Friday, December 29, 2017

A Seat on the Bus

Returning home one evening last week, I boarded a crowded bus and was just standing there, wedged in among the other standing passengers, when a young lady seated in front of me got up and offered me her seat. I was at once touched by her totally gratuitous kindness, and at the same time heartsick and humiliated to think how I must appear to other people. I thanked her sincerely, but declined her offer, explaining that I am only old on the outside. That I could even speak the word “old” in any sentence referring to myself was a milestone in my life, and not a pleasant one.

But, thanks to increasing evidence presented by young ladies on busses, I am, to my horror, turning into J. Alfred Prufrock. I am also increasingly and painfully aware of how aging changes not so much the way I look at the world, but the way the world looks at me. I am no longer indistinguishable from those around me, and those who have not yet reached that stage of existence cannot comprehend how devastating that knowledge is. In any given group of people, I am increasingly the oldest; sometimes by far, and am subtly but definitely being pushed to the outside of the circle.

In the gay community, of which I have been a card-carrying member for literally all my life, if you are a gay male, once you pass 40 you are less and less welcome as a player in that comforting and exhilarating game of sexual tag you’ve been part of for so long. By the time you are 50, the pool of potential partners has all but dried up. By the time you are 60, you are invisible to anyone under 30—or at best only a shadowy presence easily ignored. Your circle of gay friends tends to narrow to others your same age or older: no one younger wishes to join the circle.

And the terrible irony is that the young simply cannot comprehend that those invisible old men sitting in a coffee shop were once exactly like them, and that if they are very very lucky to live long enough, they too will one day be sitting with their peers at a similar table.
Some time ago, I wrote a short poem on this subject:

     Whenever I hear a young gay man
     scorning an older man,
     I hear the future laughing.

Although I use the gay community as an example only because I have absolutely no knowledge of how it is for older heterosexuals, I suspect it’s pretty much the same for older, unmarried straights. We are all human, after all (and please, do write that down somewhere to remember when you have doubts).

Age is the price we must pay for the gift of living long enough. It very often is not pleasant, especially for those like myself who cling so tightly to the past and to memories of who we always were until now. So, much as I hate not being who I was, and resent being made to feel unwanted and unworthy, I’ll readily take it over the only viable alternative.

My one word of advice to you, no matter what your age: truly appreciate and be grateful for everything and whatever you have this very moment. I may not always show it myself, but I assure you I am.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

An Agnostic's Christmas

Writing this on Christmas morning, while having my morning coffee and chocolate donut (remember “Ruts and Routines”?) and listening to “What Child is This” on public radio, I was thinking of what a short shrift is given to agnostics, who are invariably and totally erroneously lumped in with atheists. Atheists don’t believe in God: agnostics just aren’t sure based on logic, but definitely don’t believe in organized religion, and the atrocities created throughout history by religious fanatics strongly supports this stand.

I love Christmas. I really do. I love the concept of Peace on Earth, and of hope and promise. I find the image of a sky full of angels lovely, as I do the thought of Santa coming down the chimney with a bag of toys. But while Christianity—rather smugly, I’m afraid—assumes it holds a patent on the Golden Rule and all that is good and noble in the world, in truth it does not. The principle of the Golden Rule is shared by most of the world’s religions.

I honestly do not think one must belong to a specific religion to believe in goodness and kindness, and to work for the betterment of mankind. Good people are good people. Simply belonging to a religion does not make one good. Bigotry, intolerance, and hate, however subtly hidden beneath all the “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” in the world, are still bigotry, intolerance, and hate and do not make one person or one group superior to any other.
Every human being is…or should be…free to choose whatever concept of God he or she feels comfortable with. Relatively few have or take this option of choice which, like any form of choice, requires asking questions. But it is far easier to simply accept what one is told. So little thinking is involved that way, and thinking too much can give one a headache.

