Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Cassandra's Children


There is a war going on. There always is, somewhere, of course. But this is not a war between nations or ideologies, but a war between human beings and the technology we have created, and it is a war we humans are surely losing. 

It's not that we haven't been warned, time and time again, and shrugged or laughed the naysayers away. 
We have, incomprehensibly, simply ignored the fundamental axiom that "fire makes a good servant, but a cruel master." Technology is our modern-day fire. And melodramatic as it may sound, the technology we created to serve us is inexorably becoming our master. We have already reached the point where we, as a society, cannot survivefiguratively but increasingly literally–without our iPods and our smartphones and our laptops and the 450,000 "apps" available on our ever-at-the-ear cell phones. As we become more and more dependent on the things we have created–ironically intended to make us more independent–the focus subtly shifts from our using them to them using us. 

And if that were not bad enough, technology makes it possible for bureaucracies to become ever more complex and difficult to deal with. Just in case this thought had never occurred to you, look around you any time you go out into the street, or into a coffee shop or restaurant and count the number of people glued to their electronic gadgetry, or pick up a phone to call a credit card company to ask a question or report a problem with your internet or cable service. And for the most part, we go along without question, like lambs off to slaughter. We may not like it, but we say nothing. We do nothing. We accept.

Melodramatic? Of course. But consider that 30 years ago, no one had a computer, and the world went on quite well. Now computers have become laptops which have become telephones and BlueBerries and BlackBerries and iPods and iPhones and smartphones and every day more and more come along to make our lives even more complex.

And the more reliant we become on technology, the more control we lose over our own lives and destinies, and increasingly we take out our building rage not on our phones–which, after instructing us to Press 1 for English in our own country, assures us every thirty seconds that our call is VERY important to whichever faceless corporation we are calling for help or information, while we are kept on hold for 45 minutes–but on each other. The feeling of utter helplessness that each run-in with the Frankenstein's Monsters we have created engenders the urge to lash out, which in turn leads inevitably to the Columbines and Virginia Techs and Fort Hoods. And each time we shake our heads and wonder how it could ever have happened.

One of my favorite characters in all mythology is Cassandra. The god Apollo fell in love with her and gave her the gift of prophecy. And after they had a falling out, because a gift given by the gods cannot be taken back, Apollo modified it so that while Cassandra was unerringly correct in her predictions, no one would believe her.

There are Cassandras among us today...there always have been. People who accurately foresee the future...if not in explicit detail at least in inescapable trends. And they are universally ignored until what they predicted has come to pass, and then it is too late.

There is a scene in the 1971 film, THX1138...Steven Spielberg's first...wherein a future society totally controlled by technology offers its citizens handy "Jesus Booths" where anyone can go for comfort. Enter the booth, and an image of Jesus appears. "What is your problem, my child?" The image asks, his face showing true concern and nods slowly, every ten seconds. Every fifteen seconds, regardless of what the human in the booth is doing or saying, it says "I see," and every forty five seconds it says "Could you be more...specific?"

I've often cited E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" and movies like Logan's Run as examples of perhaps only slightly exaggerated future scenarios. And what about global warming? And the dangers of overpopulation?

Ah, but what does it matter, really? There's not a thing I can do about it, after all. I'd just go watch some intellectually brilliant TV fare like Here Comes Honey Barf-Barf , but my cable is out and my call to the cable company is still on "hold" after six hours.
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Friday, June 15, 2018

Custodial


When I was in college, my best friend, Russ Hogan, used to say, "Margason, you're custodial" after I would make yet another in an endless string of goofs/gaffs/mistakes. Much of the criticism was (and is) based on the fact that while I understand and can fairly well define the word "organization," I seem incapable of practicing it. This situation has not materially improved in the years since.

Last week, someone was kind enough to ask me to do a guest blog for their site. I was of course flattered, as I always am by gratuitous acts of kindness, and immediately set out to do the blog. It is not due until later this month, so I set it aside for a few days. When I went back to work on it this morning, I realized to my horror that I could not remember for whom I was writing the blog, nor did I, therefore, have any idea of how to contact the person who had requested it! I frantically went back through past emails hoping to find our exchange, and cannot. Of course, my search was negatively effected by the fact that I have no fewer than 25,000 emails in my “In” box—I am also incapable of using the "delete" key if there's any possible chance I might want to go back to a past email—and was of course unable to find it. And unless I do find it, I will miss the deadline and the person who asked me to write the blog will, wrongly, assume that I just couldn't be bothered, and have every right to assume that I am not to be depended upon. This drives me absolutely crazy!

