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re: all about the Benjamins

Dear Internet,

It’s been, what, a couple months since I said anything? A couple years at least since it was with any frequency? (Yeah, that’s not going to change any time soon.) Thought I’d forgotten about you, didn’t you? Well, uh, I kinda did. I barely check my email.

The truth is, I’ve just been too busy.

OK, the actual truth is, I haven’t been busy at all. I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, because, really, it has nothing (much) to do with you. I haven’t made anything in any medium, unless you count writing bad country (I’m guessing they’re country, anyway, because they have an alternating bass line and mention Texas sometimes) songs on my guitar (which you shouldn’t). I haven’t been doing a damn thing except reading and watching cheap Target movies and the M*A*S*H box set. There are worse ways of stagnating.

Yesterday, I was trying to clean up my hard drive, since it’s so full of 100% legally obtained movies and mp3s (ripped from actually purchased CDs, really) that there was no room for any more, and I found this text file. I say this meaning a, not meaning the following, because, well, can’t you just wait?

I opened it, because the name, clearly some random keystrokes, gave me no information about it, and Nautilus doesn’t do that nice thing gmail does where you can see an excerpt of the contents. I read it because I was bored, and because reading it reminded me that I can write, and that pretty much the only way I can think things out with clarity is by writing my thoughts down. You don’t get to see it, Internet (possibly I could post it somewhere anonymously, I guess, but I’ve never been fond of polo shirts or athletic shoes either), because, (sadly) like most things in life, it concerns other people than just myself, and because unlike most things, it was pretty much just unrestrained, unbuffered honesty. (I don’t really mean honesty here, I mean something more like the truth, the whole truth, and nothing-but. Do I mean candid? I think I might.) I don’t mean to be all mysterious here. I wasn’t revealing a dark secret about someone I know, just being open on a level that’s not really safe (especially if you are only recording possibly transient emotions very late one Sunday morning a year ago) if you talk to other people, ever.

Which has a bearing, actually, on why I brought the whole thing up in the first place. Because at one point, I’d stopped being terribly unflattering (mostly of myself, but possibly there were others involved) for a moment OK, I just can’t make this segue work. Instead, a not very enlightening or useful introductory story, because I did just read an excellent biography of Benjamin Franklin so I’ll tell you a story about him. A friendly Frenchwoman warned him, when he was in Paris toward the end of the American Revolution, that an unnamed person (Edward Bancroft) very close to him was spying on him. Franklin’s response was that he had made it a general policy of his life never to do anything he wouldn’t want other people knowing about, and thus he was not worried about a spy. Now, Ben was not being completely frank here, of course, since he’d done plenty he wouldn’t have wanted everyone (his wife) to know about, but I do think, in the non-romantic side of life, that he really did act according to that principle of open honesty.

Look, I have three friends (the lack of a comma following this word (closing parenthesis) will let you know that I’m talking about three in particular of my friends, since I have both more and fewer total friends than three) who possess the shared quantity of what I have been forced by an inadequacy in either the English language or my vocabulary to call frankness. I will explain what I mean, since “frank” carries some negative connotations I don’t mean (especially when you’ve been watching as much M*A*S*H as I have). These three are fairly different in many other ways, but all three possess a sort of basic honesty that isn’t as common as I wish it were, especially among myself. I don’t mean that their brains don’t filter between thought and mouth, as people usually seem to mean when they talk about frankness. In fact, I think it’s probably likely that their filters are a little more intense than most people. They possess, though, a certain self-knowledge (or maybe self-awareness) that enables and encourages absolutely true answers and actions. I’m having trouble describing what I mean (obviously), because that’s not the extent of it: I don’t just mean the friend who will tell you your ass looks terrible in those jeans, because that’s almost unrelated. I mean the one who makes you slightly uncomfortable with his level of earnestness, whose responses to your questions don’t seem to be evaluated for how they’ll make her look (and not necessarily because of a lack of concern with that, but because on a certain level action follows thought in a straight enough line that there’s nothing, really, to worry about).

