Monday, June 30, 2014

Pondering the Imponderable

We humans seem to take a perverse delight in pondering questions for which there are and can be no definitive answers. It's one of the many wonders—and frustrations—of life that we spend so much time and energy on them as we do. Perhaps it is partly because while these questions seem profound in their inability to be answered, anyone can step in with an opinion. And thinking about them can and does serve as a form of old-fashioned razor strop for sharpening the mind. 

Being neither a philosopher nor a scholar, or even particularly bright, doesn't prevent us from thinking about questions which have intrigued our race since we stopped dragging our knuckles on the ground. And an interesting side-effect is that thinking of things beyond our ken can give us insights into just who we are and what makes us tick.

Yesterday, for absolutely no reason I am able to determine, I was thinking of the classic philosophical battle between predestination and free will. I had always been firmly on the side of free will. Predestination—the thought that the outcome of every single choice we make in our lives is predetermined and that we in effect have no control over our destiny—was (and is) both pointless and anathema to me. Some may well take odd comfort in the idea of predestination. We live in a world, after all, in which it seems increasingly clear that we in fact have no control over anything. Going with the idea of predestination is a simple "out" which frees us (no pun intended) from having to even try to change things.

Predestination is a popular biblical theme designed to forestall any blame aimed at organized religion when anything goes wrong. It says, in effect, that we mere mortals needn't worry our pretty little heads about anything: whatever happens was bound to happen no matter what, and since there's not a thing we can do to change it, we have to accept it as part of "God's plan." In other words, God: 1, Humans: 0.

Life is an endless string of choices. Free will says, "Okay, I choose this over that." Predestination says, "Ah, but it was predestined that you'd make the choice you did." This is the equivalent of responding to any statement with, "I knew that!" and challenging whoever made the statement to prove you wrong.

Granted, given that every choice an individual makes is influenced in part by predispositions, past experiences, and the emotional state at the time the decision is made, and that we might have made a different choice under slightly different circumstances, the fact is that we are stuck with whatever decision we did make. Sometimes we could just as easily said "no" instead of "yes." If predestination is removed from the cosmic level...the implication that some unknown forces rule our every action...and simplified to the mere fact that our past predispositions do in fact subtly influence us, I don't think there would be much disagreement; but the choice was still ours and we based it on the circumstances which existed at that moment. 

I look on predestination the way I view the predictions of Nostradamus...which are in fact "predictions in retrospect." ("Oh, yeah, that's what he meant!") Predestination also relieves a lot of personal responsibility and serves as a convenient excuse for anything that doesn't work out the way one wanted/expected them to. ("Oh, it wasn't my was predestined." Uh-huh.) 

And yet, having said all that, I realized that another of my basic philosophies—that time is an endless Mobius strip on which every nanosecond of time is repeated endlessly—renders the subject of predestination vs free will moot. Everything is, was, and will be without change and without end. We have free will to make whatever decision we choose, but it is the same freely-made choice we have and will freely make throughout eternity.

Debates which are rooted in questions which are humanly impossible to answer are, ultimately, merely interesting exercises in futility. But then it was predestined that I'd say that, wasn't it?

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, June 26, 2014

Of Time and Blogs

I'm not sure what to call it. It's not ennui (one of my all-time favorite words, by the way). It's not really boredom. And I don't feel particularly burnt-out. It's just, I think, the need for a short break in the routine. 

This is my 954th blog. I started on February 5, 2007, intending to do one a day, but soon realized I couldn't possibly keep it up and get anything else done--like writing books, for example. So I went to a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule and managed that until eight or nine months ago, when I dropped back to two: Monday and Thursday. I don't think I've ever missed a blog day, but it’s not always easy.

I am, as stated here frequently, compelled to write, and I place that compulsion squarely at the feet of time. (You didn't know Time had feet? It does. Trust me.) Time is more than just precious; to me it is an obsession. My every thought and action is, at the core, predicated on my acute awareness of the passage of time. I consider a day without writing to be a day irretrievably lost forever, gone without a trace--and leaving as much as myself as possible in words is probably the strongest driving motivation of my life.

