How’re your cats?
Our black kitty, Leo, has one essential job: loving Sixteen. He does it willingly and well, sleeping on his bed or in his doorway when Sixteen is asleep, curled on his favorite perch atop Sixteen’s desk when he’s doing schoolwork. He seems to know about when Sixteen will arrive home and emerges from his afternoon nap ten or fifteen minutes ahead of time to sit by the front window and watch.
With Sixteen at the center of Leo’s world, Leo is merely observant of the rest of us. He almost never makes a noise, so somewhere along the line family stories about Leo’s limited vocabulary have evolved. Leo does count everyone in the household, but since he clearly cannot count very high, we decided it goes like this: Sixteen is One. Ninety-One, Thirteen, and I are each Not One. Starling, whom Leo tolerates and who idolizes Leo like he’s the captain of the football team, is White-Like-Me. Katy, who once was Leo’s bestie but is now most certainly a mouse-like beasty, to be tolerated some days and hunted with vengeance on others, is Gray-Not-Like-Me. (That said, considerable gains have been achieved in the overall peace among the three in our household, a far cry from where we were a little over a year ago when we were at an all-time unharmonious low.)
Like Leo, I have an affection for counting, reckoning. Unlike Leo, I have considerably more numbers at my disposal and I thoroughly enjoy rifling through them. As a words person, I am not expected, perhaps, to love numbers, but I do. I like the way they quantify things; I like the way they help me know where I stand. I often think in numbers and patterns, perhaps the reason I am good at puzzles and proofreading (negative space, negative numbers, and vast quantities, however, can undo me mentally faster than about anything).
I’ve been thinking about numbers recently—trying to figure out their appeal. It may have something to do with the way the brain can feel so settled if the numbers are right. A simple example: In my dryer, there are three wool balls that tumble with the wet clothes, cutting down on static, softening the clothes, and eliminating the need for softener or dryer sheets. When I pull clothes out of the dryer, there’s satisfaction in seeing all three balls resting in the empty dryer, awaiting the next load. When one gets tangled inside a sheet or works its way up the leg of a pair of pajamas, which happens quite often, it takes a little extra work to paw through the clean clothes and find the dryer ball. Sometimes only two stay, the third hiding successfully enough so I won’t find it until I’m folding the pile of laundry on my bed. And then there’s that feeling that something is amiss, until the third dryer ball is returned to its place with the others. Click. Something moves into place in my brain and—this may be part of the magic of knowing the right number—I don’t have to think about it any more.
I also like numbers when they do quirky things, like palindromes on my car’s odometer and that moment when there are 2 minutes 34 second (234) left in the walk on my treadmill and I’ve journeyed 2.34 miles. These moments don’t last with the satisfying thunk of the third dryer ball returning home, but they sweeten the breath of the moment when I take time to notice them.
I thought I might celebrate last year’s big birthday, 50, by writing a Fifty Things I’ve Learned in Fifty Years blog post. I know people who have celebrated such big birthdays by playing 50 holes of golf or riding 50 miles on their bicycle. Sixteen wisely talked me out of the Fifty Lesson list, and I’m glad he did. Because just as I appreciate knowing numbers, I appreciate the mutable quality of not counting. So fifty came and went, was celebrated variously, but it took considerable pressure off not to mark it fifty ways.
So it is with the reset in seasons. The New Year may start on January 1, but isn’t it nicer, for example, to take a transitional period from around the Solstice to around the Chinese New Year to move into the messages and lessons of winter? Spring seems to turn a little more quickly, but there aren’t many places that will flip from winter to spring on the equinox. At such times, the number becomes a benchmark, a reminder to stop and notice where you are and what you’re doing rather than a directive to make a distinct and abrupt change.
And so it seems with numbers, as with so many things, there is a balance. The checkbook, balanced to the penny. The budget? Rounder numbers with wiggle room, ideally based on less so that there will be more. Three hundred sixty-five days in a year? All good. But it takes 365.24 days for the earth to travel around the sun. It’s fascinating to me that the roman calendar, lunar based, simply left off any counting of the days in between December and March. When Julius Cesar proposed the Julian/sun-based calendar, he addressed several issues, including the problem of leap year. Today’s calendar not only has months and days for every day, but once every four years we add a day to align the calendar with the seasons. Elegant or clumsy, this year we get an extra day—and isn’t this a gift—to count on.
Happy New Moon! It’s a bright cold beginning to great things. Thanks for being a reader I can count on! love, Rxo