Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Writers, Books, and Life

Every now and again, I pull myself up short and realize just how amazingly lucky I am to be a writer, especially considering how generally uncomfortable I am living in the real world. And when that world closes in too tightly, I can...and do...simply step into the worlds of my mind. I am fully aware of how difficult...and probably is to explain how real this "other" world--this alternate universe, as it were--is to me.

As Dorien Grey and Roger Margason, I am two people in one, Roger living in the corporeal world we all share, Dorien in the world of thought and dreams and hopes. My Dorien world is, to me, almost as solid and real as my Roger world, and I am, truthfully, often more comfortable in it than I am in the real world.

Please let me make it clear, however, that I am always fully aware of whichever world I am spending my time at the moment, and never confuse them. I'm sure there are those who would consider me delusional, but it is a controlled delusion and I take quiet pleasure in it.

I've often stated my belief that life and time are in fact a cosmic mobius strip, with no beginning and no end. Every instant of time, including our lives, exists somewhere on that strip, and as time moves around the strip, every moment is repeated time and time again, endlessly.

Now think, if you will, of life as a book. Just as every life has a beginning and an end, so does a book. And just as a book, read from first sentence to last, can, upon reaching "The End," be reread over and over again, so are our lives endlessly repeated. The movement of the reader's eyes over each word in a book is the equivalent of the movement of time around that cosmic mobius strip. The book's story is propelled forward as the reader's eyes move. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph of a book, is the equivalent of an instant of time on the mobius strip: fixed, unchangeable.

Yet even though the entire book has been written and is being held in the reader's hand as it is being read, the characters in the book, unaware that they are not real, unknowingly depend on the reader's eyes for forward momentum. The characters are aware of what has happened in previous sentences and paragraphs and chapters, but what comes next is totally unknown. It's all there, in the book, the reader's eyes just haven't taken the characters there yet.

Each new page is a new segment of the character's lives. But the characters are totally unaware of what the next page has in store for them, though the entire book has been written. And the reader can pick up the book at page one and set the characters off on the same adventure, though again they are only aware of what has come before, not of what the next sentence or paragraph holds.

We move along the mobius strip of life in the same way the reader's eyes move through a book. It is time--and specifically that portion of time we know as "now"--which propels us through our lives, unaware that it has done so before and will do so again throughout eternity.

I've always loved optical illusions...those pictures in which you see one thing, but suddenly, by the slightest shift in focus, become something totally different. Roger's world is the immediately obvious picture, Dorien's the alternate. The optical illusion analogy pretty much sums up and combines my two lives, my two alternate universes and unites my book/mobius strip analogies.

Because I am able to...and truly vicariously through my characters and the stories I create for them, I can have in the Dorien-me parallel/alternate universe what I do not have in Roger's real world. One of my most profound regrets is that in the corporeal "real" world in which the Roger-me lives, I do not have someone with whom I am deeply and romantically in love and who loves me in the same way. I miss it more than I can possibly say. I know that the world abounds with people who are in the same position as I. And yet, in my alternate, Dorien world, I am Dick Hardesty, and I have Jonathan and Joshua and all the marvelous things not available to me in Roger's world. Hard as it may be to understand, their love and commitment to one another are very real to me, and they provide me with an inexpressible joy and comfort.

I am, truly, blessed.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's  Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Masochist

Why do I do it? I don't like pain. Really, I don't. So why do I subject myself to the agony of reading the opening words of the endless spam messages gushing like an overflowing sewer into my Spam box? Why can't I just hit "Delete All" and get on with my life? But I can't. It's like trying not to watch a train wreck. My eyes are drawn to the first words that accompany each message and I am swept away by the utter incomprehensibility of it all.

Humans tend to be fascinated by things they realize they could never understand if they lived ten thousand years. That realization can be painful, even agonizing for those who want so desperately to find some logic in the utterly illogical.

I've tried to resist posting another blog on the madness of internet spam, and the question of how anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances could possibly, possibly believe...let alone respond to...these idiocies. But my mental masochism compels me to continually pick at the scab, and I am powerless to stop.

Here, then, is another random sampling of messages found in my Spam "in" box, reprinted exactly as received, and my uncontrollable, knee-jerk reactions to them. If you'd like to stop reading here, I can certainly understand.

Mrs Annabel Laura - Quoting my reference number - Hello, My name is Mrs Annabel Laura am going on a cancer surgery my law...

Excuse me? Who's quoting what reference number? Referencing what? I've never heard of "going on a cancer surgery" that like a safari? A field trip? Why do I doubt to the bottom of my soul that you yourself have cancer? And why in the world would I want to contact your law(yer) other than to possibly file a harassment lawsuit against you?


"Human Right Commission"? Which Right is that? "Artorney General"? Dear Lord!!!

Barrister Rasheed Suleim - Reply Back....-Attention, My name is Barrister Rasheed Suleiman (Esq.) a personal attorney to my late client ...

"Reply back"? As opposed to "Reply forward"? And I should respond to a post from somebody who can't even decide how to spell his own name?

Mrs Lowe Michelle - DONATION FOR THE LORD - DONATION FOR THE LORD from Mrs.Lowe Michelle Please get back to me in this email ad....

