Friday, August 29, 2008

Of a Groggy Morning

Trying an experiment here. It is 5:41 a.m. and I got out of bed at 5 in response to an itching foot. I am groggy, and feel it—it’s one of those “looking out through someone else’s eyes” feelings of which I am not particularly fond. I have the distinct impression that my mind has been replaced by an oversized lump of Play-Doh,

So I thought I’d just sit down at the computer and see what came out on the screen. (It’s quite likely, given my normal “drunk leaving the bar” staggering from place to place, that you may not even have noticed had I not told you.

And I just received a sharp rebuke from Dorien, who demands (rightly) to know by just what right I am wasting your precious time with all this nonsense. Paraphrasing Thumper’s mom, he points out that “If ‘ya can’t say somethin’ intelligent, don’t say nothin’ at all.” To which Roger replies: “In that case I would become mute.”

I have always been at war with myself, and it was only since Dorien’s emergence as my creative half that it’s been somewhat easier—and considerably less confusing—to separate the wheat from the chaff. Each half of me now has someone specific to blame for whatever mistakes the other half makes.

Roger acknowledges that he is jealous, not of Dorien’s creativity, for we are both the same person after all, but for the fact that Dorien is not bound by the laws of physics. Dorien, therefore a much happier and more content soul, nonetheless is aware that he is inextricably linked to Roger by the bonds of mortality. Neither Dorien nor Roger is very big on the idea of mortality.

When I am at the computer, I have a “streaming” link to a couple of classical music stations, and one is always on. And just this minute, they are playing the Eric Coate’s Knightsbridge March, and Dorien is instantly in the rehearsal hall at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, practicing that very piece with the Naval Aviation Cadet band for an upcoming concert in Terrytown, New York. We’re going up there as part of some official Navy event, and doing a concert at Mr. Barnes’s—he’s our director and I have something of a crush on him—prep school. Dorien is filled with wonder: Roger with sadness because he can’t be there, too.

I’ll probably never understand, either in the grogginess of not enough sleep or in whatever stage of alertness I may reach fully rested, why I feel not merely obligated but driven to lay out as many bits and pieces and details of myself and my life as I can. How can I expect anyone to care? You have your own life, every bit as full and interesting and challenging and frustrating and happy and sad as my own.

Which brings me yet again to my standard answer to the question of “why.” Because I believe that whoever/whatever designed the jigsaw puzzle which is our life, while the picture on the box may be slightly different for each of us, the pieces are largely interchangeable

I take great comfort in that.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Of Dreams and Hearing

I dreamt about Louise Hirsheiser last night. A lot: her name kept recurring throughout the entire course of the night, over and over again: Louise Hirsheiser. Louise Hirsheiser. Why I should be dreaming of Louise Hirsheiser may have been more clear had I the slightest idea of who Louise Hirsheiser might be. But I don’t. I’d never heard of her before. And she never physically appeared in any of the dreams, though one about halfway through the night tried to solve the mystery. It appears she was responsible somehow for the death of my mother, and was willing to pay me $2 million for my loss. However, I had to write the check myself. My father, played with the brilliant logic of dreams by actor Sam Waterston, gave me the check, which was under a sheet of glass, and a pen. Naturally, the pen wouldn’t write on the glass, and Sam was angry with me for not being able to do so. In an odd mixture of frustration and sadness, I started to cry (so real a cry I woke myself up).

Not having Siggy Freud’s Big Book of Dreams at hand, I was only able to guess at what any of it meant, if it meant anything at all. They do say that dreams are the mind’s housekeeper, sweeping up the dust-bunnies of the previous day’s thoughts and sorting out and filing recent experiences and our inner reactions to them. But for me, dreams underscore my utter fascination with life and the importance of being aware of and enjoying every aspect of it, whether it makes sense or not.

I think part of my ability to ramble endlessly, and my problem with being able to stick to one subject or idea for very long is a subconscious reaction to just how much is going on in and around me, and how very little time there is to even attempt to process it all.

And so in my fine tradition of mixing apples and walnuts, I find myself doing it again with this blog. Start out with dreams, move on to ears. Perfectly logical segue…to me, anyway (dreams are formed in the space between the ears, after all).

And, of course, as the years pass more and more quickly, I become more focused on the physical changes that take place as part of the aging process and the reluctant realization that denial and railing against the inevitable aren’t going to change things. But that doesn’t…and I hope never will…stop me from making it clear I have no intention of going gentle into that good night.

Physical changes are generally gradual, and I have noted that I frequently have trouble understanding what people are saying. It isn’t a matter of not being able to hear them speaking: it isn’t the volume that’s the problem. It’s the fact of intelligibility. I watch TV and am aware that I haven’t any idea of what in the hell these people are saying. And turning up the volume does not help: I’m simply and inexplicably finding it harder to distinguish words. “This is what I am saying” too often comes across as “Tmbr eh jllwe I’b plebus”. Frustrating. And being assured that this is perfectly normal for “someone my age” drives me up the wall. It may be perfectly normal for everyone else, but it is NOT “perfectly normal” for me and I’ll be damned if I’ll accept it.

My vanity aside, I would not be averse to looking into getting a hearing aid, were they more affordable, but I can put up with a lot of mumbling for the $3,000-up I understand hearing aids cost. Besides, I live mostly inside myself anyway. What do I need to know what other people are saying for, anyway?

Have I mentioned that reality and I don’t get along very well?

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Hubris, Sheep, and Salmon

hubris > Origin Greek, denoting presumption towards or defiance of the gods

A friend recently pointed out that I demonstrate this quality in abundance. I was flattered that he would think so.

Hubris was not smiled upon by the gods of mythology. Those mere mortals who displayed it— Prometheus, Naiobi, Arachnae, Oedipus, Cassandra, among others—suffered mightily for doing so. I’m sure I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes with the gods.

Our God isn’t wild about hubris, either, which is why He and I long ago reached what I hope is an amicable parting of the ways. I never presumed to be godlike, other than in the creation of the worlds and characters within my books, but I most certainly do defy the right of anyone to tell me how to live my life.

Our government, which too often looks upon itself as godlike, definitely does not like hubris. When it comes right down to it, I cannot think of any form of authority who/which does not consider any questioning of its authority to be hubris. To question is to challenge, to challenge is to be in effect a traitor. You’re with us or you’re against us. Period. There is no middle ground. It is the ultimate irony that mankind has never made a single inch of progress without questioning some authority or other, and yet those who initially ask the questions generally do so at their peril.

Actually, I look on hubris as something of a badge of honor. Anyone who presumes to tell me what I should do, or how I should do it, or attempts to make my decisions for me had damned well better have a good reason for it..

Life is filled with choices, and hubris divides the world into salmon and sheep. To display hubris is to be a salmon swimming upstream, and fighting the currents is never easy. To never defy anything is to be a sheep, and there are far too many sheep in the world. Sheep, without a moment’s thought or question, go in whatever direction they are pointed…which is all too frequently to the slaughterhouse. Being a sheep is fine, if it is a conscious choice. But most sheep are sheep by default, simply because it never occurs to them to be anything else.

Hubris stems from independent thought, and independent thought is admittedly inconvenient. It often calls unwanted attention to the thinker, rather like watching the Rockettes and seeing one dancer not in sync with the others. It is axiomatic that most people assume that if someone says something must be done a certain way, or must be believed unquestioningly, they have a very good reason for it, and it is far safer not to make waves than to be swamped by them.

Children personify hubris. To them, the world is one vast “Why?” To answer a child’s question with “Because”, as is so often the case, does them a great disservice and merely serves, over time, to erode any desire to question. Still, many children refuse to accept “Because” as a logical answer, and it is they who continue to question and defy authority. It is they who go on to become salmon. I’m happy to say I was one of them.

It’s never too late to become a salmon.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Dear Lord, but we are a silly lot. Each of us apparently considers the others to be dumb as a pile of rocks. That belief is the foundation of corporate America, and I am truly amazed at not only how stupid they think we are, but by the fact that too often that belief is justified.

They stroke our egos with one hand and rifle through our wallets with the other. And they have reached the conclusion that we’ll fall for anything if it sounds good enough. Banks, without our permission, take money from our checking accounts, switch it to our savings account, and proudly crow about how they are saving us money. The word “bullshit” leaps readily to mind.

