Monday, May 31, 2010


We humans seem to take a perverse delight in pondering questions for which there are and can be no definitive answers. It's one of the many wonders--and frustrations--of life that we spend so much time and energy on them as we do. Perhaps it is partly because while these questions seem profound in their inability to be answered, anyone can step in with an opinion. And thinking about them can and does serve as a form of old-fashioned razor strop for sharpening the mind.

Being neither a philosopher nor a scholar, or even particularly bright doesn't prevent us from thinking about questions which have intrigued our race since we stopped dragging our knuckles on the ground. And an interesting side-effect is that thinking of things beyond our ken can give us insights into just who we are and what makes us tick.

Yesterday, for absolutely no reason I am able to determine, I was thinking of the classic philosophical battle between predestination and free will. I had always been firmly on the side of free will. Predestination--the thought that the outcome of every single choice we make in our lives is predetermined and that we in effect have no control over our destiny--was (and is) both pointless and anathema to me. Some may well take odd comfort in the idea of predestination. We live in a world, after all, in which it seems increasingly clear that we in fact have no control over anything. Going with the idea of predestination is a simple "out" which frees us (no pun intended) from having to even try to change things.

Predestination is a popular biblical theme designed to forestall any blame aimed at organized religion when anything goes wrong. It says, in effect, that we mere mortals needn't worry our pretty little heads about anything: whatever happens was bound to happen no matter what, and since there's not a thing we can do to change it, we have to accept it as part of "God's plan." In other words, God: 1, Humans: 0.

Life is an endless string of choices. Free will says, "Okay, I choose this over that." Predestination says, "Ah, but it was predestined that you'd make the choice you did." This is the equivalent of responding to any statement with, "I knew that!" and challenging whoever made the statement to prove you wrong.

Granted, given that every choice an individual makes is influenced in part by predispositions, past experiences, and the emotional state at the time the decision is made, and that we might have made a different choice under slightly different circumstances, the fact is that we are stuck with whatever decision we did make. Sometimes we could just as easily said "no" instead of "yes." If predestination is removed from the cosmic level...the implication that some unknown forces rule our every action...and simplified to the mere fact that our past predispositions do in fact subtly influence us, I don't think there would be much disagreement; but the choice was still ours and we based it on the circumstances which existed at that moment.

I look on predestination the way I view the predictions of Nostradamus...which are in fact "predictions in retrospect." ("Oh, yeah, that's what he meant!") Predestination also relieves a lot of personal responsibility and serves as a convenient excuse for anything that doesn't work out the way one wanted/expected them to. ("Oh, it wasn't my was predestined." Uh-huh.)

Debates which are rooted in questions which are humanly impossible to answer are, ultimately, merely interesting exercises in futility. But then it was predestined that I'd say that, wasn't it?

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, May 28, 2010

Be Prepared

It isn't that I don't like the idea of planning. I do. I admire, albeit oddly grudgingly, people who take the time to think out and methodically plan their every action. It's just, basically, that I don't do much of it. If I'm at a point where I want to begin a project and I have the choice between just getting to it or spending the time to plan out every possible detail and contingency, the choice is clear: the time involved in planning something takes time away from actually doing it. It also, I think, takes some of the fun out of it, at least for me. I've mentioned several times that I never plan out my books (or, as you may rightly suspect, my blogs) before I start them. I get an idea and I go with it. It may not be the way most people do things, and sometimes I'm sure it shows, but it works for me.

I have literally dozens of begun-but-never-finished blogs in my "Blogs" folder. I get an idea, start writing, and run out of steam or thoughts a few paragraphs into it, and abandon it. I don't just delete it, though, in case I might want to go back and finish it someday. I admit that with a book, the initial idea usually includes the theme, the method of murder, the motive, and tentatively whodunnit, though the actual killer frequently turns out to be someone other than I first intended, depending on how the story progresses.

When it comes to planning and its consequences, writing has overwhelming advantages over real life, the primary one being the ability to go back and rewrite what has been written. Probably that is also one of the reasons I so dislike reality. Life does not allow rewrites. Once a moment in real life has passed, it cannot be changed or altered. Say something you should not have said, do something you should not have--or wish you had not--done, and you're stuck with it forever. For all the planning you may have done in real life, changing the outcome is not possible.

One of the many joys in writing, for me, is in being able to, in effect, just read the story as it unfolds on the screen in front of me. This pleasure would be lost were I to have carefully plotted out exactly what was going to happen exactly where in the story. My mind simply could not allow such confinement, and I honestly cannot comprehend how those who do meticulously plot in advance can do it.

Of course I am not totally uninvolved in the progression of my stories; just as one has to make changes and adjustments and decisions and process new information in the course of everyday life, so it is, for me, with the process of writing--though with far more flexibility than real life affords. If, in the course of working on a book, I have to figure out how Dick or Elliott might come by a some piece of information, I can go back into the story and plant a clue or a introduce a character from whom the information might logically be obtained. With luck, the reader will never be aware that it was done, which is exactly the way it should be. Deus ex machina--just having something appear out of nowhere, with absolutely no advanced preparation for the reader is, for me, the ultimate cop-out and the kiss of death for a book, story, tv show, or movie.

