An Experiment in Scotch

"I write to discover what I believe." Michael Lopp on Twitter

Lent And The Associated Non-Religious Giving Up or Taking On That I Might Do

It’s that time of year again. No, not the col­lec­tive day we des­ig­nate to cel­e­brate all Pres­i­dents not impor­tant enough to be named Wash­ing­ton which essen­tially just turns into a rea­son for mutual fund traders to play golf. I’m talk­ing about Lent, the onset of which is the cul­mi­na­tion of that most human of cel­e­bra­tions, Mardi Gras. I’ve never actu­ally been to Mardi Gras and in fact, at the advanced age of 39, prob­a­bly couldn’t phys­i­cally con­sume the req­ui­site amount of Pat O’Brien’s hur­ri­canes to even par­tic­i­pate. Still, one has to think that any God-fearing Catholic or hedo­nis­tic util­i­tar­ian (of which I am nei­ther) should attend Mardi Gras at least once, if for no other rea­son than to throw beads at bare chested women and either uri­nate or vomit in pub­lic, all in the name of a bac­cha­na­lian cel­e­bra­tion that is meant to mark the com­ing of forty days of pen­i­ten­tial self denial metaphor­i­cally rep­re­sent­ing Christ’s fast in the desert (I always want to say “fast in the dessert” which strikes me as a great litur­gi­cal oxy­moron). Lent is a time for Chris­tians to give up some­thing dear as a minus­cule reminder of the sac­ri­fice Christ made before start­ing his pub­lic ministry.

And with Lent comes my ongo­ing quixotic desire to bet­ter myself in some mea­sur­able or even immea­sur­able way. In the past, my wind­mills qua giants have been donuts, The Inter­net (as opposed to the inter­net, a mild and less pow­er­ful cousin to the per­son­i­fied ver­sion I tried to give up) and Face­book. Like Don Quixote before me (much much before me, I had no idea that the novel was pub­lished in the early 1600s. No won­der he thought inns were cas­tles and wind­mills giants, it must have been excep­tion­ally dif­fi­cult to occupy free time in 1605 with no Inter­net), I attack things dur­ing Lent that I per­ceive as men­ac­ing giants though my attack comes in the form of self-denial and I don’t even pre­tend to expect to defeat the giants. My seeds of inter­est in Lent were prob­a­bly planted young as I remem­ber writ­ing an essay at one point for the Advent cal­en­dar for my church. How­ever, it didn’t become a rit­ual until the past 10 years or so. I blame my friend and for­mer coworker Mark who would do crazy things like give up coffee.

The idea of phys­i­cal self-denial is obvi­ously strongly tied to Christ’s own phys­i­cal suf­fer­ing in the desert. How­ever, my list of phys­i­cal addictions/compulsions is mer­ci­fully short, the donut one notwith­stand­ing 3 years ago (I’ve since given up donuts so maybe there’s some­thing to this Lent thing). So I tend to grav­i­tate to intel­lec­tual denial where by intel­lec­tual I mean the deprav­ity of Face­book. How­ever, I typ­i­cally also try to take on a cre­ative endeavor for the days of Lent. I basi­cally have cho­sen to co-opt the non-random forty days of Lent in an effort to do some­thing like write more or code more or be ran­domly cre­ative more. I could chose any forty days but Lent works well for my purposes.

This year, as of Fat Tues­day, I have come up with zero things to either give up or adopt as a habit for Lent. I have gone with­out Face­book sev­eral times in past years but at some point, one has to ask one­self if one con­tin­u­ally feels the need to give up the same thing, maybe one should give said thing up entirely or get over one’s hangup about the cheap­ness of social activ­ity rep­re­sented as an appli­ca­tion that specif­i­cally wants to col­lect one’s data and make money off of it. Cof­fee could have been an option as I had essen­tially given it up about two weeks ago but I had just replaced it with tea which seems tan­ta­mount to giv­ing up heroin in favor of methadone or cig­a­rettes in favor of goofy plas­tic cig­a­rette Nico­tine deliv­ery sys­tems. Christ didn’t go into the desert and give up eat­ing fatty foods. He gave up food. Replac­ing the habit with some­thing else seems counter to the spirit of the idea. Plus, no caf­feine for me means insuf­fer­able caf­feine with­drawal headaches and who needs that (though frankly a lit­tle suf­fer­ing is prob­a­bly the point). I am already on a strict paleo diet that has removed sugar and alco­hol from my diet, two prime Lenten tar­gets for lots of peo­ple. So the list of phys­i­cal things to give up is short this year.

