In college, I practiced giving things up for Lent. One year, it was soda. One year, it was TV. One year, I tried technology...and that didn't last. That was even before the iPhone and iPad and MacBook, and I still failed. Can't imagine what would happen now.
But there's a big difference between College Me and 30-Year-Old Me. Now, I am not surrounded by my friends in the same way I was when I lived in a dorm, and I'm not using technology as a distraction from the hard work of relationship. Instead, if I stopped using technology, I would have literally no way of being with many of my friends. If I cut off my use of my computer, phone and iPad, I would have to cut off Andrew, who has made my life better in so many ways that it's hard to picture what it would look like without him. Not to mention the rest of my amazing colleagues in my Filled-With-Awesome-PLN (FWAPLN). So I would be taking something that is meant to refocus your priorities and use it to cut off the people whom I love and from whom I learn every day.
And as I was thinking through how I would use the incredible blessing of an entire week off (Yay Ski Week!), I started to think.
I want to fill this week with things that I love. On first glance, that seems kind of opposed to the idea of Lent. But as I thought through it, here is what I discovered: there are four things that I need desperately, and that I'm not doing a good job focusing on:
1. Being with my people. Both IRL and virtually.
2. Sleeping and get my migraines (which often stem from lack of sleep over time) under control
3. Writing. Tell the stories that need to be told.
4. Reading. Unfill the Kindle I've spent about six months filling with unread books.
That's when I realised that Lent is not about what you give up as much as what you fill that space from what you have given up. It is all about refocusing priorities. It's like how we talk about the flipped classroom - it's not about what you remove from class as much as what you use with the time you've created by removing it.
So my Lent is about filling in, rather than opting out.
By hanging out with people, sleeping as much as I can, writing at least 1,200 words a day (which will make about 50,000 words by the end of Lent), and reading at least a book every 4-5 days (which will be 8-10 books I hope), I am filling in the spaces with things that make me engage with people, with ideas, and with myself.
So here's how I'm going to do all of those things in a way that will make me engage, rather than separate. I think the Sleeping and Being With People ones are more obvious, so here are my reading and writing plans.
I've always considered doing NaNoWriMo, especially this past year. I was actually teaching a writing class then, and I think I missed my opportunity on that one. So I thought about a way to lead into NaNoWriMo13 and figured that this could be like a SortaNaNoWriLent. I'm not going to commit to any particular genre, except that I'll tell the stories that come to my mind. It may be journal articles, blog posts, memoir/reflection, or it could be short stories or flash fiction. But the only way to be a writer is to write. And I am a writer. So I'm going to write. I will share some of that work here, but mostly, it's just for me.
Sometimes the only way to exorcise the demons is to let them inhabit the paper instead of the corners of your mind. By engaging with the act of putting those words on the page, I am choosing to translate and interpret my past in a way that stops it from pushing any longer into the present and the future. Writing helps me be present in my life. It helps me engage. So I'm going to write.
As to the reading, I have a few ideas, and they are rather less coherent than my writing goals. I want to read everything John Green has written. I've already read the phenomenal The Fault In Our Stars, the you're-breaking-my-crooked-little-heart Looking for Alaska, and the touching Abundance of Katherines (the latter two I read yesterday). I still have Paper Towns and Will Grayson Will Grayson to go. Then I might start over (but those won't count to the total) with TFiOS.
I also want to read the two books that I hated so much I couldn't finish: The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. I think I unfairly maligned them and want to give them another chance now that I'm a little older and more patient. I also want to read a book that I preemptively hate so much I never read it at all: Twilight. It's not okay to hate a book I haven't read. So that's my logic behind all three of those.
After that, I have a few other books that have been waiting to be read - Reading Like a Writer, The Stranger, Something Rising Light and Swift, the new Lionel Shriver book, and the new Jodi Picoult book. I also love rereading books that made an impact on me. That's why I started Brothers Karamazov a few weeks ago. And I want to read Hunger Games again too - this time less for plot and more for nuance.
Most of all, I want to be reading and talking about books. Good books demand conversation to untangle, and some of being an English teacher is being willing to have those untangling conversations in which you admit that you don't have all the answers, and sometimes, are just as confused as the students. I love being reminded what it's like to be on the other side of the equation.
And all of these goals came from conversations with other people in my FWAPLN. That means that I can engage with them as I work through all of these books. Some are books recommended by friends, and some are books that have a global and nearly-timeless audience, so I can easily find places to talk about them, and people with whom to talk about them.
I believe that novels are vehicles for truth that is too painful for ordinary life. By telling us a story, they help us see ourselves, not as we want to be, but more as we hoped we aren't. I think that I hated Gatsby and Catcher because their truth was a little too raw for my reality, and I needed more distance at that point in my life. Now, I know that I'm beautifully flawed and crooked, and I know that it's only in this state that I can hear what they have to say about who I am.
I'm tired of creating distance. It's time to close the distance instead. The distance between other people and me, the distance between my memory and my identity, the distance between Who I Am and Who I Wish I Was.
So that's what I want to do for Lent: Close the Distance.
In a sense, I am giving up something for Lent: I'm giving up being so focused on work and distracting myself from work. I'm giving up spending my time NOT doing the things I need most to be better at everything in my life. I am giving up the things that create distance from the hurting things, the joyful things, the messy business of real life.
More than anything, Lent reminds us all that it is possible to be remade, to be given new life. But that new life always involves something dying. And death hurts - that's why distance is so much easier for me. I need there to be distance so I can just Be Okay. But Lent is about feeling that hurt intimately, closely, viscerally, in order to get the blessing of being more free. The reminder that we are more than the choices and habits of our pasts, That everyone can start over, and that we're more than the sum of our failures.
So what is out of focus in your life? What do you need to do more of, or do less of? What can you observe - whether or not you have faith or practice Lent - that will give your life deeper joy? What do you need to do in order to be remade? What distances need closing?
I'd love to know your thoughts, so please respond in comments. There's something important about putting your commitments in writing; it makes us consider carefully, and it gives us people to help us stay on track.