A Comprehensive Evaluation of the Challenges of Lent
Yesterday kicked off Lent, the time of year where people decide to give up bad habits for what initially was atonement for being selfish little shits the other 325 days per year. Well, since it seems that no one I come in contact with seems to be all that religious (some downright Godless) nowadays, Lent mostly serves as a New Year’s resolution lite, where you only have 40 days to break the promise that you made to yourself and God, rather than the more standard 365. Fun!
Well, the list of abstentions for Lent doesn’t exactly spark much faith in human ingenuity. It’s mostly boring things like junk food or coffee. Stuff that really isn’t that hard to give up in the grand scheme of things. C’mon people! This phenomenon started off as an act of attrition or atonement so that you could basically oversell your goodness for 40 days so you can really slut it up and turn into the fat guy from Se7en for the balance of the year.
With that hogwash in mind, I’ve decided to do a personal inventory of select abstentions (I want to call them “forgoances,” but I’m 100% sure that is a word that I made up) and gauge how difficult it would be to give up the item. Some things to take into account: I’m 30 years old, white, in decent shape, single, was baptized Catholic but feel no real religious obligations because I believe God loves me just the way I am, and I live in Los Angeles. All other information will be divulged as it pertains to the specific item. Cool? Cool.
A 10 represents impossible to give up, whereas a 1 represents something that I could give up without noticing or don’t really do to begin with.
Driving – 5
Not too terribly hard. As you may or mar not be able to tell by reading this article, I’m a writer, so I generally work from home, though I can work pretty much anywhere that has wireless. I don’t drive much, as I usually walk to the gym and to run most of my errands. However, the psychological impact of not having a car in LA would be the real killer. I really don’t need to be anywhere I can’t walk or cab to, but knowing I couldn’t drive to the beach (cause I’m sure as hell not paying for that cab ride) would be kind of a mindfuck, even though no one in LA ever really goes to the beach anyway. In short, this hardship would probably be 70% mental and 30% practical.
Benefits: Save on gas, save the environment, much harder to kill pedestrians crashing into them with your person than a car.
Hardships: Can’t do much in the way of last-minute trips, cabs will add up, need to budget an extra 30 minutes for almost every journey.
Dessert – 3
Dining out wouldn’t be a problem, as societal norms dictate that people my age are legally required to peruse the dessert menu then inform the server that they are too full, and instead order another alcoholic drink or coffee. My sweet tooth has also waned in recent years, so while a year would be a tall order, 40 days would be small shakes.
Benefits: Not much, considering I don’t get down with dessert too much as it is. (Slightly) smaller average restaurant bills, slightly smaller calorie consumption. That’s about it.
Hardships: There is really no substitute for sweets, so I’d probably just end up smoking like 4 cigarettes if I got an urge, but I don’t really foresee that. Plus, if someone offers me something sweet, I would have to explain that I gave up desserts or sweets for Lent like I’m some middle-aged lady with a “Hang in there!” poster on her cubicle wall.
Masturbation – 8
Not impossible, but not pleasant. I wasn’t really sure if I should put this among these items which all serve some sort of betterment, or the next group, which are just silly little challenges that are more like personal tests that serve no real purpose, but would give the participant a sense of self-satisfaction. I chose to put it here, because I don’t really care all that much.
I enjoy self-deprivation. I regularly do that stupid Master cleanse thing for 7-10 days, and routinely quit smoking for 1-2 weeks, only to start up again after I get three drinks in me. So how does this affect my outlook towards foregoing self-gratification for a month-and-a-half? Dunno. I’m single, and don’t have so much sex that it’s could be a serviceable substitute. I think that I would need to have sex about 12 times over lent (at strategic intervals, of course) to really facilitate this abstention. Doable, but I feel like it would violate the spirit of the pact. I’m not foregoing masturbation as some warped form of self-improvement only to hook up with some fucking club rat at 4 AM, so I think that I have to view masturbation as my only form of sexual release (which is pretty fucking bleak). Not impossible, but I am pretty sure I would turn into a weird person. Beyond that the hardest part wouldn’t be the aggregate effect, but rather fighting those individual moments of “inspiration.” Ugh.
Benefits: Thousands of dollars in lotion expenditures back into my pocket. No, seriously. No benefit comes to mind. This is just straight up denial for the sake of denial.
Hardships: I wouldn’t be able to masturbate for 40 days.