I’ve been an agnostic since I was old enough to ask “Why?” in matters religious. “Why?” is a question neither welcomed nor tolerated by most organized religions. It is often seen as...well, question, and to persist in asking results in such responses as “God has a reason for everything.” Well, thanks, but that was my question: Why? Evasions are not answers. One of my favorite bumper stickers of all time is: “God says it. I believe it. That settles it.” Which is not unlike saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.”

I have no problem with anyone believing anything they want to believe. I appreciate that organized religion is truly and deeply comforting for many, and provides a form of stability in an all-too-unstable world. And as long as your beliefs do not result in a restriction of my own or anyone else’s rights and freedoms, more power to you. But I believe with all my heart and soul that if your religion of choice promotes or even condones anything that limits the rights or beliefs of others, you are in the wrong religion.

It is possible to firmly believe in God without showing up in a building every Sunday or Friday to confirm it. Again, if gathering with others who share your beliefs gives you comfort, that is fine…for you, as long as you do not fall into the trap of assuming superiority over others who do not think exactly the same way you think.

I try my very best to be a good person, to treat everyone with courtesy and dignity, and to always take the feelings of others into consideration. I don’t always succeed, of course, but I really do try. But the world abounds in those who assume their particular religious beliefs give them the right to impose their beliefs on everyone else. Again, how many millions have, over history, been slaughtered in the name of religion? How can God be on both sides in a war? And by what stupefying arrogance can and do people presume to speak for God?

No, thank you. I prefer to keep my own counsel. I have enough faith in myself to decide fairly accurately what is right and what is wrong…again based on the simple yardstick of the Golden Rule. I truly respect the rights of others to believe or not believe in any organized religion or philosophy even though I may not agree with them. Why does it seem to be too much to ask the same of them?
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Captain and the Ship

William Ernest Henley said, in his poem “Invictus”: I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul.

I’ve mentioned numerous times that I am increasingly compartmentalizing myself into two separate entities: my mind and my body. This morning, for absolutely no reason, I was thinking of captains and their ships, and it occurred to me that it was a great analogy for life.

While I’m probably more aware of it than most, in a very real sense each of us is both the captain and the ship. The captain…the mind…steers the ship…the body…through the often stormy seas of life. And as each of us is physically different…some ocean liners, some tugboats…captains vary in ability and skill. But a ship without a captain, or a captain without a ship, is basically helpless.

Unlike real life, the captain boards the ship the moment it is launched and stays with it until it, as it must inevitably do, sinks, taking the captain with it.

I’ve always been very proud of my ship. Despite my frequent complaints that it was not nearly as attractive as I’d have liked it to be, or as graceful to maneuver, and tended to run aground from time to time, it has been a very good ship. It truly hurts me to see the bright, shiny paint of the hull fading, rust forming on the steel plates, and the once bright and crisp flags flying from the masts increasingly tattered and faded. Odd sounds emanate from the engine room, and while it tries its best, to keep up to its former self, its top speed has dropped considerably.

As captain, I watch with envy as I am passed by newer, faster, far more attractive vessels, all fresh-paint, shiny smokestacks undented and unfaded. They pass with seldom an acknowledgement, to leave me bobbing in their wake.

It’s taken me far too long to realize that, while I may not be the best captain on the sea, I really haven’t done too bad a job. I’ve sailed on while more than a few magnificent liners plowed head-first into icebergs. During the early “war years” of the AIDS epidemic, I remained afloat while watching in horror as so many other ships, and captains, were torpedoed by the virus, floundered and sank.

I’ve never comprehended those captains who deliberately scuttle their ships with alcohol, and tobacco. They know when they take them aboard that the danger is there, but they just don’t care, and keep packing them into the cargo holds far beyond their capacity until the ship sinks under their weight.

