No one will ever mistake me for being a practicing Catholic. And they shouldn’t, technically I was baptized Episcopalian. But we grew up going to Catholic mass, and to this day, there are a couple of Catholic-esque things that I still do. One of which is Lent and the other is the sign of the cross when I’m nervous (so, constantly). Lent is right up my OCD alley–we’ve discussed my love of numbers divisible by 5 as well as self-imposed challenges with a finite timeframe. My sister and I do it every year. I think it’s fun to test myself and see what I can live without (yeah, I’m a weirdo).
I love candy, cake, and baked goods of most varieties so my go-to sacrifice for those 40 days and 40 nights is usually something sugary and delicious. Which is hard to do because well, I love sugar. It’s like crack—only it tastes way better. However, last year I decided to mix it up. I was talking with my co-worker Mary Cate (Catholic much?) and, with Ash Wednesday only days away, we landed on the topic of Lent. She told me that she and her wife had given up watching television the year before and we’re gearing up to do it again that year. I was intrigued. I asked her to tell me more.
“Dude, it’s tough. It’s harder than you’d think,” she said, warning me that this was not for the faint of heart.
And I believed her 1,000%. The idea of having to fill all that time (and let’s be real here, fill the silence) was scary. I live alone, which I love. But my television was always on. Always. Whether I was watching it or not. It was just background noise, almost like company in a way. I have the unique ability to watch the same things over and over again without it phasing me in the slightest. If I was cleaning or working on a project, I’d have Netflix play all of the seasons of Saved By The Bell over and over on a loop. Throughout the course of a day, I could see the same episode two or three times and barely notice. Not having that crutch was a little scary when I really thought about it. But sometimes I like to attempt the scary things, just to see if I can do it. So I decided to try it; I was going to go 40 days and 40 nights without TV. Jesus help me.
Things got off to a fine enough start. My 100-day yoga challenge was still in full swing, so I had that to fill some time each evening. But still. Even if I practiced yoga for an hour and a half, I still had hours left to fill. I’d get home from work around seven, and I wouldn’t go to bed until 11 o’clock at the earliest. Four hours of me trying to entertain myself. And the weekends? Oof. I dabbled in some crafting (one of my favorite things to do is to hoard art supplies, and then never make anything with any of it). I made a scrapbook of my friends’ wedding photos. I accepted any and every invitation I received since being out of the apartment was half the battle.
But that still left SO MUCH TIME. I wasn’t at all surprised to see how much of my life was spent in front of the television, but man alive, I was surprised at how kind of lost I felt without that crutch. The first few weeks were spent actively looking for things to do, projects to tackle, pretty much anything to keep myself occupied. Eventually, my closet was as cleaned out as it could get, the pots and pans were organized for the nineteenth time, I was all crafted out, and no one I knew needed anymore scarves. There was no getting around it. I was maybe, just maybe, going to have to spend some time, ugh, with my thoughts.
It was during this TV timeout that I started to really feel the difference between being by myself and being with myself. Over time, I slowly stopped avoiding my thoughts, which is kind of a big deal. Lord knows, I think a lot of thoughts, so I spend a good amount of energy drowning most of them out. But without the television to distract me, I finally just gave in. I would turn on music and just think my thoughts and then write them down in one of my 97 note books (because I hoard those, too). Talk about not for the faint of heart. There were some tears as I finally paid attention to some things that I’d been trying quite hard not to think about. And there were some revelations. Like when I remembered that I used to rather enjoy writing. That I was a super star in my 11th grade AP English class. And that I started college as an English major with aspirations of growing up to write that last page in back of the New Yorker before changing my major to something more practical. I had forgotten all about that. Yeah, I forgot something about myself. That’s crazy talk.
In the 40 days without television, I not only developed a pretty strong yoga practice, worked through some tough stuff and remembered some good stuff, but I also hatched some plans. In reading the journal I kept during that time, I see where I finally gave myself permission to stop working at the job that I didn’t love (read: was crushing my will to live) and started detailing my escape plan. And when I gave myself the idea to start a blog and share all of my hilarious stories with you all (winkie face). By the end of Lent, I was well on my way to laying the groundwork for the reinvention of Raina Becker.
And now, here we are: a year later and heading into another Lent. I’m not sure what I will give up this year. I can’t give up TV again because—wait for it—I don’t really watch TV anymore. I know. I’m one of those people. I’m that person who can’t talk to you about most shows because, well, I don’t really watch TV (don’t feel bad, I’d roll my eyes at me too). But I will think of some way to test myself again this Lent. Because testing myself and my discipline is one of my favorite things to do. And as it turns out, is a pretty good use of my time.
What would you do with your time if you didn’t watch TV for 40 days? Come on, let’s hear it!