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)