Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Computer Conspiracy

Well, I must say there is nothing like getting a new computer to wash every other thought, idea, intent, enthusiasm, or initiative right out of one’s head. My friend Gary has been encouraging me for several years now to buy a Mac laptop with the proselytizing zeal of a Southern Baptist preacher at a tent revival meeting.

I’ve had a desktop Dell for a couple of years and been very happy with it. But it is getting a bit old, now, and with all old things (present company excepted), its time will run out. It has a nice, big screen, but is a little too cumbersome to try to haul back and forth to my part-time-weekend work. So last Friday I thought I would do my civic duty to get the economy moving again by splurging money I can ill afford on a Mac laptop. I have spent 23 hours a day since pondering the first words Samuel B. Morse tapped out on his new invention, the telegraph: “What hath God wrought?”

To say that machines hate me may appear more than a little paranoid, but the preponderance of my experience over the years with anything containing moving parts or requiring an external power source to operate provides ample proof of my belief. Computers, having some elemental…and perverse…form of intelligence, seem to go out of their way to bedevil me. I had watched Gary demonstrate with blissful “ho-hum” ease and confidence, how the Mac can write a symphony, do video presentations, slide shows, compile lists and graphs and charts of dazzling complexity. Put it in a pair of tap shoes and it could undoubtedly do a mean buck-and-wing. It all had a Harry-Potter-at-Hogwarts wonder and deceptive simplicity.

“Computers,” I am constantly told, “do exactly what you tell them to do. No more, no less.” I beg to differ. I tell a computer to do something and it does whatever it damn well pleases, snickering in its little internal secret code of endless 0s and 1s. (“Ha-ha! You didn’t say ‘Mother, May I?’ ”)

Okay, I want to do something very simple, like move a file from here to there. Easy as pie. No, make that easy as pi. I see four-year-old kids on TV commercials sending full-color coffee table books of their own photographs to Grandma in New South Wales, while I have a hard time sending an email attachment to a friend a mile away. Quite probably my failure is due, as I have said so many times before, to the fact that my threshold of frustration is so low I have to descend several feet into a hole to find it. Once my slide into frustration starts, I cannot control it and it quickly passes from confusion to anger to Krakatoa-sized rage. Tantrums can be cute in a five-year-old. They are considerably less so in a grown man.

Yet even as I watch the computer savvy of others effortlessly conjure up wonders from cyberspace, my frustration and attending fury grows. The wonders which come so easily to them could be mine. They should be mine. But they are not, and the computer knows it. It sits there in its cocoon of technology, oozing superiority while regarding me with utter contempt. I know that if I were to spend every day for the rest of my life trying to figure out what everything is for or how to use it, I still wouldn’t be able to get beyond the letter “A” in the computer’s alphabet. Gary has been infinitely patient and far-beyond-the-call-of-duty helpful, and does his best to convince me that I am an intelligent human being. But the computer knows better, and does not hesitate to let me know it.

I know my comfort level will improve—or so I insist on telling myself in a rather sad attempt to hold onto what passes for sanity. But it is the interim which drives me to distraction. I am a latter-day Neanderthal gazing into the fire of cyberspace, fascinated but clueless, agreeing fully with whoever said that fire makes a wonderful servant, but a terrible master. And right now, it definitely has the upper hand.
------------
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Conspiracy

I firmly believe in the old adage “Just because you’re not schizophrenic doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get you.” I don’t think this is true, for me, with people. But it definitely is true of inanimate objects, especially any that require any sort of interaction with me. I am sincerely, truly, deeply convinced that there is an inanimate object conspiracy to drive me to apoplexy, and I can see the parking lot from here.

I use my cell phone so seldom that I avoid monthly phone fees by buying my minutes in blocks (500 minutes for $50). It takes me from three to five months to go through 500 minutes. But eight times out of ten, when my phone does ring, I am unable to answer it. I fish it out of my pocket, push the “talk” button, say “Hello?” and instantly cut the caller off. Some sort of message flashes on my screen which, in my fury, I cannot remember from one incident to the next. Usually, the caller is foolish enough to try again at once, figuring something may have happened to cause them to be cut off. It did. I had tried to answer the call. By the time I finish madly pushing buttons trying with increasing frustration and fury to actually talk to whomever it was who called, it is far too late. And to add insult to injury, a message will then appear on the screen saying smugly “You have 2”—or more—“missed calls.” I know I missed them, you stupid twit! I missed them trying to answer them!