I think by now you probably either know what I’m talking about or won’t no matter how much I say, and, also, it’s an hour and a half since I started writing this, so I’ll move on now.

I lack this quality. Not entirely, of course, because I’m capable of it in (rambling text-file) writing, but the general, life-living candor, I lack. (Note that in order to really know what goes on in my own head I have to type things out as for strangers.) Some of the reason for this, I know. Some of what I think, for example, were I to pay full attention to it, would require, eventually, difficult and frightening action, and I am basically a lazy coward whenever possible. Some of it contradicts my general (not very effective) principle of ignoring, as much as possible, depressing things (in this case, myself) so as to avoid being depressed by them. And I think a lot of the time I’m just not paying that much attention.

I don’t mean, Internet, that I’m a liar (no matter what my girlfriend may tell you about vague, possibly non-existant studies I use to back up my arguments) or a giant phony (no matter what Holden Caulfield may tell you; he is quite unreliable). I don’t lie much (though, yes, I do some), or pretend to be things I know I’m not (outside of work, where I very rarely sound like the left-wing atheist commie bastard I really am). I think maybe (maybe?) I’m just not frank with myself, and so it’s hard to be frank (in that good way I mean, as opposed to the bad too-frank way, of which I am occasionally accused of being) with other people.

Another story about Benjamin Franklin, in lieu of a conclusion, which I don’t really have: when he was 20, he made a list of 13 behaviors or qualities he recognized as being virtues and set up a systematic plan to devote one week to the practice of each virtue such that he would, through practice, achieve said virtue. He even had score cards. I don’t know whether Ben believed that the practice of a virtue is essentially indistinguishable from its presence, or that the forced (force, after all, shits on reason’s back) behavior would become a habit and thus inculcate him with the value. I don’t even know that ever thought that far about his reasons for this system of moral building. I don’t think he made it through more than four weeks, but you have to admire the effort and intent, if nothing else. And his failure, as Franklin himself noted, might not have been all bad, since his last virtue, humility, would have been impossible had he perfected the other 12.

Filed by shaun at December 28th, 2006 under a larger problem, indifferenthonest

It’s weird seeing allusions to other blogs that I read, especially when the website that’s being referenced doesn’t have comments, which makes me feel like I’m the only person reading it.

I don’t know if I’m frank with myself, actually. I am almost never frank with other people. When I am, they inevitably fall in love with me.

Comment by Jenny — 7 Jan 2007 @ 1:39 am

Shaun, This post blew my mind. It was tremendous. Now, I don’t know whether I feel this way because of all the cheap wine I’ve drunk tonight or because of your post, but I suspect it’s a little of both. There are two things I would add, however:

(1) I think free will does not exist. If it really doesn’t, this may undermine some of the things you’ve said and some of the possible conclusions you may or may not have drawn.

(2) I would have omitted the parenthetical about Holden Caulfield.

And for God’s sake if you want to reply to this comment don’t comment here but e-mail me instead. I only visit this site once every six months or so; which is your fault, since you don’t post very often.

Comment by lobster — 8 Jan 2007 @ 12:11 am

man you rock shaun.
i’ve checked here since for years and commented maybe twice but this is why i come back.
… i want to read the other blogs jenny reads, too.

very nice of you to portray ‘them’ (i’m one, i think, and i end up being the one friends pressure to say ‘he’s cheating on you’, or ‘you’re over the top, preachy environmentalist pal of ours’)… but nice of you to portray the blunt in an ‘extra sensitive filter’ way. i don’t know. i think it might be thoughtlessness sometimes too, in some of ‘us.

so glad you write here.

Comment by san — 27 Jan 2007 @ 2:36 am

lobster, by the way, was right about Holden.

Comment by shaun — 4 Jun 2007 @ 1:14 am

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