Sunday, April 1, 2012
Give It Up
Easter Sunday is coming up later this week as of this writing, and the forty days prior to Easter is a period known as Lent. It’s a time of prayer, self-denial, and doing for others. I am a life-long practicing Catholic, and so Lent tends to be a significant time of year for me. I would be lying if I said my beliefs meshed 100% with all the positions of the Catholic Church today. They don’t. I am not a perfect person, and since the Catholic Church is run by people, it is not perfect either. This post isn’t about where the Catholic Church and I agree and where we disagree though. It’s about the popular Catholic tradition of giving things up for Lent, and specifically what an ordeal it has been for me this year. Or it might more likely be about me seeking some pity. Depends on your point of view, I guess.
I like the practice of giving things up for Lent, and have done it for most of my life. It’s not a church requirement by any stretch, but I’ve always found that the self-discipline it fosters is good for me. Even if you are not a religious person, voluntarily going without something you enjoy is a beneficial exercise. This Lent, I gave up four things. Two of them are old standbys for me, and the other two are new this year.
Soda: Or “pop”, depending where you are from. That's a debate for another day. I’ve given up soda for Lent for years. I am not a huge soda guzzler, but I enjoy a can of Diet Coke in the evening when I settle in to relax. It’s pretty easy to go without soda in the house if I follow one simple rule: Don’t have any on hand. Out of sight, out of mind.
The trouble I run into is when I make the occasional trip to a fast-food restaurant. If I am going there, chances are I am in a hurry, and so am using the drive-through window. I always order some type of “value meal” deal, since I am very cheap, especially when it comes to buying items that are likely pushing me prematurely toward the grave. Those value meals always come with soda, it seems. If I ask for an alternative to soda, it usually has the unfortunate result of blowing the mind of the person on the other end of that clown speaker I am shouting into. After asking for an alternative like lemonade or milk, there is the requisite awkward pause, the “umms”, and then the very reluctant sounding “okay”. Without fail, by the time I get to the window to pick up my order, some sort of confusion is reigning inside. “Someone ordered a value meal without a soda!” Eyes are wide and sweat is wiped from brows. I’ve thrown off the whole crew’s rhythm. In short order, I am handed my sack of grease and cup of non-soda, and am quickly waved on as though I have bubonic plague. The non-conformist in the blue car is gone, and fast food life can return to a semblance of normalcy.
At least that’s how it seems to me. Maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe I ought to give up going to fast-food joints for Lent, and save us all some stress.
Snacks: Giving up snacks is not as hard for me as you might think. I only tend to snack in the evenings. When “Modern Family” or “The Office” comes on, I get this deep craving for salty snacks. If I see Sofía Vergara or Rainn Wilson on TV, I need sour cream and onion chips. It’s kind of like Pavlov’s dog without the drooling (except maybe in the case of Vergara, but that has nothing to do with snacks).
I have been successful at giving up between-meal snacks year after year though, and it makes me feel pretty good, especially given that there are always snacky things available at work, and falling off the wagon would be very easy. It gets tricky when a birthday cake is served for a coworker, and more than half of our staff has birthdays at this time of year. Not having a piece might be seen as rude, so what I do is eat it right before lunch or before I leave for the day, and consider it the dessert for my next meal, just eaten before instead of after. Hey, don’t judge me! There are no hard and fast rules to this giving up thing.
Each year I tell myself that I ought to continue this particular self-denial beyond Lent, but I never do. The pull of the Doritos is too strong.
The above two items are ones I have given up for Lent for a number of years. The two new ones this year are technology-based: downloading mp3s and buying e-books.
Downloading mp3s: I am a huge music fan, and for much of the year I average the equivalent of about one downloaded album a week. Don’t think I dump a ton of money into music though. I only spend probably $20 or so monthly, because I am locked in to all the mp3 deal sites out there, and have a subscription to an online music club that provides great bargains and wide variety. Not getting any new music for almost six weeks has proven a real challenge. I’ve steered away from the music sites since Lent began, and that has helped a little, but that new Springsteen album has been calling my name like some New Jersey siren for almost a month now.
Some might say it is just as well that I do take a little time out from music downloading for a while, since I have almost reached the saturation point for good music on my iPod. I have almost every “classic” rock and pop album that I am interested in, and have been spending the past few months nibbling around at stray songs here and there that I like, but not enough to buy they entire album. And some of these songs are not ones I am proud of liking. My last five downloads before Lent began?
· Poison Arrow by ABC
· Get It On by Kingdom Come
· Heartlight by Neil Diamond
· Rock This Town by The Stray Cats
· Molly (Sixteen Candles) by Sponge
I know, I know…step away from the download button! At least Sponge is cool though, right? Right?!
Buying e-books: I stumbled upon Johnny Virgil’s The Snitch, Houdini, and Me about a year ago, which then led me to Mike Wood's Alchemy. (Disclaimer: Mike and I are currently partners on a writing project, and in exchange for dropping the title of his book here, he promised to be nice to me.) These two books opened my eyes to the world of independent publishers. Since then, I have discovered countless great writers and purchased their work at a fraction of what it would cost if it were distributed by big-time publishing houses. I know that many of you, my readers, are indie authors. Before Lent started, I had a backlog of over 50 e-books on my Kindle just waiting for me. It’s hard to resist when you hear of a great premise by a promising writer, and it’s only $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or free. Not all of the books I have on my Kindle are by indie authors, but even the publishing house writers whose work I have bought have not been NYT-bestseller, household names.
As an aspiring writer, reading these great pieces of writing always serves as an inspiration. Once in a while, I am inspired NOT to do something because of someone’s book I have read, but more often, I am inspired to keep moving forward and to try new things with my own writing. While I have given up downloading e-books for Lent, I haven’t given up reading them. My latest Kindle reads have been The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch, and Creative Spirit by Scott Nicholson. Lynch’s book has taught me a lot about what impact meticulous research can have, and Nicholson’s is a great example of setting as character. I get a bit of an inferiority complex reading great stuff like that, but it drives me to get better (and entertains the heck out of me), so I do it.
I follow countless writers on Twitter and Goodreads, and so avoiding temptation when it comes to getting new e-books this Lent has been hard. When I’ve heard that a favorite or interesting author has released a new project or has reduced the price of one I’ve had my eye on, my self-discipline is seriously tested. This has especially been the case with one of my favorite indie writers, Larry Enright. He just released his fourth e-book about a week ago, and I am counting the hours until Easter Sunday when I can download my copy of 12/21/12.
Which leads me to the biggest dilemma: not overindulging in these things once Lent is over to make up for lost time. I do not have a long list of albums and books I plan to download on Easter Sunday (other than Larry’s book). I am not going to gorge myself on a barrel of popcorn and wash it down with a 12-pack of Diet Coke. All the benefits of this exercise in self-discipline and self-control would be lost if I went hog wild after crossing the finish line. Plus I’d be broke and probably throw up for days.
There are no negative consequences for me if I do not keep to the things I have given up for Lent. It’s not looked upon as a sin or anything like that. But I know I would be seriously disappointed in myself if I did indulge in the things I have given up voluntarily. We live in a world where instant gratification is highly prized, and often find ourselves frustrated and impatient if we can’t get what we want exactly when we want it. You can microwave your dinner, get a new e-book to read while you eat and load up a brand new album to listen to in the background, all in the space of less than five minutes. It’s amazing when you think about it. But by denying myself a few pleasures and/or conveniences every year at this time, it’s not only a reminder of how fortunate I am to have the things I do, but it also strengthens me in times when I have no choice but to go without something.
So Happy Easter, Wicked Awesomology readers! I’ll take your suggestions for new e-books and music downloads in the comment section. Don’t worry though, I already have all of Rick Springfield’s albums. And don't bother suggesting Rick Astley.