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 (


Chloe Thurlow said...

We are certainly in agreement that being read for a writer is more important than royalty cheques (English spelling, I'm afraid); the blog also made me think of last lines and how they are just as important as those that open the novel.

Dorien/Roger said...

Excellent...and accurate...point, Chloe. I always try to work hard on them.