For most people and in most instances, "Preparation" more frequently involves the mental process than any physical things that must be done before the event, and too easily "preparation" becomes a euphemism for "pointless fretting." Preparation implies that some specific actions can be taken prior to the event to positively affect what is being prepared for. Too much of what people consider "preparation" is in effect, busy work prompted by worry. I generally consider the degree of preparation required to be largely dependent upon the importance of what is being prepared for. I am really trying to prepare for my anticipated trip to Europe next year, for example, but I'm limiting it to laying the groundwork, without micromanaging every detail in advance.

Of course, as I read over what I've just written (since—surprise!—I didn't prepare what I was going to say in advance), I realize that it could, with some justification, be considered my attempt to rationalize the simple fact that I am just plain lazy, and not preparing for things is my way of taking the path of least resistance. I do hope I'm not taken to court over the issue, for I fear I would lose.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Not Sure...

I'm not sure what to call it. It's not ennui (one of my all-time favorite words, by the way). It's not really boredom. And I don't feel particularly burnt-out. It's just, I think, the need for a short break in the routine.

This is my 560th blog. I started on February 5, 2007, intending to do one a day, but soon realized I couldn't possibly keep it up and get anything else done--like writing books, for example. So I went to a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule which I've maintained ever since. I don't think I've ever missed a day.

I am, as stated here frequently, compelled to write, and I place that compulsion squarely at the feet of time. (You didn't know Time had feet? It does. Trust me.) Time is more than just precious; time is all there is. My every thought and action is, at the core, predicated on my acute awareness of the passage of time. I consider a day without writing to be a day lost forever, gone without a trace--and leaving a trace of myself is the probably the strongest driving motivation of my life.

I am aware, as each of these words appear on a screen totally blank beyond the word being written, that I must get this blog done for tomorrow. Which automatically turns me into one of those wild-eyed cartoon characters dashing wildly off in all directions blubbering nonsense.

At such times I try to step back...convince myself to play a game of computer solitaire. Right. Good luck with that one. The little cartoon character won't let me concentrate (yeah, like there's a lot of concentration involved in solitaire), jumping up and down, tugging at my sleeve, fanning his hand in front of my eyes and burbling "NoNoNoNo: work! You'll never get it done if you waste your time playing stupid games." Which of course destroys any sense of relaxation I was hoping to find by playing in the first place.

So I try to get back to the blog. It isn't that the words aren't there, it's just that they might as well be encased in wet concrete, or that whatever I try to say either isn't what I want to say, or I'm not using the right words to say them...or both. I'm in a long hall lined with partially blocked doors, behind each one of them is a potential blog topic. I try to force one open, push it open a few paragraphs, get frustrated, figure "the hell with it", and move on to the next door. Same thing. Stop for a brief moment to look back at a trail of mixed metaphors like gum wrappers...wet concrete, doors, gum wrappers, etc...I've left in my wake.

My innate laziness, pretending to be the voice of calm and reason, steps in and says, "Relax...just go way back and redo a blog you've already used. No one will remember." While it's probably right (and I do appreciate the vote of confidence in just how deathless my prose is), and I have reused a blog on occasion, I don't want to make a habit of it.

"Okay," somebody roaming around in the space between my ears, says, "just don't do a blog tomorrow."

"Great idea. What do I do, put up a note saying 'Gone fishing'? I hate fishing. Or, perhaps, 'This Space for Rent'?" People do not like to see blank space where a blog is supposed to be.

The fact of the matter is that I am sincerely concerned (have I mentioned my tendency toward paranoia?) that were I to skip a blog, you, the reader, would go away and not come back. If you're kind enough to put up with my ramblings, the very least I can do is give you something to read, even if it doesn't make much sense.

"Excuse me? So you're willing to just throw out anything and expect the reader to accept it? That's insulting! If you can't say something worth saying, why the hell do you even bother?"

Hmmm. Point....Oh, I know! I can do a blog about arguing with myself. That sounds like a winner. You'll buy that, won't you?...Won't you?


New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, May 24, 2010

"When Johnny Comes Marching Home"

Among my many carefully-cultivated idiosyncracies is my ability to have a song suddenly appear in my head and refuse to leave, like gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe. Last night, it was “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”...a big hit from the Civil War. I’m sure you remember it: “When Johnny comes marching home again/ Hoorah! Hoorah!/ We’ll give him a hardy welcome then/ Hoorah! Hoorah!/ Oh, the men will cheer and the boys will shout/ and the ladies, they will all turn out/ And we'll all feel gay/ When Johnny comes marching home!”

And voila! I had the subject of today’s blog, and it had nothing to do with my being gay.

