Friday, April 25, 2008


It was Dorien’s godfather, Oscar Wilde, who said: “A cynic is one who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” Well, I know the value of a good many things, so I hope I don’t quite qualify under Oscar’s definition. However, someone else (it may also have been Oscar, but I'm not sure) said: “A cynic is a frustrated romantic,” and with this sentiment I concur completely.

I hate being cynical, but I am, far more often than I would like. It comes, I suppose from years and years of exposure to unrelenting hypocrisy, lies, greed and manipulation. Make no doubt, I am still a confirmed, rock-bound romantic and I still think there is more good than evil in the world but oh, my, it does seem to get harder and harder to hold on to unadulterated optimism as the years accumulate.

I saw a commercial the other day so seeped in “cute” that it should have carried a warning for diabetics. That I cannot recall what it was or what was being sold is a credit to my mind’s ability to totally block out what I don’t want to remember. Lord, but I hate “cute”!

Well, let me rephrase that: natural cute, as in babies and puppies, is fine. Forced “cute”…wearing baseball caps sideways ala multi-billionaire recording “artists” who can’t string a simple sentence together without several insertions of “ya’ know what I’m sayin’?” and seem incapable of pronouncing the word “ask” …induces in me the urge for projectile vomiting. And I’m not being racist in this: some years ago there was a white rapper named, I think, Vanilla Ice who, aside from his totally ridiculous hairdo, was a rather nice looking guy if you saw nothing more than a mug shot (and as I recall he had several, not all willingly posed). But his actions were just so with-it-cool-man-give-me-five-ya-know-what-I’m-sayin’ that I lump him in with those other cretins. It is not the color of the skin but the quality of their public persona that revolts me. Girls, I understand, thought Vanilla ice was “cute.” They were wrong.

TV has made a cult of “cute” on the assumption that “cute” sells. They inundate us with “cute” commercials featuring “cute” actors and actresses (and I am being charitable here) saying and doing “cute” things.

Kids programs are especially egregious. The “hosts” of weekend morning kids shows are typically really “cute” girls who think that dressing like an apprentice tart and wearing pigtails can hide the fact that they’ll never see 25 again. They address an audience of twelve year olds who are encouraged to look like they are 25. How can one see these things and not be tempted to cross over to the Dark Side?

CBS’s “Sunday Morning” is one of my favorite programs, but one of their featured “reporters” is a man called Bill Geise/Geisse/Ge...whatever: I take the fact that I have no idea of how he spells his name to be an indication of my opinion of him) who always hosts those folksy, down-home, good-ole boys segments which CBS apparently things are really, really cute. The segments subject may have some value, but Geise/Geisse/Whatever’s presentation goes far beyond “cute” to redefine the words “cloying” and “smarmy”. The man is the equivalent of chewing tinfoil, and I often knock things over in my rush to hit the channel changer.

Does this make me jaded? A bad person? A grump? Aw, hell…bring out those kittens!

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Hamster Cage

I’m usually pretty good at fooling myself into thinking I’m doing something constructive when I’m really just running madly around my own little version of a hamster cage. I’m especially good at it when there is something I really should be doing but want to put off. I’ll immediately come up with a thousand diversions: doing the dishes (which have been quietly and I can assume happily sitting in the sink minding their own business). I don’t really have to do them yet…I have an unused plate, two spoons, and a cup, which can double as a glass if I need it to. So there is no rush at all in actually doing the dishes. But I do them anyway.

Or I will go to the stack of magazines I’ve read and been meaning to leave in the laundry room for others to read. How the stack got 10 inches tall I have no idea…I just took a stack there no more than two or three months ago. Perhaps someone has been sneaking into my apartment when I’m not looking and adding to them. Anyway, I then spend an inordinate amount of time playing hide-and-seek with my black marking pen. Finally finding it (how it got there is a mystery). I then carefully cross out my name and address on the magazine covers (or, in the case of my New Yorkers, peel off the label), all of which takes up another good chunk of time. But now that I’ve got that done, I decide to hold off on actually going to the laundry room, and instead come in to check to see if I got any email while I was off doing whatever it was I was off doing. (By this time, I’ve usually forgotten.)