In an effort to keep my computer files safe, I found a site called MediaMax which offers to store files free. I transferred all my manuscripts and writings to it. Found another free storage site the other day called Mozy and figured better safe than sorry, also backed up my files to it. All well and good. All safe and secure. Right? Wrong. Today I wanted to add a few more files. Went to Mozy, reached their page with no problem. It informed me of how much space I have used, which was very thoughtful of it. However, there was absolutely no information on how I could add new files, add to files already there, or even check to see which files were there. I went to MediaMax and was told there was no such site. Went to Google, which had a bunch of references to MediaMax, not one of which worked.

It seems that if there is one thing internet sites do NOT want you to do, it is to try to contact them directly. Finding a way to actually get in touch with them is a Herculean endeavor. They are fond, in their sincere effort to be of service to you, of offering an FAQ (it took me months to find out that FAQ stood for “Frequently Asked Questions”) page which offers detailed information on everything except what you want to know. I guess they think if it isn’t on the FAQ sheet, it isn’t worth asking. Some sites, after I have spent hours looking for a way to reach them, will actually give me a place to send my inquiry. Shortly after sending it, I invariably get a form message from them thanking me profusely for submitting my question and assuring me they will respond within a very short time. Of the 50 or so messages I have sent over the past three years, I am still waiting for a response from 48 of them. But most infuriating of all is to receive a reply saying: “Thank you for your inquiry. Please check our FAQ sheet.”

I belonged, briefly, to a site which encourages member participation by posting new topics or messages. Yet they do not bother to tell me how to go about posting something new. I can reply to someone else’s post easily enough, but to put up a new one? Forget it. And so, after innumerable attempts and failures, I decided just to unsubscribe from the group, and (you see where I’m going here?)…

It is to weep.
-----------
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Falling Short

A few years ago, now, I received a totally unexpected package from a fellow writer named Sue Hartigan, whom I’d met through a couple of the many online lists to which I belong. Sue’s posts were unerringly charming, caring, and cheerful. Yet I knew she had been battling cancer for some time. We corresponded a few times as kindred spirits.

When I opened the package, I found a delightful little ceramic statuette of two cats snuggling atop a book. I can’t describe how touched by and appreciative of this small act of gratuitous kindness I was. I have the statuette directly to one side of my computer monitor and it serves as a daily reminder of how very much even a small act of kindness can mean. It has even more poignancy for me now, since Sue lost her battle about a year ago.

It also reminds me, should I ever forget it, that I’m not a very nice person, sometimes. I am far too self-absorbed (which you may have noticed from these blog entries), often thoughtless, too quick to judge, too quick to speak and too slow to listen, too often petty. I do not express my appreciation for things or people nearly as often or as strongly as I should, have not one scintilla of patience, and do not suffer those I consider fools gladly. I often disappoint, embarrass, and shame myself by falling so short of being the person I—and others—expect me to be. My temper frequently has a very short fuse. I have rock-bound opinions and attitudes which I would never tolerate in others, and I’m sure drive those around me to distraction.

And yet for all this, I have never knowingly, deliberately set out to hurt anyone. To cheat or rob or take unfair advantage of another human being is truly incomprehensible to me. That there are so many people who seem to go out of their way to inconvenience or harm others, who are incapable of common courtesy, let alone respect, care, concern, or compassion for anyone but themselves astonishes and deeply saddens me. I would, had I the chance, gladly pass judgement on these people, and it would be harsh indeed—which, it could be argued, would make me no better than them.

People who take obvious pleasure in duping and swindling others without one single thought or qualm about the effect of their actions deserve a special place in Hell. (Granted, I also cannot comprehend how so many people can be so gullible as to fall for these schemes.)
It could be argued that predators and prey are part of the balance of nature, and that since man is biologically an animal, we are subject to that same balance. The Nigerian barrister offering complete strangers millions of dollars is no different than a lion in wait by a waterhole for a passing gazelle. The hucksters, shills, and con artists who flood every email “in” box are merely piranha waiting for something living to fall into the water.

Among humans, those without common sense are natural prey for those without morals, conscience, or scruples. But it is axiomatic that without an ample supply of prey, the predators would have nothing to feed on, and both groups, sadly, seem to be increasing exponentially.

Man is the only animal with a concept of the future and the ability to shape it. I can be better than I am: we can be better than we are. The question is, are we willing to put forth the effort? I find it infinitely disheartening to realize that, from even a cursory look at the world around us, the answer seems to be “no.”

Well, I’m not the rest of the world. I’m me. And I can try to be better. Hey, it’s a start.
----------
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Normal

Normal, adj.: According to, constituting, or not deviating from, an established norm, rule, or principle

Well, I’d pretty much scratched that one off my list of Things I Want To Be When I Grow Up by the time I was five. The last thing in the world I wanted, even then, was to be like everyone else, and I’ve subsequently worked very hard to avoid the pitfalls of normalcy.

I have, perhaps unfairly to those people who are normal, always equated being normal with cookie cutters: to be normal is to do what everyone else does and think what everyone else thinks. That’s fine if being normal is an unconscious choice. But far too many people are “normal” not so much through choice but because they feel the necessity to follow the cardinal rule for normalcy: “Do what is expected of you and don’t make waves.” Again, that’s fine for those who are truly comfortable obeying rules. I do not like rules.

Have you noticed how even social “rebels”—hippies in the 60s, rappers in the 90s and teenagers of every generation— try to prove their “difference” by looking and acting just like everyone else in their group? I have never felt the need—and certainly not the desire—to have my body covered in tattoos or have various body parts pierced or wear black eyeliner or spiked hair or, back when it was in vogue, a mustache, to call attention to myself. know I’m different…I have no need to prove it to anyone. (Though, you’ll notice, I apparently have the need to tell people about it.) Not that people don’t notice I’m not quite like them, but I would hope they might have to give some thought to it before reaching the conclusion.

I am sufficiently self-conscious not to want to be considered “abnormal,” or to be so far from what people might think of as normal that I might be pointed out in a crowd, though I am finding that the fact of aging is taking this option out of my hands: I do stand out simply because one look tells people I am no longer like them.

Even within the range of “normal,” each of us is of course different in our own way, some through choice and some through circumstance. I vastly prefer “different by choice” to “different by circumstance.”

I don’t consider my being gay makes me particularly “different.” For one thing it is not a matter of choice, and for another, though gays are in the distinct minority of the general population, the number of gays in the United States far exceeds the entire population of the continent of Australia. But undoubtedly being gay contributed to my aversion to the more blatant outward forms of demonstrating my lack of normalcy. Being part of a persecuted minority tended to create a deep-seated and understandable need to not be easily spotted.
But my awareness of not being “normal” means I’ve never felt comfortable among groups of people I do not know well. Being surrounded by large groups of “normal” (read, for the most part, “heterosexual”) people can be particularly unnerving.

If being normal is your choice, more power to you…I certainly don’t mean to be dismissive of those who freely choose normalcy. Life is infinitely easier for you, I’m sure. But there are far too many people who choose to be normal because it frees them of the need to ask questions—such as why things are as they are, or are not as they should be. To be normal is to be far more accepting of life than I am or have ever cared to be. I can and do respect normal people and perhaps even envy them a bit. But I would never, never want to be one of them!
----------
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Friday, June 09, 2017

The Likes O' Me

I take a certain degree of pride in the fact that I am not “normal.” I have never been “normal” and have never had the slightest interest in being so. I have, in fact, spent most of my life avoiding normalcy like the plague, and were anyone to refer to me as being “normal”—though no one ever has—I am quite sure I would be rather insulted.

