Hey pals! It’s Ash Wednesday as I write this, and that means that a great deal of you are going to see people walking around with dirty faces today! You can leave them alone; they’re fine. Or, if you like, ask them about the smudge of dirt on their foreheads. They’ll explain it to you, which might be nice because I’ve forgotten why we Christians do that in the first place.
I do know that Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, however, a 6-week period of restraint, abstinence and introspection as those of the Christian faith march onward to Palm Sunday, then Good Friday, then Easter…think of that as the Christian Super Bowl, and hey! They always win! Thank…ahem…God for happy endings.
I know that, even as a very lapsed Catholic who teeters on agnostic very often and is a big fan of the “I don’t know” idea, even I get a little religious around Lent each year. Even if I end up doing absolutely nothing (the typical path), I’ll at least rent the idea of a religious restriction a little space in my head. And this year, with 50 Shades of Grey, a psychotic manifesto on how to romanticize all of the worst ideas of the BDSM lifestyle, making hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, I admit that maybe these ideas of sacrifice, ritual, abstinence and a display of faith & devotion are a little more present than they’ve been in years past.
I’m sure I can’t be alone in this. And of course, the Huffington Post beat me to it with their list of foolish garbage, so perhaps this is just adding a little more fuel to a very robust fire. But then, we do need that ash, and we need it for all of this Wednesday. Can’t be running out of ash at 6:30, when someone wants to look like a half-assed Dickensian chimney sweep in haute couture, so I’ll give you a few of my write-offs, if I actually decide to go through with Lent this year instead of remaining the heathen beast who currently writes these words in his underwear.
1) Porn. Of course, “porn,” and of course it was going to be first. It’s unfortunate that this is the go-to for me, because it would be so simple and its dearth of presence in my life would mean so very little. It’s an outward thing, really, a humblebrag piety that shows how good of a boy I supposedly am.
The problem, I feel, comes from the unspoken contract with God–however I do or don’t perceive Him–and myself. Sure, I can give up porn, but what does pornography actually do for me in the 1st place? Basically, I think I like porn because I like to see people performing well at the apex of their craft (you know, like Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 21)…and orgasms are great until they’re over and I have to burn the house down to get rid of the mess. Then, I’m just watching a pair (or more) of goofballs making stupid faces and performing an oddly-choreographed ballet. At that point, I might as well just be watching Staying Alive…at least that had some Frank Stallone hits in it.
2) My Favorite Thing. OK, this one actually has some meat to it. It’s a bit difficult to nail down, mainly because I don’t know what my favorite thing is. There are tons of contenders for the title, but I don’t think I could pin down one thing or another for six whole weeks, if for no other reason than the fact that I’d just go nuts on replacement therapy, and if one is going to do Lent, one should do it with some modicum of reverence. Or, if not reverence, it should at least be a test. I shouldn’t say “no chicken wings” and then just throw down on delicious steaks the whole time. No alcohol, but double up on drugs? No writing, but throwing myself into video games or movies…that’s all right? I’m sorry if this seems strange, coming from someone who stands on such shaky religious ground, but again, this feels like a cop-out. I say that, if I’m going to put on a nice suit, walk into one of those tax-free soul markets and let an immaculate sinner with a direct line to the Big G dot my head with a smudge of soot, I might as well not fuck around when it comes to the parts of the pageantry that the rest of the world doesn’t see. Honestly, I’ll take integrity over piety any day of the week.
3) The Past. Yep, here’s the one. And the thing that sucks about it is that I’m going to fail. I might fail at losing the past every single day of these next six weeks. But it’s this thing that I want to try, this idea from which I really feel I’d most like to abstain.
Just yesterday, I tried looking up an old friend on Facebook. For a while, he was my very best friend. We were nigh inseparable, well into college. Then I fucked up, or he fucked up, and the friendship wasn’t the same anymore. Surely, you can see where this is going; I tried to add him as a pal on the ol’ FB, and he almost immediately denied me. Yes, I know because I checked, because “yes,” once I did the same thing while really drunk, with the inclusion of a weepy, “I don’t know what happened, but I’m sorry and you’re like a brother to me” message.
So, of sober mind, I was really curious. And, of sober mind, it really broke my heart when the guy didn’t even want to know how I am. I can be offered all of the platitudes this world has, all its encouragement from so many people so close and important to me, but it doesn’t change the truth that this friend of mine was a past I didn’t mind remembering and this friend of his is a past he’d aggressively like to forget. Sometimes, it can really hurt to be someone’s past. Sometimes, like yesterday.
There’s a lot back there in yesterday’s world that can kick my ass, heal my wounds, draw me closer to some and distance me from others. Sometimes I’m a hero and sometimes I’m nothing at all, but the point I’m feeling is that I wouldn’t mind putting the shovel away for six weeks and crawling out of the hole I’ve been dutifully digging all these years. It would be nice to scrub this taut, firm, hairy bod of mine down, applying those scientifically honed, gloriously scented oils to this frame that my head and heart call home, and prepare it for what’s next by making sure this foundation hasn’t been tainted by time. It’s not something I think I can do, but I know it’s something I can try. And unlike porn or chicken wings, at least these six weeks won’t involve giving up.
Fuck the ashes part, though. I’m sorry, but I see that and I’m not ashamed to say that it creeps me out and sucks all the fun out of the room. And while the rest of the world can do that with their God, I’m pretty sure my I Don’t Know would be fine with some levity. It must be a pain in the ass to always throw the party and never enjoy it.