Sunday, December 06, 2009

Numerology: Births Deaths and Marriages

I have always preferred even numbers to odd. This makes life difficult, this superstition, because half of our lives operate under the weight of odd numbers. Every second day is an odd day so it is not right to focus too much on this anomaly but I find whenever a number pops up for any reason whatsoever I first of all judge it by its odd or even nature.

My favourite number is two, preferably double two. Two hundred and twenty two is not so good because it is an uneven number of twos and two thousand two hundred and twenty two is too much altogether.

My analyst once suggested to me when I reported my love of the number two, that I chose this number because it is the number of coupledom, mother and baby, just the two of us. It’s an interesting observation. I had thought it might have more to do with the shape of the number, very much like the letter ‘s’ and also that the first house whose address I was able to learn as a child was that of 2 Wentworth Avenue where we then lived.

My address became a vital part of my internal world. I would explore its details regularly and roll the words over my tongue: Number 2 Wentworth Avenue Canterbury, East 7, Melbourne, Victoria Australia, the Pacific Ocean, the world, the universe.

Similarly I played with the multiple dimensions of time, the time of the day, the time of the day in relation to the time of my birth, the hours I had lived, the hours I might continue to live. But I was never good at sums. I failed mental arithmetic in grade six, much to my teacher, Mother Mary John’s expressed horror,
'I knew you were bad, but not that bad.' So I did not linger long over numbers except visually.

Numbers developed personalities in my mind and I had my favourites. I hated the numbers seven and nine and could only just tolerate the fives.

I loved the letter ‘s’, smooth, round and to my mind shiny. It was also the letter that distinguished my first name Elisabeth from all the other Elizabeth’s I encountered in my life, the ones at school who sported an ugly ‘z’ in the middle of their names. S was definitely the more beautiful and friendly letter, as well it was the first letter of my second name, ES.

I did not go in so much for the harsh letters of ‘H’ and ‘E’ especially in their capitalised forms, though in lower case ‘e’ could pass, ‘e’ for egg. Even now to me ‘e’ looks like an egg. But the letter ‘h’ could not redeem itself so readily, nor ‘f ‘even with the rounded dome of the top of their shape in lower case.

I am back to letters I see. It is easy to slip by numbers. My relationship to numbers was never so good. Numbers always frightened me. Multiplication, addition, subtraction and division.

My parents were always doing it. Adding babies and sometimes losing them. For the first ten years of my life, my mother was either pregnant or carrying a newborn.
‘What a woman,’ people said, ‘nine children.’ I soaked up the compliments as if they were directed at me.

There should have been eleven but two died, the first, my mother’s second daughter at five months, the second her last child, another daughter this time still born. There was a miscarriage as well, between the seventh and the eighth. In the end my mother was left with five sons and four daughters.

Some weeks after the death of her last leven los, my mother stood with me in the front garden of our house in Camberwell talking to a neighbour who was muttering condolences for her recent loss.
‘It must be very hard but you do have your other children to comfort you.’
My mother nodded and sniffled onto the back of her hand.

Mrs Bos had no children of her own. At ten years of age I was puzzled that any married couple could remain childless. My mother and I watched Mrs Bos, retreating up the street, click-clack on her stilettos, a string shopping bag bulging at her side.
‘Poor Mrs Bos’, my mother said, wiping her nose again on her hand, ‘she can never have children of her own.’

My mother offered no explanation and I was left bewildered about this sad Dutch woman who lived at the top of our street, barren and empty, unable to add, divide or even subtract.


christopher said...

Elisabeth, your writing about numbers and letters lead to thoughts of numerology and how this mystical connection of numbers and meaning could arise. I am sorry you dislike the odd numbers so much. Even 1? That is an expression of course of unity. 3 is an expression of stability, and the defining of the plane, the second dimension. 5 is the star, and the appearance of man. 7 is the number of destiny, and 9 the number of divine freedom. Well, actually there are many versions of this.

Numerology is essential to astrology of course.

You may not care about such things. :)

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Christopher. Perhaps it was misleading of me to refer to my post as one of numerology. I was thinking of the term loosely, the stuff of numbers.

It's not that I'm not interested in the references you offer. They're fascinating.

It's more that I was writing from the perspective of myself the child.

I don't feel so strongly about odds and evens now, even though I still prefer the even ones.

My husband has pointed out to me that in order to get a good gestalt that's aesthetically pleasing in the garden for instance, it's important to go for odd numbers of things, three, five or seven rocks for instance.

Doing things evenly in the garden doesn't seem to work so well. I'm inclined to agree with him.

My thoughts about numbers here are purely subjective. The post was meant to be light hearted to a degee.

I don't want to take the name of numerology in vain.

A Cuban In London said...

Oh. My. God! There's another person like me out there. I really can't believe it.

When I was little I was obsessed with uneven numbers and then aged 10 or so changed to even ones. My favourite number is eight and any combination it throws up, for instance, 16; 44 (it's two 4s); 88 (two 8s). I thought I was on my own when I counted the number of letters in a word hoping it had even numbers. To this day people still freak out when I can say how many letters there are in a any phrase after a quick glimpse. Reading on this phenomenon in my adult life I have come to realise that I suffer from minor OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) which manifests itself in arranging books in a particular way, organising CDs according to a pre-established order and other whims of mine.

And now to find another person (and fellow Scorpio) who has the same fixation on even numbers. Will there be enough of us to form a secret society? :-)

Great post, very re-assuring, I can tell you. :-)

And thanks for your comments on my latest post. Very welcomed.

Greetings from London.

Tony nile life said...

I am a Welshman Elizabeth. I have often been called a welsh terrier because my temperament is very similar a stubborn afraid of nothing. I do what I want and if someone says no I need a reason why not. often I am told by someone no photograph. I ask what are you hiding. if a policeman says no photograph I ask how much you want, take a photograph and leave without giving him anything but my advice.
I do not like being lied to, that is what causes me to be the way I am. I have a kind heart. but living here in Egypt among this nation of born liars. makes it hard for me to trust anyone,they make me want to scream please find God before he finds you,
its a good job I have my camera and the wildlife. I love it here in Egypt my health comes first.and I can always turn a deaf ear on these people. the three wise monkeys rolled into one , thats me.

Tony nile life said...

Number 2 Wentworth Avenue Canterbury, East 7, Melbourne, Victoria Australia, the Pacific Ocean, the world, the universe.
now thats odd two comes up twice the number 2 and two numbers,
but odd words 13 in fact.
13 being unlucky for some
Superstition! Friday the 13th unlucky day.

Mim said...

Was Mrs. Bos sad? She may not have been. I like odd numbers, especially 3 and 7.

I admire the way your post flows from numbers themselves to the number of children. It fits: your calling your blog "Sixth in Line."

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad we are simpatico here Cuban. Have your heard of synesthesia?

I sometimes wonder whether these slight quirks have something to do with this particular state of mind of which there are many variations.

A friend of mind experiences it markedly. She had trouble as a child learning to add and subtract because for her numbers were colours. If, for instance, she needed to add three and four she'd put blue together with yellow to make some other colour, for the number, often not the correct number. Green was not seven.

Thanks Tony, good to hear about your pluckiness for want of a better word, and your numeral observations are great.

I try to avoid too muuch superstition about the number 13, too many good things have happened on that day including the birth of one of my daughters.

And Mim, I don't know that our childless neighbour was sad at all. It was my child's thought and more so because my mother put such store into the importance of having children.

She needed it. In some ways it became her raison d'etre.

Jim Murdoch said...

I have a preference for the numbers 4 and 5 and the colour green. I don't favour any particular letter. I've never really thought about why 4 and 5. The only explanation I can offer is that I was born of May 4th. It makes as much sense as any other explanation. I don't believe in luck in any shape or form. As for green? I have green eyes, maybe that's it.

Carrie likes doubles but can't offer any more explanation that they please her. Pushed she suggests that they're the beginning of columns and she cites my love of rows; not like my wife to appreciate order as she tends towards asymmetry. She says she doesn't dislike symmetry so much as she dislike monotony. She apparently likes words with double letters like 'Mississippi'.

Totalfeckineejit said...

It must have been hard for your mother with so many children and her sad losses and still she felt sympathy for the childless Dutch Woman.Nice.
I like the s in your name, it is unusual. I like the number seven though and as you say three and five work aesthetically when grouping things together.Dylan Thomas and WB Yeats both had Synesthesia, I'm sure it helped their writing.

Maggie May said...

this entry is like heaven for me.
thank you.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Elizabeth....a fascinating post. I too play with numbers in my head all the time. I wrote a post(july or august) about an interesting discovery I made in so doing. However, upon doing a little research I found that someone else had already discovered and named it.

Like Cuban I am always aware of numbers and could give you many long stories . . . but I won't.

Love the details about your family of origin that you share here. When we get past Christmas preparations and activities I will come back to read all your postings.

The Grandpa said...

What a beautiful post. What a wonderful perspective. What a masterly use of words.

Dave King said...

I have a compulsion (almost that) to note patterns in numbers, for example in times expressed digitally. 12.34, for example or 12.21 etc. Can't be of any interest to anyone else, though?

Tony nile life said...

Ok why am i in such a shithole . first I love Egypt the Country,, some one said the other day pity there are Egyptians here.she was sooooo right. then I have severe authrhitis in the uk and have a wheel chair and my wife cannot cope with me and her aged parents.
then I Got swindled out of the place I built and that is in the middle of a court case, its been 3 years now so I can not move from this place, I do not worry about it there is a plan and purpose for everything.
tell you what send me an E mail and I will give you the blog on my case,
its a harrowing story and very detailed because it started as a diary in Word on the computer.

and today from 6 this morning till 16.00. I have been trying and succeeded in getting my e mail accounts back after being hacked. what these pricks get out of it god only knows.

Dominic Rivron said...

I saw a TV programme once about a man with autism who said he saw numbers as shapes (but not shapes as in the written digits). He could do improbable sums in his head almost instantly. He said, in effect, that if you could see the shape of numbers, the answers were obvious.

Elisabeth said...

Jim: So you were born on 4 May, a nice even number. My mother was born of 5 October and I on 5 November. Despite its being an odd number, I liked that symmetry. Maybe it's just a matter of simple patterns for a child.

I'm not sure that I've written it on my blog but in my family of eleven, nine kids, two parents, each one of us had a different month for our birthdays with the exception of two brothers who shared the month of March.

Also nothing happened in my immediate family in May or August, no births that is, but August is the month of my parents' wedding anniversary and May was the month their first daughter died. To me as a child it looked as though they'd planned thses dates. They were so neat.

TFE, I'm sure it was hard for my mother, but as kids we were a pretty unforgiving lot, so,me are still. I've written about this about the degree to which large families fracture and disintegrate. Ours did. It's been over thirty years since we siblings have come together as a group. It always reminds me of Ann Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. a terrific book, one of the sons who runs a restaurant, a very successful restaurant, longs for the day when he can get every member of his family to last through an entire meal, entree, mains and sweets before at least one of them huffs off.

There's always at least one of my family in a huff whenever there's an opportunity for all to come together, so it never happens. My mother fears that it won't until her funeral.

Thanks for your kind words, Maggie.

Thanks, too, Bonnie, for your interest and appreciation. I'm glad you too enjoy playing around with numbers.

Grandpa, I'm also grateful for your words and interest and Dave, it doesn't surprise me that you're interested in numbers. It's obvious from your blog.

Tony we've chatted elsewhere on your blog about your life. Thanks for your comment here.
Finally, Dominic. I wonder about pockets of autism and the degree to which many of us suffer these difficulties to some extent. I'd like to think not me, not then, not now, not ever, but you never know.

Ann ODyne said...

wonderful post Elisabeth, and wonderful replies too. I love the word synesthesia and didnt know those writers have it. Learning from blogs every day.
Lugging the shopping in stilettos may cause infertility from the pelvic damage that high heels do.
I am an Only Child, married an Only Child, and lost 2 before I got a baby safely home, so we had our own Only Child. Quiet Christmases.

Numbers are like music when handled in bulk: I worked in a bank adding streams of figures all day, and the beauty of their chance alignment often thrilled me - it could be symphonic.
I love my birthdate 24/8/48, and that historically it occurs several times in my family tree.
My friend's husband, son, and grandson all born 9/3 just astounds me too.

fxh said...

Did you know Sally and Michael in Wentworth Ave?

Elisabeth said...

Well, FXH it's now over forty years since I lived in Wentworth Avenue.

The Percivals, of the artist John Percival fame, lived in our street. I named one of my daughters after one of his.

There was a couple over the road, a young couple then, whom I knew only as the Stones. They could have been a Michael and a Sally. It would have suited them.

And then next door to us lived an elderly widow by the name of Mrs Lindsay.

Further up the street was the Dutch couple I mention here and my older sister used to help hostess dinner parties for an English couple whose second name I think was Thomas. It's a long time ago and my memory plays tricks on me.

I wish I knew Michael and Sally. I love making connections like this but I'm not sure I can be otherwise helpful.

Your question gave me a start. It altered me to the fact that this street through which I occasionally drive, still exists, even as I sometime imagine it is purely a place in my memory.

Then, not to be undone, I checked out your blog, as folks in blogland do I gather, and wondered at the cryptic nature of some of your remarks.

As a lapsed Catholic myself, I welcome the irreverence, but maybe these are things I should say over at your place and not in mine.

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