In The Storm of Comparison

I have had problems with envy throughout my life. Because I was born an ugly child, I’ve always envied good-looking people. In fact, I still do, even though I married into a family full of them. Envy, of course, is born of comparison, and our ability to make comparisons is often imperfect and distorted.

When you are an ugly child, people around you will let you know, as children typically comment immediately on anything that seems unusual to them. This comes from lack of empathy and perspective, of course, but we all know adults who behave the same way, commenting on people or to people about whatever they think needs fixing.

In case you don’t know, ugliness is a situation many feel needs remedying, and fast.

As an early adolescent things only got worse, as my desire to not be seen as unattractive had grown considerably. The winds of pubescence blow hard, and they blew me very close to suicide. Fortunately, I found a few lights on shore to help steer me away, people who seemed to love me in spite of my rather manifest flaws.

One other thing that helped, in my later teens, was realizing I wasn’t the only one. I got to know people who envied me, not for my looks, obviously, but for other things I could do. I came to realize that envy was a kind of weird one-way comparison where we pick out what we want to focus on and ignore everything else that might lead to more qualified or nuanced conclusions. None of us are all good or all bad.


Yesterday, I went to see my nine-year old grandson compete in his first archery tournament, which he won, by the way. As he was walking out to receive his medal, the group of junior high and high school girls sitting behind us were saying things like, “Oh my God, he’s so cute!” and “Look at him!”

I’m glad for him that he gets that life to experience, and not the one I had, but the nine-year-old still inside me is envious. What I wouldn’t have given to hear that even once.


When this subject come up, people sometimes ask me if I still think of myself as ugly. The honest answer is, “yes”, but the beautiful woman I share a marriage with begs to disagree. She does wear pretty thick glasses these days, though.

The concepts of “beauty” and “ugliness”, I’ve come to think, are kind of like music: they don’t inherently mean anything, but they sure feel like they do.


This post is part of Nano Poblano 2022. Click here to experience the madness!

Where Does Love Go

“Where does love go when it’s gone?”

‘Wherever it came from.”


A message sent from Florida 
Where you and I were once... you know... 
I guess your reminiscing, since 
It seems that time, and wine, have flowed 

Into the veins you call your life. 
I say I hope I find you well, 
Then slowly you unfold a tale  
Of loss and choice, of ebb and swell -- 
 
And I see years long past remain 
Within each of us, differently. 
I seek to understand, because 
However things have come to be 

I do not, could not, wish you ill. 
You were my lover, are my friend, 
And I wish you the happiness 
Far fewer know than now pretend. 

For each of us, and all of us, 
There's nothing simple, now or then: 
There's myriads within each heart, 
Both what we are and what we've been.


When a person writes in the volume that I’ve written, it’s easy to see patterns. That’s a nice way of saying I write the same things over and over.

When I started writing poetry here, I spent much of the first few years reliving old relationships. Part of it was to better understand myself, but an equally important part of it was trying to understand better the women I had been involved with, something I don’t think I’d done a very good job of at the time.

Of course, I realized the obvious things, looking back. As a younger man, I may have been overly focused on the physical aspects of the relationship, for instance, or at least, focused to such a degree that I let other parts of relationships flounder. I also realized that being selfish comes pretty natural to me: I never had to read an article or watch a YouTube video to learn how to do it.

In addition, there was this: girls often find early that boys don’t always treat girls like, well, human beings. This tendency in us guys is very pronounced, and it is not always as ill-intentioned and baneful as it can be. I was interested in working through why I struggled to see women as just other people, then using that knowledge to better understand the actual women I had dated.

Eventually, life strips away the pretense and the fantasy in any relationship that is carried on long enough; all too frequently, then, people come to resent the other person for not being what they never were. Love is less about embracing fantasies than respecting and valuing realities.


When my ex girlfriend in the poem above messaged me, it was to talk about a breakup she had recently been through. The reasons she had broken up with him were perfectly understandable, at least to me, but I could see her struggling with the notion that it had in some way been unrealistic perfectionism on her part that had ended the relationship.

All I could think to say was, if regret could be converted to energy, it would be the ultimate renewable energy source.

“Where does love go when it’s gone?” she asked me.

“Wherever it came from,” I said. “Or to wherever it is going next.”


Signs of Things Already Past

Signs of things already past 
Are ones I love to keep: 
Outdated fliers, slogans, posters, 
Stack up pretty deep 

Here at my house. I know it's strange, 
Just add that to my list -- 
But I get off on dwelling upon 
All the things 

I've missed

A Teacher, a Painter

My mother was a teacher, and my father was a painter. I grew up in a house full of her books and his paintings.

I think it is safe to say that the modern world has as strong an interest in identity as any age before it. I chose to identify my parents by a profession (for my mom) and a hobby (for my dad) even though she didn’t become a teacher until she was around 40, and he gave up painting before I was born.

Defining an identity as being boiled down to single word or concept is part of our human tendency to want to substitute simple things for complex things. My mom was a singer, a reader, a union organizer, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a swimmer, a humorist, a melancholic. My dad was a pilot, a windsurfer, a track runner, a human rights advocate, a chorus director, an insomniac. And that only scratches the surface on each of them.

As storytellers — and I assume anyone with a blog or reading blogs is a storyteller — we struggle to transfer our known perspective through the prism of the unknown perspective of readers. So much that has become part of us — so much we have experienced — has been done without words, and that context informs our every thought. So we try to say how we feel, but our words fall short of conveying our meaning. I can describe my parents to you, though, and can bring parts of them back to life through stories. Which is just one reason why storytelling is magic.

I’m grateful to my parents, now, in ways I probably wasn’t while they were still alive. That is sad, of course, but I suspect it is common. My children, and their children, will one day describe me in some way: maybe, “he was a mathematician” or “he was a pianist”. They may also see in me some light I’ve long since lost track of. Or, they may truthfully remember the darkness in me, for there is plenty of that.

My mother was a teacher who taught me that I should never stop learning, and never stop wondering. My father was a painter who loved to show others the hidden beauty in things, and encouraged me to do the same, as best I could. And I hope for all of you the same things: truth, goodness, and beauty.


A Study in Disappointment

THERE we stood, my dad and me: 
Him staring at a painting. 
I was looking back and forth 
Between him and it. 

He asked me, 
"How many colors do you see?" 

"Green, orange, yellow... maybe blue?" 

"No, all of them. All the colors are there. 
Look, pink, purple, gray, brown, teal..." 
But I couldn't see them. 

For art doesn't begin with what you can draw, 
It starts with what you can see. 
And I was given only partial sight. 
I couldn't see it, though I tried 
With everything I had. 

It takes some doing to be a disappointment 
To your parents at age ten, 
But I managed. 

For I was not an artist, as he was, 
I was given no key that opened those locks, 
Neither at ten, nor now, 
At sixty. 

He could see what I could not; 
And he could see
That
I could not

Though, he too, clearly 
Wished I could

in a winter market (3)

As the night wound down, 
I realized, that she 
Was enjoying the safeness, 
But I, 
I felt my resolve slipping, 
So it seemed best to say 
Good night. 

I know things could have 
Gone another way; 
I know, because 
She told me later. 
But it seemed right 
To let go. 

I've been told what it is 
That we men are, 
And I would be lying 
If I didn't say that 
I am very much like 
Other men. 

For that night, though, 
I did what seemed best 
For both her and me, 
And I'm pretty sure 
I was right. 
Still, it is a magical memory: 
Perhaps, most of all, 
Because it contains 
Nothing to regret

in a winter market (2)

The conversation turned to 
Each, our latest breakup; 
The guy she thought she loved, 
And then, the gal I thought loved me -- 
And how she wanted, now, no more 
Than good coffee and freedom, 
While I was seeking inspiration, 
Music, and some peace. 

It was important right just then 
To be the unexpected, 
For something told me, everything 
Could fast go off the rails. 
It's strange how often I have been 
The guy that women trusted, 
And how I've tried to view that as 
A kind of sacred thing, 

Relationships come in all kinds, 
Varieties, and flavors; 
And sometimes being less 
Is something more.

in a winter market (1)

I wasn't supposed to be there; 
But then, I never am. 
We walked along within the lights, 
The pageantry, the crowd -- 
And she was warm and beautiful. 
I didn't understand: 
But I was just pretending then, 
Holding my breath -- 

We talked awhile of music, 
The instruments we played; 
She said she had three sisters, 
All of whom were taller. 
I could not fathom, though I tried, 
Just what it was that made her burn -- 
A winter market, Christmas lights, 
And every sort of wonder.

Comics Collecting

When you are young, 
And you take on a hobby 
That you know is made fun of, 
You are acknowledging that 
Being accepted and approved of by all 
Is not a primary goal for you, 
Or, perhaps, that it was never 
Really even possible 
On other grounds. 

When you understand how intense 
The desire to fit in somewhere is, 
Much of what you see in the world 
That would otherwise be unexplainable 
Makes sense. 

A community of outcasts is 
Still a community; 
And they can be joyous ones, 
Or crimped, restrictive ones, 
Depending on the players. 

Sometimes, we outcasts 
Welcome others, as our fellow 
Brothers and sisters, 
And sometimes, 
It's the suffering we felt 
At being outcasts 
That we want to perpetuate. 
I have been 
Both of these people. 

It is easier, with age, 
To forget why we became who we are; 
To forget what loneliness was, and 
To focus only on what disappointment is. 
Yet, we've all known joy in sharing, 
And when we can follow, share, and enjoy 
Things we truly love 
With others who truly love them 
It is a reality that is better 
Than most fantasy.