Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ode to the Short Fuse

ode [Noun]: a lyric poem in the form of an address to a particular subject, often elevated in style or manner and written in varied or irregular meter.

Okay, so I lied--this isn't exactly a lyric poem, but it is addressed to a particular subject, sort of, and is being written in a varied and very irregular meter, and it is "owed" to the severely patience-challenged among us.

This morning, I went to join yet another internet site/group for authors. Don't ask me why. I already belong to far more sites/groups than I can possibly keep up with, but I seem incapable of just saying, "no, thanks." So I went to the site to register, following each of the simple 327 steps required, including typing in those two illegible words you must copy into a little box for some reason or other. Finally finished, after stopping for lunch, a coffee break, and two or three trips to the bathroom. Hit "Register." Was informed the password I'd entered was already in use. When I went to put in a new one, everything I'd just entered disappeared and I had to start all over again.

Resisting the strong urge to just forget it--I mean, pass up a chance to get my name out there one more place?--I went through the entire ritual again. Hit "Register." Was informed the user name I'd entered was already taken. Already taken? My user name is Dorien Grey. How many Dorien Grey's are out there? I know there's a british rock band with that name, but that they'd be joining a site for writers struck me as unlikely in the extreme. Deleted the user name while trying to figure out whether or not it was worth all the bother. The minute I deleted the user name, all the other information I'd already entered twice disappeared.

That did it. Lava began flowing out of my ears and my usual multi-chromatic vision turned monochromatic--bright red with little dancing flames everywhere. Only by grasping the arms of my chair so tightly my knuckles lost color and clamping my eyes shut tight while taking fifty or sixty deep breaths and counting to 600 was I able to regain my usual calm, zen-like composure.

Needless to say, I decided that perhaps I would not join that group even in the event of hell freezing over.

So I have, as the title of this blog suggests, a rather short fuse. I have no idea where I got the idea that everything should go right the first time, but I've had it since childhood, and when something--anything--doesn't go right I consider it axiomatic that it is my fault, somehow. My response is not mild dissatisfaction, not anger, but volcanic fury, directed both at whatever sparked the incident and myself for allowing it to happen.

When I was a kid, I went through the usual model-making stage. I began with airplanes constructed of glued strips of balsa wood covered with cloth. I never got as far as applying the cloth. I would carefully, patiently (well, patiently for me) follow the directions, gluing piece A to piece B. About halfway through, half the glued strips would suddenly come apart--as would I. I had two basic reactions: throw the model on the floor and stomp on it, or throw it across the room and then stomp on it.

While I was living in Los Angeles, my then-partner Ray, knowing my fascination with the Titanic, bought me a beautiful scale-model kit, with hundreds and hundreds of plastic parts, most of which had to be hand painted. I spent more hours than I can count doing my very best to follow the detailed instructions, which were printed on both sides a sheet of paper that measured, as I recall, about three feet by four feet. I have never seen, anywhere, a completed model from this same kit and sincerely doubt there is one. But because Ray had given it to me, when one piece I was working with would not immediately and easily go exactly where it should, I would set it aside and move on to the next piece. Well, of course, the pieces are all interrelated, so that plan didn't work very well, and I ended up with a large pile of assorted, unfinished pieces. I did get the two pieces of the hull glued together, though. They didn't quite fit perfectly, but what the hell?

I still have the box--the cover showing the magnificent ship sailing the bright blue sea with smoke pouring from its four gleaming funnels--with the pieces all inside. I might get back to it one of these days. Might.

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

Monday, February 27, 2012

I Writ Me a Book

Of all art forms, writing is probably the one most given a short shrift. Sit someone down at a piano and say, "Write me a symphony," or hand someone a lump of clay and say "Make me a sculpture," or give them a paint bush and palette and ask them to paint a portrait, and most wouldn't have a clue--let alone the real ability--to do it. But books are simply written language, and everyone uses language every day of their lives. How many people have you heard say "Oh, I'm going to write a book one day"? Most just don't stop to think that being able to write and being able to write a book are two very different things.

A reader's eyes skimming over the words in a book are like a bird skimming over the surface of a sea, and few people realize that under that surface are unseen depths--mountains and valleys of the author's efforts.

I write books. I've written about 20, actually, and am within a few pages of completing another. I'm neither famous nor rich--though the two sometimes go hand in hand and I would very much like to be among those who are. Nor am I a great writer. I'm simply a storyteller using the written word to tell tales meant to entertain using various aspects of our shared humanity. We all need to step away from ourselves and the reality of our everyday lives every now and then. Books are perhaps the oldest and most common way to do it.

There are many reasons why writers become writers; a pressure-cooker response to so many thoughts, ideas, and impressions; a desire to share the fruits of a vivid imagination; a way of trying to make sense of an often seemingly senseless world. But of all the various motivations to become a writer, I do not know of a single writer who does not have one trait in common with all other writers: a love of words; a fascination with their sound, their meaning, their flexibility, their origins.

I firmly believe one is destined to become a writer--or a painter, or a musician--long before one actually becomes one. There is predisposition toward becoming many things based on a combination of circumstances, interests, opportunities, and experiences during one's formative years. All humans have a need to express themselves in some way or other, but it is the intensity of these needs which results in books and art and music and sets artists and writers and musicians apart from everyone else.

I've often said that I am blessed that my books tend to write themselves, with just an occasional nudge from me, and I delight in just watching the words march across the screen. (A great many authors say the same thing.) The characters in a book-in-progress often become very real to the author--as, with luck, they will to the reader. Like real people, a book's characters take on their own personalities. Often this will include doing and saying things that send the story off in directions the writer had not originally intended.

There are those writers--J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter books fame among them--who take great care to plot out their stories chapter by chapter and sometimes page by page. I have, quite honestly, never been able to comprehend how or why they do this. It would, for me, totally eliminate the spontaneity and the joy. (How could new thoughts or ideas not come to the writer in the course of writing?)

Though it is not obvious to the reader, the writing of a book involves--again speaking for myself--constant adjustments and careful attention to detail. Since the book isn't written in one sitting, it's very easy to get things mixed up; to forget details or to mention the same thing twice at different times. Chronology--keeping track of what happens when--can be a vital factor and to get even the smallest of story elements out of chronological order can lead to some serious problems and some serious rewriting to put things back the way they should be. Place names, street names, and the names of characters must be consistent and spelled the same way every time. Little things most people would never be aware of, and it is vitally important that the reader not be aware of them.

The reader should, like the bird in the second paragraph, simply glide over the sea of words the writer has created without any thought to what lies beneath the surface.

Making things look easy is hard.

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

Friday, February 24, 2012

Seven Out of Seven

I was checking out the Seven Deadly Sins this morning—I hope you know me well enough by now not to ask where that came from—to see if they are listed in any particular order of sinfulness. Apparently they are not. However, I was a bit surprised—its having been so long since I last checked them out—to find that I am or have been at one time or another, guilty of every single one of them.

In case you might have forgotten, they are lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, anger, envy, and pride. Having devoted a great deal of time to each of them in the past, I thought I might stop to consider whether I might have lost a few. I haven't.

Lust? Oh, my, yes. The problem with lust is that it is best when reciprocated, and the passing years tend to rob one of the chance for reciprocity. Every time I see a beautiful (to me) man, my chest still aches with longing, but the only result is frustration. If frustration were to be an eighth sin, it would overtake most of the others.

Greed? Yep. I am, as noted several times in these blogs, insatiably greedy for approval and praise. But again, greed is one of those things that tends to be tempered by reality over time. I am always greedy for more money, but know that’s not likely to happen. So I have learned that greed can be fairly well dealt with by simply ignoring it.

Gluttony? Once, but no more. I always associated gluttony with greed, and in a way they are related, but gluttony is limited to food, and my bout with cancer effectively robbed me of both the desire (nothing tastes the same, and certainly not as good) and the ability to eat nearly enough to qualify for gluttony even if I wanted to--though I'm sure if I could, I would.

Sloth? Alas, yes. If procrastination is a form of sloth, it’s pretty high up on my list. I’m really very good at finding a million things to keep me from doing what I should be doing.

Anger? Uh, if you’ve read any of these entries, I think it’s fairly obvious that I am totally at the mercy of this particular sin. I have turned anger into something of an art form, and often go beyond mere anger into outright rage and fury over far more things than I should. But until the world is what I want and expect it to be, I don’t see any improvement in my anger management abilities.

Envy? Whereas I actually take a perverse pride…coming up…in some of the other sins, envy is the one of which I am probably most embarrassed. Just as I frequently ache with lust for all the unattainably beautiful men who cross my field of vision every day, I far too often ache with envy over what others have/do that I do not. I do not read nearly as much as I should because I become so terribly envious at how well other writers write. I slide into the bottomless depths of envy and despair when I see people with incredible talent in any field, and when that talent is compounded with beauty, as it is in far too many to count, the ache matches and possibly even surpasses that created by lust.

Pride? This is a strange one, for when it comes to my own pride it is so often and thoroughly mixed in with self deprecation, insecurity, and a dash of greed, that it’s like a blender set on “puree”. But the fact is that I am extremely prideful. I have formed my own concepts of dignity and will go to any lengths not to violate them. I am proud of who I am, even though I would like to be many things I am not. I am proud of my writing, though I am not a great writer. But probably one of my greatest areas of pride is in my refusal to acknowledge the hegemony of reality. It may be a silly pride, but it is very real and vitally important to me. And, finally, no matter what, I am a survivor. And I take great pride in that.