So: we are each captain of the ship of our body, and it behooves us to steer it wisely and do whatever we can to keep it seaworthy for as long as possible. No matter what we do, the day will come when the ship goes down, taking us with it. But as for me, mine will not go down without a fight...and with great gratitude for the pleasures of the trip.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us close with a reference to another poem, John Masefield’s “Sea Fever”: And all I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by. Amen to that.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Off to Mayo

Off to Mayo

Well, I am off to my 5-year-anniversary check-up at the Mayo Clinic…a seven-hour drive from Chicago. This will be…let’s see…my 15th trip since being released from my cancer treatments in September of 2003. And since every single check-up has been fine, I have absolutely no reason to expect that this one will be any different. But that has not stopped me the past 14 times from worrying that this time there may be a problem. It’s the old “other shoe” syndrome, and I guess it is human nature. Yet every time, having worried and fretted for a couple of days before the exam, when it comes out fine I wonder why I’d wasted all that time and energy for nothing. I do hope that will be my reaction this time as well.

I’m to have a PET scan…a 3-dimensional x-ray which can spot cancer cells anywhere in the body. The last time I had one, they only scanned my head and neck. I sincerely hope they will do a head-to-toe scan this time, but who knows?

Looking back from a point five years removed…actually, almost exactly five years and ten months since the night I bit my tongue in my sleep…the entire experience has a surreal quality. I still don’t know, and never will, whether biting my tongue somehow triggered the cancer, or whether my body was trying to alert me to the fact that something was wrong. At any rate, my hesitation to act more aggressively or to insist my doctor do so, resulted in the cancer being a stage 4 when it was finally diagnosed. There is no stage 5. I was so incredibly, incredibly lucky to have things turn out as they did.

But I think part of the reason it did work out was that I never for one second entertained the thought that I might die. The treatments I underwent, the five-day-a-week, 20-minute (as I recall) radiation sessions, were simply the norm. Seven weeks of radiation, three “industrial strength” chemotherapy sessions (which I scarcely noticed in that I had absolutely no ill effects from them), having a stomach tube inserted when it became impossible for me to swallow, and subsequently subsisting entirely on liquid for seven months were all taken more or less in stride.

If I have any unhappiness with my treatment, it was that no one warned me of what was to follow. Had I known (and I probably should have, had I thought of it) that my jaws would all but atrophy closed from not opening them to chew, that my neck muscles would tighten to the point they felt (and still feel largely) like wood; that then cutting those muscles to remove my lymph glands would combine to inexorably pull my head forward and down to the point where I cannot tilt it back far enough to drain a glass or a can of pop, or that I would be unable to turn my head more than 15 degrees in either direction, I think there were steps that I could have and should have to lessen the effects of the damage. I’d have worked my mouth, opening widely, sticking my tongue out, turning my head constantly back and forth, and perhaps getting a back-neck brace to counter the forward-and-downward pull.

I am not the person I was, and I miss me terribly. I cannot do so much I once took so much for granted, or enjoy a bag of popcorn or a good steak, or have my evening Manhattan (alcohol burns)…well, so very many things. And I know this sounds either like a dive from the high tower into the Pity Pool, or an embarrassing bid for sympathy. Please believe me when I say it is neither. It is merely life being life, and the fact remains…the only fact that matters…is that I am alive and infinitely grateful for that fact. And my purpose in putting all this out in front of you is simply to encourage you to give serious thought to, and to really, fully appreciate, everything you have.

As they say, life isn’t always easy, but it’s better than the alternative.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:

Friday, December 15, 2017

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 eating and drink, 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 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 has been six 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 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 it. 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 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.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

In the House of Cancer

When I first went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, in June of 2003 to begin treatment for my tongue cancer, I started a daily journal. I didn’t really get that far into it...I was a bit less than peppy there for awhile. But going through what I had written, I came up with one entry, a little more than one week into my seven-week radiation therapy schedule, and I thought I’d share with you.
Wednesday, 11 June, 2003

Odd how we go through life automatically assuming that the way things were yesterday and the way things were the day before that and the year before that is the way things will always be. And when confronted by the reality that this is not a universal truth, it shocks us to the core.

I had no idea, when I arrived here, how profound the problem of eating would be. Eating is more than a chore. It is a struggle. Chewed food becomes a thick, tasteless paste (imagine a mouthful of crackers and peanut butter, but totally devoid of taste) which sticks to the roof and sides of the mouth, to the teeth, to the gums. Even accompanying each swallow with a drink of water is not satisfactory. Incomprehensible to those fortunate enough not to have experienced it.

