So, it’s Lent.
I’m Lutheran, which means Lenten sacrifice is not required (those of you who have survived the gauntlet that is Lutheran Confirmation are probably mumbling some variation of “sola gratia, sola fide” right now, <cough>ThisIsMostCertainlyTrue<cough>). It is–at best–an interesting relic of our Catholic roots maintained as a cultural practice, not an integral part of our theology, and–at worst (to those really hard-core right-wing-y type Lutherans)–a papist heresy in which no good Lutheran would partake.
I like cultural relics and being heretical to crazy right-wing-y anti-Catholic Lutherans (seriously y’all? You’re going to alienate our fellow sprinkle-not-dunk people? You may as well put your beer down and go hang out with the boring t-totaling set), so I usually make some wacky attempt to give something up for the season.
This year I picked something half seriously….and I am failing like mad.
I am trying to give up swearing.
Yeah, my co-workers laughed hysterically, too.
Once upon a time–before I went off to college and became exposed to an awful lot of people who had entire conversations delimited not by punctuation, but by the f-bomb–I didn’t swear. At least not often, and not loudly or with gusto. Until my first year at college, even the three basic swear words of my family (sh*t, h*ll, d*mn) while in no way verboten, still had the tang of something my mother would scold me for (despite the fact that I mastered the art of “damnit” by observing her). The wheels came off that first year at W&M and they’ve never gone back on. I embraced the f-bomb and it has become a handy tool in my linguistic arsenal. By my third year, I openly expressed to others that I really wasn’t sure I fully trusted anyone who didn’t cuss now and then (except for Kristy’s Mom. She is the exception). The inability to let out a good, “Well, shit!” when something went awry struck me as somehow less than sincere. Someone was hiding something if they said they never cursed.
But sometime about a year ago I found that I was probably getting too liberal with the spice in my language. The particular words hadn’t changed (I’m still pretty much stuck with sh*t, d*mn, h*ll and f*ck, I’ve also been predisposed to say “sonofab*tch” but there are some rather complex pronunciation rules honed from regional Texas roots that are necessary to discern whether or not that term should actually be categorized as cussing or just as a word–that’s another topic completely), but frequency has gone up. And with the increased stress in the Meat Space Bill Paying Job, I have actually come dangerously close to speaking my native swearing language freely in a professional setting in which I would previously have never dreamed of uttering anything other than clean language.
Controlling my language for month seemed prudent. A way to get things back under control. And this would be a fun lark! Ha! As Catholic friends declared their sacrifice of coffee or chocolate, I grinned and said, “I’m givin’ up swearing!”
I put little sticky notes at eye level over my desk phone and on my work monitors with “DO NOT SWEAR!” written in big, black marker. My co-workers come into my office and find these awesome and amusing.
But they have been little help. Day one of Lent, I came in to work at 7am, and at 9:01am*, I dropped the f-bomb right in front of my Catholic buddy who knew exactly what I’d sworn off for the season. He pointed and laughed at me as I hung my head and declared, “I guess I’m going to hell. I MEANT THE PLACE, THAT DOESN’T COUNT!” I slunk back to my desk and took out another sticky note, labeled it “Lent Swear!FAIL” and added a tic mark.
It would not be my last. One of my co-workers told me I would have been better off giving up alcohol with the way things are at work right now.
As of today, I have 40 tic marks on that sticky note (I’ll have to start another one soon). I’ve definitely improved, but it doesn’t feel quite natural. It’s not that I don’t have other expressive words I can use, it’s just that for some reason my brain comes up with alternatives that my co-workers are going to ask me to define either because they are long and obscure, or they are foreign (foreign swearing doesn’t count in my current exercise–I consider it an accomplishment if I can tell someone to f-off in German). I think this has probably helped me get back on track to avoid career suicide by potty mouth, but I am looking forward to being able to utter “Bull&hit!” guilt free the same way I’ve looked forward to eating chocolate, or watching a certain TV show in past Lent exercises.
I’m sticking it out as best I can until 20 April. But on 21 April, I have something major due at work, and I promise you, there will be a litany of color erupting from my vocal chords.
*That is about two hours longer than even I thought I might last given the things going on that day