“A Tendency to Idealize…”

Having a tendency to idealize girls is not a bad place for an adolescent boy to start in terms of his relationships with girls, since it’s based on a kind of respect for them. However, continuing to idealize women isn’t where you should end up if you are a grown man.

The foundation of any mutual relationship is respect, and that, in turn, is based on a type of equality of importance. The needs and desires of both parties are equally important. Idealizing undermines this equality, because, in doing so, you treat neither yourself nor the other party fairly. This may seem paradoxical, on the surface, but let’s look at how this can work, in real life.

Let us imagine a teenage boy who sees girls (or the ones he is interested in) as unapproachable models of perfection. He will fantasize about them, but also see himself as unworthy of their attention. If he is not a particularly popular boy, he will find ample support for his hypothesis of unworthiness in the awkwardness of his encounters with girls, lack of dates, and so on.

A common occurrence as adolescence continues is to grow bitter: he sees guys he considers to be ‘jerks’ having more success (or what he deems to be success) with girls, and concludes that girls don’t like nice guys, whereupon he decides either (a) to moan about it, or (b) to become a jerk himself.

If he then becomes an adult, carrying forward this same attitude, he becomes one of an army of men whose discontent with women is based on a faulty premise: namely, that “being a jerk” is the key to getting all women to like you. Note the underlined words, and you begin to see the problem.

The problem with idealizing is that it doesn’t see people for who they are, as individuals. Any woman is different from all other women, and may differ in any number of ways. There is no “technique” to getting girls, there are just people forming relationships with other people.

In the end, idealizing any group of people or being contemptuous of that same group are forms of the same mistake: the refusal to see people as individuals whose lives, perspectives, and desires are as valid as our own. It also makes conversation about real world things next to impossible, as having cramps or intestinal problems aren’t things idealized humans have, while real ones may at any time.

This is, to me, one of the reasons so many women react with vehemence to men who say that “women don’t like nice guys”. Or, for that matter, the women who say “men only like mean girls”. There is no monolithic thing called “men” or “women” that acts as a single organism with one purpose. We are all different. And any relationship based on a stereotype rather than experience of the actual individual is doomed to failure before it even starts.

The key to getting out of this mindset (for me at least) was already contained within me, namely: I liked being friends with women when I wasn’t particularly attracted to them, and fell naturally into the sorts of “friendships of equality” that lead to real conversations and intimacy. The more I talked to people of all kinds, young and old, male and female, the more I realized that people, at heart, are kind of all the same, in the sense that we want to live fulfilled lives, experience closeness, and have the freedom to express themselves.


And now, my love, tonight we’ll be
The way we are when we’re alone:
No pretense need be tendered here,
Whatever’s real can now be shown

However that may be or feel.
However long it takes to know
What we can mention, we can manage,
And that I’ll go wherever you

May go

Summertime, 15 Years Old.

Summertime, 15 years old. I would practice the piano a few hours in the mornings, then head out on my bicycle. I would ride out, some days, to a little town called Seminole, on the far north part of the bay about 8 or so miles away. Other days, I would go in the opposite direction, all the way out to the beach, which was 14 miles away.

At that age, I was largely fueled by my unpopularity, so I could ride quite a ways.

Just riding was my main purpose in riding, but occasionally I would ride by the house of a girl I liked, imagining various scenarios that never happened. I don’t believe I ever actually approached these houses, except once, and that went, not as I imagined it, but as you no doubt can imagine it now:

Me: Hi. Is Pam home?

Mom: Yes. [Over her shoulder] Pam!? Somebody at the door!

Pam: [Running up breathlessly looking excited, then crestfallen] Oh. Um, hi.

Me: I was, uh… just riding by, and I thought I would, um… say hi.

Pam: Hi.

[Silence]

Me: Okay, well, enjoy your summer.

Pam: [Rolling her eyes] Yeah. You, too. [Door closes]

If I live to be a hundred, that will still be the prototype for a lifetime of interactions with women. Girls like boys, just… not me.


When I would ride out the Seminole route, I would get to where there were farms: my best friend’s grandfather had one out that way. I didn’t actually visit the place until a year or so later, when he was old enough to drive us out there.