Do you remember when songs made sense? When even the silliest of them used real English and complete sentences and you could actually understand the words? And can you remember any song prior to 1950 (other than, perhaps, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" from the Depression era) that dealt with negativity or real anger or hatred. When did songs—like politicians—stop being for something and become against everything?

Is it simply because songwriters/performers have run out of things to say that so many have turned to endless repetition of the same few words? (The one that leaps to mind is from a few years ago, where the words “Thank you” were repeated 38 times. I can’t recall the name of the song, but think I might guess. Well, at least it wasn’t “F... You.”)

When did popular music switch from being an enjoyable canoe trip down a pleasant river to the equivalent of being thrown into a roaring rapids without a life jacket? It seems the purpose of popular music has switched from soothing and reassuring to reflecting the hopelessness/helplessness/anger of our world.

I know, I sound like one of those irritating “Well, now, in my day…” types I despise. But come on, folks: listen to what has become of our culture? What are we saying with so-called popular music? Where is the logic?

When—but far more importantly, why—did “Muthaf...ka” and “‘ho” and “bitch” become integral parts of our musical lexicon, and the people who utter them become pop icons richer than Croesus? How could it possibly come about that wearing a baseball cap sideways and tons of the ugliest, most gaudy jewelry imaginable while spewing unintelligible garbage could be the passport to fame and fortune?

“Pop” music has always reflected the state of the culture in which it exists. We look back now with bemusement on the hullabaloo that accompanied Elvis’s appearance on the pop scene, and many people would point to today’s music as just being another version of the same thing. It was more Elvis’s hip shaking than the words of his songs which were the basis for the uproar, and just looking at today’s obnoxiously strutting and preening rappers creates the same reaction in me. But a profound difference exists in what messages the songs’ words convey.

There have always been songs of protest, but until fairly recently, most were at least based on hope. (Even the Nazi anthem“Die Fahne Hoch” was rousingly upbeat.) How much hope can be found in today’s music…if you’re able to understand one word out of ten?

Throughout time, each generation’s popular music has been decried by former generations as indicating the decline and fall of civilization as we know it. Ours is no different, and the world will undoubtedly survive the aural onslaughts of what passes for popular music today. But I am willing to bet that “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” will be around long, long after “Yo! F...k You,’ ‘Ho Bitch” has been flushed down the toilet of time.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, May 21, 2010

Spam and Oil

The oil gushing from the seemingly endless BP Gulf oil spill is, in some ways, not unlike the uncontrolled gushing of spam into the sea of cyberspace. One is toxic to the environment and the planet, and the other is toxic to the mind and soul. And both are definitely, definitely crude. So here is another futile attempt to skim off just the tiniest fraction from the surface, presented, as always, exactly as it oozed onto my computer screen.

"Work 2 hours a day from Home! 950/week." (I note you don't specify 950 what. Even if you mean dollars, do you think I'd work 2 hours a day, 7 days a week for a mere $67.86 an hour? No wonder you have to resort to spam to find someone willing to accept slave labor wages!)

"Be included in this year's edition of the prestigious Cambridge Registry...." (Oh, lord, I love it. I can just imagine how "prestigious" some fly-by-night publication is if they have to troll the internet for people to put in the thing.)

"RE: 1,000 dollar Sam's Gift Card Survey - You've Received* $1000 Sam's Gift Certificate..." (Well, I applaud them for putting that asterisk in there, so you can't say you weren't warned.)

Edward "Re: Re: hi bud" (I'm not your "bud", Edward. Go away.)

"I want sale you rolex,,or other grat watch. do you want?" (Well, it's hard to resist such a smooth, high class sales pitch, and I'm sure all your watches are grat....but I'll pass.)

"Friend are you? - Dear friend: 5 Please forgive us to disturb your precious time. all products of our; Computers...." (No, Yoda, Friend I am not. Now go away.)

"congratulations YOU have a $131,O0O commission check waiting!! - Yes that\s RIGHT...YOU have a $131,O0O co....." (And exactly how much is $131,O0O in American money?)

Earn_Money Without_Constant Effort! - Seeking financial freedom? The secret is out...Click Here...."
(Sure! Why bother actually working for a living when you can follow the advice of some spammer? I do hope you won't mind if I don't "Click Here.")

"I NEED TRUST. - I NEED TRUST. The Chief Auditor/Information manager, In-Charge of Foreign Unit African....." (Oh dear, sweet Lord!! I honestly don't know what to say in response to this one! I only wish I had a gun and this idiot's address.)

Mrs Grace Harlow: "PLEASE I NEED YOUR URGENT ATTENTION - Dear Friend. Greetings in the name of God / Allah, Please let this not s...." (Oh, Grace, it won't. And you have my full attention! And my trust. Now, where's that "Delete" key?)

henry "Re: Re: yo mate - hi frank...I quit my job. Now I'm making $8000-$15000 by 'working' 4-5 hours a...." (Yo, henry! You're so full of shit your eyes are brown.)

"Work from home positions paying up to $75 an hour..." (All right, class: who can pick out the key words in that grabber? Anyone?)

"Read My Story - Earn Money Without Constant Effort..." (Hey, man, I don't need to read any further; I'm in! I mean, why bother to work for my money when some bozo I've never heard of can tell me how do it out of the goodness of his heart?)

"Equipment for you.' He proceeded very gallantly to do this. I cou -Pment in a shell-hole behind. It was somewhere..." (Now please tell me: do the trained seals who write this gibberish actually believe it will entice someone to open the rest of the message? I shudder to think the answer is obviously 'yes.' Terrifying!!)

Well, more than enough for now. Every time I do one of these spam-based entries, I pray it will be the last. It never is.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"I Sing the Body Electric"

Walt Whitman's classic poem demonstrates how one human has the ability to sound notes within others, and enable them to identify completely with the message. Such words are comforting proof that each of us is part of a whole. We all have favorite books with which we identify, sometimes without recognizing exactly which specific chords in them resonate most strongly. But it is poems and song lyrics which, by the very nature of their compactness, have a uniquely and directly powerful ability to encapsulate our own, deep-down outlooks, attitudes and core beliefs. Given that most of us are far more often exposed to songs than to poetry, I'm quite sure that each of us can point to at the lyrics of at least one song--probably several--and say "this is me."

This past weekend, I went to see a production of "Cabaret," which I had never before seen on stage. It was an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts in that while some of the cast members had good voices, they played the part of their character rather than being the character and therefore the spark of magic which makes some productions magical was missing. But there is no question about the power of songs which comprise the show.

All of which is a roundabout way of getting to the point that I've always been able to lay out my entire interior makeup in a the words of a few songs. One song in "Cabaret"--"Maybe This Time"--has always grabbed me by the heart and described my sense of longing as well as if not better than I could ever do myself. (Turn on your mental stereo and listen to it carefully. You're hearing me--and perhaps, if you do not have someone to share your life, yourself.)

With all the emotional rigidity of a blade of grass, I am frequently moved by songs, and believe I did a blog on them before at one time. But after "Maybe This Time" re-entered my head, where, as is my wont it has stubbornly remained ever since, I decided to select three song lyrics which, even if you knew absolutely nothing about me as a person, would paint a trompe l'oeil self-portrait.

I chose three because while one could be a sketch, a portrait is seldom done in one color. So I selected
"Maybe This Time," to perfectly mirror my life-long search for romantic love, which I still have hopes, however unrealistically, to this day.

While my being gay is not the only thing that defines me as a human being, it has been a preeminent influence, and my entire life has been colored by it. My attitudes toward--and defiance of-- bigotry and stupidity and those who would dictate how others should live their lives were formed and have evolved from it. Hence, the second of my three defining songs: "I Am What I Am," from Jerry Herman's "La Cage aux Folles." To me, it defines the word "pride."

And the third song...the one which encapsulates my view of everything I aspire to and know I shall never fully realize, is "The Impossible Dream," from "The Man of La Mancha." Can you possibly imagine what the world could be like if everyone "strove, with his last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable stars"? I can.

I note that the underlying theme of all these songs, and the underlying theme of my existence, is, as noted in my reasons for choosing "Maybe This Time," hope. With hope, anything is possible, any star eventually reachable. Without it, there is nothing.

So there you have it. I am what I am, and I cling to the impossible dream in hopes that maybe this time...

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, May 17, 2010

Simple Delights

Yesterday I received an email. Not exactly "Stop the Presses!" news--I just checked and see that my G-mail "in" box contains 24,441 of them--but this one triggered both my Little-Boy-delight and The-Past-Is-Now buttons.

The email was from Diane Kopp, a girl I worked with at Security Mutual Insurance Company...the second job I ever held after leaving college. Diane and I hit it off right away. She was charming and funny, and we became good friends. On a couple of occasions she joined Norm and I and some other friends on weekend trips to my parents' cottage in Wisconsin. But as our friendship grew, I became concerned--probably wrongly--that I might be conveying the wrong signals to her, and so one day I told her that Norm and I were more than just friends. She was the first straight person to whom I admitted being gay...and I was 26 years old! (To re-read that last sentence and see the word "admitted", as though I was confessing to being an axe murderer or child molester, gives you an idea of the times in which gays and lesbians then lived.)

Diane took it all in stride, and we remained friends after I left Security Mutual, but when I moved to Los Angeles in 1966, we lost touch. I thought of her frequently throughout the years, wondering what had happened to her, whether she'd married and had a family. But there was no way I could get in touch with her...until, 50 years later, I got her message. And once again, the fraying ties to my past were reinforced.

I wrote her immediately, and hope we may pick up our friendship where it left off so many years ago.

We each have special people in our lives; people who hold a unique place in our minds and hearts even though we can't pinpoint exactly why. Diane is one of those people, and I find it hard to describe how happy I am to have heard from her. I have been, in fact, extremely lucky to have had two other such re-establishments of friendship in the past six months or so. Ted Bacino--with whom I was in Cub Scouts at St. Elizabeth's Social Center in Rockford, Illinois, and with whom I continued being friends throughout grade school, high school, and my first two years of college before I left for the NavCads--and Effie Foulis, another founding member of my college "gang."

To re-connect with friends from long ago is, to me, indescribably comforting. It is a safety line in the increasingly blinding and frigid blizzard of years. And by clinging to firmly to that rope, I can look back through the blur of years to see, however dimly, light from the windows of a world long gone, and feel the warmth it represents.

Each reconnection with someone from my past sets off a falling-domino-like cascade of long forgotten memories. People, places, things, visual images, smells, and a myriad of tiny details spring to life. Being reminded of shared memories through the other person's eyes also sharpens the focus. (I mentioned that Diane and I had worked together at an insurance company. It was in the Loop, but for the life of me I couldn't remember where. Diane's note mentioned its being at Jackson and LaSalle. I still can't picture the building, but you can be sure the next time I go to the loop, I will walk by Jackson and LaSalle and see if I can't catch a glimpse of an oh, so much younger me going to work.

I'm so grateful to Effie, and Ted, and Diane, and for their friendship over all these years. There are so many more old friends out there, waiting to be found.

It is the totally unexpected pleasant surprises, the serendipitous little pleasures and simple delights, which remind us what a precious gift we have in being alive.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, May 14, 2010


I slept until 6:45 this morning, and can't remember the last time I slept so long. My mind has a build-in alarm clock which is set for no later than 6:00, no matter how much I would like to sleep longer. Why it didn't go off this morning, I don't know, but I am duly grateful. Perhaps it was the fact that it rained steadily all night and, with my windows open, the sound lulled me.

Normally, as I say, I wake up like a tree full of owls between 5:50 and 6:00, no matter how tired I am or how late I'd gotten to bed the night before.

I've read that we spend fully 1/3 of our entire lives asleep, and far more is not known about sleep than what is known. Unless getting to sleep, or remaining asleep once we get there, is a problem, we tend, as with so many things in our personal existence, to simply accept it and very seldom if at all give it any thought. That's logical, I suppose, since so much of the detail work of our daily functioning is put on autopilot. We just trust our bodies to know what to do without our conscious instruction ("Lift left leg. Move it forward approximately two feet. Place left foot on ground and shift body's weight to it. Lift right leg. Move it forward...")

Sleep is essential to our existence, and those cursed with chronic insomnia know the toll lack of sleep can take. There are a even a handful of scientifically documented cases of someone dying from lack of it--a specific condition the name of which I cannot recall. It is a singularly unpleasant death. Yet, again, we are generally blissfully unaware of exactly how this essential bodily function works and what all it does for us.

The amount of sleep each individual requires varies. A number of famous people, Thomas Alva Edison among them, are said to never have slept more than two hours at a time. The general consensus now seems to be that between 6 and 8 hours a night falls in the "average" range, although there is mounting scientific evidence that most of us do not get enough sleep, and that our daily lives and our productivity suffer from it.

A lot of people nap on a regular basis, even daily, and though if I take one nap every two months it is noteworthy, I often find them counterproductive, waking up from them more tired than when I laid down. Plus, I tend to see a minute spent napping to be a minute taken away from things I really should be doing. But I stand in something akin to awe of friends for whom a nap (or two) is an integral part of their daily routine.

I have always been fascinated by the fact that, though we cross the boundary between sleep and being awake every night of our lives, we are never aware of actually crossing it. We're just awake one minute and asleep the next. We've all experienced a frightening and potentially deadly example of this while driving while we are very tired. We're driving along a monotonous stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere, bored and/or tired, and with absolutely no awareness of any change, we're lying in a hammock with a glass of lemonade--only to be jolted awake by the car's front tires going off the edge of the road and the adrenaline rush of pure terror which accompanies it.

We all know that sleep is often important in healing and physical regeneration; we all lie down and take a nap to get rid of a headache or to help get rid of a cold or the flu. People with life-threatening conditions are often put into induced comas to aid in healing.

On a nightly basis, sleep provides a form of housecleaning service, sorting and rearranging and clearing up the mental clutter we've created and accumulated while we're awake. Sleep gives the brain the chance, in its own strange way, to deal with our unresolved problems and issues, usually in the form of dreams. To me, if sleep is a form of medicine, dreams are the spoonful of sugar Mary Poppins suggests we take it with.

Excuse me. I just sneezed. Do you think I should go lie down for a bit?

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pureed Horses

No matter what you say about me (and please, say something!) it cannot be denied that once I latch onto something, I never let go. These blogs are a case in point. I have several basic themes which I return to over and over again, to the point where even I am tempted to say "Okay! I get it! Enough, already!" But in my own defense, I truly see myself, having travelled so far down this pothole-filled road we call life, as something of a tour guide, saying, "Watch out for this!" "Be careful of that!" and, particularly "Appreciate what you have while you have it, for you won't have it forever!"

This latter caveat is particularly true in the case of mind and body. While a 20- or 30- or 40-year old cannot possibly be able to really understand what lies ahead for them, the strange thing is that they may see it clearly in others older than themselves.

Tell a typically healthy 20 year old who jogs every morning that the day will come when the mind may want to jog, but the body won't do it. It isn't because the body won't do it so much as it can't, and though mind and body have been a team since birth, there comes a time when they begin to go their own separate ways. It is, for many, a disturbing and often terrifying realization. We all pay lip service to the fact that one day we will be "old," but we don't truly believe it. As someone accurately said, "old is twenty years older than you are." You may one day be shuffled aside by society for being "old," but I never will.

I've always loved my body. Not because it was beautiful or really outstanding in any way, but because we fully understood one another, and we worked effortlessly as a team. What the mind wanted, the body was, for the most part, both happy and willing to provide. But very slowly things change for all of us, and you realize that your mind wants things your body cannot so readily deliver as it once did. And this gap grows wider with each passing year.

I tried running for the bus today, and shudder to think what anyone who saw me might have thought. I ran with the grace of Frankenstein's monster--clump-lurch-clump-lurch-clump--, who I see myself as resembling more and more strongly as time goes on.

I've bored you to tears, I know, with the piteous tales of what tongue cancer and the radiation that eliminated it did to me, and how precipitously my life had changed as a result of it. The fact, though, is that it merely accelerated the process.

Before attempting to run for the bus, I thought of stopping in to my local Kentucky Fried Colonel for an "extra crispy" breast. I love extra crispy breasts. But I knew full well that if I did get one, it would not taste as good as my mind told me it would...having no saliva to process flavors is a real downer...and that I would eat perhaps 1/8 of it and put the rest in the refrigerator where I would run across it in a month or two and pitch it. A waste of money, and a waste of food, and I hate wasting food more than money.

Why do I insist on beating you over the head with all this stuff? Why must I not only beat a dead horse, but puree it? Because it is human nature to accept the things you have and to assume that because you have them now, you will always have them. I am a poster boy (though I both realize and appreciate how many blessings I still have, and I never discount them) for taking things for granted. I go over this same ground time and again not as a bid for sympathy for me, but to make you stop and think just how lucky you are to have what you have.

I was blessed most of my life, and I never fully appreciated everything I had until I no longer had it. I don't want you to make the same mistake.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, May 10, 2010


We all lie. Lying seems to be an integral part of human nature. I don't like lying, but I do it--as seldom as possible, but I do it. There are an infinite number of types of lies, but lying is basically a defense mechanism; we do it most commonly as a form of self protection when the truth may get us into trouble.

While truth is often subjective (it is absolutely true that I hate mushrooms, for example, while it may also be absolutely true that you love them), it is in fact largely malleable to some degree based on each individual's interpretation and experience. But in the final analysis, lies fall into two basic categories: those told of perceived necessity and those told solely to gain some advantage. Because lying is ubiquitous, the former vastly outnumber the latter, but it is the latter that can and often do result in incalculable damage.

The vast majority of lies are simple responses to questions, and therefore largely subjective based on the liar's personal opinion. They are often gentle lies to protect the feeling of others. ("Do these pants make me look fat?" "Do you really think I have a chance?") Children and teenagers, who do not yet fully understand the consequences of their lies on others, are particularly good at them ("No one likes you!"). It is the lies of adults--those who know full well the consequences of their lies and simply do not care--which are inconceivably unforgivable. The sole purpose of deliberate, calculated, predatory lies typified by the contents of any computer's spam folder ("My dear friend. I am Mrs Mjeba Qnobe, widow of the Finance Minister....") is to take advantage of the trust, hopes, innocence or gullibility of others is inexcusably contemptible and the sociopaths who create them deserve a far more harsh and severe punishment than they will ever receive. They should be infinitely grateful that I am not omnipotent, for I would be a wrathful god, indeed.

We are lied to constantly, and what bothers me most is that corporate liars not only know full well they are lying to us, but they know we know they are lying to us, and they just don't care. The most egregious and common of these lies are the ubiquitous "Your call is very important to us," and "Due to an unexpectedly high volume of calls...." Any company which said just "Thanks for calling. We'll get to you as soon as we can" would have my business for life.

The sad fact is that we live in a world of lies and liars. We have been conditioned to being immersed in a cesspool of lies, and we accept even the most obvious of predatory lies without a word--a fact of which the liars take full advantage. Lies are toxic and erosive, eating away at the most solid of beliefs, yet we are surrounded by them, and we breathe deeply. By our unwillingness to stand up to a lie, we become complicit in it. (Interestingly, there is a website called Snopes which does an excellent job of debunking the lies scattered like pollen over the internet. I urge you to check it out the next time you find yourself readily accepting some claim your mind tells you is not true.)