We’ve already cov­ered Face­book. I briefly con­sid­ered Twit­ter but frankly, I actu­ally like Twit­ter in a way Face­book lacks, namely I can post some­thing on Twit­ter and not worry much about whether peo­ple say any­thing about it whereas on Face­book, I neu­rot­i­cally expect things I say to be dis­cussed and com­mented upon, a hap­pen­stance that doesn’t actu­ally hap­pen that often leav­ing me to neu­rot­i­cally won­der if peo­ple actu­ally like me, ala Stu­art Smal­ley. It’s dif­fi­cult to write about one’s neu­roses with­out sound­ing self-indulgent but let’s just say I’m addicted to the tiny drop of dopamine I get when some­one com­ments on one of my sta­tuses on Face­book. Like pre­vi­ous nico­tine (and sugar and bread and candy if my cur­rent crav­ings as a result of Eat Real are any clue) addic­tions, this addic­tion is south of the equa­tor of the healthy-unhealthy hemi­spheres and is prob­a­bly a rea­son why I have such a love-hate-hate-occasionally-sort-of-like rela­tion­ship with Face­book. But this isn’t a post about Face­book so let’s not degrade the con­ver­sa­tion any far­ther than we already have.

One of my con­stant inter­ests relates to the inter­sec­tion of atten­tion, con­cen­tra­tion and dis­ci­pline. At one time, I thought dis­ci­pline was an attribute you were born with like the attrib­utes nec­es­sary to play pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball or sing with per­fect pitch. It’s far more con­ve­nient to think that since that absolves you of any of the req­ui­site work to actu­ally develop dis­ci­pline. But in exten­sive read­ing about dis­ci­pline as well as atten­tion and con­cen­tra­tion, I think it’s clearly an attribute that you can boot­strap slowly by increas­ing the amount of dis­ci­pline you exert every day. This has always been a dif­fi­cult task but in the infor­ma­tion age of con­stant and total ded­i­ca­tion to acquir­ing more infor­ma­tion, dis­ci­pline as it relates to atten­tion and con­cen­tra­tion is mon­u­men­tally hard to acquire. Of course, this begins to sound even more self-indulgent as there are many peo­ple who wake up each day and do what is required to con­tinue down a path of their choos­ing. How­ever, I’d argue that they are able to do this because of the long stand­ing acqui­si­tion of the abil­ity to be dis­ci­plined. Or they are forced to be dis­ci­plined by life cir­cum­stances, either cho­sen or uncho­sen, that dic­tate they be dis­ci­plined because they have five chil­dren or they owe the Yakuza a Dat­sun or they are poor. It is only recently that the arti­fact of choos­ing to be dis­ci­plined has arisen in our cul­ture. Once upon a time, you got up when the damn cock started crow­ing (Char­lie Sheen is in my head telling cock jokes right now) and you went about the hard work of mak­ing a liv­ing. The fact that I have a blog and am dis­cussing dis­ci­pline is prob­a­bly giv­ing my grand­fa­ther an aneurysm in his grave, rest his soul. I“m really not try­ing to find ways to make this post more self-indulgent but I’m suc­ceed­ing extrav­a­gantly any­way. The topic of dis­ci­pline as it relates to your sta­tus in life is prob­a­bly the topic for another post entirely.

