Monday, May 30, 2011


Greed is one of Mankind's less noble attributes, and there are so very many things to be greedy about: money, power, adulation, food. I tend to concentrate my greed on time. I can never get enough of it, and that's unfortunate because it is the one thing of which there is only a finite amount. If you work very hard, you can get more money, or more power, or more adulation, or more food. But time is as strictly rationed as the grains of sand in an hourglass.

A friend recently sent me a group of stunning photos of a series of picturesque alpine villages, and my heart ached because I wanted to be there; to live in one of those absolutely amazing, charming thatched-roof dwellings clustered high on idyllic hillsides surrounded by towering, snowcapped peaks and overlooking vast, lush forests or green valley or smooth-as-glass lakes reflecting the mountains and sky.

It is, as I've said, human nature to be greedy: to always want more than we can possibly have, to want to be more places than we can possibly be, to want to see and do more than any single human can possibly see or do.

And I realized that the fact of the matter...the fact of life that of the infinite number of places one could, and would love to be, one can only be in at place at one time. That place can be changed for another, but still only one place at a time.

I look at those quaint mountain villages with envy and yearning, yet for 24 years, I myself lived in the incredible beauty of the Great North woods of northern Wisconsin, and walked along the wind-swept, deserted shores of Lake Superior, looking out at the whitecap-flecked expanse of water under a pristine blue sky across which billowing white clouds moved majestically, and thought often of the tens of thousands of city-bound people who would give anything to live in such surroundings. It should have been enough, but it wasn't. I returned to the city so many long to flee, and I am by and large content here. But there is a great difference between "by and large" and "completely."

I am so grateful to have been able to return to Europe this year, to see and do so much in the space of one month. London, Paris, Cannes, Venice, Rome...all marvelous, incredibly beautiful places. But, as I left each one, I had no desire to start planning my return any time soon. Not really a matter of "been there, done that," but close. With perhaps a shocking ingratitude, I dismiss all I have done and seen and been given, and want to be on a barge on the Nile, or having a picnic on the beach of some tropical island, or aboard a ship sailing the fjords of Norway.

Were I able to live surrounded by the beauty of any location anywhere in the world, I know full well that somehow I would not, could not be satisfied for long, any more than I was with living in the beauty of the Great North woods. My initial wonder would soon become sated and I would want to be somewhere else; no matter where I am/was or how much I have/had, I would want more.

Our movies, our books, our TV mislead us. We are inundated with the images of beautiful people doing wonderful, exciting things; living glamorous, exciting lives in exotic, fascinating locations; climbing mountains; running with the bulls in Pamplona; sailing down the Nile; exploring ancient ruins: it all blends together to tell us, "See what they're doing? Why aren't you doing it, too?" We are--I am--overcome with envy at all the things James Bond can do in the course of a 90-minute movie, of all the places he can go and everything he can accomplish. The implied assumption is that someone...we...could actually be doing all this too. We never give a single thought to the fact that each scene merely captures those people in it doing what they are doing at that moment, and that that is the only place they are or can be at that given time, and that what they are doing is the only thing they are or can be doing at that time. It's hard...for me, at any acknowledge that with so much to do and see, we can only do one thing at at time, and that no single life contains 1/10,000th enough time to do everything we might want to do.

Which does not stop us/me from wanting it all.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Lab Frog

The one single most common theme underlying these blogs (and, to perhaps only a slightly lesser degree, all my writing) is self-analysis. I am utterly fascinated with what makes human beings who they are, what makes them tick, and why. I stand outside myself like a high-school biology student dissecting a frog, trying to figure out what reaction touching a laid-bare muscle will produce, and why. I'm sure some would/will see this analogy as an exercise in extreme egotism, but I prefer to think that I use myself as a perennial example simply because my own responses/reactions are the only ones of which I can be truly sure. I am never so egocentric as to automatically assume your responses/reactions will be identical to mine, though I do believe it's likely there are sufficient similarities to get you to read about mine.

I also assume there are great differences between us. You, I am convinced, are far more emotionally mature than I. I've never outgrown the child's need for be liked. As a result, I've always been excessively self-conscious.

I recently did a blog on communications, and today came to yet another interesting (to me) observation on the subject. One of the reasons I became a writer was because of my perceived--and I am convinced quite real--difficulties in communicating verbally. I've never been good at it. Probably because of my desire/need to be liked, I am always afraid I will say something which will make me appear stupid...something, I fear, of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I always either fail to say things the way I want to say them or, in stumbling all over myself trying to string my thoughts together, I become tongue-tied. It's been a problem I've had all my life, but it has grown far more severe as I've gotten older, and especially so in the past eight years since my bout with tongue cancer robbed me of much of the physical control over my mouth.

Like everything, communicating verbally is a skill which can atrophy with lack of use. The various forms of withdrawal from the mainstream which come with aging...the loss of the need/chance for frequent verbal exchanges with co-workers at a daily job, fewer group social contacts...reduce the need to hone verbal abilities. Even when I was in the mainstream, I was always awkward talking with people I did not know well. As the years pass, the opportunities to engage in other than cursory conversation lessen, especially with other than one's circle of close friends. For me, the problem has been exacerbated by the fact that, thanks to the physical changes to my mouth mentioned above, many people have difficulty understanding me when I talk. It has reached the point where I am embarrassed to try to carry on a conversation with relative strangers.

But communicating in writing is, for me, a refuge. I am infinitely more self confident in writing than in speaking. Once a sentence is spoken orally, its reality cannot be withdrawn, or changed. But with writing, there is the delayed reality, if you will, of the fact that by its very nature there is a considerable time lapse between the thought and the time it is read. If I write a sentence and decide I don't like the way it sounds, I can go back and rewrite it as often as necessary until it does say what I want to say in the way I want to say it. Of course, once the verbal sentence reaches the ear, or the written sentence reaches the eye, it is set in stone. But with writing, the interim between the thought and the in-print expression allows time for reconsideration, for honing, for fine-tuning not possible with vocal speech.

I can be far more assured, far more convincing in conveying the thoughts I want to convey, far less fearful of being thought a fool when I have the luxury of the time to review and re-examine my words before conveying them to you when I do so in writing.

And here we are at the end of the blog, and the frog remains on the dissecting table, only one very small muscle even cursorily examined. There are an infinite number to go. Can you see my fascination? Better yet, can you share it?

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Letting Go

I just noticed that there are 30,156 messages in my computer's "In" box, dating back some five years! And these are just the messages I kept. It doesn't count the 23,806 messages I've sent and kept! Dear Lord, that's ridiculous! I've got to get rid of them...or at least clear them out. But doing so would entail going through 53,962 individual messages.

"Okay, why not just dump them all?" you may well and logically ask.

Because I can't, that's why. I tell myself that it's because I know that ten seconds after doing so I will remember something I desperately need from one of them. But I know that's not the real reason. The real reason is that once I hit "delete" they will be gone forever and a part of me will be gone with them.

And not only the words, but the voices, of those now gone. Susie Evans and Skip McHam, and my beloved "Uncle Bob," dear friends whose words...whose essence...are caught forever in our exchanges. To delete their messages from my "in" box is in effect to delete them, and I simply cannot bring myself to do that. And, of course, to delete those messages in my "Sent" file is to delete my own words and therefore much of myself. The inherent now of these messages--the knowledge that every single word was created in a now as real as the now in which I watch each word appear as I type it here; created by vibrant, living people in the process of inhaling and exhaling and thinking and planning and dreaming--holds me in an unbreakable grip.

I'm fully aware that, in many ways...the one being discussed now, for example...I am not like other people. I've worked very hard all my life not to be. And I know that, to other people (though I would hope not to you) I often seem strange, or silly, or immature. I plead guilty on all charges. And the problem with that is...?

I've talked before about my inability to let go of the past and I really do realize the downside of it. I must drag the full weight of the past with me wherever I go, whatever I do. This morning, I noticed that the mesh fabric covering the underside of my favorite chair, which I bought when I moved into my first house in Los Angeles in 1968 and have had reupholstered at least once, has been torn and is hanging down. My cat, Spirit's, handiwork no doubt. And in lifting the chair to look underneath, I see that one of its legs is loose. Logic, reality, and rationality clearly dictate to throw it out; that to have it re-upholstered again would cost more than just buying a new chair. But I shall look for a re-upholsterer. ("But it won't be the same chair," even parts of my own brain readily acknowledge. To which other parts of my brain reply, "Yes, it will. In my heart." Just as my aging flesh is not the real me, a tattered covering is not the chair. And I am not responsible for what others may think. To be honest, it doesn't matter.

I suspect part of my reluctance to let go of things...which is to say, to let go of the because I do not believe in an afterlife. I firmly believe, as I've stated so often in the past, that when one dies, one simply reverts to the same state of non-existence from which one emerged at birth. So therefore, all I have of eternity is the very very brief lifetime allotted me, and I am loath to relinquish a moment of it into the non-existence already surrounding me.

And on rereading this, I see I have once again perhaps told you more than you really wanted to know, and that my insistence on detailing the entrails of my psyche might be considered "unseemly" or embarrassing. But, again "once again," if you might find something within these ramblings that you might recognize...though never have given voice to...within yourself, I consider it well worth it.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Delusion (dee-loo-zshun), noun: an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument

Since you are reading this, you know the world did not end at 6 p.m. on May 21, 2011, as several hundred thousand people around the world were absolutely, positively certain it would. And in this belief we have a perfect example of a "pathetic delusion." And it is a testament to the power of delusion that those who were utterly convinced that they would be carried up to Heaven in the Rapture will, neither disillusioned nor deterred, eagerly accept without question their leader's facile explanation of why it did not happen, and begin printing up fliers for whatever new definite, absolute date is subsequently set for The End.

Of all the wondrous traits, gifts, and abilities possessed by humans, none is more fascinating--and at times more powerful and destructive--than delusion. We all delude ourselves to one degree or another. Most delusions are basically harmless and provide a path-of-least-resistance alternative to dealing with the often uncomfortable complexities of reality. Delusions can be comforting, and protective of our egos, and offer us the inner validation that life too often does not provide. As long as delusions are kept within ourselves, they are largely benign...sometimes downright pleasant.

But when the delusions dictate that we insist that others share them, they can and often do turn malignant. The stronger the demand to spread the delusion to others, the more disruptive and destructive they become. They metastasize into the equivalent of black hole into which fact, logic, all rationality, all common sense, and too often all compassion and all common decency are sucked in and destroyed.

We live in a world of rapidly proliferating malignant delusions, fueled by the hate mongers who wield them like a weapon in order to achieve some personal agenda--usually power or wealth and most often both. Politicians, self-appointed pundits, and religious fanatics are drawn like magnates to any spark of religious, cultural, and racial delusions they recognize in others, and fan them until they become raging wildfires which sweep across society, destroying everything in their path.

Our technology is largely responsible for the exponential expansion of destructive delusions. Email is the equivalent of a laboratory petri dish for the growth of astoundingly, patently, egregiously, incomprehensibly harmful nonsense. There seems to be some built in naivety in humans that says that if they read or hear something, somewhere, regardless of how blatantly illogical it sounds, it must be true, and they pass it on to others.

I am truly, sincerely, deeply astounded by how this can possibly be. How good, decent people can so willingly become complicit in spreading blatant or poorly concealed hatred and lies. I have a number of good friends...and even a few relatives whom I love dearly...who will send me forwardings they accept as true without question, but which leaving me numb with disbelief.

Adding to the insidiousness of current malignant delusions is the fact that we have a black president, a fact which opens wide the doors of racial tensions that have existed in this country since our founding. Between the lines of every political attack on the Obama administration are writ clear, in gigantic block letters printers call "Second Coming" type, the message of intolerance and hatred. That we are also engaged in a war against terrorism largely waged by Muslim extremists is, to those fanning the flames of delusion, wildly serendipitous. It allows them to spread fear and hatred against not only a president with a strange--and Muslim-sounding--name, but to tie him in with terrorists.

Those given to malignant delusions do not draw their conclusions with velvet brushes or fine-tipped pens: they use 18" wide paint rollers, and the only color in their pallet

The old saying about fire--that it makes a good servant but a cruel master--is equally true of delusions. And alas, far too many people willingly serve that master.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Friday, May 20, 2011


All creatures communicate with one another in some form. Elephants, whales, dolphins, other primates--even ants and bees--have developed the ability to effectively communicate basic information such as needs, fears, and emotions with others of their kind. But only Man--unless there is something we don't know yet--is the only one to have developed the skill to do so on so many levels.

Each of our means of communication--speech, music, writing, art--has it's own place in our culture and in our lives, and each has its own unique power. Museums are devoted to paintings and sculpture and artifacts which speak clearly and often with great emotion to us and present a singular view of our cultural history--though largely without words or speech. The oldest and most universal form of human communication is, of course, music, which speaks a non-verbal language which all can understand. Mankind has been making music for far longer than history can record, and unquestionably predates spoken languages. We were scrawling on cave walls and making small figures out of stone and clay while our verbal communication skills were barely developing.

The development of spoken words and their gradual evolution into language is what truly branched us off from the other animals. Putting spoken words into symbols others could understand is a relatively new method of communication, but it is words, and especially the written word, which enable us to record our past, and therefore are unquestionably the most powerful form of communication available to our species.

Today we are inundated, often overwhelmed, by the various methods of communicating, and the advances of technology have exponentially exacerbated the situation. Every day of our lives we watch TV, or listen to music, or read, or email, or text, as well as communicating verbally with those around us.

But, technology's bells and whistles aside, probably the most basic of all form of human communication remains words. We almost never stop to consider, even for a moment, how vital language and written words are, not only to our species but to us as individual humans. There are those few of us who cannot read, or cannot speak, or cannot hear, but even they are nonetheless surrounded by words and language in some form and thereby not cut off from the rest of humanity.

Words appeal to our intellect; music and art, the other major and undeniable forms of communication, appeal to our soul.

Words and music are the most naturally compatible forms of communication, and again we never give a moment's thought to how astonishing the ability to combine the two is. The incredible power of combining words and music is all around us, and never more so evident for Americans than during a patriotic sing-along during 4th of July celebrations.

But the glorious power of words to move us, in songs, in poems, in stories and novels, is vastly under-appreciated. Words have the power to create pictures as vivid and beautiful as any painting, or as powerful as any sculpture. Writers are, in fact, artists who use words the way painters use colors, subtly shading or harshly contrasting, smoothly blended or rough-textured, and after having painted his/her word picture, becomes a type of sculptor, going back over the work to chisel away sections or paragraphs or sentences here, gently using a fine chisel to smoothing out a word or phrase there.

There is of course simply not enough time allotted to us to be able to fully appreciate everything in our lives that deserves appreciation, but to take a moment, every now and then, to give thought to one or two of them--to know that they are there--cannot help but enrich our lives.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


The little golden-haired moppet of the children's classic had to deal with a series of three choices: too much of something, not enough of it, and just the right amount. When it comes to thinking, people tend to resemble Goldilocks' first two choices; while just the right amount of thinking is a bit hard to define, probably the majority of people either do not think at all, or think too little. And--a problem Goldilocks never had--a very few tend to think too much.

Not thinking at all has its advantages. It's definitely the path of least resistance. There are always a lot of people around who are more than happy to do your thinking for you. Not sure what your political stand is on any given issue? Listen to the self appointed pundits. Don't let the fact that while they themselves don't have a clue of what they're talking about, every one of them has their own personal agenda involving you feeding their egos, ambitions, and bank accounts. Don't give it a thought. Just do what they say and think what they tell you to think. They must know what they're talking about, or they wouldn't be on TV or writing articles, right? So just go along in whatever direction they point you and never, never ask questions.

The same is true with those saintly folk we see every Sunday morning, telling us where to send our love offerings. They are on a first-name basis with God and thereby have the right to tell us what is right and what is wrong--and I've noticed there seems to be a lot more wrong than there is right. And while they see it as their duty to tell you what to believe and whom to love they are quick to tell you whom you may not love. While there are differences in approach, the one thing pundits, politicians and pastors share is their single-minded duty to tell you whom to hate.

Hate is an awesome thing! It gives power to those who feel they are powerless; it gives a sense of superiority over the hated; it allows us to vent all those deep, undefined insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. It is much, much easier to hate when you are unencumbered by the need for truth or logic or facts, and do not think for one second that those who treat you like a Pavlov's dog or a marionette on the end of a string are not acutely aware of what they're doing and why. But the best thing about hate is that it requires absolutely no thought.

While most people fall into only one of the four categories listed at the beginning--not thinking at all, not thinking enough, thinking normally, or thinking too much--if I were to make a pie chart of how I divvy up the four, not thinking at all would probably be just a bit larger than not thinking enough, followed by thinking too much. Thinking normally would be the smallest piece by far. My tendency to simply not think at all before I do something is the story of my life. It occurs to me to do something--figuratively jumping off a cliff into a pond, say--I do it and only find out after I've hit the water that it is only three inches deep. But do I learn? Nope. It's back up the cliff for another jump. (Hey, maybe it's a lot deeper a little to the left.)

I spend far, far too much time trying to undo mistakes than I do actually accomplishing anything.

Almost as bad as not thinking at all is not thinking enough. ("Okay," I'll tell myself, "all I have to do is this, this, and this." And that's as far as it goes. I don't spend any time on really thinking about what "this" entails, and what I'll do if it doesn't do what I expect it to do.) And often, when whatever I'd set out to do doesn't work, I'm not sure which "this" I did wrong.

I also have a tendency to over-think. I will decide that this time I'm going to have everything figured out before I start. But then I get anxious to get on with it, and the questions start rushing in, and I start wandering off in a dozen different directions and am pummeled by "yeah, but" and "how do I handle it if..." And as a result, I either abandon the project entirely or just climb back up the cliff and jump in.

Goldilocks had it easy.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Days, Daze, and Details

I've never really thought of writing as work, but sometimes the fun takes a lot more effort than I'd prefer. So I'm writing a book. Not exactly "Stop the Presses!" news, since I've already written sixteen or seventeen others. But it seems I've never had to put quite so much effort into one book before. Totally my own fault, of course.

I began The Peripheral Son, book #14 of the Dick Hardesty Mystery series and my current "work in progress" back on June 10, 2010--the longest it has ever taken me to write a book. Lots of reasons for the delay, of course; other projects/distractions/delays jumping in; my month in Europe and the time involved in the planning thereof; writing blogs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; keeping up with Facebook and Twitter and several other groups to which I belong, etc. All are absolutely necessary to keep my name out there and forestall the dreaded "out of sight, out of mind" syndrome.

So as a result of the frequent interruptions, I--never the most organized of all writers--I found myself sometimes forgetting what I'd already written, or where in the story some incident fell.

It's vital that a book flow smoothly; each thing must logically follow the other just as Tuesday follows Monday and July follows June. Because the workings of my mind precludes even the possibility of considering making and following any kind of outline, I just climb onto my little inner-tube and allow myself to be carried out into the current and float along wherever it takes me. As I go along, something will occur to me, or a new character will appear which will make it necessary for me to go back through what I've already written and make an adjustment or two to accommodate it.

I've followed--or tried to follow--the same pattern with The Peripheral Son; that is, pretty much a day-to-day, chronological unfolding of the story. It's hard to lose track of the thread when it's never let go of. But major distractions make me put the thread down and not be able to pick it up for days or weeks at a time. And when I do pick it up again, I tend to forget exactly what I've said when.

So let's say the events on page 32 happen on a Tuesday, which lead to those on page 44 being on a Thursday, page 85 a Monday, etc.. So I arrive at page 96, say, and, because of the way the story is developing, decide I need to go back to add a plot device on page 32, a Tuesday. But that new device, once introduced, has to be followed up on from that point forward. Which, in the progression of things, might change page 44 to a Saturday, and page 85 to a Wednesday. Which means that things I had originally written as happening on a Sunday now happen on a Thursday, and the entire chronology of the manuscript is derailed. I have to go back through nearly every page and reshuffle things so that the weeks progress as they are supposed to progress.

For me, this is simply the way I write. But the wider the gap in time between when I write and when I last wrote, the more easily I forget things, or assume I've mentioned an important point when I in fact have not. And finally getting back to page 96, where I left off, I can continue writing until I decide that I really didn't make a point clear on page 43, and off we go again.

Every single change is, in effect, the start of a domino effect, changing everything that comes afterward, and I have to go through every page of the book to see that things are in proper chronological order. I sincerely believe I have the obligation not only to present you with a good story, but to make your journey through that story as smooth as possible. You should never be able to catch me--or any writer--in an obvious error, or to be suddenly stopped short to ask "What?" or "Where did that come from?"