For those of you who’ve never lived where there are dirt roads, they are interesting to navigate on a bicycle. I had the sort of standard issue 1970’s bicycle: it wasn’t a dirt bike or a ten-speed or anything fancy, just a bicycle large enough to hold someone my age, although I was skinny as a rail… I think I weighed less than 115 pounds, and that was possibly from so much bicycle riding.

We did not wear helmets or elbow or knee pads when we rode, back in those days, and I had a few memorable falls, most commonly, from getting a pant leg caught in the gears. However, in the summer, wearing shorts, that was not a thing, so falls then were rare. I remember having turned down a dirt road that summer, passed a group of mailboxes, and starting to skid on a little hill on the road. Rather than fall, I just sort of put my feet down and slowed enough to walk the bike upright. As I slowed to a stop to look back and see if I had hit anything, I heard a voice from the yard nearby:

Girl: You okay?

Me: Yeah, just, not used to this type of road I guess.

Girl: It’s Owen, right?

Me: Yeah, oh, hi! You’re James’ sister, right? Ann?

Girl: That’s right. What are doing out this way? No one comes out here!

Me: I’m just riding. And not very well.

We looked at each other in silence for a bit.

Ann: Well, I’d ask you inside, but my parents would kill me.

Me: Yeah, and I need to get back home. Besides, I’ve quite a bit of mud on me.

I rode back home, took a shower, and sat down to do my afternoon piano practicing. My dad made pizza that night, which was my favorite meal we had at home. I remember reading some book or other for a while, then going bed. And as I lay in bed, something in my head suddenly clunked into place:

Well, I’d ask you inside, but my parents would kill me.

Wait a minute, what? She would… what? What had just happened? What was she saying?

My imagination went into overdrive.


It rained the next day. The day after that, I rode my happy self back out to Seminole. Turned down that dirt road. Marched up to that door. Knocked.

James answered, with the sound of two dogs barking right behind him.

James: Hey, Owen. Ann mentioned you came by.

Owen: Yeah. Now that I know where you live, I thought I’d say hi. Are your parents here?

James: No, they took Ann up to my Aunt and Uncle’s for the summer. That’s why the dogs are in the house with me. They are normally in the back, but, I’m supposed to keep them here with me until they get back.

Owen: How long will Ann be there?

James: Until school starts.

I told him I didn’t want to make him have to hold the attack dogs back, and turned to leave.

James: Do you play D&D? A bunch of us are playing at Ken’s this Friday. He lives near you, if you want to come, be there at 6:00.

Me: Thanks. That sounds like fun, so long as you don’t mind having a rookie. I’ve never played.

About halfway back home, it started to rain, and when it rains in Florida, in RAINS. I came in the house dripping wet, using one of the towels we kept near the front door to kind of towel off and/or stand on before heading to the shower.

Me: Dad, do you mind if I go over to Ken’s Friday? Some friends are meeting to play games.

Dad: That’s fine with me if it’s okay with your Mother.

Mother [from the other room]: And it’s fine with me. What time will you be home?

Me: I don’t know. Midnight? 1:00?

Both: Okay.


To move, to ride, to wander free —
To be just where you want to be –
No work, no stress, no crowd, no school:
The one good part of being so

Uncool

Hit The Door

To hit the door and keep on going,
That is his desire;
To turn his back and just walk out,
To leave it all behind –

So many people, everywhere
Become a slave to something,
And turn to powder underneath
A voluntary

Grind


If you had it to do all over again, would you?

Your work choices? Where you live? Your relationships?

Or would you choose… a different life?

We can’t go backwards, of course. As Kierkegaard said, “It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”

So, what can you learn today from how you answered the questions above? What is your pathway to better?


I often wonder about this, not so much where I’m concerned, but where the people closest to me are concerned.

My wife sometimes tells me stories about the days before I met her: owning businesses, traveling, exploring. The days before she had a husband, kids, her current responsibilities. Days she obviously misses. And I wonder, Does she rue her choices? Would she do it differently if she could?

Did she used to be happier?

Did she… settle?

I realize that husbands aren’t supposed to have the kind of thoughts and insecurities that I have, but, there it is.


I’m a poet, so I prefer to work with individuals rather than generalities. If someone decides to leave a job, or a career, or a relationship, I’m interested in the specific circumstances of the story.