I was just in the communal dining room [of Hope Lodge, run by the American Cancer Society, which provides free housing to cancer patients] trying to have dinner—cheesy potato soup, 240 calories, two slices of toast, water. Ate about half of the soup, one of the slices of toast. One of the other residents came in to join a group at a nearby table, and when someone asked how he was doing, proceeded to tell them. A long, gothic tale of removed esophagi and recreated stomach and tubes running thither and yon into and out of his body. Did I mention I did not finish dinner?

I’ve become obsessed with calories, since I do not dare lose any more weight (only 8 pounds, but that’s not good) [I entered Mayo weighing 185; I left weighing 145. Cancer is a highly-effective weight-loss program, but I wouldn’t recommend it]. Stopped at Dairy Queen, where one of the staples of my diet has become a hot fudge sundae with marshmallow topping. I asked if they had a nutritional chart, and they did. I see that I will be switching from the sundaes to malts and shakes…one of which has 900 calories.

Which, of course, opens the door to the possibility of diabetes when the bulk of one’s calories come from sugars. Sigh. Life ain’t easy, kid. Still, no matter how I bitch and moan, I am far better off than a great many people here.

At one of my appointments today, in the waiting room with his mother was a little boy about 7 years old. Totally bald, hooked to a portable machine which he kept on a chair next to him, and from which a tube ran under the waist of his shirt. Seven years old! He had the mildly lost expression of someone waiting for something, and I fear it was not Santa Claus.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:

Saturday, December 09, 2017


It’s human nature, when hearing someone considerably older than one’s self tell tales of how different distant yesterdays were from today, to roll our eyes and sigh heavily. It never occurs to us that the older have the advantage of having experienced both “then” and “now” whereas the young have only the “now” and the relatively recent past. It’s difficult to comprehend just what a different world it was when the teller of stories—a parent or grandparent, usually—was younger than the listener.
The problem with “now” is that we are too close to it to see it clearly. But the fact is that each of us grows up in a world different from that of our parents and grandparents—just as our world today will be equally different from the world of our children.
And thus the subject of this blog.
I was thinking yesterday—as always, with me, for absolutely no reason—of my own distant yesterdays and a town called Fairdale.
In the mid-to-late 1930s my grandfather and his wife owned and lived in a combination bar and gas station in Fairdale, Illinois, one of those tiny unincorporated hamlets quaintly but often accurately referred to as a “wide spot in the road.” It was located on far-from-busy Hwy 72, which connected with the far busier Hwy 51. It was probably less than 25 miles from my hometown of Rockford, but seemed like hundreds of miles from anywhere.
I first checked Google to see if Fairdale still exists (surprisingly, it does), and then sought a map for its exact location. I see it has a total of three very short, one-or-two-block-long streets, though the only one I can remember is the one that had once served as the town’s “main street.” It ran north and south between Hwy 72 and the railroad tracks—perhaps two blocks. Clustered along the end nearest the railroad tracks were perhaps three or four even-then-long-abandoned 2-story once-commercial buildings, but as I recall, Grandpa’s bar/gas station was the only business in the town.
The bar, too, was old even then, a typical small farm-town bar which smelled of cigarette and cigar smoke and spilled beer and whiskey. Once, when I was “helping” Grandpa sweep up in the morning before the bar opened, I found a $5 bill someone had dropped. A $5 bill in the mid-to-late 1930s was a very great amount of money, indeed, and when no one returned to claim it, Grandpa let me keep it.
Neither the bar nor the gas station made much money. This was a very rural area, and the effects of the Great Depression still bore heavily on all aspects of the lives of average people.
Just west of Grandpa’s place, on the highway, was a one-room school, which I remember primarily because its playground had one of those metal self-propelled “merry-go-rounds” you can still occasionally find today, which kids would start by pushing it in one direction, running faster and faster until they could jump on and go round and round until the centrifugal force died and it slowed to a halt. Then you jumped off and started the process over again.
Across the street was a large farm with what appeared to me, as a 5 year old kid, to be a huge barn. I can still close my eyes and smell the hay. The family that owned it had a couple of kids around my age, and we would sneak into the barn, climb up into the hayloft, and then ascend a ladder to a small platform almost to the barn’s rafters. It seemed like a very great height, but was probably eight feet at most. We would then jump down into the hay, shrieking with laughter and the sense of excitement such courage warranted.
It was, indeed, a different time and a different world, with different values and attitudes, and the more harsh realities of life at the time gradually grow less distinct as the fog of time closes in. Sharper edges dim and soften, and nostalgia paints memories in softer colors, making the past often more appealing than the “now.”
But man is a creature which craves comfort, and if memories of a tiny town long ago can provide me with some comfort, I’ll savor it like a fine, vintage wine.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Sing Out, Fagin!

