Monday, September 30, 2013

"I," Me," and "Everybody Else"

For absolutely no reason I’m aware of, I found myself pondering the difficulties in really, really grasping the difference between the elemental concepts of "I/me", "you," "them/they." All my life I’ve been painfully aware of these differences, and that there is me, and then there's everybody else in the world. I am in fact outnumbered seven-billion-or-so-and-counting to one.  (Go, Breeders!) 

Few people are very good at philosophizing, and I certainly am not one of them. The problem with the "I"/"me" and "everybody else" issue lies in fully recognizing that every other human on the planet is an "I"/"me", facing the same odds as I. 

The fact is there is only one human being in the entire world truly qualified to use the words "me," "myself," and "I," and that is the individual using them. The circumference of the concept that every human being has that exact same exclusive right is far too large for us to wrap our ams, let alone our mind, around. As Yul Brynner said, in The King and I, "Tis a puzzlement."

We go through life with the totally baseless and easily disproven assumption that life is supposed to be easy. I suspect it derived from our perspective of "me" and "everyone else." From my perspective, life is easy for everyone but me. I constantly find myself caught up in one Wagnerian tempest after another, while watching "everyone else" sail effortlessly through calm seas. 

From the perspective of "I", "everyone else" appears to somehow be a single unit; members of a gigantic club to which I do not belong. I look around at the seven billion "you,"s, "them"s and "they"s and, not surprisingly, feel totally surrounded, overwhelmed, and hopelessly intimidated. There is the inescapable assumption that all those "you"s are privy to an infinite number of things of which "I/me" have been deprived. 

I as an individual have always thought of myself in effect sitting alone under a tree eating a bologna sandwich while "everyone else," steeped in camaraderie good fellowship and a sense of belonging is enjoying a vast pot-luck where each one has brought an exotic dish to pass. 

"Everyone else" seems to go through life with astonishing ease. "They" don't make stupid mistakes. "They" almost never get frustrated over little things, or snap at someone who doesn't deserve to be snapped at, or say or do stupid and embarrassing things they would give anything in the world to unsay or undo. In short, "they" have mastered the rules of the game of life which are written in some alien language I can never hope to comprehend, let alone speak.  "They" always seem to be able to cope with almost any given situation with absolute ease, and are possessed of a poise which has always escaped me. "They" have an absolutely wonderful time at any gathering. They completely understand everything that is going on. They sing and dance and share jokes and stories which too often confuse or dumbfound me.

There are, however, two simple words which can bridge the gap between "I"/"me," and "everybody else" for those willing to put the effort into their construction. Those words are "us" and "we." And I really must learn to take my own advice.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Slow Dancing

As so often happens, yesterday I heard a song from the late 70's/early 80's which swooped down, picked me up, and all but bodily threw me back in time to my early days in Los Angeles, and in a heartbeat I was in the Canyon Club, dancing with my friend Larry Couch. 

It's kind of a convoluted story, so if you'd just as soon skip it, I'll understand, but I feel like telling it, and it demonstrates the light-years our society’s attitudes have advanced in a relatively short time.

Los Angeles, when I moved there in 1968, was a vastly different city for gays and lesbians. We had our own bars and restaurants, but they were subject to frequent, random, and unprovoked harassment under the cold, beady eyes of our rabidly homophobic police chief. The routine (and often mass) arrest of gays for various trumped up charges--most often "lewd and lascivious conduct" was a lucrative source of income for the city and did not end until a gay man was beaten to death by the police in a routine bar raid.

One of the things gays were forbidden to do was to touch while dancing. I don't mean "grope" or "fondle"...I mean touch. We were allowed to disco (only in our own bars, of course), but slow dancing, where we actually held our partner, would result in arrest. As a result I and several of my friends joined the Canyon Club...a members-only club located 15 or so miles from my home, high up in a remote and rugged canyon, and reached only by a narrow, winding road. That more people were not killed coming down from the club after Last Call was a miracle.

The club was owned by a former L.A. policeman confined to a wheelchair for some reason, who disliked gays but overlooked his prejudice because of the money he made from us. It was a large, sprawling place with a couple of bar areas, a huge dance floor, and a swimming pool open only during the day on weekends. You entered the club through a small vestibule, where you showed your membership at the desk, and were then buzzed through a locked door into the club itself.

As part of the police department's equal-opportunity discrimination policy, not even the Canyon Club was safe from occasional harassment, but because the owner was an ex-cop, it was more for show than anything else. Whenever the police would arrive, the person at the reception desk would press a button which flashed a red light throughout the interior of the club. Immediately, dancing gay and lesbian couples would switch partners with their opposite-sex counterparts, and by the time the police meandered through the door to look around, all they saw was men dancing with women. I somehow suspect they were not fooled, but they had done their duty in letting the faggots and dykes know who had the power. 'Ya gotta let those queers and perverts know who's boss, 'ya know.

But the Canyon Club, whatever its inconveniences, was a safe place for us to go, and to be able to actually touch one another while dancing. I am a lousy dancer, and always avoid it whenever possible, but I would try it at the Canyon Club, especially with my friend Larry Couch, who always let me lead. I  always had a crush on Larry, but because his partner, Arnold, was also my close friend, holding him while dancing was about as close as I could hope to get.

I'm not quite sure whatever happened to the Canyon Club--I believe it closed when the owner died, but I still have fond memories of it and the warm California nights I spent there, and the friends who still hold a special place in my heart. I've sadly lost touch with most of my once-close L.A. friends, though I kept in touch with both Arnold and Larry after they broke up and I moved from Los Angeles, and still hear from Arnold from time to time. Larry died of a heart attack three or four years ago, and I miss him. What I wouldn't give for one more slow dance at the Canyon Club.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please come back...and bring a friend. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at 

Monday, September 23, 2013

That Which I Should Have Done,...

My favorite painting in Chicago's Art Institute is Ivan Albright's "That Which I Should Have Done, I Did Not Do," (subtitled "The Door"). It is a somewhat-larger-than-life oil painting of a distorted, weathered door with an withered funeral wreath hanging from its center. From the left, an old lady's arm, in a wrist-length, lace-cuffed grey dress, reaches for the knob. 

What there is about this particular painting that fascinates me so, I do not know, but fascinate me it does. And for equally unknown reasons, I identify with it. (Ivan Albright also painted the Picture of Dorian Gray featured in the 1945 film of Wilde's book.)

Missed opportunities and regrets are part of the fulcrum which gives balance to life, and without which we could not fully appreciate the bright joys of our existence. (Actually, far too few of us appreciate them anyway, but that is another matter entirely.)

For some reason, the highs of remembered joys do not carry us the same distance above the center line of emotion as the memory of our failures take us down. It's just one of those odd facts of life we may not like but have to accept if we are not to be consumed by them.

When I look back on the choices I have made through life, I have to force myself to weigh the "yeah, but if you had" factor.  I have always regretted my having been dropped from the Naval Aviation Cadet program so very many years ago. Had I studied harder and paid more attention to the things I should have been paying attention to, I may not have gotten the boot. And yet I knew in my heart of hearts that had I remained in the program I would have been killed, as were so many of my fellow cadets during that particular period. 

I have often regretted the fact that, in my really active days in the gay community, I was not more aggressive in approaching people to whom I was attracted, or that perhaps I moved from Los Angeles too soon. Yet this was at a time when AIDS was a raging brushfire sweeping through the gay community, killing everyone it touched. I lost far too many friends and acquaintances not to realize that, had I been more aggressive, or had I stayed in L.A., the next person I went home with may well have been the one round in the chamber of the game of Russian Roulette all gays played at the time.

So even regrets may have their balances.

On a personal, day-to-day level, I regret not being more thoughtful of others than I am. I regret not going out of my way to be kind to my friends and family nearly as often and to the degree that they go out of their way to be kind to me. I regret my too-frequently hair-trigger temper which causes me to do things which immediately cause me shame. I regret my tendency to react in kind: if I say "hello" to someone in my building and they ignore me (for their own reasons, whatever they may be), the next time I see them, I do not speak. Petty. Childish. But me.

I regret not being more generous; not volunteering more of my time or money to causes I know are worthy. I deeply regret passing panhandlers by on the assumption that they could get a job if they wanted to, or would just drink away anything I gave them. I am fully aware that of twenty panhandlers, at least one is sincerely in need. But how do I know which one? And that lack of knowledge engenders anger at the rest. (But, again, against which of the twenty should it be directed?)

Life is full of choices which come at us like raindrops in a thunderstorm. In attempting to catch them, we are bound to miss far more than we catch. There are so many things we should have done that we did not do it is easy to forget that there are a lot of things which we should have done and did do; opportunities taken, acts of kindness unremembered or unnoticed. What we should not do is to be too hard on ourselves. Leave that to me.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Visit With the Dead

When my mother died, in 1971, I quit my job, bought a motor home, and took off in an effort to...what? I didn’t know and am still not sure. If it was to get away from thoughts of her death, it didn’t work, and I found myself in a cemetery in Mobile, Alabama. Here’s the entry I wrote on December 20, 1971, the 60th day of my odyssey.

Mobile, Alabama. 12:40 p.m.

Cemeteries―real cemeteries, not those modern supermarkets of the dead―have always held a special fascination for me. There are few places more peaceful, generally more quiet, and more awe inspiring. I feel something of an obligation, a willing duty, to walk among the graves reading the tombstones and thereby performing the function for which the tombstones were erected: to remember the dead, and to know they once lived.

The Church Street Graveyard was founded originally as a burial place for Mobile’s yellow fever victims. The headstones, grave covers, sarcophagi, monoliths, and markers are marvelously varied. The words carved on them, unfortunately, are fast becoming illegible―many are already gone, with only the barest outline of words, and names, and dates remaining.

But those, like me, who read cemeteries as one might read a novel find in them a fascinating chronicle of an era.

The most striking characteristic, other than the visual effect, of the Church Street Graveyard, is how young most of its inhabitants were when they died. (Though there is one old gentleman who was 105 when he died in the mid 1830s). It strikingly illustrates the fact that in the 1800s, life was short. The average age of Church Street’s residents cannot possibly be over 35. (“In Memory of Elizabeth, Wife of Matthew McCartney, who departed this life Dec. the 11th, 1834 in the 17th year of her age.”)

There is the fine print of history: “In memory of Stephen Hopkins Clarke, son of John H. Clarke of Providence, Rhode Island, who died in Florida in July 1837 in the 22nd year of his age. As a Volunteer, he was engaged in a skirmish with the Indians, and received a wound which shortly proved mortal. Thus at once the high hopes of youth and the expectations of Friends were blasted forever.”  There is a deep-seated comfort in the fact that had he lived a full, full life, he would still be dead today; and those who mourned so sincerely and deeply at his passing are now themselves long dead. There is, incidentally, more to Stephen Clarke’s story, engraved on four sides of a squat pillar. “Erected in 1845 as a memorial of his love for a dutiful and affectionate son. From the rude sepulcher to which he was consigned by his commander, his remains were transferred to this spot by an affectionate Brother. It is consecrated by the warmest recollections of all who knew the integrity and manliness of his character.”

And so Stephen Hopkins Clarke still lives in the minds of those who read these words.

How much better than two of ten thousand identical brass plates (flush with the ground for easier mowing) saying “Frank G. Margason 1911-1968" and “Odrae L. Margason 1909-1971" How much of them is there?

In older cemeteries, one can read the history of an entire family, with microcosmic hints of many sorrows and lost causes.

A low brick wall topped by an ornate green iron fence proclaims the square to be occupied by the family of I.D. Spear. In it is a tall stone pylon, & two lesser headstones. To the distant sound of 
drums, we read on one side of the pylon: “In memory of Frank M. B., son of Isaac D. & Sarah B. Spear. He was born in Louisville, KY on 22nd of September 1843 and was killed in the battle of Shiloh on the 6th of April 1862, aged 18 years, 6 month, and 11 days. An early Christian, he died with the bravest, fighting for his country’s independence.”

Could a more succinct resume of the Civil War and its tragedy be found? Who can read it without wanting young Frank back again, to hold him and console him for all his lost years.

The rest of his family? We know his mother died first, for the other side of the pylon reads: “Sacred to the memory of Sarah B., wife of Isaac D. Spear, who was born in Mobile on the 31st of January 1822 and died on the 14th of February 1860, aged 38 years and 17 days.”

Frank was not quite 16 when she died. There were two infant children who died almost without having lived, but their birth dates and deaths are not recorded. Only, on a small stone (in the best condition of the three): “Daisy, Infant daughter of I.D. and S.B. Spear, aged 6 months, and Ikie, aged 7 days.”

And then we have the third stone; the most badly eroded of the three, a rounded slab. Probably the younger brother of I.D. Spear, though no relationship is mentioned. “In memory of Nicholas M. Spear (Illegible) of New York, who was drowned in Mobile Bay June 7, 1857, aged 25 years, 4 months.”

Of Isaac D. Spear himself, there is no trace. If Frank were his only surviving son at the time he marched off to Shiloh, then perhaps Isaac had no one left to bury him, or provide a memorial.

Nicholas, too, died very young and one wonders about him. Did he die while out for a swim, or fishing, or on one of the numerous accidents which apparently were so common (two other gravestones in Church Street comment on their occupants’ deaths in two separate steamer explosions. We cannot know, but we can care).

But who, 100 years from now, will stop at my dad’s grave, or my mother’s, and wonder who they were and what their lives may have been? Who can envision them walking and laughing and talking with friends, or going shopping, or arguing over the gas bill? They're now nothing but a few flat words on a flat, metal plate. How inhuman we are becoming, when our dead are allowed to die.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Ticket to Ride

The imagination is one of mankind's most valuable assets. I take great delight in exercising mine, and truly enjoy playing games with myself. Today, I find myself playing The Great Philosopher and the Train of Time. My obsession with time and the speed of its passing is well known by anyone who has followed these blogs. The concept of time is a human construct, invented to keep the days and seasons apart. Pondering whether it really exists is not unlike the old conundrum of the tree falling in the forest--if no one is there to hear it fall, does it make any noise? A falling tree sends out sound waves, unquestionably, but for there to be noise requires ears to translate the sound waves into noise. Does time require someone's awareness of it in order to exist?

Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, millennia: what do they matter if there is no one to be aware of them? What did they matter before we became aware of them?

Without question, time ceases for the individual with death. (Oh, and by the way, time passes away--people don't pass away, they die. People have a most annoying habit of using euphemisms for things they prefer not to face directly.) Time and trains have a lot in common--they are both immensely powerful and you can't stop either one by standing in front of it and waving your arms. The train of time is speeding down an endless track and we, as a species, hitched our little circus car to it a long way into its journey. The vast majority of individual members of our species get on and off with very little notice. We're each born with a ticket to ride without having any idea of how long or how far that ticket will take us. We are also born with no concept of time itself. We gradually become aware of it as we move from being an infant to being a toddler to being a child, and from the moment we first become aware of it, it increasingly influences and in many cases controls our lives.

I'm glad Mr. Einstein pointed out that time is relative, but I think almost anyone pretty much figures that out for themselves. The relativity of time is patently obvious to anyone who has sat for an hour in a waiting room with nothing to do but stare at the walls or, conversely, spent a sunny day with friends at an amusement park. In the former instance, time slows to a crawl. In the latter, it flashes by. For one so reluctant to see time pass, I've always found the fact of time's relativity to be an ultimate irony. Life is far too short under any conditions, and then the more we enjoy it, the faster it goes by. The ancient Babylonians believed that when one died, he/she sat on a chair in a long hallway without moving for eternity. Just sitting still with nothing to do for five minutes would be an eternity for me. But its relative speed is an illusion--time itself neither slows down or speeds up outside our own minds and some obscure laws of physics.

We only gradually begin first to suspect and then to realize that our ride is not free. For most of us, the conductor doesn't even come by to start collecting tickets until we're well into our journey. We recognize him only when he stops before us and hands us a very large mirror. We still may not know at what point we have to leave the train, but the conductor's mirror gives us an indication.

That we humans are able to accept so much without questioning or even thinking about it is, another of nature's wonders. Just as we would never, quite literally, be able to walk and chew gum at the same time if we had to consider each and every movement that goes into putting one foot in front of the other, or in moving the jaws up and down, spending too much time contemplating...well, time...the past, the present, and the future...would prevent us from going about the business of living from day to day. The mind can too easily boggle if it tries to contemplate too much too quickly in too much depth.

All we can do is to accept the fact that we are aboard the train now, with absolutely no guarantee of how much longer we might have, and that the best we can to be comfortable with what we have and what we may hope to obtain. And if, during our journey, we have acquired a degree of wisdom, we also must be aware of our fellow passengers, and realize that we have an obligation to remember not only them but those who rode the train before us, and those who will be getting on at the next station.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Thursday, September 12, 2013


At the end of 1939’s classic film, Gone With the Wind, Vivian Leigh, as Scarlet O’Hara, asks Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler what she is to do without him, and he replies, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” It was the first time the word “damn” had been allowed on film and shocked audiences everywhere.

Today we live in a world of expletives. They are the staple of reality TV and, to our vast discredit, we have been totally inured to them. “Fuck you, bitch” is the new “I don’t agree.”

Expletives are symptomatic of far more than the relaxing of our linguistic morals; they represent something far more serious and far more dangerous to our society. At their base, expletives are a response to our sense of loss of control over our lives. They are a lashing-out response to our sense of helplessness, a gut-level expression of frustration, anger, and contempt. The more deeply these feelings are felt, the more frequently they are expressed.

While I don’t know if any scientific research has been done on the subject, I would think it is axiomatic that one’s use of expletives is often in direct proportion to the limits of one’s education and financial security.

I watch a reality show called Hardcore Pawn and never cease being frankly and totally disheartened by the number of expletives used and the volume with which they are delivered. There is no civility, only an escalating anger and hostility. For the people featured on this show, expletives are cardboard swords wielded by those who have no other means of defense against perceived injustice; a desperate and pathetic attempt to raise themselves up by putting others down. While there is no excuse for such egregious behavior, they at least reflecting their socioeconomic limitations. There are unfortunately countless other shows that lack even this poor justification. The wildly if incomprehensibly popular shows like The Real Housewives of Toilet Gulch deliberately seek out wealthy, spoiled, contemptible bimbos to see who can be the most obnoxious in glorifying vulgarity, rudeness, incivility, and bad behavior. The most common form of address on non-scripted shows today seems to be “Bitch!” 

It could be argued--and certainly would be by me--that the producers of such shows are, in exploiting bad behavior for ratings and lucrative sponsorships, even more contemptible than the people who appear on camera.

Expletives serve a useful purpose for those who are too lazy to take the time to look for more appropriate words, and by those who think that expletives somehow give the impression of authority or being whatever the current term for “cool” may be. They are frequently used as adjectives and adverbs by those who don’t or can’t take two seconds to find something more appropriate.

The English language contains from a quarter million to a half million words; that people take the path of least resistance by using expletives as the glue to hold sentences together rather than bother themselves to use more traditional words is, to me, a total and sad mystery, as is why expletives have lost the ability to shock. Right, bitch?

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Monday, September 09, 2013

Words Written, Words Heard

I’m constantly fascinated by small things of which, though they have always existed, I suddenly become aware for the first time. 

I’ve only fairly recently begun having all my books done as audiobooks, and in the process thereof realized for the first time the really significant differences between reading a book and listening to it being read aloud. The obvious--the fact that while visually reading, the mind establishes its own unheard “voice,”--aside, I am aware of differences I’d never be aware of when reading on my own: pace, rhythm, pauses, emphases, pronunciation. With my own work, I realize this is largely because I wrote the words the narrator is speaking, and must make the adjustment in my head to accept the fact that we are two separate people. 

For the most part, these problems don’t exist when listening to words someone else has written, unless I’ve read and am familiar with what’s being narrated...but I am still conscious of them.

There are also inherent subtle but basic differences between the structures and language of fiction, poetry, plays, technical works, and newspaper articles. The often unwritten rules/guidelines for directing each type of writing toward specific audiences vary widely. The language, specific words, sentence length, etc. used in writing children's books, for example, is greatly different than writing fiction for adults. Journalistic and technical writing are structured vastly different than fiction and are totally fact-based. Fiction can treat facts much more casually, though except in the case of fantasy, a certain degree of logic is generally expected. Of all forms of writing, poetry stands out as the most subjective and perhaps the most dependent on the reader’s/listener’s psychological kinship with the poet’s intent.

In fiction, generally the least constrained of all writing forms, almost anything goes, with no limit or restriction on subject matter or style. The exception to this is children’s books, which must fit within certain limitations of words which can be used and subjects which can be easily understood by young readers. If fiction is flexible, journalistic and technical writing, being almost totally fact-based, are rigid. Fiction depends largely upon its flow and structure and the words chosen and how they are used. Poetry could be considered the distillation of fiction, in that no other form depends so heavily upon the choice of exactly the right word. The distillation of thoughts/mental images into very few words is a challenge many writers...even very good writers...find difficult or impossible to meet. Fiction paints mental pictures using broad brushstrokes on large canvases, poetry strives for exquisite miniatures.

And if you’ll allow me another metaphor, if the various forms of writing  were thought of as  roads on a map, fiction would be the majority of roads--winding all over the landscape, getting to from point A to point B with a deceptive casualness. Journalistic and technical writing would be like superhighways going as directly as possible from one point to another.

But the point of this blog is to demonstrate how amazingly complex, overlapping, and interrelated human forms of communication are. We never think of it. But, every now and again, perhaps we should.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Damned if You Do

That we humans are able to exist at all in so infinitely-complex and frustrating a world is a testament to our resilience and flexibility. We are bombarded every moment of every day with contradictions and challenges and decisions, and somehow we manage to wend our way through the minefields, though it can be argued it is harder and harder to do so.

Ironies and contradictions abound. We have created technology to make our lives simpler, and have ended up being ruled by them. We come up with new ways of direct communications and lose the ability to communicate directly (as anyone who has ever tried to reach a real human being at a major corporation can attest).

To have a computer is not enough. One must have an iPod and an iPad and a Kindle and a Blackberry. Telephones begat cell phones, and cell phones begat texting and ring tones and 14,999 various "apps". I have a computer (and have made the quantum leap from sit-in-one-place PC to a laptop, and I now have a device which enables me to get onto the internet from anywhere in the city of Chicago. I do not have an iPad or a Kindle, or a Blackberry. I have seen them, but I have never used them, and honestly I don't see any need for them, though I'm sure they're lots of fun.

I am bedeviled by endless TV commercials that encourage me to sign up for a mind-boggling array of supposedly absolutely necessary services I in fact do not need, each of which I can have "for only $99.99 for the first three months." I am well aware that the single purpose of all commercial ventures is to make money, but I rather strongly resent the implication that if I don't have (read "buy") all these gadgets and gee-gaws, I am a pathetic relic unfit for society. Lord knows I get that message clearly enough in other areas of my life. I don't need it from technology.

I have yet to completely figure out Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and LinkedIn and BranchOut and the 9,000 other internet sites I am told I "must" belong to if I intend to get/keep my name out there and find new readers for my books. And as a result, I spend so much time bouncing from site to site that I have almost no time to write.

Obligations are part of life. If you are below retirement age, you have to get up and go to work five days a week whether you want to or not. We all have obligations, to friends, family, employers. For the most part, we meet them, and when we don't, there are often consequences. It is the obligations imposed on us by our culture and by technology which are the problem. We are in effect bullied into them.

The human need to belong, to feel part of the whole, is universal. It is a fact advertisers know well and exploit to the fullest. One of the most popular expressions in the advertiser's lexicon is "Everybody's talking about..." The fact that, of course, everybody is not talking about it is totally irrelevant. The clear message they are sending is that if you are not talking about it, you don't belong.

Bombastic politicians are fond of saying "The American people will not tolerate such-and-so." So, obviously, if you have no objection to or may even be in favor of the "such-and-so," you are not a part of "the American people."

The world, it seems, is the embodiment of that old vaudeville question: "Have you stopped beating your wife?" No matter how you respond, you're in trouble. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Monday, September 02, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

I've always loved Blanche DuBois' final line in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” when she takes the arm of the doctor who has come to escort her to a mental hospital: “I've always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Tell me, Blanche!

I have always depended on the kindness of friends, family, and my readers—among whom I of course include you—to assist me when I need it. Far too often, I suspect I take advantage of this kindness when it comes to doing things which I'm sure I could eventually figure out how to do myself if I could avoid an attack of apoplexy in the process. I truly do not know where I would be without my best friend Gary, who is constantly lowering a ladder into some gigantic hole I've managed to dig myself into.

I'm pretty sure my assumption that I can depend on others stems, yet again, from the fact that my emotional growth ground to a halt somewhere in early childhood. Of course I can depend on others; don't all children depend upon adults for just about everything? That's what they're there for. Am I not the center of the universe? Is there really anything in other people's lives they cannot immediately put aside when I want something from them?

But there are some things I really cannot do myself, and with which I truly need the assistance of others. This is no more true than in the area of my writing. I have no trouble writing the books, and despite all the drum-beating and flag-waving and jumping-up-and-down I do to call attention to them, there is no possible way I can reach 1/10,000th of the people I would so badly like to reach. Therefore, I depend upon those who have read and hopefully enjoyed my books to spread the word to others. Again, the assumption that I can depend on people is, for me, simply axiomatic.

I've never been sure if this assumption is based more on egoism or egotism...and there is a difference. An egoist is given to introspection, but can be modest about it. An egotist has an exaggerated sense of the importance of his self-analysis and has to tell everyone about it. (I'd like to think of myself as an egoist but considering my apparent need to tell everyone every time I find out something about myself, I can't be sure.)

While I am very fond of royalty checks, I'm more concerned about people reading and liking my books than I am about money. Very few writers ever get rich. But now that I'm having audiobooks made of all my books, this sense of need for assistance in letting more people know about them is compounded, since all my audiobook royalties are split50/50 with the narrators—I could not afford to pay them otherwise. The narrators work very hard, and if I can't get word out to prospective listeners, it's the narrators who suffer far more than I, so I do feel a strong sense of responsibility to them. So I automatically—and however irrationally—depend upon my readers and potential readers for indirect financial aid for my narrators.

Reviewing this entire topic, I realize once again that I am one huge ball of contradictions. Yes, I depend on the kindness of others for probably far more things than I should, and fully take it as my due when it is offered...with things I feel I need assistance, that is. Yet I bristle and feel humiliated when a kind stranger on a bus offers me a seat, or opens a door for me, or tries to help me in some way for which I do not want or need help. I can't expect to have it both ways, but of course I do.

Yesterday as I was leaving the physical therapy office, I tried to open the door the wrong way and, as is my wont, when it didn't work the first or second or third time, I grew angry. Finally, a young woman got up and came over saying “let me get that for you.” It was very kind of her, but I was absolutely humiliated and a boiling cauldron of self loathing. I can't even open a f**king door, for chrissake? What the hell is wrong with me?

I suspect I may not be totally alone in trying to find a balance between needing and appreciating help—and help must always be appreciated—and expecting it as our due. I'm still trying to find that balance.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (