Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers



Recently I dreamed I was writing furiously on a piece entitled Thirteen Hills.  This happened around the time I also was exploring the idea of a thirteen-month year, which makes more sense to me than twelve months, using the lunar calendar.

When I awoke, I immediately thought of Wallace Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”  Of course, birds have been on my mind because of my cats.  I don’t want to prevent them from hunting, but I also don’t like finding dead birds in my yard, feathers in the garage where the bird has struggled for its life.  In many ways I identify with those birds.

Blackbirds, while common (like humans?), have a mysterious quality.  It’s as if their commonness conceals a mystery, their shiny surfaces reflecting light, and absorbing it, like rainbow-colored pools of oil under the sun’s intense rays.

Thirteen suggests the idea of something being left over.  Twelve is too symmetrical.  Thirteen is not divisible by an even number; it is lop-sided.  The lunar calendar, with its thirteen months, always begins and ends at a different place.  Nothing about being human is symmetrical, so this way of dividing up the year makes sense.

Thirteen—an unlucky number for some.  For others an opening into the unknown.


The sun is out today and a brisk wind from the sea keeps the air fresh and cool.  It all seems pretty ordinary, familiar.  Nothing unknown here.  Or so I’d like to think.

The wind.  So many kinds:  Doldrums (low pressure heated air expanding and rising).  I’m down in the doldrums.  Why do we say that when doldrums expand and rise?  Horse Latitudes (regions of descending air); Polar front (cyclonic activity at a max); Coriolius effect (winds deflected to right in north hemisphere and left in south); Trade winds (prevailing westerlies); Chinook; Gale; Hurricane.

And of course there are the winds of change.  They can strike like hurricanes, breaking up our houses/defenses and forcing us to accept the new.  Or they can gently shake our walls, rattling things until we pay attention and let them in.

Perhaps the first change needs to be in our attitude to thirteen.

When I look at pictures of myself at thirteen, I hardly recognize the girl I was:  I didn’t seem to fit the body that was going through such dramatic changes, all angles, it seemed, breasts still forming, everything in motion.  (Do we avoid thirteen because it gives that feeling of things in motion, a dizzying effect?)  I’m a bridesmaid at my sister’s wedding.  The other bridesmaids—older than I and my sister’s friends—fill out their dresses, all curves and full-bodied.  I don’t.  Mine hangs on me as if I’m a scarecrow.  And in a way I am, all arms and legs, not much torso yet.

Thirteen is such an in-between age.  Not a child any longer, but definitely not an adult.  Everything is in abeyance, waiting, though also in full motion, hurtling through life, body changing at lightning speed.

Thirteen represents what it’s like to be a writer.  We always seem to be awkwardly waiting, in abeyance.  We’re either waiting for a book to be published, or for a publisher to get back to us, or for a check from our agent (if we’re lucky enough to have gotten that far).  Or we’re waiting to be recognized as a major talent, or waiting for the an email that will tell us our work has been accepted.  It’s the nature of the enterprise to remain in limbo.

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