We’re told we can get a Free Credit Report, without mentioning that it isn’t “Free” until we shell out our good money to become a “member” of something or other.

Cars used to be “used.” Now they are “pre-owned.” All the difference in the world! And we can get astonishing savings on the purchase of a new car if we are a “well-qualified buyer.” We are told that “No loan application is refused!” without mentioning that there is no guarantee that the application once accepted will be approved.

We can buy almost anything with “No Payments or Interest Until 2755!” Uh.....I’ve never quite figured that one out, but if it means I’ll still be paying for it in 2755, I don’t think I’m interested.

If I’m told I can get $300 off on the purchase of a new gadget, I wonder if I’m the only one curious about what the cost must normally be if they can lower it by $300 and still make a profit. (And have no doubt…no company is in business to lose money.)

Fast food restaurants lure us in with commercials showing at a “typical” one of their franchises in which at least fifteen people are simultaneously jumping up and down and sloshing Cokes all over each other in the excitement of having won tons of money.

Billboards and TV ads show us mouth-watering, 10-inch high sandwiches, open buckets of chicken with pieces piled high (a favorite phrase) above the rim. They apparently assume no one is going to be smart enough to wonder how they manage to put the lid on the bucket. Or, more importantly, they don’t care.

People who attend sporting events are obviously hard of hearing, which is why, I am sure, all commercials pertaining to them are screamed at the top of the announcer’s lungs. In print media, Second-Coming type is required for “special” sales (ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME ANNUAL PRE-GROUNDHOG DAY SAVINGS!!!) to alert the brain-dead to the spectacular values being offered.

Organizations like Publisher’s Clearing House show delirious winners (all, coincidentally, standing in front of well kept, upper-class’s probably too difficult for the cameras to walk up to a fifth-floor tenement) shouting and screaming in disbelief at their good fortune. At least I can appreciate their disbelief, since I share it wholeheartedly. Have you ever entered a Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstake? Have you ever won a Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstake? The prosecution rests.

As I say, we are a silly lot, and no one is more so than I, for letting this sort of nonsense get to me.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Stereotyping Cockroaches

I killed a cockroach the other day. In a large apartment building in Chicago, that’s hardly a newsworthy event. Actually, there has been a marked drop-off in the cockroach population of my building of late, for reasons known only to the cockroaches.

But the point in reporting the fact that I’d killed a cockroach is that I sincerely felt guilty about it the instant I did it. What right did I have to take its life? It was just strolling across the bathroom wall, minding its own business and had made no aggressive or threatening gestures toward me. In fact, I can’t even be sure he knew I was there. But I killed him anyway.

The justification/rationalization is the usual yattata-yattata “carrier of germs/spreader of disease” stereotyping that’s been drilled into our heads since we were kids. And in theory, it makes sense. But in practice, when it was just one cockroach going about his business, what real justification could I offer for killing it?

I read somewhere that when presented with a number of similar items—marbles, say, or cockroaches—people tend to overestimate numbers up to 100, and underestimate numbers over 100. I’m not sure why this should be, just as I am not sure why a great number of things should be, but it is a proven fact. And it is also far easier to hate a group than it is to hate a specific individual from that group.

Stereotyping is a most convenient way to eliminate the necessity for independent questioning and thought. The world has always relied on stereotypes to tell it how to react to the unfamiliar. Jews are sneaky. Ok. Blacks are lazy. Ok. The Irish are the scum of the earth. (This was very popular at the time the Irish began their mass immigration to our larger cities, but faded rather rapidly.) But Ok, if you say so. Gay men lust after and prey upon young boys. Ok. (Booooo, Gays!)

Societal changes occur when it slowly dawns on people that they can no longer buy into the stereotypes they’ve been force-fed (granted, often with little or no resistence). Racial stereotyping began to fade as individuals in the majority began to be exposed to actual Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans and to realize that people are simply people. It’s frustrating and utterly illogical that this same process has to be repeated with every minority that comes along. But eventually, after untold thousands or millions have suffered unconscionable hardship, things do change. Interracial couples on TV and in the movies? So? What’s the big deal? Asking that same question 50 years ago would have gotten a rather sharply different answer.

