Monday, November 29, 2010


I take a strange delight in retelling the story of the book report a little girl submitted after reading a book on penguins: "This book tells me more about penguins than I need to know." I'm afraid these blogs sometimes tend to resemble the little girl's report.

You may have noticed that I tend to reveal--well, not only reveal, but revel in--things about myself which other people logically and probably justifiably prefer to keep to themselves. That some of these things are embarrassing to talk about and may even make others a little nervous doesn't seem to slow me down. While drawing the line at detailed accounts of the more intimate of bodily functions, almost everything else is fair game. It is not coincidental, I think, that I have divided myself into Roger and Dorien, since I've always had the ability to stand apart from myself and observe my reactions with a fascination I have no real reason to believe anyone else could share.

I am, as I'm sure you have noticed, massively self-absorbed. You may well wonder, as I do, why and to what end? I think it's because there are so many things we all share but for some reason feel we must keep to ourselves; things we are uncomfortable talking about for one reason or another...usually because we're afraid there is something wrong with us for having such thoughts and we don't want anyone else to know about it. The effect of this is that, when everyone else also remains silent, it reinforces our believe that those feelings and thoughts we do not express are unique to ourselves, when in fact they are not. I strongly suspect that many if not most of those things of which we are unreasonably embarrassed or ashamed and consider to be ours alone are in fact far more common than we realize. We are each unique, but not as unique as we assume.

The fact is that these are largely within-ourselves things, and we must spend the vast bulk of our time and energy in an outside-ourselves world. There simply isn't time to do too much introspection.

And then there is the basic human resistance to making waves. We all want to fit in, to be accepted. And as a result we learn to keep things to ourselves. So perhaps I flatter myself by thinking that by airing out my closet, as it were, you might recognize in it similar items you have in your own, and might be a bit freer in not only acknowledging them but not feeling quite so alone in having them.

Because each human is an individual, every society, culture, race, and ethnic group establishes its own set of standards for its members to contain them within some sort of generally-agreed-upon perimeters. These standards are, at their base, pretty similar, and nearly every one stems from the prime imperative: survival of the species. One of the problems is, however, that times and challenges change while the standards, once established, do not. What were very logical rules when the standards were set up--many of them spelled out, for Christians and Jews, in the Old Testament of the Bible--have long ago lost their reason for being. The Jewish proscription against eating pork, for example, was a logical response to the real dangers of trichinosis. The danger guarded against has almost ceased to exist, but the traditions remain long after the need for them has vanished.

Cultural/social standards and rules tend to be based more on our psyche than on physical dictates, and a great many rules are imposed by religion and ethnicity. To this day, Americans are saddled with a puritanical past, which is probably most strongly evident in our puzzling and contradictory attitudes toward sexuality. The oft-quoted definition of puritanism as "the deep, abiding fear that somewhere, someone might be having fun" is deeply ingrained. We are both titillated and, depending on our degree of self-repression, repelled by any sex act not engaged in exclusively for the purpose of progeny. It is not "proper" to talk of such things.

So we find ourselves in an imaginary box wherein arbitrary limits are placed on what is "proper" to be mentioned to others and what should be held inside. I just enjoy reminding people that it's okay to step beyond the box every now and then, just for the fun of doing 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, November 26, 2010

That's Entertainment!

The primary purpose of all forms of entertainment is to give us a bit of rest from the reality of our daily lives. We have gone from the emergence of morality tales of Greek and Roman plays to wandering medieval troubadours going from village to village to the development of books to be read for pleasure. But it was not until the advent of movies, radio, and television that our technology has enabled the creation of what has become the "Entertainment Industry" which began as a rising tide and has become a tsunami threatening to wash us all away. Like Mickey Mouse confronting the broomsticks and buckets in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of Walt Disney's Fantasia, "entertainment" has gotten completely out of control to the point where our constant exposure to unreality has perversely led us to believe that the unreal is real, and we are somehow at fault for not being a part of it.

A recent edition of CBS' "Sunday Morning" featured an interesting and telling segment on the increasingly ubiquitous "reality" shows. The fact that so called reality shows have little or nothing to do with reality--which is far too intrusive and often far too unpleasant--is irrelevant.

A driving force behind such shows is, as one commentator noted, that TV producers, directors, and executives have realized that today's audiences have reptile brains: little or no thought; just reaction. Coupled with the fact that reality shows bring in huge profits for a fraction of the cost of scripted--or more correctly, more formally scripted--programming guarantees that these shows will continue to proliferate, delving ever deeper into the garbage of the human experience. In the world of commerce, there is no god but Mammon.

Historically, entertainment most frequently had a strong element of nobility, in that, in addition to taking our minds off the world around us, it generally educated us and taught us lessons of hope. That element has all but been obliterated in the rush to crank out mindless distractions.

People with absolutely no discernible talent but all-consuming egos and the desire for fame are taking over television. It was estimated that one major network now devotes fully twenty percent of its programming to so-called reality shows. The fact that outrageous behavior is actively encouraged to attract viewers also means, of course, that what is seen on these shows sloshes, like the contents of a slop bucket into which someone has dropped a large stone, over everything and everyone around it.

And the message to the viewer is clear: boorish behavior is acceptable for everyone.

As always, it is the children who are most at risk. They grow up admiring egomaniacal, rude, utterly thoughtless people. Should it/will it surprise anyone when those same kids grow up to emulate what they were raised on by watching TV?

That we watch these exercises in anti-social behavior at all speaks volumes...and depressingly...about how insecure we are in and with our own lives. We are bombarded with adventure and excitement and things which, though ubiquitous on TV, the simple restrictions of time dictate that no single human being could possibly experience. But that fact doesn't register: they are there, right in front of our eyes, and beautiful, rich people are enjoying them right this very minute. Why am I not enjoying those things right this very minute? I deserve them. I want them. So I am therefore somehow at fault...or worse, therefore someone else is at fault...for being deprived of them. Unhappiness, resentment of those who do have them, and general frustration ensue.

That we will, if history's established patterns continue, somehow survive this onslaught as we have survived countless others through time is testament to the resilience of our race. But it does not make for a smooth ride.

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, November 24, 2010


I know, "Suicide" is a terrible title for a blog. Suicide is a terrible, almost incomprehensible thing. To think that any human being can be so unhappy with life that they choose to end it is sad beyond comprehension. Suicide is, of course, an infinitely complex issue, and the fact that it is relatively uncommon means that probably the large majority of people have never had any direct, personal experience in dealing with it. But for those who have....

This morning, I noticed several police cars moving up and down the alley behind my building. I later learned that a woman in the senior citizen complex next door had jumped from her 10th floor apartment. Though I had no idea of who she was, and was therefore not directly affected by it, I was nonetheless both shocked and deeply saddened. How could she have done it? How can anyone do it?
Being elderly, she may have had no family or close friends for emotional support, and loneliness leads to easily to despair. I understand she was not, herself, very friendly. But I also understand that she had two dogs who, in the manner of dogs, undoubtedly loved her unconditionally, and who I can only hope she loved in return. The love of or for an animal may not the same as the love of or for a human, but love is, at base, love. And even the love of an animal can be a bright candle to hold off the darkness. But apparently, for her, it was not enough. And I truly grieve that it was not.

Before we go any further, let me say that I am strongly in favor of physician-regulated assisted suicide for the terminally ill with absolutely no hope of improvement and who choose to end their lives on their own terms. To prolong suffering simply because "a cure may be found tomorrow," or on esoteric debates on "morality" is both illogical and cruel.

But of all the many things I find incomprehensible, one of the furthest from my ken is how anyone in relatively good physical health could conceivably show such contempt for the gift of life as to even contemplate suicide let alone carry it out. My deep and sincere empathy/sympathy for their emotional suffering turns too often to anger verging on rage. Suicide is too often the ultimate act of selfishness. The pain and anguish the act causes those who love and care about them is inexcusable. And when I think of all those terminally ill men, women, and children who want so desperately, desperately to live but cannot while someone else, no matter how valid their suffering, disposes of a perfectly good body is outrageous. If the suicide does not wish to live for him or her self, let them live for someone who does not want to die.

Again, the subject of suicide is not an easy one, morally or ethically. The recent horrific spate of suicides among gay and lesbian teenagers targeted by bullies underscores the fact that suicide is too often seen as a viable option by those not mature enough to have had sufficient life experiences to realize that bullying is no reason for depriving themselves of life--and those who love them of their presence. For the young, suicide is often a tragically ill-considered spur of the moment act of desperation.

I've told the story before of a young man from a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who, when his girlfriend broke up with him, went home and shot himself with his father's shotgun. But he survived, having blown away half his face. The fact that he lived to regret his decision does not balance having to live the rest of his life horribly disfigured. Should we be achingly sorry for his condition or furious with him for the stupidity of his action? Of course sympathy has to prevail in the end. But yet again we must address the ultimately unanswerable question as we look back on the wasteland all "successful" suicides knowingly created: Why?

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Monday, November 22, 2010


I know, I is somehow encoded in our DNA as an imperative. Survival of the fittest and all that. But our humanity should raise us above our genes, and it far too seldom does. I'm speaking specifically about physical attractiveness here.

One of the least followed of biblical teachings is "Judge not, lest you be judged." We are continually judging other people...and ourselves against arbitrary standards imposed upon us. By whom, exactly? No one seems to know. And, if we have an iota of concern for how we compare to other people, or of our relationships to the rest of humanity, we inevitably suffer from them.

Surely there are many people who are sufficiently self confident that the issues being discussed here are a non-issue. I truly envy them, but can't think offhand of anyone I know being included in that group.

Innumerable studies have shown that those who are considered physically attractive--and there are studies proving an almost mathematical equation for determining attractiveness--have an incalculable advantage on almost every level of human interaction. They tend to be the first hired, the first to be promoted. They tend to marry other pretty people. While this may have a certain general, utterly unemotional logic, the fact is that our preoccupation with beauty causes incalculable pain and suffering for millions and millions of people who are made aware that they are not pretty.

Attractiveness and appeal go hand in hand not only with humans but animals. Go to any animal shelter where pets are offered for adoption. Which ones get adopted first? The cute little puppies and kittens, the handsome older animals, of course. But what of that runt in the litter, or that sad-eyed, scraggly mutt with his tail between his legs? Are they any less deserving of love? Though I have no figures on which to base this statement, I will be willing to bet that far more "ugly" animals are killed by "humane societies" than are handsome ones.

Are ugly creatures, human and animal, less worthy of love? It breaks my heart to see the fuss made over the cute little darlings while the heavy-set kid with thick lips or a big nose or a receding chin is all but totally ignored.

And our society goes to great lengths to perpetrate this injustice. Turn on any commercially produced television program. Count the number of pretty people, then count the number of average-looking or less-than-average. Odds are the proportion of pretty people is many, many times larger than the ratio in society in general. And how many unattractive actors ever reach the status of stars?

We all can recall certain incidents, certain encounters, certain seemingly insignificant moments which become deeply absorbed into our souls and remain with us throughout our lives. On the subject of beauty--a very sensitive one for me, who has never possessed it--one such moment still fills me with wonder and heartbreaking joy. I've told the story many times and, in case you've not heard it, will tell again here. I was in a restaurant and, sitting at a table directly across from me were a man and a woman both of whom were, by any scientific measure of beauty or physical attractiveness, what most people would consider singularly ugly. The man was grossly overweight with a rough, pockmarked face, which was totally lacking in scientific "balance." The woman looked like a cruel caricature of the Wicked Witch of the West. (And even as I write this I am truly ashamed of myself for my own cruelty in describing them.)

But the thing that matters; the thing I have never forgotten after all these years, is that as they looked at each other and held hands across the table, they radiated such a powerful sense of love that it, for me, completely redefined the word "beauty." They had each other. They loved each other. The "rules of physical attractiveness" didn't matter. What I thought or you thought or the world thought didn't matter. What possibly could?

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Friday, November 19, 2010

The End of Our Nose

Have you ever wondered why people so often seem incapable of seeing further than the end of their nose? Why they so seldom give any thought whatever to long-term consequences if they can see short term advantages? If chopping down all the world's rain forests will bring millions in profit today, who cares what will happen 50 years from now? They'll worry about that when the time comes.

And when the time does come, as it has with the problems of global warming, we all wring our hands and blame everyone and everything but ourselves.

Of course, it is impossible for humans to know for sure what the future holds but come on...when there is everything but flashing arrows pointing "This Way!!", why do we insist on looking at each other in total befuddlement and say, "Gee, I wonder which way we should go" or, worse, pointing off in an entirely different direction and saying "Let's go that way."

I've frequently stormed against the stupidity of politicians in putting their own selfish interests before the public good, and not only refusing to see the obvious but to devote all of their energies to and forestall it. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a prime example. It is wrong. Everyone, including the politicians, know it is wrong. "The American People," whose name politicians routinely and with little or no justification invoke while in fact largely ignoring, know it is wrong. But the politicians, mostly Republicans drunk with power, will do everything in their power to assure that the egregious denial of the rights of American men and women willing to defend and possibly die for their country are denied. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is doomed. The politicians know it is doomed, but they don't care. They will fight to the last breath to drag it out as long as they possibly can. And within five years of its inevitable repeal...however far down the road they have been able to push it, those same politicians up for reelection will be blatantly courting gay and lesbian voters by claiming they had almost singlehandedly been responsible for its repeal and had been against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" from the beginning.

Health issues are also strongly affected by people's inability to see beyond the end of their nose. Smoking kills. There is absolutely no doubt about that fact whatsoever. (I'll refrain a digression into why the tobacco industry is still raking in billions of dollars in profit every year.) Yet the simple (in every sense of the word) response among those who smoke is "Well, it hasn't hurt me yet." This is partly based on the astonishingly wrong-headed belief that "it'll never happen to me," a blatantly erroneous opinion almost universal among the young.

The concept of saving money for the future also seems to be almost universally ignored--including, far too often in the past, by me. The more money one manages to save, the more tempting it is to spend. ("Oh, I can afford it! And I'll put it back." Uh huh. Even if you do put it back, eventually, you're only treading water, not getting anywhere.)

Credit card companies depend upon the unwillingness of consumers to realize that debts incurred must be repaid, and that the profit to be made from interest rates (again, another factor never considered) and not altruism is the driving factor behind their willingness to give you as much money as you need. And while bankruptcy seems increasingly to be seen as a way around this fact, it generally doesn't work more than once.

The assumption that what is will always be is, again, almost universal, and unfortunately, it is the young and healthy who are most prone to this "End of our Nose" syndrome. They consider their good health and physical abilities--if they ever give them a single thought, which is unlikely--simply as a given, and as a result too often squander those precious gifts.

All of us, no matter where we are along the path of life, would do well to pay heed to a couple of well-known and usually ignored adages/cliches: "Act in haste, repent at leisure" and "Too soon old, too late smart." Not that we will pay them any more heed now than we ever have. But it would really be nice if, every now and then, we really made an effort to see beyond the end of our nose.

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, November 17, 2010


We're all so busy living our lives that we seldom take the time to step back and really look at things. Not the big stuff upon which our existence depends, but on those millions and millions of trivialities that surround us every minute and yet go ignored. It is these little things which fascinate me.

"Such as," you ask? Well, such as the following:

I enjoy picking out left-handed people at a play or concert: left handers clap their left hands into their right; right handers clap their right hands into their left.

Tap the lip of a cup lightly with a spoon as you fill the cup with hot water and listen to the change in pitch as the cup fills. (It doesn't work quite as well using cold water, interestingly.)

Lay two sheets of paper in front of you on a desk. Take a pencil in each hand and without concentrating or looking at what you're doing, write your name simultaneously with both. Your dominant hand will, of course, write your name correctly. The other hand will write it backwards.

Runway models always cross one foot slightly in front of the other as they walk.

Female celebrities have the annoying habit of posing one hand on hip far, far more often than would naturally occur, apparently assuming this to be somehow seductive. It is not.

Notice, the next time you are in a government office, how many of the employees charged with dealing with the public seem completely certain they are the government.

If you've followed my blogs for any length of time, you know of my ongoing ranting about the very real demand that actors in commercials prominently display a wedding ring to subliminally show the viewer that he is a "family man" and therefore can be trusted. Unmarried actors or those who do not normally wear a wedding ring are actually required to put one on for the commercial. And, again, you will never see an adult male alone in a commercial with a young child unless the man is wearing a wedding ring, lest the viewer think the man is a pedophile.

While in New York recently I was fascinated by the fact that New York subway cars are almost half again as long as Chicago subway cars and have three sets of doors as opposed to the two sets on Chicago cars.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art I was yet again intrigued by the fact that Egyptian statues of standing figures all have their arms rigidly against their sides, their hands clasped into a fist around what appears to be a short stick but which, I realized, is only something to fill the gap between the thumb and clenched fingers. And all standing figures have their left foot extended beyond their right.

In Egyptian wall paintings, eyes and torsos are always painted as if being viewed head-on, despite the position of the rest of the body, and the body is almost always painted, again, as though it were being seen head-on. It is very rare to see a body portrayed from the side, or in any other position.

Classical Greek statues have no bridge to the nose...the ridge of the nose is a straight line from forehead to tip.

Etruscan sarcophagi often feature sculptures of the dead propped up on one arm, but always turned to the right, and the right knee often bent and raised slightly.

How can I...or you...become bored when just opening our eyes and looking at things as though they are being seen for the first time presents such a wealth of things to wonder about and be in awe of? Try it and see.

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, November 15, 2010

Double Standards

My dad, who I dearly loved despite our years of father-son conflict, operated--and raised me--on the unfortunate but all too common principle of "don't do as I do, do as I say." This surely must be one of the most counterproductive, confusing, and negative of all ways to raise a child. Dad meant well but it had a lasting effect on my life, and on our relationship.

The double standard says, loudly and clearly, that what is perfectly all right for me to do is not perfectly all right for you to do. Our entire society, actually, operates on this same principle, and the very foundations of hypocrisy are, in fact, built on it.

Logic and the double standard are largely anathema to one another. Politics traditionally flaunts logic and is based on the principles of the double standard; dictators and despots make it a fundamental part of their regimes. Politicians repeatedly demonstrate the double standard of proclaiming themselves self-appointed guardians of public morals while frequently showing up in the tabloids after being caught (often literally), with their pants down.

Our recent elections upheld the finest traditions of political double standards. Surely I can't be the only one absolutely dumbfounded to hear Tea Party types demanding to get the government out of our lives while they drive on federally funded highways to stop at the bank to cash their social security checks on the way to a doctor's appointment paid for by Medicare. Obviously the message is: feel free to vehemently oppose federal programs while taking full advantage of them.

Observing the approach the mid-term elections with the horror of watching a train wreck, I simply could not and cannot understand how any intelligent human being can hold the dumbfoundingly cretinous pronouncements by the likes of Nevada's Sharon Angle, or the modern-day Iago, Sarah Palin--whose grasp of reality is even more tenuous than mine. She has made a cottage industry of puffings and spouting "just us workin' folks" homilies and talks of lipstick on pigs and momma bears protecting their cubs while railing against a health program designed to protect women and children--with utter disgust and in anything but utter contempt.

And Sarah, from whom I'm sure we will be hearing quite a bit as the 2012 elections approach, is not alone applying the double standard of claiming to be just like you and me while raking in millions in book sales and speaking fees.

Nowhere is the double standard more evident than in the attitudes of heterosexuals toward homosexuals. To walk through a park and see a heterosexual couple all but fornicating on a park bench or a lawn, trying very hard to swallow one another's tongues, or clasping one another in a fervent embrace in the middle of a sidewalk full of people is perfectly natural. But two men holding hands in public is still generally viewed with mild-to-major shock in most areas of the country.

So I shall end this little morality tale with what I frankly consider the epitome of a double standard. President Obama was elected partly because he got a majority of the GLBTQ vote by vowing to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He has spoken frequently and with great conviction on the fact that it is wrong, and promised its repeal. He has the power, as chief executive, to end this egregious policy with the stroke of a pen. Yet for all the nobility of his statements, he backs the Justice Department's blocking of the law's repeal and insists it be left to a congress ruled by some of the finest Puritanical minds of the 16th century. While I am a lifelong Democrat and an unregenerate liberal, and while there are undoubtedly many reasons for the President's apparent sell-out, I do not know what they are, nor do I care. I feel I have been lied to by someone I trusted. It is not a pleasant feeling.

Double standards, anyone?

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Friday, November 12, 2010


I never liked me very much. I still don’t, at times, to the point that I occasionally become so furious with myself over my perceived shortcomings—like my inability to comprehend the workings of cyberspace—that I am quite literally beside myself with rage. Like many people, I suspect, I’m a study in contradictions. On the one hand, I’m often embarrassingly needy: a sponge for any drop of reassurance or praise (probably one of the underlying reasons I write). Yet on those occasions when someone is kind enough to offer praise, I truly don’t know how to react, and I feel guilty for so readily accepting it while too seldom giving it. For someone with insecurities deeper than most coal mines, I am astonishingly egocentric…although I”ve only recently come to realize that egocentrism is quite different from egotism.

I started out, not surprisingly, as a pretty insecure kid, which was probably nobody’s fault but my own. I can’t blame my parents…they all but worshiped me, though the messages they—especially my dad—were trying to send me were not necessarily the messages I was receiving. Children simply do not realize that their parents are individual human beings with insecurities and problems of their own. So when my dad, who had spent some time in an orphanage when his own parents divorced, once, out of his own frustrations when I had been particularly incorrigible, threaten to send me to an orphanage to see how I liked it, I was sure he meant it. Of course he didn’t, but what do kids know?

I was skinny, and almost painfully shy…though when playing with the neighborhood kids, I always had to be the boss. I don’t know how much a factor my awareness of being very different from other boys had to do with it. I was far too young to know what “gay” meant, but I knew from the moment I had what I consider to be my first sexual experimentation with another boy when I was five, that whatever that feeling represented, it would be with me for the rest of my life. And that belief was cemented, a year or two later during a game of “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” with a girl classmate, I was totally revolted to realize just how different boys and girls were. I vastly preferred boys, thank you.

Things weren’t materially improved by the fact that I was also what is known as a “motor moron.” I had absolutely no eye-hand coordination when it came to catching a ball or swinging a bat. My poor, dear dad so wanted me to share his love of sports, and since I did not, I always thought…wrongly…that I was a great disappointment to him. Though I love to watch people …okay, mostly men…dance, I was much too self-conscious to ever do it myself. It was, in fact, kindly suggested by the instructor, after two or three lessons in an Arthur Murray Dance Studio class to which I had turned in desperation, that I was wasting my parents’ money. Years later, in dance bars in Los Angeles, friends would do their best to pry me away from the bar and get out on the floor. “Nobody’s going to notice you!” they’d say. And I would always reply: “I’ll notice me,” and refuse to go, though I ached to watch others move so beautifully, smoothly, and effortlessly.

And therein lies probably the most basic problem of my life: I expect myself to be perfect in everything and refuse to accept the fact that I am not. The fact that everyone else falls short of perfection matters not in the least. They’re allowed to have faults. I am not.

Physically, I always thought of myself as plain at best and downright unattractive at worst; it is only now, as I look back on old photos, that I realize that I in fact was not a runner-up in a Mr. Quasimodo contest, and wish I could go back in time to tell myself so. But it is far too late to do anything about it now.

And if you should by any chance see even the tiniest reflection of yourself in any of the above, I am pleased, for it underscores the purpose of this entire blog: the idea that as strong as the evidence may be to the contrary, none of us is truly alone.

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, November 10, 2010

Lip Service

We are a lip-service people. Both as individuals and as a society, we solemnly proclaim belief in and adherence to one thing while doing the exact opposite. There is, far too often, only the most flimsy connection between our words and our actions. Generally, lip service is basically harmless; it's something everyone does. But it covers a very broad spectrum from the generally harmless--almost a natural reaction--to calculatedly cynical and hypocritical.