I never make notes, simply because at the time I should be making them, I know perfectly well what the note would be about and therefore don't feel I need one. It's the same with my keys, my wallet, my glasses, and almost anything I might have in my hand at any given time. I set them down knowing perfectly well at that instant where I put them, yet fifteen seconds later when I go to retrieve them, I haven't a clue.

Russ having sadly died several years ago, my best friend, Gary, is—like Russ—a former school teacher whose life revolves around organization. He constantly tries to convince me of the value of always putting things in a certain place so that I'll always know where they are. All well and good. But when I walk in the door with a couple magazines and a piece of mail I want to open right away, I'll set my keys down on, say, my dresser, and go to get the letter opener—which, of course, I can't find. So I pry up one corner of the envelope's flap, insert my index finger, and rip the envelope to shreds in the process. By that time, I'm not even thinking about my keys, and I won't think about them until next time I need them, at which point...well, you get the idea.

A key (no pun intended) factor in my not being organized is that I have never been a candidate for "Homemaker of the Year" award, so chances are good that whatever I'm looking for at the moment has been buried beneath something else (a stack of magazines, for example).

I am also cursed with a total lack of short-term memory. I spend an inordinate amount of computer time bouncing back and forth between windows simply because if I want to use a name or a number from one window in another, by the time I get to where I want to put it—all of three seconds—I’ve forgotten what it was, and have to go back to look it up. I've been known to do this five times in the space of thirty seconds.

When I was in the service, I took movies, which I had converted to CDs. Earlier today, I wanted to send the CDs to a friend. Can I find them? Of course I can't find them. I live in a very small apartment only slightly larger than a breadbox, and I keep all my CDs in one place. I look, and sure enough, they're all there...except the ones I want at the moment. Where in the hell can they be? Where can I possibly have put them? I know they're here, somewhere. But where?

Organization takes time, and I simply do not have the time to organize. I'm too busy looking for things.

I think Russ might have been on to something.
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Crapshoot


Crapshoot: noun. A risky or uncertain matter. See also: Life

Okay, so I added that last part, but it’s true. Every single action we take or decision we make is a roll of the cosmic dice which determines and alters the course of the rest of our lives. Most of the changes are like tiny ripples on the surface of our lives, but some.…

The instances and effects of significant life-changing decisions or actions…the majority of them totally spontaneous…are mind boggling. If, when I was five years old, I had not jumped down a small embankment to watch a passing train, the little girl who, not seeing me there, also jumped down the embankment, landing on and breaking my leg, would I have been so acutely aware for the rest of my life of not doing things or taking risks that might cause me physical harm?

If, at around age seven, I had not gone to a birthday party at which the mother of the guest of honor insisted the guests pair up, boy-girl, and dance, would I forever since have been so aware of my lack of physical grace and subsequently refused to do anything that might demonstrate that fact?

If, while flying in formation on a night training flight while in the NavCads, I had noticed the miscalculation of my airspeed and how quickly the lights of the plane ahead of me were coming closer, ten seconds later than I did—giving me time to push the nose of my plane down and passing less than 10 feet under the belly of the plane ahead—there would have been a midair collision in which I and possibly the other pilot surely would have died.

If I had told my mother’s doctor “it’s time to stop trying to save her” when he, she, and I knew it was hopeless, rather than clinging desperately to the hope that maybe some new approach might make a difference, I could have saved her untold suffering and spared myself the guilt and regret that haunt me to this day.

If I had not decided to leave Los Angeles for Pence, Wisconsin to start a Bed and Breakfast in an attempt to “save” my partner, Ray, from the temptations of alcoholism—which destroyed him despite all my efforts—I would not have set off a chain reaction of events which graced my life with several close friends who I first met as guests at the B&B—through one of whom I subsequently met my best friend Gary.

If I had not been…um…intimate…with a bisexual young man a mutual friend had convinced me to let stay at my home to help me with various projects, I would not have been exposed to the HPV virus (Human Papilloma Virus) which caused the tongue cancer which was the equivalent of a 9.0 earthquake to the structure of my life.

And these are just a very, very few examples of the crapshoot of my life: what about yours? I hope you might take a moment to look back over your own life and pick out those instants, those actions, those decisions that sent your life off on a different path than you assumed it was pursuing. 

We are totally powerless to avoid this eternal crapshoot, since it is part of life itself. And once the dice land, whatever happened or whatever we did to alter the course of our future cannot be changed, and we must live with it. The only thing we can do is perhaps take a moment to consider our actions or our decisions before we implement them.
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Odd Man Out


How very odd, we humans. On a genetic level, we are all but identical. On a mental and emotional level, no two of us are the same. And we each have only ourselves to use as the basis for comparison with others. Many, probably most, feel comfortable in and around others, with whom they share common beliefs and reactions to any given situation. Some, however, consider themselves to be “odd men out.” I am one of them.

I am frequently made acutely aware of the fact that I am so far “out of it” that I could never find my way “in” with a map and compass. This awareness was most recently renewed by the incomprehensible frenzy engendered by “March Madness.” I definitely agree with the “Madness” part. It’s a basketball game, people! A basketball game!  And not just a game, but a game that no one other than the teams involved actually, physically plays! Shrieking and jumping madly up and down and reacting like…well I’m afraid its hard for me to find a word that wouldn’t offend those involved in the shrieking and jumping…for a group of guys you’ve never met and who wouldn’t know you from Adam strikes me as just a tad, well, odd.  And “March Madness” gives way without so much as an eye-blink’s pause to baseball season, which in turn segues seamlessly into football season, each chock-a-block full of vitally important “BIG GAME”s which are all but immediately forgotten to make room for the next BIG GAME. I am sincere in saying I simply cannot comprehend any of it.

Organized religion is, for me, on the same level of incomprehensibility as organized sports. I am embarrassed in the proximity of those who obviously understand and support either/both. I have never understood, or had the slightest interest in understanding, either. Since I am so vastly outnumbered in my attitudes toward them, it must be some sort of deep flaw within me. It is safe to say that organized religion has accounted for more human grief and tragedy than all the earthquakes and floods and natural disasters in the history of the world. Why? Every human being has his or her own moral code—has an intensely personal sense of right and wrong which guides their lives. I can understand how organized religion provides comfort and reassurance for those who for whatever reason feel they need it. But too many people use organized religion as a crutch…a way of avoiding responsibility for their own lives. I can respect those who feel strongly about anything that does not harm others, but I deeply resent proselytizing, which I consider a form of arrogance. There is a great difference between believing strongly in something and demanding everyone else share that belief.

I have never felt I belonged in the human mainstream, though I have absolutely no idea as to where or among whom/what I would belong. Life and the actions and reactions of others are eternal mysteries. I manage within the carefully constructed confines of my daily life, but the farther I wander from those confines, the more alienated I feel.

While I was born to a heterosexual couple and raised in a heterosexual family of which I was the only homosexual, being homosexual, I simply cannot grasp, on any real basis, the personal interrelationships between men and women. The heterosexual world of weddings and baby showers and anniversaries and the various forms of socializing between couples is utterly terra incognito for me. The gay community, of course has its own versions of many of these events, but I now have largely been aged out of participation in even them, and remain uncomfortable among any group of heterosexuals I do not know personally.

And of course I realize that to a degree, all these problems are mine: I could make an effort to blend in more with the heterosexual world around me…you know, maybe go to a Cubs game, listen to my neighbors talk of their kids and ex wives and grandkids and golf games. But the harsh truth is, I never felt I belonged to, or was wanted by them before, and I’ve reached the point at which I don’t want to. I’m lucky enough to have a few good friends who keep me as connected to the Big World as I care to be. And, hey, I’ll always have me. There are worse things than being an odd man out.
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Friday, June 01, 2018

Lives



The young woman in the photo is Annabelle Fearn (nee Erickson). The year is probably around 1910. She is, if it is 1910, 34 years old. Married to Chester (Pete) Fearn, she has two children...a boy, Charles (Buck), 10, and a one-year-old daughter, Odrae. She has friends and acquaintances, and an extended family. She is a homemaker. She irons and sews and tends to Odrae and gets Pete off to work at the foundry and Buck off to school each weekday. She has only 8 more years to live.

