Tranquility Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 11, Q4

Tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Personal notes:

  • Trifles are life’s paper cuts;
  • A lot can be gained from taking a breath and letting go;
  • Focus on what matters.

It’s easy to say, “Be not disturbed at trifles,” when your daughter isn’t singing girl-pop at the top of her lungs, 6am Monday morning, before coffee, before you’re awake. It’s easy then. “Baboo-oo-oo-oons, I wish we could go our separate ways. Baboo-oo-oo-oons…” Have you ever heard a super, energetic 5 year old belt out Lion Guard? While you’re trying to write? While you’re trying to think? It takes significant self-restraint not to lash out. I wanted to lash out, but didn’t. I won that day, but not everyday. So I thought: When didn’t I win? When did the urge to lash out win? One month in particular stood out. 

I stopped writing one month because it was recommended to take some time off before editing — so I took a month off. Incrementally at first, but steadily, all the bad habits came back. I filled my time with the computer: consuming news, staring at portfolios, checking Facebook. Days passed, and I became angrier — significantly so. I felt like Saturday morning after too many Friday night scotches. But this time I couldn’t blame commuting, or job, or alcohol or lack of exercise. The problem was me — my mind. An idle mind and the devil and all that, it was true. The result: Tranquility slipped, and then all the other virtues slipped too.

I lost Tranquility. I lost the ability to remain calm, to refrain from snapping, to be happy. Nothing seemed worth keeping around. I lost it because I stopped writing, I stopped filling time with quiet. Writing quiets my mind; so does manual labor or cleaning (it’s funny but it’s true), and playing with my kids. When I stopped filling time with quiet, and replaced it with the shallow, it was like replacing a healthy meal with junk. It tasted good at first, but over time it took its toll, offered no sustenance. My world became chaotic, those closet to me became a burden; 12 months of progress were nearly wiped out by 1 month of regression. You really need to stay on your guard. An idle mind and the devil and all that.


Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 12, Q4

Chastity: “Rarely use venery but for health or offspring. Never to dullness, weakness or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”

Personal notes:

  • Everyone’s favorite week;
  • Life certainly is different now.

It’s Monday morning, the furthest thing from my mind is sex. Right now, all I want to do is to go back to bed. That would be better than sex, that and a washer/dryer in our apartment (our baby — the biological result of sex — was throwing up last night). Sex has changed in so many ways.

Don’t worry about being chaste this week. If you can sneak it in, I’m all for it! But maybe give a thought on how it has changed for you.

Have a great week

Tranquility Q3

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 11, Q3

Tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Personal notes:

  • Learn to accept certain behaviors from people, you’re not going to change them;
  • It’s not cancer, it’s not bankruptcy;
  • Focus on what is in our control.

For this week I wrote a piece all about the dishwasher. You see, the mere sight of my wife loading the dishwasher sent me into a panic. She must be terrible at Tetris, I thought. The misplaced dishes and wasted space evoked a physical response, a claustrophobic punch to the stomach. No one likes being punched in the stomach. So I decided to write about the trivial dishwasher. A perfectly clear observation of disturbing trifles. I liked what I wrote. I liked it a lot. Then I threw it away.

I threw it away because at the end of the week I had a terrible two days; I let all of life’s trifles run wild. I was angry about everything and it ruined the otherwise happy week. It was all my fault. I spent too much time reading the news, staring at my investment portfolio, constantly checking my phone and sitting alone in a dark, gray room. A storm festered and darkness rumbled.

Friday morning, the day most people are happy for the weekend, I lit into my daughter – she’s two. I made her cry, and as I grabbed her for a time-out, I noticed my wife cry too. Sure I can rattle off a list of excuses, but at the end of the day, my daughter is two. I lost my cool. When my anger broke, I felt guilty and sad, and threw out the dishwasher. I had to write something else.

Today’s mood is angry. Anger is infectious. It has the capacity to distort and denigrate the here and now. I allowed the love between a parent and a child to become a nuisance. The two year old who was sick and hungry became a trifle. The trifle triggered my anger. My anger hurt what I love. It was the very opposite of Tranquility and I felt terrible. It was time to step back and reset. I put down the technology and picked up a book. I turned my attention back towards the children instead of away from them. The reset was helpful and the weekend ended happy. Luckily, I caught myself before falling too far.


Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 12, Q3

Chastity: “Rarely use venery but for health or offspring. Never to dullness, weakness or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

Personal notes:

  • Everyone’s favorite week is back;
  • My wife’s talking about more kids;
  • Oh boy.

My wife keeps talking about having a third child, at least this week will help delay the inevitable. If you’re not exactly going to be chaste, it’s not a bad week to reflect on the subject.

Hope you have a great week (and good luck)

Tranquility Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 11, Q2

Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

*this may be also viewed as “Acceptance”

Personal notes:

  • Ignore the trifles. Better yet, laugh at them.
  • Focus on life’s big positives.
  • Realize our time is transitory.

My wife worked at a cancer hospital. Passing through the pediatric ward, she would text, “We are ok.” After all, how could we not be? Life’s noisy trifles were muted, their trivial nature revealed at the sight of a 2 year old fighting for her life. The shocking clarity of the moment rebalanced reality. But as always, time went on, the hours and days slipped by, gray overcame clarity, and trifles regained their strength.