Sure, Mrs Michelle...I'll get back to you about three days after Hell freezes over. In the meantime, I rather wish I believed in Hell; I'm sure there would be a very special place for you there.

Mr.Haenssgen Horst Dieter - Re: Your Payment Via Consignment To Your Doorstep. -From Haenssgen Horst Dieter Foreign Operations Manager Ove.....

"Your Payment Via Consignment To Your Doorstep"? What in the HELL is that supposed to mean? What species do you belong to?

Hoping I might find a word to sum up internet spam, I went to my Thesaurus to start with the first word I could think of: "Despicable." I found...

Despicable (adjective): contemptible, loathsome, hateful, detestable, reprehensible, abhorrent, abominable, awful, heinous; odious, vile, low, mean, abject, shameful, ignominious, shabby, ignoble, disreputable, discreditable, unworthy; informal dirty, rotten, lowdown, lousy; beastly;

Unfortunately none of these comes close to the definition of "Spam" or those who perpetuate it.

Oh, the hell with it: Masochism can only go so far. Where's that "Delete" key?

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's  Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Repentant Ingrate

I've always loved, and frequently told, the classic story of the doting grandmother who takes her small grandson to the beach. She'd bought him a little sailor suit for the occasion, and as they were enjoying themselves by the water's edge, a huge wave swept in, picked up the boy, and carried him out to sea. The grandmother, of course, was beside herself with fear and concern for her darling little boy. Finally, she fell on her knees, raised her arms and eyes to heaven, imploring God to save the boy. And as she did so, another wave swept in and deposited the boy at her feet.

Grabbing him to her, she covered him with kisses. Then she stopped, held him at arm's length, and looked up at the sky, scowling.

"He had a hat!" she said.

I too frequently remind myself of that grandmother. I go back over my blogs and so many of them dwell on the things (and people) I no longer have, the things I can no longer do, and I am ashamed of myself for my ingratitude. I spend so much time bewailing all the thing I want and/or feel were taken from me that I all but ignore the things I do have.

Tongue cancer did terrible things to my body. Cancer does terrible things to a lot of people, and many of them do not live to complain about it. I'm alive when I could, so easily, have been dead. I bitch and moan about how much I hate growing old, and give no thought to the untold billions of people who never had the chance to grow old. All I need to do is wander through a cemetery reading the tombstones of those who died while younger than I am now. My dad was only 57 when he died; my mom only 62. I've lived 20 years (!) longer than my dad, 17 more than my mom. What would they have given to have had those extra years? How dare I complain about growing older?

I am blessed to live in a world of words, which I love, and which bring me indescribable joy. I write books and blogs and journals, and can easily transport myself into the word-worlds of my mind. If I do not like reality...which as you know, I don't...I can create my own.

I spent a month in Europe this year...thanks only to my dear friend Norm, who died last year and who should have lived long enough to spend his money on himself. Next year I'm taking a 15-day river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam. This isn't bragging (it's not my money I'm spending. I didn't earn it, and it could be argued I don't deserve it)'s an expression of complete awe. I'm doing these things...things that so very many people would love to do but, for one reason or another, cannot! Me! Self-deprecating, low-self-esteem, constantly-complaining me. Dear Lord!

I am blessed, too, with family and friends...and even though time takes its toll and there are fewer and fewer with each passing year, they provide an island of comfort and support above life's raging waters. Some of my friends are people I have never met face to face but who I still consider friends nonetheless. And I have you, who are reading these words. I am infinitely blessed to have you.

So, please don't let me fool you. The next time frustration leads me to write something less than Disneyesque, or that sounds a bit more like a dirge than a march, please keep in mind that I am indescribably grateful for the all the gifts of my life and that, while I tend to dwell upon the past, I look forward to every tomorrow.

It all boils down to one of my basic mantras, of which I fear I occasionally lose track: "One tomorrow is worth 10,000 yesterdays." Please, when considering the problems of your own life, feel free to make it your mantra, too.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's  Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Battles Within

One of life's myriad of frustrations is knowing you have to do something you don't really feel like doing. I have to write a blog for tomorrow. I don't want to write a blog for tomorrow--there are too many other things to be done. I've grabbed myself by the back of the neck and forced myself to stop another really-has-to-be-done project at least three times in the past hour.

"Do the damned blog!"

"I don't want to do the blog right now! I'm busy! I'll do it later!"

Of course the project I keep dragging myself away from is the preparing of another--number six--of the first ten books in the Dick Hardesty series for reissue, and when I'm in the middle of something, I deeply resent having to interrupt it to do something...anything...else. Trying to convince myself that it's probably going to be, at the rate things seem to go with me, ten or fifteen years before all the books can be reissued (when I'm in a bad mood, I tend to overdramatize), and there is, therefore, no rush to finish the go-over falls on totally deaf internal ears. I want to work on the go-over. I do not want to write a blog.

And I'm of course not fooling myself when I say I'll get to the blog a little later. I know that now I'm working on the go-over, I won't want to stop until it's done, and know that I am condemned to a long series of "Do the blog NOW!"/"I'll get to it later" (when I know full well I won't) back and forths which will neither get the blog written, nor allow me to concentrate fully on the go-over.