In short, a book may not be easy to write, but it has to be easy to read.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bees, Flowers, & Progeny

For all the complexities of the human brain, for all our technological achievements as a society, for all our philosophical pride in "free will," homo sapiens are still biologically an animal with certain imperatives--"Prime Directives" as they are known in science fiction films--most involving our survival as a species.

The imperative to leave something of ourselves behind for future generations is wired into our very being. Most humans obey this imperative by the most fundamental of all processes--breeding, by which we to pass our physical DNA down through the generations. (I've always found it interesting that gays frequently use the word "breeders" as a mild epithet when speaking of heterosexuals.) I am not a breeder. I will not pass my physical DNA down through time. I shall leave no living, breathing posterity. My words are my progeny. If I cannot produce children, I can hope to produce words which will outlive me. I cannot pass on my body, but I can pass on my mind.

I must admit that, though rarely, every now and again I miss not having children. I think I would really have made a very good father. But as a 100% homosexual male, the physical "insert tab A into slot B" process necessary to produce a child the usual way is utterly repugnant to me (and, if you are heterosexual, that statement is probably utterly incomprehensible to you). Until relatively recently, adoption by a single man...let alone any same-sex couple...was not an option, and now I have been, as with so many things, aged out of the possibility.

There's an old saying: "Love me, love my dog." My often-rather-embarrassing need for validation has resulted in my changing that to "Love my books, love me." As with most things, I tend to be a study in contradictions. On the one hand, I really want everyone to like me. But on the other hand, if they don't, I don't take it personally. Not all parents get along with their children, and vice-versa. So I strive to lay out as much of myself as I can in my writing. I can completely understand how richly rewarding it is for a parent to have the love of a child, but if I cannot produce children to love me, I can hope to produce an untold number of books through which I might win the affection of an untold number of readers. It's not the same, of course, but it comes close.

For a writer whose life is words, books and blogs and emails and letters are not unlike different children, each with their own separate personality. Each are comprised totally of words, yet each serves a specific purpose and have a different...well, I like the word "gravitas." In the world of writing, books are generally given much more respect than blogs or emails/letters, probably because the writer has invested more time and effort in them. While all writing is an aggregate of the writer's thoughts, beliefs, and life experiences, books present them in a more blended, broader-based form; blogs, emails and letters are on a more concentrated and personal level.

Just as heterosexual parents want the very best for their children, so do I want the best for my words. I would truly love to become rich and famous through my writing. But even as successful as I am in the denial of reality, I cannot delude myself into thinking I might ever achieve fame or fortune through my words.

Like 99.9 percent of all writers, straight or gay, I write because I cannot not write. Secondarily (and it's a big "second") I write to be to be read. But most importantly to me is that I be remembered; that when I however reluctantly am forced to turn in my membership card of life, my words might stay behind. And thus I put as much of my personality and feelings and outlooks and experiences and memories as I possibly can into words. Words are not life, but to me they are the next best thing.

I tried to come up with a single analogy to explain what I'm trying to say, but so many flood in that I can't choose just one. I've often, in describing the hard-to-explain relationship between my dual selves, Roger and Dorien, used the analogy that Roger is the bulb, and Dorien the flower. Taking that analogy one step further, my words are the pollen of Dorien's flower and you, by reading them, are the bee, and without your carrying away the pollen of my words, they end with me. I do not wish to die without a trace.

Dorien's blogs are published by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Do Not Go Gentle...

A case can be made for the nobility of suffering physical and personal problems in silence. A good friend dealing with cancer never, ever speaks of it or his reactions to it, despite the fact that he knows I am more than willing to listen and do what little I can to provide support, and my admiration for him borders on awe.

I have never suffered in silence on any level...even at those times when I admittedly probably should have. If I have a hangnail, everyone within a six-mile radius knows about it. (I just got a paper cut on my tongue while sealing the envelope to the manager of a business at which the receptionist had been gratuitously rude...thus enabling me to suffer, loudly, twice.) I know my desire to share my physical discomforts is undoubtedly a rather childishly crude bid for an "aww, poor baby!" response. But this is not true of my insistence on being treated with courtesy and reasonable attentiveness from those whose job it is to provide me with a service.

There is no nobility in suffering gratuitous rudeness, professional incompetence, poor service, poor treatment, or willful ignorance from these people, and I refuse to do so without making my displeasure known.

People tend to be sheep. Rather than risk any form of confrontation by "making waves," they accept the unacceptable without a single word of protest...which of course only encourages more of the same. And as a result, they suffer not only the initial transgression but the frustration and bottled-up anger of knowing they should have/could have objected but did nothing. I do not consider stating a legitimate complaint clearly and without undo emotion to necessarily be a "confrontation."

I have several friends who will tolerate the most egregious rudeness and insensitivity without a murmur. Surly, inattentive clerks, poor service, cold food in a restaurant, bureaucratic dictates? No matter how frustrating or anger-inducing, accepted with not a peep of protest, and it drives me crazy.
When I am paying for a service, I have every right to expect that service, and if I don't get it you can be sure I'll not remain silent.

If I receive cold food in a restaurant, I don't hesitate a second in sending it back...politely, of course. My friends just shrug and eat what they're served. If a clerk or a waiter is rude, I ask to speak to the manager. Immediately. I then calmly explain my position and, while not demanding the clerk/waiter be fired on the spot, suggest that they be reminded of the value of civility and courtesy to the success of any business. Not to report improper behavior to the manager is to perpetuate it, and to perhaps assure that the customer will not only never return, but let others know what happened. The only way a manager has of knowing there is a problem is to bring it to his/her attention.

If there is a problem with a phone representative, I immediately ask to speak to a supervisor. If I am not satisfied with the response, I ask to speak to the supervisor's supervisor, and ask for the name and address of the head of the company.

I can think of at least two incidents where my refusal to simply acquiesce to what I was told by the first person I talked to saved me several thousand dollars. I would not be in the apartment in which I am now living had I simply accepted the explanation, when I requested to change from my old apartment, that "nothing could be done." It could, and it was. I never forget that low level bureaucrats have the tendency to assume that they are the organization for which they work, and that what they say is the way it is. Period. It is not.

And even if expressing unhappiness does no my friends are quick to point out that it probably won't...I at least have the satisfaction of knowing I did not suffer in silence, that I did not go gentle into that good night.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Monday, May 09, 2011


The need to form relationships seems to be built into the DNA of humanity. We are, after all, a social species, and though each of us is born, lives our entire lives, and dies within a cage of bone, muscle, and tissue, relationships enable us to feel connected to others of our species. Our relationships define us, and their importance to making us who we are cannot be measured. Relationships are essential to emotional growth and development, and both the soul and, it has been proven, the body are stunted without it. The very thought that there are, in fact, a very few individuals among the 7 billion-plus of us who, for whatever reason, are unable or in some manner denied the opportunity to establish some sort of relationship with another human being is both terrifying and infinitely sad.

Most people give little thought to the power or importance of relationships. Why should they? They are, to most, as natural a part of life as breathing. There are an almost infinite number of types of relationship, and an almost infinite number of levels within each type, that attempting anything other than a cursory examination can become mind-boggling.

The most elemental of human relationships is that between parents and their children, and creates a very intense and unique bonding we define as love. Like a stone dropped onto a calm surface of water, this primary human relationship radiates concentric circles of relationships of varying intensity. Secondary to the parent/child relationship are relationships to siblings and relatives and then friends and acquaintances, social and work. And each level of relationship provides another element essential to human existence: validity of one's worth.

Of all the types of relationship, romantic relationships are unique in that they involve a factor not present in any other: sexual attraction.

I consider it one of the greatest deprivations in my life the fact that I do not have--and undoubtedly never will have again--one other human being with whom I can share that most special of relationships; the sense of being one half of a whole. And as a soul-deep romantic, it's impossible to really convey what this lack means. And there are vast numbers of people who, as they grow older, see the vital inner ripples of relationships...parents, siblings, close friends...disappear from their lives. Being able to adjust to these losses, to substitute other forms of validation, is essential to maintaining stability.

Fortunately, I have a few close friends with whom I can share much of my life, whose company I enjoy, and whose emotional support I can always rely upon. I can't imagine being without it. I am closer to my best friend, Gary, probably, than I am to anyone else with the possible exception of my relatives, and yet, as much as I treasure it, it is utterly devoid of the element of romantic love. (The very idea of there being anything even remotely romantic between the two of us would produce the same result as chewing tinfoil.) Yet I am often amused by the fact that many people, who see us together nearly every day, seem to automatically assume that we are something more than we are.

One of my favorite TV shows is Supernatural, the adventures of two brothers devoted to fighting various demons, ghouls, ghosties, shape-shifters, and other unworldly creatures. That I find the actors playing the brothers extremely attractive is amplified by the fact that, in the show, they are often mistaken for lovers.

In the final analysis, it is not necessary for us to make charts and graphs of our relationships, or of what elements comprise them. That would be rather like peeling all the petals off a rose just to see what makes it beautiful. Let it suffice that we be perhaps a little more aware of the value of the relationships in our lives, and considerably more grateful for having them.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Trip to Sorrento

Having realized that I somehow did not post two journal entries from my Europe vacation, and in the interest of keeping my promise to share as much of my travels as possible, I'm posting the following entry written on April 5, detailing the trip between Florence and Sorrento. I hope you won't mind this belated segment.

04-05-11, Sorrento, Day One

It has started to rain lightly and the power has gone out. No matter, since my hotel doesn't have internet service anyway. And the beat goes on.

While it has been a wonderful trip and I'd not have missed it for (power back on) world, I think this will be my last hurrah as far as international travel is concerned. Hassles and problems and frustrations and glitches are all part of the fun, but cumulatively they reach the point where I think "okay. Been there. Done that."

Here are my notes made on the train:

9:10 a.m. Tuesday, April 5, 2011. Train to Naples left on the minute. Sunny day, going to be warm. One problem with traveling in early spring is that you're never sure how to pack for the weather. I've been wearing just hoodies most of the time, with no shirt underneath, and usually carry my heavy coat's liner, which serves as a light jacket. Getting on the train (I walked the mile or so from my hotel in Florence) I shed both my hoodie and the liner. Still warm. I do hope I won't get off the train in Naples without them, but I certainly wouldn't put it past me.

No breakfast, though I did grab a cup of "cafe Americano" at a marvelous little cafe inside the terminal, called "McDonald's". As always, scalding hot and I had four sips before pitching it.

Sitting across from an Italian gay couple. We've not spoken.

Last night when getting ready for bed, I took off my neck pouch, which I would recommend for anyone traveling anywhere, to find the cord had broken. Had I not been wearing, uncustomarily, a tuck-in shirt, it may well have fallen out without my noticing, and I'd be without my train tickets and passport. So be advised...nothing is perfect; a "stop the presses!" bit of news to you, I'm sure.

Praying for no repeat of the hassles I underwent from the conductor on the train from Venice to Florence. We shall see.

9:41 a.m. I'm seated facing backward, which brings my "life-as-a-train-ride" analogy back in focus. Beautiful countryside...lots and lots of tunnels, of course. Riding backward, something I'd like to photograph comes into view and by the time I get my camera out, it's gone. On reflection, this entire trip has been an example of the theory. Riding forward through time, I saw the trip coming long before it arrived and had lots of time for anticipation. Once the trip started, I changed seats, as it were, and now everything is going by so fast I barely have time to reflect on it. Thus, I suppose, why I've been taking so many photos.

Seem to have either left the mountainous region or are in a very big valley. Rich green grass, fields being either planted or prepared for planting. Trees beginning to bud. Long, low grey-bottomed cumulus clouds slowly trying to cover the entire sky.

10:41 Rome. Train pulled in five or six minutes ago. 3/4 of the passengers got off, including the gay couple, and while I'd assumed more would be getting on, none have, so far. Rome is a big city and coming into it is like coming into any big city anywhere...except for a section of an ancient aqueduct and the ruins of what appeared to have been a temple, surrounded now by the clutter of a major rail yard, haunted not so much by the ghosts of ancient Romans but the battered hulks of old trains.

10:50 Spoke too soon about no one getting on at Rome. New seatmates...a nice couple from Bermuda, traveling to Naples to catch the boat for Capri. She's a writer of bi-lingual (Italian and English) children's books and are meeting people in Capri to discuss distribution in Italy. We exchanged email addresses. Our fourth seatmate was an Italian young man who had planned to bring his girlfriend to see Naples and Capri, but she became ill so he left her in Rome. (And they say chivalry is dead!)

For some reason, the stretch between Naples and Sorrento is not covered by my EurailPass, so as soon as I got off the train in Naples, I had to buy a separate ticket to Sorrento.

One of the reasons I loathe Naples (which is, at least physically, unrecognizable from when I was first here) is that the minute I got off the train I was harassed by taxi drivers and "guides" and people wanting to do things for me. One latched on as I made my way into the terminal from the train and wouldn't let go. I told him I didn't need any services and that I was catching the train to Sorrento. He assured me he was a station employee and ushered me to a ticket/lottery booth where I paid a mere 5 euros for a ticket to Sorrento. He then led me to the downstairs platform from which local trains depart, despite my telling him every step of the way that thanks but no thanks I could do everything myself. Deaf ears. He insisted on carrying my suitcase down the stairs, then carefully explained which track and what to look for, then demanded 10 euros for his services. Damn, I hate that! I hate being taken advantage of. When I balked, he demanded 20 euros!

So he left with 10 euros and I smoldered and watched the trains come in. Apparently the upstairs tracks are for the pretty trains; the lower level trains are battered, dirty, little more than glorified el or subway cars. All jam-packed. So I got off the Florence train at 12:15 and boarded the "train" for Sorrento, where I stood for the entire trip. There are 36...yes, that's right, thirty-six stops between Naples and Sorrento. Thirty six. It took forever, and I know right now there is no way I will be able to leave here on the day I'm to get the 9:40 a.m. train from Naples to Rome. I don't know what time they start running, but I'd have to be on a train at 6 a.m. in order to make it. I'll just make it to Naples when I can, forget my Eurail ticket and buy a separate ticket for Rome. Not like I haven't been double charged for a train ticket before.

So, arrived in Sorrento, the last stop on the train's route, finally. Got a cab to the hotel, way off in God's little green acre (at least a 30 minute walk to the sea, with the nearest restaurant a 15 minute walk). Friendly. I asked about internet. "Of course." I asked how to connect to it. Got no answer. It turns out, as I discovered after my walk to the sea, that they don't have internet. Apparently there's a shop somewhere nearby that has it. I'm writing this in advance, and will try to find it maybe later if it stops raining or maybe not until tomorrow.

The room, btw, is comfortable enough but reminds me very much of a monk's room in a monastery...though it does have its own bathroom, about half the size of the bedroom.

So there you have it. And there, I hope you see, are the makings of the final straw in any future plans for foreign travel.

I don't really know how this internet thing is going to work out. It's really kind of sad how totally I have become dependent on it. Keep an eye out, but if you don't hear from me before Saturday, the 9th, in Rome, don't be surprised. Positive thoughts.

But, hey, the adventure continues!

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


One of my favorite sayings has always been: "Why is it that people who long for immortality get bored on a rainy Sunday afternoon?" A sprinkling of boredom, of course, has it's place as one of the myriad of minor spices which add flavor to life, but like any spice, it can be overpowering if overused.

I've been blessed in that I very seldom get bored; I'm far too conscious that the minutes, hours, days, months, and years pass through the hour-glass of time far, far too rapidly and that once they are gone they can never return. I do admit to coming uncomfortably close to boredom when sitting for any length of time in a waiting room with no immediate distractions on which to focus my attention. But even then, with a slight shift of my mental gears, I can step back from the brink by moving from the real world into the vast universe of my mind.

One of the best things about never really having grown up, emotionally, is the ability wonder...really wonder, in all senses of the word...and to be able to look at the world as though it had never been seen before. The power of wonder is inestimable. Have you, for example, ever stared at your hand? Really stared at it, concentrating all your attention on it: the creases which form when, looking down at the back of your hand, you raise your fingers toward you; the cords of muscles which control each finger's movement, the fine blue veins which meander just below the surface of the skin. Make a fist and see how taut the skin becomes, how the knuckles, stretching the skin, become almost white. And don't just your mind to think about the infinite complexity involved in each action.

Think about how much of what we do is completely unconscious/automatic, from the beating of our hearts to inhaling and exhaling, to putting one foot in front of the other when we walk, to getting up from or sitting down in a chair, to the movement of our fingers while typing a blog onto a computer keyboard.

Write the word "the" on a plain piece of paper, or just pick it--or any single word, for that matter--out of something you're reading. Focus all your attention on it, zeroing in your eyes and your mind just to that one word and soon you will get the sensation of not only never having seen it ever before in your life but no idea of what it means.

Why is the human body physically unable to sneeze without shutting our eyes? Why does it take so much concentration--and then is sometimes impossible--to pat the top of our head with one hand while rubbing our belly with the other? How is it that there are parts of our own bodies we have never seen and can never see without a mirror or a photograph?

We are, quite simply, unaware of infinitely more--even in our own lives--than we are aware.

And this fascination extends far beyond the body. We all adhere without thought or question to a dizzying array of societal and cultural laws and customs and social mores of which we are only really aware when they are violated.

How and why human society developed presents a galaxy of opportunities for honing the curiosity. Why, when we're driving, do we pull to the side when we hear the siren of an emergency vehicle approaching? Why, when we enter a grocery store, do we almost inevitably turn right rather than left? It's been estimated that nearly 90 percent of the world's population tends to be right-handed but reads from left to right. Why is Chinese, Hebrew, and Arabic read right to left? How did that come about?

If you live in a city, just look out the window and take a minute to wonder how civilization/laws/customs/habits...came to be. How much detail, how much thinking and planning went into every aspect of all those things we see every single day and to which we give not an instant's thought, from the traffic lights at street corners to the workings of the engines of the vehicles which obey them?

Obviously it is impossible for anyone to contemplate all these things, let alone comprehend them. There would be no time to live life if we spent all our time wondering about things. But, oh, how fully a little pondering can fill up a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Devil You Know

change | ch ānj|, verb: make or become different

Heraclitus (remember him? Okay, I admit, I had to look him up on Google) said it first: "Nothing endures but change." It's one of those little bits of indisputable truth ingrained in us since childhood. Change is inevitable and inescapable on all levels of existence. We have little control over most of the changes--cosmic, global, historical, social, societal--which affect our lives, but when it comes to those over which we do have some degree of personal control (primarily, making the decision whether to change or not), I've always leaned toward the old Irish proverb, "Better the devil you know." The implication in that statement is, rightly, that not all change is necessarily for the good, and it might be better not to risk it.

Of course, the worse a situation, the more unhappy one is with the status quo, the more welcome the idea of change becomes. But when things are going relatively smoothly, the contemplation of change can become downright frightening. The automatic reaction tends to be, in short, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Implicit in the very definition of the word "change" is the fact that things will no longer be as they were. For a great many people, the concept of change is frightening; keeping things as they have always been is comforting. I must admit I can easily understand and empathize with this view. Yet no change also means no progress, no growth, no challenges.

For a great many people, me included, change is strongly associated with endings and is resisted in an attempt to forestall those endings. To throw out a battered old chair upon which long-gone friends and loved ones have sat is not merely to change a piece of furniture, it is to sever a tangible link to those people who were so important a part of one's life. Is it logical? No. It is human.

Ever since my return from Europe, I've been aware that something pretty elemental within myself is in the process of change. I find that the fact I'm aware that it is completely out of my control to be more than a little disturbing, and I really don't know if I'm prepared for it, or if I will be happy with whatever the results of the change may be. I realize that the fulcrum for this change was the trip itself, and, as writer Miriam Beard observed, "Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living." And that this trip was so heavily tied to memories and the achievement of goals of more than half a century all but guaranteed that the change would be profound.

I've indicated an awareness of this change in one or two blogs since my return. I am definitely conscious of the fact that my priorities seem to have undergone a major alteration. I find myself with a much more casual attitude toward what must be done when. If I don't accomplish something within the timeframe I'd set up for it I'm frankly shocked to realize I don't care! I know, for example, that I need to get this blog finished so that I can put it up tomorrow. But if I don't...well, I've been thinking of dropping back from three blogs a week to really doesn't matter.

And it disturbs me greatly that I can even say such a thing. I feel an obligation--whether justified or not--to those who have been kind enough to read my blogs on a regular basis and who have come to expect them three times a week, though I suspect it's pretty arrogantly egocentric of me to believe that.

Perhaps I am merely going through a temporary adjustment period while attempting to get back into familiar routines, and that I will once again adopt those things I fear I have lost through change. But somehow I doubt it. Only time can and will tell.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central Time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.