As I say, I lie of perceived necessity from time to time--though even then I prefer to evade or sidestep whenever possible. I honestly can say I cannot recall ever having lied solely to gain an advantage, though I undoubtedly have. And I would never knowingly lie specifically to hurt another human being--even one who I hold in utter contempt (and while there aren't very many of these individuals, there are some). This does not make me a saint. I hope it makes me a responsible human being, and it is not egocentrism to say I wish there were many, many more like me.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, May 07, 2010

Pass the Salt

I've often thought of my mind as a popcorn popper. A steady stream of small, hard kernels of thought keep dropping into the space between my ears and go round and round until they burst. While searching for a possible topic for today's blog, a kernel of thought with the word "blog" on it dropped into the constantly-rotating kettle of my mind and an instant later with an inaudible "pop" it became what follows.

My first "official" blog was posted here on February 25, 2007, followed by 551 (now 552) more, bringing us to today. Each blog averages around 750 words. That's about 714,000 words. Tolstoy's "War and Peace" clocks in at around 552,919, and the average word count on the list of Great Books is 136,604. Therefore, I have outdone Tolstoy by the length of one Great Book, with a 24,472-word novella to spare! (Yes, I'm painfully aware that quantity does not equal quality. But, hey....)

And in the single paragraph above I have fairly well explained why I refer to all my blogs as "Volleys from a Loose Cannon."

My popcorn-popper mind simply will not shut down, and I have almost no control over what kernels drop into it or which ones pop or don't. I seldom even attempt to figure out why. To be able to catch a single thought from among the hundreds forcing the kettle lid up and pouring out might be considered quite a feat were I able to be more selective in which one I grab. But there are far too many of them to be able to have that luxury very often. For each thought I do catch, countless others just cascade out and disappear forever.

But I do enjoy catching whatever thoughts I can. Like all forms of writing, blogs can be both therapeutic and cathartic, and they almost always are for me. Taking a closer look at them and putting what I find in writing provides not only the subject matter for my blogs, but challenges me to expand on it, understand what the thought means, and what lies behind it. Each kernel of an idea which explodes into what eventually become a blog means something, even if I can't always figure out just what it is. But I catch as many as I can, and lay them all out in individual, unrelated blogs and hope someday someone might put them all together and read something into them which I cannot see.

Without question, one of the most enjoyable things about my odd compulsion to capture as much of myself as I possibly can in blogs--and my insistence upon telling you far more about me than you could possibly want to know--lies in the fact that you actually read them! To my great surprise and delight I have discovered, from what people who read these kettle overflows have told me, that I am not nearly so unique as I like to think I am. When I pick up a random thought to examine and lay it out in front of you with a little boy's pride in showing you what I've done or what I've experienced or what I've thought, the response is far more often than I could have thought, "Yeah, me too!" And the person saying it is often as surprised as I am.

I think the advantage I have over most people is that I do not hesitate to talk openly about things most people do not feel comfortable in talking about at all, or to which they never have given much if any conscious thought until I mention it. There is a strange human tendency to hide things not only from others, but from ourselves. While I'm sure I am guilty of this myself, it surely has to be to a far lesser degree than most people. And I find the realization that I am not as isolated as I have always assumed I was to be oddly comforting. To think that my ramblings may inspire you to come to the same realization from time to time would be a high form of flattery.

Having a mind that works like a popcorn popper isn't always fun, and trying not to be distracted from one task by the beckoning of a dozen others is often counterproductive to getting anything constructive done. Yet, for better or for worse, I've learned to live with it, and if you enjoy a piece every now and then, so much the better.

Pass the salt, please.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Notes from My Mom

With everything going on in my life recently, I've too often found myself scrambling around at the last minute for an idea for the next blog. For some reason--and those three words are becoming my mantra--I remembered that in addition to my mother's having kept, at my request, all my letters home while I was in the Navy, I kept those from her and my dad. I've not looked at them in years, I fear, but set out to find them to see if they might spark an idea for a blog. I've never shared my parents letters to me with anyone before, but as I started re-reading words written by my mother more than 55 years ago I was once more caught up in the whirlwind of time, and one again then became now.

Because I didn't have an address the first week after I left home for Pensacola on August 13, 1954, Mom began a letter and added to it until she got my address and was able to send it off. The words may appear to be black letters on a white monitor, but I can hear her voice I hear as I read them.

Here are just a few snippets from those first letters, starting with August 17, 1954.

Dear Son:

Since we don’t know just when we’ll get your address, I’ll write something every day to keep you posted on the news, and mail it in one letter this time.

I’ll get your “Wonderful Town” record this Saturday. Maybe by getting one you particularly want every now & then, you’ll have quite a collection when you get home on leave.

Dad & I went to bed about 9:30 Monday night—we kept wondering where you were at that time. Stormy didn’t sleep on your bed—he stayed on the big rug in the back bedroom.

Have you been issued your clothes yet, son? If so, what? And do you know what your pay will be?

Thursday morning—I woke up with a bang about 5 o’clock, thinking of you. Just what were you doing about seven—Florida time—eating breakfast?

This letter is really a jumble, isn’t it? It was grand getting a card from you dear—at least we know you’re OK. Hope those shots won’t be making you feel awful. Maybe you’ll get time to write a letter & tell us more details—I hope.

As I’ve told you before—I wouldn’t trade you for a farm—or a million. We’ll write, and please try to do the same whenever you can son.

If there’s anything you want, let us know.

P.S. I called Dad & told him we got the card—he’s tickled too for we’ve been waiting every night. He wants to write tonight too, so I’ll have to hold all this till then

20 August, 1954

Just a week ago we took you into Glenview, and I’ll bet a lot has happened to you since then. We’ve been hoping to hear from you, but of course we know you will write as soon as you can. It sure is lonesome without you—I hate to come home after work, but of course it’s no use in moaning. I just keep trying to remember you will be able to come home eventually, and I’m sure you’ll have some interesting experiences, and see things you wouldn’t otherwise see.

We’re sure anxious to hear from you. Every time they play “High and Mighty” (which is pretty often), I wonder what you’re doing, and where you are. Guess I told you I’m getting your “Wonderful Town” record tomorrow. It sure was a good show, wasn’t it?

Please give us all the NavCad news you can—it’s very interesting, and we can sort of picture what you’re doing. Sounds like your barracks are pretty nice, with that kind of a view. Does the PX carry just about everything?

I hope you get a chance to phone home some night this week. It’s always so good to hear your voice, even though when I hear you, my mind goes blank , and I can’t think of anything I wanted to say to you.

Simple letters. Nothing deep, nothing profound, just one mother's words to her son flowing through 55 years of time, and just this instant, as I realize that, it breaks my heart.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Boy With the Poppyseed Buns

The single driving force behind these blogs is the fact that, having lived every moment of my life within the container of my body, I still do not have any idea of how my mind works, and why it works the way it does.

Last night for absolutely no reason "The Boy With the Poppyseed Buns," a poem I wrote several years ago, inexplicably came into my head. I hadn't been thinking about poetry, and can't remember the last time I wrote a poem. But for some unknown reason, this particular poem, deliberately written with Rudyard Kipling macho bravado overlaying a sense of deep loss, has some strange, special significance for me. Exactly what that significance is, I cannot say.

I may actually have done a blog on it at some time in the three years I have been writing blogs, and if you've been with me long enough you may remember it. But I feel oddly compelled to put it up again as yet another exhibit in the anatomy class of my soul.

The Boy With the Poppyseed Buns

It was just break of day in the Spanish café,
the time when the first church bell tolls.
My tongue painted brown from a night on the town,
I’d stopped in for some coffee and rolls.

The place was renowned for the best food in town,
it’s pastries were lighter than air.
I’d arrived just last night on the Calcutta flight,
and was hungry for non-curried fare.

As the blaze of the day spread throughout the café
with the stealth of the incoming tide,
a form appeared in the doorway
not even the sunlight could hide.

His silhouette carved out of broad sunbeams
cast a cool shadow ‘cross the rough floor.
I fought the sun’s glare as I squinted to stare,
knowing somehow I had to see more.

I made out a young man about twenty,
with a face like an archangel’s song.
A youth of such exquisite beauty,
it sounded my heart like a gong.

Short hair black as night framed a skin smooth and light,
and eyes deeper blue than the sky.
Beautiful men? Seen again and again,
but none who so made my heart sigh.

He stepped to the bakery counter;
in a voice that could warm up dead suns
he asked the flour-flecked baker
for an order of poppyseed buns.

His eyes swept the room’s few, blank faces
and settled, at last, on my own.
His mouth curved into a slight smile
that few mortal men can have known.

I sat there as if struck by lightning,
his beauty had riveted me so.
Before I could regain my senses,
he picked up his package to go.

I wanted to get up to follow;
to not let him out of the door.
I wanted to say: “Won’t you sit? Won’t you stay?”
But my feet were as nailed to the floor.

He paused briefly, there in the doorway,
and turned to me with a slight nod
And then he was gone and I sat in the dawn
and cursed an insensitive God.

I rose to my feet and rushed into the street,
but the young man was nowhere in sight.
It was if he had gone with the just-vanished dawn,
leaving me in perpetual night.

His smile still casts beams that light up my dreams;
his eyes I can never forget.
Of all men I’ve had, many good, many bad,
it’s his face that stays with me yet.

I’ve run with the bulls in Pamplona,
I’ve scaled mountains in far-off Nepal;
I’ve found buried treasure worth wealth beyond measure,
but I lost the best treasure of all.

I’ve seen tigers at play down in old Mandalay,
fought duels with sabers and guns...
But I’d trade it away for just one quiet day
with the boy with the poppyseed buns.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at