I then hastily respond to each email I have received, realizing as soon as I hit the “send” button that there was something more I wanted to say, or some question I did not answer, or any one of a number of goofs, gaffes, and errors I make with distressing regularity, and have to send a follow-up message apologizing for having sent the first message too soon. Or, as I have just done five minutes ago, respond to an email announcing an event which on cursory reading, did not include the location. I immediately fire off a witty note calling attention to the error, hit “send”, and instantly note that the address was indeed there and I’d just missed it. Which required an immediate follow up note of abject apology for being an idiot.

And so it goes.

One of the most effective ways I have found of not working more rapidly toward the end of my current book is to start reading it over to see if I’d made any mistakes or repetitions, or called a character by the wrong name, or had them do something on page 37 that they’d already done on page 32. Of course there are a galaxy of such glitches and errors and anachronisms, not to mention misspellings to be corrected, changing “but” to “and” in several places, and “and” to “but” in several others. Adding entire paragraphs here, taking others out there, or switching them from one page to another, so that when I am finally finished (for this time around) I will note that if I had reached Page 127 when I stopped moving the plot forward, I am still on Page 127 after spending several hours making the changes, additions, deletions, and corrections indicated above.

But I am always prepared to answer, when asked how my day went or how the book is going…or to volunteer should no one ask, that I spent all day writing.

Oh, and then there is always writing a blog when I should be writing the novel.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Paranoia Rides Again

I always liked the bumper sticker that says: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean somebody isn’t out to get you.” I can relate.

All evidence to the contrary, I really do not like making an ass of myself. Most of the time, I readily admit, I am the instigator. But every now and then…today I wrote a note to one of the groups to which I belong, including a link to my A World Ago blog, which is When the message was posted, I saw it came across as “http://www.dorien”, with a space between the “gr” and the “ey” in “doriengrey.” With my sterling track record for screwing up, I knew the error was mine. (Like, whose else could it be? Ya’ know what I’m sayin’?). So I hastily sent a note of embarrassed apology for the error, including the correct link, without the space between “gr” and “ey.”

I checked the site a few minutes later, and there it was...the space where I had not put in a space, where no space should be, and where no space was intended. So, glutton for punishment that I am, I sent yet another note, typing, when I came to the link, each note with one finger and deliberate slowness: “d...o...r...i...e...n...g...r...e...y”. I looked at it for a good ten seconds on the chance that a space might creep in while I watched. It did not. I posted the note again. And when I went to check…yep; the space was back.

This particular site to which I refer is run by Yahoo which, I have noticed, seems to have an absolutely wonderful time at the expense of its customers. We have one member whose every post comes across with a question mark wherever a period is supposed to be. I know he didn’t do it, unless he is so terribly insecure he must seek approval for every sentence. He is not.

Another member of the same list posts frequently. She has been a member for a couple of years, now. Yet every single post she sends is automatically pitched into Yahoo’s Spam bin. I have no idea what she might have done to deserve it, but I’m sure the Yahoo gods are doubled over with laughter each time the poor woman tries to get directly through to the group. (Oh, and tossing here every post into the Spam bin means that I have to go into the Spam bin about ten times more frequently than would normally be necessary, just to retrieve her posts.

And there are two other members with whom Yahoo takes delight in playing some sort of cyber ping-pong. At least fifty percent of the time, their posts will also be tossed into the Spam folder. Exactly the same address each time. Absolutely no reason for it, but, hey…

I received a call on my cell phone yesterday. I answered it (punch the “open” button to talk. I did it exactly as I have done it with every call I have ever received. But instead of being able to talk, or being able to hear, I got a random page from the phone’s “Menu.” I hung up, hoping whoever called would call again. They did. I punched the “open” button. I got a random page from the “Menu”. This went on three times until I literally had to hold the hand with the phone tightly with my other hand to keep me from tossing it through the window.

But, hey, it’s all in jolly good fun, isn’t it? ……I said, isn’t it? Why am I seeing a menu page from my cell phone?

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sign, Part 2

I still remember a few of my favorite signs: “cute” (index and second fingers lightly flicking the chin twice), “drunk” (drawing the hand in front of the forehead while rapidly scissoring the index and middle fingers like a swimmer’s legs), and “and” (closing the tips of the fingers of the open hand against the thumb while moving it in front of the chest-—the speed with which it is done indicating emphasis). Many more are coming to mind as I’m thinking of them, but….

I took a sign class at the gay Metropolitan Community Church in L.A. and toyed for a moment with the idea of becoming an interpreter, but I never came close to the level of proficiency required. But I learned a lot, and found it fascinating.

ASL (American Sign Language) is derived from French, where sign originated as a separate language. It’s quite different from spoken English, primarily in its grammatical structure. (For example, adjectives tend to follow nouns, not precede them as in English.)

Sign is in some ways a form of shorthand. Whereas in spoken English we might say “I’m going to go to the store,” that would most likely be signed as “I go store.” Says exactly the same thing, but far more compactly. And just as the hearing can tell, by listening to someone speak, what part of the country they’re from, so can the deaf. Sign has its own distinct dialects, and word usage varies from one part of the country to the next.

The hearing learning sign tend to sign as they normally speak, in grammatical English, adding all the unnecessary words and putting them in the word order of spoken English. There’s even a sign for “signing English”...the hands clasped together at the waist primly, in the fashion of a spinster’s addressing her garden club.

Before there were personal computers, the phone company provided what were called TTY machines, which were basically Text Messaging machines, complete with a printout feature on adding machine tape. You’d type your message, then type “G.A.” (“go ahead”) to let the other person know you were through. I had one for use with Mark and Rob, and it’s quite likely they don’t even make TTYs anymore.

I got a kick out of the fact that, in large gatherings with other deaf, it’s difficult to have a truly private conversation: anyone who can watch their hands, from anywhere in the room, knows exactly what they’re talking about.

There is an incredibly strong division within the deaf community on the issue of whether or not the deaf should learn to speak even though they cannot hear. My friend Mark was vehement on the subject: deaf since birth, his parents had sent him to a school which insisted he learn to speak. He did learn, but he refused to use it. “Why should I learn to speak in order to communicate with the hearing? Let them learn sign!” Even Rob, having lived in both worlds, felt strongly that to insist the deaf learn to speak was a perverse form of discrimination.

The division is particularly deep when it comes to devices such as cochlear implants, which allow the deaf to hear. Those who support these implants argue with some justification that hearing is necessary to get along in today’s world. Others disagree vehemently, saying their use can destroy the deaf community and culture. It’s rather like someone coming up with a “cure” for being gay. Many...probably the vast majority...of both gays and the deaf see absolutely nothing wrong with being the way God made them and are proud and defensive of their culture. Conformity can be culturally destructive.

I miss signing, and now that I’m back in Chicago, should look into taking a course here. Care to join me? I think you’d like it.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Sign, Part 1

The TV show “Cold Case” recently had an episode involving the death of a student at a high school for the deaf, and it immediately reminded me of my experiences (relatively peripheral though they were) with the deaf community in Los Angeles as a result of having made several deaf friends there. Oddly, it did not occur to me until just now how strong the similarities are between the deaf community and the gay community. Each is a distinct subculture which exists, largely unseen, within but totally apart from the mainstream. Each has its own specific if unwritten rules and rituals and its own cultural history, and provides vital support and comfort to its members who are too often ostracized, discriminated against, or ignored by the world at large.

With very few exceptions, neither the deaf nor gays can be picked out of a crowd just by looking at it. For gays, this can be an advantage, but not for the deaf who, not being able to respond to someone trying to get their attention (asking them to move, for example), can provoke anger and rudeness.

The deaf routinely deal with problems the hearing never even consider. They must be particularly vigilant while driving, since they cannot hear the sirens of emergency vehicles. The deaf are far more likely to die in building fires because they are unable to hear alarms or shouted warnings or poundings on the door. Many of the deaf have doorbells hooked up to light fixtures which alert them, by flashing, as to the arrival of a visitor. Simply walking into a store or restaurant or asking for directions present problems the hearing never have to address.

Before I moved to L.A., I had no contact with the deaf, other than to occasionally—rarely, at that—see people signing. I remember wondering why, when most animated, their faces would contort and they would make guttural sounds, while signing, and their gestures would become more exaggerated. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to make deaf friends that I realized that exaggerated gestures and facial expressions are the equivalent of volume, tone, and emphasis of oral speech.

I had two rather close deaf gay friends, who were themselves best friends. Rob was in his early 20s, puppy-dog cute and utterly charming, so naturally I had a tremendous crush on him. He had lost his hearing to illness when he was 19 and shortly thereafter suffered a stroke which rendered him mute as well. (Every deaf person I have met considers the phrase “deaf and dumb”—even when using “dumb” as a synonym for “mute”—a stinging insult.) I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Rob, having lived in both the hearing and deaf worlds, but he was always cheerful and upbeat. Mark was only a little older, deaf since birth, and though a bit more serious than Rob, had a great sense of humor. They both loved to dance, as do many in the deaf community, easily picking up the vibrations from the pounding beat which reverberates through both the air and the floor.

I had, somewhere along the way, picked up a bit of ASL (American Sign Language), mostly limited to finger-spelling, at which I was painfully slow, but which helped establish my friendship with Mark and Rob. They gradually taught me more and the one thing that I still remember and deeply appreciate is how amazingly patient the deaf tend to be with those who are trying to learn sign.

I never did become truly proficient at it, and when I moved from L.A. I had no opportunity to practice it, and thus have forgotten most of what I’d learned.

Oh, dear. Out of space. More on Sign next time.

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Friday, April 04, 2008


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.

The entire population of the planet when Grandpa Fearn was born no longer exists. 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.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Doctor is In

One of the best things about self-analysis is that there’s nobody to tell you you’re wrong. I have a doctorate in the subject, issued by the prestigious Dorien Grey University and Storm Door Company, and I have been my patient now for as long as I can remember. The results of my efforts are, as you may have noticed, published here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

I also, of course, am well qualified at analyzing others as well and consider myself something of the Jiffy-Lube of psychoanalysis. You have a problem? Just bring it to me for resolution.

In my active-in-the-community days, I seemed to be a magnate for people with problems, which I was more than eager to take on. It bordered on being a Messiah complex: “Suffer little emotionally insecure gay men to come unto me.” Lord knows there were enough of them. I’m quite sure that one of the major reasons I did it was that in devoting my time to their problems, I didn’t have to spend too much time concentrating on my own (one of which, of course, was why and how I really felt qualified to tell other people how to live their lives). I have occasionally looked back with true regret on the amount of money I spent on these people.

It really was rather fascinating: I would walk into a crowded bar and some sort of mystic sonar would start radiating from me across the room: “Emotionally needy? Right this way.” Apparently those who responded saw something in me…a certain stability, perhaps. And compared to some of them, I was indeed the Rock of Gibraltar to their sand castles.

Perhaps there was something of the Pygmalian complex involved. I’ve always secretly enjoyed control. By taking on people with damaged psyches, I was in effect playing Savior of Lost Souls

Let me say in my own behalf that occasionally I really do feel that I did some good. For one thing, I genuinely did care and I did try to do something to help. Unfortunately, too many times they were shattered into such tiny pieces I doubt anyone could ever have put them back together.

And there were, of course, disasters from which I never fully recovered, specifically with one-who-shall-remain-nameless who cost me far more than $10,000 over a calamitous two-year relationship. I think I’ve discussed that one before, but my only excuse for having put up with it was that it was at the time that my mother was dying, and I had far more important things on my mind.

But the fact of the matter is that there are so very many people out there who are, truly, lost and who really can benefit from the help and advice of others. Just listening with an open mind and heart can do a lot. And it is also true that, having led the checkered life I have, I do believe I have a high sense of empathy and can understand how and why people feel like they do. I should point out that this is far more true of gays than heterosexuals who, though I have lived among them all my life, are still largely incomprehensible to me.

Being out of the gay mainstream now, I don’t have the opportunity…or as much of a desire…to play Lucy van Pelt sitting on the curb with her little “The Doctor is In” stand. But, hey, if you have a problem, I’m willing to listen.

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