Sex – 8
One would think it would be more difficult to give up masturbation than sex, and I agree, in general. However, if there was an opportunity for sex, I’m pretty sure that I would toss my Lent pact out the window in about two seconds. In short: easier to abstain from sex, as long as it’s not right in front of me, but if it is, very difficult to abstain. Also, if I forewent sex one night because of Lent, I would feel like such an asshole the next day. I would yell at myself in the mirror while I was brushing my teeth and scream, “ARE YOU HAPPY? ARE YOU HAPPY ABOUT WHAT YOU DID? YOU’RE A REAL BIG MAN, AREN’T YOU? GIVING UP SEX FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON? THE NEXT TIME YOU’RE IN A DRY SPELL, I WANT YOU TO THINK ABOUT THIS MOMENT RIGHT HERE AND WHAT AN ASSHOLE YOU WERE THE NIGHT BEFORE.”
Drinking – 8
I think I’m just rating all the hard stuff “8” so that I feel, were I to give them up, that they would be difficult, but not impossible. Drinking would be tough. Really tough. I don’t drink alone, and I don’t drink all that often, but once a week, I like to go out and get drunk. Twice a week, actually. I’m normally well-behaved, and just act like a slightly more fun version of myself. I absolutely hate going out with my friends and not drinking while they are. I actually think the last time I did that was like 12 years ago, but I really remember not liking it.
Benefits: Prove that I’m not beholden to alcohol to have fun in certain social settings. I would save about $73,562 over those 40 days. I would feel better and probably be more productive one day a week. My liver would probably be better off. That’s all I got.
Hardships: I would creep everyone out at bars by not drinking. I’m not saying that everyone does this, in fact, some of the non-drinkers I know are a total blast when I’m drunk. But I would creep everyone out. I would smoke about 600 cigarettes hoping to feel something that wasn’t coming. I wouldn’t be really loud at bars. I’m not comfortable being quiet at bars, so I would be weird on that front too.
Television – 4 (6 w/ sports factored in)
This is a tough one. As it is, I have cancelled cable and have Netflix streaming on my TV and computer. I wouldn’t miss the Netflix that much, but I would like to watch the occasional DVD. However, I think that I would actually embrace this abstention and welcome the opportunity to read books and do crossword puzzles. Thanks to DVDs and Hulu, I could catch up on the few shows I watch regularly, so I wouldn’t really MISS anything, just delay it. I don’t watch the news, so I wouldn’t miss that.
I would miss live sports though. Fortunately, the Lent window doesn’t really span any monumental sporting events except the beginning of the NBA playoffs. And I just realized March Madness. I wouldn’t want to miss the Tournament. I couldn’t miss the tournament. I would rather have sex than watch a day of the tournament, but in a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to make that decision. I don’t really see watching live sports at sports bar as “watching TV.” That’s more experiential and social than “watching TV.” Watching “Frasier” at 1:30 AM on a Tuesday night? That’s “watching TV.” I wouldn’t really miss that.
Benefits: All that crap I mentioned. Books, outdoor time (which I kinda feel, even as a writer, I get a fair amount of).
Hardships: The sports thing, force of habit in falling asleep watching TV.
Meat - 6
A little hard, not too hard. As healthy as I think I like to eat (which is only kind of healthy, truth be told) I crave a burger about once a week. I could live without steak, and certainly without chicken. Seafood would be a little more difficult, but a burger would be the real pain in the ass. That craving is strong, too. There’s no substitute, either like with the sex/masturbation. If I’m craving Fatburger, I can’t just masturbate and feel fine moments later. If I could I would be a skinny fucking vegan.
Benefits: Save 1/23rd of a cow or somesuch nonsense. I barely regard cows as animals. Animals have to move for me to consider them animals. Cows are like sponges.
Hardships: I would sit in my house hungover eating gummi bears or something equally unsatisfying, banging my head against the wall. I wouldn’t know how to reward myself after my long run. Maybe I’d go to the zoo or something instead, but I’d probably just eat mushrooms or something.
Video Games – 1
Wouldn’t be an issue. I have a Wii, but haven’t played it in months, and even then, it’s when I have company over, so I could find something else to do. I don’t really dick around with my cell phone so I wouldn’t get the Angry Birds shakes or nothing. Any urge I had to play video games could be quelled with a crossword puzzle. Cause I’m intellectual like that.
YouTube/Viral Videos – 3
Probably harder than I’m giving it credit for being. I probably watch one a day. I watch a few more for work, but I really don’t enjoy even the funniest videos when it’s for work, so I wouldn’t miss them even in that hypothetical world where I could not watch videos and still keep my job as an Internet writer. However, I do watch a fair number of music videos on YouTube, and I would miss those a little bit, but I’m pretty sure I could swing 40 days without them.
