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.”

{ sacred space }

I come home late from a long work day, 
 and she is tired.
Leaning back in a chair, popcorn for dinner, 
 I can tell:
 another chaotic day providing for others
 has left little of herself.
She uses this time to shut down, and recover.

The best love I can give is 
 to tell her I love her, then 
 leave her be;
 I remember she is in constant pain, and that 
 She cannot keep all of what she gives away.

Yes, I too ache, but 
 I do not need that validated: 
 the most sacred space in love 
 is that which we respect between us.

Wood and Wire

I ask the music, for a time, 
To carry me to somewhere else; 
Another time, some kind of place 
Where troubles stop, and tension melts -- 

But it's a lot to ask, I guess. 
Creating island and lagoon 
From wood and wire, dust and string, 
When it too's tired, and 

Out of tune

It’s 3:30 in the morning as I type this and yesterday was not a great day.

I am sixty years old, but still feel shocked, saddened, and naive when confronted with the ugly realities of everyday life. I know it shouldn’t surprise me, but, it does. Over and over again.

Since I was born with a limited capacity to process and absorb reality, I have long used the arts as a place I could call… if not “home”, maybe like “an affordable hotel”. The piano has been the primary place for this, but it could be writing, or reading, or coloring, or… you get the picture. Or maybe you don’t, so here is some examples of pictures I recently colored using the Color Therapy app:

Reality is overrated, anyway. I mean, sure, that’s where you find all the food and stuff, but, it’s also where things like “assault” live.

Whether fortunate, or unfortunate, I have to spend most of my hours firmly within reality. On days like yesterday (which was not a great day) I feel pretty much like the piano pictured at the top of this post: chipped, dusty, and scantly able to perform my original purpose, which I’ve largely forgotten, anyway.

The best escape from reality isn’t always by way of fantasy, but into other people’s realities. That’s one of the beauties of “Nano Poblano”: reading other people’s blogs and seeing what their lives, loves, and struggles might be like.

Yesterday was not a great day. But maybe today will be.

A Trusted Advisor

People tell me things. I find this to be strange, as my perception is that I rarely shut up long enough for the other person to get a word in edgewise. Yet hardly a day goes by that someone or other isn’t telling me some kind of secret, unsolicited.

Maybe I’m really a bartender, and just haven’t learned to accept it — possibly because I don’t drink alcohol.

Recently, a very young woman who works at our company cafe told me that she doesn’t understand guys at all, and wishes she could find one who actually saw her, and heard her, and liked-her-as-her, not for what they hoped they could get from her.

I told her that there are indeed guys like that out there.

Where? she asked.

The fact that I get a biscuit and a Coke Zero five mornings a week has apparently qualified me as a relationship counselor, so I gave her the most Dad-like advice I could think of, namely:

“Find activities you like to do with other people, both men and women, and where you aren’t there primarily for the purpose of meeting anyone. If you meet someone, great; if not, you should be able to have fun anyway.”

She said that was actually do-able, so she’d try it and let me know how it went. Then she gave me my biscuit for free.

Okay, I made up that last part.

I am not quite sure why it is people trust me; I don’t trust me, and I’ve known me quite a while. Maybe people mistake my predictability for reliability; getting the same breakfast every day isn’t the most accurate indicator of emotional stability, however.

I am sixty years old, so I would say there’s a grandfather thing going on, but truthfully, things have been like this since I was about sixteen years old. Choosing me as a confidant has never seemed like the wisest choice, to me; but people did it, do it, and will seemingly keep doing it, so, there you go.

Currently, I’ve driven a ways out of town to some farmland to watch the sun set. Sundays, I will often go out for drives in the country; it’s lovely around here, and particularly in the fall.

Thinking about what I wrote, above, I realize: I tell all of you who read this blog my secrets, it’s only fair that people in real life tell me theirs.

It’s some kind of balance.

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.

I called her on a Friday…

I called her on a Friday, 
To see if she was well; 
She told me she'd sold everything 
For two snails and a shell -- 

And so, I took her for a ride 
Out in the autumn air; 
We soaked in all that countryside 
And laid our secrets bare -- 

We climbed into an afterworld, 
Where silence was the rule: 
We broke into the one last vault 
For that remaining jewel -- 

I woke up on a Saturday 
Unable, much, to feel: 
I reached for her, but wasn't sure 
How much of it was real -- 

We heroes and we heroines 
Who grow up queens and kings 
Of snails and shells and countrysides 
And silences 

And things