Monday, December 31, 2012


I’m not big on New Years resolutions, finding them equal parts waste of time and exercise in futility. They seldom last longer than the breath it takes to utter them. I gave up making them shortly after Grover Cleveland left the White House.

But if I were to make one, I think it would be to stop coming across, in these blogs, as such a joyless grump. When Thumper’s mom, in Bambi, advises her son: “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all,” she obviously did not have me in mind. I can say nice things, and I hope and feel that I often do. But I do not suffer fools—or bigotry or stupidity or gratuitous disrespect—gladly. And, Lordy, there is so much wrong in the world—and I’m not talking just about wars and greed and poverty and natural disasters—over which we have no real individual control. Life ain’t easy under the best of conditions. But what bothers me is that there are any number of things over which we, as individual human beings, DO have some control but far too often simply either ignore or refuse to attempt to correct.

If everyone in the world resolved, for example, to pay more than lip service to the concept of common courtesy, can you imagine the impact it could have? Basic civility has, sadly, largely gone the way of the dodo and the wooly mammoth, and common decency seems to be following not far behind. I expect the whole world to take the high road above the rising ocean of rudeness and thoughtlessness and be considerate of other people is an impossible dream. I can’t expect the whole world to do it, but I can do it. Who knows, it might be catching.

Would it kill me to smile more at people I don’t know? To say “hello” to the people with whom I share an elevator? To hold the door open for someone, or stand back and let someone else board the bus first? To say “thank you” a bit more? To pick up a Styrofoam cup or soda can some inconsiderate idiot has merely tossed on the ground…often within feet of a trash receptacle?

Courtesy should not only be practiced, it should in certain conditions be demanded. If a clerk in a store is rude, I do not hesitate to ask to speak to the manager. If the food I order in a restaurant is cold, or is not what I ordered or prepared the way I ordered it, I send it back. Politely, I hope, but I send it back. When is the last time you did that?

We are becoming a nation…a world…of people who have come to almost expect rudeness and incompetence as our due. It is not our due. We deserve better and we have every right to expect it and to demand it when we don’t get it. But we don’t. We don’t want to make waves, to call attention to ourselves, to “get anyone in trouble.” (There’s a quaint Latin term I use for this type of spurious but all-too common logic: “Bullshit”!)

One of the immutable laws of nature is: “Those who behave like doormats will be treated as such.”

As you have undoubtedly noticed, I once again started off down one path and find myself on another. We were talking about resolutions, right?

I know: I’ll make a resolution to be more focused. Yep. That’ll do it.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Friday, December 28, 2012

"Lived In"

I’ve often observed…and my friends will readily verify…that I am not a slave to the gods of domesticity. Unlike one of my college roommates, who ironed his shorts, arranged his sock drawer by color, and was diligent to keep a sharp point on all 12 of his neatly aligned #2 lead pencils—I slipped a #4 in there one time and he had a fit (I don’t think it necessary to point out that we weren’t roommates for long)—I have a very casual attitude about most things which admittedly might somehow benefit by being kept in order or placed somewhere they could be found five minutes after putting them down.

I firmly believe Quentin Crisp’s observation that “dust doesn’t get any thicker after three years,” and can’t see much point in constantly vacuuming and dusting when things will only get dusty again by the next day. I started to read an article in the New Yorker four or five weeks ago, and take comfort in knowing that when I find the time to finish it, it’s right there on the arm of the chair where I left it.

I wash dishes regularly, dictated more by the fact that I have broken all but three of my drinking glasses and don’t like drinking milk out of a cup than by the joys of splashing around in a sink full of soapy bubbles. And when I do wash dishes, it is much easier just to leave them in the plastic drainer than to go to the trouble of putting them in the cupboard where I’d just have to turn around and take them out again.

Finding it increasingly difficult to close my refrigerator door, I did devote ten or fifteen minutes the other day to starting to clean it out. I got about two shelves done before wondering if I might have any new e-mail and wandered off, but in that time discovered enough mold in the 20 or so plastic containers I use to store leftovers to start a penicillin factory. (I’m really very good with leftovers. With food as with just about everything else, I hate to throw anything away, even knowing full well that as I put a new container of leftovers in the refrigerator, I do not kid myself into believing that I’m ever actually going to eat the stuff. But I can’t throw it away, just in case I might.)

I make my bed once a week (laundry day), or on those very rare occasions when I am expecting a visitor. I really can’t see any point to taking the time to tuck and smooth and plump the pillows and carefully fold down the top of the sheet over the top of the blanket. Hey, this isn’t the Holiday Inn and I’m just going to get back into bed after 15 hours or so, so why bother?

I keep a laundry basket in my front closet, and I use it every Friday morning when I go to do the laundry. I just scoop all the clothes off the foot of my bed and off the chairs where I’d left them after taking them off, throw them into the basket, and I’m set to go.

However, my one homage to domesticity is that I do take the garbage out every single night, a habit born of necessity after living in an apartment building in which the cockroaches held conventions under my kitchen sink.

And I do pick up Kleenex and paper towels from the floor within an hour or so of their falling there, and at least three times a day I scoop the mounds of Kleenex from the top of my desk. (At least, I think there is a top to my desk…I seldom actually see it due to the bills, receipts, notes, letters, empty torn envelopes, etc. which magically appear with absolutely no action on my part.)

As a point of disclaimer, I should mention that the photo accompanying this blog is not of my actual apartment. The apartment in the photo is just a tad neater than mine.

But I do not consider myself a slob. I like to think of my apartment as I think of myself: “lived in.”

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


I was watching a commercial for a new yet-to-be-released movie I had never heard of, and was amazed to learn from the excited voice-over…done by someone who obviously had far too much coffee before coming to work…that “Everyone is talking about it!” They are? Where have I been, under a rock?

Ah, hyperbole! It is wielded like a sledgehammer by the bottom-liners (who are far too often also bottom-feeders) who have taken over most of our society to exploit the gullible and turn the trusting into cynics. The result is that hyperbole has almost eliminated our ability or willingness to believe anything we’re told.

Hyperbole dictates that no adjective can be used unless it is a superlative. Nothing can be described as pleasant or enjoyable or merely good, it must be SPECTACULAR!! All TV and radio sales pitches must be delivered with an enthusiasm with overtones verging on hysteria, and the faster and louder the delivery, the more effective it apparently is in convincing people that they simply cannot live without whatever is being touted.

Have you ever seen an ad, anywhere, suggesting that you to take your time and think it over before you buy? Hardly. Advertising is based on the same basic motivational principle as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Don’t think: ACT!

You must “call within the next twenty five seconds” to qualify to shell out your money for some schlock bit of crap you neither need nor really want. (Does anyone…anyone…think that if you call an hour later they are going to refuse to sell it to you?) This same wonderful item, you are breathlessly assured, retails for 10 times its “One Time Only Special Sale Price.” And the fact that they usually throw in several other (“And Wait! There’s More!”) auxiliary useless gee-gaws clearly shows that they realize that if the product was any good, they wouldn’t have to throw in all the extraneous garbage to get you to buy it.

Hyperbole fuels the seemingly ubiquitous Home Shopping Networks which offer up unneeded items 24 hours a day and, worse, those stupefyingly inane infomercials which hire hordes of obviously mentally challenged people to sit in the “audience” to ooh and aaah and applaud wildly in response to every patently absurd claim.

Have you noticed how many advertisers take great pride in announcing that whatever they’re touting “is not sold in stores!” Logic—sorely lacking in the wonderful world of sales—clearly says that if something is not sold in stores, it is because the store doesn’t want it. I think this is known as “turning lemons into lemonade.”

When I first lived in Chicago there was a cheesy furniture store chain which regularly bought full page ads in all the papers announcing their GIGANTIC PRE-GROUNDHOG DAY SALE! which was followed the day after Groundhog Day with their GIGANTIC POST-GROUNDHOG DAY SALE! They probably did the same with National Pickle Week, but I can’t recall.

There was, when I lived in L.A., a place called “World Appliances,” which I grudgingly appreciated for its sheer chutzpah and creativity, since it gave them the right, in every ad, to boast that they had “World’s Lowest Prices!!”

Save Big Money!” “Piled High!” “....and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity!” “While Supplies Last!” “Everything must go!”

All of which just goes to prove H.L. Mencken was right in saying “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

In my personal lexicon, “hyperbole” has two synonyms: “Snake Oil” and “Bullshit.” But wait...there's more!

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Christmas Party

Once upon a time, very long ago, a young sailor wrote a letter to his parents from aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga to relate the story of a memorable Christmas party. And this is it:

23 December 1955
Two days from Christmas and 3,000 miles from home. But only 283 days more in the Navy. How wonderful it will be to be free again!

Last night was the Division party. I left the ship about five o’clock; it had been raining on and off all day, and the streets were shiny black, reflecting every light in long, wavy strips.

The party was to be held at the “Little Paradise” restaurant, far on the other side of the city, overlooking the Bay of Naples. I decided to take a bus instead of a cab, not only because it would be cheaper but also more fun. After wandering aimlessly about looking for the bus, and with the aid of a non-English speaking policeman (who for some reason was dressed just like a British Bobby) I found the right corner and stood there. My bus was number 240—an electric trolley. After a few minutes, one turned a corner and came my way. I got ready to get on, but it whizzed right by—you’ve got to flag them down, which is quaint but a little inconvenient. The next one that came along I waved at wildly and it stopped. You enter from the rear—that is, if you can. It must have been the rush hour, for every bus was jammed with people, to the very doors. After getting on, you pay the conductor, who sits in a special little booth just behind the door, 35 Lire (4 ½ cents?). And off we went, stopping every block or two as the guidelines to the wires bounced off with a boom and a great flash. The conductor would patiently get off, put the guides back on the lines, get on, and we’d be off. Most of the time he didn’t even have to bother getting off, as there was a transit company employee on almost every corner, evidently for just that purpose.

