to bring their brains along for the ride, which sounds like pretty good advice. After all, a good trip is one that you know you can walk away from.