Is it MARCH already? I can’t really believe that the world has spun so fast and that time has gone by so… quickly. Mardi Gras has come and gone, and the Lenten season is upon us. More about those later…
February was a relatively good month, even if I didn’t live up to my intention of writing every day. But despite losing the first half month to that persistent chest cold, I did manage to write 17,000 words for the month. I am a spider’s web away from finishing ACT II. This makes me happy. I might have wrapped up February behind my personal goal of 20,000 words and writing every day, but 17K is nothing to cough at! (pun intended)
As you may know, I DJ the blues in Second Life, an online social experience where we create avatars and explore virtual worlds of imagination. I spend most of my time there at virtual blues clubs, DJing a variety of blues for up to 30+ people at a time. It is a complete blast for me, even if it does eat into 22 or more hours of my writing time. Music is important to me. It soothes me and keeps me sane. Also, I for my efforts I earn tips from my audience, ‘Game Money’ which I can sell for US dollars. This, at the moment, is my only income. If I have a good week, I can earn about $25 bucks. I know… not much compensation for the time I spend. Still, it is an empowering activity, and the music I play gives me great joy.
I meet many folks from around the world, and have made some very close friends, despite it being a virtual environment. In all, spending time in SL keeps me grounded, and the friends keep me social. It is important for me to keep contact with the outside world. Not having a job or a car prevent me from getting out as much as I would like. Being a writer is necessarily a solitary occupation. I am alone for many hours, and my online relationships mean the world to me (as does my lovely fiancé, and my other local friends).
This leads me to today’s commentary. This past week was Carnival in Second Life – Mardi Gras. Ok, it happens in Louisiana too, but I am talking about SL, a place I can actually visit. One of the great things about SL is that we can travel to a virtual New Orleans (or a place designed to represent NOLA), and celebrate Mardi Gras – complete with great Blues, Jazz and Zydeco tunes, costumes, virtual beads and hurricane drinks (we can drink as many as we want – they are not real – so we never get drunk. It is great fun.
Yesterday was Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras, is in fact, French for “Fat Tuesday,” reflecting the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. In other words, party heavily before you have to give up all those fun, fat, tasty things, (those bad habits)… for Lent.
I am a Christian, but not Catholic. I sometimes try to come up with something to ‘give up’ for Lent, though many times, I forget altogether. Or, like a New Year’s resolution, I have good intentions, but quickly slide back into bad habits, whether out of weak will or from just plain forgetting that I made a commitment. (This year’s resolution, by the way, has been to 1) be more available to my friends, in person or on the phone, to reestablish old connections and make new ones, and , and 2) write every day… So far I am doing relatively well on the first one, not so much on the second.)
So this last week, with the Carnival celebrations in SL, I have been contemplating what I might give up for Lent. Being roommates with a recently converted Catholic is certainly a factor in my wishing to… participate. But simply being me, not an overly devout person, I stumble over the issues behind Lent, and just exactly what it means, and what it means to me.
Here is a blurb from a Catholic web site regarding Lent:
WHAT IS LENT?
Lent is a 40-day period of preparation for Easter Sunday and one of the major liturgical seasons of the Catholic Church. Signifying the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert after His baptism, it is a penitential season marked by prayer, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving.
Lent is not necessarily about “giving something up” for 40 days only to return to it on day 41 or afterward, but is a period of ongoing conversion so that we may draw closer to Jesus. When we repent for our sins and then make a permanent- rather than temporary- change in our lifestyle, a spiritual transformation can take place. At the heart of repentance lies the call to conversion. “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15)!
I am not a devout or overly religious guy. I have my faith, which is a matter between myself and my maker. I do, however, usually carry the burden of guilt in my heart, but I don’t think that has anything to do with god. It is just part of my upbringing. My mother dearly held God in her heart, but my father ‘does not believe in such nonsense’, and he pretty much forbade any signs of worship within our household, practical person that he was/is. I struggled to be accepted in his eyes for decades (hence the guilt)… but that is a topic for a different blog entry.
What does matter to me, is that I show my respect for the gifts God has given me. One of my philosophies is to “Pay It Forward.” Another is to express gratitude daily. I am extremely grateful to god for the blessings bestowed on me – my life and lifestyle, my beautiful fiancé, and the talents I have been given. Not just my writing talents, but the other things that make my life better, such as my love of music, my ability to socialize, the way I look at the world, my ability to see things spatially, and my gift for imagination.
Do I think that my actions are deserving of blessings? No. I believe I am neither punished nor rewarded for doing what I do, for being who I am. I don’t think God is a parent, not like that. Does that mean that I shouldn’t appreciate my life and consider myself blessed? Not at all. I do appreciate by fortunes, small and large. I AM blessed, on many levels. And to reflect my gratitude, I want to do something special for Lent. This year. And I want it to be meaningful.
Prayer, fasting and abstinence, and alms giving. That is how the Catholic church defines it above. Yet I find the ideas of Mardi Gras conflict with the notion of Lenten repentance. During the week leading up to Lent, as Mardi Gras culture might suggest, I could overindulge… I could stock up on my sins, getting them out of my system so I wouldn’t feel deprived for the upcoming 40 days, then give a huge sigh of relief once Easter has passed and go back to my old ways. Sure I could splurge. But I think such a notion is counter to what Lent is about. Also, I don’t think I should give up music and friendship, creativity and abandon of the spirit which are staples of the spirit of Mardis Gras. One can indulge in all those things and not be sinful.
And so this week, I decided that I have been over-thinking it all. I have wracked my brain for perfection, and in the process over reacted and complicated the whole situation. Taking a step (or ten) back, I realized I need to simply find a small token, something personal, something that will change me and make me more the person God wants me to be.
Bottom line, here is what I have decided. In addition to my ever-present attempts to be a better person, and to live a worthy life, I have decided to dedicate my next 40 days of writing to God. He gave me these gifts, and I will put them to good use. My intended daily writing schedule will commence once more, in the spirit of gratitude and with the intent of making a permanent – rather than temporary – change in my life. What am I am giving up for Lent, then? I am letting go of my fears, and my excuses. I will write even if I don’t feel up to it, and trust that my brain, my muse, my god, or some other internal or external force with show me the words I need to write.
Sorry if this post has been a bit of a ramble. I am on my 3rd night with very little sleep, and I am not thinking as clearly as I’d like. But I also want to share that I did write earlier, on my novel, and I spent time writing this blog as well. So day 1 of 40 has been a success, and I am better for it. Day 41 will not become the day I go back to my old ways… I may need a day off, but I intend to keep up the good writing, if for no other reason than this is what I believe I was put on earth to do.
Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.
Mark Adam Thomas