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Lord but I hate coming across as such a grouch in so many of these blogs. I'm not, really. I may not be the life of the party, but I've got a great sense of humor and I love kittens and puppies and happily-ever-afters.

I got a note the other day from someone who had just read one of my books saying that while she had enjoyed the book, she had hesitated to read it because she'd read some of my blogs and thought that I sounded like a rather disagreeable human being.

While I hate to admit it, she had a valid point. I hastened to apologize (as I do now to you) and explain that it was because I think of myself as both an optimist and a romanticist, and that my seemingly bad disposition was simply a result of the exasperation of trying to deal with the mountain range of negativity by which we are all surrounded today. And I think it is all based in my apparent inability to understand my fellow human beings.

Do you understand people? Lord knows I don't. I never have and probably never will. Just when I think I might be getting a handle on why they act or think the way they do, they'll say or do something to totally contradict whatever I thought I had figured out.

What perversity dictates that people devote intense fascination to things which really, in the overall scheme of things, are utterly inconsequential, and have not one whit of direct effect on us personally or on our lives...while at exactly the same time refusing to give a minute's serious consideration to things which are vital to our physical well-being? We'll stand on the street corner and smoke three cartons of cigarettes while utterly engrossed in deep conversation about Justin Bieber's tattoos. We go into the equivalent of national mourning when some celebrity dies, yet read of thousands dying of hunger every single day with little or no reaction.

Grown men go absolutely berserk with excitement watching athletes running around throwing and catching balls while they themselves sit on a barstool chugging beer and eating fried butter. ("We're Number One!" No, you're not. The athletes are Number One--you're just fat and lazy.)

It is truly difficult to maintain one's belief in goodness and mercy and tolerance--positivity in any form--when turning on the TV or reading a newspaper gives the finger to those same beliefs. Reality too often seems to be a slap in the face--which is, again, why I try to ignore it whenever possible.

But I do wish, sincerely and with all my heart, that someone could explain to me how the current candidates for the office of President of the United States can espouse egregious statements and positions so utterly, completely, totally, all-consumingly devoid of even an iota of logic or rationality, so filled with hatred and negativity and rock-solid assurance that their beliefs/stated opinions are the only ones that matter. Their sheer stupefying arrogance infuriates me dangerously close to the point of apoplexy.

I realize that using negativity to rage against negativity is counterproductive in the extreme. I'm sure you dislike it as much as I do. The wrongs of the world must be faced and addressed, whereas they are far too often simply accepted. My personal challenge is to find a way to counter it without compounding it.

Perhaps if I wore a fright wig and a red ball over my nose?

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

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ice Cream Social

My apartment building is holding an ice cream social today. Oh, dear Lord! Did my parents, mom then 24 and dad 22, realize on that long-ago November day, that their beloved and newly born son would one day be living in a subsidized senior apartment complex which holds ice cream socials for its residents? Is that the extent of the dreams they had for me? Is that the extent of the dreams I had for myself?

But please don’t fret: this isn’t going to be a long, lugubrious trek through the dark, impenetrable jungles of self pity. You’ll not hear the plaintive call of the exotic Poor-Poor-Me, or the haunting, far-off cry of the Oh,Woe echoing through the thick foliage.

In truth, I’m rather bemused by the whole situation, and the only real negative in it all is the realization of just what a snob I am. I do not attend building ice cream socials, or the occasional bingo game, or join in the bus excursions to various gambling casinos in nearby northern Indiana. I pass among the little old men and little old women in the lobby and in the halls, and I have absolutely nothing at all in common with them. I surely am not as old as they, or as infirm. I hold my head up high (figuratively, of course, since I can’t actually lift it high enough to see the floor indicator above the elevators). I am better than they, somehow (please do not ask for a detailed list of “how”…just take my word for it).

But I do have one great advantage over most of my aging peers, in that I, in a very real (to me) sense, am able to and do live in two worlds: the world in which my body is trapped and suffers the indignities of aging…over which I have relatively little control… and the world of my books, which provide me with a great deal of comfort and pleasure. And I can and do move freely between them. When one proves troublesome, I can quickly step into the other.

This arrangement is particularly valuable as the years pile up, since the world of writing is not subject to the same immutable rules as the world of the body. But, as with most things, there is a danger…one I increasingly realize…of retreating too far into my inner world.

A group of friends meets every day at a coffee shop a mile or so away, which provides good exercise in the walk, and I go more often than I normally would because my friend Gary, who lives nearby, enjoys it so. But my problem is that, aside from the fact that I really drink coffee more out of habit than true desire, I find that I have little or nothing at all to contribute to the conversation…which generally revolves around opera, in which I have an astonishing lack of interest. Still, I feel mildly uncomfortable with the fact that I do not have much to say in groups of any kind. I prefer to come home and write, which I realize only accelerates the withdrawal process a lot of people tend to go through as the years progress.

So, between paragraphs, I returned from coffee with the gang, and actually did say a bit more than usual, possibly because the conversation was not limited to opera. So perhaps all is not lost.

But I did not go to the ice cream social.

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

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dust Bunnies

While standing in line waiting to be born, I was issued the standard grab bag of talents and traits given to all those about ready to enter the world. On opening it, I found devastating good looks, a rapier wit, rock-solid self confidence, a ballet dancer's grace, and infinite patience. Since I hadn’t been born yet, I had no idea of what use these things could possibly be, so I traded them to the kid behind me for a peanut butter sandwich.

Patience, one of the virtues I subsequently never had, is a great asset for anyone, and particularly for a writer. But it has always been terra incognita for me. I've always been a jump-right-in-with-both-feet-and-worry-about-the-depth-of-the-water-later kind of guy. I can’t go two hours without getting antsy to get to the computer to write. Far too often, what I do write when I get there is not what I hoped/intended to write, and I don’t have the patience to make it so. I ramble on (really? I’m sure you never noticed!) and the result ends up resembling the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag. Let’s face it, folks…I write the equivalent of dust bunnies.

Just as there is a difference between having no luck and being unlucky, there is a difference between having no patience and being impatient. Writing a book is somewhat different from writing a blog in that books by their very nature and length demand more time. But the impatience factor is always there. When I am writing a book, I can't wait to get to the next page to see what will happen next. When I finish writing a book, I can't wait to get started on the next one. And the waiting period between sending the finished book off to the publisher and seeing it in print never fails to drive me to distraction.

Lately this has become a major problem for me, since I currently have nine (count 'em...9!) previously published books waiting for reissue following the demise of my original publisher, plus two completed manuscripts sitting in a second publisher's pipeline waiting for release. That I am not the only pony in the publisher’s stable, or that they are working as fast as they can, means absolutely nothing to me. The book is written. I want a printed copy in my hand, now.

Partly because of wanting to avoid even thinking about my impatience with my publisher, and loath to do what I should be doing—working on my current book—because to do so would just add another log into the already existing logjam, I keep busy vacuuming these little dust bunnies from the many corners of my mind.

And dust bunnies beget dust bunnies. I am constantly bemused as to why I am so driven to capture and preserve them. Who, after all, can really be expected to care, other than me? If I were able to put down every single second of my life, who, after all, would have the time to read it, even if they had the desire to do so?

I guess it all stems from and goes back to the keystone of my psyche: my desperation not to be forgotten…not to be just another weathered tombstone in the incomprehensibly vast cemetery of time. So I gather me dust bunnies while I may, for old time is still a’flying, and hope that someone, somewhere, might see in them a vague likeness of themselves, and wonder who this strange man may have been.

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lemmings, Sheep, and Us

Our species is made up of some seven billion individual souls, yet we resemble other species, like lemmings and sheep, in being capable of responding as a single entity.

In this vast conglomerate of seven billion individual humans, millions die every day, mourned only by those closest to them. Yet we have this odd, inexplicable collective fascination with those who, though we do not know them personally, somehow become the obsessive focus of our attention.

Thousands may die in a flood or famine in distant land, yet their passing has very little emotional impact on us, individually. We are able to view their deaths with an objectivity we too often cannot apply to celebrities. The death of a well-known personality will trigger public outpourings of grief far beyond the bounds of rationality. With the constant exposure to celebrities, we somehow feel we know them. Perhaps it is a dissatisfaction with our own personal lives that leads us to identify with those we perceive to have so much more than we do. We follow their every utterance, their every peccadillo, their every drama as if it really, really had even an iota of direct impact on our own lives.

The herd instinct is a fascinating phenomenon, and while it can be either positive or negative, it seems to be largely negative. Like sheep, we are too willing to follow anyone who assumes to lead, without any thought as to where we're being led. Most of us are raised with a religious affiliation, and we find ourselves accepting its every precept, illogical as it may be, without hesitation or question. Far too many of us blindly follow any politician or self-appointed pundit who speaks with authority, without giving a moment's independent thought to their motivation. The most negative form of the herd instinct in humans are mobs driven by hostility--the equivalent of lemmings rushing to the sea to drown.

Yet collective action can also exemplify the finest aspects of humanity. There are innumerable examples of individuals putting themselves in danger to come to the aid of someone else. But it is our unified reaction to natural disasters, our willingness to set aside our individual interests to come to the collective aid of others that elevates us above sheep and lemmings. It is a shame that such nobility usually requires a major traumatic event to trigger it on a large scale.

We follow either because we just assume we should or because we can't or won't take the time and effort to think enough about something to make up our own minds. Following is often simply "the path of least resistance."

Of course those whose major goal in life is to get as much money as possible in any way possible are well aware of the herd mentality and maximize it at every opportunity. Ads claiming that "everyone is talking about" something or other--when in fact it is unlikely that anyone other than the advertiser has even heard of it--plays upon our willingness to believe that if "everyone is talking about" it, we'd damned well better get on the bandwagon and start talking about it, too. The entire "keeping up with the Jones's" principle is aimed at getting us into line and following the pack. Nearly every ad we see on TV, hear on the radio, and see in magazines has the same purpose: to get us to "follow the leader." And a frightening number of us do.

One thing that lemmings, sheep, and the vast majority of humans have in common is that following is a natural response; one that can be overcome with a little questioning coupled with a little logic. Sheep and lemmings have an excuse for not thinking before following because they don't have the mental capacity to make independent decisions. People do not have that excuse.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being a follower so long as it is a decision based on thought, not just on salivating when someone rings a bell.

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

Monday, February 13, 2012


We live our lives trying to meet expectations: Our parents', our friends', our teachers,' our employers', society's. We are constantly, either openly or subconsciously, made aware that in almost every aspect of our lives we are being held up to certain standards and measured by how well we meet them.

Expectations drive us. They make us take action when we might, left to our own devices, prefer to do less, or nothing. We often accomplish more under pressure, and as a result we grow as individuals, accomplishing things we might otherwise never had even thought we could achieve. Even the unfair expectations can promote growth. It isn't the reaching the goal; it's the trying.

But of all the expectations placed on us, the most difficult to meet are often those we place upon ourselves. Unrealistically harsh self-expectation can easily erode one's sense of self-worth, and I have been subject to them all my life, to my great anguish.

When we're younger, external/physical self expectations generally rule. The pressures of society to be physically attractive fuel multi-billion dollar industries, and are taken full advantage of by advertisers, television, and movies, which stress physical beauty, flawless skin, perfect teeth, slim (for women) and muscular (for men) bodies. Well, of course you have to have these things: beauty and physical perfection look out us from every magazine and television screen. If you aren't one of the beautiful people, there is something obviously wrong with you--you are clearly inferior. Social graces are also demanded--one must stand out, but in a positive way. Just look at those TV ads where all the beautiful young people (heterosexuals all, in case you hadn't noticed) are having a simply marvelous time being beautiful and graceful and full of confidence, exuding poise, charm and pheromones. You don't? Then what good are you?

For most people, as we mature, expectations tend to shift from the physical to the more cerebral, and we judge ourselves more on the kind of person we are on the inside. This is healthy, but again, the tendency is often to fall short of expectations. While I can't speak authoritatively for anyone other than myself, I know this is very true.

I expect myself to be so much more as a person than I am...and probably more than I could ever be. Still, I expect myself to be more worldly and well-versed, able to speak with confidence on nearly any topic. I expect myself to be far more kind and understanding than I am, more generous of my time, more concerned with important issues of society and more active in them, more courteous and aware of the simple needs of others, and far less self-centered, less short tempered and dismissive than I frequently am.

All this is rooted in the fact that because we live our individual life totally within our self, everything we experience is filtered through only one set of eyes and one mind--our own. We know about others only through observation and assumption and while we often assume we know what's going on inside their individual selves, we cannot.

I am truly convinced that there is some vast, largely subconscious collective awareness of this, which is one of the reasons we developed speech and writing, to pass what knowledge we can to others of our species and to future generations. And with this comes expectation, based on commonality of behavior and knowledge.

We create laws and social rules and expect others to follow them. To our great credit, and subconscious awareness of our commonalities, most of us do. But each of us, as an individual, is not "most." We must therefore weigh the expectations imposed on us as members of a species of seven billion members, against our individual reality, our individual personality, our individual beliefs. The fact is that every one of us differs from everyone else, but it is, again, the shared commonality which is the focus.

We have little control over what others expect of us, and we often try too hard to live up to them. But it would be a good idea for each of us to take a look at our own self-expectations and weigh them on the scale of reality. We all should expect ourselves to be better than we are, and to work toward that end. But we should look on our individual expectations as balloons to elevate us above who we are, and recognize when they are sledgehammers trying to pound us into preformed molds.

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

Friday, February 10, 2012


Yesterday marked the 41st anniversary of the 1971 San Fernando/Sylmar earthquake--"the day all of Los Angeles woke up at the same time"--in which 65 people died. As earthquakes go, it was far from the largest, but for those of us who experienced it, it was an event never to be forgotten.

I was living in North Hollywood at the time, 11 miles from the epicenter near San Fernando/Sylmar. My mother had only recently moved from Rockford, Illinois, to be near me, and had bought a house less than a mile from mine.

I'd been in Los Angeles for more than five years at that point, and had been through several temblors and minor quakes, and was fascinated by the fact that there are several different types. My first was a "gentle swell" quake, like being in a small boat rocked by waves. I was sitting in my living room with a friend when I noticed the hanging light fixture over his head began swinging back and forth. Being a disaster buff, I rather hoped I'd be in a big quake someday. I got what I asked for on February 9, 1971.

At 6:02 that morning, I was, like most of the rest of the city, in bed, asleep. I was awakened by the sound...a deep, indescribable rumbling. I'd never heard anything like it but, like the warning sound of a rattlesnake, you needn't have ever heard it before to know exactly what it was.

First came the sound, and then the though a giant had grabbed the city by its shoulders and was shaking it violently. The worst thing about an earthquake is that you never know, when it starts, how long it's going to last, or how bad it's going to be.

My bedroom looked out over my back yard and swimming pool, and I watched as two feet of water sloshed out of the pool and over the patio and yard. I don't know how long the shaking lasted, but it seemed like a long time. When it stopped, I immediately jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes, and drove to my mother's house.

There was a large post office a block from me, on Lankershim Blvd. As I drove by I saw that the large open garage for employees' cars had collapsed. Postal employees were standing around inexplicably looking up at the what I had no idea, but probably at one of the power transformers that had blown up during the quake. Turning onto Lankershim, a commercial area, I saw that windows of most of the stores were now in the street.

Got to my mom's house to find she was fine but, never having experienced an earthquake before, wasn't quite sure what had happened. "I thought someone was throwing garbage cans at the house," she said. I welcomed her to California.

Within two minutes of walking in the door, her phone rang. It was my aunt from Illinois, saying: "I just heard on the radio you had an earthquake." When she hung up and Mom tried to call other relatives in Illinois to tell them we was okay, the line was dead, and we remained without phone service for two days.

Reports were coming in on damage. Several buildings at the sprawling San Fernando Veterans Administration Hospital had collapsed...killing 53 people, we found out later. Two 5-story enclosed stairwells of the brand new Olive View Hospital in Sylmar had fallen away from the building leaving, with no power for the elevators, no way out...3 died there. The dam holding back the Van Norman reservoir was so badly damaged it was feared it would collapse, and 80,000 people living beneath it were ordered to evacuate.

Several new housing developments in the area featuring tri-levels were severely damaged when the two-story section split away from the one-story section. (The house I later bought in Lakeview Terrace, close to San Fernando, a tri-level, had had its driveway forced upward, making it impossible to open.)

As I've said, by comparison to other earthquakes, the San Fernando/Sylmar quake was relatively small. But those who experienced its power and damage first hand will never forget it.

A few weeks after the quake I had occasion to go to Las Vegas on business, and I found how easy it was, whenever a heavy truck drove by or there were some unexpected noise, to spot people who had been in Los Angeles on February 9.

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

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

My Muse(s)

Classic mythology tells us there are nine muses, all women. Classical mythology is wrong. There are any number of Muses, male and female, and I've met several along the way. I've read that all great writers have muses, and who am I to disagree? My primary muse is named Joe, a third cousin twice removed of the Muses of Mt. Olympus and, like so many of the characters in my books, he just suddenly appeared with no forethought or advance notice. But I liked him the minute he casually strolled through the always-open door of my mind, glancing idly about as if looking for cobwebs in the corners. I've had numerous occasions to call upon him when, during a pleasant jog through a story, my mind sends me off the path and into a quicksand bog.

So in the interests of gender equality, let's take a brief look at the original muses--immortals all--and their little-known male siblings/counterparts.

Calliope is the muse of Epic Poetry—though from her name I’d have thought she’d have been the muse of pipe-organ players. Although I do write poetry from time to time, none of it has ever come even close to being epic, so we won’t be seeing much of Calliope’s male counterpart, whose name escapes me at the moment.

Clio, muse of History, has a brother, Mike, with whom I've consulted briefly a few times when historical accuracy was a factor in a story, but we don't really hang out together all that much.

Euterpe oversees Lyric Poetry; and she looks so much like her sister Calliope that I find it hard to tell them apart. Her brother's name is Algernon, and he's such an unbearable snob that we don't speak.

Melpomene…I really love that name…and her brother Chuck are the muses of Tragedy, and they tend to be so busy in the real world, I try to avoid calling them too often.

Terpsichore, muse of Choral Dance and Song, has taken out a restraining order against me for my total lack of talent in either of her fields of expertise, and while I know she has a male counterpart, he also not only refuses to speak to me but won’t even let me know his name.

Erato, whose name pretty much gives away what her domain is, is the muse of Love Poetry, and her male counterpart’s name is Butch, who wears a lot of leather. I’m afraid Butch considers me too much of a wimp to want to spend much time in my company.

Polyhymnia, whose name I also love, is muse of Sacred Poetry, and her brother’s name is Archibald who, like Euterpe's brother Algernon, can be a real pain in the patoot. He considers me a gross buffoon, so we mutually cross the street to avoid running into one another.

(Have you noticed there seem to be an awful lot of muses in charge of poetry?)

Thalia and her brother Skip are the muses of comedy, and I’m really very fond of them, though Skip seems to be a little too fond of whoopee cushions and knock-knock jokes for my taste.

And then, inexplicably, we have Urania, muse of Astrology, who seems to be the black sheep of the Muse family. No one seems really to know what to do with her. I mean, a muse of astrology? Come on! I understand she has a brother named Phil, but apparently he ran off to join the circus when he was very young and hasn’t been heard from since.

Which brings us back to Joe. Joe is my personal muse of fiction writing. For some totally unknown reason, the Greeks never assigned a muse for fiction writing. Four muses devoted to poetry, and not one to fiction writing? And if you’re tempted to say “Well, the Greeks never wrote much fiction,” I beg to strongly differ, pointing you to the Iliad and the Odyssey and, in fact, to all of mythology, including the muses. You’d have thought they’d have come up with a muse for it. Well, now they have Joe, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re stuck with him.

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

Monday, February 06, 2012


Time is a river comprised of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years. History is the channel carved by the river.

We all remember significant dates in our individual lives...our birthday and the birthdays of our friends and relatives, anniversaries, significant events which altered our lives. These vary for each of us. We learn, collectively, the significant dates in history taught us in school.

But rarely a single, shocking, history-changing event will burn a date and sometimes an hour into our collective psyche to such a degree that almost every individual alive at the time can instantly recall exactly where they were when the events occurred. I have lived through at least four such events; the attack on Pearl Harbor, the death of President Roosevelt, the assassination of President Kennedy, and 9-11.

Those not alive on December 7, 1941 cannot fully appreciate the immediate, personal impact of the attack on Pearl Harbor had on us as a nation and a people. It is rapidly becoming just another historical date as it...and the people who experienced its immediate effect, fade into history. Its impact was equivalent to 9-11, but because we had never experienced such a national tragedy, we had nothing at all to compare it with.

I distinctly remember my parents and I going to my Aunt Thyra's and Uncle Buck's house and listening to news of the attack on the magnificent old console radio which is still in the family. While I had just turned eight, my cousins Jack, Cork, and Fat--another story--would soon all go off to fight the war. I can only imagine, now, how Aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck must have felt as we listened to that broadcast.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been in office ten months when I was born. He was the only president I knew until I was 12. He had led the nation out of the great depression and through World War II. When he died, on April 12, 1945, just two months before the end of the war, the shock and grief was hard to comprehend. But being only 12 at the time, I was upset mainly because, for the three days between his death and funeral, all regularly scheduled radio programming was suspended, replaced by only music.

On November 23, 1963, I was five years out of college and working as an editor at Duraclean International in Deerfield, Illinois. I remember gathering with coworkers in the parking lot to hear the news on someone's car radio. Again, the effect on the nation was profound beyond description, and like the other incidents cited, its effect is being blurred and lost.

The similarities of the impact on our national psyche and history of the attack on Pearl Harbor and 9-11are many. But somehow, perhaps because 9-11 is fresher in our collective memory--and thanks to television's showing it as it happened, had greater immediacy, superseding Pearl Harbor in sheer incomprehensibility and numbing shock. Horror is not too strong a word.

I recall having seen, years before 9-11, news reports of mothers in Argentina protesting the disappearance of their children taken by the government, carrying photos of the missing. I was deeply moved. But to see, within hours after the towers fell, crowds of Americans walking the streets of an American city in the 21st century carrying photos of missing loved ones and friends was utterly devastating...and I find the memory devastating still.

It is both strange and sad that there are few indelible moments of joy and elation that have had an equal and collective impact on us all. (The end of WWII and man's landing on the moon are the only two that leap immediately to mind.) But we can hope for more.

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

Friday, February 03, 2012

Bearing Burdens

Where did we ever get the idea (and we all seem to have it somewhere in the dark recesses of our brain) that life should be easy? Every human being has a cross...or bear; some bear them far better than others. (I, unfortunately, fall into the "others"). No human life is free from problems, internal and external. The problem is that we are so very close to and familiar with our own, our perspective is warped.

The spark for this particular blog came from looking down at my tee-shirt while finishing my morning coffee-and-donut ritual and seeing not only an embarrassing mass of donut crumbs but large splotches of wetness comprised of drooled coffee and some mysterious liquid which pools, unnoticed, in the front of my mouth, caused by my having almost no physical control over my mouth. I credit all this to the the destruction of my salivary glands in the course of the radiation treatment which cured my tongue cancer, but at a considerable physical price. You would think that after eight years, I'd be used to it. But of course I am not.

The thing about crosses/burdens is that because we carry our own, they naturally seem larger, heavier, and more intimidating than those borne by others...especially those without obvious physical or emotional disabilities. They also, as noted, frequently block our perspective. Because we cannot see into another person's head or body, we have no idea what goes on in there--what may be walking the halls of the mind. Most of us can acknowledge that every human being has problems but, again, we are often incapable of fully understanding our own, let alone anyone else's.

I've always found it interesting that those who do not hesitate to wave their problems like semaphore flags and who are more than willing to describe them in excruciating detail are not really all that interested in hearing about yours. (Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary defines a bore as, "One who talks when you wish him to listen.")

I once knew a woman of whom no one who knew her would dare ask, "How are you?" To do so was to be treated to an endless litany of her physical, personal, and emotional woes. One of her greatest perennial complaints was that she had no friends. I don't think she really had the vaguest idea why. Yet in all the time I knew her, I never once heard her ask anyone how they were, or express the slightest interest in anyone or anything but herself.

I find it far more than significant that those with real, life-effecting, life-changing, and life-threatening physical challenges seldom if ever speak of them. My friend Bil struggled with bone cancer for several years until his death, yet never once complained or asked "Why me?" So I drool. So I feel there are far too many things of which I have been unfairly deprived as a result of my illness and the ravages of time. So what? The fact is that I am alive to complain when so very many others are not. I realize that I probably spend more time than I should--and certainly more time than the facts warrant--splashing around in the shallow end of the Pity Pool, but my awareness of the relative unimportance of my problems in relation to others' keeps me from going in too deeply or spending too much time there.

The very fact of being human presents obstacles to objectivity, including objectivity concerning ourselves. And while it's not easy, and takes practice and effort, we all need to step away from ourselves every now and again to see life and ourselves more clearly. Merely opening our eyes and observing those around us as individual human beings and not just part of that faceless, homogenous mass we too often think of simply as "them" is a good start. An eyes-open visit to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen or large hospital complex like the Mayo Clinic will provide a wake-up call like no other.

We all have problems. Yes. They are very real to us. Yes. Some are very serious indeed, to the point of disrupting our lives. Yes. But the very bottom line is that we are alive and able to deal with them as best we can. Life can be difficult, but it is always better than the alternative.

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

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

More and Less

Why does everything have to be so incredibly complicated? It's really very simple. I've known...known...from earliest childhood that I was somehow very different from everyone else and somehow...special. That was confirmed when, at about seven years old, I saw the face of God looking down at me from a cloud. Really! I did! It's one of my favorite stories and I swear it is true. I know it wasn't just a cloud face, like cloud sailing ships and cloud elephants--they're all the same color as the cloud. I was lying on my back in the grass, looking for them, when the cloud I was looking at split in half, and there he was. Just his face. He had a black beard and rosy cheeks and he was looking from left to right and smiling. But the part of this story which disturbed me at the time and disturbs me still is that when he saw me, he stopped smiling and the two parts of the cloud rejoined and he was gone.

I raced into the house to tell my mother, who merely said, "That's nice," and told me to sit down for lunch. Life's been pretty much like that ever since.

I suppose one of the reasons I acquired the belief that I was special was that every other signal the world, my classmates, and adults, sent me made it painfully clear that nobody other than me (and my parents and Aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck) thought I was special. Maybe God was just giving me a heads-up about what I could expect.

But--and this will come as a great shock to anyone who has been following my blogs for any length of time--I digress. I was talking about the simple facts of More and Less. I fully expect, as my due for being special, More of everything good and Less of anything bad. Is that asking too much? And I'm not being selfish here. I want the same for you. Why do there have to be so many mean-spirited, pointlessly hateful people in the world? Like cockroaches and clouds of tiny flying insects that swarm around your head on a hot summer day, what is their purpose, other than to suck as much happiness and goodness and kindness out of the world as they possibly can?

I am aware that, often, wanting more leads me to unseemly-for-someone-of-my-innate-specialness envy for the More possessed by others. A friend recently returned from Hong Kong...the latest of several trips, and I was overcome with envy. He showed videos he'd taken while on the train from Hong Kong's airport, and waves of envy washed over me. They reminded me very much of the train I'd taken between Florence and Naples during my month in Europe last year, and I suddenly drew myself up short, my envy shoved aside by embarrassment. Shoved aside, but not eliminated or even lessened. How could I be so ungrateful for the wonderful things I've been able to do in my own life? Easy...because they happened to me, they were simply the way things were. They were my due.

Reality, my arch enemy, calmly pointed out how very many people have never had the opportunity to spend a month in Europe, and while I fully realized the truth of that, I countered with the fact that some people go to Europe and Asia and Africa and the world's-worth of other exotic places regularly. To me, a month in Europe was "WOW!"--to some, it's a casual "oh, yes," while glancing at their fingernails.

In fairness to myself (and I believe in always being fair to myself even when others, I feel, are not), I have never met anyone who did not want More of something and Less of other things. It could be argued that the concept of More wouldn't mean anything without the concept of Less. Having More would be like riding up on an endless escalator. Everything in life requires a balance, a contrast, to give us perspective, and appreciation for what we have.

So that's it. No matter what wonderful things or experiences I have or have had, or shall have, I want MORE!

I'd make a lousy Buddhist.

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