One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite musicals, Oliver, is “Reviewing the Situation” (“I am re-view-ing the sit-u-a-tion….”). I’m pretty sure we all like songs we can identify with, and I am almost constantly taking the pulse of just where my life is at the moment, comparing it to where it has been, and projecting what I might expect in the future…by far the least reliable of the three.
I’m going through a bit of a busy period, though comparing it to other busy periods of my life is a bit difficult, since time usually softens the sharp edges and blurs the focus, and we…or I…tend to easily forget how things really were. My mind has a tendency when dealing with the past, to run around smoothing out the wrinkles in the bedcovers and dusting under the couch, with the result that things tend to look a lot more rosy in retrospect then when actually being experienced.
At the moment of writing, I am not-at-all-patiently awaiting the arrival of a new internet modem (the subject of another blog). It was supposed to be here today. The day is nearly over. It is not here.
I learned earlier today that I will definitely, without question, damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead moving this coming Monday…providing they are able to find the key to the apartment, which apparently has gone missing and might necessitate the replacing the lock entirely. If I move on Monday, it will be the end of a six month game of “Oh, you can move for sure next week. Or maybe next month. Or if not then, the third Tuesday following the Solstice. Or if not then, definitely by St. Michaelmas Eve. Or maybe….” It’s really been fun. But not much. I have come to see myself as Charlie Brown, with the building’s bureaucracy as Lucy, and my new apartment as the football.
I am—and I would not be surprised if I also am at the time you read this, however far down the calendar it may be from now—also awaiting the court’s approval of my appointment as executor of my recently and sadly dead friend Norm’s will. Though I legally can do nothing until it comes through, I’ve made arrangements for an appraiser to come over to go through Norm’s condo and give me an idea of the value of his lifetime collection of belongings, and I’ve been in touch with a representative of a company that purchases estates.
Once the condo is empty, I’ll next have to consult with a real estate broker about putting the condo up for sale, and whether it would be better to sell it as is or go to the time and expense of painting and replacing the dog-ravaged carpeting and wallpaper.
And while all this is going on, I become increasingly aware of the fact that while there is sufficient money in his bank account to cover monthly—and sizable—condo fees and other continuing monthly expenses for a time, it won’t last forever and, given the status of the housing market, there is no guarantee of how long it will take to sell.
You’ll notice no mention of my own life, which normally centers around writing. I have a book halfway written which is far behind schedule and must be finished soon if there is any hope of having it get out this year. And after I’ve typed “the end” on that one, I must get busy on the next.
So there you have the general gist of my most recent reviewing of my situation. It’ll all look a lot better from some point in the future when my mind has once again tidied up my memory.
And you know what I’m going to do when all this current turmoil is over with? When I can get back online and am all moved into my new apartment and Norm’s affairs have all been settled, I’m going to take a boat to Tahiti. Yep! That’s what I’m gonna do. Ask Gary to come up and feed my cat, and just take off. And while I’m sitting on a deck chair looking out over the vast, untroubled ocean, I look forward to a most pleasant reviewing of my situation.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site: