Monday, March 30, 2015

The Boggling of the Mind

boggle (verb): to be astonished or overwhelmed when trying to imagine something

My mind is so easily boggled. It only takes one thought, popping in from God-knows where for absolutely no determinable reason, to set me off. I had decided—trying to trace how or why I decided it back to its roots is too convoluted to bother with—to write a blog about the differences and similarities between the estimated five million life forms existing on our earth. Yeah, that subject can be easily handled in less than 1,000 words. 

So I set out thus: 

Despite humanity’s hubris, the fact is that we are, biologically, simply one of an infinite number of living organisms inhabiting a little dust-mote of a planet in a grain of sand solar system in a pebble of a galaxy in the endless mountains of the universe.

The limits of the human mind make It impossible for us to comprehend the complexities of even one of the species existing on our one planet, let alone grasp the interrelationships between them, but I find it fascinating to give it a try. It’s rather like a small child spinning around and around until he grows so dizzy he falls down.

The relationship and interactions of individual member of any species to the other members of that species can easily evoke awe. Bees and ants, for example, are communal to the point that each member is, infinitely far more so than humans, an integral, interactive part of the whole, responding in uniformity to given stimuli as though sharing a single mind. 

The individual members of probably the majority of species are solitary, coming together with other members of their kind primarily for the purposes of propagation. Having done so, they move on to their individual lives.

Some species like spiders and ladybugs and cockroaches coexist and gather in huge numbers for no readily discernible purpose. Some, like huge schools of fish and flocks of birds or bats cluster together primarily for whatever protection from predators their numbers may provide.

Many larger animal species gather in herds for mutual protection against predators. But those species with a higher degree of intelligence, like elephants and primates such as Man, gather in groups both as a matter of mutual protection and in response to the simple comfort being with others of their own kind provides. And the more intelligent the species, the more important some degree of social interaction becomes.

It is interesting that dogs are pack animals while cats (with the exception of lions) tend to be mostly solitary.

The natural responses of species to their young is also fascinating, and once again intelligence and these reactions are strongly related. The further down the intelligence scale, the less involved the individual tends to be with its young. In many species, the young are born either completely on their own or with a minimal involvement by, the parents’ only obligation to them being to enable their birth; once born, they’re on their own. Species with higher intelligence—again, on an ascending scale—tend to produce young who cannot survive without the care and protection of their parents. The more intelligence, the more care seems to be taken—and needed. Dogs and cats need parental care and protection for the first few weeks or months of their lives. Elephants, whales, and primates (including Man) are responsible for caring for their offspring for varying degrees of time following birth. Human children cannot survive without considerable help from other humans for several years (being raised by wolves, for example, is highly unlikely). The earlier the separation from parents or caregivers of ascendingly intelligent species, the less likely the survival.

And I’m going to stop here and try to back-pedal to more solid ground before I’m swallowed up completely in this vast boggle.

But one thought did come to me as the complexities of this single subject multiplied and multiplied again: How, with so many things of vital importance to the existence of life on this planet, can we allow ourselves to be bogged down by the words and actions of incredibly mean-spirited individual humans to the point where we lose our perspective on what really matters in life? Think about it and get back 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, March 26, 2015

"He Had a Hat!"

Coca Cola, Colonel Sanders' "seventeen herbs and spices," and my Aunt Thyra's angel food cake all share one thing in common: no one else in the world knows its secret or can exactly duplicate it. The same is true with humor: each of us has our own recipe for what is funny to us.

There are large general areas of common ground in humor: slapstick—slipping on a banana peel, being hit in the face with a cream pie, etc.—seems universally acknowledged as funny. And those who have attempted to analyze humor tend to agree that the basis of humor is surprise; the unexpected. But it must be harmless surprise; being hit by a bus while crossing the street is unexpected, but generally not funny. You can tell a lot about a person by what makes him (and no, once again, I refuse to dance to the "him/her/PC Polka") laugh.

I treasure my own sense of humor, even though what I find hysterically funny often leaves everyone else glassy-eyed. (A classic Charles Addams cartoon leaps to mind—a theater audience in which everyone is sobbing except one typical Addams character, who has a huge smile. Now, Charles Addams is funny.)

