Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lucky Me

The photo accompanying this blog is of my mom and me and my dog, Lucky, taken probably around 1940. But Lucky, wonderful dog that he was, and who I miss to this day, is not the subject here. The subject is luck itself, and how it has affected my life.

I bitch a lot. About a lot of things. There is so much that I do that I don't do well and immediately get angry with myself. I look around at others...particularly at young, handsome, talented others, and my chest aches with longing for what they have and I no longer do. I keep going over my shortcomings like a rosary. But dear Lord, when I am able to step outside myself and observe myself objectively, I have been one lucky human being.

I was lucky enough to be born to parents who, like all humans, had their individual flaws and problems, and who were pretty dysfunctional as a couple, but who loved me utterly and unconditionally. My extended family, especially on my mother's side, were and continue to be incredibly supportive.

I was lucky enough to go to and graduate from college—that I was the first in my family to do so was a great source of pride for my father. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful military experience, first as a Naval Aviation Cadet (I have but to close my eyes to be soaring over and around whipped cream cloud mountains and looking down on the green and brown patchwork quilt of the ground below) and then as a regular sailor aboard an aircraft carrier at the height of the cold war. I spent eight months in the Mediterranean and saw places I (and perhaps the majority of people) could only have dreamed about: Paris, Cannes, Rome, Naples, Sicily, Athens, Beirut, Istanbul. I've ridden bicycles to ruined greek temples on the isle of Rhodes, climbed a sleeping Mt. Vesuvius and passed by an erupting Mt. Stromboli. I've walked the streets of Pompeii, had my photo taken on a fallen pillar in front of the Acropolis, and seen the ruins of Baalbek.

Fifty-six years later I returned for a month in England, France, and Italy. I've ridden vaporrato on the canals of Venice and sat having a beer on the Piazza San Marco, revisited Vesuvius and Pompeii. Then last year took a marvelous 16-day river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam. This year I am taking a tour of the Greek islands from Rome to Istanbul.

I have written and published more than 20 books.

Please forgive me; I know all this sounds like insufferable bragging, but it is said with a complete sense of awe that has nothing to do with ego. There is absolutely nothing special about me that I should have been so lucky to have been to all these places and done all these things. The wonder is that I—incredibly insecure, self-deprecating me, who is so often and so firmly convinced of my inferiority when compared to others—have been lucky enough to have done all this in my life. It, in all sincerity, astounds me.

Every life is a balance between happiness and sorrow, between luck and misfortune. Each one of us, in our time, must suffer the indescribable anguish of losing those we love. Most of my core family is now gone, as are so many with whom I have been close over the years; I have not been lucky in love, despite my lifelong hope/wish/desire to have someone with whom I could spend my entire life. But what I have been deprived of in a single life partner, I have been richly rewarded in a few good and lifelong friends. It's not the same, of course, but I am grateful.

Each life is also like a book with blank pages on which we write the story of our life. We don't know exactly how many pages are in our individual book, but it is easy for logic to dictate when there are more filled pages than blank ones. I realize that I am infinitely grateful for the story I have written of my life so far. It contains far more pain than I would have preferred to have endured, but it is the joy, the happiness, the small pleasures, the friends, family and memories of all-too-short-but-wonderful times I have indeed shared my life with others that makes all the bad things so much more bearable.

As I've said before, be sure that when you write in your own book of life, write large, write boldly, and use crayons!

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

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cute vs. "Cute"

I love cute. Puppies, kittens, and babies epitomize the word. But I loathe, with every fiber in my being, “cute”. A six-year-old girl being a six-year-old girl is cute. A six-year-old girl powdered, primped, rouged, and lipsticked to look like some tart-in-waiting for a “Little Miss Cutesy-Pie” pageant is—through no fault of the poor kid—more than mildly repulsive, and I would be in favor of hauling the parent(s) into court and charging them with child abuse. Childhood is short enough as it is; to be robbed of it by some glory-seeking “doting” parent and paraded like a prize heifer at the county fair is nothing short of criminal. Yet the domineering parent(s) invariably and vehemently swear that “Oh, no; it’s her idea. She does it because she loves it!” Right.

The difference between cute and “cute” is the difference between charm and cheese, between kindness and condescension. I enjoy the CBS TV program, Sunday Morning. But for some incomprehensible-to-me reason, one of their regular reporters, Bill Geist, has cornered the market on the cloyingly “cute”. With very few exceptions, every one of his pieces, abetted by his smarmy delivery, is designed to grab viewers by the throat, throttle them to within an inch of their life while screaming: “Isn’t this
CUTE????” No, it is not. Bill Geist on, television off.

TV sitcoms rely on “cute” the way they rely on laugh tracks, in a pathetic attempt to convince you that the show is far, far better than it actually is. Shows like “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (if the title is true, it is an indication that the End is near), too often depend on staged incidents designed with the utmost calculation to produce an “isn’t that funny/cute?” response. The results speak for themselves.

TV commercials are notorious offenders. While Budweiser, for example, has come up with some really wonderful and sometimes charming commercials, I still have a gag reflex every time I think of their
“Wha’sss Uhpppppppp?” ads. And if I hear the National Car Rental's “Meet Erica....Grand Pubah of Pasta” or “Who do you think I am: Quicken Loan?” one more time….

One problem with “cute” is the perpetrator’s belief that if it was cute the first time it is done, it will be equally cute the 10,000th time it’s repeated. Al Roker, NBC’s weatherman on the Today show, sends me reaching for the remote every time he announces, in a fake ultra-macho voice, “It’s FOOT-BALL night in A-MARR-ICA!” Please, Al…please NBC…enough already!!

There is a very sharp, to me, line between cute and “cute,” though it’s hard to describe. I think a lot of it lies in the intent and the application. Anne Geddes’ famous photos of babies posed in pea pods or flowerpots are utterly charming, as are William Wegman’s photos of his Weimaraners dressed and posed as humans. There is thought and planning in both Geddes and Wegman’s work, but the key to their success is they know how to present it without destroying it.

Plunking a baseball cap sideways on a toddler’s head in an attempt to be just the
cutest thing leaves me cold. And adults who resort to this practice in order to show how “cool” (read “cute”) they are make me want to grab the hat off their head and slap them silly with it.

There are few things harder to fake than charm and cute. And one man's "cute" is another man's nausea. For me, it's simple. It's like the famous definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

Friday, January 25, 2013


I firmly believe in the old adage “Just because you’re not schizophrenic doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get you.” I don’t think this is true, for me, with people. But it definitely is true of inanimate objects, especially any that require any sort of interaction with me. I am sincerely, truly, deeply convinced that there is an inanimate object conspiracy to drive me to apoplexy, and I can see the parking lot from here.

I am a simple man. I have a simple cell phone. It does not text, or tweet, or tell me to turn left in 500 feet, or do complex algorithms. It allows me to accept and make phone calls. Period. I use it so seldom that I avoid monthly phone fees by buying my minutes in blocks (500 minutes for $50), and it takes me from three to five months to go through them. But eight times out of ten, when my phone does ring, I am unable to answer it. I fish it out of my pocket, open it up, say “Hello?” and instantly cut the caller off. Some sort of message flashes on my screen which, in my fury, I cannot remember from one incident to the next. Usually, the caller is foolish enough to try again at once, figuring something may have happened to cause them to be cut off. It did. I had tried to answer the call. By the time I finish madly pushing buttons trying with increasing frustration and fury to actually talk to whomever it was who called, it is far too late. And to add insult to injury, a message will then appear on the screen saying smugly “You have 2”—or more— “missed calls.” I know I missed them, you stupid twit! I missed them trying to answer them!

In an effort to keep my computer files safe, I found a site called MediaMax which offers to store files free. I transferred all my manuscripts and writings to it. Found another free storage site the other day called Mozy and figured better safe than sorry, also backed up my files to it. All well and good. All safe and secure. Right? Wrong. Today I wanted to add a few more files. Went to Mozy, reached their page with no problem. It informed me of how much space I have used, which was very thoughtful of it. However, there was absolutely no information on how I could add new files, add material to files already there, or even check to see which files were there. I went to MediaMax and was told there was no such site. Went to Google, which had a bunch of references to MediaMax, not one of which worked.

It seems that if there is one thing internet sites do NOT want you to do, it is to try to contact them directly. Finding a way to actually get in touch with them is a Herculean endeavor. They are fond, in their sincere effort to be of service to you, of offering a FAQ option (it took me months to find out that FAQ stood for “Frequently Asked Questions”), which offers detailed information on everything except what you want to know. I guess they think if it isn’t on the FAQ sheet, it isn’t worth asking. Some sites, after I have spent hours looking for a way to reach them, will actually give me a place to send my inquiry. Shortly after sending it, I invariably get a form message from them thanking me profusely for submitting my question and assuring me they will respond within a very short time. Of the 50 or so messages I have sent over the past three years, I am still waiting for a response from 48 of them. But most infuriating of all is to receive a reply saying: “Thank you for your inquiry. Please check our FAQ sheet.”

I belonged, briefly, to an on-line site which encourages member participation by posting new topics or messages. Yet they do not bother to tell me how to go about posting something new. I can reply to someone else’s post easily enough, but to put up a new one? Forget it. And so, after innumerable attempts and failures, I decided just to unsubscribe from the group, and (you see where I’m going here?)…

It is to weep.

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


One of the relatively few advantages of growing older is that the higher you climb on the hill of time, the more you can see when you look back over the things you have witnessed.

I was born fourteen and a half years after the Treaty of Versailles which officially ended World War I; eight months and eleven days after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first swearing in as President, and in the darkest days of the Great Depression. I had just turned eight when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and remember listening to President Roosevelt’s declaration of war. I was eleven and a half years old when he died. (Because I was too young to yet realize the importance of history, I remember being extremely unhappy that, for three days following his death, all regular radio programming was cancelled, the radio playing nothing but music, forcing me to miss out on my favorite radio kids’ shows.)

I was raised in a world of iceboxes and Dixie-cup ice cream, of three cent postage stamps and twice-a-day mail delivery; of black and white movies with newsreels and travelogs and cartoons and 10 cent bags of popcorn. Railroad trains were pulled by steam engines, and there were no interstates or four-lane highways. Cars had running boards. Laundry was washed either by hand or by machines with wringers. Wet clothing was hung outdoors because driers hadn’t been invented yet. To call someone, you picked up the phone and, if someone else was not already talking on the line you shared with one or two other families, asked the operator to connect you to the number you wanted (“Forest 984”; “Central 255”.) The rotary dial came considerably later.

During the war, gas and food were rationed, and required ration stamps. I remember paper drives, Victory bonds and victory gardens, blackouts and air raid drills (though I lived in the heart of the country). My parents had a small grocery store, and on those very rare occasions when they were able to get a box of Hershey bars, they were kept under the counter and distributed like gold nuggets to only their best customers. And WWII was followed by the never-declared Korean War, the Cold War, and Vietnam.

Fully 2/3 of the population of the world alive at the time of my birth are now dead.

I was born into a world so far different from our current one as to all but unimaginable to most of those alive today. It was a world with no computers, no television, no cell phones or iPods, no drive-by shootings or road rage or school shootings. A world where anyone traveling from America to Europe did so by ocean liner because there was no commercial trans-oceanic air service. Up until the mid-1960s, when you did travel by airplane, it was a Sunday-best occasion, and men always wore suits and ties. Diseases all but eradicated from today’s world—diphtheria, smallpox, polio—regularly claimed tens of thousands of lives. Hospital patients were anesthetized with ether dripped onto a cloth cone held over the patient’s nose and mouth. Even penicillin, though discovered in 1928, was not put to use until WWII. A diagnosis of cancer was a death sentence.

I served in the U.S. military at a time when, as a Naval Aviation Cadet stationed in Pensacola, Florida, a black serviceman could be asked to move to the back of the bus to let whites sit down. And now we have a black president.

I witnessed, via television, the assassinations of President Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King; man’s first landing on the moon, school desegregation, the civil rights movement. Governments and nations rose and fell, as they have throughout time.

Each of us has our own hill of time, and the future is a thick blanket of clouds obscuring the top so we cannot see just how much more hill lies ahead of us. I hope my hill is a very high one, indeed. As may yours be.

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

Monday, January 21, 2013

Of Books and Mousetraps

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” This may be true for the builders of mousetraps, but definitely doesn't apply to the writers of books. You can write the Great American Novel but if no-one knows you've written it, it will just sit there unless you are lucky enough to have it picked up by a major publisher with tons of money to promote it.

We live in a world where money talks, and the vast majority of writers, try though they might, can barely whisper. The hard, cold fact is that far fewer than two percent of authors can live on what they earn from their writing. For every J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or John Grisham there are a thousand Dorien Greys trying to convince readers to try their books. It is hard for these writers—for me—not to get discouraged by the frustrations of trying to stand out from the vast, roiling sea of other writers.

Success in writing is often a matter of sheer luck. A book by a writer of whom no one has ever heard before will suddenly appear out of nowhere and become the rage du jour. Where it came from and how it got there are largely a mystery. The writer of the sensation becomes famous and wealthy, with advances for as-yet-unwritten books pour in. Meanwhile all the tens of thousands of writers who weren't as lucky struggle on, unknown and unnoticed.

