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Alive Resort

Most of those days began with breakfast—a feast for a vegan god and his loyal acolytes—followed by a moderate hike with either Vic or Phil, who'd guide us through the trees, around rocks, or up to a small alpine clearing. And the group would talk (visit!) as we meandered there. In the afternoon, we'd either attend a lecture or have one of those tempting treatments on the spa menu.

"Today we are going on a rafting jaunt down the beautiful Shushwap River," Vic said over breakfast on the second morning. "Who's ready for it, eh?" Most of us were eventually rounded up by Vic's boundless enthusiasm and then herded into two blue rubber rafts to float slowly down the clear, cold river. The sun broke through the overcast sky every so often. We sang songs and even spotted an eagle soaring over the trees. It was like camp for retirees. It was even joyful.

Another day, we all gathered in an upstairs room for a group session with a local therapist. "Are you ready to have fun?" she asked. She pulled out a bag of plastic clown noses and passed them out to us. I rolled my eyes and groaned. "We're going to begin with a simple laugh," she told us. "And then we'll move on to something a little more challenging." Kim and I looked at each other, baffled. Challenging laughter?That's not even an oxymoron. It's just oxyoddness. "Now do what I do." Suddenly serious, she filled her diaphragm with oxygen, breathing through her nose. After holding a beat she exploded in measured, artificial laughter. "Now you try," she cheered. "Sure!" roared Wilbert, ready to jump on the happy wagon (one of my favorite haunts, as it happens). "First we inhale deeply," she advised. "Here we go! Now hold it and release." "HAHAHAHOHOHOHEHEHE." I am sitting on a couch in the Canadian hinterlands, I thought, wearing a plastic clown nose, learning to fake laugh from, presumably, Lumby's only accredited artificial laugh therapist.

After a few tries, most of us were laughing in earnest. I had never felt like that big of a, well, I suppose the word would be dork. The rest of my memories of the evening are a bit hazy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we danced around the room with our red noses firmly on. There may even have been some hugging. You have to love a bunch of people long past the blush of youth dancing around a room wearing red noses and noisily chanting "HAHAHAHAHA," some slick with sweat, acting like special-needs kids. We all collapsed in exhaustion, flushed, most of us wondering what had just happened. Whatever it was, it was sure fun to do.

Still, I found myself reluctant to embrace the entire program—because once I gave everything up, I'd have nothing to reward myself with. (Look, I finished writing a book! Surely now I'm entitled to a cookie?) Or maybe because I thought I'd fail—it's just too difficult, dammit. But if anyone had a shot at shaking me out of my dancing boots, it was Vic.

So, yes, eventually I let Vic have his visit. He suggested replacing medicine with herbs, vitamins, and a better diet. Unfortunately, though it may take an apple a day to keep the doctor away, it'd take a whole orchard to keep away a psychopharmacologist. Okay, I must admit: I was not the resort's star guest. On top of bringing in the contraband caffeine, I sneaked down to the kitchen late at night and ate their soy ice cream. I also sneaked off campus to "town." What I wanted from Vic and this spa experience was some sort of epiphany that would blast me with an all-powerful light and make me a changed person—with little effort. But I fear that my conversion will be more the gradual sort.

I think I am in the process of courting change, of getting around to acting and eating my age. There will be effort involved and slip-ups and self-recrimination. Fewer niggling little pills rolling their blue, pink, or yellow eyes at me. The last time I was put on a "medication vacation," after all, I stayed awake for six teeth-clenching days; this will not be such a simple affair.

In the end, I can't say I'm a transformed person since my visit, but, more than ever, I plan to be, and that counts for something, doesn't it?I drink a little less caffeine and a little more water and I have a standing appointment with a Pilates instructor, and every time I eat red meat, I feel really bad about it. So, though it wasn't exactly a success, it was a failure in the right direction. And that's all because of Vic and Phil and the Alive Resort for Wellness & Longevity. And the truant in me will never forgive them.

ALIVE RESORT FOR WELLNESS & LONGEVITY, Lumby, B.C.; 888/763-4744 or 250/763-4744; www.aliveresort.com; five-day retreats from $1,207 per person, double.

CARRIE FISHER's latest novel, The Best Awful (Simon & Schuster), has just been released in paperback.

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