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.

The Flower That Once

At lunchtime, I see her sitting down by the river. Who she is, I do not know, nor will I ever.

I’m not really a “people watcher”, at least as that term is typically used where I live. People watchers around here are a very judgmental group.

I do wonder about people, though; what stories they could tell me. Among people I actually do meet, I have something of an ability to draw stories out of them, I think mostly because, I’m interested.

I finish my lunch and go. I’ll never know what her story is.

As I’m driving away, a stanza from the Rubaiyat comes to mind:

“Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.”

Where I Come From…

I grew up in Florida, in a flat country near the Gulf of Mexico, spending most of that time near or on the bayous that feed the bay that then feeds into the Gulf. Because we were on the far side of the bay for most of that time, trips to the beach were common, but not frequent. The bayous, on the other hand, were every day things; we drove over them, past them, walked by them, swam in them.

On the map linked to above, the bayous are the little fingers reaching inland from the bay. You can see them around Fort Walton Beach (where I lived when I was very little, then again in my 20’s) and Niceville (where I lived near the rest of the time, and went to high school), in a tiny town called Valparaiso.

I was not, as a child, renowned for my cheerfulness. I loved the water, though; swimming, skiing, diving — whatever there was to do in water, or on water, I liked it. Given the climate, those pursuits were usually available something like 6 months per year.


My parents had very strong and definite views on ethics and morality. They hated racism, or any other type of “superiorism” of any kind. My father’s family was from the branch of the Republican party whose main purpose had been the elimination of slavery, and then the fight for equality under the law for the entire citizenry. My mom had grown up in abject poverty, and her sympathies always lay with the downtrodden. She was (and is) a Democrat, and while she and my father joked that they cancelled out each other’s vote every election, they came from much the same moral view, which was why it worked.

Again, and for entirely different reasons, neither of my parents drank alcohol, smoked, or used profanities or obscenities of any kind. For my mom, it was her reaction to having grown up with an alcoholic father and abusive uncles; she was the only one of of her family (fifteen children in all!) who didn’t drink or cuss. 50% of my father’s family turned out to be either ministers or missionaries, so they approached teetotalism from a different angle; nevertheless, it was another area of compatibility between my parents.

It wasn’t until high school that I realized there was anything “different” about my parents. Since most of my friends (already) drank alcohol by age sixteen, and since their parents all did, and since no one had parents who didn’t swear on occasion, I realized my parents were unusual in this regard. My father’s career as an Air Force officer had suffered (considerably) due to his not being “one of the boys”. But he did what he thought was right and took the consequences.


At the age of about seven, I came home from school and repeated an ethnic joke I’d heard at school. I’d never seen my parents so angry. I’ve never told or countenanced another once since.

To my mother and father, making ethnic distinctions of any kind, for any reason, made you no better than the Nazis. And millions upon millions of people had died, horribly, to defeat them.

“There is no difference between anyone and anyone else,” my mother told me. “Same God, same worth. No difference.”


Just in case you think this turns into a tale about my parents’ ultimate hypocrisy — it does not. My sister, who was the oldest of my parents’ three kids, dated boys of every race and creed, and my parents welcomed every one of them. They lived exactly the way they talked, and they treated everyone the same.


If you go back to the map linked to, above, you can find Eglin Air Force Base, in between Fort Walton Beach and Niceville. That had been my father’s last duty station before retiring from military service. We lived on the base for 5 years, on a street called Bens Lane, which is actually on the map. We would have been in that house between the ages of 5 and 10 for me.

One of the most common experiences I have heard people relate in my lifetime is how small things seem once you grow up and go back to where you came from. You know, small trees, small backyard — things that seemed huge when you were a kid.

I myself, however, have not had that experience. Things seem pretty much like I remember them being.

The main difference I have noticed is the difference things like Google Maps has made. Geography to me, as a kid, was one of the most fascinating and mysterious things in the world; I always thought there might be another street, another hill, another creek I didn’t know about, because there frequently was. Satellite mapping has removed all the mystery from geography in a way I find very sad. No countryside I travel through seems as exotic as it once was.

Discovery is one of the things we are built for; the modern world is one where discovery is difficult, as everywhere we go, we find the signs of others who’ve been there before us, and who’ve left little for us to explain or understand anew.

Writers, artists, and musicians struggle with this, of course; the feeling that things you might want to say have already been said is an oppressive (and depressing) one.


If you were to ask me where I come from, how would I answer?

I could answer my describing the geography of the part of Florida I grew up in.

I could answer with stories about my parents: either their ideas, or the way those ideas worked out in practice.

I could answer with stories about how the world I came from is no more; something true for all of us, even if we were born yesterday.

But the fact is, where we come from is only part of our story; it is our interactions with our surroundings and circumstances that make us who we are.

And Google has yet to map human souls.

A Beautiful Failure

And then, there are those days when clarity arrives; when you realize that what-you-really-want and what-you-thought-you-wanted are two totally different things… divergent things, really.

There are those days. “Epiphanies” they are sometimes called.


For almost the entirety of this last year, I have been battling insomnia. My own particular form works like this: I go to bed and I fall asleep; however, far earlier that might seem healthy, I wake with a start and am unable to get back to sleep.

So I get up, go to the gym, come home, and write… like I am doing right now. This particular morning, my “wake-up time” was 2:45 am. (I am writing this three days before it is scheduled to post.)

It’s not hard to figure out what it is that wakes me up at night, because it is (almost) always the same thing: thoughts about work. In real life, I work in a little place called “Corporate America”, and where my job responsibilities directly effect thousands of employees, millions of customers, and millions of shareholders. A short description would be that I am the person at my company responsible for knowing everything that is going to happen before it actually happens.

So, no stress there.

A couple of days ago, I was approached about going back into the area I started out in with the company. It would mean leaving the “futile attempt to be omniscient” division, instead working in the “actually helping human beings” department.

You might think, by those descriptions, I would have immediately jumped at the opportunity when it was raised, but I did not. My honest initial reaction was to try to figure out first whether or not I had failed at the job I’m actually in.

As I proceeded then to discuss this with my wife, two of my co-workers, and one of my best online (blog) friends, their reactions were virtually unanimous: take the new job, it’s a godsend, this job is killing you.

This job is killing me?

“Yes,” says one of my coworkers. “I’ve seen what it’s done to you this last year. I hate seeing you like this.”

I won’t belabor the point here, it is my intention to take the new job. What’s interesting to me is how much my obsessive desire to be “good at” whatever I happen to be doing has resulted in unhealthy or even warped thinking. I didn’t seek out the job I happen to have now; I was chosen for it. I’ve been aware of having some shortcomings in the position. I should have immediately jumped at a chance to do something I know I love doing, but I hesitated because I hate to think I “failed” at anything.

And yet, by normal standards, I’ve “failed” at a lot of things. My first marriage. Being a father. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.


My first really large failure — at least, in my mind — was at age eight when I realized I was never going to be a great painter.

I was taking painting lessons from a tiny woman who had an art studio and taught something like 30 students. I had it all worked out in my head: I was going to be a world famous painter. So I listened carefully to all her instructions, and applied myself diligently. Only…

I have no eye, and I notice almost nothing, visually. I was horrible, really, but it took awhile to dawn on me. However, dawn on me, it did.

I loved paintings. My father was an artist, and I wanted to be like him; I just didn’t have it in me.

After a year of lessons, my art teacher had an “awards ceremony” (this was 1970, in case you think such things are only a recent phenomenon) where they gave out awards like “best still life” “best human figure” “best use of color” and so on. Eventually, everyone in the studio had an award, except me.

Oh, but she had thought of one. I received the “Most Original Style” award, which was a polite way of saying “what the hell is that you just painted”?

So right after the ceremony, I quit. I told my parents I didn’t want to take art lessons any more.

They argued, as some of you no doubt may try to do, that having an “original style” is what all artists strive for. Yeah, well, I wasn’t striving for it: I wanted people to be able to tell what it was I painted.

My parents asked me to reconsider and stay at it. I was obdurate: I wasn’t going back. They relented.

I did regret it, later, but in a weirdly ambiguous way. I regretted the loss of my dream of being an artist. I couldn’t really regret quitting lessons, because, I was a horrible painter.

Epiphanies don’t always make you happier at first.

A year or so after that, I started piano lessons, and that was much more my thing. So then I was happier.


The Beautiful One, who is peacefully sleeping right now on our bed, wants me to take this new job and find some peace of mind. It is my intention to take the job; as to peace of mind, that remains to be seen.

In this very room is one of the paintings I painted at eight years old. It’s not a great painting, but it’s a beautiful kind of failure: a still life painted with that combination of dreams and illusions that make up human hope.

So here’s to beautiful failure: for while failure is inevitable, in many ways, the desire and search for beauty, truth, and goodness are what really matters.

Frozen Farm Track At Sunrise

I love the picture affixed to this essay. I feel like it’s a picture of place I once was, that I remember vividly, even though… I wasn’t ever there, and my memories seem made up. Many of you will (correctly) think I’m crazy for reacting this way, but some of you, a special few, will know the feeling I’m describing.

Blogging: bringing the disenfranchised together, one weirdo at a time.


I frequently start with photos as inspiration for posts; I purchase almost all the images I use from Dreamstime.com. This particular photo is by a photographer named Kevin Eaves. He’s from the UK.

I mostly write poetry; it turns out, there’s a word for poetry inspired by painting or photography or other arts, it’s called ekphrastic poetry, and the process itself is called ekphrasis.

I know you come to this blog primarily to learn obscure Greek terms for things, so I oblige.


She wasn’t awake yet, so
I dressed and left to take a walk,
Looking at her, a lambent miracle,
Still asleep in the old farm bed —

The type of terrain was
Strange to me; I come from
Flat beach country, where
Hills are few, and snow is
Never

The air was cold and bracing, and
I could see my own breath in steam

What a night it had been

What a surprise all that was

What beautiful country it was, as
The early morning light hazed gray
Over the winter landscape

And it wasn’t even love, it was
Just the joy of knowing
Love might be

Possible


Love is its own excuse, of course: we love because we love to love.

That I love this photograph is an oddity, perhaps, but it is a fact: I love this picture.