Of course, having been gay since I was five years old, I never really had much of an option. Society made it very clear that I was not like everyone else, and though I have never (until, perhaps, recent years) flaunted the fact, having witnessed what those who did flaunt it had to endure made self-evident the old saying “discretion is the better part of valor.” In the case of gays and lesbians, it was often a matter of “discretion is the better part of survival.” And because my sexual orientation is such a major part of my character, it is axiomatic that I would and never could feel “normal” in a world of people so different from myself.

To be normal is to belong, and I have never belonged—again, largely through choice. My family, bless them, have always fully accepted me, even though they all knew I was gay long before I told them. I have heard far too many stories of individuals cast out from those they love and are supposed to love them, and every time I hear of this happening, my heart breaks for the outcast even while I am filled with renewed gratitude for having the family I have.

There are so many things—many of them touched on in these blogs—that I honestly and sincerely do not understand, such as bigotry and hypocrisy and hatred, and blind acceptance of what other people say is right or wrong. How can people not question? How can people not see the utter lack of logic which underlies racial, ethnic, and sexual orientation prejudices?

It is the “likes o’ mes” of the world—the outcasts, the ones who have been repeatedly told directly or indirectly but always emphatically, that they do not belong with “normal” folk…who push civilization forward. And I am embarrassed to acknowledge that while I, personally, share their attitudes and opinions, I am nowhere as brave as they in expressing them. I deeply admire and envy those who put everything on the line for the things they fervently believe in. I am not a barricade-stormer, or a flag-waver or soapbox orator. I do what I can far more quietly, through words on paper and computer monitors.

Deeply held beliefs and how they are expressed are, like so much in life, a two-sided coin. The difference lies in whether the belief and its expression is inclusive or divisive, positive or negative. Any belief based on the denigration of others in any way is unequivocally wrong.
I suppose, on thinking it over, that the constant strife that humanity has always endured…the wars, the conflicts, the diametrically-opposed belief systems—might be a calculated (by who or what we cannot know) means of keeping us sharp and alert as a species. Without conflict, agonizing though it often is, there would be only complacency. Conflict creates progress and keeps us moving fore.

There must, therefore, always be people set aside for scorn and persecution, for it is they who initiate change. And it is “the likes o’ me,” I would truly love to believe, who, without shouting or fighting, can quietly hold up small arrows along the rough and twisted road to the future saying: “This way!”
---------
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Worst Enemies

“Beat me! Beat me!” cried the masochist. “No,” replied the sadist.

The concept of sadism, or of physical masochism, is utterly beyond my comprehension. To take pleasure from inflicting or seeking out physical pain is inconceivable to me. However, when it comes to mental masochism—to the constant and merciless berating of one’s self—I have been a lifelong practitioner, and I simply cannot break myself of it.

The origins of my mental masochism I’m convinced lie in my compulsion to be so very much more than I am or could ever possibly be. I began pointing out my flaws at an early age, as a rather warped means of beating other people to the punch. Rather than wait for someone else to say, as they inevitably would: “Jeezus, Margason, you suck!” I step right in and say it before they get the chance. I won’t give them the satisfaction of thinking I am not already aware of my shortcomings.

And over time this self-deprecation became a way of life. Unfortunately, running myself down as a form of preemptive strike has, not surprisingly, been counterproductive. I’ve often told the story (and why wouldn’t I? It’s self-deprecatory) of seeing a letter one of my best friends in college had written another. In it, in mentioning me, he said, “You know, Roger keeps on telling everyone how worthless he is until eventually you begin to believe him.” That should have been a wake-up call. It wasn’t. More than 60 years later, I’m still doing it. How I have managed to get this far in life without an ulcer is a miracle.

I’m not sure whether it could be called ironic, or perverse, or perversely ironic, but I see my self-loathing, as indicated above, as a form of reverse narcissism. I demand far, far more of myself than I expect of anyone else because…well, because I’m me! I am fascinated by—and take what, despite all my vehement protests to the contrary, has to be a…well, masochistic…delight in—my own flaws and failings. I am not fishing for denials whenever I say that I am incompetent; I truly and completely believe it, and past experience offers solid proof. Given 10,000 opportunities to do something right or to do it wrong—especially if the task involves anything with moving parts, electricity, or the internet, the odds are that I will do it wrong 9,955 times out of the 10,000. And that is a conservative figure. It is also irrefutable fact. I don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.

We live in an increasingly technological world. Yet when, after countless failed attempts to do something technological, someone (usually a long-suffering friend) takes me by the hand and baby-steps me to the point where I finally do it right, the chances are 9,999 to 1 that the next time I need to do exactly the same thing, I will have forgotten how to do it or, doing it exactly the way I did it before, it will not work. In fact, it is quite common for me to do even a simple task I have done without problem innumerable times before—press key A and then key B to get result C, for example. Suddenly, with absolutely no change in the way I have always done it, I will press key A and then key B and get result Z, H, R, or K…sometimes in combination. Despite the kindness of people who assure me I exaggerate my inability to comprehend the simplest of instructions, the fact is that they know not whereof they speak simply because they are not me.

While it is sometimes difficult for most people to separate hyperbole from fact, I like to believe that I have raised incompetence to a new level…a statement perfectly demonstrating what I mean by reverse narcissism. “Nonsense,” my friends will tell me. “Everyone makes mistakes.” Yes, but the entire point of this blog is that they are allowed—even expected—to make mistakes. I am not. What I readily accept in them, I refuse to allow in myself. They are mere mortals, whereas I, while not sufficiently narcissistic to deny being mortal, am somehow…more. And if one’s value can be measured by the number of one’s flaws, I am “more,” indeed.

So go ahead, take a look at your own flaws and failings, but don’t even try to compare them to mine: you haven’t the chance of a snowball in hell of winning.
---------
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Monday, June 05, 2017

Generations

It’s interesting to think that each generation of mankind is a link in a chain that goes back to the beginnings of our species, and that only a few links can span a very long time.

I think I mentioned in one blog that when I was just starting school in 1941 (probably a couple of links away in your own generational chain), a man I knew as “Mr. Bement” lived on the street behind ours. He was, as I recall him, incomprehensibly old in comparison to my then seven or eight years. He was, I believe, 90. Which meant he was born somewhere around 1853 and would have been old enough to remember the Civil War. My own grandfather Chester Fearn was born the year after the Chicago fire; my dad the year before the Titanic set sail. WWI had only been over 15 years when I myself was born.

I think of these things and am awestruck. I am only two links in the chain of generations away from the Chicago fire. Astounding.

Not one single person of the entire population of the planet living when Grandpa Fearn is alive today. Within a few years, the planet’s entire population when my parents were born will also be dead, and within 35 years, every single human being living on the face of the earth on the day I was born will be gone. Astonishing!

Each succeeding generation overlaps the ones before it like the clapboard siding on a house, and the link-forming is a continuous event.

I’ve spoken often of my fascination with cemeteries, and the sense of calm I feel when walking through one, reading the tombstones. I am aware that as I read the names on the older ones and wonder who they were, what they sounded and looked like, what they did for a living, their families, their friends, their hopes and an infinite number of other questions, that I am probably the first person in many years to have been aware that they even existed.

I’ve occasionally, too, wished that I had somehow had children (artificial insemination only, thank you), only to realize that the main reason most people have for having children is to leave a legacy of themselves, and I do that with my writing. While children, and their children, and their children’s children on through time carry the genes of all who came before, individuals, with infinitely few exceptions, are totally lost to time within three or four generations. Family memories seldom go back beyond one’s grandparents.

Every parent wishes the very best for his/her children. They want to protect them, and see them grow to be healthy, happy individuals. But it is inevitable that as they reach maturity, they wander off on their own and begin forming their own lives and families and histories. And it is here I feel I have something of an advantage—though the word “advantage” can certainly be questioned. The characters in my books are in effect my children, and they never change. Dick and Jonathan and Joshua are a loving, happy family, and they will remain so forever. They won’t grow old, or grow apart from me. They live in a world without time, and it is, again, time which is my principle enemy. I could not protect my real children, had I had any, from it, but I can do so for my characters, who are almost as real to me as flesh and blood offspring. And while I cannot hold them in my arms, I can hold them in my heart.
---------
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: