x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

When did it become fashionable to starve yourself silly?

"Cleansing" is the new craze in Hollywood, which reflects how odd professional life has become.

'If I'm a little lightheaded or cranky, it's probably because I'm in the middle of a very intense cleanse." That is a sentence you'll probably not hear me say anytime soon.

"Cleanses", those three-day (or longer) fasts, where all you're allowed to ingest is a warm glass of water with some kind of gritty powder mixed into it, are all the rage right now in Los Angeles. All over town, people are wandering around stupefied and irritable, suffering through some kind of cleanse.

Except, I shouldn't have to mention, for me. I won't be cleansing.

It's not because I'm against the health benefits - or drawbacks, I make no claim about either - of a cleanse, whether the three-day or the nine-day or the 72-day version. I'm not saying anything about the usefulness of a cleanse, per se, just that since it seems to involve deploying some kind of willpower, it's probably not something I'm going to jump into successfully.

A friend of mine, however, recently gave me the "lightheaded or cranky" warning when we sat down for lunch. Well, let me clarify that: when I sat down for lunch. She sat down with a clear plastic canister of some kind of intensely coloured bright green sludge.

"I have to carry this around all the time," she said, holding the canister up for a moment before the gesture exhausted her.

"Do you have to carry it around because that's the stuff you have to eat? Or because that's the stuff that's coming out of you?" I asked.

She kind of rolled her eyes, as if to say "both", and then she seemed to fall asleep for a minute. Then she woke up and ordered a glass of hot water from the man at the next table.

"You seem kind of out of it," I said.

"Well, what do you want me to do?" she barked. "I'm not making a television show this year. I planned to be making one - everyone told me I was a sure thing, that my script was a go, that I should get ready to produce the series, and then, suddenly, they changed their minds. So, since I'm not making a show, I have all of this free time on my hands. So I thought, OK, why not just drink green stuff for 30 days?"

Exhausted by this statement, her eyelids were already fluttering in the very early stages of cleanse-hunger dementia. The green liquid trembled in its plastic. She put her head down on the table for a moment while I ate the bread in the bread basket. I let her rest there. The poor thing hadn't eaten solid food in over a week.

It's an understandable reaction to getting a sudden red light on a project. See, if you've planned all along to be working on a television series, when the network or studio passes, you're rudderless. It's as if midway through a train trip, the conductor just stops in the middle of nowhere and leaves you on the side of the tracks. You're suddenly faced with acres of unstructured free time.

Any free time is the enemy of all writers, but this kind of unexpected, copious free time leads to all sorts of things - tattoos, spur of the moment computer purchases, sudden interest in forgotten hobbies, peculiar martial arts classes and cleanses. Cleanses are big.

It's easy to see why. A typical cleanse has everything the disappointed writer is looking for: they're debilitating and mind-altering, but most importantly, they're voluntary. It's a statement of personal will, in a business that offers so few opportunities for that kind of thing. "I will turn myself into a dried-up raisin," it seems to say, "and then I will rehydrate myself into a new and cleansed scriptwriting organism."

"This thing is really great. I've never felt better," my friend said, when she briefly came back to consciousness. "Yesterday, I swear I was sweating tar. Like black tar."

"You weren't sweating black tar," I said. "You were hallucinating. Just have a piece of bread." I buttered a slice and held it out to her.

She pushed my hand away with as much force as she could muster.

"Don't," she said. "I only have 26 more days of this."

So I decided to let it go. People don't sweat tar, of course, and we all know that. On the other hand, black tar from your pores is a pretty powerful image, and my friend is one of those sci-fi kind of writers, so maybe she's got the right idea.

"I'll have what she's having," is what I said to the waiter when he took our order.

Or, to be honest, it's what I should have said instead of what I did say, which was: "I'll have the cheeseburger." I'm not a cleanse kind of person.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood