With Lent in full swing (and varying degrees of efficacy), it’s been fascinating to hear what everyone has given up this year. Lots of chocolate. Some swearing. Quite a few carbs. Now, I’m not an overtly religious person, but for some reason I’ve always given something up for Lent. Maybe it’s because Marci, my friend from childhood, always gave up sweets even though her birthday and mine always fell within the parameters of Lent. So while the rest of us were eating our fill of cupcakes and cake and ice cream, she sat there looking rather sad and holy eating an orange. That kind of thing stays with a girl. (Years later, I found out that at the birthday parties she attended during Lent, she would always bring the cake or cupcake home in a bag and then freeze it until Easter at which point she’d eat until she threw up.) And while I never found the inner reserve (or freezer space) to give up sweets, I’ve always made myself give up something, even as just a test of willpower and bragging rights.
Like many others, I’ve given up chocolate. I’ve given up eating after 7 pm. In college, I gave up coffee, which, for those of you who know me, was like giving up air. I’ve given up red licorice, swearing, biting my fingernails, itching the back of my neck (don’t ask) and using the word “basically.” (Which was, basically, difficult.) And in the moment of giving it up, of stopping myself before that Red Vine entered my mouth, it felt surprisingly good. Like I’d accomplished something by not doing something. We all need little moments like that – of self-regulation and consciousness of our little addictions.
This year, I struggled with what to give up. I didn’t want to forego a food item again since I’d already begun the daunting task of Operation Dumbo Drop, AKA trying to fit into something other than a floor-length muumuu this summer. I don’t really swear much anymore (being a parent sort of neuters that stray), my fingernails are in good shape and I’ve basically…uh…I’ve fundamentally given up that word “basically.” So what to do?
I could have given up my obsession with PBS Mystery. More specifically, I could have stopped watching the clock for the next episodes of PBS Mystery’s Sherlock to air. Even more specifically, I could stop doing Google searches on Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor who plays Sherlock. But really, who could resist a man named Benedict Cumberbatch? Especially when he’s playing the best version ever (with respectful apologies to Basil Rathbone – another superior name) of the best, most conflicted, obsessive-compulsive wanna-be detective ever created. I could stop visiting the PBS web site for word on when the next episodes will be airing. I could remove myself from being a “fan” on the Facebook page for the show, but that would just be unfair and mean. And I don’t think being mean is what Lent is all about. Next.
I could have given up my nightly ritual of trying to complete a New York Times Monday crossword in less than 5 minutes. I recently got the NYT Crossword app on my iPhone and you can go back to 1996 to do all the crosswords in the last 15 years. And everyone knows that the Monday ones are the easiest of the week, so I’ve tasked myself with completing them in less than 5 minutes. That’s totally sane, right? And I can’t go to sleep until I’ve done it which drives my poor husband insane as I lie there in the eerie glow of my iPhone and mutter words like “Dr. No” and “Taboo” and “Oleo” under my breath. But that is all in the name of mental stimulation. I mean, aren’t we supposed to be keeping our brains sharp as we age? Giving that up might lead to forgetfulness and Lord knows I don’t need anymore of that. What was I saying? Next.
I could have stopped compiling the list of songs I want to send along with my sons when they go to college. I almost said “mix tape”, but that dates me. So then I almost said “CD” but that dates me too. So I’m just going to stick with “list of songs” because, who knows, by the time they go to college they could be listening to them through some sort of invisible device – or they could have returned to vinyl which would be totally awesome. Anyway, over the last few years I’ve started a running tab of all the songs I want my boys to know. Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares for Me” for example. And Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” and Madness’ “Our House” and Smetana’s “Ma Vlast” and Young MC’s “Bust a Move.” And spoken word recordings like Victor Borge’s “Punctuation” and Pete Seeger’s “Foolish Frog” and Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” which they can already recite. And Spike Jones’ “Cocktails for Two” and Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Granted, my boys may not like any of these songs by that time, but I like the notion of handing them a tape…er, CD…er, list and, with that, sending them on their way with a soundtrack of memories and experiences and maybe a great oldie to play at a party. How could I give that up? Next.
Finally, what about my addiction to reality shows? Yes, reality shows. Shows that I’m embarrassed to admit I watch. Shows I’m much too well-versed in. Shows that have taught me phrases like “flip the table” and “pack your knives and go” and “guido juicehead gorilla.” I’ll admit, I’m better than I was. There were dark, dark days when I actually found myself watching “Flavor of Love” with Flavor Flav and his enormous clock necklace. And “Beauty and the Geek.” And “The Pick-up Artist.” And I watched these shows for no other reason than they offered a beautiful little break from the world. Sitting there in the dark of my living room with some now-banned Red Vines and a completely mindless program. But I’ve gotten much better. Now my reality shows have lessons. Like “Project Runway” which teaches me about fashion and accessorizing. Or “Top Chef” which teaches me the finer points in cuisine. Or “RuPaul’s Drag Race” which teaches me to find my inner Diva. These are all worthwhile endeavors I do think. And giving them up would be counterproductive to my cultural expansion.
No, I decided to keep my inner dork things around. So, there had to be something else I could ban lest I become a forgetful, music-impaired, Facebook “unlike”, anti-diva who basically can’t accessorize to save her life. Wait, I said “basically.” Found it.
Originally published in the Walnut Creek Patch 2010