Everybody loves Ben Franklin. In high school at least, we are all introduced to his scrappy intellectualism, his nascent can-do-Americanism, his shopkeeper’s sense of neat-book economy. I got a double dose, my parents having grown up in Pennsylvania. Summer trips there left the impression he was the state saint: everything was dedicated to him, somehow connected to him. Even kids in Alaska learn the most pithy sayings from Poor Richard’s Almanac.
I appreciate him in the same general sense as everybody else. I enjoy his worldliness, that Eighteenth century verve of scientist-businessman-scholar-man-about-town that courses through him, his jet-setting, that he made no excuses for liking women, that he wanted the national bird to be the turkey. He was what he wanted to see in the world and made no apologies. He had strong opinions but wasn’t much of a scold.
Early to bed and early to rise
Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise
I have not been good about either, even with knowing that the world is far, far better when I follow the practice. Going to bed is a minor problem, though I could probably do with turning in a half-hour sooner. The problem is getting up. There is no wound spring to leap me out of bed. It is easy to lie there, almost all awake, soft and not wanting to get up even when I know that just leads to thinking the same burned-out circle.
Do you hear your voices then, on a weekend when you have a little time to dally? Light is in the windows but nothing presses, so you linger and your mind starts. It’s not Monkey, not really: it’s too automatic, too rote. Images and emotions, none really true but close enough to believe. For me it is the failure movie, starring me. Set in high school typically, it is the long arc of the failure that started even then. It is, of course, a story evolved from dark shadows, built and shaped by funhouse processes that exaggerate and amplify the inner critic. Solitude and distance combine to signify rejection, or maybe the other way around. Signs were missed, misstep after misstep made, all along the inexorable path to the failure that is now. That’s the story. Maybe yours is different.
That the story doesn’t go anywhere is maybe the most curious thing: it’s all bits that recombine and replay, but nothing new. The dumb things said or done stay as dumb, keep getting said or done, keep ending up in the same bleak morass of empty parking lots and nothing on TV. Gravity is here, so the dumbness and the aftermath deepens, spreads out and bleeds color to grey. The fundamental shape never changes. There is just always more where that came from.
Early to rise is a fix. Wake up, realize I am awake, and get up. There are always things to do that I want to get in, never enough time. Getting out of bed opens to them and to everything: the whole day spread out to be lived in like a room in a space station, every inch available for tumbling.
Last Sunday I got up. Church types may not marvel, but I was out of bed before seven, amazed, almost floating. The day had a clean possible space, a sense not of energy but that energy could be there if called for.
I checked my email, find my friend can’t make the weekly epochal walk we have Sunday mornings. I finish dressing and take a short walk on my own up and down the block, the sidewalk rough with cold but not unpleasant. I watch the clock as the microwave heats tea, thinking how pleasant a shape 7 is. I realize I have time to do my taxes. I like doing the taxes, the looking up and filling in of numbers as pleasant and sure as elementary school worksheets. I thought the first year as divorced might be complicated, but TurboTax takes no notice, confirming what an accountant said. I get money back. It’s hardly 9:30.
The day spreads in a peacock’s tail of possibility. None are massive, just pleasant with white space. I go to Target and buy a teapot. From the world famous West Seattle Easy Street Records I buy a selection of used movies, my first such purchase in I don’t know how long. I wind along the overlook down to Alki, and I walk the beach. The sun has emerged and scatters over waves, and children make sandcastles in pink coats. I walk enough the shoes hurt.
Later, at home, with dinner and the cat watching taxis through the window, I realize the day was a triumph. I participated in observing it, touching things, even if I was by myself. I lived it whole from a running start. Movement is its own momentum if it’s started early enough.
I had no dread of work the next day, no sense of not having written enough, nothing undone. I should still steam clean the couch at some point, yes. It will be nice to get the locks rekeyed. These are not emergencies. It is okay to leave things undone, even if there is time to do them. With enough clear time I could see it’s comfortable enough already.
I went to bed like a junior high school night: ten or so. I was tired, clean from a shower, ready. I went to sleep without thinking or waking daydreams, just the softness and muted light. There was time to be early.