Today is Mardi Gras, and it's also Shrove Tuesday. It's the day before Ash Wednesday, the day before Lent begins. The holidays of Shrove Tuesday, Carnival, and Mardi Gras have their roots in the self-denial of the Lenten season. My students are always amazed when I tell them about the fasting traditions of Lent and the need to get rid of all the ingredients that you'd be giving up during Lent: alcohol, sugar, eggs, and in some traditions, even dairy foods. They see Mardi Gras and Carnival as convenient reasons to drink and have ill-considered sex. They've never made the connections between these holidays and Lent--and frankly, most of them don't even know what Lent is.
Mardi Gras and Carnival, holidays that come to us out of predominantly Catholic countries, certainly have a more festive air than Shrove Tuesday, which comes to us from some of the more dour traditions of England. The word shrove, which is the past tense of the verb to shrive, which means to seek absolution for sins through confession and penance, is far less festive than the Catholic terms for this day.
In the churches of my childhood, we had pancake suppers on Shrove Tuesday. I wonder if churches still do that in other parts of the country.
One year I made the wonderful festive bread pictured above. It's easy, relatively healthy, and doesn't require kneading. If you want some festivity that doesn't involve drinking (because like me, you've got to go to work tomorrow morning), this post gives you a great bread recipe, along with photographs.
I will bake no bread today; I will make no pancakes. But I did write a poem. In an old blog post, I came across this line: "I could write a poem about our Mardi Gras masks, the ways we have to compose our faces while at work. Hmmm."
I wrote that bit in 2013; today, two years later, I've written the poem. Here are my favorite lines:
"We stare at bland walls and dream
of embellishments and bright colors."
I am continuing to write poems two days a week. My goal is Tuesday and Thursday, with the week-end as a back-up plan. It's mornings like this one that remind me of the value of my approach. If I didn't have my writing goal, I might have let the thought of a poem flit across my brain without writing it down. But today, even though I sighed in tiredness, I did it--and I ended up with a poem I wouldn't have otherwise.
Late in the work day yesterday, I sorted through fat files of poetry handouts. One of my colleague friends is resurrecting the poetry class I used to teach, and I was making copies of poems from more recent years. I am in awe of what I collected. For a brief moment, I thought, I should put together an anthology.
No, that will be a project for someone else. I will continue to focus on finding an agent for my memoir and getting my book-length collection of poems out into the world.
It's not a typical Lenten discipline, but it's mine.
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