Ahem. So this Lent, I’m going to try and estab­lish a dis­ci­plined habit of wak­ing ear­lier than I’m com­fort­able with. As a gen­eral rule, I’m up by 6:30 at the lat­est, week­ends included. This isn’t nec­es­sar­ily by choice as I have a cat who demands to be fed at what seems at the time the ungodly hour of 6 AM. How­ever, I tend to wake up nat­u­rally these days by 7 for sure. It doesn’t take much effort on my part to do that. So, in the spirit of giv­ing up some­thing sub­stan­tially dif­fi­cult for Lent, I’m going to give up sleep­ing past 5 AM for the next forty days. That’s not an entirely arbi­trary time. Assum­ing The Great Sab­bat­i­cal is going to end within a few weeks, I looked at the list of things I’d like to do most morn­ings and in order to get them all in and still be at work by say, 9 AM, approx­i­mately 4 hours are required. But 5 AM sounds just crazy enough that it’s a worth­while goal in and of itself.

I’m not going to take on any spe­cific cre­ative goals. I think get­ting up at 5 AM may nat­u­rally allow me to write more or play the gui­tar more (though seri­ously, I have lost all sen­sa­tion in the tips of the fin­gers on my left hand and I’m only prac­tic­ing chords about 15 min­utes a night. I’m not sure I’m so inter­ested in the gui­tar if it means sen­sa­tion loss). We’ll see how that works out.


  1. Loved your Lent post; I found it because I was sit­ting here won­der­ing if other nor­mal peo­ple gave up sleep for Lent, and here you are. I have also decided to awake by 5 a.m. (God help me…really in the truest sense…this will be really dif­fi­cult for me to sus­tain for 40 days).

    Dis­ci­pline is also some­thing I pon­der and I had thought for years that you were born with it or you weren’t, and I’m still not con­vinced; how­ever, I do agree that one can boot­strap, so I’m work­ing on this. All the best to you in the early hours!

  2. Scotch Drinker

    February 22, 2012 at 5:52 am

    Hey Jen­nifer, not sure how you found the post but I’m glad you did. So far, I’m off to a 10 minute late start this morn­ing but I fig­ure you have to start some­where in frankly, the dif­fer­ence between 5:00 and 5:10 is neg­li­gi­ble when con­sid­er­ing the lunacy of any­thing before 6, at least to me.

    Dis­ci­pline is obvi­ously some­thing I strug­gle with, espe­cially at a meta level where I feel guilty for even hav­ing the option of not being dis­ci­plined. It’s an inter­est­ing topic.

  3. You beat me, I was 1/2 hr off, but yes, it’s a start!

    I’ve had a life­long inter­est in dis­ci­pline myself, and deal with guilt over it, but never because I had the option–great, now you’ve given me some­thing else to feel guilty about. 😉 But maybe it’ll be a bet­ter moti­va­tor for me…

    I read Foster’s Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline when I was 20 and keep com­ing back to the ideas there. My biggest issues are being unor­ga­nized, pro­cras­ti­na­tion, follow-through, and well, that’s the worst of it, so I think, but prob­a­bly not.

  4. ps, I found the post because I actu­ally did a Google search called “giv­ing up sleep for Lent.” I had just set my alarm for 5 a.m. and then won­dered if I was crazy. You were listed about halfway down the first page, and it looked the most interesting.

  5. Scotch Drinker

    February 23, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    I hope your 40 days goes well. It’s going to be tough as I’ve already dis­cov­ered. One late night and I didn’t do so well this morn­ing. Learn­ing process I guess. Thanks for drop­ping by and for the link.

  6. What are we going to do when Day­light Sav­ings Time hits on Sun­day?? Already pan­ick­ing! 😉 [because it will sud­denly feel like 4 a.m., a totally insane hour to be wak­ing up]

  7. Scotch Drinker

    March 8, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    I guess my plan is to go to bed at about 8. :-) But yeah, I’ve just sort of started get­ting used to it. Next week is going to be hard because it won’t get light until after 7. How have you been adjusting?

  8. Ter­ri­ble. Doing ter­ri­ble. But I did go into this allow­ing myself grace. How­ever, see­ing as it’s now 10 p.m. my time, I don’t deserve grace for my choice to stay up this late. Shak­ing my head. I’m glad you’re get­ting used to it, that’s what hap­pens you actu­ally DO get up at 5 a.m.…I will get there!

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