No matter where you go in Europe, you run into at least one American. On the bus were a woman and her mother, whom I knew immediately was American (you can spot them in any crowd). She looked exactly like thousands of American women on our own busses, going home from a day’s shopping. We exchanged a few words as they squeezed past me on the way to the door. And then they were gone.

The conductor signaled me about a block before we got to the restaurant, but by the time I fought my way to the door (helped by an American man and a friendly Italian who pulled me through by my coat sleeve) it was two blocks past my stop.

By the time I got to the restaurant, everyone was nearing the saturation point, and a couple were past it. We’d rented the whole place for the night, so there was no one else coming and going.

The two chaplains on the ship are leaving for other duty soon, and so both were invited, and a cake, white frosting with green trimming and a green cross in the center, had been made for them. One had gone to Rome, and Father Kelly was just getting ready to leave, tactfully pleading another engagement.

Along one wall a buffet had been set up, with food commandeered from the ship. Drinks were served at a bar at the far end, and a three or four piece band was at the other.

One of the cooks, Botz, was already fairly well on the way to oblivion, and was at the stage where everything he does is immensely funny (he thinks). He came staggering by the table with the cake and, grabbing the knife, started brandishing it at everyone. Someone told him to put it down, so he swung it with all his might and stabbed it into the cake, then walked away, laughing, leaving the knife sticking out of the cross.

And so the party progressed. I satisfied myself by grabbing a plate of food and a glass of gin and soda (mostly gin). Soon, Botz tore a photograph belonging to one of the other guys (Winston). Winston then proceeded to pour his beer over Botz’s head. The fight was broken up quite nicely and no one was hurt.

By this time, Tiny Lishman (6’3”, 320 lbs), who had been completely smashed and was dancing with everyone and everything, disappeared. General speculation was that he’d fallen over the outside balcony and into the sea, but no one was in much of a state to care. Pappy Daniels, who after his last liberty was found asleep on the floor of an officer’s stateroom, had been carried into an adjoining room where our coats were stowed, laid out in state on a couch, and covered with a white sheet.

Several of the guys had crowded around the microphone and were singing, marvelously off key on every note, as the band struggled valiantly to keep up with them

When arrangements for the hall had been made, it was agreed that, along with ice, Coca-Cola, and waiters, the management would also furnish girls (“…the best!”). Well, they were girls, anyway. I had my gin to keep me warm and, since there weren’t enough to go around anyway, didn’t press the issue. It was amazing to watch the contrast—the Americans, drunk and reeling, happily singing and shouting, and the Italians—the waiters looking disdainful and the girls looking completely bored. They kept busy by eating and wrapping sandwiches to take home.

Pappy came out of seclusion to join the line at the balcony railing and, somewhere along the line, lost his teeth.

One of the choir had taken over the drummer’s position and was keeping fairly good time, except that he’d slow down when the band went faster, and sped up when they slowed down.

Girls kept popping in, taking one look, and popping out. The midget, whom we’d met at the “private home” a few days before, was there, as were several of the girls.

At about 9:30, feeling very nice but definitely not drunk, I and three other guys set back for the ship.

On the way, Grinshaw, the kleptomaniac among us, stole the little doll that dangled on a string from the rear window of the taxi….

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Word Hoarder

Hello. My name is Roger (or Dorien), and I am a word hoarder. I find it next to impossible to throw away anything I have ever written. Not infrequently, I will set off to write a blog and for whatever reason not finish it. As a result, I have quite a little file—79 at the moment; I just counted—of incomplete (some justifiably so) blogs. Why don't I just throw them away? Because, like any true hoarder, I am convinced that someday I will find a use for them. I have a somewhat similar problem with physical belongings, too, though I draw the line at opened jars of peanut butter with an expiration date of 06-01-04. But torn pants? Old sweatshirts? Well, surely I might be able to get a few more wearings out of them. I am well aware that were I to keep physical things to the same degree as I keep my writings, I would be like those pack-rat recluses occasionally found dead beneath fallen stacks of floor-to-ceiling old newspapers.

But surely you can understand my reluctance to part with partially-written blogs. (You can, can't you?...Hello?) Well, let me demonstrate. Here are a few never finished blogs pulled at random from the pile.
* * *
As so often happens, yesterday afternoon I realized I had not yet written today’s blog, and set out to do so post-haste. I chose the topic of “Beauty”, a subject of great interest to me, but with which I have had no direct personal experience. I got about two thirds through it and, upon reading what I’d written, realized I must have been channeling one of the lesser and more florid Victorian romance writers. I found it ponderous, pontifical, and saccharine to the point of embarrassment. It emanated the distinct scent of talcum powder.

So I decided to hold off on it for a while, which was probably a good idea. However, having done so, that left me with no blog for today. I went to bed thinking—I am nothing if not an optimist—that I would whip one out this morning when I got up.

The only problem I find in “whipping one out” is that it quite often tends to read as though I had done just that.
* * *
Each of our lives is built on a solid foundation made up of blocks of people and events. Slowly, over time, the foundation begins to crack and crumble. The death of a loved one, the end of any element of our lives which provided us comfort and security, represents the crumbling of another stone in the foundation of who we are, leaving us more alone and more vulnerable.

Change, as we’ve talked about before, is inevitable, but it can also be scary. We are who we are because of our past, and as our past is taken from us, it means part of us disappears with it.

I read recently that the U.S. Navy is discontinuing the Naval Aviation Cadet (NavCad) program which, rightly or wrongly, was one of the most solid of my foundation stones. Even though it was 58 years ago (...and how old are you?) and I did not complete the program, it was one of the most memorable parts of my life. That there would always be a NavCad program was a comforting given. As long as it was there, I was there. It was like a trail of breadcrumbs which I could follow confidently back through the years to find a long-gone and terribly missed me.

My NavCad days are more vivid for me than many other times of my life simply because I have a detailed journal of them in the form of letters written home to my parents. Each letter was written within days of the events described, and this sense of immediacy comes through (to me, at any rate) more than half a century later.
* * *
Hey...those really aren't bad. Maybe I should really get to work and finish them. Or not.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Three Rules

If all the rules, laws, and regulations designed to keep humanity from running totally amok were lined up end to end, they would stretch far beyond the horizon. Yet in reality, fully 95 percent of them could be eliminated if everyone followed only three elementary precepts.

1. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” What could be simpler? The problem, alas, lies in the gulf between theory and practice and in the perversities of human nature—think, for example, of its application by masochists. But for the vast majority of people, the Golden Rule is just that…golden. We all like and expect to be treated with courtesy and consideration. We all appreciate a smile from a stranger, and any simple gesture of kindness. But we seem oddly incapable of linking this to that other old saying, “It’s better to give than to receive.” We’re happy to get a nod and a smile from a stranger, yet to how many strangers do we nod and smile? Again, the perversities of human nature step in: we’re too busy to think of it, or we’re afraid any such gesture will be either misinterpreted or coldly rejected. So we do nothing. And far too often, we are so surprised by these small acts of kindness when we receive them that we do not immediately reciprocate them.

I've never been able to forget the story of the young man in San Francisco who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. He left a suicide note in his apartment outlining his depression and sense of total isolation. The note ended with this (paraphrased) sentence. “So I am going to walk to the bridge, and, if even one person acknowledges my existence along the way, I will not jump.” He jumped.

2. “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.” Adopted as a mantra by Alcoholics Anonymous, it was written in 1936 by a theologian named Reinhold Niebuhr. Who, alcoholic or not, can possibly argue with that precept? Yet how many of us actually follow it? The time, effort, and emotion we each expend in fretting over things over which we have absolutely no control is astonishing. Even more astonishing is the fact that we seem incapable of recognizing and acting on those problems over which we do, or can by trying, have control. Easier to throw up our hands than to work to correct them.

3. “This above all else: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” Polonius’s bit of fatherly advice to Laertes in Hamlet is as valid today as when it was written just a bit over 400 years ago. Unless we are true to ourselves, unless we can stand up for what we believe in and constantly strive to be better than we are, we might as well be a sea slug as a human. We belong to a contentious, often totally dysfunctional, all-too-greedy, survival-of-the-fittest race. Yet it is our capacity to acknowledge our shortcomings and work to improve ourselves that separates us from the other life-forms on our planet. Each of us faces, every day of our lives, that challenge to be better than we are. We each, either individually or together with our fellow humans, have the capability to change the world. We may not be able to single-handedly discover a cure for cancer, or eradicate poverty, but improving the lives of others needn’t be that complex. It can be as simple as giving a smile to another human being who might very badly need one.

Smiles and kind words cost nothing but the setting aside of our hesitancy. It’s better to give 500 smiles which are ignored than not to give one which can make a real difference in someone’s life. Who knows who is walking to the bridge?