"You've got an obligation to those people who are good enough to come looking for a new blog every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, to give them one."

"I'll just rewrite an older blog. No one will notice."

"I don't know who that insults more...your readers or your ego. Besides, that's a last resort, and you know it. And, you'd still have to interrupt the go-over in order to rewrite one."

"You're going to pawn this off as a blog, aren't you?"


"One of the prerequisites of a blog is that it says something significant; that it says something that the reader can relate to. What the hell is the significance of this drivel? What are they supposed to relate to?"

"Maybe to the fact that by keeping so much locked up within ourselves and never admitting to our inner conflicts...what we see as our weaknesses...we only make things worse. I look at you, and at everyone else, and see a well-adjusted human being who is always calm, controlled, and in control of themselves, when in fact, chances are very high that you are internally going through exactly the same things as I am. But because we never admit to our inner battles, each of us assumes we're the only one who has them. And you quite probably assume that, because no one else shows, or talks about, or in any way acknowledges their own our inner struggles, they don't have any.

To acknowledge that to be human is to have internal, personal problems which don't really involve anyone else--and that internal confusion and frustration are just a natural part of life for everybody-- would go a long way toward alleviating our sense of alienation and underscoring the fact that we all have far more in common than we realize.

I've apparently made it my mission, in these often rambling and perhaps seemingly pointless blogs, to reassure you that if, perchance, you can identify with some of the things I say which others, for whatever reason, don't, maybe my saying them has some small value to you. It would be nice if they did.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's  Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Each of us, over the years, accumulates favorite "stories" based on our experience, which we tend to tell over and over again. One of mine is how I went to work for the largest "porn mill" on the west coast, and I'll give you only an abbreviated version here, since the main point of this blog is not porn but people.

I applied for a job as editor of a "men's magazine" in Los Angeles, and was called in for an interview. I soon discovered that the magazine in question dealt with issues of human sexuality and relied on sexually explicit photographs...heterosexual, of course. The man who interviewed me, Keith Bancroft, was very nice and, in the course of the interview he called in his wife, Iris, who also was an editor at the company. She was as pleasant as her husband, so when Keith offered me the job, I felt I had to be honest with them. "Well, I said, I think you should know that since I'm gay, I don't have the foggiest idea what men and women do in bed together."

Keith didn't bat an eye, and merely said, "Well, then, you'll have a different perspective on things."

I started to work for them the next day and was with the company for, I think, seven years. In that time, Keith and Iris became very close friends, and we have remained friends for more than 40 years. Perhaps it was because I have relatively few heterosexual friends that Keith and Iris's unconditional acceptance made them so important a part of my life. I used Iris's name for one of the lead characters in The Hired Man and borrowed parts of her personality to give to other characters.

Both Keith and Iris were remarkably talented human beings. Each was an avid and excellent photographer, each played in at least two local symphony orchestras, Iris wrote and published several books. They had a wide range of interests which kept them forever active. We often would go hiking in the foothills near my home, sitting beside a remote waterfall with a picnic lunch, laughing and talking, and I always loved going to their home for an evening of food, music, and friendship. At lunch, at work, they would play chess. They tried to encourage me to learn, but I never did.

Iris's life was particularly fascinating. She was born in China, the daughter of missionaries. She had, I think, three sisters, one of whom was seriously and chronically ill. She married young, had two sons, and settled into a typical middle-western, middle class life. Then she met Keith and divorced her husband to marry him.

When I moved from California, we kept in sporadic touch, but the friendship never wavered or waned, and I considered them to be part of the solid foundation of my life.

And then I got a note from Keith saying that Iris had died. She had had a minor stroke two years ago, and had been battling cancer for the same amount of time. Yet other than casual, in-passing references in her infrequent letters, I had not given a moment's thought to the fact that she would not always be here, and part of my life.

In the past three months, I have lost three people important to me: my good friend, Bil Buralli, whom I met when he wrote to compliment me on my books, my former publisher, Bill Warner, and now Iris.
I feel very much like a sand castle on the shore of eternity, with the waves of time lapping ever closer. They've breached the moat and I can't help but fear my lofty minarets and flag-topped towers will soon crumble.

I know, I know, the older one becomes, the more friends one loses to time. It's inevitable. But I have always relied so heavily on my friends and family for comfort and support and a sense of belonging, that when yet another stone in the foundation of my life crumbles I feel a growing sense of loss, and longing.

And you see? I've managed to turn what I intended as a tribute to my irreplaceable friend Iris into another reflection in the cracked mirror of myself.

Goodbye, Iris. I can never tell you how much your friendship meant to me, or how much I will miss you.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.

Friday, August 19, 2011

E Unum, Pluribus

I've always been fascinated by historical trivia, and one of my favorites is that, in ancient Rome, as conquering heros marched in triumph through the city, through the cheering crowds, a slave would ride on the hero's chariot, standing directly behind him, holding a laurel wreath over his head while whispering “Remember, thou art but a man.” Wise people, those Romans.

Every human being—I’m sure this was true even of Roman generals—is a mixture of ego and insecurities: they are part of what makes us human. It is the varying percentages of each which helps make each of us who we are and sets us apart from everyone else. I’m not sure what the ideal percentage of each might be, but suspect that most of us fall somewhere around 10 points to either side of the 50 percent center line, with some natural degree of fluctuation between them. Ego and insecurity are a little like oil and vinegar in a cruet, each clearly defined.

I truly admire people with healthy egos, and have noticed that those who have them seldom seem aware of it. But then, that’s the point of a healthy ego: there is no need to question it. And while people who project too strong an ego can be insufferable, it’s been my experience that obnoxious egos are often chimeras, and those who display them often are doing so to hide their insecurities.

But in some people, writers among them, it’s as though someone were shaking the bejezus out of the cruet to the point where the ego and insecurity are so jumbled as to be indistinguishable. I know whereof I speak, because my ego and insecurity have been in the process of emulsification in the cruet of my mind for as long as I can remember. My ego tells me I’m great, and that anyone who reads my words will automatically become devoted and adoring fans. My insecurity tells my ego it’s full of crap, and I’m no damned good (on a bad day) or mediocre at best (on a good day) and that anyone who tells me I do have some worth is being either extraordinarily kind or condescending.

Writers egos are large enough to assume people will want to read what they have written, while often unjustifiably insecure in fearing they won’t. I am frequently awed by the extremes of both my ego and my insecurities, and frustrated by the fact that they invariable negate one another. It is my ego which writes these blogs, and my insecurities that constantly scoff at how I can have the temerity to think that anyone could actually care what I have to say.

For whatever reason, many writers—and you don’t need a caliper and slide rule to figure out I’m including myself here—have a desperate need for approval, which is a form of validation. Every human needs validation, but writers…I…seem for whatever reason to be particularly needy. There is never enough love; never enough approval, and a perverse willingness to seek out and magnify faults and flaws. I fully realize I’m an emotional sponge, eager to soak up every drop of approval I can get. And when I don’t get enough—which of course I never possibly can—I chalk it up to my unworthiness and figuratively beat myself severely about the head and shoulders for it.

But underneath it all, or perhaps because of it, I am truly convinced (ego) that I am not alone in the way I feel; that you, writer or not, may sometimes feel the same way, and that through my throwing myself out in front of you, you might see that you are not as alone as you may think. It is pure ego for me to assume so, but would be nice if it were true. I think they call it “validation.”

 Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's
 Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Exposed Nerves

A friend on Facebook reported the death of a close woman friend. The poster commented on the woman's kindness, generosity, loyalty, and decency. And someone subsequently posted a response asking if the friend "had been saved" before she died! I'm afraid I went off like a rocket, as I am far too often wont to do when faced with such astonishing lack of thought or compassion! The implication, to me at least, was that if the friend had not been "saved," she had no worth, no value, and deserved to be condemned to the fires of hell for eternity.

I go through life as an exposed nerve end: just the slightest touch can send me off into an all but uncontrollable rage. Granted, this rage is often unjustified or the result of a misunderstanding on my part, but that doesn't shield me from it.

Why this particular Facebook exchange was so like chewing tinfoil rests in a never-forgotten personal experience which still rankles to this day.

My maternal grandmother died in the flu pandemic of 1918 and my mother, then only nine years old, was subsequently partially raised by a housekeeper, Bessie Whiteman, whom Mother adored. Bessie was a truly marvelous human being, and was well into her eighties when I knew her. Tiny, with beautiful white hair, and flawless, unblemished skin, her face had no wrinkles or crevices, but rather soft, gentle cake-batter folds. I'm sorry I didn't have the chance to know her better. Devoutly but quietly religious, she never missed a Sunday at church, and exemplified to me what every true Christian should be, and so few are.

Bessie outlived my mother, and when I heard she had died, I was truly sad. That Christmas, I sent a donation to Bessie's church in her name and wrote a letter to her minister, saying that while Bessie loved her particular church, she would still have been an example of the best of humanity no matter what her religious beliefs.

I received a letter from the minister shortly thereafter thanking me for the donation but saying that I was completely wrong: Bessie was a good person only because she was a Christian. My reaction then was identical to my reaction to the Facebook note. It made me heartsick to realize that people who are supposedly devoted to love and kindness and mercy and decency and honor have the unspeakable gall to put qualifications on these best of human qualities.

Religion and I have never gotten along. Hardly surprising considering I was raised in a society which considered me an abomination in the eyes of God, and which routinely uses hypocrisy and false piety to condemn people they do not even know.

How can any human being so readily and harshly pass judgement on others...and not merely on individuals but entire ethnic, racial, and religious groups...who they do not know and who have never done anything to harm or interfere in their lives? How can they hate with such utter irrationality and virulence?

Humans have a need to feel superior to others, to cover their own insecurities and self doubts. Banding together with others who think as they do gives them a sense of power they cannot find in their individual lives. They feed on negativity, on hated, on mean-spiritedness. When is the last time you heard leaders of the Tea Party say one single thing positive, or offer one truly constructive suggestion of how to right their perceived and pervasive wrongs? It's one thing to rant and wave the flag and demand that we take our country back. Back from what? Back to where? How, specifically, can it be done? What positive steps can be realistically taken? It takes far less effort to set a forest fire than to put one out once it has gotten out of control.