I am aware, as each of these words appear on a screen totally blank beyond the word being written, that I must get this blog done for tomorrow. Which automatically turns me into one of those wild-eyed cartoon characters dashing wildly off in all directions, blubbering nonsense.

At such times I try to step back...convince myself to play a game of computer solitaire, for example. Right. Good luck with that one. The little cartoon character won't let me concentrate (yeah, like there's a lot of concentration involved in solitaire), jumping up and down, tugging at my sleeve, fanning his hand in front of my eyes and burbling “No! No! No! No: work! You'll never get it done if you waste your time playing stupid games." Which of course destroys any sense of relaxation I was hoping to find by playing in the first place.

So I try to get back to the blog. It isn't that the words aren't there, it's often that there are too many of them, and I have no idea which ones to choose. Whatever I try to say either isn't what I want to say, or I'm not using the right words to say it...or both. I’m metaphorically in a long hall lined with blocked-from-the-inside doors, behind each one is a potential blog topic. I try to force one open, push it open a few paragraphs, get frustrated, figure "the hell with it", and move on to the next door. Same thing. Stop for a brief moment to look back at the hall behind me, littered with a trail of discarded thoughts left in my wake.

My innate laziness, pretending to be the voice of calm and reason, steps in and says, "Relax...just go way back and redo a blog you've already used. No one will remember." While I do appreciate the vote of confidence in just how deathless my prose is, and I do admit to frequent recycling, I always feel guilty doing so.

"Okay," somebody roaming around in the space between my ears, says, "just don't do a blog tomorrow."

Great idea. What do I do, put up a note saying “Gone fishing”? I hate fishing. Or, perhaps, “This Space for Rent”? People do not like to see blank space where a blog is supposed to be.

The fact of the matter is that I am sincerely concerned (have I mentioned my tendency toward paranoia?) that were I to skip a blog, you, the reader, would go away and not come back. If you're  kind  enough to put up with my ramblings, the very least I can do is give you something to read, even if it doesn't make much sense.

"Excuse me? So you're willing to just throw out anything and expect the reader to accept it? That's insulting! If you can't say something worth saying, why the hell do you even bother?"

Hmmm. Point....Oh, I know! I can do a blog about arguing with myself. That sounds like a winner. You'll buy that, won't you?

Won't you?


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, June 23, 2014

I Sing the Body Electric!

Music is inherent to human existence, and a basic form of communicating emotion. The title of Walt Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric" indicates the strong link between words, poetry, and song. Songs are simply words--poetry--set to music. Each of us finds and responds to our own inner music in our own way. We all have favorite books with which we identify, which strike emotional chords somewhere deep inside ourselves, unconscious of exactly which specific chords in them resonate most strongly. Song lyrics are poems, and they have a unique and directly powerful ability to encapsulate our deeply held down outlooks, attitudes and core beliefs. Given that most of us are far more often exposed to songs than to poetry, I'm quite sure that each of us can point to at the lyrics of at least one song--probably several--and say "this is me."

With all the emotional rigidity of a blade of grass, I am frequently moved by songs, and this morning, for absolutely no discernible reason, the song "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret entered my head, where, as is my wont, it has stubbornly remained ever since. I long ago realized that I've always been able to find myself summed up in a the words of a few songs. "Maybe This Time" has always grabbed me by the heart and spoken to my sense of longing as well as, if not better than, I could ever do myself. (Turn on your mental stereo and listen to it carefully. You're hearing me--and perhaps, if you do not have someone to share your life, yourself.)

I can think of three songs, the lyrics of which, even if you knew absolutely nothing about me as a person, paint a trompe l'oeil portrait of who I am: "Maybe This Time," "The Impossible Dream," and "I Am What I Am."
While my being gay is not the only thing that defines me as a human being, it has deeply colored every aspect of my life. My attitudes toward--and defiance of--bigotry and stupidity and those who would dictate how others should live their lives were formed and have evolved from it. Hence, the second of my three defining songs: "I Am What I Am," from Jerry Herman's La Cage aux Folles. To me, it is a song of defiance of the world in which I grew up, and for me defines the word "pride."

And the third song...the one which encapsulates my view of everything I aspire to—yet know I shall never fully realize--is "The Impossible Dream," from Man of La Mancha. Can you possibly imagine what the world could be like if everyone "strove, with his last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable stars"? I can.

The underlying theme of all these songs, and the underlying theme of my existence, is: hope. With hope, anything is possible, any star eventually reachable. Without it, there is nothing.

So there, in those three songs, you have my life. I am what I am, and I cling to the impossible dream in hopes that maybe this time... Take a moment to think of which songs are you.

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, June 19, 2014


I’ve not used an alarm clock in 40 years. My mind has a build-in alarm which is set for no later than 6:00, no matter how much I would like to sleep longer. Seven mornings out of ten, I wake up like a tree full of owls between 5:50 and 6:00, no matter how tired I am or how late I'd gotten to bed the night before. There have been rare times that I can make it to between 6:25 and 6:30. Beyond that…no way.

I’m told we humans spend fully 1/3 of our entire lives asleep, yet far more is not known about sleep than what is known. Unless getting to sleep, or remaining asleep once we get there, is a problem, we tend, as with so many things in our personal existence, to simply accept it and very seldom if at all give it any thought. That's logical, I suppose, since so much of the detail work of our daily functioning is put on autopilot. We just trust our bodies to know what to do without our conscious instruction ("Lift left leg. Move it forward approximately two feet. Place left foot on ground and shift body's weight to it. Lift right leg. Move it forward…") And my particular mind is programed to "6:00. Time to wake up!” How it knows when it is 6:00 is another matter entirely.

Sleep is essential to our existence, and those cursed with chronic insomnia know the toll lack of sleep can take. There are a even a handful of scientifically documented cases of someone dying from lack of it—a specific condition the name of which I cannot recall. It is a singularly unpleasant death resulting from the body’s chemical and neurological balances being irreparably upset. Yet, again, we are generally blissfully unaware of exactly how this essential bodily function works and what all it does for us. 

The amount of sleep each individual requires varies. A number of famous people, Thomas Alva Edison among them, are said to never have slept more than two hours at a time. The general consensus now seems to be that between 6 and 8 hours a night falls in the "average" range, although there is mounting scientific evidence that most of us do not get enough sleep, and that our daily lives and our productivity suffer from it.

A lot of people nap on a regular basis, even daily, and though if I take one nap every two months it is noteworthy, I often find naps counterproductive, waking up from them more tired than when I laid down. Plus, I tend to see a minute spent napping to be a minute taken away from things I really should be doing. But I stand in something akin to awe of friends for whom a nap (or two) is an integral part of their daily routine. 

I have always been fascinated by the fact that, though we cross the boundary between sleep and being awake every night of our lives, we are never aware of actually crossing it. We're just awake one minute and asleep the next. We've all experienced a frightening and potentially deadly example of this while driving along a monotonous stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere, bored and/or tired. With absolutely no awareness of any change, we're lying in a hammock with a glass of lemonade—only to be jolted awake by the car's front tires going off the edge of the road and the adrenaline rush of pure terror which accompanies it.

We all know that sleep is vitally important in healing and physical regeneration; we all lie down and take a nap to get rid of a headache or to help get rid of a cold or the flu. People with life-threatening conditions are often put into induced comas to aid in healing. 

On a nightly basis, sleep provides a form of housecleaning service we call dreams, sorting and rearranging and clearing up the mental clutter we've created and accumulated while we're awake. Sleep gives the brain the chance, in its own strange way, to deal with our unresolved problems and issues. To me, if sleep is a form of medicine, dreams are the spoonful of sugar Mary Poppins suggests we take it with.

Excuse me. I just sneezed. I think I should go lie down for a bit.

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

Monday, June 16, 2014

Technology and Me

I am a simple man—some would argue “in all definitions of the word.” And while I am very grateful to live in an era of iPads and Smartphones and Digital-This-es and High-Speed-6D-Thats, my admiration for these devices is exceeded only by my total lack of comprehension as to how they work. I do not refer to the scientific miracles that went into creating these devices, but rather how, once they’ve been created, I’m supposed to work with them. 

I stand in awe of technology, much as the earliest humans must have stood in awe of fire. Like probably the majority of humans not living in third-world countries, I have become utterly addicted to my computer. I have a cell phone not associated with any “Service” providing an infinite number of bells and whistles for which I simply have no need and in which I have no interest. Rather than paying the “Service” well upwards of $100 per month, I buy blocks of usage minutes. I do not text, and cannot understand the purpose for it. If I want to talk to someone, I’ll phone them. If I want to send them a message, I’ll use e-mail. 

My relationship with technology is not quite so adversarial as is my relationship with reality; technology simply ignores me and marches forward, and it is up to me to try to keep up with it as best I can. But it is none the less frustrating.

My life has two settings: “Bumbling along” and “Chaos.” If I am attempting to deal with something that has moving parts, I am on shaky ground. If electricity is involved, all bets are off. Instruction manuals are utterly beyond my comprehension. I consider them the Devil’s work. Their sole purpose, no matter how “user friendly” they claim to be, is to mislead and confuse. I have seldom made it through two paragraphs of any instruction manual without becoming totally frustrated. If diagrams are included, it’s even worse. I try to follow instructions. I really, really do. (“Insert Tab A into Slot B.”) Fine. “Attach part 1 to part 2” is possible only if there is only one way the two can be attached, and things go rapidly downhill from there. If any product I am considering buying includes the words “Some Assembly Required” I move on looking for one for which NO assembly is required. I have yet, in my entire life, to buy something for which “Some Assembly” is required without ending up with a piece missing or three left over, and any resemblance between the end product pictured on the box and what I end up producing is strictly coincidental.  

My television set has two remotes: one to turn on the TV via the cable box and control volume and “pause”, the other to change channels. Each remote has, for reasons I dare not even try to guess, at least 32 buttons, the purpose(s) of which are totally beyond my ken. Occasionally I will somehow accidentally press a wrong button (I am never aware of which button it was I pressed) and the TV will go blank. Nothing I do—nothing—will bring the picture back. I begin frantically pressing buttons—any buttons/all buttons—desperately trying to find the right one, even knowing as I’m doing it that I’m only making matters worse. And finally, after ten minutes of button-pushing and frustration building to fury, I will call my best friend Gary, who lives in the building next to mine, to ask him for help, and he will give up whatever he’s doing/watching to come over. Inevitably he will pick up one (not both) of the remotes, casually click one of the 32 buttons, and God returns to His heaven, and all’s right with the world until the next time. And there always is a next time.

Purchasing anything on line, changing passwords, filling out any type of form either online or on paper becomes an exercise in madness. I can and have spent half an hour or more on line dancing through hoops only to hit “Submit” to be told I’d done something wrong and having to start over from scratch. I will enter a password I have used for six years only to be told it is incorrect, search through records to find what I entered was, indeed correct, re-entering it, and being told yet again that it is incorrect. I am told to change the password (another time-consumer), receive confirmation of the new password, enter it where required, and am told it is incorrect.

It is to weep.

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, June 12, 2014

Sing Me a Song!

Among my many carefully-cultivated idiosyncrasies is my ability to have a song suddenly appear in my head and refuse to leave, like gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe. Last night, it was “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”...a big hit from the Civil War. I’m sure you remember it: “When Johnny comes marching home again/ Hoorah! Hoorah!/ We’ll give him a hearty welcome then/ Hoorah! Hoorah!/ Oh, the men will cheer and the boys will shout/ and the ladies, they will all turn out/ And we'll all feel gay/ When Johnny comes marching home!

And voila! I had the subject of today’s blog, and it had nothing to do with my being gay. 

Do you remember when songs made sense? When even the silliest of them used real English and complete sentences and you could actually understand the words? And can you remember any song prior to 1950 (other than, perhaps, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" from the Depression era) that dealt with negativity or real anger or hatred? When did songs―like politicians―stop being for something and become against everything?

Is it simply because songwriters/performers have run out of things to say that so many have turned to endless repetition of the same few words? (The one that leaps to mind is from a few years ago, where the words “Thank you” were repeated 38 times. I can’t recall the name of the song, but think I might guess. Well, at least it wasn’t “F... You.”)

When did popular music switch from being an enjoyable canoe trip down a pleasant river to the equivalent of being thrown into a roaring rapids without a life jacket? It seems the purpose of popular music has switched from soothing and reassuring to reflecting the hopelessness/helplessness/anger of our world.

I know, I sound like one of those irritating “Well, now, in my day…” types I despise. But come on, folks: listen to what has become of our culture? What are we saying with so-called popular music? Where is the logic?

When―but far more importantly, why―did “Muthaf...ka” and “‘ho” and “bitch” become integral parts of our musical lexicon, and the people who utter them become pop icons richer than Croesus? How could it possibly come about that wearing a baseball cap sideways and tons of the ugliest, most gaudy jewelry imaginable while spewing unintelligible garbage could be the passport to fame and fortune once achieved by education and talent?

“Pop” music has always reflected the state of the culture in which it exists. We look back now with bemusement on the hullabaloo that accompanied Elvis’s appearance on the pop scene, and many people would point to today’s music as just being another version of the same thing. It was more Elvis’s hip shaking than the words of his songs which were the basis for the uproar, and just looking at today’s obnoxiously strutting and preening rappers creates the same reaction in me. But a profound difference exists in what messages the songs’ words convey. 

There have always been songs of protest, but until fairly recently, most were at least based on hope. (Even the Nazi anthem“Die Fahne Hoch” was rousingly upbeat.) How much hope can be found in today’s music…if you’re able to understand one word out of ten?

Throughout time, each generation’s popular music has been decried by former generations as indicating the decline and fall of civilization as we know it. Ours is no different, and the world will undoubtedly survive the aural onslaughts of what passes for popular music today.  But I am willing to bet that “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” will be around long, long after “Yo! F...k You,’ ‘Ho Bitch” has been flushed down the toilet of time.

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

Monday, June 09, 2014


Lying is an integral part of human nature. For anyone to deny lying merely proves the point.  There are an infinite number of types of lies, but the vast majority are basically a form of defense mechanism—a means of self protection when we fear the truth may get us into trouble. 

While truth is often subjective (that I hate mushrooms is the truth…for me. That you love them is the truth…for you), it is in fact largely malleable to some degree based on each individual's interpretation and experience. Lies fall into two basic categories: those told of perceived necessity/convenience and those told solely to gain some advantage. Because lying is ubiquitous, the former vastly outnumber the latter, but it is the latter that can and often does result in incalculable damage.

The toxicity of lies is in direct ratio to the harm they do. The vast majority of lies are simple responses to questions, and are often to protect the feeling of others. ("Do these pants make me look fat?" "Do you really think I have a chance?") Children and teenagers, who do not yet fully understand the effect their lies may have on others ("No one likes you!"), are particularly good at them. It is the lies of adults—those who know full well the consequences of their lies and simply do not care—which are inconceivably unforgivable. The sole purpose of deliberate, calculated, predatory lies typified by the contents of any computer's spam folder ("My dear friend. I am Mrs Mjeba Qnobe, widow of the Finance Minister....") is to take advantage of the trust, hopes, innocence, gullibility, or greed (in which the individual lied to is complicit in the lie) of others. The sociopaths who create harmful lies, unfortunately, deserve a far more harsh and severe punishment than they will ever receive.

The saddest and most destructive thing about lies is that the cynicism they engender systematically corrodes our basic human ability and need to trust, threatening those very qualities which make us human. Politicians and corporations liars know full well they are lying to us, and they just don't care. That we accept their lies without blinking encourages more blatant and egregious lies, which we also simply accept. As a society, we have become injured to lies.

We live in an toxic atmosphere, and we knowingly inhale deeply. By our unwillingness to stand up to—or even question—a lie, we become complicit in it. Social media has become a vast sea of patently egregious lies designed to foment fear and hatred, and we blindly accept them and forward them to others when a simple check for truthfulness, via, for example, could prevent spreading the virus these messages carry.

Of all forms of lying, most are of the “white lie” variety, harming no one. Most are out of a perceived need to appease, or when the value of going into a more detailed explanation would involve more time than the situation warrants. 

Despite all the negativity surrounding lies, our hope lies in the fact that there are a great many people who prefer to evade or sidestep rather than outright lie, and who find lying specifically to hurt another human being or solely to gain an advantage repugnant. This does not make these people saints. But it does make them responsible human beings.

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

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Spare Me!

Survivors of a tornado in a small southern town were interviewed on national news. One of those asked to relate his experience was a man who had been working in his church when the tornado hit. He said he had hidden under a table as the building came down around him. He then launched into an interminably long praise of "the Lord, who saved me from the demon Alcohol and Satan's power in 1970" and whose loving arms were the only things that saved him from the wrath of the tornado, and that all praise be to God and.... Why the interviewer didn't cut him off after a full minute of "Praise be to the Lord" is beyond me. And I couldn’t help but wonder why the man didn’t question why God had sent the tornado to destroy the church in the first place. 

I am glad the man survived the tornado. I really am. And that he has strong religious convictions is admirable. But please, please, spare me the excruciating embarrassment of lengthy exposure to beliefs I do not share.

There is nothing wrong with having strong beliefs and wanting to share them with others—as long as the others are willing to listen. A respectful exchange of ideas is the basis of any discourse. But the words respectful and exchange are alien concepts to proselytizers, who are bound and determined to change your way of thinking on a subject whether you want them to or not. We've all been approached by religious zealots and people trying to sell us something we're not interested in buying. Proselytizers take full advantage of the fact that most of us put up with them because we are too polite to be rude. (My late, dear friend Uncle Bob used to delight in visits from Jehovah's Witnesses and squeaky-clean, white-shirt-and-tie Mormons, who he would invite in and try to convert to Druidism.)

TV literally teems with politicians, pitchmen, and self-appointed pundits who know far more about what is good for you than you do, and who spew their toxic waste over anyone within hearing or viewing distance. Entire networks are devoted to them. But at least on TV, relief is but a remote control button away. It's the face-to-face encounters with utterly insensitive boors who haven't the slightest interest in what you might believe or be willing to consider. That you have the right to your own opinion is totally irrelevant to them.

One of my a-few-doors-down-the-hall neighbors is what I like to refer to as an Obama-is-the-Antichrist Republican. Absolutely nothing our president...his president, too, by the way...does is not an obvious conspiracy to turn this nation over to the minions of Satan. I dread being cornered on an elevator with him. He knows I do not share his views and am in fact strongly opposed to most of them, and I have told him so many times. Yet he insists on going on and on and on and on spewing vitriolic hateful garbage, not one sentence of which has a shred of logic.

If you have been following these blogs, you know that I have one or two rather strong opinions on a number of topics I am truly convinced should be shared by everyone else in the world. But I feel free to rant and rave because I know that if I say anything with which you strongly disagree, you will probably just stop reading...which is exactly the way it should be.

I may not agree with your views on any given topic; I may in fact vehemently disagree with them. But I would never try to deny that you are entitled to have them, or have the gall to demand you change them to echo mine. 

I learned long ago that there is no point in arguing with a brick wall. Brick walls have every right to be brick walls. However, the right to a strong belief should never be confused with the right to impose that belief on others.

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, June 02, 2014

Words Spoken, Words Written

I went to lunch recently with a group of former co-workers. It was nice to see them all, and the conversation was spirited. Let's make that "their conversation was spirited." I mostly just sat there, saying nothing. They were all bubbly as freshly-poured champagne and I felt like stale beer. I listen to conversations but almost never have anything to contribute to them.

Our ability to communicate is one of the things that separates us from the other animals. Humans generally employ two basic forms of communicating: oral and written, and the majority of us are fairly equally adept at both. Unfortunately, like with everything else in my life, I am not in the majority. I start to speak, realize I'm not saying what I want to say or meant to say, or realize after I've said it that I meant to add something in mid sentence. But once out of my mouth, that's it. No re-do's. No edits.

And it certainly doesn’t help that my speech is becoming increasingly unintelligible, thanks to the residuals from my 2003 bout with tongue cancer. Lately, the unintelligibility factor seems to be increasing to the point where even my best friend—who has, to my great embarrassment, to act as my interpreter in restaurants and shops—has difficulty at times. I’m meeting with a speech therapist next week in hopes of….something.

Writing is a different thing entirely. When I write, I can—and do—go on and on to the point that it's hard to shut me up. But that's just it: there is no one to shut me up. I can say whatever I feel like saying whenever I feel like saying it and if I want to stop in mid sentence and contemplate my navel for ten minutes before picking up the next word, I can do it...and no one will know. I can think of what I want to say before I say it, and if I don't like what I've said, I can go back and change it. Because written words are not "time sensitive," they  can be changed at leisure any time before sending them on their way, and when they appear in print they give the hopeful impression of flowing smoothly and effortlessly, without pause or interruption. Writing allows options simply not possible in verbal speech. With some effort I can appear, to someone reading my words, to be alternately (or simultaneously) wise or witty, fey or profound. When I write, I can be the life of the party, hoping the  reader will not notice it is a party of one. Switch me to verbal communication involving more than one other person and all bets are off.

In social situations, where verbal communication is required, I have always rated an overall 3 on a 10 scale. The only subject about which I feel remotely qualified to talk is myself...which you may already have noticed. If I do get up enough courage to lob a poorly-phrased conversational grenade into a crowd, there's usually a dull "thud" as it hits the floor, a brief moment of utter silence, and then everyone resumes where they left off. (One of my favorite cartoons, with which I identify totally, shows a group of men sitting around talking. One is saying, "Well, look, we're four intelligent guys...five, if you count George, here." Guess who sees himself as George?) The more I can limit myself to written communication, the better off I am.

Writing provides a degree of insularity—a protective cocoon, if you will—being in a situation where I have to depend on speaking does not. I have always been pretty insular. I do not really know—nor have I ever known—how to live easily in the "real" world outside my own mind, and for the most part am seldom really very comfortable there. But mental insularity and physical insularity are two very different things. I can get along fairly well when communicating in writing. But when physical activity is involved, I tend to go right back to Square One. Any time I am faced with a challenge  requiring even the most elementary degree of physical dexterity, or the manipulation of anything involving technology or moving parts, I'm doomed. Since neither talk nor writing is much help in tasks requiring physical action pretty much condemns me. I've often said that were I the last human being left on earth, I wouldn't survive longer than a week. 

My abilities to communicate in writing form perhaps the strongest cord keeping me from feeling totally disassociated from the world and those around me; that and my ingrained belief that you, too, at some level inside your own mind and/or at one point or another in your life, harbor or have harbored similar feelings. The real primary difference between me and everyone else, then, is that I am simply more openly aware of my sense of isolation than others, and have no hesitation in admitting it. I am fascinated...obsessed...with those tiny details of what makes us human. Standing off to one side of the mainstream perhaps allows me to see things others swept along with belonging to and being a part of the world may miss. I enjoy writing about things it apparently never occurs to other people to pay conscious attention to, or which they prefer to keep to themselves.

So I shall continue to use the written word to present myself as some laboratory-specimen frog spread out on the dissecting table, hoping you might take a look at my exposed nerves and organs, and recognize our similarities. 

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 (