The same thing is happening, albeit far too slowly, with gays. As more “average” people realize that they personally know a real, live homosexual who does not fit the “faggot” or “bull dyke” stereotypes they’ve cherished all these years, the harder it is to lump together all gays into one stereotypical clump.

The very word “stereotypes” is almost always synonymous with “negative”. Stereotypes are the lumps in the gravy of humanity and have to be smoothed out.

And while the mention of “gravy” and “cockroaches” in succeeding sentences is not ideal, I guess the purpose of this entire blog is that I was stereotyping that poor creature strolling across the wall, and as so often happens with those targeted by stereotyping, he paid dearly for that prejudice.

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Friday, August 15, 2008


There are times when I quite seriously fear for my sanity and question whether, in fact, these blogs may be little more than a chronicling of my descent into madness. And immediately, upon having typed that sentence, my guardian angel (or, more precisely, because I am Agnostic, my mental better half Dorien) reminded me of my penchant for melodrama. However.....

Because I am less and less willing to put up with trying to eat foods that require a lot of saliva to chew and process, I’ve increasingly turned to high-calorie liquid food supplements of the Boost/Ensure variety. At 350 calories a can, I can get most of my nutritional needs that way and save myself one heck of a lot of hassle.

I buy Walgreens’ generic version, which costs considerably less than Boost or Ensure, and it comes in three flavors: Chocolate, Strawberry and so-called Vanilla. I prefer the Vanilla, to which I add yogurt (sometimes Kefir, which is a very odd foodstuff vaguely related to yogurt) or fresh fruit and a quarter to half cup of ½ and ½, and put it in the blender. (Digression, anyone?)

For the past week, all three of my nearest Walgreens have been out of the Vanilla, so the other day, while in the Loop, I found a Walgreens that had it. I bought two six-packs for $12.00, and brought them home. Because I was taking my car to the supermarket before returning to my apartment, I put my Walgreens purchase in my trunk with several other plastic bags filled with things I’d put in earlier, intending to give to a food bank supporting AIDS patients. Their hours are sporadic, however, and often when I go, I find them closed.

I finished my grocery shopping and noticed on the way out that the store had a large bin for accepting food donations for another charity. I figured as long as I was there, I’d give them what I had in my trunk, which I did.

It was not until I got home and looked for the Whatever that I realized I did not have it. And I did not have it because I had put it in the food donation bin with the other items. How could I have been so astoundingly stupid? Easily, obviously. Why am I totally incapable of thinking before I act?

Were this an isolated incident, it might be overlooked, or chalked up to experience. But I do not learn from experience. I am capable of an infinite variety of stupidity. I do not think. Ever. Oh, I think ten seconds after I’ve done some dumbfoundingly idiotic thing and feel totally like a fool. You would think…I would think…that after doing excruciatingly embarrassing things time after time after time without thinking first that I would learn. We would both be wrong.

Yesterday I lost my cell phone…not easy to do in a tiny, tiny apartment, but I managed. I spent an hour searching for it and finally e-mailed my friend Gary to ask him to call me and let the phone ring until I found it. He did, and I did.

It was in the linen closet.

To the best of my recollection (sic) I had not been near the linen closet in days. It is to weep.

There is that wonderful old saying: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and prove it.” But I insist upon not only doing such humiliating things, but compounding them by detailing them in this blog for all the world (oh, I wish!) to see.

I am hopeless, yet even in my hopelessness my ego shows through and the paraphrased words of Percy Bysshe Shelley shimmer through the darkness: “‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” And round that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.’”

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

King Canut

Oh, my. I’m sure you’ve noticed that I spend an inordinate amount of time…and the bulk of these blogs…in ranting and raving and waving my arms, and shouting and cursing and oozing bile from every pore. And every now and then I step back and wonder: why? Much as I would like to be appointed He Who Must Be Obeyed, it’s not very likely that’s going to happen.

And just because I rail against all the astonishing stupidity, bigotry, hatred, and intolerance that continuously wash over us all in mountainous waves doesn’t mean I have the slightest control over, let alone effect on, any of them. I’m like King Canut, standing on the shore, commanding the waves to cease. Maybe I hope that by eliciting your empathy, all of us lined up together on the shore might intimidate the tides. Or maybe not.