I know of one publishing company in which the average number of sales per author is fewer than 100 books a year! Of course it must be said that being an author is, for many people, more of a vanity thing (“oh, yes, I've published a book”) than a true calling. They write a book, get it published somewhere, somehow, and then just sit back and wait for the royalty checks to start rolling in. Few really realize that writing a book is only the tip of the iceberg. The unseen part, beneath the surface, is the incredible amount of time and effort necessary to let people know the book—and the writer—exist.

Many writers write simply because they cannot not write, and I am one of them. Probably the majority of authors write because they really feel they have something to say and want to share it with others, and I certainly am among that number as well. At the risk of seeming immodest, I consider myself an above-average writer and story-teller. From what I've heard from readers, people seem to like my characters and, after 14 books in the Dick Hardesty mystery series, many have come to look on them as friends. But that may be partly because I consider every book to be a casual, if one-sided, conversation with a friend. I never, ever forget that they are there. To have a reader appreciate what I've written is the best possible form of validation.

We humans are a race of story tellers. Stories have been our way of passing information, ideas, and a sense of wonder from generation to generation since we began to walk on two feet, and probably even before. I suppose a case could be made that stories and books are a form of mousetrap for the mind. I sincerely doubt that many people have ever given thought to the similarity between the two, but I do think there is one. But where mousetraps are made of metal and wood, and are intended to kill whatever takes the bait, stories are made of words and the responses those words elicit in the reader, and their purpose is to open the doors of imagination and set the soul free. As it is the strength and construction of the metal and wood that determines the effectiveness of the mousetrap, it is the strength and construction of words which mark the effectiveness of a story or book.

And so I and many more like me leave the building of a better mousetrap to those who build mousetraps. I'll merely continue trying to build a better story, and better mental doorways and windows to a wider and hopefully better world.

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

Friday, January 18, 2013

Left Brain, Right Brain

Among the infinite number of things which fascinate me is the working of the human brain, and the division of basic functions between the left half and the right half. Most people tend to be either “left brained” or “right brained.”

I did a Google search on the subject, and one site offers the silhouette of a dancer turning. The key is for the viewer to tell which way she is turning: clockwise or counterclockwise. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that she was turning clockwise and, even though the text said that by concentrating, I could get her to change directions, I could not. So that, according to the test, indicated that I was a “right brain” person. I just went back to look at it again, and she was turning counterclockwise and, stare and concentrate as I might, I could not get her to reverse direction.

The right side of the brain deals with feelings, imagination, appreciation and belief. That’s definitely me.

The left side of the brain deals with logic, details, facts, words and language. That’s definitely me, too. So which am I?

Google is rather like the dictionary in that it is nearly impossible for me to pick one option without going from one to the next. One included a 20-question test to determine if one is left-or-right brained. According to my score, I am right-brained without question. So where does that leave my left-brain words and language foundation?

I’m definitely far more word-oriented than I am visually oriented, which is why I am really not very good at physical descriptions. I admire writers whose physical descriptions of characters and settings paint vivid pictures. I wish I had that ability, but I do not.

Fortunately, one of the other sources I checked espoused the belief that some people are whole-brained, and I think I'll go with that one.

The loss of speech is common among stroke victims. But there are fascinating conditions in which, for example, a victim can speak and can recognize an item but be unable to say what it is. Shown a pencil, they know what it is but cannot name it. Yet, amazingly, when the pencil is put in their hand, they can. Fascinating.

I’ve read, and seen TV programs, where for one reason or another…some severe forms of epilepsy or physical injury, for example…it is necessary to physically detach the two halves of the brain, and in some severe cases, to remove one half entirely. Astonishingly, in the latter case, it is possible for the remaining side to slowly take on all the responsibilities and functions lost with the other half.

While, as an Agnostic, I do not know if there is a God, and I definitely do not subscribe to the Judeo-Christian portrayals of Him as having any physical resemblance to the human form, I must acknowledge that there is simply too much wonder in the universe—too much order in chaos and too much chaos in order—for there not to be some force behind it.

I’ll let you know as soon as I find out. Promise. But I’m in no hurry.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Being Naive

There's a certain charm to naivety. It's part and parcel of being a child, for whom absolutely anything is possible and everything he or she is told is automatically assumed to be true. There is an element of naivety in any source of wonder, though the ratio of wonder to acknowledged reality rapidly diminishes as we age, from nearly 100 percent on the child’s end of the scale to almost none for the totally jaded.

The naivety of belief in Santa and fairies and elves and magical things is a precious gift, looked back upon fondly and with longing once it is proven untrue. It simply does not occur to children
that something they are told is true is in fact not. Why, after all, would anyone lie? Worse, they have no idea of the dangers inherent in their belief. Reality is a lesson learned the hard way, and all too soon.

When I was around four years old, my parents took me to a carnival several blocks from our home. It was the first carnival I'd ever attended, and I was enthralled. Less than half an hour after we returned home, my parents looked for me, and I was gone. Guess where? They found me just getting ready to cross a busy intersection across the street from the carnival, having already crossed others on the way. That I might easily have been killed simply never entered my head. Why would it? I had no concept of death or danger.

Naivety and innocence are strongly interrelated. One generally enters life with both, and too often leaves with neither. Reality tends to rob us of innocence and sour our naivety. It is taken from us in a couple of ways…either replaced by reality in a slow process of osmosis, or stomped out of us, too often by those who have no morals, scruples, conscience, or dignity, but can smell naivety like a shark can smell blood—and too often to the same end.

We feel cheated to realize that those things we so believed and trusted as true were not true, and the more important those things were to us, the more integral they were to forming who we are, the more cheated we feel, and the more bitter we tend to become. We turn from being plump, shiny red apples to dried-apple-core people. And while cynicism is the subject for another blog—or several—its contrast to innocence can be summed up in Oscar Wilde's observation that “a cynic is one who, when smelling a flower, looks for a casket.”

I truly want to believe in things, and in people. I always try to give them the benefit of the doubt, and generally manage to do so even when I have rather serious doubts. When I meet someone who tells me something that sounds untrue, I quickly examine it for signs of hatred or bigotry and, if I see no harm to me or anyone else in accepting it, I just let it slide. If it is important for the teller that I believe it, and it makes him/her feel better, I don’t see much point in confronting it.

And for some reason I’m not able to understand, as we grow older, a mutated and dangerous form of naivety seems to return, and the sharks circle. How can the elderly suddenly seemingly simply abandon every caution they have learned throughout life and fall victim to astoundingly egregious scams promising something wonderful for nothing?

Those who somehow manage to retain some form of the charms of naivety and innocence in the face of the harshness of reality have a very real gift, for those two qualities are fundamental ingredients of hope, without which we are all lost.

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

Monday, January 14, 2013

Laziness and Priorities

Okay, there are two ways to look at it: either I am incredibly lazy—a lifelong condition—or I simply have a different set of priorities than most. I think I prefer the latter alternative. I have never sufficiently applied myself to anything. My school report cards were often accompanied by notes to my parents to the effect that “Roger could do much better if he'd only apply himself.” In college, I found it much more important to take full advantage of just enjoying the experience than in devoting as much time as I really should have to my studies. I averaged mostly B’s, but probably could have upped several of those to A’s if I had, as they say, applied the seat of my pants to the seat of a chair more diligently.

When I became a Naval Aviation Cadet, this tendency nearly got me killed—literally—on more than one occasion. I never did learn the numbers of the runways, relying on just following the guys ahead of me. Where they landed, I landed. On one night-flying exercise, several planes were sent up at the same time to practice formation flying. We were instructed to climb at a certain set speed, and to descend at another set but different speed in order to keep an exact distance between planes. I promptly forgot which speed was which and descended far more rapidly than I should have—a fact I did not realize until I saw the wingtip lights of the plane descending directly ahead of me getting larger and larger, faster and faster. I pushed the control stick sharply forward, and looked up to see the plane which was supposed to be ahead of me directly over my head. I pulled back the throttle to slow down, and managed to get back into my proper position, but it scared the hell out of me, and rightly so.

I waste an inordinate amount of time going back to check things which I should easily have remembered. I’m copying a list of numbers, say, from one window on my computer to another. 5, 15, 31, 12, say. I look at them carefully and say them over as I look at them: 5, 15, 31, 12. I close out that window and go to the new window where I want to type in the numbers. 5, 15, 44, uh.....Back to the first window. 5, 15, 31, 12…5, 15, 31, 12…5. 15, 31, 12. Back to the window I want to put them. It’s been all of, what, three seconds? 5, 15,....uh.....

The principle of “Speak/act first, think later” seems, unfortunately, to have become my mantra. I don’t know how many times I have had to go back to apologize for, clarify, or correct something I got wrong the first (and often the second or third) time. I know, I know…if I took the time to get it right the first time, I wouldn’t have to go back and re-do it time after time. Sort of like being a “born again” Christian…once should have been enough.

I like to think…I hope…it is simply a matter of priorities. I suspect my mind is always asking itself: “How really important is this in the scheme of things?” and the answer is more often than not “Not very.” Memorizing numbers certainly isn’t that high on my list of important things. Nor is making my bed, or dusting, or putting things away if there is a chance that I might be using them again in the next week or so. There are far more important things to do, like writing books and blogs and gathering acorns for the coming winter.

I tell you this because I am quite sure I am the only human being in the history of the world to have experienced this annoying-to-infuriating condition, and there is a strong streak of perversity and need for self-flagellation in my character, and I have always hastened to point out my flaws and imperfections before anyone else has a chance to do it for me.

Be grateful you have none.

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

Friday, January 11, 2013


Vengeance (ven-gence, n.): punishment inflicted or retribution exacted for an injury or wrong.

Durga is the Hindu goddess of vengeance, and while I am not versed in Hindu gods, I like her title. On the rather unlikely chance that I were offered a position as a Hindu god, I might consider being Durga's male counterpart.

And how/why might a mild-mannered, happily-ever-after romanticist want to go to “the dark side” as the Star Wars franchise calls it? The answer lies in Oscar Wilde's observation that “a cynic is a frustrated romantic.” I have always expected good from people; simple courtesy, consideration for others, open-mindedness, tolerance, honesty. I am the young boy standing at the edge of the sparkling swimming pool in the movie The Impossible, suddenly swept away by the 30-foot-high wave of the tsunami.

We are so battered, so inundated, so swept away by endless, daily tsunamis of ignorance, intolerance, bigotry, stupidity, lies, greed, gratuitous cruelty, and callousness that it is truly a miracle that we—and our sense of humanity—manage to survive.

I am frighteningly often made so furious by these assaults that I would truly love to be a male Durga, with the power to give those responsible the justice they so sorely deserve but almost never receive. I would have to be very careful not to overreact—though overreaction in light of many of these offenses is hard to imagine.

I'd start small...with internet spammers whose blatantly unconscionable contempt for their prey removes them from any chance for clemency. They would be forbidden to ever go within 50 feet of a computer or any technological device that might enable them to contact another human being.

Bigots would be forced to live forever among the people against whom they display their hatred, while being rendered incapable of harming them in any fashion.

The greedy would be stripped of all their possessions and forced to live with only the barest of necessities for the period of one year, after which any recurrence of the transgression will result in a repetition of the same punishment.

Liars whose intent is to unfairly deceive or who display malice toward those lied to would be struck mute and denied access to any form of interpersonal communication for one day for the first offense and one additional day for every subsequent offense.

Those whose offenses are based on stupidity rather than malice would be required to attend classes in the appropriate subject(s) until they were able to pass a rigorous test proving the eradication of the cause for the stupidity.

Most importantly, in my role as a god of vengeance, I would instate and rigorously enforce the biblical principle of an eye for an eye. Every deliberate transgression against another human being—every physical or emotional pain deliberately inflicted on another human or animal with the intent to harm—would be experienced in exact kind and to the exact degree by the perpetrator ten seconds before they had the chance to harmed their intended victim(s).
I know, it's highly unlikely that I will ever be granted the power of exacting vengeance from those who so richly, richly deserve it. But oh, how delicious the contemplation!

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

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


In ancient Rome, during triumphal marches through city, a slave always rode on the chariot carrying the conquering hero. His job was to hold a laurel wreath over the hero’s head while whispering “Remember, thou art but a man.” Wise people, those Romans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 07, 2013

Plot and Characters

I've just finished my...what?...21st?...22nd? book; 15 of them are part one series, the Dick Hardesty Mysteries. Series are, by definition, the carrying over of a character or set of characters from one book to another, and I'm not aware of how many other mystery series have as many books.

The Dick Hardesty series follows protagonist Dick Hardesty, his partner Jonathan, Jonathan's orphaned six-year-old nephew, Joshua, and a circle of close friends from story/mystery/adventure to story/mystery/adventure. It has reached the point where, though any of the books can easily be read alone without knowledge of what has come before, I look at each book as a chapter in the story of Dick's life.

All books tend to be either plot-driven or character-driven, and I've become increasingly aware that in my books, perhaps most strongly in the just completed The Serpent's Tongue, in the balance between plot and character, character tends to prevail over the mystery itself. It's hard to overstate the importance of a book's characters. (Several of my books have murderers with whom the reader can empathize.)

I've been fortunate in developing a solid reader base of good people who seem to find my characters both believable and likable—several have been kind enough to say they think of them as friends.

I write each book as a one-sided conversation with the reader. I am very careful to sprinkle sufficient clues—and admittedly a considerable number of red herrings—throughout the book so that the reader can follow their trail, like breadcrumbs, to the killer. It doesn't bother me in the least that the reader might figure out who the killer is before I figuratively call everyone into the drawing room to say, “And the killer is...!”;...that's why I put the clues there in the first place. But it did bother me a bit that some readers might feel somehow shortchanged if they figured out who-dunnit before Dick does.

Every book of fiction is a balance between story and character. But I've long wondered just how readers, not just those who already follow the Dick Hardesty series, feel about that balance; which do they consider most important? So I posed the question on a couple websites including Facebook, and was relieved and gratified that most of the responses thought the balance was tipped rather strongly in favor of character.

I've always felt that my books leaned heavily toward character—that character was the ship plowing through the sometimes stormy seas of the plot.

Those who regularly follow my blogs are aware that I consider Dick Hardesty an alternate-universe me. Our thought processes, our sense of humor, our outlooks on life, our firm beliefs, goals, desires, and emotional reactions are identical. So much so that I find an odd sense of personal validation, not only as a writer but as a human being, in the somewhat convoluted assumption that for a reader to like Dick is to like me.

It's often been said that writing is a form of catharsis, and I couldn't agree more. Creating Dick's very-real-to-me world has also allowed me to vicariously have things I have always so deeply wanted and too seldom had, primarily a partner with whom to share my life. Jonathan, as I've mentioned several times in my blogs, is based in large part on Ray Lopez, who I consider, viewed through the Vaseline-coated lens of memory, to have been the love of my life. Through the catharsis of writing, I can overlook the fact that Ray was a hopeless alcoholic who died of alcohol-induced AIDS. I loved him, and that is all that matters. And so I can give Dick, Jonathan...and Joshua...the “happily ever after” I've not found for myself.

Books allow each of us to live lives other than our own, to find out-of-ourselves pleasure though the words and mind of another. I consider myself blessed to be a writer and, to me, there is nothing more validating or rewarding than when a reader finds pleasure in what I've written.

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

Friday, January 04, 2013

Always Words

I love words. I always have. They fascinate and delight me. Where they come from, how they have changed over time, other words that are related to them. It's impossible to know exactly how many words there are in English. Technical terms, slang, foreign/latin words adopted for use in English, etc., makes it all to complex to come even close to knowing. But it is generally agreed there are at least 250,000 distinct English words.

Rather discouragingly, one Google source says the average five year old child has a vocabulary of 1,500 words—and that the average adult’s vocabulary is only twice that. Shakespeare, someone determined, had a vocabulary of around 24,000 words…most of which it seems he used at one time or another. The average dictionary contains 150,000 or so. English is constantly changing and evolving, picking up new words like a snowball rolling down hill. Unfortunately, it also sheds some very nice words. I’ve always found “Thee” and “thou” quaintly pretty, like those crystal paperweights with flowers inside. I also enjoy “prithee” and “mayhaps,” though they are almost never heard or used. But they're there, should we choose to use them.

The language of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is so far removed from modern English it requires a glossary of several thousand words to explain what’s being said. Yet I assume, since they were officially English 400 words ago, they’d all be included in the estimated 1,000,000 words. And of course the spelling and pronunciation of those words also change over time.

The epithet “nigger” came, I am sure, as a result of the slurring-through-rapidity of the word “Negro” until the original pronunciation was all but replaced. And there is my perennial favorite mispronunciation, “prez-eh-dent” which completely obscures the word’s original pronunciation and true meaning: “preh-ZY-dent”…one who presides. And the run-together word that also hides its original meaning: it’s “break fast,” not “breakfast.”

Unfortunately, in today's society, far too many people construct their sentences of epithets rather than standard dictionary-recognized words. In fact, record a five minute “conversation” among these people, write them down verbatim, remove the epithets, and you'll be lucky to have 30 seconds of coherent, acceptable English.

The flexibility and malleability of words can produce interesting results. “Butterfly” for “flutter by,” for example. Or the Civil War’s hirsute Union General Burnside, who gave his name to what are now called “sideburns.” (The Civil War also gave us another commonly used word derived from the women who followed Union Major General Joseph Hooker’s army to provide comfort to the troops: “hookers.”)

How can anyone not be fascinated with words? How can anyone be bored when all they have to do is pick a word out of the air and see how many rhymes can be found are for it? (“Muster” for example. There’s “buster,” “bluster, “cluster,” “fluster,” “duster”.....I know, that sounds like a list of Santa’s reindeer, but you get the idea.)

Words are as fascinating spoken as they are read. I love the sound of “lugubrious,” “ostentatious,” “obstreperous,” “tintinnabulation,” “nondenominational,” "disestablishmentarianism," and my very favorite of all words, “onomatopoeia” and delight in dropping them into a spoken or written sentence whenever possible—which is not easy. And if a word doesn’t exist, make one up! Lewis Carol’s “Jabberwocky” provides us with wonderful nonsense words which never existed before but are almost universally recognized. (“‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gire and gimble in the wabe…”—six out of the thirteen words in that sentence fragment had not existed until Mr. Carol chose to invent them, but who doesn't recognize them, even if no one knows what they mean?)

As you can see, in my haste to touch upon far too many things in far too limited a space, I’ve once again let the original subject spin totally out of control. Words have that effect on me. What I’d intended to be a casual stroll through a field of bright flowers, stopping by one or two to admire their beauty, has been totally lost in a blur of facts and figures and changed subjects and bits and pieces of random thoughts and trivial information all made up entirely of words. But like shiny pebbles on the beach or puffy clouds overhead, they’re fun to look at and contemplate. There are worse things to do with your time.

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

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

But Thee and Me

I know you’ll want to write this down, so if you want to run and get a pencil, I’ll wait. Got it? Okay, here it is: People…are…strange. You might want to also needlepoint it on a sampler.

Being a little strange is part of being an individual human being. Though everyone is strange in that they are different from everyone else, it's probably axiomatic that we seem more able to recognize strangeness in others than in ourselves. And while most people go out of their way not to appear strange to others, some go to considerable lengths to cultivate their individual differences and/or to call attention to themselves.

There are as many types of strangeness among individuals as there are wildflowers on a Nebraska prairie in May. Most fit into the broad category of garden-variety strange, ranging from those who iron their underwear and arrange their sock drawer by color to those who see conspiracies behind every news event. They largely go unheralded because they are as a rule content to keep their strangeness largely to themselves.

The “ordinary strange” seldom can be spotted in a crowd; their strangeness is simply the result of their life experiences which set them a bit apart from everyone else. Those who are strange by nature and design reflect the need many feel for setting themselves apart from the herd. Fads and fashions are a common form of cultivating their strangeness. “In” fashions, hairstyles, piercings, tattoos, wearing baseball caps at the cutest angles…all are ways they choose to stand out. People flock to these trends, with the result that they all end up looking exactly alike and must go off in search of the next trend or fad.

There are many who calculate and cultivate strangeness to achieve fame/notoriety. A good number of “famous” people throughout history fit this category. Artists —writers, painters, musicians—are generally naturally strange simply by way of their talent, though many seem to work particularly hard at it. Salvador Dali, Picasso, Liberace, Ernest Hemingway, Andy Warhol, are only a few.

It’s when strangeness includes the “control factor” that it passes from charming to weird, and far too often to dangerous. These people often use their strangeness to deliberately exploit stupidity and hatred to gain attention and power: Anita Bryant (remember her? No? Good!), Jerry Falwell and his ilk, etc. And when strangeness segues into weird that it becomes a cause for concern. And when this is mixed with megalomania and arrogance we get the truly frightening likes of Idi Amin, Atilla the Hun, and Adolph Hitler.

There is also an outer-fringe type of individual strangeness for which there seems to be neither cause nor reason, yet which abounds in our culture today—those “celebrities” upon whose every vacuous statement and action is met with wild acclaim despite their having absolutely no evidence of any talent whatsoever. They are famous only for being famous. It is not so much those individuals who are strange as it the fact that society reacts to them so strangely.

I enjoy the unobtrusively strange; people with harmless little quirks which set them gently apart from others. As long as one’s strangeness does not impose negatively on anyone else, it lends both spice and charm to our lives. I still remember, from the first time I lived in Chicago, the little old lady who walked past my apartment building frequently. She had to have been in her 80s at the time, and was thin to the point of being gaunt. She always dressed as though she were going to a 1930s social event: long, white—or black, depending on the season—dress, elbow-length gloves, very-high-heel shoes, large-brimmed white—or black—hat with a red or black cabbage rose, pancake makeup with bright red lips and a toy-soldier circle of rouge on each cheek. Though I never had the chance to speak with her, I remember her fondly after all these years.

I've always wished I had the courage to be strange, but I'm not. Not in the least. (Would you like to see my collection of tinfoil hats?)

As the old Quaker proverb says, “All are strange but thee and me…and I have my doubts about thee.” Hey, if the shoe fits…

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