Monday, January 31, 2011


I'm going to have to ask you to follow me here, through the thought processes which led to this blog.

I was just watching TV and saw the current GE commercial where factory workers break into a line-dance, and was struck once again with the deep longing for something I have never had, the ability to dance. I would give anything to be able to dance; to be able to be physically graceful.

And then, in one of the short-circuitings I have come to accept as the workings of my brain, I thought of one of my favorite Navy stories. The Ticonderoga was anchored off Naples during Christmas week, 1955. A group of young orphan girls around five or six years old was brought on board for a party. They were all dressed alike, and each was to be given a Christmas present: a identical doll. But as the dolls were being wrapped, it was discovered that they were one doll short. Someone was sent racing from the ship back to Naples to get another, but there were no more. So whoever had been sent for it chose a much more expensive doll, larger and more beautifully dressed as a form of compensating for its difference, and hurried back to the ship.

When the time came to open the presents, the little girls, who may never have had a doll of their own, were absolutely delighted...except the little girl given the special doll. She was heartbroken that she did not get the same doll all the other girls had gotten, and it broke my heart, too, because I knew exactly why she was crying.

And so I am writing this blog about gifts; not store-bought gifts, but the gifts each of us is given at birth. Some are given the gift of beauty, or of grace, or manual or physical which can readily be seen just by looking at the recipient. I was given none of these gifts and, like the little girl with the special doll, I have tended all my life to be deeply hurt by their lack.

Yet when I pause to reflect, and can manage to put envy and longing aside, I am aware of the many gifts I was given: a sense of humor; a sense, I hope, of honor; respect for others; empathy; the ability to recognize and appreciate both sides of an issue, and the good in others. None of these gifts is readily apparent, but they are as special as the little girl's doll. It's not a matter of one set of gifts being better than the other, just that they are different.

I know I am not alone in yearning for those gifts given others but not us, and that there is a strong tendency not to fully recognize our own gifts simply because they are so much a part of ourselves that we're not aware of them. And though most people do not display their gifts on the outside where they can readily be seen, they are there if we just take the time to recognize them. And to resent not being given certain gifts is, in effect, to be ungrateful for those we have.

When is the last time you objectively took stock of your own gifts? While I don't do it nearly often enough, I do do it, and never fail to be surprised by how many there are.

I have the gift of acceptance of the differences between humans, and while I may not like them, I never question their right to have them, or assume I have the right to dictate how they should live their lives. I have the gift of realizing that nothing in life is either all good or all bad, and I am frequently truly surprised to realize how many people do not have that same gift. One of my most treasured gifts is a sense of humor which is often as different from other people's as the little girl's doll was different from her friends'. And I credit this gift with regularly pulling me back from the brink of despair when things, as they so often do in the course of any life, go badly. It will not allow me to take myself too seriously.

I'm not beautiful, but I was given the gift of words, and can write of beauty. I cannot build a bridge, but my words can build entire worlds. My body may not be able to dance, but my soul can. As an Agnostic, I'm not quite sure where these gifts came from, but I am infinitely grateful to have them.

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, January 28, 2011

Whither Reality?

I have said and constantly demonstrate that reality and I are barely on speaking terms. But recently I have come to realize that reality doesn't even speak to itself when it comes to television programs. With few exceptions the increasingly ubiquitous (due to their low production costs compared to scripted programming) reality shows are to reality what a carp is to a carpet.

There is a vast spectrum of "reality" programming today, running the gamut from those which actually have some valid if however tenuous claim to being entertaining and informative--cooking and designing competitions--to junk food for the brain, from Tabitha Takes Over to Hoarders to Cops to What Not to Wear. Surely there must be a million of them. If they had a calorie count, the viewer would rather quickly starve to death. But at least these shows feature people we might actually run into in the supermarket. They are human beings...albeit sometimes very strange human beings...with real problems which stand a chance of being resolved.

The most disturbing trait the majority of reality shows share, however, is their complete disassociation from reality.

Extreme Home Makeover? A prime example of a set-up from start to finish, the success of which depends entirely upon the viewer never, ever asking a question. The needy family doesn't know they're coming? Then why are they all clustered around the door waiting to burst out when Ty Pennington, who I find increasingly annoying and whose ubiquitous bullhorn I'd love to shove up his...uh...left nostril...wakes everyone in a three-mile radius with "Gooood Morning, McGryblifarstonbergersen Family!" After leaping up and down wildly, screaming, hugging Ty and his crew, and bursting into tears of gratitude, within three minutes the family is sent off on a wonderful vacation. Obviously, they always keep packed suitcases at the ready. The instant they are out of sight, an army of identically dressed construction workers (?) marches down the street yelling and pumping their arms in the air(how did they get there? Where did they come from?) and destroys the family home. What about all the family's belongings? No matter. And the family watches the proceedings from the vacation location they just left for five minutes earlier. Bulldozers and cranes and cement trucks appear out of nowhere to begin construction of a mega-mansion far beyond any practical need. Plans? Permits? Never mind.

Toddlers and Tiaras? Dear lord, where is Child Protective Services when we need them? Momma Rose from Gypsy is Mother Theresa compared to these vampiric creatures who feed off their young daughters in an apparent effort to try to fulfill their own crushed dreams. In what "reality" do they live?

But the most egregious examples of so-called "reality" shows are those which very deliberately attempt to erase the line between humanity and the lower animals. These shows are nothing more than guided tours through the overflowing-Porta-Potties of our society. Their only purpose is to titillate and either create a pathetic form of envy or to give their viewers a sense of mental and/or moral superiority over the people they are watching. For the most part, this type of "reality show" invariably has several things in common. They tend to feature astonishingly rude, obnoxious and totally self absorbed--but almost always physically attractive--boors whose lack of any noticeable talent is exceeded only by the size of their egos.

The Housewives of...Where? Stupefyingly vain, mean-spirited harpies whose cosmetic surgery bills must equal the gross national product of France bicker and bitch and flaunt the wealth they had nothing to do with obtaining.

The Kardasians? To this day I have absolutely no idea of who these people are or what purpose they are supposed to serve.

Even so, they can be forgiven because they can claim, rightly, that if you don't like them, the TV has an "off" switch. Yet those who do not exercise this option, find themselves bombarded by examples of the worst of human behavior, and they cannot help but be influenced by it and inured to it.

This is evidenced no more strongly than by programs like Jersey Shore, which glorifies vacuous but physically hot guys and ever-so-cute bimbos who would probably be kicked off the show at the slightest hint that their IQs might surpass that of an overripe tomato. But they're beautiful, they're all breeders (and don't you forget it, buster!). And the young love it! That's the way to behave! That's what life is all about.

They are wrong.

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, January 26, 2011

Chance, Coincidence, and Incredible Odds

Has it ever occurred to you that life is a cosmic slot machine? Our past--our very existence--is the result of an infinite number of seemingly random coincidences and convergences of unrelated circumstances producing results with incredible odds far greater than any lottery. Our every single action alters and sometimes profoundly changes our future. Yet we remain largely oblivious.

Probably it's just as well; otherwise it would be impossible to make it through day after day, surrounded/immersed/bombarded as we are by so many challenges and contradictions and potential dangers. We do most of it on autopilot, of course. Our minds and bodies are programmed to free us from conscious awareness of those physical functions necessary for life and self preservation. We look when we cross the street without having to stop to think about it. We put one foot in front of the other without a thought. We breathe, we talk, we cook, and shower, and work, interact with other people, and do an infinite number of things, many at the same time. And if we were to stop and give close scrutiny to the astonishingly complexity of how and why we do any one of these things, our lives would grind to a halt. That we are able to do these things without pausing once to think of what we are doing, or why, is astonishing in itself.

Stop for just a moment to consider that you/I/each of us is directly descended from an unbroken chain of at least 10,000 generations of ancestors, each generation consisting of a pair of individual human beings who, as the bible so quaintly put it, "begat" the next generation by combining their DNA to produce the next link in the chain. And yet, if just one of those 10,000 pairings had for some reason--a rock falling from a cave roof, a stray arrow or bullet in one of mankind's endless wars--failed to produce the next link in the chain, the individual who is the current link--you--could never have existed.

And our individual lives are an endless string of single moments where conscious or unconscious decisions are made, every one of them subtly or profoundly changing the course of our lives. Just a cursory look at your own life will reveal a stupefying number of coincidences and what-were-the-odds events which brought you to this exact moment in time. If you hadn't done something you did do; if, when faced with a choice, you had chosen something other than you did--you would not be the same person you are.

And to take one tiny snippet from the chain of my own past: when I left Los Angeles, I opened a bed and breakfast in tiny Pence, Wisconsin--a circumstance I have often regretted for reasons too complex to go into here. And yet if I had not done it, I would never have met and become friends with a number of wonderful people who are still part of my life. One was my friend Mollie, who later moved to San Diego, where she told me of her next door neighbor, Gary, with whom she thought I might become friends. We did become not only friends, but best friends, and I really can't imagine what my life would be like today if he were not an integral part of it.

Every aspect of our lives is founded on the cumulative, moment-by-moment details of our past. And while nothing can be done to change any of this, pondering the imponderable is the strop upon which the razor of the mind is sharpened.

I sometimes regret, on a philosophical level, that the string of 10,000-plus generations which came together to collectively produce me ends with me. I have not and will not "beget" another link in the chain. My branch of the human tree will sprout no new twigs. And yet humans, as a species, have reached the stage in our development where DNA is not the only method of passing one's self on through the ages. The end of the physical does not mean the end of the individual. My words, which are my progeny and are the essence of me, will be around, somewhere, as long as there are eyes to read them. No 100 year maximum "shelf life." Though I may have an expiration date, my words and the parts of me they contain do not. I take considerable comfort in believing that.

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, January 24, 2011

Spam and the Jabberwock

It occurred to me, as I was flushing the latest overflowing bucket of spam from my computer, that there are antithetical similarities between internet spam and Lewis Carroll's wonderful "Jabberwocky." The delightful gibberish of "Jabberwocky" stands as a beacon of logic when compared to the insultingly incomprehensible babble of spam. "Jabberwocky" delights; spam leaves one with the urge to shower with lye soap.

I revisit "Jabberwocky" often and gladly, while I view spam with something akin to the horrified compulsion of watching a beheading. Why can I not resist looking at the opening words of every spam message in my inbox and, worse, why I am compelled to mentally respond to it? And why do I find it necessary to share it with you? I have no answer. But here, yet again, are some classic examples of the finest spam has to offer, presented exactly as received, and my Pavlov's Dog reactions. Look away if you can.

"PLEASE OPEN ATTACH FILE FOR MORE DETAILS" (What attach file is that?)

"PROPOSAL FROM HONG KONG - Greetings, It is understandable that you might be a little bit apprehensive because you do not know me....." (Gee, y' s'ppose?)

blessing donatus - "I'm very happy to meet you, -Hello I'm very happy to meet you. Compliments of the day! How are you? I hope you are doing...." (Why, how utterly charming! Is there anything...anything I might possibly do for you? Unfortunately, I'd have to open the rest of your message in order to find out.)

"You were looking for GF - Whats up How are you doing I love your profile. Would you like to check out my own most private...." (No, I was not looking for GF - Nothing's up I am fine and I'm so happy that you liked my profile since I don't have one. As for checking your own most private...take a wild guess.)

"Let's grow your smallDick with this Effective PenisEnlargement pill...." (And I'm sure starting off your sales pitch with an insult is a great way to boost sales.)

"I am looking forward to your kindly response!!! - Hello, With due respect I would like to disclose a mutual trans..." (Keep looking.)

"Lose 25 lbs of fat with Dr Endorsed Diet!" (Oh, yes, the world-renowned Dr Endorsed! Didn't he win a Nobel prize recently?)

"Evangelina Yasmine biib0p -b" (Well put, Evangelina! Well put! And it makes far more sense than all the other bullshit above.)

"Is it possible to melt fat away?" (No. Next question.)

"hi - Please my good friend, I am the General Audit Manager, Accounts Department in our bank. I have..." (Hi! I assume you got the impression that I am your good friend from the same place you got the impression you are the General Audit Manager of some unnamed bank. Wrong on both counts.)

"I apologize for this strange message. My names are James Wardner, a banker with NatWest Bank Plc here in UK." (And my names are Dorien Grey. Speak proper English much?)

"Generic Viagra online no Prescription at our reliable and trusted pharmacy...." ("Generic Viagra with no prescription" means it's a sugar pill with no real pharmaceutical properties, but at the same price or higher than the real stuff. And as to "reliable and trusted," well...)

"Get BIGGER with Free tri. Girls strip for cameras- Fantastic results -guaranteed gains within 2 months...." (Slow down, there, Charlie! Get bigger what? What's a "tri"? What have girls stripping for cameras got to do with "Fantastic results?" I'm getting dizzy.)

PharmacUsa Viagra "Hi fried new discount!" (As opposed to "deep fried new discount?" What the hell are you talking about? Never mind...I don't care.)

"View Attached message And Reply Me." (Thanks, but I prefer to not view attached message and ignore you.)

"eHarmony - You could Find Singles Like You" (No, I couldn't. As I recall, eHarmony won't touch fags with a ten-foot pole.)

"Educating the young on ways on have fun -Its great to suck and greater to ride. I am glad my guy upsized." (I'm happy to see altruism is not dead. And I couldn't agree more about the value of education. What age would you suggest educating the young on sucking and riding? Kindergarten? Perhaps you can join them for an English lesson.)

"CHAEP MEDICATOINS" (I rest my case.)

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, January 21, 2011

Blogs, Hands, and the Everything Drawer

Every home has an "everything drawer," usually in the kitchen, where we toss...well...every small item we don't know what else to do with or where else to put. A key to who knows what? Three pencil stubs. A book of matches. A half-burned candle. A couple of business cards. An almost-empty roll of Scotch tape. A very pretty and perfectly good kid's marble. An odd-shaped piece of metal which obviously has some purpose and belongs to something, but God knows what. Things that we are afraid to throw away because we know the minute we do throw it away, we'll remember what it was for and that we really, really need it.

Today is Thursday. I need a blog for tomorrow. I do not have a blog for tomorrow, which is why I am sitting here now frantically searching through the "everything drawer" of my mind. What I'm looking for is something...anything...I can use as a piece of flint to spark a blog. And as my search becomes more frantic, I myself become more frantic, which of course is totally counterproductive.

I'd started out, quite confidently, to do a blog about writing blogs, and then it occurred to me that I seemed to recall having already done that not too long ago. Didn't I? A quick check of past blog titles doesn't show anything, but that doesn't mean much: often the title and contents of a blog have little or nothing to do with one another. Still, I do seem to remember doing one, so....

And I noted while looking to see if I'd already done a blog on blogs, that I've now done 436 blogs just on this site alone. Dear Lord, is it any wonder I sometimes have a problem trying to come up with a new topic?

As I pause, mind churning, I look down at my hands, just sort of lying there, the heels of my palms on the base of the keyboard, waiting for me to have my fingers do something constructive, and I remember how proud I used to be of my hands. (I know, "proud" is an odd word to apply to hands, but I sincerely used to take an odd comfort in looking at them, because they were the smooth-skinned hands of a young man.) Just now, palms still resting on the keyboard base, I raised the backs of my hands and my fingers up and toward my wrists, and as they rose, they became a mass of wrinkles and puckers and creases and crevices which I stare at in a mixture of utter disbelief and something very akin to horror. It's as though all the flesh that used to pad the space between the skin and the bones beneath had somehow disappeared, leaving only skin and bone. Whose hands are those? Not mine! They're not hands, they're tree bark.

Lifting them from the keyboard and forcing my hands forward and down, the skin tightens and smoothes, and if I squint a bit, I can almost ignore all those tiny splotches. Clenching my hands into fists, the fingers hidden from me, the knuckles where my fingers join the main part of the hand become oddly white, as if the skin were being drawn tightly directly across the bones of the knuckles...which in fact they were.

If you are young enough not to be able to understand what I'm describing/experiencing here, I do envy you, and I advise you to take the time, every now and again, to study the backs of your hands, and appreciate them. Be proud of them.

Now, just when I was about to give up on this little side trip to nowhere, figuring it wasn't accomplishing much in the line of writing a blog for tomorrow, and that I wasn't going to find anything in my mental "everything drawer," I suddenly realized that I had in fact found something...please don't ask me to describe it, or to tell you exactly what it's for or how it works, because I couldn't tell you...that's why it's called an "everything drawer," after all.

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, January 19, 2011

A Year Later

I got emails today from the attorney who is handling the legal details of my friend Norm's estate, and from the real-estate agent who is handling the sale of his condo, which thanks to the housing market still has not sold. I realized with a shock that February 18 will be the one year (!) anniversary of his death, and thought of a letter I had written him shortly before he died. I posted it as a blog at the time, but somehow wanted to repost it now, by way of letting him know (I know, I know...) he's not forgotten.

Dear Norm,

I hope I might have the courage to read you this letter before it is too late, though it is far easier to write a blog for the whole world to see than it is to speak directly to the one person for whom it is intended. But to do so is to admit to myself and to tell you that I know that you are dying…which we both of course know. But avoidance is one of the silly games we humans play.

I wanted to let you know how much you have meant to me these past 52 years, and how integral a part of my life you are.

I remember the August night in 1958 when, two months out of college, I first saw you at the Haig, a bar near Chicago's Lawson YMCA. We didn't speak in the bar, and you left before I did, but when I walked out, you were standing there waiting for me. We moved in together less than a month later.

I remember how we built our couch from plywood—we painted it a high-gloss black, and used a foam pad, for which we had a cover made. I remember visiting thrift shops to buy tables and a dresser…the dresser I still use today. And I remember the 3-foot harlequin lamp we both loved when we saw it in a shop window, but could not afford it, and how, serendipitously, we found exactly the same lamp in a thrift store, it's base shattered, and how we bought it and remolded the base. I had it, too, until I moved from Wisconsin to return to Chicago. I remember the small faun's head I bought you one Christmas, which you still have.

I remember the party we had to which I invited everyone with whom I worked at Duraclean International, and how I broke my toe while we were all dancing the hora, and how we ran out of liquor and Phil Ward drank the juice from a jar of olives.

I remember how my parents adored you, and the time shortly after we got together when we all went to Maxwell Street and, as you and Dad were walking ahead of Mom and me, I realized "Hey, I think I love this guy." I remember our trips to the cottage on Lake Koshkonong with our friends, and how we helped Dad build an apartment for us above the garage. I remember water-skiing, and ski trips, and the time, coming back to Chicago from the lake in my then-new red Ford Sprint convertible, you spent most of the trip rummaging through a huge bag of potato chips looking for the perfect chip, which you then gave to me.

I remember evenings of cards and games with friends. And the one thing I remember most is that we never, in our 6 years together, had a really serious argument.

Of course I also remember that it was not all idyllic. Your job took you on frequent business trips, often several weeks at a time, during which we both, being young, were promiscuous, which inevitably contributed to our parting of the ways. I remember your never wanting us to take vacations together on the basis that we were together all the time, and that I could never understand that.

And after we broke was me who broke it off because my promiscuity got out of hand…I spent, literally, the next ten years kicking myself around the block for having hurt you, because I know it did, deeply. We had little contact over the next 25 years or so, seeing one another occasionally, exchanging Christmas cards, but it was awkward for both of us.

Yet you remained close to my parents, and were there for my dad's funeral, but were away somewhere when Mom died and I couldn't reach you.

And then when I decided, after nearly 40 years, to return to Chicago, I naturally moved in with you until I could get my own place, and our friendship, minus the romance, resumed.

You have been one of the largest stones in the foundation of my life, and I love you in a way impossible to put into words. You are my family and it is important for you to know that. But I fear I will not be able to bring myself to say so directly to you, because to do so would be to release you, and I simply cannot do that. You're part of who I am, and will always be.

I will try to let you know. I promise.

And a few days before he died, I did. And though he was by then in a coma from which he never woke up, I want so much to hope he heard 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, January 17, 2011

Except After C

Our civilization is built on words, with which we have in turn built languages. Words and language set humans apart from all other creatures.

English is, I've read and heard many times, one of the most complex of languages and the most difficult for foreigners to learn because it is the most flexible. It has, as do all languages, rules...but these rules tend to have so many exceptions as to be nearly incomprehensible. One, which every child learns in elementary school, is "i before e, except after c, or when sounded as a as in neighbor and weigh." Fine, except when as sounded as i as in height or as e as in weird.

My own life, as a writer, is built on my fascination with words. I was an English major in college, yet am ashamed at how little I know of the rules that govern its construction and usage--verbs and predicate nominatives and dangling participles and conjunctive clauses. On reflection, I sincerely wonder how I ever managed to get a degree in English. Yet I am fascinated nonetheless.

One of the many things I find fascinating is definitive prefixes (if there is such a term) "dis-" and "un-" and "in-" and "non-", each of which, attached to the beginning of a word, indicates the exact opposite of the word to which it is attached. To be disrespectful is to be not respectful; to be dishonest is to be not honest; to be uncommon is to be not common; to be indecent is to be not decent; to be nonsensical is to not make sense. All, again, good solid rules until you come across words like "inflammable," which means exactly the same as "flammable."

And, of course, frequently definitive prefixes are not definitive at all but simply part of a word. There is no "aster" to be negated in "disaster," no "ception" to be reversed in "inception," no "guent" to be denied in "unguent," no "chalant" in "nonchalant."

One of the problems with American English is that it is a hodgepodge of words borrowed from or based in many other languages: French, Latin, German, Spanish. We've borrowed or taken from just about every other language on earth. It's little wonder that we get confused. Words themselves are fluid and their roots are often lost. The word "disease" indicates it means "not ease," which is exactly what it meant in Old French: desaise--lack of ease. However, today the word has taken on a much more serious connotation.

The pronunciation of words also change over time, sometimes to the point where the original meaning of the word itself is lost. A prime example--and one I rush to at every opportunity--is the word "president." To hear the word pronounced "prez-eh-dent" totally obscures it's true meaning: one who presides.

To this day I am constantly confused by whether/when to use "lay" or "lie," "further" or "farther." Commas, colons, and semicolons remain largely a mystery. I am perhaps too fond of em-dashes--, though I often use them when I should be using ellipses..., and vice-versa. I operate on the simple and often wrong principle that my mind knows more than I do and, when confronted with a choice, will come up with the right one.

The rule of thumb that has worked well for me in all my writing is "go with what sounds right." I am deeply indebted to my computer's spell-checker, though I still am frequently driven to distraction by trying to look up a word I do not know how to spell. The thesaurus sometimes helps, but not always. Still, I manage to bumble through with my admiration for words undiminished.

In short, I love language: just don't bother me with the details.

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, January 14, 2011

Clinging to Trees

Frequently, news reports of flash floods will feature someone clinging desperately to a tree while the waters roar and roil past. And as I watched such a scene the other night, I had another of my little metaphorical epiphanies: each of these scenes is a pretty good metaphor for life. The churning waters are the flash floods of events and situations beyond our control that so often come upon us suddenly and threaten to sweep us away. And the tree to which we cling is hope.

Over the course of our development as a civilization, societies have tried to build dams to prevent the flooding of situations and events from carrying us away and destroying us. But too often of late, it seems, certain sociopathic individuals, for their own reasons, insist on deliberately opening the floodgates for the sole purpose of creating as much damage to our institutions and disruption to our individual lives as possible. That there are so many of our fellow human beings not only willing to but intent upon sweeping away everyone with whom and everything with which they personally disagree. It is hard not to despair, as the rushing waters engulf us, and not to lose our grip on the tree of hope.

Like many old sayings, "those who cannot create, destroy" contains a strong element of truth. Take a moment right now to seriously try to remember the last time you heard a truly positive, conciliatory, inclusive statement or proposal from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, the far-right media, or the more extreme members of congress, who base their power on destroying rather than creating.

Where does this obsessive need to play to our negative emotions come from, and why? The impetus for this blog came from an e-mail forwarding sent me by my cousin, a kind, loving, decent human being I adore. Yet the article she forwarded was devoted to a new Fox "poll" so egregiously and obviously divisive and inflammatory in intent that I couldn't believe she or anyone could possibly give it credence. But because it appeared on the internet, I assume her assumption was that it had to be true. Here is the gist, taken from the forwarding: "Fox is running a poll about whether the flag should be banned in schools in order not to inflame Hispanic students."

Dear Lord, dear Lord!! Who in their right mind could possibly, possibly believe this could be true? "Inflame Hispanic students"??? By what possible logic could anyone assume that the presence of a flag could "inflame" anyone? The implication that "Hispanic students" are not also American citizens is not only totally without merit but beneath contempt.

Remember Ray Bradbury's classic Farenheit 451, in which books were considered dangerous and the primary job of firemen was not to put out fires, but to start them, to burn books? We have a frightening and increasing number of those firemen among us today, whose purpose is to fan the flames of ignorance, intolerance, and hatred solely for the purpose of increasing the ratings of their radio and TV programs. Attention is far more important to them than truth.

I of course realize and truly regret that so many of my own blogs dwell on the negative, and that by so doing I am in effect feeding into the general atmosphere of negativity I condemn. But the more sensitive we are, as individuals, to the world around us, the more disturbing this exponential increase in negativity becomes. We are increasingly becoming desensitized to negativity to the point where we simply accept it and shrug it off. Yet to not recognize it for what it is, or not to consider the harm it is doing is to perpetuate and accelerate the problem.

I see, on rereading the above, that I have once again stumbled into the trap of mixing metaphors and thereby risked diluting the power of any of them. I began with water, and ended with fire. But it is the third metaphor, of hope as the tree we cling to to survive, which is the one that matters most. Water can drown us; fire can destroy us, but hope is the only thing which, when all else is lost, can save us.

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, January 12, 2011

Acknowledgement, Acceptance, and Compulsion

It's often far easier to acknowledge the existence of a situation or condition than it is to accept it. And compulsion is rather like trying to force a sheet of metal through a paper shredder. It can't be done, but that doesn't stop someone from trying.

Obsessive and compulsive behavior seems to be a popular theme for "reality" shows of late. Its more extreme forms have their own psychological designation--OCD; Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. Hoarders, people who wash their hands a hundred times or more a day, people who must jiggle a door knob three times before opening it, etc. all suffer from it. We look at these people and shake our heads, wondering whatever possesses them to do these things, and why they can't just, well, stop doing it.

Yet we all know someone who exhibits some milder form of OCD--the compulsively neat, those who insist on ironing their underwear, or who order their sock drawer by color, or who never go shopping without a detailed list. I pride myself on being totally devoid of any of these types of behavior, though there is one small area in which I must confess might be considered by some to be a bit excessive: my excruciating, continual awareness of the passage of time, the aging process that inescapably accompanies it, and my inability to let go of the past or to resist comparing--negatively--who I am now with who I was.

I view the aging process with a mixture of total incomprehension and, frankly, something akin to horror. If we want to live, we must age; it's a totally irrefutable fact. That I don't understand, or rather can't accept, why is a measure of my compulsive refusal to acknowledge or accept reality.

I'm constantly trying to analyze my actions in light of my aging. I know many if not most of them are based in pure logic, and much of that logic is based on cumulative experience. I frequently regret that I don't laugh nearly as much as I used to. Yet much laughter is founded on the element of surprise, and over the years, experiencing the same or basically the same situation many times, the surprise is dimmed, as is the reaction to it. The hilarity of a wildly popular TV sitcom inevitably dims, the longer it stays on the air. Repetition breeds familiarity, and while familiarity does not necessarily breed contempt, it does breed lack of surprise. And thus it tends to be with life.

As we grow older, we walk more cautiously on ice in winter, not because we couldn't walk more assertively but because we've fallen enough, in the course of the years, not to want to fall again.

Physical changes are simply part of the progression of life. They are inevitable--though some people seem more capable than others in forestalling them--and are the increasingly steep price we must pay for the privilege of living. I acknowledge this fact. Really, I do. But I am, to the depth of my soul, unwilling to accept it, and my failure to do so is my compulsion. I do wish I were able to both acknowledge and accept, as most of the world seems to do so easily. I know acknowledgement and acceptance would save me an incalculable amount of unhappiness and frustration. But I simply cannot.

While I take a certain odd pleasure and even pride in my self delusions, I do not delude myself as to who the winner will be in my compulsive battle against time, aging, and reality. I know they will inevitably win, and when they do that I won't be around to care. But while I'm still here, I'll do my best not to accept those things I want so badly to be different.

Once again I turn to the Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Well, I'm working on the courage, and I definitely know the difference. But as to the serenity part,.... Well, two out of three ain't bad.

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Monday, January 10, 2011


I started to write this a week ago Saturday, then realized that since I wouldn't be posting it until Monday, I could finish it on Sunday...last Sunday, that is. And here we are at yet another Sunday, and the only reason I'm doing it today is because otherwise I would wake up Monday morning and have no blog at all.

I don't like procrastinating, but I end up doing it far more than I want to or should. With blogs, I always intend to build up a backlog of know, sort of like stacking up wood for the fireplace. But on those very rare occasions when I get perhaps two blogs ahead, instead of replacing them as I use them...which would always keep me two ahead, I think "Oh, I don't really have to do a blog for tomorrow...I've got two waiting." And then it's "...I've got one waiting." And then it's "Dear Lord, it's 10 p.m. and I don't have a blog for tomorrow."

I currently have no fewer than thirty...count 'em, 30!...started-but-never-finished blogs. Were I to finish them, I wouldn't have to worry about writing another blog for ten weeks! But will I finish them? Well, sure, but it will take a long time...some of them are only a few sentences or paragraphs long, and I really have a lot of other things I've been putting off that I have to get to first.

I suppose I could find some small degree of pride in considering myself an equal opportunity procrastinator, but there are limits to my self-delusion. And frequently I find ways to combine doing things now with procrastination. I do laundry early every Friday morning, for example. I can easily overlook the fact that it is only because I've generally run out of things to wear by Thursday night. So I do the laundry. But rather than remake the bed immediately, I set the full basket of finished laundry on the bed, intending to fold everything, put it away, make the bed, etc. "shortly." But I really should check my email first. And suddenly it is 10:30 at night and the full laundry basket is still sitting on the bed. I have been known, I'm embarrassed to say, to simply throw the top sheet over the bed, and go to bed, just pulling the covers over me, sleeping on pillows without cases. But I always make the bed the next day. Really.

I have a tiny kitchen. Tiny as in "miniscule." Very few cabinets. For lack of room, I have only four large drinking glasses, trying to avoid running out of them...and thus be forced to wash washing each out carefully for reuse. But somehow I put off washing the glass I most recently used and have to take out another clean one. Repeat sequence until I have absolutely no choice but to do dishes, even though I may still have a perfectly clean fork and two unused spoons in my silverware tray.

I'm very good about not putting off going to the doctor if I suspect something might conceivably be wrong with me. But some time ago the doctor suggested I see a urologist (I am, alas, at the "see a urologist" age). He didn't indicate that it was mandatory, but I determined to do it anyway. Did I? Not until I saw my regular doctor again last week for a general physical and he asked if I'd seen the urologist. When I said "no", he told me to do it. Oh, okay. Since he took it out of the "suggestion" phase and put it into the "do it" phase, I did it.

Writing books is a somewhat different animal, but sometimes not so much. I've promised my publisher back around September that I'd have The Peripheral Son, #14 in the Dick Hardesty Mystery series, in by February. But at that point, Caesar's Fall hadn't been released yet, and there was no real hurry. And here we are with the book only half written, and....

But I take refuge in the fact that it hasn't really, technically, been procrastination, but the necessities of constantly promoting the books I've already written, and maintaining a sometimes-several-times daily presence on Twitter and Facebook and various other web groups and sites I belong to, and keeping up on emails and...oh yes, in writing blogs on procrastination.

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, January 07, 2011


I stand in awe of people whose minds operate like a digital clock; who process linear thoughts smoothly and effortlessly. If their thought processes were made audible, they would produce a soft, unwavering "hummmmm." My own mind operates more like a 1898 John Deere Thresher held together with baling wire and duct tape, the almost deafening "clank/clunk/clickety-whirrr" of its operation making linear thought difficult if not impossible.

As happens so frequently when I get ready to write a blog, I actually did have a topic in mind: talking about the possibility of cutting back from three blogs a week to two. But before I could even start the first sentence...which, you'll notice from what I actually wrote above, has nothing whatever to do with blogs or the cutting back thereof...a million other thoughts began tumbling out of the Fibber McGee's closet of my mind. And the result, as always, was a sense of frustration over my lack of ability to concentrate on any one thought long enough to actually complete it.

But, with the computer screen blank beyond each word as it is typed, I really should try to fill what remains white with my original intent for this particular blog: talking about cutting back.


When I first began these blogs, I was doing one every day. Even if I weren't trying to write books at the same time, the impracticality of this schedule soon became evident, and I reluctantly dropped back to three blogs a week. I'm not sure whether it's a matter of my having gotten even busier over time, or if I'm growing lazy, or if--the least likely of the three--I'm running out of things to say, but I am finding it harder to do three a week.

So why not just do it? I don't need anyone's permission.


Problem is, I feel an obligation to those kind enough to follow my ramblings. I am a sponge for the validation that knowing people actually read what I write gives me. Therefore, at bottom it, like everything else I do, is pretty much all about me and my unregenerate egocentrism.

Having written nearly 500 blogs, I've also considered, rather than keeping in touch with you even one day less frequently, writing two new blogs a week, and reposting one of the earlier blogs (which I already do, from time to time, when for some reason I just don't have a new one ready). But I will be having two e-book compilations of my blogs coming out later this year, and don't want to overdo the reposting.


Or perhaps I might just look on my blogs not as blogs, but as letters from me to you. Basically, that's what they are and always have been. I presumptively assume that if you read my blogs, there's something in them that you like, and in my simplistic thinking, that makes us friends in my mind, even though we may never have met in person.


Ah, the sound grows louder as more and more thoughts flood in, and the fields of thought stretch out in front of me to the horizon, waiting to be harvested.

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, January 05, 2011

Ursula's World

I've long ago given up wondering what triggers my thoughts and memories, but for some reason I found myself thinking of my friend Ursula. I'd never in my life met anyone like her before, nor have I since. And doubt I ever shall again.

I met Ursula while I was living in Northern Wisconsin. She was well-known in the area as being an eccentric rock of a woman who, in her 70s when I met her, lived alone on a 20-acre farm on which she raised sheep. She also sheared them and spun their wool into yarn, from which she made mittens, scarves, and various other items. She had electricity but no running water and no toilet.

I knew Ursula was Jewish before I met her…there were very few Jews in the area, most of the residents being either Finnish (to work the forests) or Italian (to work the mines).

I worked part time at a supermarket, which is where I first met her. Knowing she was Jewish, I wished her a happy Rosh Hashanah during the holiday, and she took a liking to me, and gradually I learned her story.

She did not willingly talk of her past, and it was only in small bits and pieces, over time, that I learned some of her story. She was born in Germany of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, and she had one older brother whom she adored. When the Nazis came to power, she and her family were shipped off to a concentration camp for "half-breeds." Though spared the gas chamber, their life in the camps was incomprehensible to those not experiencing it.

At some point during or immediately after the war, her beloved brother was beaten to death by a group of Nazi thugs.

On February 13, 1945, she was on a prison train which was stopped at the outskirts of Dresden as the infamous firebombing of the city began. Over 100,000 people died in the firestorms. Ursula and others on the train were forced to go through the destroyed city retrieving bodies.

When her camp was liberated at the end of the war, her mother and father went out for a walk, leaving the confines of the camp for the first time. Her father was shot and killed while on that walk…I was never sure how, why, or by whom, but it didn’t matter. Murder is murder.

Somehow finding her way to the U.S.--again, I have no details--Ursula married a Serb emigre and had two daughters. The marriage was a disaster, and they were divorced after Ursula moved to Chicago. She managed to buy a small house and raise her daughters. During the riots of the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago, Ursula was convinced that what had happened in Germany in the 1930s was happening in America. She sold her house and moved to Northern Wisconsin, where she bought her farm. She became estranged from her daughters, who moved away as soon as they could.

I would visit her frequently, and she would call me to ask to pick up a few things from the store for her. She had a large garden, and always kept me supplied with vegetables in season. She mowed her own lawn, using a scythe and a push lawnmower.

She, I, and a gay mutual friend (one of only about 10 gays in a 100 mile radius) built a 30 x 60 foot barn for her sheep, largely out of materials salvaged from the various collapsed buildings around her property. She was fiercely, fiercely independent and resourceful.

She was also literally paranoid in her fear of any form of authority figure. When the government had installed an "ELF" defense tracking system throughout northern Wisconsin, every low-flying plane or passing helicopter became an omen of danger.

We talked every day on the phone, and she would always say "We have to watch out for one another: you never know what might happen."

And then one day I tried to call her. That there was no answer wasn’t surprising: she was always out of the house tending to chores. But when after five or six calls with no response, I began to get concerned. She usually told me when she was planning to go somewhere, and she’d mentioned nothing. Finally, after about the eighth call, I was truly concerned. For some reason, I was unable to drive over (it was about a 20 minute drive) to check on her, and so I called the Sheriff’s office and asked that if they had a car in the area, they might stop and check to be sure she was okay.

I heard nothing further, and later that evening, I called again. Ursula answered the phone. I asked what had happened, and she said she had just been outside working. She then said: "You had no right to call the police. I do not want to talk to you anymore." And she hung up, and that, despite my efforts to explain that I only called the police because I was concerned for her, was, except for a few cursory accidental meetings at the store during which she was painfully uncomfortable, the end of our friendship.

I was truly sorry to lose her as a friend, but I realize that in her eyes, I had done the unforgivable: I had called her to the attention of the authorities.

I heard Ursula died last year. Though I was no longer her friend, she was still mine. I miss her.

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, January 03, 2011


I've spent probably an inordinate amount of time, over the course of my life, pondering the riddle of how I can be a part of humanity and yet so often feel totally apart from it. I've come to the conclusion that I view my relation to other people...and specifically to heterosexuals...rather like a cat or dog views people: living among them every day, quite fond of a number of them, hungry for and appreciative of positive attention from them, and yet having absolutely no concept of what it's like to be one of them.

Of course, I suspect that I may not be alone in viewing the rest of humanity as some strange, conglomerate "They." And again, one of the reasons I write these blogs is an attempt to let those who share my thought and views on matters seldom talked--or probably even consciously thought--about know they're not alone. Too often I see my relationship to the rest of humanity as not only a matter of "me" and "them"--but often as a matter of "me" versus "them".

From my infinitely limited perspective, in looking at the rest of humanity as "They," I'm painfully aware that "They" have the unquestioned and overwhelming advantage in everything. "They" glide effortlessly from day to day, cutting through the life's problems like the bow of a ship cuts through a stormy sea, unfazed.

"They" know not only how to read instruction manuals, but how to understand them. ("Carefully undigitize the Prenalyzer from the Bliggerostometer before attaching the Spratzer." Of course! What could be simpler?) For "them," Tab A always, always slips into Slot B without the slightest effort.

When a box of cereal says "lift flap to open," "They" simply lift the flap and the box opens. They don't end up tearing the lid off the box in frustration. And they can close the box again, too, by slipping the tab into the slot. "They" can open a bag of potato chips without spending five minutes tugging and pulling with mounting frenzy until it bursts open with such force that it scatters the contents of the bag all over the room.

"They" can confidently order something online--a pair of pants, say--and, when the package arrives, open it, put on the pants, and go happily on with their business. I have never, ever, ordered any piece of clothing on line that fit, let alone bore the vaguest resemblance to the illustration in the catalog from which I ordered it.

In social situations, "They" always blend in seamlessly with everyone in attendance. "They" always have something interesting or profound or witty to say, and all the other "They's" hang on to every word, laugh at every joke and understand everything everyone else is talking about. If music and dancing are involved "They" unselfconsciously and with great enthusiasm move to the rhythm. "They" all know how to dance, and move gracefully when not dancing. When engaged in conversation with several people at once, "They" speak in complete sentences. "They" never have to stop ten seconds after saying something and wish they'd said it differently. When witty repartee is called for, "They" are at the top of their game, thrusting and parrying to the delight of all. "They" are bubbly as champagne; I tend to be more like stale beer.

"They" are almost never unsure of themselves. "They" waste little second-guessing their actions. "They" are confident of every decision and accepting of--even if not always happy with--the outcome. "They" don't spend inordinate amounts of time wishing they had done something they had not done, or wishing they hadn't done something they did do. "They" accept the past and move on without more than an occasional backward glance.

Still, it's kind of nice to think that if perhaps you might feel pretty much the same way, I might be able to look at the world in terms of "Us" and "They" instead of just "me" and "them." I've always preferred "us" over "me" anyway.

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