She had no computer, no cell phone, no iPad, no TV, no radio, no electric refrigerator or electric stove, no air conditioning, no washing machine, no drier. She could not vote. 

William Howard Taft was President. The Wright brothers had taken their first flight only seven years before. In Belfast, Ireland, 3000 men were busy constructing the ship that would become RMS Titanic. World War I would not begin for another four years. 

And yet these facts were, to Annabelle, simply facts. They were the way things were. Her days were too filled with...life...with day-to-day existence...to ponder things which did not directly affect her or her family. Every day was spent in chores and routines and conversations and laughter and problems and sorrows and joys and plans for the future, just as yours are. But without the distractions of today's technology, her entire world centered around her family and friends. People were the focus of her world, not gadgets. She did not know about all the things she was missing, and therefore she didn't miss them. While I'm sure she would have loved many of the things we so take for granted today, she didn't feel deprived because she didn't have them.

The entire world was filled with people like her, who went about the business of living without too much pondering what was yet to come. The thing is that she was ALIVE. She was alive as you are alive and the people you pass on the streets are alive. Her mind was filled with thoughts, and plans, and dreams and hopes and grocery lists and birthday/holiday gifts. And every moment of her life was measured by exactly the same inhaling and exhaling that measures our own lives.

America's population at the time was under 100 million. Not one of those 100 million is alive today. Yet they all had names and faces and personalities and families and friends and jobs. They loved laughed and cried and argued and made up. And they are gone. Every single one of them.

And a hundred years from now, people will look at our lives and think us quaint, wondering how we could possibly have gotten along without the things they take totally for granted.

And none of this should be seen as morbid, or depressing. It is simply the way things have always been, how they are, and how they will always be. I have always taken great, if difficult to explain, comfort in wandering through cemeteries reading the tombstones' names and dates of birth and death, and the epitaphs on the stones. And I think―really think―of the people who lie beneath them, and imagine them as they were when they were still alive. I try to give them the individuality that death has taken from them. And I realize, as I do so, and especially with the older stones, that I may be the first person in a very, very long time, to be aware that they ever existed as living, breathing human beings. 

Reflecting on the past and all those who have gone before us should give us greater appreciation for every day...every minute...we have this infinitely precious gift of life.

Annabelle and Chester and Charles and Odrae are now gone, but we must never forget that they once were here, and that they loved and were loved.

My favorite epitaph reads: "As you are now, so once were we. As we are now, so shall you be." So the  next time you're sure your world is coming down around you because your computer has crashed, or your cell phone has dropped a call, think of Annabelle Fearn. Please.
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Tuesday, May 29, 2018

If



Though I can’t remember the source, I’ve admire whoever it was who asked, “how is it that people who long for immortality are so easily bored on a rainy Sunday afternoon?”

I do think that individual immortality would be more of a curse than a blessing. (Can you imagine watching those you love grow old and die while you stay young…time after time after time?) Were I God (a somewhat unlikely possibility) I would grant to every human the ability to live in good health until they were willing to let go of life—until life, in effect, became for him or her one long rainy Sunday afternoon.

One of the fascinations of life is the number of unanswered questions it holds. Were we to live for 1,000 years, we would/could never know all the answers. But when it comes to the experiences and potential experiences any human can have in the course of life, there are practical limits. Time inevitably changes everyone. Goals are reached, views, needs, and wants change. As one speaking from the vantage point of having lived 80 years (to me, having lived 80 years and being 80 are two very different things), I am very well aware that my own priorities and the emphases I place upon them have shifted. 

Were I to know I could live as long as I wanted to, I would undoubtedly rush to set ambitious new goals, to explore and pursue new long-term interests. Of course I still currently have a number of unreached goals and unfulfilled interests and hopes. But—often despite myself—I must acknowledge the practical fact that I have many more years behind me than I have ahead (I don’t know of anyone who has lived to be 160, Methuselah notwithstanding), and that is a source of great regret for me. 

Among the changes that the passage of time have made in me are what I consider important. I see ads on TV for new cars and fancy luxury apartments and furniture—things the younger me would ache to possess, and realize that my interest in accumulating things just to accumulate them has pretty much passed. I still want things, of course, but many of those things after which I…lusted?…no longer hold the same importance they once did, partly because I have at one time or another attained then. 

Again, were I to know that I had unlimited time, I’d undoubtedly develop a list of new objectives and wants, but it is unlikely they would be the same as those I’ve already dealt with in one form or another. And therein lies another basic fact of life: the learning curve. Old people walk very carefully on ice…partly out of awareness that they could break a bone should they fall, but mainly because, over the course of their lives, they have fallen on ice often enough to be extremely wary of doing it again. They have learned that particular lesson.

Things that are exciting to us when we are children, or teenagers, or young adults, become less so the more they are repeated…a classic example of the “been there, done that” principle. The older one gets, the more things fall under this heading. It’s yet another rather perverse fact of life that if we enjoy something, we want to repeat the experience, and the more we repeat the experience, the more commonplace it becomes.

Of course age does not dampen or lessen one’s basic interests—in my case, writing. And no matter what one’s age may be, the world is full of wonderful new things to do and explore, if we make the effort.
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Saturday, May 26, 2018

Thanotophobia


Humans are a strange lot. (...That's okay. I'll wait while you go get a pencil to write that down. Just be sure you credit me when you use it.) Ever since our species stopped dragging its knuckles on the ground as it made its way to becoming bipedal, we've been inventing and playing innumerable little games and telling ourselves all sorts of stories to try to distract us from the fact that we, by and large, don't have a clue as to where we came from, how we fit into the scheme of things, why we're really here, or where we're going.

The avoidance-at-all-costs of the subject of death and dying goes back almost as far as the knuckle-dragging. I'd not be surprised if it were discovered that fear of the unknown is built into our genes, and there is nothing more unknown, and therefore terrifying, than death. We invented religion and the concept of heaven and hell not only to curb our wilder and more violent traits with the promise of either reward or punishment, but to assuage our fear of the ultimate unknown. 

Death really isn't all that complicated. It is simply "the permanent ending of vital processes in a cell or tissue." It is a natural and inevitable process for every living thing. Yet because we have religion and the promise that there is...well, something...after our cells and tissues not only cease functioning but disappear, we believe that our the ability to think and reason somehow puts us above every other living thing. Yet the fact that we are not superior to a housefly or a rutabaga...just very different...is impossible to fully comprehend. It's nice to feel superior.

Some would argue that without the assurance of...something...after death, we would have no reason not to do whatever we wanted to while we're alive: rape, pillage, burn, steal. I would counter that there is enough of that going on even with visions of heaven and hell, like sugar-plum fairies, dancing in our heads. The fact is that we are a social species. We have set up a system of written and unwritten laws and rules by which the vast majority of us abide and are relatively comfortable with.

Because death and religion have become so intertwined over the millennia, it's hard to talk about one without the assumption that one is also talking about the other. This particular blog isn't intended as a diatribe against religion. But I firmly believe that while spirituality is also a part of every human being, the sins and excesses of organized religion have accounted for more wars, cruelty, and pain than any other social institution.

It's really odd that I, who wear my heart on my sleeve, who love happily-ever-after stories and beauty and romance, do not believe in the concept of heaven and hell. I'd like to believe in heaven. I really, truly, with all my heart would. But there simply is no logic to it. I go back to the question I asked my evangelical Sunday School teacher when he was extolling the wonders of heaven: "If my best friend does something terrible and is sent to hell, and I go to heaven, won't I be sad and miss him? But you said no one is sad in heaven." Organized religion and I parted ways shortly thereafter, with mutual relief.

I have never feared death...which is not at all to say I do not fear dying. To me, it is infinitely logical that death is exactly the same as the time before we were born. No one ever speculates on that, or is the least fearful of it. Nor should they be. Death is merely a return to that same "state of nonexistence" from which we were born. Absolutely no awareness, absolutely no fear or concern. Just the nothing of the deepest sleep. How can that conceivably be bad?

Because we did not exist before we were born, and will not exist after we die, being alive, for however long, is all there is and all that matters. And if we are concerned that the cessation of life is the cessation of our meaningfulness, or our worth, then we should do all we can while we are alive to make a positive difference to the world for all those who will be emerging from nonexistence after we have returned to it.
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com