I stand in awe of stand-up comedians and those people at parties who keep everyone else in stitches. Timing, surprise, body language are all part of it but again, every comedian’s—every person’s—humor contains indefinable elements which sets them apart from all others. I personally never found Bob Hope, a hugely popular radio/movie/TV comedian of my childhood particularly funny, whereas I loved Bobcat Goldwait, Bill Cosby, and Bob Newhart. 

But for as much as I love jokes, I simply cannot tell them. I either put the punch line somewhere in the middle or forget it entirely. My timing is lousy and my nearly every attempt to tell a joke has resulted in a deafening silence—or worse, a small, condescending smile—from the listener.

I regret that I have not had a good, leaves-me-gasping-for-breath belly laugh in far too long. But my humor has always tended more toward the offbeat and subtle, like the cartoon of a man at the counter of a veterinary office, with a large box from which four paws stick rigidly up in the air. The man is saying: "He won't eat." 

A joke written and a joke told are quite different, with the joke told aloud by a good storyteller having additional power of timing, inflection and the placing of emphases. One of my favorite jokes, which definitely benefits from an oral presentation, is of the parrot with extraordinary skills. It can do card tricks, dance, solve complex math problems…everything but talk. Its owner works diligently with the bird every day for a year, but all he can teach it to say is "Polly want a cracker." One day, after yet another failed attempt to get it to say something other than "Polly want a cracker" the man gives up, puts the cover over the parrot's cage, and goes out for the evening. A while later the parrot hears something and lifts up the bottom of the cage cover to see burglars in the house. Carefully, it opens the door to its cage, slips down between the cage and the cover, slides down the pole, and makes its way to the telephone. Lifting the receiver, it dials 911. When the responder asks, "What is your emergency," the bird puts its beak close to the mouthpiece and whispers, "Polly...Want...A...Cracker!"

And I take delight in the story of the proud grandmother who takes her young grandson to the beach. She has bought him a little sailor suit complete with a little white sailor hat for the occasion. As she is sitting on the beach, her grandson wanders down to the water's edge, where a huge wave sweeps in and carries him out to sea. The hysterical grandmother races up and down crying for help then falls on her knees and implores God to save her daring grandson, the light of her life. And a moment later, another wave rushes in and deposits the boy at her feet. Weeping with joy, she hugs him to her, then suddenly rears back and holds him at arm's length. Glaring up toward heaven, she says, "He had a hat!"

I guess you had to be there.

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, March 23, 2015

Marshmallow Man

The sleeve is not the best place to wear one's heart, yet many of us do. But one of the problems of leaving the heart so exposed is that it is difficult to shield it from almost any assault on the emotions. There are men of iron, and men of steel. Because I am unable to hide my emotions, I am a man of marshmallow.

I absolutely love, and respond deeply to, displays of kindness and bravery and nobility in the face of adversity—and even more strongly when these displays are spontaneous. I find people behaving nobly, especially in large numbers, to be intensely moving, and validation for my often-sorely-challenged faith in humanity.

One of the earliest and most harmful-to-the-spirit lessons every male child is taught is that "Men Don't Cry!" As a result, men feel compelled to repress their emotions, thus depriving themselves of the cathartic effect the release of pent-up tensions which can lead to heart attack and other serious physical problems. The sight of grown men crying will, eight times out of ten, cause me to tear up.

Perhaps oddly, disasters have long been an obsession for me, not for the pain and sorrow they inflict, but for how they inevitably draw out the finest of human qualities seldom seen under other circumstances.

Of course, emotions, like fire, make a good servant but a harsh master. Positive emotions, even those which come about through sorrow and grief, channeled productively, can immeasurably enrich the human condition. Negative emotions, run amok—as seen too often in rioting and looting and indiscriminate destruction—revert us to the level of predatory beasts.

I would like to believe it is a certain innate nobility in us which makes us somehow expect everyone to behave not only decently but nobly. And when, on those seemingly rare occasions when they do, it reinforces our belief in the goodness of humanity. Unfortunately, it only takes one rotten apple in a barrel to make us cautious about revealing our true emotions too readily to others, lest we be taken advantage of. And equally unfortunately, our world is a gigantic barrel and there are far more than one rotten apple in it. It takes only one person who betrays our trust or takes advantage of us to make us leery of even the best motives of everyone else. The more trusting we are, the more hurt we are when that trust is betrayed.