We are becoming, as a society, like a wolf with its paw caught in a steel trap and, like the wolf, in pain and confusion we seem determined to chew off our own leg. We are flaying our humanity to the point where we are little more than a pulsating mass of exposed nerve endings.

This is not a happy blog. It is not meant to be.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's  Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Doll House

I've frequently told the story of how, when I was around six or seven, I asked my parents for a doll house for Christmas. My father, of course, would not hear of it, and my pleadings fell on deaf ears. In his defense, both he and I were aware by that time that I was "different" (I knew I liked--really liked--boys, though I was too young to realize what that meant). He, I am sure, saw my fascination with doll houses as an omen that his son would soon be dressing up in women's clothes and putting on lipstick.

Of course--and this was something he never understood and I was unable to express at that young age--femininity had absolutely nothing to do with it. Never--then, now, or for one moment in my entire life-- have I ever wanted to be in any way feminine, or ever thought of myself as such. My fascination with doll houses had nothing to do with gender and everything to do with imagination.

But, to my father, doll houses were for girls, not for boys, and certainly not for his son. I don't remeber when or where I first saw a doll house, but I was utterly fascinated. I was entranced by the reality/fantasy/power aspects it presented. Here was a real (to me) house, with real (to me) furniture, and I was a giant with total control over it and whatever went on in or around it. I had no interest whatever in playing homemaker or inventing some imaginary family. No, what I wanted to do was get the furniture nicely arranged, then have some pretend-battle during which everything was violently knocked over and tossed about.

I've been given to melodrama from a very early age. The ordinary was, well, ordinary and therefore held relatively little interest for me; it was the pretend, the larger-than-life, the bravely facing adversity and trauma that intrigued me. It still does.

But back to my story. Christmas came, and with it the usual flood of parental generosity: my parents were what was then known as "lower middle class." They struggled and worked hard for every penny they had, yet they always found the money to indulge me to the best of their ability. But it was after all the gifts were exchanged and the floor was littered with torn wrapping paper, and the smell of the Christmas tree, warmed by the lights, hung over the room, that my mom called me aside and took me into my room, where, on my bed, was...a two-room doll house she had made out of an orange crate. The few pieces of furniture were far out of proportion to the rooms, but it was a doll house, and it was mine. I do not believe in heaven, or in angels, but I do believe in mothers.

That simple orange-crate doll house, with my other toys and the books I read and the stories I listened to were the razor strops on which I honed my imagination and led me to become a writer. For an insecure child excruciatingly aware that I was not like the children around me, imagination was--and is--my refuge from a world in which I never felt comfortable, or welcome.

Today I consider each of my books, in effect, a doll house wherein I carefully arrange the furniture. The major difference being that I also put people in them and watch, fascinated, as they go about their very-real-to-me lives with only an occasional conscious nudge or rearrangement from me.

Every child is born entrusted with a small bag of seeds which will grow to produce the adult that child becomes. The seed of imagination is among the most precious of all. It blooms early, but is too often then neglected and left to wither. But when carefully nourished and lovingly tended it can produce the most magnificent of flowers. And they look very nice on the soul's mantle, next to a doll house.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's  Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.

Friday, August 12, 2011

"This Above All..."

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow,
as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

--William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3

We are increasingly a rudderless society without a compass, an anchor, masts or sails. Words of wisdom, such as those given by Polonius to his son Laertes, are increasingly meaningless in an exponentially complex world.

I've always tried to live by Polonius' advice. I'm not 100 percent successful, of course, but I really do try, and I am puzzled, saddened, and frustrated by the seemingly pervasive evidence they are, for so many, utterly meaningless.

I really try to be what I think every human should be: open minded, compassionate, honorable, and respectful of the rights of others. Again, I don't always succeed, but that doesn't keep me from trying. But while I sincerely believe that my way of looking at/doing things is the proper way, I unequivocally believe that every human being has the right to think and believe what he/she wants--up to the point where those thoughts and beliefs infringe upon the rights of others to do the same.

It quite sincerely would never occur to me to deny others their right to do and think as they wish, again with the caveat mentioned above. I have never operated on the theory that a crime--or a thousand crimes--committed by a member/members of a specific national, racial, religious, or ethnic group automatically condemns every single member of that group.

I have a I'm sure all of us do...who is intelligent, educated, and generally a nice guy, who keeps forwarding me the most egregiously vile, hate-filled, irrational and illogical anti-Obama and anti-Muslim diatribes. And I am stunned and saddened every time I get one--though all I generally need to do is read the heading of the message to know to delete it without reading it.

The issue is whether, if this is the way he, and so many more like him, truly feel, can he be considered "being true" to himself?

As our society becomes exponentially more complex, and more reliant on technology, we lose more and more control over our own individual lives, lashing out becomes more virulent and violent. We become increasingly willing, in our frustration, to accept concepts we never would accept had we more a sense of control over our own lives. Race and religion become magnates for virulent over-reaction.

