Thursday, February 27, 2014


You may have noticed that I’m rather fond of similes and metaphors for life and the human condition. They are constantly bubbling to the surface of my mind, unbidden. 

Some time ago, I posted a blog comparing life to a leaky little boat, with each of us bailing frantically to stay afloat. Today, perhaps more inspired by my Navy videos than the leaky boats blog, another bubble broke the surface. I suddenly found myself envisioning stock footage from a WWII era newsreel, looking down through the clouds on a huge flotilla of naval ships. Carriers, destroyers, heavy cruisers, light cruisers, battleships, support vessels of every description, tankers, troop ships…hundreds of them, spread over miles and miles of the ocean’s surface, each individual vessel  moving in the same direction and at the same speed, toward the same destination with the same goal.  It was also one of those optical illusions where one moment you see it as a unit (the flotilla), and the next you see the individual ships which constitute it.

And that, I thought, is a pretty good analogy for how humanity works. We are as diverse as the ships of the fleet, yet are all sailing through the sometimes stormy sea of life, each one a totally unique individual, operating both individually and as part of a vastly larger whole. 

In a wartime flotilla every ship in it is subject to attack and sinking by things we can see coming, the equivalent of air strikes, or those we cannot, like the torpedo from a submarine. And when one ship is stricken, the others steam on, not oblivious, but unable to do anything. We sail on together toward a horizon which none of us—no matter how big or small—will ever reach. As those who have sailed beside or at various distances from us for years slip beneath the waves, we sail on because we have no other choice than but to do so. And as we ourselves are torpedoed and sink, as inevitably must happen, the rest of the fleet continues on, our place in the flotilla taken up by another ship.

I’d like to think of myself as a carrier, of course…a proud, awe-inspiring, majestic flagship of one of the many battle groups of the fleet. But I am probably, in reality, a little grey destroyer paroling the perimeter of the fleet, cutting resolutely through the turbulent seas, plunging headlong into gigantic waves only to rise up in a huge spray of water washing over my bow, then plunge down into another trough to repeat the process.

There are, both in naval fleets and in life, priorities—probably more clear in ships than in people. In the navies of the world, it is the carriers which must be protected at all costs. The rest of the fleet is expendable. In human terms, world leaders…rightly or wrongly…are the carriers: the people they lead are the rest of the fleet.  But regardless of our designation, place, or rank in the fleet, the important thing is to recognize that we each do have an important role, and each of us has a purpose it is our responsibility to fulfill with dignity and honor. 

Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!

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, February 24, 2014

Simple Rules

It somehow always comes as something of a surprise every time I'm faced with the fact that life ain't easy, and that the passage through it is frequently chaotic. To bring some semblance of order, rules were invented. Since life is a cumulative learning experience, the rules each person sets up for himself/herself tend to be far more varied and flexible than societal rules. I have come up with a few simple rules to help my passage as smooth as possible.

Many of my own rules are in response to the fact that I've always been excruciatingly aware that life is far too short under the best of circumstances to meekly accept those wrongs and unnecessary injustices over which I have any small degree of control. 

In no particular order of importance, here are a few of them:

1) I will never vote for any politician who will not say what he is for, only what he is against. If he hasn't any positive, constructive things to say about what he plans to do to while in office, he doesn't deserve to hold it.

2) I refuse to buy any product whose ads include the words "for well-qualified buyers" (which is a subtle way of saying "not you") or "emerging science suggests" (I don't want "maybe in the future," I want "now").

3) I never tolerate rudeness or neglect from anyone I am paying to perform a service for me. I do not hesitate one second in asking to speak to the person's supervisor and relating my unhappiness directly to him or her. (Often, in restaurants and retail establishments, the manager is not aware of the employees' actions unless told.)

4) I will not subject myself to any situation/play/movie/book in which I know I will find myself uncomfortable or upset simply because someone says I should. I witness and experience enough sorrow, trauma, and injustice in the day-to-day world without willingly exposing myself to more—and I certainly should not have to pay for the privilege. 

5) In any disagreement, I will decide if winning is worth the effort put into it, and at the point where it is  not, I will simply walk away.

6) I do not hesitate in defending those who cannot defend themselves.

7) I refuse to spend time in the presence of bigots and proselytizers.  

8) I know the difference between ignorance and stupidity, and act accordingly.

9) Though it is often not easy, I do try to see both sides of every issue.

10) I never, ever, under any circumstances, allow myself to be suckered into opening any message in my spam folder unless I recognize the sender's name and can tell from the few opening words that it got into the spam folder by mistake.

11) While I often fail, I do my best to live by the golden rule. 

12) I avoid like the plague anything I am assured that "everyone is talking about". If I'm not talking about it, it doesn't matter.

13)  Even in those times when I am depressed or enraged by my own stupidity, I never, ever take myself too seriously.

14) I listen to what others say, respect their right to say it, but only do what my mind and heart tell me to do. 

As indicated in some of the rules above, I don't always succeed, but that doesn't mean I don't try.

Now, sit down and make a list of your own rules. You may find it very interesting.

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, February 20, 2014

Titan Arum

There is a rare plant, a native of Sumatra, called the Titan Arum. It can grow in excess of five feet high, is shaped very much like a phallus, and emits an odor like rotting flesh, which has given it the common and charmingly appropriate name of "corpse plant." It is both fascinating and repulsive, and I have decided to launch a campaign to rename it the "spam plant" for its strong similarity to the endless stream of effluvia clogging the in-box of nearly every computer on earth. Like the spores of the Titan Arum is carried by the wind, internet spam is carried on the winds of cyberspace to every corner of the world. 

And yet, as utterly repulsed as I am by this internet effluvia, I cannot resist reading the opening words of each message as it appears on my monitor, and reacting like one of Pavlov's dogs. The following examples are reprinted exactly as received, and followed by my "Dear Lord, I can't help myself" responses.

"Put your donut in her oven" (Excuse me? If you are making an oh-so-subtle and clever titter-hee-hee-smirk reference to intercourse, may I point out that donuts are round; the penis--like the Titan Arum--is tubular. And donuts are cooked in hot oil, not baked. But what in hell did I expect from a spam message?)

"How please knocking-out hottie" (How please learn speaking English?)

"Little humble Celanding - Beggard and outragedMany hearts deplord...." (Well, that certainly convinces me you're a totally above-board representative of an august and respected company. Send me a dozen of whatever in the hell it is you’re peddling.)

vivatcell: "Like a drilling machine in pants - Wanna act best with your wife...."
justin: "Fill rod with power - Wanna act best with your wife...." (Justin, meet Vivatcell. The answer to your identical question is a resounding "NO!," and I consider you both to be seedlings of the Titan Arum.)

"Give more banging to your beloved."  (What a charming, charming sentiment. I thought for a moment I was reading a Hallmark card.)

"Lose 49lbs Obeying 1 Rule" (Yeah: don't eat.)

"Your Email Won £1,000,000 Pounds!" (Of course it did! And as King of Romania, I shall distribute it among all my worthy subjects.)

"Do you have a flare for designing?" (No, I usually use flares to attract passing ships at night when I'm lost at sea. But I do have a flair for spotting ignorance.)

neilread 07   "Wrong - Hello. My name is Victoria. It's about you or no?"  (You're absolutely right: you're wrong. 1. Your name is not Victoria, it's Neil. 2. Your 'question' makes no sense--not that I expected it to--and 3. You're definitely wrong if you think I have any interest in whatever you're pitching.)

"Cheap women's clothes!" (My first reaction was that they were hoping to attract the Chippy/Bimbo crowd, but then realized they were undoubtedly using "Cheap" to describe the quality.)

"Russian wives. Are you ok?" (I'm fine, thanks. What the hell are you talking about?--Not that I have any intention of opening your toxic waste email to find out.)

WESTERN UNION TRANSFE (no subject) - "My associate has helped me to send your first payment of $7500 to you as instructed by Mr......" (Western Union's sending money by email now? Please tell your associate it has not arrived. Perhaps Mr......stole it. I wouldn't put it past him.)

Breathe deep.

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, February 17, 2014

A Book's Tale

One of the many fascinating things about being a writer is, after a book has been written, to be able to look back on its history…not just on the steps it took to being written, but what consciously or unconsciously prompted those steps. My very first published book is a case in point. 

In 1973, I was working as an editor at what I referred to as, and in fact was, “the largest porn mill on the West Coast.” It was the height of the “sexual revolution,” and the owners of the company took full financial advantage of it, churning out dozens of magazines with sexually explicit photographs, 99.95 percent of which were unrelentingly heterosexual. The company avoided prosecution by donning the protective cloak of “socially redeeming value.” Every photograph was justified by a clinically-worded caption and incorporated in a heavily-footnoted article based on recognized research in human sexuality. Nobody who bought the magazines bothered to read the words, of course, but in case anyone did, that’s where I came in as editor.

When, for reasons never made clear, the company decided to branch out into the publishing of paperback mainstream fiction, they thought it would be good to start with a western. Since they’d never published “regular” fiction, there were no submitted manuscripts from which to draw. I was asked if I’d like to write one. 

Of all literary genres, westerns had always been my least favorite, but I took it as both a challenge and a way to make a few extra dollars, and agreed. Knowing that they would not go for a story with an openly gay cowboy, I wrote it to be as ostensibly heterosexual as I could. Fortunately, no sex scenes were required, so crammed in every Saturday kids’ matinee cliff-hanger cliche I could think of except for a fight between cowboys and indians…only because there weren’t any indians. The result was Stagecoach to Nowhere—not my title—which was all well and good, except that there were only two stagecoaches even mentioned in the book, and neither of them had any significant relation to the plot. My efforts were compounded by the melodramatic cover blurb, with which I also had nothing to do: “Cursing the law, he rode for justice.” While the hero did seek justice, there was no cursing of the law involved.

At any rate, it did quite well, and as a result manuscripts started flowing in to the fiction department, thereby eliminating the necessity for me to write another book for the company.

Fast forward almost 30 years. When the copyright reverted to me, I set about to rewrite it as I’d like to have done it originally—as a western-romance-adventure-mystery centered on a gay cowboy and his young charge—the male half of a boy-and-girl set of twins Calico was guiding, for complex reasons, across the wild wild west to their aunt in far-off Colorado. Retitled Calico, which I had originally called it until the stagecoach came rumbling in, I had the chance to make it what I wanted it to be, and I was rather pleased by the result.

Writers tend to become emotionally involved with the characters they create. Those like me, who are able to turn the story over to the characters, often just sit back and watch the story unfold with little conscious direction. In developing and expanding the relationship between Calico and Josh, I found it had transitioned from a string of potboiler cliches into what I consider to be a very sweet love story. And again without having thought about it in advance, I realized I was hopefully opening the door to a Young Adult market in which gay role models are extremely scarce for those who may be having problems accepting their orientation. Josh, who at 17 knows exactly who and what he is and what he wants out of life is, I hope, such a model.

So my very first published book transitioned, for me, from an opportunity to make a quick buck to a good, old fashioned romance/adventure with a twist, and set me on a path I follow today. Sort of gives new meaning to riding happily off into the sunset.

For a writer, it don’t get much better than that.

[For anyone who might be interested, the first chapter of Calico can be found and read on my website,, and/or you can listen to an excerpt from the audiobook by clicking )]

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, February 13, 2014

Practical Purposes

What my fascination with statistics and general trivia is, I have no idea (as I have no idea of the why or how of so many things I do), other than that they have no practical purpose. If you ask me, there 's already far too much "practical" in this world. Too often, practical isn't much fun. Knowing, for example,  that this is my 915th blog...which I know only because Blogger provides the information...has no practical purpose, but it's a fun fact. Each blog, the "Word Count" option on my computer tells me, averages somewhere around 800 words. This comes out to 732,000 words, give or take, which is a lot of words no matter how you look at it. I am not equating quantity with quality, of course. As anyone who has read my blogs with a fair degree of regularity can attest, I have a tendency to careen wildly from pillar to post within the course of any given blog.

The fact of my being so easily distracted is evidenced in the space between this sentence and the preceding one. I wanted to use the word "caroom", to describe bouncing wildly from place to place, but when I typed it I got a squiggly red line beneath it to indicate it was misspelled. So I then spent five minutes trying to find out how to spell it and have deduced there apparently is no such word. Of course there is such a word! I've used it all my life. My paranoia nods knowingly, saying "See? It's all part of the plot to drive you bonkers!"...which sent me running back to the dictionary to find the origin of the word "bonkers"("origin unknown"). It's endless.

I also currently have another 30 begun-blogs which I've never gotten around to finishing. Some of them I might, others I probably won't.

When I have an idea for a blog, I don't do much planning out...another of the little curses which have plagued my life...and just start typing, only to find myself, a couple of paragraphs in, running out of steam, starting to wander off in other directions, or realizing that it wasn't such a good idea after all. Most people would just throw them out. But as I work so hard to try to prove, I'm not most people.

I'm fascinated by statistics from annual rainfall in the Gobi desert over the past 50 years to the number of stories in the world's tallest building.

So what if so much of what I'm fascinated by is little more than trivia and of little practical use?  I love trivia. As I've mentioned before, in one or more of my blogs, I've never lost a game of Trivial Pursuits (thank God they don't have an "All Sports" edition, or I'd be doomed). I can quote you the opening lines of radio shows from the 1940s and 50s ("...dive with a roar into the 2 1/2 mile tunnel that burrows beneath the glitter and swank of Park Avenue, and then: Grand Central Station, crossroads of a million private lives; a gigantic stage on which are played a thousand dramas daily" or the opening to "Our Gal Sunday": "...The story that asks the question, can a girl from a small town in the west find happiness with England's richest, most handsome lord, Lord Henry Brinthrop?"

Or I can remember songs like WW1's "Hello, Central, give me Heaven, 'Cause My Daddy's There," or the post Civil War Confederate song, "Furl the Banner." I can tell you the last song played by the Titanic's band as the ship went down....not "Nearer, My God, to Thee" but the protestant hymn, "Autumn." I can remember long ago movie stars like Anna Mae Wong and Billy Burke and Lash LaRue.

I can tell you how many people died in Chicago's Iroquois Theater fire on December 30, 1903 (602), and who was appearing on stage at the time (Eddie Foy).

But can I follow the simplest of directions, practical directions, for anything...anything involved with technology or moving parts? Would I ever willingly buy any product that says, on the box, "Some Assembly Required"? Don't be silly.

The problem with the concept of "practical purposes," for me, again, lies in the word "practical." I don't recall that word's ever having been applied to me. But who cares. Did you know that the average snowfall for Antarctica is about 2 inches a year? Is knowing that practical? No. But I think it's fun.

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, February 10, 2014

Compared to What?

I often quote one of my favorite bits of wisdom from an anonymous sage: "When people tell me 'Life is hard', I'm always tempted to ask, 'Compared to what?'" I’ve never understood what there is in the human psyche that makes us assume that life should be easy. I think part of the problem lies in that while we are intricately aware of our own problems and shortcomings, we are not and can never be fully aware of those of others. As a result, life, and our reaction to it, is inevitably one endless string of comparisons in which we are constantly weighing ourselves on some sort of ethereal scale with the things and people around us. 

Depending on our individual emotional makeup, this can either be a healthy and constructive way of judging and adjusting to our position in life, or a constant indication of our own failings and shortcomings, real or imagined. It will come as no great surprise to anyone who has followed these blogs for any length of time to learn I tend strongly toward the latter view.

I spend a great deal of time being angry—often furious—with myself, and for my narcissistic insistence that I am the only one with feelings of falling short in nearly every instance where I compare myself to others. I seem to insist upon finding the bruised apple in every bushel. And I also have a tendency to be somewhat selective in those individuals and situations to whom/which I compare myself—invariably, it is to people/things I envy or want. I seldom compare myself with those who might objectively be considered to be my peers. (Perhaps this may be due in part to the fact that I have always felt myself so apart from others that the very concept of having peers is a little foreign to me.)

That I am not the only person to have difficulty with personal comparisons, or who always feels at the short end of the stick, is hardly surprising. The fact of the matter is that few people have or take the time to consider things outside themselves and their own realm of existence. They constantly compare themselves to others in a million different, wages, possessions (it used to be called "Keeping up with the Joneses")...without really considering the self-defeating nature of doing so.

Eastern cultures are not nearly so concerned with the need for constant comparison; their philosophical bases are very different from ours. They tend to see the world as a level playing field. Western cultures are more likely to see the world as a ladder. It's in our nature to look up the ladder to the next rung. Whatever we have, there's somebody who has more: more money, more talent, more possessions, more power. And we're never happy until we have it, too. (And then when we get it, the cycle repeats itself endlessly.) Comparisons, by their very nature, lead to dissatisfaction. 

Our society is pretty firmly rooted in greed, and as a result, the deck is stacked against the person doing the comparing. We seldom compare ourselves, or even give any consideration, to people who are a few rungs beneath us on the ladder. For far too many people, it's not what we have, it's what we want

For whatever reason, our culture seems to deliberately foster low self esteem. The negative power of television, for example, has no equal. It seems based on the implication that only the young and the beautiful have worth. Everyone on television is young and beautiful, and rich, and knows exactly what to wear and how to act in any given situation. Stare at any primetime soap opera for an hour and then take a look in the mirror. Recent studies have shown—stop the presses!—that low self esteem and many of the serious problems affecting young women, from anorexia to bulimia and on down, can be traced to the false ideals of "attractiveness" they're constantly exposed to on TV.  Wow! Talk about an "I didn't see that one coming" revelation! 

And men are not immune. Why do you think spammers make fortunes on products guaranteed to "make her scream with pleasure" (pardon me while I projectile-vomit)? That men love porn is hardly a revelation, yet even though the men in porn movies are not the intended focus of attention, they always seem to be far above average in the "endowment" department. How can poor Sam Schlub, after watching a porn flick, expect to compete?

Comparisons are an integral and important part of life when we use them as helpful tools rather than immutable rules. So it’s time we began putting things in perspective. We can start with the simple realization comparisons should not be considered contests. Each of us is only one human being trying to measure ourselves against nearly seven billion others. And with those odds, there's absolutely no contest: you're gonna lose. A little more self-acceptance would vastly relieve the unnecessary pressures we exert upon ourselves every day, and greatly simplify our lives.

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, February 06, 2014

Chewing on Tinfoil

Only those who have been unfortunate enough to actually chew on tinfoil can fully appreciate the title of today's blog. My mind being what it is, I found myself this morning making a list of some of the things which induce a similar reaction in me.

The endless Subway commercials featuring "just plain folks,"singularly and in groups, singing "Five dol-lar foot-longs" excruciatingly off-key and obviously under the impression that what they're doing is really, really cute.

Those who think they are really, really "cool."

Baseball caps worn with the bill in any direction other than straight forward (reason same as above).

Al Roker, weatherman, solemnly intoning "It's FOOT-ball Night in A-MAIR-IK-A!!!!"


Plavix commercials' final warning: "Just because you're feeling better doesn't mean you're not still at risk." 

"...for well qualified buyers."

"No reasonable offer refused!"

"Every application accepted!"

"Emerging science suggests..."

"May help reduce the appearance of..."

"Everyone's talking about..."

"Call within the next three minutes!"

"Not sold in stores!"

"But wait! There's more!"

"Who do you think I am…Quicken Loan?"

"Bloating, constipation, diarrhea?”

Any Infomercial.

Willful stupidity.




Anyone—pundit, politician, or individual who presumes to speak for God or for "the American people.”

The list is endless, and I’m sure you have one almost as long as my own. I’d love to see it someday.

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, February 03, 2014

A Bologna Sandwich

Shortly after I returned home from Mayo Clinic after my successful treatment for tongue cancer in 2003, I had the indescribably overpowering craving for a huge glass of orange juice, which lasted for days. I was at that point still taking all my nourishment through a stomach tube and was unable to swallow anything. I probably could have poured it into the stomach tube, but it was the taste I wanted.

And then when, months later, I was slowly able to resume drinking, I discovered that the acidity of that long-anticipated glass of orange juice burned my mouth. 

Today, for some unexplained reason, I had an overpowering urge for a bologna sandwich...white or sourdough…yeah, sourdough!…bread, two thick slices of bologna, a slice of cheese, mayonnaise, a little catsup and mustard between the bologna slices, maybe a lettuce leaf. I fantasized about opening my mouth wide, taking a big bite, chewing, swallowing, then another big bite, chew, swallow until the sandwich is gone. 

It is going on eleven years now, and I still cannot believe that I will never again have a bologna sandwich...not a whole one, at any rate, and even then not even one single bite without having to take a sip of water to accompany the act of swallowing, to wash it down. And never with the ease and pleasure I associate with the thought of a bologna sandwich.

I know, I know, it sounds like I'm doing one of my “Roger at the Pity Pool” numbers. I never have been one to suffer in silence. But really, I'm not writing this to solicit sympathy. Sympathy is not called for in any event. I'm just trying to convey to everyone who takes such ordinary, simple actions as having a sandwich for granted the incomprehensibility of suddenly being unable to do so. 

I bitch a lot...a lot...about the things I have been deprived of, and how incredibly much I miss them. Yet  I also realize how lucky I am compared to so very many people whose limitations are far greater than my own. Only people who have been deprived of things they have always taken for granted can fully appreciate what they no longer have or can do.

My "afflictions" are to a large extent limited to such simple things as swallowing and eating. I cannot imagine what so many other people endure without nearly so much complaint, and I know I should be ashamed of myself. I am truly in awe of what those countless numbers of people suffering fatal illness or severe physical limitations must go through every day.

But rightly or wrongly, I justify my eternal bitching in these blogs as being a cautionary tale of how quickly and how completely one's life can change, and how very important it is for each of us to realize that. I cannot urge you too strongly to take just a moment in the middle of any simple, un-thought-of daily action, like eating or running or turning one's head, and think of the myriads of tiny interactions of mind and body which are involved in and necessary to accomplish them. Of course you can't possibly stop to consciously think of every single action you perform; that's why they are for the most part totally automatic—so you don't have to. But to give an occasional moment’s thought to how utterly fascinating it is that we can do them at all can give a far greater appreciation to life.

And the next time you see a person with physical disabilities, resist the all-too-common reaction of pity, which too often is really just glorified condescension, and replace it with empathy by putting yourself, for just a moment, in their place.

Agreed? Okay, now go have a bologna sandwich for those of us who can’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 (