Dear Lily June,
Okay, so it was over a month ago that I proposed to become Benjamin Franklin.Your mother has not, as of yet, become Benjamin Franklin.
I’ve not even had the stick-to-itiveness to make it one week as Franklin, tracking my flaws with big black spots on a chart like a good founding father would do. What I have done, though, is eaten my thumbs to bits in a panic that I’ve not yet perfected perfection like this bifocaled badass. I’ve felt, every Friday between December and now like a big fat slacker, so it’s time to (wo)man up or shut up. It’s time to take the key by the kite string, pull up my big girl panties, and report on what little progress there has been in the way of living like it’s 1779.
I have been waking up at 5:00am-ish. (Sometimes it’s 4:30, sometimes it’s 6:00 so I figure I’m making it in the middle.) Every morning but weekends. ‘Cause ain’t nobody got the energy for that.
I imagine Franklin rising from his bed-bug-ridden straw sack, adjusting the founding junketh in his dandy knickers, letting a mighty wind exit out ye olde back doore, and addressing “the powerful goodness.” Truly, he was a great man.
I have a similarly graceful ritual. I roll off my saggy, spring-popped mattress and, no matter where I placed it the night before, end up banging my shins on your Pack N Play crib which is unexpectedly ALWAYS right at shin level next to the bed. Every. Damn. Morning. Then, bleary-eyed and groggy-brained, I trip over soft blocks, soft dolls, my own socks, et cetera on my way to address the powerful goodness that is coffee. All hail, coffee.
I have not been asking myself “What Good shall I do this day?”
Why not? Well, some mornings, I’ve just plain forgotten.
Other days, I struggle to find the Good in what lies ahead. Now, if Franklin were a career secretary asking himself, “What Tedium shall I accomplish this day?” I’d have this one in the bag. My tasks–answering phones, checking in clients, answering 10 billion emails at the speed of light–are the Tedious-est!
But Good? Do I do capital-G Good? That’s a tricky one. I want to be a Good person. Or even just a lowercase-g good person. And I think Benny Frankie’s idea of keeping yourself accountable by setting a goal EVERY SINGLE MORNING OF YOUR LIFE is actually a capital-G, Tony the Tiger style, Grrrr-eat one.
I’m just not very imaginatively charitable. Maybe I’m thinking too big, like I need to find a way to stir soup-kitchen stew on my lunch breaks or invent the lightning rod, when really, just making a goal of smiling at every single student who comes into my office (when my face usually defaults to post-lemon-bite at the thought of human interaction) would be enough.
So yeah. I need to set more goals. And start smaller. And be gooder.
I haven’t been charting my progress. But I have been making progress. Sometimes. As long as it has nothing to do with the goal at hand, which is Temperance.
So the first virtue–the one that’s been tripping me up and hence keeping me from spending my Fridays reflecting on my Franklinian achievements–is Temperance.
Now let’s be clear: For the past three+ weeks, I’ve made real, substantial change in my life. I’ve put down my twenty cigarettes a day. I’ve picked up between 48 and 72 ounces of water a day. I’ve started walking during my lunch breaks for at least a half an hour a day, adding up to at least 150 minutes of sustained exercise a week. These things are HUGE for me. I’ve never been working this hard to get in shape–not for vanity, but for SANITY. I am trying.
So when Franklin says one should
“Eat not to dullness. Drink not to elevation”
I find myself wanting to get a little snarky with semantics. Drinking to elevation, after all, is not a problem. With my interstitial cystitis, even sipping a glass of wine feels like gargling battery acid, so short of my caffeine addiction, I’m not getting drunk until my head feels like a balloon floating over the edge of a mountain-top.
But eating “not to Dullness”? Dullness?! Whachou talkin’ bout, Franklin?
When I think of the word “Dullness,” I think of two things: a person who’s bored or a knife that’s not sharp. Have I eaten to the point of being bored of it? Hell no. Have I eaten to the point of becoming boring? (You know the person. The one who instagrams and pinterests and facebooks (are any of those even verbs?) every strangely artsy photo of their salads in mason jars like it’s the next Rothko masterpiece?) I don’t think so.
So in that sense, virtue achieved, Franklin. Virtue very freakin’ achieved.
But am I sharp? Am I shaped more like a fork than a spoon? Can you catch glimpses of my lithe, knife-like body reflecting in the plate when I’m done with my fully nutritious and balanced meals? Not quite.
One night this past week, your dad and I ordered queso dip from a local bar kitchen at around 10:00pm at night and proceeded to “fight” (not really, Lily) over who got to finger the last drips of dip from the takeout container. Another night, we ordered cookies from the local late-night cookie delivery service (Insomnia, you are the reason I can’t have nice body parts) and chowed down until I wasn’t sure if the crunch between my teeth was a macadamia nut or my own fingernails. And that didn’t even slow me down.
After burying my face in the shame-trough over these events, I had to remind myself of one of my 2016 mantras:
“Love yourself through it.”
And I had to accept that, when it comes to my physical appearance, I’m probably going to look “dull” (i.e. not sharp, i.e. round, i.e. you know, like a female Benjamin Franklin) for quite some time, if not forever. And that’s got to be okay while I’m working to make all this other progress.
After all, I’m a bit worried that if I try to eat to sharpness too quickly, instead of taking on the shape of a pointy carrot, I’m going to have skin that sags from my body like the leaves of wilted spinach. And I don’t own enough mason jars to stuff the spare skin into to make that sh*t look pretty.
I’ve got Franklin nights down.
My evenings have been spent lately “putting things in their places,” though. And if you count reading board books to you, Lily (and who wouldn’t?!), I’m also getting in some conversation. And playing with you on the floor while you’ve started–at eight months–pulling yourself into a standing position (seriously? already?!) definitely counts as the world’s most awesome “diversion.” So all in all, I’m like Franklin if he were a new Mom who didn’t invent anything and had no political aspirations whatsoever.
So what Good have I done this week?
When it comes to being Franklin, I’m going to say that I’m getting an F+. I’ve been WAY less regimented about my introspection than he’d advocate, and I’m starting to “like a speckled axe best” if you know what I mean (and who would?!). Ultimately, I’ve got to move on to his second virtue, or I’ll never really get rolling on this thing.
And the truth is, “Silence” is probably the one I struggle with most. Franklin defines this by saying you should
“Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.”
And I’ve been known, Lily, I admit sheepishly, to engage in a bit of back-biting talk, especially at work. And I’ve been known, Lily, to talk about one of our country’s most beloved forefathers adjusting his “junketh.” And when it comes to either kind of gossip, I think of this scene from the 2008 film Doubt.
I, for one, don’t want to go chasing down every feather I’ve ever let fly out of my mouth. Nor do I want to speak in such a way that I’ll end up having to eat crow. Or taste my own foot figuratively, like you so adorably do literally, Lily. Benjamin Franklin, after all, published his first pieces in his brother’s newspapers under the pseudonym Silence Dogood. So we’ll see, next week, if his surname holds true.
I’ll keep on trying, in the meantime, to gain a sense of temperance without losing my temper. But no promises. Like Rome, Benjamin Franklin wasn’t built in a day. And neither, it appears, Lily, was your mother.
[P.S. I challenge anyone reading this blog–you, too, Lily, someday!–to take on Franklin Fridays with me. If you end up kicking temperance’s butt, let me know. Or if, throughout this next week (from Friday, January 22 through Friday, January 29), you end up cutting back all “trifling conversation,” let me know how it’s done, sons (or daughters)! If you end up trying it, leave me a comment. Or, better yet, if you end up writing about it for real-real, let me know, and I’ll link to your blog. I dare you to be more Franklin than me. Go in Silence!]
- “Benjamin Franklin – Join or Die” by Benjamin Franklin – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3g05315. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Benjamin_Franklin_-_Join_or_Die.jpg#/media/File:Benjamin_Franklin_-_Join_or_Die.jpg
- Franklin, Benjamin. “From The Autobiography.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vol. A. Ed. Nina Baym. 7th ed. New York: Norton & Company, 2007. 522-534. Print.