Paying lip service to something is, for the most part, a form of taking the path of least resistance. We claim to believe things simply because, whether we honestly believe it to be true or not, we acknowledge that everyone else seems to believe it, and we don't want to rock the boat or risk calling attention to ourselves by standing out too far from the crowd. Standing out from the crowd makes one vulnerable and a potential target, like a wildebeest who strays too far from the herd. Few people want to be targets.

Lip service also provides protective coloration, offering a large tree behind which we can hide our true thoughts and feelings. And there are those who can delude themselves into confusing lip service with truth. Bigots, for example, almost always vehemently deny they are bigots. Religious zealots loudly and piously proclaim their fealty to the written tenets of their faith while totally ignoring and violating them. Muslim extremists have done perhaps irreparable harm to the religion they slavishly defend, often to the death of themselves and others. Christian extremists are somewhat less dismissive of their own lives, but still only slightly less reprehensible. Those who most strongly avow their allegiance to the Bible are often the very ones who do the most undermine it. They seem to have the astonishing ability to overlook such insignificant-to-them little precepts as "Love thy neighbor," "Do unto others as you would have done unto you," "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," and "Judge not lest ye be judged."

Corporations, which differ from the religious zealots only in that the deity they worship is Mammon rather than God or Allah, have made an art out of saying one thing and doing another. ("Your call is very important to us," and "...where you, the customer, are our primary concern" spring to mind. Few if any of them even bother, any more, to pay lip service to "the customer is always right." I suspect when they try to say that, they burst into uproarious laughter.)

Lip service is the cornerstone of politics. Politicians regularly and unctuously pay lip service to any widely held belief they think might win them votes while, while subverting it for their own ends. Tea Partiers want to "take back our country" to its constitutional roots, but want to rid the Constitution of those parts they find bothersome.

On a personal, individual level, lip service is sometimes the only logical way of dealing with matters one is truly unable to comprehend. I pay lip service to--that is, I can accept, albeit with great reluctance --the belief that one is only as old as one feels, and that age doesn't matter. I can even say my age aloud, but though I say it in English, it might as well be Swahili. The words strike my ear, but not my mind. Try as I might, I simply cannot believe it because it can't be true. And you'll notice I'm not saying it here. It's not a matter of being coy, it's simply a matter of sincere incomprehensibility.

So lip service, universally used and universally ignored, is simply yet another little device we humans use to try to make some sense and order out of what is too often a senseless and chaotic existence. It is one thin thread in the rope we have spun as a race to tether ourselves to reality. I just wish the rope were stronger.

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, November 08, 2010

On Writing Books

There are so many things I cannot do, so many things for which I rightly or wrongly berate myself, so many times I feel insecure or unworthy, or terrified of being "old." And yet when I'm writing a book, none of this matters in the slightest. If you have followed these ramblings for any length of time, you know of my continual, if one-sided, battles with things over which I have not one iota of control--primarily time and reality. I rail against them even while being fully aware that they are no more aware of me than a cow in a pasture on a hot, muggy, airless summer's day is aware of the "no-see-ums"--the tiny flying insects swarming around its head.

But when I write, I step out of and away from reality into a world almost impossible to describe to those who have never been there. I change from a "no-see-um" to an untethered, bright blue balloon soaring upward to the beautiful whipped-cream-mountain clouds sailing with silent, majestic grace from horizon to horizon.

I'm currently working on the fourteenth (fourteenth?) book in my Dick Hardesty Mystery series, and I'm back in an intricate, complex world I myself have created, among characters to whom I've given birth and nurtured and developed, watched to grow, and fallen in love with. They live in a city which does not exist on any map, but which is as familiar and comfortable to me as an old sweater. They have become as real to me as it is possible to become without being able to reach out and touch them. And they are completely unaware of my existence.

As they have grown and developed, they've needed less and less direct control from me, to the point where I largely point them in a general direction and let them choose the route to get there. They constantly surprise me: I have the intention of their turning right at a certain point, and they choose to go left. New characters step into the story and their lives without my having to consciously put them there. (An elderly deaf couple has just entered the story as I write, and I suspect will have a considerable influence over Dick and Jonathan's young charge, Joshua.) I have no idea when I begin the book what new characters may show up, or which characters from previous books may drop by.

I am not alone among writers in viewing my work the way I do. A writer must love and believe in his characters and stories if he (and, of course, she) expects the reader to.

I've said that I write to please not only myself but the reader, though the latter comes up against the old caveat that you can't please all the people all the time. Of all the characters in the Dick Hardesty series, Dick's partner, Jonathan, seems the most popular...though this is not universally true. Since Dick is an alternate universe me--the me I wish I were or could be--and since I so miss not having someone to share my own life, Jonathan appeared (literally) to share Dick's. When he first appeared, their relationship was quite lopsided in that it was Dick who was the strong one, always protecting Jonathan. But over the course of the books...and partly in response to reader reaction...Jonathan has come into his own as a stronger, more independent individual.

The appearance of Joshua, Jonathan's orphaned nephew, was, I think, another extension of personal wish-fulfillment. Joshua, incidentally, is probably the most polarizing of the series' characters. Some readers adore him, some find him a distraction, and at least one loyal reader has found Joshua so annoying he has ceased to read the series. (Fortunately, he continues to read my other series, the Elliott Smith mysteries.)

I find the very fact that I...insecure, sometimes childishly-needy able to elicit strong responses from readers is a source of little-boy delight. And it is, in fact, the occasional notes I get from readers who are kind enough to take the time to write me to say that they enjoy my writing and actually feel as though my characters were real people they would like to spend time with, which provide my primary source of validation. For me, food nourishes the body, but validation nourishes the soul.

Every human needs to feel that he or she is appreciated by and important to others. I am blessed in that writing books not only enables me to create and spend time in worlds I wish existed, but in that I am sometimes capable of sharing those worlds with others.

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, November 05, 2010

Yes, YOU!

Dr. Pangloss was of course wrong: this is not the best of all possible worlds. But it is the world we have and in which we must live, and how we choose to do so can make the difference between relative comfort and misery. Every human being has his or her own set of problems and limitations. There is no one single measurement of humanity or human life--other than the necessity for the heart to beat--which is identical to everyone else.

One of the most recurrent themes of these blogs is my attempt to urge you--and convince myself--to realize, despite what problems we might have, just how lucky we really are. That I so often cite my own often overly-emphasized challenges as a base is not a plea for sympathy, but merely an example of how one single individual deals with and comes to terms with his own obstacles, and a rough measure by which you may compare yourself.

The afflictions visited upon humans are innumerable and endlessly varied. I am not the first person to have survived a bout with cancer, or to have his life almost incomprehensibly altered as a result, but by talking about it, I hope it may make those of you who have not experienced a similar life-changing event a bit more aware and appreciative of your own life.

Food is essential for life, and we all tend to take it for granted. We eat without a single thought of what we are really doing, or to the myriad of totally automatic physical actions/reactions involved in the process. And for me, my inability to eat normally has been the single greatest change in my life following my recovery from tongue cancer.

It reached the point where I've decided that I am going to stop even trying to maintain the illusion of eating. I will simply ignore it and subsist, as I have been doing more and more of late, on liquid nutritional supplements which require no chewing and no saliva to process. Yesterday a friend and I went to lunch. Because I am something of a master of self-delusion, I ordered a "Cuban Panini"...a sandwich with sliced ham, turkey, roast beef, and cheese. It was huge! It came with a gigantic portion of french fries, a tub of cole slaw, 1/4 of a dill pickle, and a large bowl of soup. I ate three french fries, two small forkfuls of the cole slaw, one bite of the pickle, and that was it. I had absolutely no interest in the rest. Brought it all home, where I had about half the soup for "dinner," cut the Panini into 4 sections and froze them for future dinners.

I know I dwell on this and dwell on it and undoubtedly drive you and my other friends crazy with my bitching and moaning, and I'm sorry. But again, I do it for a reason: to hope you might actually stop, every now and then, and be aware.

When I sit in a restaurant, or watch people eating on TV, happily taking huge bites of whatever, chewing and swallowing and totally, utterly, completely oblivious of how lucky they are to be able to do it, it truly drives me to distraction! I want to scream at them: "APPRECIATE IT, YOU IDIOTS!!!" I find myself overwhelmed with...well, jealousy...and frustration. Going to a restaurant is equivalent to having everyone scream at me: "See what I can do and you can't?? Nyaaah-nyaaah!" It wouldn't be so bad if they KNEW how fortunate they are to be able to eat normally, but they don't. They don't give it a single, single thought. It's the way things are. It's the way things have always been. It's the way things will always be. Until something like tongue cancer comes along.

I of course would not wish my own experience on anyone, but it would be nice if I might think that by rehashing my own experience one more time, it might give even one person pause to reflect, despite his or her own problems, on just how lucky they--you--really are.

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, November 03, 2010

Grand Delusions

The world abounds in problems, many of our own making. Natural disasters and acts of God aside, there are those humans who have made it their life's work to be sure that the smallest of molehills is worried and fretted over until it becomes a mountain rivaling Mt. Everest. I tend to be one of them.

And there are those with oddly self-appointed-theist delusions who are willing--nay, eager--to assume responsibility for problems over which they in fact have absolutely not the remotest influence or control. I tend to be one of them, too. Putting the two together makes for an interesting combination, each part feeding on and reinforcing the other. Fretting, in fact, stems from the illusion that the fretter is, indeed, able to do something about the issue being fretted over. That it is utterly counterproductive is beside the point. A little delusional theism is good for the soul...and the ego.

Toddlers and very young children naturally assume they are the center of the universe, since for the first few years of their lives, they don't really have any reason to think otherwise. All that really matters is themselves and what they want. Reality soon intrudes on these delusions to harshly dissuade the vast majority of them, but some few manage to cling to them and survive. Again, I am one, and the jury is still out as to whether this is a curse or a blessing.

As one of those for whom large areas of emotional development never got much beyond the five-year-old level, I have always sincerely felt, down somewhere in the core of my being, that I am indeed the center of the universe. But with grand delusions comes grand responsibilities. Therefore, when something--anything--goes wrong, I can't escape the feeling that I am somehow responsible for it. And as I became more and more aware of the world around me, this assumption has extended far beyond what directly effects my daily life. My theistic delusions have expanded to encompass just about everything that happens, anywhere, any time.

I've frequently addressed, in these blogs, the universal--and exponentially increasing--frustration caused by the individual's lack of control over his/her own life and destiny. That control has been usurped by the very technology and bureaucracy we created to serve us and make our lives easier. Unfortunately, as our creations expanded, we became more and more dependent on them, and they have become, in effect, stellar black holes sucking all living matter into it. We designed them to embrace us, but their grip became tighter and tighter to the point where we cannot breath, and we cannot escape.

Oddly, I do not feel responsible for either technology or bureaucracy, but only for their effects, over which I, like everyone else, am maddeningly powerless. Surely someone who is the center of the universe should be able to do something.

Conversely and perversely, while I'm happy to feel responsible for all that's wrong in the world, I for some strange reason do not take credit for all that goes well...for all the acts of love and kindness and self sacrifice and nobility that do take place every day. And why is that, you may ask--as I have? Simple. Because (and again here we have strong echoes of arrested emotional development) love and kindness and self sacrifice and nobility are the way the world should be. Always. That it is not, when I so want and expect it to be, must somehow be my fault.

I guess it all boils down to this: considering all the trouble and unhappiness and problems there are in the world--and not counting those which we create for ourselves--surely someone must be responsible. As center of the universe, why not 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

Monday, November 01, 2010


Just as Hollywood ranks its celebrities (A-List, B-List, C-List, D-List, etc.), I'm sure there is a similar if unacknowledged broad-range ranking for authors out there somewhere. And it is interesting to note that for all my egocentrism, I wouldn't rank myself higher than the D-List. It's not that I don't think I'm a good writer, it's just that I know I am nowhere near being a great writer.

And just as there are many Hollywood celebrities who, with no discernible talent, are famous merely for being famous, there are many top-selling writers who churn out books selling tens (or hundreds) of thousands of copies on the "fame" of their name alone. (I had a friend who wrote a couple of books for Harlequin Romances many years ago. She told me that Harlequin insisted on--and issued its authors--a standard guideline specifying that certain actions were not only mandatory, but dictating elements which were to be accomplished by a certain page in the manuscript. (The first romantic encounter described by, say, page 9; hero/heroine basic conflict must be established by page 22; etc.) And she sold thousands and thousands of copies. I doubt that my sixteen books have sold more than 20,000 copies, total. (There is really no way of knowing, since each publisher reports the number of sales in a different way; some specify sales of each book, others just by total number sold. And the royalty for e-books is different than for print books, and....)

The New York Times rankings of the top ten best sellers does carry a lot of weight, but I (and 99.8 percent of all other writers) have about as much chance of getting within twenty miles of the New York Times list as I have of growing wings. provides a running "sales ranking" for the books it offers, and writers on roughly the same level as I tend to seek support and validation from them. "I'm up to #986,212 on Amazon!!!" we say, proudly, having, the last time we looked, fifteen minutes before, been at #987,837. We choose to overlook the fact that while no one seems to have any real idea how these rankings are derived, and that they fluctuate wildly from day to day, and even from hour to hour or minute to minute. Having a new book out will almost invariably raise your ranking considerably, since you are being weighed against the sales of every other book in Amazon's vast library. If 25 people buy your book in one day, your ranking may well go up by a couple or several thousand.

Out of curiosity, I checked the rankings of three of my books at random, one week apart: The Secret Keeper, the most recent Dick Hardesty book, went from #727,798 the first time I checked, to #358,359 the second--a jump of 369,439; Aaron's Wait, the most recent Elliott Smith entry, was #663,473 the first time, #100,406 the second--a 563,067 increase--and The Ninth Man, the very first Dick Hardesty, went from #1,158,812 to #1,078,626. Of course, it should be pointed out that The Ninth Man has been on Amazon for nine years now. Just looking at all those numbers makes my head spin. Nevertheless, that's a lot of jumping around, and all in one week. And when all is said and done, they are just numbers--merely vague indications, and not very good ones at that.

Which does not stop me from checking them every now and then.

When it comes right down to it, the most important "ranking," to me, is not where I stand on Amazon's or any other arbitrary list, but where I stand in the individual reader's estimation. All I really want is for people to read my books, to enjoy them, and to hopefully identify with them on some level. And when one occasionally goes the extra mile by recommending my writing to their friends, or writing a brief review on or elsewhere, I never cease to be humbled by their kindness.

Writers too seldom take the time to express their gratitude to their readers. It is a mistake I try never to make. So I thank you for reading this.

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