I grow angry, and furious, and disheartened when people behave other than the way I think they should behave, with the result—as is displayed too frequently in these blogs—that I am too often angry, furious, and disheartened.
As a marshmallow man, it truly pains me that we seem to be drowning in a tsunami of lies and deceit and avarice and cruelty and wars and irresolvable conflicts. To turn on the evening news or pick up a newspaper or magazine, it often seems next to impossible to swim against this tide of negativism. Even being fully aware of the fact that it's the bad things that get the headlines, it is still difficult to deal with. I fear even Pollyanna might become a bit jaded over time.

Yet there is a fascination in crowds whose mood and purpose is upbeat. Any parade, especially with marching bands—the drums echoing the beating of the heart—lifts the soul. As a member of a long persecuted minority, I find attending a gay pride parade, surrounded by tens of thousands of my own kind, truly euphoric. Mass displays of patriotism, such as The Boston Pops orchestra playing "Stars and Stripes Forever" in front of a hundred thousand people on the 4th of July, never fails to grab me by the throat. The theater, which brings together large groups of people with similar positive interests, is one of humanity's nobler inventions. Dramas teach us understanding of the human condition, comedies lift our spirits and often put life in perspective. Musical theater, since it is less bound by reality than a dramatic play, allows us to enter worlds that don't exist, but that we wish would. Each has the power to unite us, and the sense of unity is one of the most powerful of human emotions.

There are those who rule their emotions, and those whose emotions rule them. As in all things in life, a balance between the two is the ideal. I'm working on 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, March 19, 2015

Chance, Coincidence, and Incredible Odds

Life is a cosmic pinball machine; our past—our very existence—is the result of an infinite number of random coincidences and convergences of unrelated circumstances producing results with odds far greater than any lottery. Our every single action alters and sometimes profoundly changes our future. Yet we remain largely oblivious.

Probably it's just as well; otherwise it would be impossible to make it through even one day if we had to stop and consider our every smallest action before committing it. We are surrounded/immersed/bombarded by so many challenges and contradictions and potential dangers that we would be totally incapacitated while trying to choose which action to take. We do most of it on autopilot, of course. Our minds and bodies are programmed to free us from conscious awareness of those physical functions necessary for life and self preservation. We look when we cross the street without having to stop to think about it. We walk by putting one foot in front of the other without a thought. We breathe, we talk, we cook, and shower, and work; interact with other people, and do an infinite number of things, many at the same time. And if we were to stop and give close scrutiny to the astonishingly complexity of how and why we do any one of these things, our lives would grind to a halt. That we are able to do these things without pausing once to think of what we are doing, or why, is astonishing in itself.

Stop for just a moment to consider that each of us is directly descended from an unbroken chain of at least 10,000 generations of ancestors, each generation consisting of a pair of individual human beings who, as the bible so quaintly put it, "begat" the next generation by combining their DNA to produce the next link in the chain. And yet, if just one of those links had broken—by a rock falling from a cave roof, a stray arrow or bullet in one of mankind's endless wars failing to produce the next link in the chain, the individual who is the current link—you—would/could never have existed.  

Life is an endless string of single moments where conscious or unconscious decisions are made, every one of them subtly or profoundly changing the course of our lives. Just a cursory look at your own life will reveal a stupefying number of coincidences and what-were-the-odds events which brought you to this exact moment in time. If you hadn't done something you did—if you had chosen something other than you did—you would not be the same person you are.

And to take one tiny snippet from the chain of my own past: when I left Los Angeles, I opened a bed and breakfast in tiny Pence, Wisconsin—a circumstance I have often regretted for reasons too complex to go into here. And yet if I had not done it, I would never have met and become friends with a number of wonderful people who are still part of my life. One was my friend Mollie, who later moved to San Diego, where she  told me of her next door neighbor, Gary, with whom she thought I might become friends. We did become not only friends, but best friends, and I really can't imagine what my life would be like today if he were not an integral part of it.

Every aspect of our lives is founded on the cumulative, moment-by-moment details of our past. And while nothing can be done to change any of this, pondering the imponderable is the strop upon which the razor of the mind is sharpened.

I sometimes regret, on a philosophical level, that the string of 10,000-plus generations which led to me ends with me. I have not and will not "beget" another link in the chain. My branch of the human tree will sprout no new twigs. And yet humans, as a species, have reached the stage in our development where DNA is not the only method of passing one's self on through the ages. The end of physical existence need not necessarily mean the end of the individual. My words, which are my progeny and are the essence of me, will be around, somewhere, as long as there are copies of them to be read and eyes to read them. No 100-year-maximum "shelf life." Though I may have an expiration date, my words and the parts of me they contain do not. I take immeasurable comfort in that belief.

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, March 16, 2015

Spam and "Jabberwocky"

It occurred to me, as I was flushing the latest crammed-full spam bucket from my computer, that spam is the absolute antithesis to Lewis Carroll's wonderful poem, Jabberwocky. Both are largely gibberish, but whereas Jabberwocky leaves one with a sense of delight, spam leaves one with the urge to shower with lye soap.

So why do I seem incapable of resisting looking at the opening words and, worse, why I am compelled to mentally respond to it? It has an air of ghoulishness, like watching a beheading. But  I am powerless over spam, so here, yet again, are some classic examples of the finest spam has to offer, presented exactly as received, and my Pavlov's Dog reactions.

"PLEASE OPEN ATTACH FILE FOR MORE DETAILS" (Riiight! Like that's gonna happen!)

"PROPOSAL FROM HONG KONG - Greetings, It is understandable that you might be a little bit apprehensive because you do not know me....." (Gee, y' s'ppose?)

blessing donatus - "I'm very happy to meet you, -Hello I'm very happy to meet you. Compliments of the day! How are you? I hope you are doing...." (Why, how utterly charming! Is there anything...anything I might possibly do for you? Unfortunately, I'd have to open the rest of your message in order to find out.)

"You were looking for GF - Whats up How are you doing I love your profile. Would you like to check out my own most private...." (No, I was not looking for GF - Nothing's up I am fine and I'm so happy that you liked my profile since I don't have one. As for checking your own most private...take a wild guess.)

"Let's grow your smallDick with this Effective PenisEnlargement pill...." (And I'm sure starting off your sales pitch with an insult is a great way to boost sales.)

"I am looking forward to your kindly response!!! - Hello, With due respect I would like to disclose a mutual trans..." (Keep looking.)

"Lose 25 lbs of fat with Dr Endorsed Diet!" (Oh, yes, the world-renowned Dr Endorsed! Didn't he win a Nobel prize recently?)

"Evangelina Yasmine biib0p -b" (Well put, Evangelina! Well put! And it makes far more sense than all the other bullshit above.)

"Is it possible to melt fat away?"  (No. Next question.)

"hi - Please my good friend, I am the General Audit Manager, Accounts Department in our bank. I have..." (Hi! I assume you got the impression that I am your good friend from the same place you got the impression you are the General Audit Manager of some unnamed bank. Wrong on both counts.)

"I apologize for this strange message. My names are James Wardner, a banker with NatWest Bank Plc here in UK." (And my names are Dorien Grey. Speak proper English much?)

"Generic Viagra online no Prescription at our reliable and trusted pharmacy...." ("Generic Viagra with no prescription" means it's a sugar pill with no real pharmaceutical properties, but at the same price or higher than the real stuff. And as to "reliable and trusted," well...)

"Get BIGGER with Free tri. Girls strip for cameras- Fantastic results -guaranteed gains within 2 months...." (Slow down, there, Charlie! Get bigger what? What's a "tri"? What have girls stripping for cameras got to do with "Fantastic results?" I'm getting dizzy.)

PharmacUsa Viagra "Hi fried new discount!" (As opposed to "deep fried new discount?" What the hell are you talking about? Never mind...I don't care.)

"View Attached message And Reply Me." (Thanks, but I prefer to not view attached message and ignore you.)

"eHarmony - You could Find Singles Like You" (No, I couldn't. As I recall, eHarmony won't touch fags with a ten-foot pole.)

"Educating the young on ways on have fun -Its great to suck and greater to ride. I am glad my guy upsized." (I'm happy to see altruism is not dead. And I couldn't agree more about the value of education. What age would you suggest educating the young on sucking and riding? Kindergarten? Perhaps you can join them for an English lesson.)

"CHAEP MEDICATOINS" (I rest my case.)

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, March 12, 2015

Except After "C"

Our civilization is built on words, with which we have in turn built languages. Words and language set humans apart from all other creatures. 

English is, I've read and heard many times, one of the most complex of languages and the most difficult for foreigners to learn because it is the most flexible. It has, as do all languages, rules...but these rules tend to have so many exceptions as to be nearly incomprehensible. One, which every child learns in elementary school, is "i before e, except after c, or when sounded as a as in neighbor and weigh." Fine, except when as sounded as i as in height or as e as in weird.

My own life, as a writer, is built on my fascination with words. I was an English major in college, yet am ashamed at how little I know of the rules that govern its construction and usage--verbs and predicate nominatives and dangling participles and conjunctive clauses. On reflection, I sincerely wonder how I ever managed to get a degree in English. Yet I am fascinated nonetheless. 

One of the many things I find fascinating is definitive prefixes (if there is such a term) "dis-" and "un-" and "in-" and "non-", each of which, attached to the beginning of a word, indicates the exact opposite of the word to which it is attached. To be disrespectful is to be not respectful; to be dishonest is to be not honest; to be uncommon is to be not common; to be indecent is to be not decent; to be nonsensical is to not make sense. All, again, good solid rules until you come across words like "inflammable," which means exactly the same as "flammable."

And, of course, frequently definitive prefixes are not definitive at all but simply part of a word. There is no "aster" to be negated in "disaster," no "ception" to be reversed in "inception," no "guent" to be denied in "unguent," no "chalant" in "nonchalant." 

One of the inherent problems with American English is that it is a hodgepodge of words borrowed from or based in many other languages: French, Latin, German, Spanish. We've borrowed or taken from just about every other language on earth. It's little wonder that we get confused. Words themselves are fluid and their roots are often lost. The word "disease" implies it means "not ease," which is exactly what it originally meant in Old French: desaise—lack of ease. However, today the word has taken on a much more serious connotation, and broadened out to include any number of problems—"dry eye disease"—I’d hardly consider a real disease.

The pronunciation of words also change over time, sometimes to the point where the original meaning of the word itself is lost. A prime example—and one I hasten to point out at every opportunity—is the word “president," which also demonstrates how pronunciation changes meaning. To hear the word pronounced "prez-eh-dent" instead of “prez-EYE-dent” totally obscures it's true meaning: one who presides.

To this day I am constantly confused by whether/when to use "lay" or "lie," "further" or "farther." Commas, colons, and semicolons remain largely a mystery. I am perhaps too fond of em-dashes—, though I often use them when I should be using ellipses..., and vice-versa. I operate on the simple and often wrong principle that my mind knows more than I do and, when confronted with a choice, will come up with the right one.

The rule of thumb that has worked well for me in all my writing is "go with what sounds right." I am deeply indebted to my computer's spell-checker, though I still am frequently driven to distraction by trying to look up a word I do not know how to spell. The thesaurus sometimes helps, but not always.

Still, I manage to bumble through with my admiration for words undiminished.

In short, I love language: just don't bother me with the details.

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, March 09, 2015

"That Which I Should Have Done...."

I have always been fascinated with Ivan Albrecht’s painting, “That Which I Should Have Done, I Did Not Do”—also known as “The Door,” in Chicago’s Art Institute. For some reason I relate strongly to the title.

It's often far easier to acknowledge the existence of a situation or condition than it is to accept it. And compulsion is rather like trying to force a sheet of metal through a paper shredder. It can't be done, but that doesn't stop someone from trying.

Obsessive and compulsive behavior seems to be a popular theme for "reality" shows of late. Its more extreme forms have their own psychological designation—OCD; Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder; hoarders; people who wash their hands a hundred times or more a day; people who must jiggle a door knob three times before opening it, etc.. We look at these people and shake our heads, wondering whatever possesses them to do these things, and why they can't just, well, stop doing it.

Yet we all know someone who exhibits some milder form of OCD—the compulsively neat, those who insist on ironing their underwear, or who order their sock drawer by color, or who never go shopping without a detailed list. I pride myself on being totally devoid of any of these types of behavior, though there is one small area in which I must confess might be considered by some to be a bit excessive: my excruciating, continual awareness of the passage of time, the aging process that inescapably accompanies it, and my inability to let go of the past or to resist comparing—negatively—who I am now with who I was. And no matter how much I have accomplished, there is the overwhelming feeling that I have not done enough.

I view the aging process with a mixture of total incomprehension and, frankly, something akin to horror. If we want to live, we must age; it's a totally irrefutable fact. That I don't understand, or rather can't accept, why this has to be is a measure of my compulsive refusal to acknowledge or accept reality. 

I'm constantly trying to analyze my actions in light of my aging. I know many if not most of them are based in pure logic, and much of that logic is based on cumulative experience. I frequently regret that I don't laugh nearly as much as I used to. Yet laughter is most commonly founded on the element of surprise, and over the years, experiencing the same or basically the same situation many times, the surprise is dimmed, as is the reaction to it. The hilarity of a wildly popular TV sitcom inevitably dims, the longer it stays on the air. Repetition breeds familiarity, and while familiarity does not necessarily breed contempt, it does breed lack of surprise. And thus it tends to be with life.

As we grow older, we walk more cautiously on ice in winter, not because we couldn't walk more assertively but because we've fallen enough, in the course of the years, not to want to fall again.

Physical changes are simply part of the progression of life. They are inevitable—though some people seem more capable than others in forestalling them—and are the increasingly steep price we must pay for the privilege of living. I acknowledge this fact. Really, I do. But I am, to the depth of my soul, unwilling to accept it, and my failure to do so is my compulsion. I do wish I were able to both acknowledge and accept, as most of the world seems to do so easily. I know acknowledgement and acceptance would save me an incalculable amount of unhappiness and frustration. But I simply cannot.

While I take a certain odd pleasure and even pride in my self delusions, I do not delude myself as to who the winner will be in my compulsive battle against time, aging, and reality. I know who will inevitably win, and that when they do I won't be around to care. But while I'm still here, I'll do my best not to accept those things I want so badly to be different. I know that there are so many many things I should have done that I did not do. But, I keep telling myself—and believing—I could and would, in time.

So, yet again I, an agnostic, turn to the Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Well, I'm working on the courage, and I definitely know the difference. But as to the serenity part,.... Well, two out of three ain't bad.

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, March 05, 2015

"They," "Them," and Me

I've spent an inordinate amount of time, over the course of my life, pondering the riddle of how I can be a part of humanity and yet so often feel totally apart from it. I've come to the conclusion that I view my relation to other people...and specifically to heterosexuals...rather like a cat or dog views people: living among them every day, quite fond of a number of them, hungry for and appreciative of positive attention from them, and yet having absolutely no concept of what it's like to be one of them.

Of course, I suspect that I may not be alone in viewing the rest of humanity as some strange, conglomerate "They." And again, one of the reasons I write these blogs is an attempt to let those who might have similar thoughts and views on matters seldom talked—or probably even consciously thought--about know they're not alone. Too often I see my relationship to the rest of humanity as not only a matter of "me" and “them”—-but often as a matter of "me" versus "them". 

From my infinitely limited perspective, in looking at the rest of humanity as "They," I'm painfully aware that "They" have the unquestioned and overwhelming advantage in everything. "They" glide effortlessly from day to day, cutting through the life's problems like the bow of a ship cuts through a stormy sea, unfazed. 

"They" know not only how to read instruction manuals, but how to understand them. ("Carefully undigitize the Prenalyzer from the Bliggerostometer before attaching the Spratzer, then insert Tab A into Slot B.” Of course! What could be simpler?) For "them," Tab A always, always slips into Slot B without the slightest effort.

When a box of cereal says "lift flap to open," "They" simply lift the flap and the box opens. They don't end up tearing the lid off the box in frustration. And they can close the box again, too, by slipping the tab into the slot. "They" can open a bag of potato chips without spending five minutes tugging and pulling with mounting frenzy until it bursts open with such force that it scatters the contents of the bag all over the room. 

"They" can confidently order something online—a pair of pants, say—and, when the package arrives, open it, put on the pants, and go happily on with their business. I have never, ever, ordered any piece of clothing on line that fit, let alone bore the vaguest resemblance to the item’s illustration in the catalog from which I ordered it.

In social situations, "They" always blend in seamlessly with everyone in attendance. "They" always have something interesting or profound or witty to say, and all the other "They's" hang on to every word, laugh at every joke and understand everything everyone else is talking about. If music and dancing are involved "They" unselfconsciously and with great enthusiasm move to the rhythm. "They" all know how to dance, and move gracefully when not dancing. When engaged in conversation with several people at once, "They" speak in complete sentences. "They" never have to stop ten seconds after saying something and wish they'd said it differently. When witty repartee is called for, "They" are at the top of their game, thrusting and parrying to the delight of all. "They" are bubbly as champagne; I tend to be more like stale beer.

"They" are almost never unsure of themselves. "They" waste little second-guessing their actions. "They" are confident of every decision and accepting of—even if not always happy with—the outcome. "They" don't spend inordinate amounts of time wishing they had done something they had not done, or wishing they hadn't done something they did do. "They" accept the past and move on without more than an occasional backward glance.

Still, it's oddly, if wishfully, comforting to think that there might be a sufficient number of others who think and feel as I do so that I might be able to think less in terms of “me” and more in terms of “us.” I’d like that.

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, March 02, 2015

The Fine Line

Odd how one picks up small bits and pieces of poetry, songs, sayings, etc. from God knows where and carries them throughout life.

One of my favorites, probably from my grade school days when I was becoming aware of profundaties (and yes, "profundaties" is a word--it has to be: didn't I just use it?), is "He who knows not, and knows not he knows not, he is a fool: shun him. He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is ignorant: teach him. But he who knows and knows he knows, he is wise: follow him." Too bad more people don't adhere to this very helpful guideline. Which brought me to the subject for today's blog.

The gap between stupidity and wisdom is awesomely wide, whereas only the very thinest of lines separates stupidity from ignorance--a line so thin the two are often and easily confused. Ignorance is, by definition, simply a lack of knowledge, and can be overcome (and I can't help but observe that the core of the word "ignorance" is "ignore"). The true test of who is stupid and who is ignorant lies in their awareness that the line exists and in the willingness to cross it. Both stupidity and ignorance are, in effect, prison cells with unlocked doors. The ignorant may be unaware that they are free to leave; the stupid have no desire to. A fool operates on the principle of the old cliche "Don't bother me with facts; my mind's made up."

As a general rule of thumb, stupidity is defined not only by the absolute refusal to even consider any opinion that differs from their own, but by the frequently zealous denial of the right to have them. Ignorance is lethargy; stupidity is too often unapologetically evil.

In a recent exchange on Facebook, I quoted Polonius' advice to his son, Laertes, in Hamlet: "This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not be false to any man." It evoked the following comment: "Why don't u use English?" I responded with a modern-English interpretation of the quote, to which the same person replied: "U mean be true to urself!" Yes, that's what I mean.

I did not automatically assume the questioner was stupid, but I was both mildly shocked and saddened by her ignorance. Ignorance can be cured; stupidity is terminal. And to me, the most terrifying thing is that while the line cannot be crossed from stupidity to ignorance, there is a great danger of crossing the line in the other direction. Ignorance can too easily become stupidity.

We are a nation of ignorance seemingly sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire with each succeeding generation. Studies and reports show how terrifyingly ignorant our general public is becoming. Ignorant parents tend to raise ignorant children. When a shocking number of teenagers read far below their grade level, when they do not comprehend basic math and science, when they cannot find China on a map, it is time for grave concern.

Alarm bells have been rung so loudly and so long that we are becoming deaf to them. The ignorant aren't quite sure what they mean, and the stupid neither know nor care.

The fact that stupidity has taken such a firm foothold is in large part due to its vociferous proponents, who confuse volume and intensity for validity. Listen, if you have the stomach and tolerance for it, to religious zealots and talk-show "pundits" and see if you can find even the hint of anything positive anywhere in their ranting. That there is nothing positive in stupidity is painfully self-evident.

Is there a lesson here? I'd hope it might be this: never, never confuse those who claim to know for those who do know. How can you tell them apart? Your mind may not always know, but your heart does.

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 (