Benefits: I would get back like 3 minutes of my life every day. I couldn’t even take up knitting with that time. I wouldn’t run around going “have you seen that new Charlie Sheen video?” and sending it to people. Rephrased: I would be less of an asshole.
Hardships: I wouldn't be able to see pandas Dougie. For 40 days, anyway.
Coffee – 2
Don’t really drink much coffee. Maybe once a week, but when I do, it always hits the spot and seems like a good idea. Sort of like the masturbation thing, only slightly less frequent. I don’t meet friends for coffee because I’m not a character on a mid-90’s sitcom, so my social life would be completely unaffected. However, I write at coffee shops every so often, and they really don’t like it when you hang out without buying something, so I would just get an Ice-T or something. (I decided I’m going to spell “iced tea” “Ice-T” from now on and see how things shake out.)
Benefits: Save like $12 bucks. Look out Nelson Rockefeller.
Hardships: Starbucks could very well close without that $12. They need me. If I did need caffeine, I would have to drink a Red Bull or something, which doesn’t really fit my image as a literate grown-up.
Cursing – 9
It’s not that I would be less inclined to give up cursing than drinking or sex or whatever, it’s just think that I would fail. I’m generally (generally) aware of what I’m doing every time I order a drink or express my love physically, but with cursing, I wouldn’t realize it until it’s too late. What happens then? I guess I would last about 3 days tops. And that’s if I didn’t talk to anyone. That’s right. I even curse when I’m alone. Seriously.
Benefits: I could be around more children, I wouldn’t alienate people with children or decent taste.
Hardships: I would feel way less cool and not know how to express myself 40% of the time. I would live in constant fear of purchasing a Polo shirt.
Fast Food – 4
Not too bad. I don’t consider pizza fast food. Why not? Cause I don’t order from chains, and somehow that deludes me into thinking that the $30 pizza I ordered is better than the Domino’s product, which is probably true, but still kinda fucked. I don’t really do drive-thru’s. I think I would be ok. I would probably miss donuts once over the course of the month. Oh and taco stands. Not having those would suck.
Benefits: Eat generally better, cook for myself more, not eat dinner at 3 AM after shutting down a bar.
Hardships: Spend more money on food, eating would be slightly less convenient sometimes, cravings would pop-up and be annoying.
And here are a few items that I’m just gonna quickly reference as tests, with no discernible benefit, other than demonstrating varying degrees of willpower and awesomeness.
Sarcasm – 10
This one should be above. Sarcasm can really screw you, so there is benefit to this. Sarcasm can especially screw you in my line of work, namely, dealing with the written word. Without inflection, sarcasm is context-free and tricky. I’m a pretty sincere person, but I’m absolutely positive I’m incapable of being sincere all the time. I need sarcasm to make fun of stuff, which I’m pretty sure is why I was put on this earth. Also, without sarcasm, I don’t think I could have more than a passing conversation with either of my parents. Who I’m hoping didn’t read this, if only for the masturbation passage(s).
Human Contact – 8
I’m not talking about a vow of silence, but rather “no socializing.” I’m a writer, so I’ve gotten pretty good at this. I can go three days or so without having a meaningful verbal exchange with someone. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth. It actually drives me batshit, but I feel I would be better prepared for the pseudo-seclusion. I could get by for 40 days just dealing with people at Whole Foods and 7-11, but I would be pretty weird at the end of it. Also, I’m guessing that I would have to parlay the sex thing into this one. As that’s human contact. Not a great time.
Eye Contact – 6
I barely make eye contact with anyone anyway. I don’t know why, but I don’t, unless I’m very close (metaphorically) to them. I think this one would actually be a relief. It would be like, “Penn, you get to crack your stupid little jokes and don’t have to register anyone’s pained expressions or pensive stares. You can just look away and hope to hear laughter.” Downside is that I’m already self-conscious about not making enough eye contact with people. Now, I would be downright uncomfortable in most casual interactions. More than I already am.
Walking - 9
I live up a flight of stairs, so this gets real interesting real quick. I would have a tough go of it suggesting to my landlord that he install one of those climbing chairs for this lent flight of fancy, so while I could just wheel or Rascal around flat surfaces (which I believe I would enjoy in small doses) I would have to pull myself up my stairs like an extra from “The Walking Dead.” Upside: if my neighbors saw me and asked me what I was doing, I would be able to tell them I gave up walking for lent as I crawled and groaned my way up the stairs. I’m also training for a marathon. I doubt 40 days would be enough time to get skilled in a wheelchair, so I can’t help but think that not being able to walk would adversely affect my chances in winning that marathon.
With all this in mind, what have I decided to give up for lent? Not a goddamn thing.