Everyone one of us has left something or somebody behind in our lifetimes, and has had it done to us. It might be friendships that drift away, lost or left jobs, or any other type of thing. And every story is different.

When we can see other people’s problems and pains, and start to feel them rather than minimize them or explain why ours are worse, we begin to really feel empathy.

And we could almost all stand to feel a little more of that.

The Envious Type

As an awkward, lonely, and somewhat homely adolescent boy, I viewed the couples I started to see around at that age with a mixture of fascination and envy. I genuinely felt that being part of a couple was a thing that could and would never happen for me.

It eventually did, but, not with any marked degree of success.

I was kind of a mess.

By the time I got into my twenties, I was entering into a series of relationships of varying lengths, none lasting more than half a year, and most, more like half a minute. I would go through long fallow periods of dating no one, and the envy I felt when seeing other couples returned.

I got to thinking about this after watching a recent episode of This Is Us. There, they show Kate, as an adult, going on a retreat meant for couples with her mother, because her husband backed out at the last minute. The show did a good job of portraying her seeing seemingly happy couples everywhere, although it was never said. But they got the point across.

Envy is an emotion I come back to thinking about again and again, because I think it is a far bigger part of human motivation than it is usually given credit (blame?) for. Boredom and envy are both like that: huge contributors to why we are how we are, but typically downplayed for more glamorous motivations like greed, lust, or the desire for power.

It is through the mechanism of envy that a lot of people end up resenting other people for being either happy, fortunate, or both. It isn’t enough to wish we were more happy or fortunate, we want other people to be less so – which is crazy, by the way.


Just walking across campus,
You see them reading there:
The happy couple on the lawn
As if without a care –

And anger comes, but it’s not right:
That twistedness we get to —
For envy’s anger borne from sorrow
We will not

Admit to


Competitiveness, by the way, is arguably a type of preemptive envy. We hate other people having things we don’t to such a degree that we organize our whole existence around it. This is the largest single motivating force that athletics has: it’s not the “pursuit of excellence” — although that may be a by-product — it’s the pursuit of making sure you are object of envy rather than a participant in it.

Competition is a very real part of life: we compete for attention, for dates, for jobs, and so on. However, one can’t help but notice that we tend to turn things into competitions that aren’t. Below is an actual conversation I had with someone online about two years ago.

Owen: I’ve been listening to some Orchestral music by Norman Dello Joio. I really like it.

Friend: Why do people always talk about Aaron Copland when they talk about American composers? There are a lot of good ones, like Dello Joio, who never get a hearing.

Owen: But he did get a hearing, I’m listening to his music now. And why can’t I like both?

Friend: Copland is SO overrated. I can’t believe he’s your favorite.

Owen: I didn’t say… oh, never mind.

Competitiveness in the arts is understandable, of course, even if its often coarse and catty expression can be discouraging. After all, attention is a type of popularity contest, and we all know how those go.

“Poorly for most of us”, is the answer, for you popular people out there.

Oh, how I envy you.

The Beauty You Bring

Indigenous in apathy,
Outnumbering outsiders:
A caliphate of calories,
A slew of slinging sliders –

A parent who, apparently,
Fastidious in fasting,
Was never late, but never there,
And last in being

Lasting


Even when I deliberately write what I think of as vaguely musical nonsense, people will see meaning in it.

As a poet, this is ideal. Poets are supposed to have no idea what we’re saying, but say it in such a way that everyone else does.

When it comes to having no idea what I’m saying: I have that part down. I even use that skill in real life. As to people having some idea what I’m saying, that occasionally happens, and I’m extremely grateful.

One of the most interesting things about writing poetry is when you try to write about a feeling you yourself have never had. For example: I have an extremely pronounced fear of dogs – one would call it a phobia. I am not fond of dogs. Yet, were you to look at the “Most Liked [Posts] On This Blog” section of my homepage, you will see, there at the #2 spot, a piece called “Old Dog”, which was about how my wife saw her dog.


Next up, for my 2020 Writing Project, after this month of “Poetic Essays”, is a month called “Mood and Character Pieces”. I am not entirely sure what I meant by this, but I think “Mood Pieces” would be about me and “Character Pieces” would be about everybody else.

I know a lot of characters and have a lot of moods, so I shouldn’t lack for things to write about it.


I choose the photographs or illustrations that accompany these pieces based on a pretty simple criteria: namely, that they move me in some way.

The one above is interesting to me, because it is not a beautiful house – it would be seen by most people, objectively, as being rather ramshackle – but it is, to me, a beautiful picture.

I’ve heard it said that the beauty we see in things can only be as big as the beauty we bring to things. And maybe that’s the key to understanding poetry. It works when we can see our own experiences in it.

Or, maybe sometimes, when it creates an experience we carry with us from that point on.

Castles

Every “you” that ever was is still there, inside you.

The helpless infant, with nothing but a voice; the exploring toddler, ready to put hands on almost anything; the adventurous or timid child, the disillusioned teen. We are all made up of everyone we’ve been.

We should never judge our younger selves. I use the word “judge” here to mean, condemn. Because, while we may come to feel how we behaved was wrong, that person came to know better.

To be you, or me. And we may come to know better, yet.

A person is kind of like a castle: over time, we may forget how and why it came to be as it is. We may choose, instead, to focus on its sad history: how those in it were abused, or used their power to abuse others.

Or, we can gather around it at sunset, and see it as part of who we are, as human beings: both the ugly, and the glorious.

We for we humans are always a mixture of both.


At two years old, and chattering,
She moves the tiny king and queen
Out from the castle on the floor
The long way to the living room,
  the pathway paved,
  the voyage braved,
  a new home made, and found.

And I am her, and she is me.
Both choices new, and left behind:
The days that make a difference
In seeking some new homeland fair,
  we may lose track
  and not look back
  at castles we left standing

  on the ground.

Look

Look out across the vast expanse, and
Be the dance;
Look in for what you’ve left behind, and
Ease your mind —

Look up and find your reason, purpose,
Sacred text;
Look down from where you are, and figure out
Where you go

Next


It’s a beautiful day here, clear and cool.

It’s quiet, and there’s space — space to think.

About things: things to let go of, things to remember, things to treasure, things to put away forever.

The everything, that we find in the everyday, but rarely slow down enough to contemplate.

But right now, I can. And you can, too, wherever you may be.

It’s a beautiful day.

“Selling Time”

It’s a white hot summer day, and we are making our way around a miniature golf course, four of us guys in our late teens. We are still sandy from having come from the beach, wearing colored t-shirts, shorts and sandals. Two of my friends have been eyeing the two girls playing in front of us, trying to come up with a pretext for going and talking to them, which they finally solve through the simple expedient of hitting a ball over our hole and into the part of the course the girls are playing on.

There is no one immediately behind us, so I take this time to run over to the vending machines and get a drink, a Fanta Root Beer, which is approximately 33 degrees Fahrenheit when I get it, and tastes delicious. Walking back, I see there are now two of us on our hole, and my two buddies have joined the girls in their game.

Fortune favors the brave.

My friend Raj and I are left to finish the game, which we do; he then has to head off to earn some extra money doing some lifeguarding for a private pool party.

“See you ‘round.”

“You, too. Don’t let anyone drown.”

I’m on my own now, but we were all in separate cars when we met up at the beach, so, no worries. It is 5:00 in the afternoon, and the thermometer on the bank signs says it is 91 degrees, which, for a Florida summer isn’t that bad. I figure on heading home and taking a shower; I don’t really have any other plans for the weekend, other than heading back to school Sunday night.

My parents aren’t home, as they are away on vacation; I am staying at their house for the weekend just to take a break from the dorms and see my buddies. None of my other friends attend summer semester (or quarter) at their colleges; all of them are working jobs back home for the summer. Since I make money playing the piano a few hours a week, I have the time, so I am trying to get through school faster taking summer classes.

After a shower, I grill a couple of pork chops on my parents’ gas grill. I sit down at the table to eat them and to read more of “Adam Bede,” which I am reading for school. The story is dark and depressing in all the right ways, and I find myself still sitting at the dining room table six hours later, reading the last chapters accompanied only by the sound of my parents’ old wall clock.

I walk around this house, a house my parents have been in for the last eight years, peering through the shadows. There are walls and walls of books. There’s the old piano I learned on. There’s the stereo I listened to the radio on at night all those years I had insomnia. There’s a picture of my sister and her husband.

It is 1:35 A.M. I head back to my old bedroom, which my brother and I shared for years, with its stacked bunk beds. I climb into the bottom bunk, place my glasses on the windowsill behind the bed, and peer at the outline of the moonlight coming from the doorway, now blurry through my unassisted eyes.

I can feel a little sunburn on my neck as I sink into the pillow. The day passes before my eyes like a slide show:

… the beach … miniature golf… my buddies and those girls… a Fanta Root Beer… my friend going off to lifeguard… a shower… grilled pork chops… an old library book with an even older story… walking around the house in the dark…

When I wake up, it is Sunday morning and bright as a sheet outside.


All the years, just selling time,
All the days of here and gone:
Growing, going, nowhere fast;
One more night, and one more dawn –

Selling time that no one bought;
Mundane and quotidian –
Doing little as a lot:
With no prime meridian

All the minutes, meaningless,
And yet with intention rife:
All the years, just selling time,
What’s it all but luck,

And life

The Truth About Lying

The world’s predictable, in ways,
And so it came as no surprise —
She meant to tell a form of truth
But ended with a hail

Of lies


The fact that people lie all the time doesn’t really bother me. In fact, it’s one of the more endearing qualities human beings have.

Small children lie almost reflexively; years ago, I described this phenomenon with the words, “It isn’t really lying. I think of it more as ‘creating new truth where there was no truth before.’”

And, of course, small kids aren’t really lying: they don’t even get the concept of what a lie is. That’s why you can ask them questions like, “What did you do at pre-school today?” And get answers like “We flew an airplane into some dinosaurs,” which, once you think about it for minute, seems unlikely.

I think lying coming so easily to us as children is a key to what communication is, at heart: it’s not about conveying information, it’s about us trying to get what we want. To children, and, frankly, many adults, lying can’t be a bad thing if it results in them getting what they want.


Have you ever been lied to, Owen? In a relationship? A marriage? Huh? Well if you had, you wouldn’t be so cavalier about it!

Well, first of all, Mister Smarty-Voice, I have been lied to, in a relationship and in a marriage, and it was decidedly uncool. But she wasn’t lying to me to try to fool me, she was ashamed of a part of her life and tried to hide it from me. Her eventual truth-telling was just part of her journey, part of her becoming… her.

I was just sort of collateral damage.

I do understand that relationships of all kinds need honesty: business relationships, friendships, and romantic relationships. But even there, there are types of honesty that are really cruelty wearing a mask. We all know the type of thing I’m talking about: that friend who says cruel and hurtful things to people, usually followed up with, “well, I’m just being honest.”

Honestly a jerk, you mean.

Telling the truth is like taking medicine; just because you can doesn’t mean you should, and too much of it at the wrong time can be fatal.


I was thinking about truth and lies because I’ve had to do quite a bit of research for some of these essays, trying to get dates and ages right. I’m sure some of them are messed up, anyway. I don’t remember clearly, and can’t find any documentary evidence to confirm or deny the memories I do have. So I go with them.

In the event, in such cases, that my memory turns out to be faulty, most people don’t think of it as “lying”, they think of it as “remembering wrong”, with the implication that lying is deliberate and “remembering wrong” isn’t.

Unless you are a public figure, of course, in which case you are just a liar, in the eyes of the many vigilant souls we have out here in who zealously keep watch over such things.


I inherited from my mother a love of all things nonsensical. I had the following exchange with my boss (via office Messenger) at work a couple of days ago:

Him: … he also wants us to go back through and make sure there’s nothing we’re forgetting.

Me: Sounds good.

Him: Can you think of anything we haven’t thought about?

Me: No. I feel very comfortable saying, I cannot think of anything I haven’t thought about. Kind of by definition.

Very often, when I say ridiculous things, I meant to say something sensible, but it just kind of morphs mid conversation:

Wife: Did you finish that Audio Course on the Middle Ages?

Me: Yep. All 78 parts.

Wife: I’m surprised you aren’t exhausted.

Me: I must be. I ended up in the feudal position.

Wife: The feudal position?

Me: It’s like the fetal position, but with more clearly defined hierarchy.