It is our nature to seek the simple, even in a world which is no longer simple. Watch tv crime-reality shows ("Cops," "Bait Car," etc.) and it is easy to come away with the conclusion that the vast majority of criminals in the United States are either blacks or hispanics. These two groups statistically account for the bulk of the prison population in the U.S. Simplism steps in and says, "Well of course! Just look at the way they dress; listen to the way they talk! Their crimes against the English language alone should be grounds for incarceration. Clearly, they are inferior."

And yet not one person in ten, secretly or openly relishing this perceived inferiority, gives a moment's thought to the fact that the problem is far more deeply rooted in education and opportunity than in skin color or ethnicity.

Hatred is a weapon for those who feel powerless, and it is increasingly the weapon of choice in our losing battle with technology.

And what has Polonius's advice to do with anything? What does being true to one's self matter when we are all seemingly aboard a sinking ship? Well, for me, it is a life vest to which I can cling, and hope it may somehow help me to survive the storm.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's "Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Pay Attention!"

Ah, were I to have a nickel for every time I've heard those two words, I would be a very wealthy man indeed. And my only problem with being told to pay attention is that I generally don't. Oh, I try. Really. And I often convince myself that I really am. But ten seconds later, I'm hard pressed to remember just what it was I was supposed to be paying attention to.

Throughout grade school, my parents accumulated a sizable stack of notes from various teachers saying, in effect, "Roger is a wonderful, wonderful young man, but would do far better in his studies if only he would pay attention." (Well, maybe everything up to the "but" is wishful thinking, but the latter half is almost verbatim.) I think part of the problem lay in the fact that I am so easily distracted. I mean, how can anyone be expected to concentrate on the formula for determining the hypotenuse of a triangle when there's a very strange little insect staggering across the top of my desk. Obviously, it had been out all night and was trying to find its way home from a party, and I had to speculate on how it got on my desk and where it really thought it was going, and....

Unfortunately, not paying attention has almost gotten me killed on more than one occasion while I was learning to fly as a Naval Aviation Cadet. The airfield from which I was flying had several runways, each one designated by it's compass orientation, and the runway in use at any time was determined by the wind direction. It was important to memorize the runway numbers so that, when requesting permission to land, we would know which runway to use. But try as I might, I could never remember which runway was which, a problem I solved by simply following whatever plane was preparing to land in front of me.

But the closest I actually came to death was on a night flight with a dozen or more other planes. We were told to ascend at a set rate of speed, and to descend at another set rate of speed. All was well until the time came to return to base, and we began our descent. I remember the two speeds, but not which one was which. I chose the faster speed on the grounds that at least I wouldn't be plowed into by someone behind me. All was going fine until I noticed the wingtip lights of the plane directly ahead of me seemingly racing toward me. I shoved the stick forward to dive downward and looked up in horror as I passed less than 20 feet under the belly of the plane that should have been ahead of me. I surely could not only have died myself, but caused the death of another pilot. It was one of the most sobering moments of my life.

But did it make me pay closer attention to things from that moment on? For awhile, yes, but....

I cannot read instruction manuals of any kind because, the moment I take my eyes off the instructions themselves, I forget what they were. If someone tells me their telephone number, I seldom remember it long enough to write it down, even with a pencil in my hand. Transposing a phone number I did manage to write down into a computer file requires endless going back and forth. The handwritten 773-949-0211 becomes 773-994-0112 or 773-994-0121, or ....

When I was in service, our Marine drill instructors had a rule for teaching: "Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em, tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told 'em." A very wise method. Unfortunately, it never worked for me.

I have come to the conclusion that I am emotionally dyslexic.

Now, what was I talking about?

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's "Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs."

Monday, August 08, 2011

On Being Organized

I admire organization; I truly do. I see how it works for others ("a place for everything, and everything in its place"), and stand in awe. Open their dresser drawers, and you will find perfectly matched socks, neatly folded and aligned underwear. I have long ago given up trying to match my socks. I do laundry and find myself, when I go to put things away, with seventeen individual socks, not one of them bearing the slightest resemblance to the other sixteen. How can that happen? What became of the eighteenth sock?

And I do my best to be organized, but whereas other people's lives are as neatly and logically arranged as a jigsaw puzzle, with every single piece having its assigned place and all interconnecting perfectly with its neighbors, mine is about as organized and orderly as a bag full of marbles.

My friend Gary is a poster boy for organization. He makes lists and notes for every aspect of his life. Whenever I actually make a note of something (my attitude is usually "why make a note? I'll remember it." And I do; for perhaps twenty seconds or something--anything--comes along to distract me.) I will go to the grocery store for a gallon of milk, half-and-half, and coffee. That's it. No need for a note for something so simple. And I will go to the store and return with a box of donuts, six cans of cat food, a bag of potato chips, and...if I'm very, very lucky, a gallon of milk, which I can use instead of the half-and-half, except that I don't need it now that I don't have any coffee.

I really try, when I walk into my apartment, to put my cell phone on top of my dresser. And if I forget to put it there, it is invariably in my pants pocket...until it rings and I cannot find it. If it is in my pants pocket, I have always taken my pants off and therefore must frantically search through the wads of Kleenex in every pocket until I find it, by which time whoever it was who called has hung up. Two days ago I found it in the crevice between my sofa cushions, where I could hear it but not find it. And I do not remember having sat on the sofa for it to have fallen out of my pants pocket.