I am quite good at self-delusion (though I’m sure you’ve never noticed). Being the ultimate egoist, I tend to talk about things which are closest to my core being and insist on trying to foist them off on you on the unproven and unprovable grounds that you might realize that we occasionally have the same thoughts or reactions, though they are not the kind of things one talks much about to others.

I sometimes feel a bit like one of those small crabs which live inside an empty sea shell, which in this case is my mind, coming out timidly only occasionally to bitch about something, then darting back in again.

I spend almost all my waking time writing, either books or blogs or emails. About the only time I have to read for pleasure is while I’m “working” part-time at the information desk of a nearby shopping center, and yesterday I took with me a little book called Another Cat at the Door by C.W. Gusewelle. It’s a collection of totally charming short essays about the author and his family’s inability to turn away stray cats showing up at their door. (I assume they originally appeared either as a blog or in a weekly newspaper column.)

Each self-contained piece is tells a complete little story with grace, humor (and sometimes sorrow), insight, and compassion. Reading them, I wondered once again why it seems to be that my blogs are too often little more than grumpy muttered oaths and complaints. I fear you may…if you have not already…grow tired of being exposed to unrelenting negativity, and wander off in search of happier thoughts.

Mr. Gusewell is not a curmudgeon, and he does not live in a seashell. He spends his time outside, observing the world and others around him, not immersed in himself to the exclusion of the rest of the world. There is little nourishment to be found in feeding entirely on one’s self, but it is exactly what I do.

So I’ve resolved to try to get outside of myself a little more in future blogs: God knows there really is enough good and pleasant things to talk about. And I hope you understand that my apparent unhappiness stems from my soul-deep belief and expectation that people can be so very much better than they are, and my deep disappointment when constantly proven wrong.

So I talk about myself in hopes that I am also talking about you. Maybe enough of us, standing on the seashore, can make a difference. I’d like to think so.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Society, Kicking and Screaming

I talked a bit about the rapid changes technology has made and continues to make…mostly for the better, but sometimes for the worse. But it is the societal changes which have a far longer and darker history. Nearly every significant major change in our society has been forged in anger, denial, and occasional warfare.

It is of course impossible to separate technological and societal change, since it is the former which often brings on the latter. The difference between technological and social changes is that technology provides things which we did not miss before they existed. Societal changes are based more on the human mind and our perception of the world around us.

The rapid evolution of technology in electronics has produced societal sea changes. Until the middle of the last century, no one had ever heard of television, or of computers, or cell phones, or microwaves or dishwashers. With no television or video games, kids actually played outdoors and exercised their imaginations. Their days were not crammed with soccer practice and cheerleading squads and other orchestrated activities which have all but eliminated the need for the imagination or creativity. Obesity in children was not a major issue.

So many of the devices without which we cannot imagine our living today simply did not exist, and we got along perfectly well without them all. You cannot miss what you have never had and never heard of. I wonder what “wonders” the next 20 years hold in store.

Yet it is television and the internet and other technological devices which pushes and promotes societal change. Being exposed to people different from ourselves had done an admirable job in breaking down prejudices and homogenizing our world.

I’m not the first to observe that humans are an often maddening species, vehemently and violently resistant to change until that change inevitably occurs, and the exact same people who marched and screamed and ranted against it suddenly act as if it had been their idea in the first place. Segregation, ethnic and national stereotyping, women’s lib and gay rights all…every social battle that begins with a “NEVER!!!!” seems to end in a “Yeah, so what else is new?”

On the forefront of social change right now is the issue of gay marriage and gays in the military. On the issue of gay marriage, I personally don’t care how it’s done or what it’s called, so long as the end result is the same: identical rights for everyone.

I look at the smug, self-righteous political and military bigots who pontificate their objections to the right of gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly on the most absurdly specious of grounds and logic, and know full well that it is only a matter of time until these neanderthals will be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century. And once that goal has been achieved, I will be willing to wager my soul that there will not be so much as a ripple upon the waters, and the only question will be “what in the HELL took you so long?”

Dr. Pangloss was wrong: there is no “best of all possible worlds.” There never has been, and never will be. When it comes to social progress, mankind resembles an amoeba, which can only move when one small part extends itself out from the mass and the rest of the body gradually flows into it. We just all have to do our best to move as quickly into the arm of the amoeba as we can.

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