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Monday, December 17, 2012

"De Profundis"

One time, during my sophomore year in college, a girl I didn’t know very well said to me: “You know, Roger, you really are a pompous ass.” I don’t remember exactly what had provoked the observation, but I do remember that rather than being insulted I was actually rather flattered. It had never occurred to me before that anyone might consider me being anything other than totally bland.

I have subsequently realized that I do have something of a tendency to pontification, soapbox oration, and not-infrequent melodrama—which I suspect may have occurred to you from reading these blogs. And that I find endless fascination in this odd mixture of arrogance and insecurity allows me to ramble on (insecurity) and try to figure out just what makes me, you, and humanity in general tick (arrogance).

The fact of matter is that, like most people, I do have very strong feelings on a number of subjects, but unlike many, I have no hesitation in voicing them. That by doing so I risk being considered somewhat daft—a word seldom used nowadays, but I like it—certainly doesn’t slow me down. In the sincere belief that while you are probably too busy with your own life to devote too much time to frivolous thought, you might be willing to indulge them from time to time in my company. I do try to be careful to point out that I cannot speak for anyone other than myself, but part of me is quite firmly convinced that we all have much more in common than we generally acknowledge, and therefore when I talk (and talk, and talk...insecurity) of me, I am to some extent talking of you (arrogance). Since I am always delighted to learn, through comments I’ve received on these blogs, that other people do finding bits of themselves in my thoughts, it’s merely an extension to think you might do the same. I take great comfort thinking that we are not quite as isolated as we might assume we are.

My trips into pseudo-profundity and melodrama are definitely related to my constant awareness and appreciation of life. Melodrama is rather like zooming in on a photograph…it brings out details otherwise overlooked or ignored. My life-long fascination with disasters, from the Chicago fire to the San Francisco earthquake to large ship sinkings to 9-11, stems not from the human suffering they produce, but for the all-too-rare nobility and unity they almost inevitably bring out. This selflessness and unity, demonstrated in countless individual stories of courage and braveness, are to me evidence of what humanity really could become if it tried a bit harder.

The world…our society, our culture, our race…is a mad whirlpool of contradictions, of good and evil, of kindness and cruelty. I have always taken comfort in the thought that we so concentrate on the bad things in life simply because all the good things are so common as to go without comment. Love and kindness are the accepted and expected norm against which hatred and cruelty are measured, and the fact that we are shocked by them speaks to the fact that there is indeed hope for us all. Our media bombards us with so much evil and tragedy and bad news that we tend to be blinded to the good. There are far more puppies and kittens and babies in the world than mass murderers, yet it is the mass murderers who make the headlines.

So I get up on my rickety soap box and orate and wave my arms and pontificate in hopes that somehow, somewhere, some way, I might make the tiniest bit of difference in someone’s life. I say “in hopes” because, in the final analysis, hope is our salvation.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Friday, December 14, 2012


I think if I were to be a flower, I’d be an impatiens. I had to look one up on Google to be sure what it looks like, but I've always liked the name, since it reminds me of one of my most outstanding characteristics: impatience.

I’m sure it all stems from the fact of my raw-nerve awareness of the passage of time, and that every instant spent doing other than what I want to do is time which will never come again, and brings me one instant closer to the moment when my mind, trapped as it is in a mortal body, will cease to function and all that will remain of me is what I have managed to put down on paper.

I know that there is much to be said for the joys of quiet contemplation, but I’m largely incapable of it. I’ve mentioned before that I simply cannot do nothing. I cannot sit on a park bench on a sunny day and just enjoy the act of sitting and being part of nature. I’ll be a part of nature soon enough, thank you, and enjoyment will have nothing to do with it. Even when looking up at a blue sky filled with puffy clouds, I can’t be content with just observing: my mind insists on searching them to find faces and sailing ships and tanks and fish.

I have never in my life begun a project involving physical labor which, ten minutes into it, I wish to heaven I had never started, and I too often, as a result, end up with a slipshod result simply because I was too impatient to take all the time to do it the way it should have been done.

When I go to bed at night, I look forward to dreaming, even if I can’t specifically recall the dreams the next morning, and should a night pass without my awareness of there having been dreams I feel cheated. I’ve been told, and firmly believe, that death is very much like a deep and dreamless sleep. Well, like being a part of nature, I can wait. And in the meantime I prefer lots and lots of dreams, please.

I am terrible at waiting. If I have to schedule an appointment, I want it to be scheduled for no later than the time it takes me to get from here to there. Sitting in a waiting room without a book or magazines is torture. Telephone calls which involve my being put on interminable hold by mega-corporations who lie through their teeth when they soothingly reassure me, every 30 seconds, that all their operators are still busy with other customers because of “unusually heavy traffic,” and that my call is very important to them send me into apoplectic fury.

My impatience has gotten me into more trouble, over the years, than I can possibly remember, let alone recount. I constantly say and do things that, on reflection, I wish I had not done or said, but I simply do not/cannot have the patience to think things out before I react. I tend to be one gigantic knee-jerk reaction.

