Okay, to get the full irony of this, we need to flash backwards about 5 years.
I’m at work. In the bathroom.
Now our work bathroom is annexed by the actual staff room–it’s great. You sit down, hork back a lean cuisine, get up, walk ten paces, shut and lock the door (we hope–I did actually walk in on a ‘canon’ fodder teacher *snork* who forgot this simple fact…) and go wee. The real fun part is that you can hear EVERYTHING that people say about you while you’re doing your business.
So, I’m going wee, and two very nice ladies (one of them was ‘canon’ fodder–an English teacher who doesn’t make it past the two year tenure date) and one of them has since sold her soul and moved on to administration–are having a conversation. About moi.
They think I’m wasting my time writing vampire fiction. They think it’s such a shame that I don’t spend my time writing narrative non-fiction (you know, sort of like I’m doing RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT) and that the whole ‘vampire thing’ is a phase that will pass–much like a two year old sucking her thumb. I’m cracking up because this is before I’ve had my ass handed to me on a platter education-wise, and I’m arrogant, and I also know I have to get up in a second because our passing period is only seven minutes long and hiding in the john until they’ve split is out of the question. I am fully aware they’re going to be sooooo embarrassed because everybody knows you can hear through those paper thin walls. And they were embarrassed. And I wasn’t. I wasn’t embarrassed because, quite frankly, I’ve never been a fan of non-fiction. Fiction is my BAG baby, and I’ve got the giant arm tattoo and weirdly named children to prove it. (You think their nicknames are weird? I’ve named two daughters after fairy princesses and two sons after knights in the round table–I think if I had ever had enough boys to get to Sir Bagdamagus, someone would have caught on and put me away for child abuse.) Anyway–my feelings weren’t hurt, and I got to leave with the smug superiority of someone who knows where their strengths ARE and where they most definitely NOT and boy aren’t I the queen of every fucking thing for a whole ten minutes, right?
I’m teaching early American Lit right now…and, as much as I’ve hated non-fiction in the past, I’ve got to tell you all that Ben Franklin was a frickin’ genius. You see, ol’ Mr. Hundred Dollar Bill was Mr. Self-Improvement. Long before Men are From Mars and Women are from Someplace Better Than Freakin’ Mars, long before Oprah Mauripovitch, long before Dr. Phillip Ruth, Franklin was trying to make himself a better person. He even had a little chart and thirteen virtues to put on it–sort of like a weight watcher’s diet diary, except he wanted to lose vices instead.
Now, Ben eventually gave this up. (I’m pretty sure he got married and got to have sex regularly. I understand he was a fan.) I don’t blame him–there’s nothing like seeing every bad habit you’ve overindulged in tallied up like a calorie chart you recorded at your ex-boyfriend’s wedding to make you realize that the Puritans had it right. We suck, we’re going to hell, and we just hope the beaches are great and someone remembers the sunblock. But what impressed me about this whole endeavor (and what has made me a fan of at least one American writer who wasn’t Hawthorne, Poe, Dickinson or Whitman) is the idea what we are what knitters have always believed us to be. We are Works In Progress. I may be fat now, but I will keep dieting, and failing, and dieting again until I’m in that size Reasonable as opposed to that size Vast and Stately. I may have nearly crashed and burned my career and my confidence last year, but this year I’m getting a handle on things and I may not have to sacrifice a Freshman under a horned moon on the roof of the administration building over the burial site of our Superintendent’s heart, liver, and brain cells in order to keep the little bastards from ageing me fast and killing me slow. My house may be a disaster today, but someday I’ll be older, my children will be gone, and I will miss the chaos of this exact moment, when I just made Chicken blow milk out her nose by experimentally putting an oblong needle case into the finger-opening of finger-puppet hedgehog, and we both laughed uproariously at something neither of us should have been thinking. (Although I’m sure her mental image was more scatalogical than sexual, it didn’t matter. For either of us, it was a very dirty joke.) I may not have Franklin’s organization down, but I am enjoying the concept that I can eliminate my vices one week at a time.
Franklin was an optimist, of course. We all know that. And I also enjoyed Twain’s twist that the reason Franklin was so hell bent on self-improvement was so that in the generations to come, parents could hold up his example and torture their children with it… (That Franklin boy was so ambitious…why can’t you be more like him, Wilbur, why?)
But I also like his point. Of course knitters–and women in general, many of whom have probaby never read Franklin or give a flying bucket of bug-shit about his Autobiography–have been practicing what he’s been preachin’ for years.