Monday, April 30, 2012

The Best of Times

It's a sad but universal fact of the human condition that we often do not fully appreciate the present until it has become the past. I use the photo accompanying this blog as my desktop background, to remind me of one of the very best weeks/best times of my life, recorded in letters to my parents while I was in the U.S. Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga so very many years ago. Here's one of them.

14 July 1956

Dear Folks

The last three days have been a sort of star-spangled climax to my European tour.  They have been more like a vacation; for two days I laid on the Riviera, soaking up the sunlight and swimming in the glass-clear water.  But the best part of it happened like this….

Tom Dolan and I decided Thursday to go ashore and go swimming, just so we could say we’d been swimming on the Riviera.  Neither of us wanted to go to the “Plages Public,” where the sky is all umbrellas and the sand is all people, so we began walking up the half-moon seafront toward Nice.

We had seen, while bicycling, the ruins of a fort with extensions out into the water, and thought we’d stop off there.  These ruins are about halfway up the crescent, just past the cement sea wall which sweeps along most of Cannes’ waterfront.  At the end of the concrete pier, covered with flagstone, steps lead  down to a landing, evidently used at one time for small boats.  Four young guys were already there―all of them between twenty and twenty-three.

Hello, boys―come on down” one called, and then began yodeling (he did it very well).  We couldn’t figure out what they were (nationalities, that is), for they spoke two different languages and English.

We found out that two were Germans, and two were French.  Since the French didn’t speak German, and the Germans didn’t speak French, they “conversed” in English, all of them knowing at least a little of it.  One of the Germans (the one who yodeled) spoke quite good English; his name is Guntar (Goon-tar).  The other’s German name is unspellable, but it is pronounced “YO-hah-kiem”; he looks typically Bavarian―blondish hair, blue eyes, and a fascinating way of speaking German. Tom also speaks  German, so they got on well right from the start.  The Frenchmen’s names are Marc (“Mahk”) and Michel.

All of them were campers―Guntar and Yohakiem hitchhiking from Munich, Germany; Michel and Marc came the same way from Paris, where both work.  Yohakiem likes Americans because “there are many American soldiers in Munich, and they fight a lot.”  Guntar was part Swiss (i.e. the yodels), and learned English from the American soldiers around Munich.

Marc is a bartender in Paris, and Michel works just outside Paris, though what he does I don’t know―he is the Junior Champion Skin-Diver of all France, as we soon discovered without anyone telling us. 

We spent the afternoon talking (many gestures; “compre?”, “understand?” and such), swimming and generally fooling around.  The water beside the landing is about twelve to twenty feet deep, and you can see every rock on the bottom.  One of Marc and Michel’s favorite games was throwing a water-filled bottle in, letting it sink to the bottom, and then diving down after it―they never missed.  Another trick was to dive down, pick up a large white rock, and walk across the bottom with it.

Oh, I forgot to tell you how one changes into and out of a bathing suit on the Riviera!  One carries along a towel, naturally.  When wishing to change, sometimes in the middle of the beach, one wraps the towel around one’s middle, like an apron.  The trick is in fixing it so it won’t fall off, which might prove embarrassing.  Then simply remove your pants (or skirt) and slip on the bathing suit.  Remove the towel, and Voila!  Oh, these French are clever, I tell you

Guntar wandered off to pick up sea shells and look for crabs (“for souvenirs”); Yohakiem, in his plastic bathing suit, slept.  Marc, Michel, Tom and I splashed around, jumping off the edge of the pier where it came out and covered the landing.  

Marc and Michel wore identical red-and-blue male Bikinis; I wore the old pink boxer suit I bought in Pensacola.

About sundown we all went to supper at a little place miles away Tom had found a couple days before.  Guntar was wearing Levi’s and cowboy boots, with a wide leather belt embellished with cows and brands.  Yohakiem  wore shorts―which made him look more Bavarian than ever―and  sandals.  Michel and Marc wore Levi’s and moccasins.  Tom and I wore sailor suits.

The bar―which was rather out of the way―was a small, old-ish place with large, small-paned windows.  The lady who owned the bar speaks seven languages, and was very friendly.  Actually, it is not a restaurant, but if you want something to eat, she will run out and get it.  We explained that Marc, Michel, Guntar and Yohakiem were probably on a low budget and asked her advice accordingly.  She suggested an omelet, some ham, chicken soup, and salad.  Her husband ran out and returned with a head of lettuce and some carrots, fresh from the garden.  The soup was delicious―a large bowl, with noodles.  The ham and omelet were also very good, though the omelet was a little underdone for my taste.  We also had a glass of wine and later a large bottle.  Total price for the meal and wine?  2,500 Francs ($8.00 for 6 of us.).

While waiting for dinner, and afterwards, everyone began doing stunts―Guntar yodeled (he is very good), Tom did the Charleston, Marc and Michel did balancing tricks with chairs (i.e. holding one’s body at a 90 degree  angle in the air while holding onto the arms of the chairs).  Guntar tried―unsuccessfully―to swallow burning matches.  He is really a natural comedian, though he doesn’t mean to be.

After we left the bar, we walked arm and arm down the street, singing old German war songs.

A grand time was had by all.

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, April 27, 2012


I am having problems posting this morning's blog and, despite at least eight attempts to fix it, cannot.  It is posted on the Blog page of my website ( and I hope you might go there to find it.

Thanks for your patience...I wish I had some.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Other People"

We live in a world of other people. There are over nine billion of us, but in fact all of humanity consists of only two beings: a "me"--the individual human being as seen to himself (okay, "himself/herself"...let's not get bogged down in political correctness here) and everybody else, or, as I call them, "other people." As an example of the infinite complexity and confusion of human existence, to me you qualify as "other people;" to you, I qualify. 

I know there's nothing like pointing out the obvious, but from what I can tell, obvious as it is, very few people apparently ever stop to think of this, or of how it affects nearly every aspect of our existence.

I suspect there's some form of mental teflon coating applied to the vast majority of humans at some point before birth which allows them, once born, to move through the mass of "other people" with a minimum of awareness of the nine-plus-billion-to-one ratio. There are, of course, a few of us who, being aware that the world is divided into "me" and "other people," find it far more difficult to maneuver smoothly through the world. While the term "other people" acknowledges that there are exceptions, the vast bulk of humans would fall into this monolithic category.

We look around at the "other people" surrounding us with the gnawing suspicion that they all belong to some secret and at times mildly sinister club in which "me" holds no more than an occasional guest pass. "Other people," true members of the club, have obvious perks and privileges not afforded to "me." Look at your peers, your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends and family. "Other people" almost never seem to get really, throwing-things-and-yelling frustrated. "Other people" appear casually at ease in any situation. When required to speak, "other people" always seem to know what to say, and how to express themselves clearly. While every human has problems, "other people's" are, from the ease with which they resolve them, never anywhere as complicated as those constantly harassing "me." "Other people" have more money, more friends and admirers, and are more successful and graceful. "Other people" are more brave, more kind, more thoughtful. "Other people" never let little things bother them. "Other people" would never think of writing a blog on the subject of "other people."

This vast, vague unity which "other people" share is, I suspect, the result of something in the human DNA. Since I cannot, much as I really would like to, accept the existence of a two-armed, two-legged God who has one iota of awareness of or concern for us as a race, let alone as individuals, DNA has to be the key to whatever there is that unites and guides "other people" (which, from your perspective as "me", includes, well, me. I did mention that all this is very complex, didn't I?).  Whatever it is, it is responsible for us forming civilizations and societies and families and relationships and paying taxes and stopping at red lights and impelling us to make ourselves into something more advanced than we are.

Before there were codified laws, we had established myths and legends, which served as unspoken but very real societal rules of conduct. The contentiousness and aggression which predated our standing erect were vital to our survival as a race and to separating ourselves from other animals. But as our numbers grew and we began gathering together in larger and larger groups, we realized the necessity for some sort of order. Counterproductive, negative, and downright dangerous actions are regrettably still with us, and the myth of Sisyphus, condemned to constantly push a huge rock up a hill is in fact an analogy for mankind trying to deal with the residual effects of our primeval past.

Whatever factors formed our societies and cultures have carved out and held us to a seemingly arbitrary set of to standards to which everyone is held, and to which everyone but "me" effortlessly conforms.

I suppose that those with the ability to walk among other people without the slightest awareness of all the niggles of interrelationships and with little or no thought to the disparities between "me" and "other people" are, in fact, blessed. But all things said and done, I'm really glad I'm not "other people." Not that I have much choice.

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, April 23, 2012


I found myself drawn, as I am from time to time, to revisit the letters I wrote my parents while I was in the Navy so very long ago (1954-1956). I guess I like to check to see what the oh, so very young me was doing on a particular day a lifetime ago. This one is about as typical as they come. Nothing exciting, just an echoed report of a real life lived moment to moment in then-real time by a very real but very different me. I hope you might enjoy stepping back in time with me.

24 April 1956

Dear Folks

I’m starting tonite’s letter early, so that what it may lack in quality it may partially atone for in quantity.  Of course, like I said last night, if I insist on writing so small, no matter how much I write it won’t look like much.

Slept like a log last night, and hated to get up, as usual.  Today was a second-class day―cloudy but not really too bad.  Oh, I forgot to mention in passing the last few days―Saturday while we were out strolling along the flight deck, we sat down on the edge where the catwalk had been torn away by the storm.  When we looked down at the water, I couldn’t believe it at first―there were literally thousands of jellyfish―so light and transparent they could hardly be seen, floating just below the surface.  They were completely surrounding the ship; whether we attracted them or they’re like that all over, I don’t know.  They were almost a solid mass, just lying there, wafting slowly back and forth with the motion of the waves.

We’ve had more mail calls in the past week than in the preceding two weeks.  Got a letter from you today, mailed on the 19th, which isn’t bad, all things considered.

Oh, about that Fantasia record again, mother―I know it has Swan Lake on it―it has all his great works, and I think it is beautiful.  Please get it and I’ll pay you for it.

I have a box for your binoculars, dad, and will send them on in a few days.  I think I’ll also put in several rolls of film with it; you may look at it once, if you like.

Tell me, mother―do you want me to pick up any silks or brocades if I get a chance in Istanbul/Ismir (whichever one)?  I can get just plain cloth―roll or bale or whatever you call it―by the yard.  I still kick myself for not having gotten any in Beirut.   It was $9 a meter (39”), but would be about $15 or $20 in the States.  I won’t pass up a chance like that again, if you’d like some.  Oh, well….

Athens is supposed to have some good buys, too.  If there is anything you want in the way of practically anything, let me know and I’ll try to pick it up.  After all, my Mediterranean Cruise is just about over.

Here are some “advised buys” in Athens: “dolls in regional costumes, ceramics, ash trays, vases, plates, etc.; hand made silver and silver plated jewelry, mirrors, desk sets, etc., hand embroidery and hand woven covers for tables and luncheon sets, bags, blouses, and children’s clothes; hand woven silk and cotton by the yard; hand woven mufflers and scarves, men’s ties,…..”  If you want me to pick up any of this stuff, either for you or for Xmas presents for the relatives, let me know.  I have, or will have next payday, about $200 on the books, so you needn’t worry about my having enough money.

Don’t count too heavily on my getting out early―the other day I did what I should have done the first time I heard those rumors―called a buddy in Personnel and asked him.  Personnel Office handles all transfers and discharges, and said they hadn’t heard a word about anyone getting out early.  It’s possible, of course, but then almost anything is possible in the Navy.

Oh, yes―it’s official now about being 3rd Class (“glorified seaman”) so you can address my letters AK3 instead of AN.

It’s been awfully warm down here (below decks) lately.  Guess Spring is here.

Any further ideas or thoughts on coming out to meet me?  You can no doubt get last-minute plane reservations at almost any time. I was just thinking how long it’s been since I’ve seen you.  I remember mother standing before the Cathedral in New Orleans, and eating toasted cheese sandwiches by the swimming pool at the motel.  That was a very nice place―too bad we didn’t get any pictures of it.  And I remember both of you when you got off the planes―mom in a brown suit or dress―I can see it, but don’t recall which it was) and dad looking out that weird egg-shaped window.

Well, I think I’ll start cutting that box down to mail the binoculars.  More tomorrow.


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, April 20, 2012


"Glossolalia or speaking in tongues is the fluid vocalizing (or less commonly, the writing of), speech-like syllables which lack any readily comprehended meaning." 

So sayeth Wikipedia, and who am I to question so august an authority as Wikipedia? The fact is that I find myself submerged in a world of glossolalia. I assume I speak English, the language of my people, but from the look of total incomprehension on the faces of those to whom I am trying to logically express a point, I assume I am in fact speaking Glossolalian. (As long as I'm speaking a made-up language, I might as well use made-up words.)

Interestingly, while I am far less prone to written Glossolalia than spoken, it extends into all areas of my comprehension. I am totally incapable of understanding written directions of any kind, and the more steps the directions involve, the more Glossolalian they become. Purchasing a box of crackers and reading the directions "To open, lift flap" or "Press down, lift up" can send me into paroxysms of anxiety and frustration. Attempting to follow those four simple words leads, five times out of six, to my standing amid a pile of shredded packaging and crackers scattered over a radius of ten feet.

Glossolalia is the preferred language of the internet and seemingly required for instructions for joining internet sites or downloading programs. I, for whom patience is far more rare than hens' teeth, have spent untold hours scrolling down through page after page of questions which I must answer in order to either join or download, only to hit "Submit" or "Download" and receive a blanket "Error" message or find myself with no explanation back at the start of the process. I justify my hitting "Delete" with a hammer by telling myself I already belong to more sites/have more downloads than I can handle. And I hardly need to point out that Glossolalia and internet spam are synonymous.

Glossolalia's power derives largely from the natural human desire not to appear stupid to others. It is, as a rule, simply easier to go along with whatever you're being told than to admit that you don't understand it.

For many, Glossolalia is the epitome of the moral of the Emperor's New Clothes. People will go to great lengths to avoid admitting that they have no idea whatsoever of what they've just been told. Far better, and far more common, to simply assume a look of deep thought and mumble "Yes, yes! How very true and profound."

Politicians speak fluent Glossolalian, and do so with such ease and authority that the listener assumes that it it is his/her fault for not having a clue as to what the politician is talking about.

Advertisers are also experts in Glossolalian. Though I have heard the term "...for well-qualified buyers" at least ten-thousand times, I still have no idea whatsoever what a "well-qualified buyer" is. Many advertisers are under the impression that glossolalian promises combined with speaking as loudly and in as excited a manner as possible will make the cheese in their mousetrap irresistible to prospective buyers.

Perhaps it is just the fact that I have been aged out of mainstream music, but I sincerely believe that the "lyrics" of popular music are far more based in glossolalia than in meaningful thought. Peppering a song...or speech...with explicatives is in fact a common form of glossolalia.

One day I might wake up and suddenly everything I hear, see, or read will make perfect sense, and glossolalia will be just another arcane word. But I doubt it. 

'Ya know what I'm sayin'?

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, April 18, 2012

Stupidity vs Ignorance

In one of my little epiphanies, while pondering the fact that our society increasingly is a veritable Titanic, sinking in the frigid sea of stupidity, it struck me that the amazing ignorance of the simplest of facts…like where China is on a map of the world…made me realize that stupidity is simply ignorance ignored. An old saying came to mind: “He who knows not, and knows not he knows not, he is stupid: shun him. He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is ignorant: teach him. But he who knows and knows he knows, he is wise: follow him.”

There are outstanding exceptions to the stupidity factor, of course, but it does seem that the ratio of stupidity to ignorance seems to be growing steadily in favor of stupidity. We all are ignorant of so very many things, and there seems to be more and more out there that we really should know just to keep up with the world. But this is, again ignorance, and can be overcome if we have the desire to expend the time and effort to do so. The problem is that so few people do think it’s worth it.

There was an ad running on TV some time ago about a young woman who is grateful to some company or other because people there help her father read his mail “because he never learned how.” This is, on the surface, touching. However, I fear my reaction is always: “For God sakes, man, if you can’t read, learn!” There was no indication that he might be dyslexic--learning to read can be difficult for dyslexics, but not impossible--and no sign of mental impairment 
to keep this man from learning, but instead he willingly suffered the embarrassment of having to depend on others for something there was no reason he could not do for himself.

Having thus said, I just remembered that when I first moved to L.A., I met a nice young guy whom I started seeing. One time we were going somewhere and got lost. I pulled up to a phone booth and asked him to go look up the address. He went into the booth and came out five minutes later saying he couldn’t find it. There were a couple other similar incidents until I realized that he could not read! I was shocked. The poor kid was excruciatingly embarrassed by his inability, but he said he didn’t want to learn now because he was too ashamed. Dear Lord!

Ignorance is correctable. Stupidity is not. Our educational system (“Children is our future,” as our beloved former president George W. Bush once said) is in serious trouble. Good, devoted teachers are required to concentrate on those facts which will enable their students  to pass tests rather than teaching to impart knowledge. Teacher layoffs, budget cuts, and the insistence of too many school boards to pass failing students just to move them through the system, forces us lower and lower in comparison with other nations (we're 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math). And it is a frighteningly slippery slope. Parents who were not themselves properly educated and have no interest in learning tend to produce children--“Be fruitful and multiply” seems to be one of the few biblical instructions to which most people pay any real attention--who are, if possible, even more stupid than their parents.

Ignorance is frustrating. Stupidity is frightening. There is precious little we, as individuals, can do to singlehandedly halt the relentless advance of stupidity, but there is one thing any one of us can do: read, and do whatever we can to encourage others to do the same. If there are children in your life, read to them. For a child, one of the most effective tools in combating ignorance is a library card. But it is equally important for adults, and each of us can help keep ignorance from morphing into stupidity by the simple act of giving books for every occasion calling for a gift. When you finish a book, do everything you can to pass it on to someone, or donate it to a library, a hospital, a nursing home, anywhere there is a chance someone else may share your pleasure. 

Of course, as a writer, I have a vested interest in people reading. But whether you read my books or not, please read. When you hold a book, the future is, indeed, in your hands.

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, April 16, 2012


Ignorance, we're told, is bliss, and if that is the world must be filled with blissful people. But it strikes me that acceptance is also bliss and can be just as dangerous as ignorance. To a degree, acceptance is essential to our ability to function from day to day, in that the more we are willing to accept, the less time we have to spend on thinking about things before acting on them. Acceptance, of course, is vital to our survival, and I suspect is built into our DNA, but I'm quite sure that whoever designed our DNA assumed we would be willing to place some sort of individual limits on it. Alas, that seems not to be the case.

Animals accept. Without question. Whatever happens, happens. The very ability to question is in direct ratio to intelligence, and most animals do not have the mental ability to comprehend the concept of questioning. We do. That we too often do not choose to exercise that ability is a serious flaw in the mental process. It is far easier to simply accept whatever we're told. 

Far too often, acceptance springs more readily from laziness than from thought. Why think for ourselves when we can simply accept what other people speaking with apparent authority are more than willing to do our thinking for us? The problem is that when we do so, we allow ourselves to be manipulated.

Politicians, religious leaders, and zealots of all stripes are master manipulators. They assure us that they have the answer to every question, the solution to every problem. That their answers frequently make not an iota of sense, or that their proposed solutions almost without exception involve the acquisition of money or power for themselves seems never even to occur to those being manipulated. The ceding of independent thought creates a vacuum too easily filled by whatever the manipulators choose to put there.  Hatred and fear are among the most common additives.

The only time we tend to balk at automatic acceptance is when we perceive that acceptance as a notable and unacceptable disruption to our personal life. And even then, we tend merely to react with emotion rather than thought. We seldom take the time to weigh the pros and cons, or try to figure out an alternative.

Ours is a world of generalities, of surface-skimming, of taking the path of least resistance. Anything to avoid having to think about motivations or effect. If something we hear or read disturbs us, we tend to just let it slide, which is in fact tacit acceptance. We receive egregiously erroneous or hateful email forwardings by a friend, relative, or acquaintance, and we simply let it pass without comment. (When was the last time let a sender know you do not agree with one of these manipulative forwardings and/or requested you not be sent similar messages? Nah...easier tacit acceptance than risk making a wave, or even a ripple.)

None of the above is meant as a blanket condemnation of acceptance, of course. We started with some of the advantages of acceptance. Accepting those aspects of our lives which we simply cannot change no matter how hard we try--including our past and irreversible physical limitations, for example--  enables us to move on with our lives. Refusal to accept what cannot be changed is an anchor upon the soul. To accept something is not the same as liking it; it merely raises the anchor. As with so many things in life, the secret to success lies in finding the balance between what can/should be accepted and what cannot.

And yet there is also something within the human spirit which, even realizing that resistance is futile, will fight acceptance, literally, to the death. To refuse to accept those things you believe with all your heart and soul to be wrong, though all the laws of physics and all the factual and philosophical armies of the world be aligned against you, is futile. But it can be euphoric.

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, April 13, 2012

Backward, Turn Backward

Elizabeth Akers Allen (1838-1915) wrote a poem called "Rock Me to Sleep," which began with the famous line "Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight." That poem probably inspired the 2008 Brad Pitt film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I've not seen the film, had a dream the other night where time had indeed begun running backwards. I emerged backwards from sleep one evening and began moving backward through the day. And with each moment I moved backward, my memory of what then became the future disappeared. I had full memory of the past, of course, and was aware of what was happening.

Dreams being what they are, I accepted this as perfectly natural. I knew that I would eventually move backward through my cancer recovery, treatment, and symptoms until I emerged from that period able to eat again: to actually eat and chew and taste and swallow and take a huge bite out of a Big Mac, and look up at a passing airplane, and be totally oblivious to the fact that there was a time, in my vanished future, where these things were impossible for me. 

I would move backwards from Pence, Wisconsin to Los Angeles, to my mom’s crossing from death to life in the hospital, to her cancer disappearing, to my dad’s being alive again, to my original years in Chicago, to graduating from college, to going back into the navy, to enlisting in the Navcads, to graduating from high school…well, you get the idea.

It was really a most interesting dream, but it reminded me that, as much time as I spend dwelling on the past in these blogs and elsewhere, for all the wonderful things I would re-experience while moving back through time, there would also be an incredible amount of pain. The fact that it would be experienced backward would be of some comfort since I'd know that whatever heartache or physical pain I was going through would always get better and eventually disappear completely. But pain is pain no matter in which direction you’re moving through it.

Things would get easier and easier as time regressed. Fewer and fewer major problems. More and more reliance on the love and protection of parents and no-longer-dead family. And eventually, in moving backward in time, I would come to the the moment of my birth. My mother would reverse through her pregnancy, and I from fetus to embryo to zygote until I reentered that place where babies go before they are conceived. It is exactly the same place, I believe with all my heart, that we go when, moving forward through time, we however reluctantly reach the end of our allotted time on earth. And I think that is why I have never really been afraid of death. We came from nothing, we return to nothing. And how can one fear nothing?

I’m not quite sure why I seem to take so much pleasure―which I must or I wouldn’t be doing it―in speculating on the impossible. But I find “what if?” to be among the most fascinating of phrases. I suppose it is another reflection of the fact that I really have never been satisfied with the way things are, and always want…and often truly ache for…what I cannot have.

So I spend endless hours in the attic of my mind, sitting cross-legged on the dusty floor, opening boxes of long-sealed memories and watching tiny spiders in the rafters spin dreams. All of which provide me with an endless supply of “never was” and “never could be” to contemplate and play with.

Imagining having time move backward is just another variation in the game of “what if?” But while I fully realize that I can never have all those things that I so desperately want, it certainly doesn’t stand in the way of my wanting them. And it’s a fun game.

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, April 11, 2012

Playing the Game

I never cease to be fascinated with the mental games people play...not so much with others as with themselves. It's often referred to as "the game of life," and each of us has, consciously or subconsciously, our own little game board and our own set of rules, including an image of ourselves which may or may not have any relation to reality,  by which we play it.

I think of myself as a very nice guy, and yet I far too frequently am reminded by my actions that I am not. The most recent of these reminders happened yesterday and involved a woman in my building. She is probably in her early-to-mid fifties, with some type of physical affliction that confines her to a wheelchair, and I rankle every time I see her. She is the most foul-mouthed, thoroughly unpleasant human being I can recall having come in contact with in recent years. I think I mentioned that she and I were once waiting for an elevator and when it came, she went in first. When I stepped in, she went ballistic, screaming and yelling for me to "get the f**k" out.

I am sincerely sorry for whatever happened in her life to make her the way she is. I know I should be more understanding of her condition and not be upset by her infuriating behavior, but I am, and I always respond with penultimate condescension and sarcasm. ("Of course, ma'am. Whatever you say, ma'am. And you have a wonderful day, too, ma'am.") That's really beneath me, and I always feel guilty...later...for not living up to my own expectations. But would I be much different than her if I were in her position? Oh, Lord, I would certainly hope so!

In my defense, I can honestly say her disability has nothing to do with my reaction to her. I would react the same way to any obnoxious individual.

And while many of us take comfort (however well-grounded in fact it may be) in thinking we are better than we are, some of us--particularly those with low self esteem issues--frequently go in the opposite direction and tend to focus on our negative qualities; on things we have done which have embarrassed or shamed us, or put us in awkward and uncomfortable situations. The fact that it is unlikely that anyone but ourselves remembers or were even aware of them does not make the memory any less painful. And for some reason, like picking at a scab, we seem incapable of just letting them alone.

Being either unrealistically egocentric or unrealistically self-deprecatory has its own set of problems. Unfortunately, I am an almost equal balance of both--my own little Yin and Yang of positive and negative. My ego is the proverbial irresistible force meeting the immovable object of my self-deprecation.

Of course each of us must, in the game of life, play the cards we are dealt. But some of us are, by the nature of the game, dealt better hands than others; and some play whatever they are dealt much better than others. One of my biggest problems is and has always been that I simply do not even understand  or follow my own rules of the game. I suspect that no one does, and each of us largely makes up our own based on how we see others playing. I am in awe of those who play with seemingly total self-assurance. They may well be bluffing but I have no way of knowing that. All I know is that I haven't a clue as to how to play.

No one can deny the game is infinitely complex, and making it even more so is the fact, seldom acknowledged, that it comes with a timer. Therefore, part of the uncertainty of the game is that very, very few of those who play the game know when the time will be up.

I'm beginning to think that the object of the game is simply to play it as well as we can, even with all the uncertainties and unknowns, and to play it in such a way that we end the game as better people than when we began. 

And we must always be aware that we won't be playing it again.

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, April 09, 2012

The Writing Life

When my original publisher died last year and the company went out of business, it left the first ten books of my Dick Hardesty Mystery series effectively out of print. My current publisher, Zumaya, which has published four subsequent books in the series, agreed to reissue the first ten. While I was vastly relieved to know the first ten would not simply vanish forever, I am well aware that, even at two or three reissues a year, it's still going to take about three to five years to get them all back into circulation. One has already been reissued, and a couple more are supposed to (the operative phrase) come out later this year.

Of the nineteen or so books I've written, only one is a stand-alone: Calico, a western/romance/mystery/adventure. I've been asked several times why I never wrote a sequel, to which my answer is always the same: there is no need. I told the story I wanted to tell, and the protagonists rode off into the sunset where I know they are living happily ever after.

People who don't write books seldom if ever think about it--and there is no reason why they should--but there are considerable differences between writing "stand-alones"--the vast majority of books, whose plots and characters are all neatly wrapped up within the covers of a single book--and books written as part of a series, which is primarily what I write.

Series present the writer with challenges not found in stand-alone books, primary among them the fact that the same characters tend to show up in more than one book...and often in every a series.  The number of returning characters varies widely, of course, depending on the writer, but with the Dick Hardesty series there are at least a dozen, with several more popping in from time to time. And because the series is set in the same (unnamed) city, so do certain geographical and physical features--bars, streets, restaurants, parks, public buildings. While places need not be reintroduced in each book, for the sake of the reader who comes into a series several books in, characters must be reintroduced to avoid confusion over who is who and what their relation is to other characters. After 14 books, this reintroduction process gets a little tricky. It has to be done in such a way that the new reader will know who they are without eliciting a "yeah, yeah, we know" response from regular readers. None of this is a problem in a stand-alone book.

When I wrote the first book in what was to become the Dick Hardesty Mystery series, I had absolutely no intention that it would be followed by thirteen subsequent books with the same basic setting and the same characters. But detectives and mysteries, by their very nature, lend themselves to moving from case to case, from story to story. And in series as in life, there are always new stories to tell. It has reached the point where I consider each book just a continuation of the evolution of the lives of the characters, of whom I...and I'm delighted to say many of my readers...have grown quite fond.

Authors routinely, if not always consciously, give their protagonists some of their own characteristics, traits, and beliefs. It took me awhile to realize that Dick Hardesty was in effect if not in fact, an alternate-universe "me" and I take an odd comfort in this. It is an advantage I have over non-writers. I have given to Dick my outlooks on life, my basic beliefs, my sense of humor. And he, in turn, has given me a de facto family in his partner Jonathan and their young charge, Joshua, which I do not in fact have in my own life. But writers are quite good at living vicariously, and I take great pleasure and comfort in it.

How long can a series run? That depends on the writer and the readers. If the writer does not burn out, and if the reader does not tire of the characters or stories, it can go on indefinitely. To protect myself from burnout with the Dick Hardesty series, I've started a second series, the Elliott Smith paranormal mysteries, to alternate books with the Dick Hardesty series and this gives me a different set of characters and circumstances to work with on each book. Works for me, and I hope it works for my readers.

Oh, and if you'll excuse a little what is called BSP ("Blatant Self Promotion"), I'd like to tell anyone who's not read my books that they can read the first chapter of any or all of them on my website

Thanks for listening.

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, April 06, 2012

Speaking Spamese

Once an addict, always an addict. But I am doing quite well, thank you, and feel my addiction to internet spam is under control. I'm like an alcoholic in a fully-stocked bar and there is no way I can avoid being aware of being surrounded and constantly assaulted by temptation. But I find that shifting my focus helps. So, while I do steal an occasional glance at the opening words, I focus my fascination on what is actually being said.

According to the Linguistic Society of America, there are 6,800 languages spoken in the world. I am proud to claim the discovery of the 6801st: Spamese. This language is unique in that its most distinguishing characteristic...and an absolute necessity for speaking that it makes no sense to anyone who speaks the other 6,800, and is totally devoid of either coherence or logic.

Remember, the purpose of the opening words of any message is to gain your confidence and get you to respond, and I am awed by their marvelosity--okay, so it's not a word; who cares? I beg you to read the following fine examples of fluent Spamese, exactly as I received them, slowly, and more than once, to savor the sheer beauty of thought and composition:

LET US WORK TOGETHER AS PARTNER--My names are Mr. Mike Olowo and a staff of Independent National Electoral Commission... 

Urgent Message From Madam Sara - From Mrs Sara Jacobs. Hello Dearest, With Due Respect and Humanity, I was compelled....

Hello My Good Friend, - Hello My Good Friend, Greeting from Hon. Martin Kume contacted you long ago, I'm happy to...

Barrister Pepe Gonzales -Your Utmost Attention and Sincerity is Required...

Ibrahim M. Koussa - Legal Notice - Good Day. Following the gazette by the World Bank Group to all financial institutions... 

J.W. - Vital Information for you - Looking through the attached message will be of a huge essence... 

Uk Lottery Organization - This message belongs to the owner of this email address...

FBI - $ This is or you who lost your money to scammers back, reply back for your money back...

International Police - FROM INTERPOL POLICE FORCE UNIT - Attn: you are welcome to desk of Chie Hon,Jeff Robert Carl,International Interopol....

INTERNATIONAL POLICE - from the international police authority United States section (IPA)... 


JP MORGAN CHASE BANK - This is to let you know that you are having us$5.5m, in my bank jp Morgan... 

Bank of America - Customer Service - For your security, we have temporarily prevented access to your account... (No matter that I don't have an account with Bank of America.)

Women's Professional Net - Congratulations you have been chosen for Registry of Distinguished Women -click here... (I do hope being a man will not stand in my way.)

And in the time it has taken to write this blog, another 13 messages have appeared in my spam folder. I guess it won't hurt to take a peek.

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, April 04, 2012

The Long Ride

I finally had the chance to watch the recent movie, The Help, about the lives of "colored" maids in 1963 Mississippi. I recommend it highly to anyone not yet born at the time, or who were there but might have forgotten what it was like in America not all that long ago.

It sent me running back to a letter I had written my parents while I was a 21-year-old Naval Aviation Cadet in deep-south Pensacola, Florida...a green-as-grass boy from the North in a world I'd never realized existed. It was 1954, nearly a decade before the events portrayed in the movie. I was amazed then and I am amazed now at how human beings can behave the way they do, and how "people of color"--one of the many euphemisms (Negroes, Blacks, African Americans) applied to a large segment of our population could possibly have tolerated such treatment, or how any society calling itself civilized could have permitted it.

Here's one of my letters, word for word as I wrote it fifty-eight years ago:

I’ve met a very interesting character down south.  His name is Jim Crow.  He is a barefooted little girl, an old man in coveralls, a well-dressed man in a business suit.  I had a nodding acquaintance with him the first day I arrived in Pensacola and rode a city bus.  A sign says “WHITE seat from front to rear of coach―colored seat from rear to front of coach―Florida Law.”  He is so quiet at times, you are scarcely aware he exists.  At other times, he is  a vicious, despicable animal.
As I said, at times you aren’t even aware he is around, until suddenly it dawns on you that he is conspicuous in his absence.  It came to me in a drugstore, when two well-dressed women came to the fountain.  Though there were plenty of empty seats, they stood at the end of the counter and asked for two milkshakes, which the counterman made and gave to them in covered paper cartons.  They disappeared then―I don’t know where they went, but they were gone.
It was then I began noticing―the bus, trains, and plane depots with their “Colored Waiting Room”, the restaurants, the theaters (“Colored Entrance” via an outside fire escape to the balcony), the “For Colored Only” taverns (in the slum parts of town, of course).  It is most apparent, however, on the transportation systems.
Coming back to downtown New Orleans from the amusement park, Pontchartrain Beach, I was almost the only person on the bus as it started back from the end of its run.  I sat, as I usually do, about even with the back door.  The silver hand-rails along the back of each seat, I noticed, had two holes drilled in the top.  I gave it no notice until six Negro teen-aged boys got on the bus.  They came to the rear and picked up a wooden sign from the back seat and placed it on the hand rail of the seat across from me.  It said “For Colored Only.”
On the bus from Mobile to Pensacola, I  sat alone in a seat for two while five Negroes stood in the aisles.  A mother and three small children got on the bus; the kids were cute as only colored children can be.  One was a little girl about three, in bare feet, carrying a huge handbag.  She came grinning down the aisle with her two brothers, who were carrying large bags of groceries.  After a few minutes, the little girl, who hadn’t yet learned that Negroes must stand if whites sit, started to crawl up onto the seat next to me.  The mother scolded her and started to pull her off the seat, but I said if she wanted to sit there, she was perfectly welcome to.  The mother was evidently surprised, and said “thank you,” and the little girl sat clutching the handbag and grinned at me as the bus roared on….
Back in Pensacola, a Negro Marine was the only colored person on the bus back to the base.  He sat in one of the side seats like we have at home.  Five or six white kids, about ten to fifteen, got on and stood clustered up around the back door.  There were a lot of empty seats―the side seat opposite the Marine, and the entire back seat.  The bus driver stopped the bus and said “Would you colored folks mind sitting in the back so these people can sit down.”
I pity the Negro sailors, marines and Navcads stationed here.  They can live with use, eat with us, and sleep with us, but they cannot ride a public bus with us.

It's hard to imagine, now, that we once were like that; we've come a very long way. But the ghosts of the past still lurk in the shadows of today; and we forget at our peril.
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, April 02, 2012

Perchance to Dream

I love dreams. The prospect of dreaming is, for me, one of the high points of going to bed.  

Last night I woke up with a topic for a fantastic blog, and had the perfect title: “Whither Luxembourg?” It was to be a lighthearted piece (and, as I recall, actually had me chuckling) speculating on how, if people can’t find the United States on a map, they could ever be expected to find Luxembourg…let alone Andorra…and that how, since no one could find them, they in fact ceased to exist, and no one noticed.

As with all my dreams, it had deeply profound undertones, though I can seldom recall exactly what they were.

The study of dreams is a fascinating one, though as with many things, trying too close an examination robs it of its wonder and becomes rather like removing petals from a rose to find out what makes the rose beautiful. To me, dreaming is vaguely like writing without the use of the fingers—and totally free of the confines of logic. When I write, I tell you stories. When I dream, I tell myself stories.

I’m pretty sure I’ve done a blog on dreams before: I’ve reached the point where after several years of  blogs there is bound to be some repetition, so I hope you’ll excuse me if I say some of the same things I’ve said before. (Though if I can’t remember them, how can I expect you to?)

At any rate, I am blessed that I cannot remember the last time I had a nightmare, though occasionally a disturbing dream will crop up. On a scale of 1-10, the vast majority of my dreams fall into the 7-and-above range. I've read that dreams of flying, in one form are another, are among the most common, and they definitely are my favorite, 

They say that the fact that one tends to dream just before waking up makes it seem as though one has been dreaming longer than actually is the case. But it does seem to me that I spend much of the night dreaming.

Perhaps it is because I am a writer that my dreams are so varied, and so vivid. I dream in dream-logical stories, I usually dream in color, I have dreamt full musicals with original choreography and score and a cast of hundreds, and on occasion I dream…and this is very difficult to explain…in concepts. I have dreamed in weights and in reams of paper and in cardboard boxes instead of word-thoughts. Interesting, but confusing and not really all that much fun.

But to me, the very best, most wondrous dreams of all are those very, very rare, happy dreams which I swear are reality. Leaping off a cliff and soaring through forested canyons and knowing…knowing…that I really, really am flying is nothing short of totally euphoric.

Though I seldom dream about my parents or those people whose loss I so frequently bewail here in my blogs, when I do dream of them it is wonderful because the wall of knowing they are dead comes completely down. So when Dad walks into the kitchen in a dream, or Mom appears in some setting, doing something, it’s as simple as that. Dad is walking into the kitchen; Mom is wherever she appears, doing whatever it is she is doing. No need for grief or a sense of loss. We're together again, and everything is fine.

And that for me is what dreams are…assurance that things are fine, and that all I have to do is lie back, relax, and enjoy them. I hope they are the same for you.

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 ( ).