Often, of course, time does not allow for patience. How often have we, ten minutes after the fact, come up with a really brilliant retort to something someone said, which left us at the time merely muttering something inane or stewing in silence? That’s one of the good things about writing: I control the time in my characters’ world. I can eliminate the gaps between the comment and the retort, and therefore be far more clever than real-time permits.

I’ve been told endlessly that I should practice patience, and I really should. But I just don’t have the time.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Butterflies and Skipping Stones

Considering the number of things that fascinate me, you’d think I’d be a lot smarter than I am. But my intellect is more the butterfly/skipping-stones variety, flitting/skipping from one fascination to the next without taking the time to really explore any one thing in any great depth.

This morning, in the period between being totally asleep and fully awake, I was thinking/dreaming of the interrobang. I love the interrobang, though it is very seldom seen—more or less doomed by the simple fact that it came along after the invention of most typewriter and computer keyboards and has limited usage even if there were room on the keyboard for it.

The interrobang, a combined question mark and exclamation point, wasn't even invented until 1962, by an ad man named Martin Speckter, to satisfy a not-overwhelming demand for a punctuation mark to use in cases where a sentence can be either a question or a statement, generally of incredulity, such as “You’re kidding me!?”

And from the interrobang, I flitted to the fact that the shortest words in the English language are “a” and “I” which are both, in themselves letters, though “I” has to be capitalized in order to qualify. And then I moved on to the fact that many words are pronounced as letters of the alphabet: bee, see/sea, gee, I/eye/aye, Jay/jay, Kay/quay (Jay and Kay are the only letters that are also names), el, oh, pea/pee, cue/queue, are, tee/tea, you/ewe/yew, ex, and why (which would be disqualified if you pronounce the “wh,” which most people don’t).

Which, of course brought me to one of my favorite trivia facts—that there are sentences which can be spoken but cannot be written—as in the plural of words with multiple spellings. You can easily say “there are three (to/two/too or you/yew/ewe or I/eye/aye)s in English” but you can’t write it down without spelling out all the variations.

English, I have heard, is one of the most difficult to learn of all languages because it is so flexible, and there are more exceptions to the rule than there are rules. The prefix “dis” (disassemble, disagree, disappear, disloyal, disgrace) generally indicates it is the opposite of the stand-alone word it’s attached to. Yet I’ve never heard of anyone being “gruntled” or of an “aster.” The same is true of the prefix “in” (incredible, inedible, inappropriate, indecent) which can lull you into a false sense of security until you come across a word like “inflammable,” which means exactly the same as “flammable.”

Etymology—the study of the origins of words—and the original meaning of words is endlessly fascinating. It’s amazing how little thought most of us give to them. I don’t know how many times I’ve pointed out to a couldn't-care-less friend or acquaintance that the word “breakfast” literally means “break fast”—to break the fast between going to sleep and getting up, and how over the course of time words lose their clarity through mispronunciation. “President” was, I’m sure, originally pronounced “pre-ZI-dent”, which is the exact definition of the word: the president presides over the nation. The pejorative “nigger” is a natural result of the too-rapid pronunciation of the word “negro.”

I know my more educated friends, upon reading this, will probably jump all over it, pointing out innumerable errors, misconceptions, etc. To which I reply, with all due respect: “Tough.”

The accuracy of my beliefs and assumptions aside, the fact remains that in response to the old question, “if you were stranded on a desert island, what one book would you take,” my answer would be “an unabridged dictionary.” Every word of every book ever written or ever to be written is in there. The fun would be in knowing what every word means, and in putting them all in the right order to recreate whichever book you might want.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Monday, December 10, 2012

Squiggles and Strokes

Every now and then, an idea, thought, or realization will sneak up behind me and whack me on the back of the head with a coal shovel to get my attention. As I was reading a magazine the other day it struck me that what I was staring at was in reality nothing but a long string of black squiggles and strokes on a piece of paper. The fact that I was able to recognize what each one of them represents—not just individually but when combined in little clusters we call “words”—may be a “Yeah? So?” for most people, but to me it is a true source of amazement. And if it weren’t marvel enough that I could instantly interpret these markings, that I am able to independently duplicate them and arrange them in myriads of ways is equally astounding.

Our ability to read and comprehend is yet another of the infinite and all but totally ignored wonders of human existence. I suppose this is natural, in that if we were to stop and contemplate each of the wonders that make us human, we would have no time to live our lives. But pausing every now and then to contemplate just how utterly awesome even one of the marvels involved in being alive and human is well worth the trouble, especially given the human tendency to take our abilities for granted until we are deprived of them.

To realize that the entire history of our race is in those squiggles and strokes—or, in the case of the blind, in the arrangement of small raised dots designed for interpretation by the fingers rather than the eyes—merely compounds the awe. It is truly sad that there are far too many people in the world today—and not just in underdeveloped countries, but in our own—who, for whatever reason, are unable to interpret either squiggles or dots. These people are not only at a great disadvantage in their individual lives, but collectively act as an anchor slowing human progress.

When I first arrived in Los Angeles many years ago I was dating a very nice young guy whose name time has taken from me. We were going to a restaurant and I couldn’t remember the address, so I pulled up to a pay phone and asked him to go check the address in the phone book. He came back and said he couldn’t find it. When I went to check it myself, there it was, plain as day. The fact, as I found out only much later, was that he was severely dyslexic and never learned to read, and was too embarrassed to admit it. I think it might have been one of the reasons we stopped seeing one another—not because I was ashamed of him, but because he was ashamed of himself. I think of him with a degree of sadness to this day.

Stop and think for a moment of just how amazing is our ability to read, and how wondrous it is that, realizing the limitations of the spoken word (information relayed by speech alone is inevitably diluted or subtly changed as it passes from person to person) our distant, distant ancestors began devising squiggles and strokes to convey information from generation to generation largely unchanged. (We won’t go into the vast problems inherent in translating information from one language another. The various versions of the Bible are a classic example.)

The blueprint for every human includes five senses which enable us to survive. Reading is not a sense but a learned behavior which relies upon sight and, for those deprived of sight, for touch, as in Braille. We can exist without being able to interpret squiggles and strokes and raised dots upon a page, but those who cannot do so are in effect regressed to our prehistoric past and tragically deprived of a universe of knowledge and joy.

So if you can read this, give thanks.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Friday, December 07, 2012

Stupid Questions

I love stupid questions. They always bring me up short, as though I’d run headfirst into a concrete wall at full gallop. I often have to go back and listen to the question again, since I couldn’t believe it the first time.

Television news often has a monopoly on stupid questions, and I have spent hours pondering just what sort of answer they might possibly have been expecting to inevitable (and utterly pointless) questions such as: “Tell me, Mr. Jones, exactly how did you feel when you found your wife and six children had been bludgeoned to death and run through the Cuisinart?” Do they really expect Mr. Jones to say “Oh, I just had a good laugh, poured them down the drain and went out to dinner”?

The degree of the stupidity of questions from reporters seems to go up exponentially depending on the number of reporters present. I especially love it when somebody is being hauled into court through a mob of reporters, who wave microphones and hop up and down and all but pee themselves in the general quest for truth. “Did you do it, Joe?” “Where did you hide the body/money, Joe?” Why bother with a trial at all? All we have to do is get Joe to say: “Sure, I did it; look under the tulip tree in my back yard.”

Why do they insist on asking the accused killer’s sweet little old mother if she thought he did it? What are the odds that she’ll say “Of course he did it! String him up!”

For a very brief period I was fascinated (the kind of fascination usually reserved for the Reptile Room at the zoo) by that TV show with Pat Sajak and Vanna White, where contestants politely request letters to fill in the blanks in a well-known phrase. My very favorite was one in which everything hinged on only one remaining letter in the nearly-completed phrase “Once Upon a _ime”. The contestant studied it carefully and said: “May I have a ‘D’, please?”

I enjoy asking my own stupid questions in response to stupid commercials. (“The number to call is 665-0023! That’s 665-0023! Just call 665-0023 now! 665-0023!” To which I always ask: “What was that number again?”) And that infuriating whatever-phone-company-it-is with the guy asking: “Can you hear me now?” I'd always cup my hand to my ear, squint at the TV, and shout “What?

Among generally asked stupid questions are: “You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?” “Can I trust you?” “Do you like my new nose ring and forehead tattoo?” and “I don’t look my age, do I look?”

I’m not the only one who is aware of stupid questions, and I’ve always been grateful to whoever first asked: “But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

But of all the contenders for the world’s most stupid question, I think the winner, hands down, is the old classic: “Have you stopped beating your wife?” There’s nothing like a simple answer, I always say.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Mind's Eye

I have always had two sets of eyes: the two physical orbs in my head, which guide me through the world as it is, and the eyes of my mind, which see the world as I would have it be.

That I am an unrepentant romantic is, I think, fairly clear to everyone, and I have never fully ceded to reality. What set me off on the subject of this blog was remembering, out of nowhere, the 1944 movie The Enchanted Cottage, starring Dorothy McGuire, Robert Young, and Herbert Marshall, once top stars in Hollywood, now largely forgotten. Robert Young plays a man horribly disfigured during WWII, who buys and retreats to a small isolated cottage; Dorothy McGuire plays an excruciatingly shy, plain, and mousy spinster who lives nearby. Over the course of the movie, they become, first, friends, then fall in love. And as they do so, a transformation takes place: the man is no longer disfigured, and the woman becomes radiantly beautiful. The point is that it is not their bodies that have changed, but their souls, and their beauty rests only in eyes of the other. I never forgot that movie.

And I’ve told the story many times of going to a restaurant one evening and sitting beside a table occupied by a man and a woman who were each so singularly unattractive that they were the object of stares from other patrons. The man was grossly overweight and would never, never, have been considered handsome by any accepted standard; the woman was his female counterpart. And yet they sat there, oblivious to everyone and everything around them, holding hands across the table and so obviously in love it made my chest ache. I’m sure that to each of them, the other was beautiful, and I envied them their ability to transcend reality.

It is unfair to judge people on their looks, yet we all do it. And to laugh at someone whose photo is posted on Facebook or elsewhere merely for having the features God gave them can often be downright cruel. Does anyone think unattractive people choose to be considered “ugly?” Do they think it helps to have someone point it out to them?

Don Quixote’s greatest fear was having to look into a mirror, which represented and in fact was reality. I share his anguish at being forced to acknowledge that I am not, to the world, who I am to myself. I am quite serious when I say I studiously avoid reflective surfaces. Mirrors, to me, are clocks, showing not how close one is to the start of another day, but how close one is to the end of one's life. On those occasions where I am forced to do so, as when I’m turned toward the mirrors while getting a haircut, I view the image looking back at me with the same repulsed fascination as I view a trip through the reptile building at the zoo. I simply cannot believe that the person staring back at me from the glass has any relationship whatsoever to me.

Mirrors reflect only surfaces, of course, but in our society, surfaces matter. Studies have proven time and again that good-looking people have a distinct and unfair advantage over average or “ugly” people on all levels. For every beautiful person we see every day, there are at least fifty average or unattractive people who are simply invisible to us.

And I find it both infinitely bemusing and lemon-biting ironic that someone so perversely egocentric as I cannot bear to see his own image.

My closest friends, bless them, accept my innumerable idiosyncrasies and humor me in many of my self-delusions. (They are harmless delusions, after all.) A couple of my friends go so far as to see Dorien as I see him: the me who lives inside. I am forever in their debt for doing so.

I've always thought that the blind have at least two definite advantages over the sighted: they are not swayed by how anyone looks…and they never have to confront themselves in a mirror.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Monday, December 03, 2012


I often speak in generalities even though I usually am speaking only of my own experiences, which are the only ones of which I can be fairly sure. That I assume that what I think and feel is pretty much what everyone else thinks and feels is pure hubris. Yet I take the fact that you are reading this as an odd form of validation of my assumption.

So when I say that writers tend to be a needy lot, I speak with the authority of only myself while casting the wide net of generality in the hope and assumption that others—you, for example—may at least recognize this need for the approval of others, and that when the net is pulled into the boat, I will not be the only one brought up with it. It’s just that I tend to use writing as my principle form of seeking validation

There is no doubt that I would write whether anyone else read it or not, even if I had to do so on the sand of a beach or on the water itself, yet it is so important for me to write books and blogs in an attempt to get your attention; to jump up and down and wave my arms and come running up to you when you have far more important things to do, to tug at your elbow and say “Look what I did! Aren’t I clever? Aren’t I smart?” Even as a voice in the back of my mind adds, “Aren’t I officious?”

There are innumerable things in which I find myself sorely lacking. Self-centeredness is not one of them.

Where this sometimes embarrassing need for validation and reassurance comes from I’m not quite sure. I was my mother’s darling and my father’s pride, and I never had any doubt but that in their eyes, as in my own, the sun rose and fell on me. And I cannot even claim that this desperate need to be told I’m not as bad as I think I am emerged after my parents’ deaths.

As I have endlessly repeated, my suspicion is that it stems from my expecting so very much from myself, and very seldom in my life ever living up to my own expectations.

So when a friend compliments me (the pleasure in which is tamped ever so slightly by the knowledge that they are aware of my needs and may be doing it out of kindness), or when a reader sends me a message telling me how much he or she enjoyed something I’ve written, I am truly elated. (“See, Roger? See?”)

Dorien does not have this problem. He is totally happy with who he is and while he too is delighted by and sincerely grateful for any kind words he receives, he doesn’t really need to be constantly inundated with them. They come when they come, and they don’t when they don’t, and that’s fine with him. But I am rather like a beached whale which must be doused with bucketfuls of validation in order to survive.

And the only thing that enables me to continue on this endless search for reassurance without fully considering myself exactly the kind of total boor I cannot stand is my firm belief that you and I are really a lot more alike than either of us might care to admit. The major difference between us is that you, like Dorien, probably don’t feel the need to talk about it, and I won’t shut up.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (