April, Maypole

I learned about Spring, as a child, with my educational sources still reflecting mystical attitudes about the seasons that go way back into antiquity.

I remember, in elementary school learning what was called a “maypole dance”. This “dance” consisted of walking slowly in a circle with other clueless kids, each holding a colored ribbon tied to the pole, then all turning around and walking in the opposite direction. It was like tetherball, both structurally and in how baffling to us it’s whole purpose was.

(We were also taught square dancing, too; giving me a head start on a humiliation caused by dancing that many only start to feel in their teens.)

I remember also covering Greek, Roman, Norse, and Native American myths about Spring, many of which involved girls being dragged off to Hell, a fate many of my female classmates seemed sadly too acquainted with through being forced to participate in cotillion — getting their own head start on dancing hell.

More happily, I also remember learning that Easter was always on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, which has proved useful ever since, since I’m apparently one of six people in all of North America who has the first idea how the date of Easter is arrived at.


Ambivalence is not the issue, or maybe it is.


In the spring, a young man’s fancy
May turn towards some thoughts romancy,
Or to baseball turn, instead —
If they have thought in their head

In the spring, young women’s heeding
May turn towards some new succeeding
Or may turn to instead to guys —
I’m not saying if that’s

Wise


Here are the lyrics to a song I learned when I was still a boy, called “The Turtle Dove”. The song dates back to the 1700’s. I’m including it for no other reason than that I like it.

Fare you well my dear, I must be gone and leave you for a while –
If I roam away I’ll come back again,
Though I roam ten thousand miles, my dear,
Though I roam ten thousand miles.

So fair though art my bonnie lass, so deep in love am I –
But I never will prove false to the bonnie lass I love,
Till the stars fall from the sky, my dear,
Till the stars fall from the sky.

The sea will never run dry my dear, nor the rocks ever melt with the sun –
And I never will prove false to the bonnie lass I love,
Till all these things be done, my dear,
Till all these things be done.

O yonder doth sit that little turtle dove, he doth sit on yonder high tree –
A making a moan for the loss of his love,
As I will do for thee, my dear,
As I will do
For thee.

The Invisible Man At Target

I’m sitting in the parking lot of our local Target, way out on the edge, far away from most of the people.

I always seem to be in a parking lot, and I am almost always as far from people as I can get.

It’s hot today, hot and hazy. I’m out for my usual Sunday drive, and I stopped here to think, which I’m not all that good at.

A beautiful woman just got into the Jeep in front of me. There seem to be a lot of beautiful women here.

There seems to be a lot of them everywhere I go.

Even way out here on the edge.

Even though I drive a bright yellow car, I have long felt I was basically invisible. I drive to the local Target and I see hundreds of people, but I’m pretty sure none of them see me. So I’m ideally placed as an observer: seeing, but never seen.

You can see by the attached photo what I look like — if you noticed it at all. In real life, you’d walk right by me. Everybody does, except the people who actually know me.

As case in point as to my alleged invisibility, the woman with the Jeep proceeded to change her shirt in it, after looking around to be sure no one was there. I looked away when I realized what she was doing, but she hadn’t noticed me. I’m just talented that way.

There are fewer of these parking lots every year. Retail itself is changing rapidly, of course. I could see places like Dollar General putting Target out of business. That, and online distributors. But something will come along after those, as well.

Nothing human is permanent; we all know this. But we invest things with a type of permanence reflective of the intensity we feel about them.

I used to bring my kids here, and they loved it. Of course, they all loved Toys R Us, too, and now that’s going away. Just as I loved Sears, and my mother loved Woolworth’s, both of which are now gone.

A beautiful woman in a sundress just looked this way and smiled when she saw me. It’s one of my coworkers, out shopping with two of her children: I wave and she waves back. I’m sure we’ll talk about this at work tomorrow.

Well, it’s time for this invisible man and his bright yellow car to go. Not sure where, but they’ll no doubt be beautiful women there.

Ghosts

I have ghosts.

These ghosts aren’t the people from my past who I’ve known and lost. They aren’t even people from the past I’ve only read or heard about.

These ghosts are younger versions of me.

I look out the window of my office and I see myself, hurrying around the little walking trail adjacent, trying to figure out what to do about my drug-addicted twenty-year old son.

I walk out the front of the building, and I see myself, pacing before an exam, staring up at the tall building I now work in where the exams were administered.

Across the street, I see a much younger me eating at the old diner, in the very first week after we moved here – with a different wife (my ex) and our then-infant son.

A lot of our lives takes place within a few square miles: our joys, our heartbreaks, our meltdowns, even our sex. There are groceries stores we’ve walked miles in, church pews we’ve occupied, a couch we’ve watched 10,000 hours of television on.

But we change as we age. The play goes on, but our part changes, and the players change, as well. Sometimes we walk out on stage, only to realize we are in a whole different theater than we remember starting in. Or growing in.

My ghosts aren’t malignant. They don’t even notice me. They are fully wrapped up in the problems or experiences of their day. I’m just there observing. In a few short hours (it’s lunchtime right now), I’ll be back home, holding my baby granddaughter, who is very close to being able to crawl. I know she won’t be a baby much longer. One day I’ll see ghost me, holding her, smiling with her.

She, on the other hand, won’t remember.

Because, you see, what makes these “ghosts” is that I’m the only one who can see them, and I’m the only one who will ever see them. I write (and maybe you do, too) to try to recreate a little of my experience for you, in the hope I can’t faintly project a little bit of my ghost-world onto the walls of your cave.

But I can’t really expect you to look for long. All of you have ghosts of your own.

 

Down Broken Willow

Those two summers, we swam every day in the bayou “down Broken Willow”, as we said back home. There were different people there on different days, but always the three of us: my brother, his friend Danny, and me.

Being younger than the two of them by five years, I was assigned the lowest role in whatever games we were playing. The most common of these was to be a lookout for ski boats if we were playing too far from the tree or the shore. I also “got to” (it was a privilege, you see) chase and retrieve overthrown footballs, bring each of them towels, and go to shore to receive messages on behalf of the two of them (usually “come home”), and so on. I spent the better part of those two summers almost completely sunburned; the Florida sun pretty much laughs at things like t-shirts and sunblock.

Even though they used me as a lackey, a nine-year-old boy is pretty lucky when his fourteen-year-old brother will let him hang out, and I realized that at the time. All of that ended sometime during the next year, as my brother withdrew into his own world, a place he’s never really returned from in the forty-six years since.

My wife asked me last night why my brother and I never talk; I don’t really have an answer, other than that we’ve been having the same conversation for decades, and it never really varies. He tells me little to nothing about his own life, even when asked specifically, and has no interest in mine. We can relive the old days, though, laughing at the old stories; he still thinks its funny the errands he used to send me on, and the fatuous reasoning he’d use to justify it. And it is kind of funny.

Sometimes, you love someone, like a brother, but can’t really connect with them, except on some old ground. Maybe if he and I went swimming, back in our old neighborhood, we could still interact as though our lives had some ongoing commonality. But there doesn’t seem to be one.

Not every estrangement in life comes from anything bad really happening: sometimes, it’s just distance and difference, and you find yourself facing a stranger — one you love, but, who you no longer really know — if you ever really did know them.

With my brother, I’m not sure I ever did.

If Liberty Means Anything…

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – George Orwell, the Original Preface to Animal Farm


I feel about political parties the way a cat feels about various packs of dogs. None of them are friendly, and none of them would ever want me as a member.*

I don’t like political parties because I don’t like gangs. I don’t talk about politics much on my blogs because you are either in a gang, or you are its enemy, as I have repeatedly found throughout my life. I belong to no gang, which makes me the enemy of all of them.

That being said, there is a political issue I do feel strongly about, and that is people’s right to express their own opinions. If you feel moved enough by a given issue to speak out about it, speak out. If you feel safer doing that with a large group of others, do it, that’s your right.

I won’t be comfortable around your large group, but I believe in your right of free opinion and speech, and free assembly.

In fact, I’ll probably be as far away from your assembling group as my noncomformist cat self can get.

I don’t like any part of political discourse that consists of trying to stop the other side from speaking. In fact, I despise it.  It can be right wing talk show hosts telling people to “shut up and dribble” (or shut up and whatever), or it can be left wing sheep saying “Four legs good, two legs bad”**.  All these tactics are reprehensible.

For those of us who live in the United States, we either believe in freedom and in government by the people, or we don’t.

And it’s the ones who don’t who are always the enemy.


* I used this image for a poem recently, but this was the sentence (and context) as I originally intended it.

** This is also from “Animal Farm”. You probably should reread it, eighth grade was a while ago.

Louise

I get all of that. But why was she there?

What?

Why was she there, with you? What was her story?


I was seventeen, and hanging out at a hospital waiting for my mom. They said it would be about three hours, then she’d be out and I could drive her home.

Restless, I decided to take a walk through the hospital. I passed a large waiting area, and saw a face I recognized: a blonde girl from my Analytical Geometry class whose name I didn’t know. Her foot was in a cast.

Walking back by again a few minutes later, she saw me, so I stopped.

“Hi. What happened to you?”

”I run cross-country, and broke my ankle training,”she said ruefully. “It’s Tom, isn’t it? Your name?”

“Owen,” I said. “And you’re — Sherri?”

”Louise,” she said.

“Louise — you’re the girl who finished 2nd in the state, aren’t you?”

”Yes. Although I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to really run on this again. And aren’t you the guy who got into a fist fight with Charles in the lunchroom last year?”

”It wasn’t much of a fight, right next to the coaches’ table,” I said. “I think his one punch hit me in the shoulder.”

“We all hated you,” she said. “Charles would never hurt a fly.”

”Unless it was on my shoulder,” I said.

She laughed.

”The fight certainly wasn’t his fault,” I added. “Fights happen. Do you have brothers?” I asked.

”I have three sisters, and one little brother,” she said. “My parents stopped when they finally had a boy. What about you?”

”One of each, both older.”

”So you’re the baby?”

”We were all babies at one time, even my parents. We sort of took turns.”

She laughed again. “You aren’t at all what I expected.”

”Oh, and what am I supposed to be?”

”The angry, brooding, dangerous type, you know. The kind that drives the girls wild.”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “You’re not exactly who I pictured, either, for our State runner-up. I had no idea that was you.”

”I know I’m not exactly built like a runner. I’m a lot more top-heavy,” she added musingly.

I blushed. She certainly was.

We talked for two-and-a-half more hours.


So, I was easy to talk to, and I could make her laugh. 

You don’t think she thought you were good looking?

My mind doesn’t work that way.

You don’t think she thought you were good looking?

Yes, I believe she did. I had changed my look that summer, and I was feeling pretty good about it. I was a complete surprise to her.

How long was it after that you started dating?

Let’s see… that was June, and our first date was Homecoming, which was in October. I had never been on a date, at that age, although I went on my first one within a week or two of that conversation. We had Calculus together, although we still sat with our old crowds in class. Our friends seemed surprised we were friendly, or even knew each other. We would talk a little, some days, after class.

What did she see in you?

I wrote about that, you know I did. I was all wrong for her: an underachiever, a rebel. She was from a family of high achievers, and she was tired of always being a ‘good girl’.

So you were her ‘bad boy’?

I think so, yes. Funny, really.


“Are you going to Homecoming?” she asked me, as I stood by her locker while she exchanged one set of books for another.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” I said. “I’ve never been to a dance of any kind, school or otherwise.”

“They’re fun,” she said. “You should try it.”

Some silence as we headed towards her next class.

“Would you like to go to Homecoming with me?” I heard the words, but didn’t realize my mind had formulated them. The next few seconds were agony.

“Sure,” she said.

I can’t believe that just happened, I thought.


Why couldn’t you believe it? I mean, she was a girl and you were a boy, and she obviously liked you…

I don’t remember it being obvious. It all just kind of seemed surreal.

When did it become real?


Driving her home from the dance, we turned into her neighborhood. I will never know what question I intended to ask.

“Is there –”

“Yes,” she interrupted. “Go straight here, past my house, and then turn right. There’s a place down by the water.”

This is happening, I thought. This is really happening.


Another magical night we spent was out at the beach, a few miles from where my wife and I are staying as I write this. That night, during winter break after graduation, was our last night together. I had set up a fire and a picnic out on the beach, with wine and music. We were shielded by dunes on three sides. I had friends watch it, then move off as they heard us coming, so as we climbed over the crest of the last dune, it was like a fully sprung nighttime picnic has showed up on the beach, with blankets and a fire. But that was the end. She went back to school and got with the guy she’s still married to almost forty years later.

Did you love her?

Yes.

Did she love you?

Yes.

Why didn’t it last, then?

Love… married love is about building the other person up. We couldn’t do that for each other. She found someone with whom she could, and so, eventually, did I.

So, no regrets?

If you have no regrets, it wasn’t really Love.

Ashen

I’m out here, in the one place where uniformity of opinion makes sense, that is, by myself. And I still can’t manage it.


The air is ashen with the smell of woodsmoke, floating over from distant chimneys. My skin is ashen from the unaccustomed cold; it’s 17 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 degrees Celsius). It is supposed to warm up rapidly later today, rising above freezing by around noon.

This being the southern United States, and the roads being frozen, my workplace was closed yesterday, as was the local government. I had a few conference calls that went on, but otherwise, I stayed inside, writing poetry for the other site.

Our sleepy neighborhood has had more than its share of excitement this week, with one of my neighbors being shot at (seventeen times) and a car having skidded off the road yesterday uphill into our yard and back down again, which left an interesting set of tracks. Neither my wife nor I heard it when it happened; I was in the back writing, and she was one room over, watching a movie.

The gunshots I had heard the morning before last, a little after 5:30 in the morning. Our neighbor interrupted four or five men robbing his truck and was shot at for his trouble. He hit the deck in his carport, and his wife closed the carport door from inside; luckily, no one was hurt.

The real world is violent, ugly, and messy. So I write a couple of highly stylized blogs, and use exquisite watercolors like the one attached to this essay (© Maryna Kriuchenko | Dreamstime.com); I also listen to beautiful music, and spend a certain amount of time hoping the outside world won’t impinge on my world of escapist fantasy.

But it always does, in the end; for me, and for everybody else.


In my twenties, I developed the following theory. I ask for some indulgence from any of you who may have heard this before.

There are two types of people in the world: those for whom life is boring, and who therefore seek excitement; and those for whom life is stressful, and who therefore seek peace.

For reference (although most of you will know this already) I am in the latter category.

These categories do not exactly correspond to extroverts and introverts, nor to night people and morning people, nor any other division I know of under some other name.  There are, however, some large areas of overlap.

Because I was frequently looking for dating opportunities at that age, and because the proportion of people in each category seemed to be roughly 3:1, I came to the same conclusion that other young people like I am had come to; namely, that I needed to go where the excitement was if I wanted to meet women. The most popular of these types of place was, where I lived, dance clubs and bars. So I went there.

There was just one problem — I hated being in those places: too loud, too competitive, too stressful. I was self-conscious as a dancer and no good as a drinker.  I was extremely unconfident about my own appearance, or, rather, I was confident that my appearance would win me no contests among women. While I did occasionally find someone who’d dance with me, I got no phone numbers, and, essentially, met no one.

My therapist then gave me, at around age twenty-eight, some really good advice. He said to go somewhere where I could meet women and men, and which involved an activity that I wanted to do in and of itself, regardless of whether or not I met anyone I could date. This resulted in me getting into community theater as a pianist or musical director. I like theater and love to play, and I’m decent at it, so I was actually there for a reason and not just hoping to hookup with somebody.

I made a number of new friends and met some people I ended up dating, including the woman who became my (now ex-) wife.

To people more advanced, socially, than I was, the advice I got might seem obvious. But it wasn’t obvious to me, and so, it was good advice. It got me out of situations where my concentration was on how uncomfortable I was, and into a situation I was enjoying for what it was.


A few years ago, when probiotics were first introduced to the wider market, my son made the joke that he thought

“… we could at least all agree on being antibiotic. I mean, has the pro-bacteria lobby really infiltrated our society to such a degree that people and products are now proudly displaying their probioticism?”

Which I thought was hysterical. I’ve often repeated the joke since.

When the Internet first came into wide use, its proponents touted its capacity for “bringing people together”. This has no doubt been true, in many senses; politically, however, people are as polarized as ever, and, arguably, more so.

Because of the oddities of maintaining a fictitious identity as a writer, I have two Facebook pages under my real and pen name. Between the two pages, while there is some overlap, two diametrically opposed views of the world are dominant, and neither even acknowledges that the other view exists, accept to parody and vilify it.

All views are accessible to all. Yet, I find that many people have no real idea of the reasons (where there are any) that political figures they admire are criticized.

And this goes for both sides.

The conclusion I draw, oddly enough, has nothing to do with politics, which is, to my eyes, as it ever was. The conclusion I draw is about technology. Tools, of whatever kind, are not intrinsically good or bad; its their use that makes them so. All power to do things can be used either way. The Internet is neither good nor bad, except insofar as how it is used.

Another way to say this is that the Internet has made both facts and propaganda more accessible, and contains no better mechanism to distinguish the two than we had prior to the Internet.


I was notified a few minutes ago that my office is opening this morning in spite of the roads still being frozen over, because it has been long enough, I guess. Being the cautious type, I may wait a little longer before venturing out, as my two-wheel drive bumper-car would probably go straight off the road the first block.

But I’m kind of two minds. Even when I’m by myself.

You Don’t Say

… or, I don’t, at least. Often.

Readers of this and the other blog may have noticed, on occasion, that posts will appear briefly, then disappear. This is a phenomenon I’ve observed with other people’s blogs as well, indicating what might be called “posting regret”. This is where the writer decides, upon further review, “no, I didn’t really want to post that.”

In my case, in virtually every instance, the deleted post is (a) angry; (b) about me; or (c) both. I’m not afraid of expressing anger, but, typically, rereading these, I think “there’s a better way to get that point across” or “no one is going to know what I was getting at, there”.

Like most authors, I want readers to feel, or to think, upon reading; unlike some authors, however, I do not really seek controversy (some amount is unavoidable). Fights don’t change minds, they just bruise bodies and spirits.

Understanding often comes, though, in less dramatic and more unexpected ways…


I went to lunch with a female coworker a few days ago.

She’s brilliant, in her mid-thirties, and we’ve been friends now for something like seven years. She’s also very beautiful: stylish, elegant. Born and raised in eastern Europe, and separated from the land and family of her birth, I’ve probably become something like a second father for her.

After we each ordered our meals, I asked her how things were going at home.

“Not great. We’ve agreed to … co-parent. [They have three children.] He’s a great father. When I get home, dinner is on the table. I get to spend all my time with the kids when I’m there.”

“Do you avoid him?”

“Yes, pretty much. I avoid him, and I avoid thinking. When we were on vacation during the holidays, and there would be moments of downtime, I read books. I read five books in a week. I can’t have time to think, or bad things would happen.”

I didn’t ask her what ‘bad things’ she meant; I thought I probably knew.  The only thing lonelier than being alone is being with someone you can’t connect with.


It had warmed up a little by lunchtime, so we walked in the tiny park behind the restaurant.

“What about you?” she asked. “This job has been killing you this last year.”

“Yes, it looks like they are going to move me.”

“What have you been doing for stress?”

“I work out, and… I write, as it happens.”

“I did not know that. What do you write a book, a blog, what?”

“A blog. I don’t really talk about it at work. Or anywhere else, come to think of it.”


As we entered the building where we both work, we stopped before going our separate ways.

“Thanks for driving to lunch.”

“And thank you for inviting me. It’s good to get out.”

“It’s nice to get a chance to catch up.”

“Yes, and it’s nice to have someone listen.”

“Even to what we don’t say,” I added.

“Especially to what we don’t say,” she rejoined.

Trolls Do Not Need Reasons

“Sorrow knows no seasons,
Trolls do not need reasons.”

We had around eight consecutive hours together yesterday, mostly in the car. As usually happens when we get the chance, our conversation ranged over almost every conceivable subject. At one point we were discussing a couple we know whose marriage is rapidly deteriorating, even though their problems seem relatively minor.

“… they are each so anxious to prove that they are the more aggrieved party, neither one is really trying to fix their problems,” she concluded. “They look at counseling like it’s a court that can convict the other person, and prove themselves right.”

“So it has become a contest each one wants to ‘win’,” I summarized.

“Yes, even if ‘winning’ means losing everything.”

Her text message alert went off, so she spent a few minutes there as I drove along, thinking.

When she was back from that, I said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that’s why online trolls do what they do. They neither believe nor even care what they are saying, they just want the fight.”

“I picture people like that,” she added, “friendless, stuck at home, proving they can make something happen, no matter who it hurts. Like that guy who faked the 911 SWAT team call and got some poor guy killed.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That was horrible. What was that text about, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Remember Gary and his wife, Josetta? Her brother committed suicide a few days ago.”

I was stunned. “What happened?”

“They don’t really know, yet. I’d heard he’d had a lot of problems over the years. And the holidays can be so hard on people.”

We stopped a few minutes later to get gas and buy some salt water taffy. I carried her purse out to the car to warm it up while she spent a few extra minutes inside, and my brain constructed the little couplet affixed to the top of this essay, apparently encapsulating our recent conversation.

As she ate her Reese’s cup, I had some taffy.

“I didn’t even know they still made that stuff,” she said.


Photo credit : me, view from our hotel this chilly morning.

Are, Too!

I recently made a six hour drive, through mountains, in the rain and fog, to watch Star Wars : The Last Jedi with my twenty-two year old child.  We also got about three hours worth of visiting with each other in. Then I had to drive home.

I naively thought, in my early parenting days, that if I loved my children enough, and always had time for them, they would be happy. I now realize: that’s simply not true, and it never was. The dependency our children have on us when they are small, and the intensity of our own love for them, combine to create the illusion that we have (MUST have) the power to provide them everything we would want to provide.

But we can’t; or at least, I can’t.

As for the movie itself, I will say this: I grew up in the world of perpetual fictional reboots you get with comic books and adventure series (like the Hardy Boys). Different writers see those worlds and characters in different ways, and each series goes through seasons shaded by the views of different creative teams — which I tend to like, as a feature. In fact, were you to go back to Batman issue #300 (circa 1976), you find a page-long letter from 13-year-old me, under my real name, talking about this exact feature, and extolling it. I hate to refer to anything so mundane as my real name, but, there you have it.

I like variety. I enjoyed the original Star Wars trilogy, I enjoyed the prequels (yes, I did; and yes, I know I seem to be the only one), and I have enjoyed these new Star Wars films. Would I do it differently if I was in charge? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate different imaginings of that universe and those characters.

I talked to my child afterwards, and the review there was positive as well. I also got a follow-up positive review of my parenting, so the visit seemed appreciated.

I spoke to my mom on Christmas day, and it was bad. She wasn’t quite sure who I was, and when she realized who I was, she didn’t really care. I found out later that she had a cough and so had kept herself confined to her room for the week (she lives in an assisted living facility), and that her boyfriend had gone home for the week, as well. In other words, she was having a bad week.

It blows my mind to think of it, but, when my mom was born, not only were moon rockets and television a thing of the future, Hitler had yet to be named Chancellor in Germany. Things like “Star Wars” were certainly far beyond her dreams as a child. The changes of the world can weigh us down, too, along with all the other grief and loss that comes with aging. So, you find what joy you can in family while you have them — even when they don’t seem to be getting that much joy out of you.

“We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda says. Our children typically outgrow us, as we did our parents, and they did theirs. Which I find oddly comforting, for some reason. There is unity in the acceptance of differences.

There is also peace in the acceptance of change. So peace to all of you, with whatever changes you might be experiencing… even if it’s uncomfortable changes in your favorite film series.


Photo credit : ID 77103536 Clif Haley | Dreamstime

Images

I was watching a documentary on World War II, and I realized how ridiculous it all is. I mean, the Hitler character is clearly a Mary Sue. He’s some kind of Austrian corporal or private, and then suddenly he’s dictator of most of Europe. It strains credulity.


I was looking at some photos of my wife and myself way back when we got engaged, and I had forgotten how outrageously good looking we were:

To be fair, my wife actually IS that good looking. I look more like someone you’d try to identify in a police lineup.


Most dramatic scenes in the history of… dramatic scenes:

3rd Place: The death scene from “La Traviata”.

2nd Place: The scene in “Terms of Endearment” where the mom has to say goodbye to her sons.

1st Place: My four year old grandson, when he thinks no one will play with him.


Of course, I have a lot of room to talk about being overly dramatic. This is pretty much me:


Here’s an actual picture of my wife and I, getting ready to set out on a road trip:

Magpies

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird,
You must not miss.


I saw seven birds overhead while walking this morning, and was reminded of an old nursery rhyme about magpies.

I don’t know if kids learn nursery rhymes anymore. They were a sort of an ancestral link, much like various proverbs and sayings are. This country is rich in many cultural traditions, this particular one is either Scottish or English, but nursery rhymes are a common phenomenon across many cultures.

At any rate, I remembered that “seven” was for “a secret / never to be told.” So I won’t.

One that I occasionally still hear, is

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonnie and blithe and good and gay.


For the record, I was born on a Monday. If “fair” means “light-skinned; prone to sunburn” this is no doubt accurate, but I’m not sure that is the intended meaning. I feel more like a Thursday’s child, truthfully. I have very far to go, and the same indeterminate time to get there everyone else has.


I gave the bad news: how the older gentleman we’d always been so fond of had suffered a stroke, was being moved to hospice, and was not expected to live. The voice on the other end of the phone seemed shocked — talking about what a horrible and lonely week it had been: trying to make friends, but not really connecting; trying to live healthy, but wondering if it was even worth it; wanting to move, but without the money to do it or even a hope of ever earning it.

On wanting hormone replacement therapy. On wanting to be accepted.

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird,
You must not miss.


One for sorrow. For who we are, and what we must face.

Two for joy. All joy to all of you, wherever you can find it.

Three for a girl / Four for a boy. Especially for all of those who feel they were not born as they should have been.

Five for silver / Six for gold. Hope for all those who despair of ever having enough of either.

Seven for a secret / Never to be told. Safety and security for all who remain tethered to their secrets.

Eight for a wish / Nine for a kiss. To hope and love, two of the very greatest of all things.

Ten for a bird / You must not miss. To magpies.

May you all find them, today, in exactly the right number.

How I See Myself

“I will never be loved for who I am; I can only be loved for what I can do.”

This is how I see myself.

This is how I have seen myself for as long as I have memories.


There is an age at which girls start to notice and like “cute boys”. I remember girls discussing it in the lunchroom, on the bus, on the ramps between classes. I remember my older sister and her friends talking about cute boys at school.

It doesn’t take a terribly observant guy to determine whether or not they are in the “cute boy” category.

I was not.

So, some boys got favorable attention merely by walking in a room. Others of us drew scorn through the same action. Or worse than scorn: being ignored completely, as though we were not really there at all.


There then came an age where kids start having “parties”. These weren’t birthday parties staged by parents, these were music and dancing parties, for boys and girls.

I know about these parties, because friends of mine were invited. I was not. Not once. Not ever.

Even in a world of relative economic sameness, people will form “haves” and “have-nots”. In this case, the “haves” are people you would want at a party. Simple. Elegant, even. An upper class of desirability (normally termed “popularity”) determined in the most straightforward manner possible.

But that was okay, I reasoned, because I could use the time to practice the piano. Having no “social life” of this sort, I could use my energies to learn to do something. After all, I reasoned, girls like musicians — even the ugly ones.


I was wrong, of course. I played classical and jazz piano, which didn’t exactly bring in groupies. It did give me an outlet, though.


Another age came, one where the desire to get close to girls was so great, boys attempt to approach them, even when they know they have no hope. But we try.

I tried.

What resulted was various girls reenacting the scene from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” where a hand is forcibly reached into a chest, and a beating human heart is withdrawn from a soon-to-be collapsed victim.

Why did I think relationships were even possible? I would ask myself every time. But the urge was too great, and I kept trying. I am not a cute boy. I have no chance.

To top things off, at that age, I didn’t have a lot of empathy, either. There were any number of girls and boys in the same situation I was in, but I had yet to really notice. I was too self-absorbed.


Not long after this age, I started to make female friends. The most popular topic among the girls I was friends with was their boyfriend. However, that was far from the only subject: there was music, and movies, and spirituality, and classes, and family…I found, in fact, that I could have conversations with girls pretty easily.

I had shifted my musical repertoire so it would include popular songs of that day, which allowed music to be a connection rather than a divider, as it had been previously.

Since a lot of girls seemed to date guys who didn’t really talk to them, I became a sort of go-to expert on why boys behaved the way they did. So by the age of sixteen I was running a sort of free counseling service.

At this point, I had started to develop the first glimmers of something like empathy, although, to begin with, my empathy lay almost entirely with the guys in these relationships. I wanted female company so badly, that I took it on the terms I could get; as a confidant.

I wasn’t, so far as I knew, any girl’s desire, as a guy. However, they desired my listening. So there was my in: they weren’t going to like me for who I was, but for what I could do for them.


After that, I made a rather fateful tactical decision.

So many girls I knew dated guys who treated them badly – or even loved guys who treated them badly – that I hypothesized that “treating girls badly” was the secret key to popularity. I had just turned seventeen, and, acting on this hypothesis, I made myself over. I quit piano lessons. I got contacts and shed my glasses. And I stopped being a shoulder for every girl to cry on.

Within two weeks, I had my first real girlfriend. Within three months, I was on girlfriend number four, and she was one of the most “popular” girls in school.

This confirmed what I had thought: I couldn’t attract girls being me; I had to be not-me. I choked off any incipient signs of empathy and acted almost completely selfishly. As a result, I was no longer alone.

But I hated myself for it.


I wasn’t like most of the boys I knew.

If her car was broken, I was clueless.

I played hours and hours of pickup basketball, but I was no athlete.

I got in fights, but I wasn’t a fighter.

I was the complete opposite of the “strong, silent type”. Strong, silent types were the male ideal.

The thing about acting is, if you do it long enough with one person, the fact that you are acting starts to come out. My complete lack of confidence, and belief that girls would always want someone other than me, would show through after a while, dooming every relationship.

At that age, girls wanted a monopoly on lack-of-confidence in a relationship. They could have it, but they guy needed to be confident. “Confident, but not arrogant” was (and is) their common mantra.

I was masking my lack of confidence under arrogance. I couldn’t keep it up.


So, I basically gave up. After a few years of pursuing girls using a fake version of me, I just stopped. I dated no one, saw no one, spoke to no one.

I was out of college by this time, so I just worked, came home, and wrote music. Music no one ever heard.

Loneliness, though, was like acid; it ate away, and ate away, and ate away at me, until one day, I cracked. I shattered, then tried to jump out of, a high window at work.


Fast forward to today, and I am reliving this entire part of the history of the first half of my life with Angela, my therapist.

“So you believe that many people are loved for ‘who they are’, and you are not?”

“That’s correct, yes.”

“What does that mean?”

“In its simplest form, loved for how they look.”

“Simplest form? What other forms are there?”

“Loved just because. They don’t have to do anything, or act any certain way to merit love. They are loved, because they are lovable — whatever that means.”

“Are you loved?”

“Yes, I am, I am very fortunate in that regard. But I have to try to earn it, every day.”

“What are you afraid of?”

“Losing my usefulness.”

“What will happen if you do?”

Long pause.

Still thinking.

Mailboxes

I’m fascinated by mailboxes. There, I said it.

As a child, I believed that everyone was connected to everyone else through mailboxes, which made them magical. Indeed, I thought everyone, past, present, and future, was connected in this way; for instance, I believed I could send letters to my dead grandfather, and he would answer, if I just put my letter in the right mailbox. And that if I could shrink down to the right size, I could ride the magic connection between mailboxes to anytime and anywhere to see anyone.

Years later, I had the same sort of idea about Subway restaurants, where they were all connected underground. You can see I spent a lot of time alone with my imagination as a kid.

As an eight-year-old, I remember reading a book about Benjamin Franklin pioneering the postal service in this country, and realized, to my dismay, that people from even older historical times than he had been were unlikely to have ever had mailboxes. This didn’t exactly destroy the magic I associated with them, but it lessened it.

Bugs Bunny cartoons had also the effect of making think that the post office in real life was kind of slow, as he always received packages seconds after mailing off for them.

My fascination with bits of commercial technology was shared by my brother, although other objects appealed to him. He was, at one time, the world’s foremost child expert on water towers. Since our family took long car trips every summer, he would be looking for all his favorite sights (water towers, fire stations, bridges, and antique stores) while I looked for mine (mailboxes, hotels, gas stations, and abandoned buildings of any kind).

My sister, who was a sane person, would be asleep.

My all time favorite commercial sight to see while traveling, was the so-called “Great Sign” of a Holiday Inn:

A photo cannot do one of these signs justice.

However, we typically confined our driving to daylight hours, so I usually only saw these in their full nighttime glory if we stayed at one. Which was always, unless we stayed with relatives; my family loved that chain.

Driving in the country, which is still one of my favorite activities, often allowed for sightseeing of the most remarkable kinds. I remember us driving through the Ozark mountains one summer, which I thought was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.

I notice, when I’m looking for pictures for my poetry blog or this blog, that I often seek out the same objects I loved as a child, realizing that while we age and change, some parts of us never do. Part of what has always made me feel “different” than most people I’m around is how simple and trivial most of my enthusiasms are. I like convenience stores. I like commercial art. I like blogs. I like unpretentious, everyday things, because … well, just because.

And yes, I like mailboxes.

Although

Although I speak,
My light was meant to listen;
Though I might sing,
My body’s meant to dance —-

We’re really made
Of more than our intentions:
Choice, place, and time,
Those spawns of circumstance,

Design the game,
The rules that we must move in.
With glimpses few
Of what’s outside the lines —

Although I write,
My light was made for silence
In worlds beyond, which baffle

Our designs

At Twenty

(At twenty, she was everything to me)
  She lay out in the warming April sun
(At once, both remedy and malady)
  To bask as though the summer had begun
  Or maybe, just for her, the only one.
(I loved her with a love both strong and true:
  And she was like, ‘just who the hell are you?’)

  In college: she, a princess and a star
(I was a jester, a nonentity)
  The light of any class and ev’ry bar
(I had no me, no real identity;
  Just hopes for virtue, and for devilry)
An April when the world was hers to hold
And fleeting touches turned to lasting gold

(I died at twenty much more than I lived)
  She was both perfect heart and vanity;
(I never had the knack, but had the gift)
  She grew into her mind, and her humanity
  Soon blossomed into balance, hope, and sanity.
(While I went on to madness, and to rue:
  At twenty, that was all that I could do)