But today was the capper. I am going through each of the first ten books of the Dick Hardesty series, originally published by my first publisher who has recently gone out of business, to prepare them for being reissued by my current publisher. It's amazing, when going over something I've written but not read for awhile, how many little things I should have spotted and changed, but did not. I'm working on the third of the ten books at the moment, and have reduced the word count of each one by several thousand words, merely by cutting out totally unnecessary "he said"/"I asked"/"he replied"s.

I have each book in several formats... .odt, .rtf, .doc, and word. (I know, don't ask...even I am never sure which is which or why it matters), and I am often not clear on which format which publisher prefers. Were I organized, I would have a little metal box filled with three-by-five cards carefully laying out such information. But writing out all those three-by-five cards takes time, and I'd much rather be doing other things. (You may well observe--as Gary is constantly pointing out to me--that this is a classic case of being penny-wise and pound-foolish.) If I had those cards, I could readily check to see which format I should be working in. But I don't, and in the pathetic attempt to cover all my bases, I have to go through all four formats of each book to be sure I've made the same change in each version. But endlessly going back and forth between versions rapidly becomes both boring and frustrating and takes up one hell of a lot more time than it would have taken if I'd written out those damned three-by-five cards!

Not paying attention to which format I'm working on certainly helps. I'm very good at not paying attention, which is, not surprisingly, rather counterproductive to trying to be organized. So I am, say, working whichever format I have up at the moment, and make several changes. And, of course, I do not immediately pull up the other three formats and make the changes while I remember them. I inevitably allow myself to get distracted and move on to another project, thinking I'll naturally remember which format it was to which I'd made the changes.

I do not.

So rather than risk apoplexy trying to figure out which is which, I have decided to solve the problem by arbitrarily choosing one format to work on and pitch the other three--despite the fact that one or more of the versions I throw away may well contain some very important changes I took a lot of time and trouble to make.

Maybe I will go buy a little metal box and some three-by-five cards. And I will bring them home, full of hope and optimism for finally getting my act together, and I will promptly put them somewhere I will not be able to find them.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's "Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs."

Friday, August 05, 2011


I have always admired and respected 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.") It is one of those elementally simple statements which, if followed by everyone, would quite literally change the world.

My personal problem with it lies in the single word, "accept." I do not do "acceptance" well. And while I completely understand that there are so very many things in life that cannot be changed, that does not mean I have to accept them.

I have passed from youth through middle age to old age and while I have little choice but to admit it, do not, cannot, and will not accept it, even though I know full well that my life would be so very much smoother were I to simply admit I am old. But I do not, cannot, and will not. (I just got a mental picture of a two year old standing in the middle of a supermarket aisle stomping his feet and screaming "NO!" And come to think of it, the result is pretty much the same. Life just ignores me and goes on about its business.)

I cannot tell you how sincerely I admire those who, with a much firmer grip on reality than I have ever possessed, can simply accept things and move on with their lives.

I cannot accept the concept of internet spam, for example, or how sub-humans without a shred of decency, honor, compassion, or any other redeeming human quality can so freely prey upon others. We have laws against fraud, and theft, and robbery--I find it utterly incomprehensible that are there no laws against spamming. And of course, that I cannot accept it does not mean it does not happen, and all my protestations are utterly meaningless.

I cannot accept that any human being with unimpaired mental facilities can so easily disregard them to become bigots and hate-mongers and self-serving megalomaniacs, free to undermine with impunity everything that we as a species have worked so hard to achieve, and which supposedly set us apart from the other animals. (Of course, I know that were I to have the power to stop these disgraces to humanity, I would quite probably misuse it in lashing out, thereby making myself no better than them.)

I cannot and will not accept rudeness and gratuitous cruelty and deliberate, calculated stupidity. I cannot and will not accept the astoundingly narrow minded mean-spiritedness of those we elect to serve our interests, but serve only their own. The all-but universal attitude of, "Hey, that's just the way things are" may very well be true, but that doesn't mean I have to accept it, and I will not.

However, being powerless to right a wrong does not mean we should not make our objections known at every opportunity. There is an old point of English law which states that silence equals consent. I do not consent, and I will not remain silent.

I know that my individual refusal to accept things which I know to be wrong is as effective as a single drop of water dashing itself against a granite wall. And yet I do it. I have done it all my life, and I intend to continue doing it until the moment I die. Why? Simply because it is the right thing to do, no matter how seemingly pointless. And the eternal optimist in me is always aware that individual drops of water joining together can, over time, erode away even the most formidable mountains.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's "Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs."

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

On Being Strange

I delight in the unobtrusively strange; people with harmless little quirks which set them gently apart from others. As long as one’s strangeness does not impose negatively on anyone else, it lends both spice and charm to our lives. I still remember, from the first time I lived in Chicago, the little old lady who walked past my apartment building frequently. She had to have been in her 80s at the time, and was thin to the point of being gaunt. She always dressed as though she were going to the opera: long, white—or black, depending on the season—dress, elbow-length gloves, high-heel shoes, large-brimmed hat with a red or black cabbage rose, pancake makeup with bright red lips and a toy-soldier circle of rouge on each cheek. Though I never had the chance to speak with her, I remember her fondly after all these years.

We are all different, of course, and people being what they are almost everyone is considered a bit strange by someone else. Being a little strange is part of being an individual human being. We all have our own quirks, some of which we recognize in ourselves, but which are more often recognized in us by others. While most of us simply accept that we have certain...harmless quirks, some of us try very hard to hide them, while others wear their strangeness like a badge of honor and go out of our way to cultivate our differences.

There are as many types of strangeness as there are wildflowers on a Nebraska prairie in May.

There are, to my mind, three basic categories of strangeness: 1) The ordinary; 2) The conscious; 3) The calculated.

1) Most of us fall into the "ordinary" or garden variety strange...simple reflections of our individual personalities which make each of us harmlessly but noticeably different from those around us. No one else is seriously affected by it. The "ordinary strange" cover a broad spectrum from the little neighbor lady with six cats through the obsessive-compulsives who iron their underwear and arrange their sock drawer by color. They largely go unheralded because they don't go around calling attention to their particular forms of strangeness. The "ordinary strange" seldom can be spotted in a crowd.

However, the outer edges of ordinary strangeness begin to blur in those who readily believe the most egregious nonsense if it fits their personal preconceptions and prejudices.

2) Those who use their natural strangeness and consciously build upon it as a way to call attention to themselves and make themselves appear to be "cool." (Do people still use that word?) They leap upon whatever bandwagon happens to be passing through town: “In” fashions, hairstyles, piercings, tattoos, wearing pants with belts worn just above the knees and baseball caps at the cutest angles…which they see as ways to stand out. People flock to these trends, deluding themselves into believing they are leaders when they are actually followers, with the result that they all end up looking exactly alike and must go off in search of the next trend or fad.

3) Those who deliberately and with cold calculation exploit and manipulate their strangeness to intimidate and control others are a far more disturbing matter, and can be both frightening and dangerous. They are far from stupid. They take full advantage of the insecurities and fears of others to exploit stupidity and hatred as a means to gain attention and power. And when this strangeness is mixed with megalomania and arrogance we get the truly frightening likes of Michelle Bachman, Sharron Angle, Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, religious fanatics who dare to presume to speak for God, almost any member of the Tea Party, etc.

Strangeness is like a campfire; a pleasant source of warmth and comfort. But it has to be watched carefully, lest it spark an insanity which can destroy us all.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's "Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs."

Monday, August 01, 2011


Every human being is linked to every other human being by genetics and the myriad of qualities which define us as human. Yet, ultimately, despite all of these links, each of us is on our own when it comes to dealing with the intimidating vastness and complexities of life surrounding us. In that regard, we're not unlike Hermit crabs in our need to find a specific shelter into which we can retreat for comfort and security.

My own little protective shell is composed, not of calcium carbonate as are most seashells, but of logic. Logic is the tether which anchors my view of the world and, in fact, my sanity.

However, as strongly as I rely on logic to protect me, far too much of my life is spent in frustration which at times verges on being debilitating. It is difficult to cling to one's beliefs and principles when being endlessly bombarded with the most stupefyingly illogic, clearly demonstrating that logic is utterly worthless when dealing with the real world. I simply cannot comprehend how things which are, to me, so quintessentially logical, are so easily ignored or dismissed out of hand by what seems at times to be the majority of my fellow human beings. The current state of our political system is perhaps the strongest single example of how little respect logic has in our world. I firmly believe that those people in and out of Congress who swear allegiance to the Tea Party are far more closely aligned to Lewis Carol than to Boston.

To me, logic is the mind's salvation, just as hope is the soul's. However, to be continually shown irrefutable evidence that what is so vital to me is held in such disregard--and viewed with such disdain and contempt by so many--is truly disheartening. I simply, sincerely cannot understand how otherwise rational, intelligent people can be so totally unconcerned by not only the neglect of logic but its downright rejection. How can the most egregiously illogical precepts/ideas/theories be foisted upon us as gospel and, incomprehensibly, almost universally accepted without question?

It is when I find myself personally abandoned by logic that I am most exposed and vulnerable, and this happens most often when it comes to issues of consistency. Consistency is logical. If I do something in a certain way 99 times and get the same results all 99 times, should I not be able to safely assume that doing the same thing exactly the same way as I've done it 99 times before will produce the same result? Alas, the answer is no. I can never be sure that doing the same thing the same way will produce the same results as the last time I did it.

I've always found my reliance on logic at odds with my refusal to accept reality. Logic is, after all, the ultimate reality. But like most humans, I am quite good at making my own accommodations between the two.

I'm fully aware that my sincere belief in the basic goodness of our species flies in the face of both logic and reality, and marks me as incredibly naive. But it is because I so sincerely believe in the goodness and honesty of others that every single instance of outrageous, blatantly dishonesty upsets me so. I walk around like an exposed nerve end.

I simply cannot understand how people cannot be more kind to one another, or more considerate, or how or at what point the Golden Rule metastasised from, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you," to "Do unto others as you would have done unto them."

And yet, in spite of it all, I still find comfort and safety within my increasingly thin little shell of logic, and try to ignore the storms that rage outside.

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's "Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs."