When I was a teenager, I wrote a lot of poetry.
Some of it was good – I won a few awards. But most of it was typical adolescent mediocrity. Life is never more unfair or more glorious than when you are seventeen.
Most of it didn’t survive. I remember only orphan lines. They come to me sometimes because of a cadence I hear in something else – a rhythm that sounds familiar.
I worship you. You know that.
I give you all in adoration.
You give me back...
What he gave me back won’t come back to me. But I’ll bet it wasn’t good.
Confession, he said,
is why us Catholics never need the shrink.
How I wish that were true. I think that poem ended with the guy on the next barstool springing for the beer.
Here’s the end of another:
Do you feel the hairs on the back of your neck suspecting?
I think that one was supposed to be sexy.
Well, you get the idea.
There is one old snippet of poetry that recently emerged from one of those curlicue folds in my brain. It was a poem of four of five stanzas, I think, about the advantages of beauty. At the end of every stanza was the refrain:
If Nancy were pretty, how easy.
I must have been about nineteen when I wrote that.
I was about nine when I realized that I wasn’t beautiful. And I saw the tremendous disadvantage of being plain even at that age. Mostly, it was Attention that I was seeking at that age.
At nineteen, what I was seeking was … still Attention.
And not just from all the cute or even noncute boys. Teachers and hiring managers noticed the pretty girls. Even shoe salesmen waited on the pretty girls first.
It didn’t change much as I got older. At work, I still saw who bosses and business associates, and even subordinates paid attention to. In my personal life, I was the funny, smart sidekick in every romantic comedy you ever saw.
(Except one. In 1986, when I was thirty-five, I saw the film “Legal Eagles” with Robert Redford, Darryl Hannah, and Debra Winger. Darryl Hannah was so gorgeous. Debra Winger was so ‘everywoman.’ And in the end, Robert Redford chooses Winger. I loved that movie.)
Something else life-changing happened around the same time.
I was friends with a woman who was extremely pretty. And as expected, I was her witty gal-pal; the tagalong who once in a while picked up Aphrodite’s cast-offs. By that age, I rather accepted the role with gratitude. I figured that once a man got over the disappointment of ending up with the consolation prize, he might find that he actually liked me. I was, after all, smart and funny, and not ugly. Just not beautiful.
But here’s the life-changing revelation. It was not a singular event. Not a lightning bolt, but a gradual awareness.
My beautiful friend complained to me that although she received plenty of attention, it was all superficial. Oh, she wasn’t above using it to her advantage, she readily admitted it, but she knew the attention was based on the nice arrangement of her body parts, and not who she was.
“No one listens to me!” she wailed.
And I could see the truth of it.
And it was the same as my truth.
No one listened to me.
So if pretty girls are not listened to, and plain girls are not listened to – is it possible that the problem is not the ‘pretty versus plain’ part but the ‘girls’ part?
I want to be heard.
But so do all women. The pretty ones, the homely ones, the fat ones, the thin ones, the ones with disabilities and speech impediments and empty wallets.
I want to re-write that poem.
If Nancy were pretty, she'd still have to yell.