Why? Why do we permit trifles such strength? True tragedies – death, injury, sickness – stir in us something more; our intrinsic human response is the opposite of trifles. Trifles provoke rage, anger, and agitation; tragedies evoke sadness, reflection and compassion. Rather than stiffen, tragedies soften. When my daughter spilled her milk, I fumed a visceral heat. When I learned my uncle died, I sought family.

Last week I talked about my landlord. His Sunday night email temporarily trumped all life’s meaningful positives – a fact that is so preposterous I’m ashamed the sentence is true – but it is true. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t shake the trifle. I repeated the grand notes and I said to myself, “We are a happy, healthy family in a loving, secure environment,” big picture stuff, but it was useless. All I heard was the broken cord amongst the symphony.

Three steps helped overcome the obstacle. First, I talked with close friends. Without emotional connection to the issue, they cut through the noise (thank you). Second, the surest way to regain control was to end the matter quickly; cut out the cancer. Finally, I changed my perception of the matter; the trifle became funny.

Why do life’s paper cuts carry such sting? I don’t have an answer – I wish I did. All I know is we practice, we avoid, we improve, but inevitably, we stumble; we are human. The trifle surprises us and we become trapped. Don’t let the common accidents or meaningless trifles win. We are better than that. The trifle’s weight is an illusion; let it float away in the breeze.


Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 12, Q2

Chastity: “Rarely use venery but for health or offspring. Never to dullness, weakness or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

Personal notes:

  • This week is a decade too late;
  • It’s the most difficult week to write about publicly;
  • Focus on “health” and/or “offspring,” depending on what the boss says.

I’ll be honest, this week’s virtue is about 10 years too late. If you’re out there having a lot of fun, respect. This week is for you. But if you’re living a quieter lifestyle like me, focus on improving your “health” this week.


Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week Eleven, Q1

Tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

*this may also be viewed as “Acceptance”

Personal notes:

  • Forgive yourself, your setbacks and flaws.
  • Find and nourish a sense of calm.
  • If there is something you do not like, get annoyed by, or worse, say “Tranquility” or “Acceptance.”

Tranquility is my favorite week and it couldn’t have come at a better time. You see, this week we’ve been dealing with our landlord and trying to get a rent reduction. This was of course, after they proposed a rent increase.

Our borrowed home is beautiful, but the situation hasn’t been smooth: leaks, critters, hot water shortages, the list goes on. An increase seemed like a reward for a terrible season and we felt we rode out the worst of the messes, fixed their problems and were flexible when they needed help. Why not ask for a reduction?

We posed the question to our landlords who, for lack of a better comparison, represent the epitome of aged Bernie Sanders supporters. The warm, fuzzy exterior however, quickly turned cold and detached when the conversation involved money. They live a nice lifestyle, summer in the North, winter in the South, travel the world, etc., and they very much want to keep it that way.

It’s their property after all, and they’re free to do with it as they choose, but as rent and home prices steadily climb higher, what are young families supposed to do? I posed that question, and their answer was “you can move.” Of course, they’re right: we can, and will, move. So now we have to think about moving… awesome.

Maybe this all came back to miscommunication. But Tranquility was certainly important. As texts, emails, phone calls were exchanged, sitting back and not taking it personally was valuable. In fact, my wife and I even talked about it in one of our text exchanges:

  • Me: Also. Had a moment we’re I remembered this week is Tranquility. Just saying it to myself had an effect. This is certainly a pain but just a road bump in life.
  • Wife: So, so true. All of these are truly minor annoyances. Which lovely home do we live in, what job interviews do we take, how do we take a deep breath when our safe & healthy & happy 4 year old accidentally spills her juice. *acceptance* of all good things.
  • Me: I know. It’s all super annoying, but that’s just it. It’s annoying like a gnat buzzing in your ear. No real threat. I don’t have any great answers or insight. But saying Tranquility actually had a little bit of an impact.
  • Wife: Completely agree. Reading my book another one that helps is “transience”. Like our presence in this world is too brief to get worked up by minor details.

Negotiating with landlords is not battling cancer. An annoying commute is not the same as living in a war zone; both are a long way of saying, don’t sweat the small stuff. As for moving, who knows? The universe may have aligned and we might have a possible solution at a new, much smaller apartment.

Downsizing to a smaller space with greatly reduced rent immediately sprung forth a seed of contentment. The idea of finding something cozier, smaller, cheaper grew happiness. All we can do is keep our finger’s crossed, hope for the best and remain at ease with the outcome. And that’s something I’m learning, remaining tranquil when confronting little annoyances has helped in the larger battle to reduce anxiety and depression.

In the end, I wrote our landlords a nice note thanking them for allowing us to live in their home the past year. We did enjoy our time here but it is time to move on and, when I think about it, moving on is by far the happier solution: the unexpected outcome of saving more, downsizing, getting rid of junk all turned out to increase our happiness. But to be fair, getting there required a lot of Tranquility.