Thoughts on the peacock and the magic of three

magic of three

Word count: 720 words

Reading time: About 3 minutes

I’m not particularly good with numbers but one thing I learned early — there’s something special about the number three. Today’s column focuses on the magic of three. 

“Don’t forget to ask about the cat, the wireless and the peacock.”

That instruction, from my son, made us all burst out laughing. It also reminded me of a useful writing tip. But before I get into that, let me give you the background.

Last week we were supposed to go camping. Then, two days before our departure date, my husband announced that he was feeling a little stressed about the whole idea of our organizing the tent, sleeping bags, and food. He also wasn’t keen on the long drive. (Six hours to Wells Gray Park from Vancouver.)

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders. We’re both busy people with demanding jobs, three teenagers and living in a rental while our house is being renovated. Did we really need more stress in our lives? (“No,” I exclaimed, “No!”)

So I spent that morning looking for a cottage we could rent at the last minute. With the help of the Internet, I found a spot on a beautiful and very quiet island that’s a mere 50-minute ferry ride from Vancouver (Galiano Island for those in the know.) Couldn’t get a waterfront property at that late a date but we found a water-view place with a stunning deck.

We arrived on the Monday afternoon armed with bags of books and games. But the first hitch occurred as we opened the door. A small black cat emerged from underneath the house and raced inside. At least my family isn’t superstitious! But my husband is extremely allergic to cat hair and dander and definitely did not want a cat nearby. We shushed it outside feeling mildly guilty. Point 1, the cat.

By the time we had the bags carried in, our teenagers started jumping up and down with their ipods. They were desperate to check their Facebook accounts. Imagine, going 50 whole minutes without a peek at Facebook. The mind boggles. But they couldn’t get online because we didn’t know the owner’s wireless password. Point 2, the wireless.

Shortly thereafter, we wandered out to the deck and met another surprise. We were stopped in our tracks by the presence of an enormous male peacock strutting his stuff around the picnic table. What was this weird place teeming with unexpected animals? Point 3, the peacock.

So, when my son declared, “Don’t forget to ask about the cat, the wireless and the peacock,” he was simply instructing us on questions to ask the cottage owners.

But we laughed because it sounded so much like one of the quintessential jokes involving a priest, a rabbi and a minister. (Example: A rabbi, a priest, and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender picks up his phone, calls the cartoon editor of the New Yorker and asks: “Got a few minutes to kill?”)

So here’s the writing tip. Life doesn’t happen in series of threes — but writing frequently does. Think about how often you hear about the magic of three: Goldilocks and the three bears; the three little pigs; the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit; three blind mice; the Three Muskateers. In fact, in paragraph three of this column you’ll see I unconsciously listed three camping items that had to be organized — why didn’t I pick two or four?

Commands are also commonly given in the magic of three. For example:

Lights! Camera! Action!

Ready! Aim! Fire!

On Your Mark! Get Set! Go!

And consider the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

There is something special about the number three. It resonates in our brain as “finished.” In fact, I’d say it makes us feel complete, round and whole. (Oh, there’s that three thing again!)

So, the next time you write a piece, be sure to look for ways to encompass the magic of three. It will be a good writing discipline for you, your readers will appreciate it and I won’t have to have put up with a black cat, whining kids and a peacock for nothing!

(It was a great holiday regardless — even though the peacock remains a complete mystery!)

Posted September 1st, 2009 in Power Writing