Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Year of Lents

When I was a kid, I was always secretly jealous of my Catholic friends who, in my mental wording, "got to do" Lent each spring. It seemed so romantic to me, this notion of doing without for a month. So noble and selfless. My consciousness of Lent started in the late eighties as well, which meant I was also being bombarded with media mentions of "dieting". How grown up the women on TV were, always suffering for their diets! Suffering and going without seemed so sophisticated. Clearly Catholicism is genetic, as I was raised agnostic yet inherited all the guilt and self-loathing enjoyed by my foremothers.

Already, I'm going off topic. The point is, I've decided to do an entire year of Lent-like experiments. Every month in 2011, I'm going to either go without a vice or luxury, or else commit to doing a certain positive thing each day. No moral I'm trying to prove, here—there's no point to this exercise aside from challenging myself and giving myself a healthy shove toward the edge of my comfort zone. I've come to realize in past few years just how adaptable humans are, and I want to explore that a bit more, and hopefully surprise myself with my own flexibility and will.

Here's the schedule for what I'm calling my Discipline Year (you may take that in either the punitive or reverent sense, as I expect it'll be both):

1 GYMUARY For January, each and every day I will go to the gym—a twelve-minute walk from my house. Probably not the best month to pick this one since the weather in New England can be Russian roulette, but I've been slacking badly the last few weeks, so the sooner the better. And don't worry, I won't go nuts. I'll switch between cardio and yoga and group classes and swimming so I don't injure myself.

2 FACE-OFF FEBRUARY In February, I will forgo wearing make-up the entire month. There is a reason, aside from consonance, that I picked this shortest month to not wear make-up. I like the stuff and I've been wearing it since I was about fourteen or fifteen. But I'd like to see just how differently I'll feel about myself if I go without it for a few weeks.

3 MEAGER MARCH No frivolous purchases for the month of March. That means clothes, silly stuff from CVS, coffees or drinks while I'm out and about, iTunes or book downloads…spending on necessities and groceries only. (Alcohol counts as a grocery item, however, as the hideousness that is temperance is coming later in the year.) I'm not too worried about this one.

4 NO #&$%@! APRIL For April, I'm putting the cabash on my potty-mouth, from "damn" and "hell" on up the line of profanity. This will go for out loud swearing as well as tweets and blog posts, though my characters are still allowed to cuss their everloving heads off in my manuscripts, as always. I honestly have no clue how hard this will be, and since my swearing is more habitual than willful, I will have to come up with a penance system for when I inevitably slip up…a dollar to charity or something like that.

5 MEAT-FREE MAY I'll be going vegetarian for the month of May. For now this means no meat, including poultry and seafood. I'm open to tossing eggs and dairy into the mix and upgrading to vegan… I'd miss having cream in my coffee each morning, but if I'm feeling brave at the end of April, I'll up the ante.

6 NO JAVA JUNE That's right, no coffee. I'm dreading this one. I'm allowing caffeine, but substituting rooibus and green tea and maté will not make my grief any more bearable. Coffee is as much a comforting ritual to me as it is a chemical fix.

7 JUJUBE-FREE JULY That is to say, no candy. No extraneous sugar. If a food such as wine or fruit contains natural sugar, that's fine, but no candy, sweet drinks, pastries, or packaged food with sugar as one of its top five listed ingredients.

8 UP AND AT 'EM AUGUST For August I will set my alarm and rise promptly at five a.m. each morning. Normally I get up around six thirty, but I want to see exactly what I might get accomplished in those bonus ninety minutes before the rest of the world wakes up and demands my attention. Perhaps it will just be a lot of yawning, but perhaps it will be an entire extra novella.

9 SWITCH OFF SEPTEMBER In September, I will go without TV. Considering I don't own one, this should be easy, right? Hell no. Thanks to Hulu and Instant Watcher, I've got a mean TV habit going on, and I'll need to figure out other ways to enjoy my lunch hour or unwind at five aside from tuning in to my beloved crappo reality shows. Movies will be acceptable.

10 OMMM-CTOBER For October, I will commit to practicing yoga either at home or in a class for at least forty-five minutes each day. It's something I used to do before writing became my sacred daily practice, and I'm looking forward to reconnecting with it.

11 NOVEMBOOZE That's right, no alcohol for the month of November. I'm dreading this almost as much as the coffee month. And I did pick a holiday month on purpose, just to make it tougher. If I wind up with a contract or a release date in November, I'll just have to get creative with my celebrating. Perhaps a cupcake or a new necklace in place of the usual champagne.

12 DONATE DECEMBER Each day in December I will go through my clothes and other possessions and pick one nice thing to add to a Salvation Army-type donation box. December's usually stressful, and this is an easy one for me. Getting rid of older stuff feels good, and it makes room for new and exciting things to come into one's life. Seems like a good choice for the end of the year and the holiday season.

So that's the deal! This blog will be like my 12-step meetings, so expect lots of whiny posts as I struggle through my various withdrawals and am tempted by seductive relapses. The first week of June should be especially entertaining as you watch me break up with my precious codependent lover, coffee. Oh how I will plead to get him back! And as early as next week you'll probably see posts about how very little I feel like sloshing through the icy slush to go to the gym. Stay tuned and watch me crumble. Or if you're similarly masochistic, join me for a month! If you do, let me know. I'd happily welcome any guest posters who wish to share their own self-denial experiments.


  1. Wow. Just... wow. Good luck with this experiment, Meg!

    The one that would be the hardest for me would be no make-up and no sugar. I put on make-up everyday, including today, when my schedule consists of nothing but staying home with the toddler and convalescing (I've got a cold, and I'm *still* wearing make-up!)

    Good luck!

  2. I'm Catholic, and always secretly look forward to Lent for the challenge of giving something up and/or doing something virtuous. What an awesome thought to do this over the course of the year. I'm shamelessly stealing your idea.

  3. Hey, Shoshanna! I'm totally like you—even if I don't suspect I'm leaving the house I at least smear concealer under my eyes and put on a couple of swipes of mascara. Bit scary, that one. I think I'll fare all right with the sugar, though, as long as there's wine to punctuate dinner in place of my usual chunk of dark chocolate.

    Hey Trish! Do stop in as the weeks progress and let me know how it goes for you. Heartening to know I won't be suffering alone!

  4. Definitely interested in following this one! I remember the 1st time I ever heard of Lent was waitressing as an adult. I asked the kid what kind of ice cream he wanted that came with his meal, and his mom told me he'd given it up for Lent. Heh? Now that I think about it, I also told someone they had a smudge on their forehead on Ash Wed. - had never head of that one, either!

    Apr - LOL! That should make a nice sized donation to a charity!

    Dec - I love this! Maybe it could be a challenge we all join?

  5. This will truly be an interesting year for you. We will get regular reports I hope? You are a more courageous woman than I. Best of luck!

  6. You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din! No way I could carry all that off in a year. I wish you luck, tho and as my older brother says about the half-way house he once lived in, "It was a learning experience." I'll be here with you all year to cheer you on...!

  7. Hey Kat and Michelle, and thanks! Happy New Year!