Monday, June 29, 2015

Hidden Costs?

The Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality was, rightly, greeted with something akin to euphoria by the GLBT community and many of its straight supporters. There are a number of major battles yet to be fought involving discrimination tucked within the arcane laws of many states which allow open and no-recourse discrimination—being able to be fired from a job or evicted from rental housing among them. They will be dealt with and we will win.

But an article in the New York Times  raised a most interesting question: what will increasing equality and acceptance do to the gay community and its sense of unity?

When I first entered the community in the 1950s, gays had no rights. None. We were treated with universal scorn and contempt. The subject of homosexuality was taboo on television, and when CBS, in 1967, finally aired a documentary called “The Homosexuals,” host Mike Wallace’s opening words were to the effect that “Americans” viewed homosexuals with disgust clearly implied that we were being denied even our nationality.

To be gay was to be the member of a secret, underground society with our own secret codes. The only place we had to socialize with others of our own “kind” were the gay bars, which were subject to frequent and relentless police harassment. Homosexuality was classified as a mental illness by the American Psychological Association. It is hardly surprising given the fact gays were constantly told they were almost sub-human, for it to become, for some, a self-fulfilling prophecy.  An unrelated but illustrative experiment involved several people coming up, at different times, to an unwitting “subject” and saying variations on, “Are you all right? You look ill.” Though the subject was initially feeling fine, after several people telling him he looked ill, he actually became ill. And so it was with society and many gays.

With increasing acceptance, the question arises as to whether we are in danger of losing many of those things which bound us as a distinct community. Independent gay bookstores began closing as gay themed books made their way into mainstream bookstores. Many gay bars are now no longer exclusively gay. Whereas it was always a case of “us against the world,” that is no longer totally true.

It could be argued that African-Americans have gone through roughly the same thing as they become more assimilated into the general society, but have managed to maintain their own sense of culture. But skin color still, even in the most accepting circumstances, makes them stand out. Can/will the same be true of caucasian gays? Or will married gays with children become like married heterosexuals with children and form a little sub-culture of their own wherein their homosexuality takes second place to their simply being parents? The general social mixing of gays may be compartmentalized. 

When I lived in L.A., a gay friend became the first gay man (gay marriage wasn’t even on the horizon, of course, and he didn’t have a partner) to be allowed to adopt a child. He subsequently all but vanished from the gay scene, all his time and efforts devoted to the child. I certainly don’t begrudge him that, and it’s totally understandable, but now we are facing untold and growing numbers of gays in his same situation.

The Court’s decision on marriage will definitely change the entire gay community in significant ways we cannot fully understand at the moment. But at what cost?

Well, as the old saying goes, “the future lies ahead!”

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).



Thursday, June 25, 2015

Greed

Greed is one of Mankind's less noble attributes, and there are so very many things to be greedy about: money, power, adulation, food. I tend to concentrate my greed on time. I can never get enough of it, and that's unfortunate because it is the one thing of which there is only a finite amount. If you work very hard, you can get more money, or more power, or more adulation, or more food. But time is as strictly rationed as the number of grains of sand in an hourglass. 

A friend recently sent me a group of stunning photos of a series of picturesque alpine villages, and my heart ached because I wanted to be there; to live in one of those absolutely amazing, charming thatched-roof dwellings clustered high on idyllic hillsides surrounded by towering, snowcapped peaks and overlooking vast, lush forests or green valleys or smooth-as-glass lakes reflecting the mountains and sky.

It is, as I've said, human nature to be greedy: to always want more than we can possibly have, to want to be more places than we can possibly be, to want to see and do more than any single human can possibly see or do.

And I realized that the fact of the matter...the fact of life itself...is that of the infinite number of places one could, and would love to be, one can only be in at place at one time. That place can be changed for another, but still only one place at a time.

I look at those quaint mountain villages with envy and yearning, yet for 24 years, I myself lived in the incredible beauty of the Great North woods of northern Wisconsin, and walked along the wind-swept, deserted shores of Lake Superior, looking out at the whitecap-flecked expanse of water under a pristine blue sky across which billowing white clouds moved majestically, and thought often of the tens of thousands of city-bound people who would give anything to live in such surroundings. It should have been enough, but it wasn't. I returned to the city so many long to flee, and I am by and large content here. But there is a great difference between "by and large" and "completely."

Though I’ve been lucky enough to have gone to Europe every year for the past four years, I’ll not be returning this year, and rather than simply be grateful for those previous trips, my greed steps in to resent that I’m not going this year. With perhaps a shocking ingratitude, I dismiss all I have done and seen and been given, and want to be on a barge on the Nile, or having a picnic on the beach of some tropical island, or aboard a ship sailing the fjords of Norway.

Were I able to be living in one of those idyllic Alpine chalets, I know full well that somehow I would not—could not—be satisfied for long, any more than I was with living in the beauty of the Great North woods. My initial wonder would soon become sated and I would want to be somewhere else; no matter where I am/was or how much I have/had, I would want more.

Movies, books, and TV inundate us with images of beautiful people doing wonderful, exciting things; living glamorous, exciting lives in exotic, fascinating locations; climbing mountains; running with the bulls in Pamplona; sailing down the Nile; exploring ancient ruins: it all blends together to tell us, "See what they're doing? Why aren't you doing it, too?" We are—I am—overcome with envy at all the things James Bond can do in the course of  a 90-minute movie, of all the places he can go and everything he can accomplish. The implied assumption is that it might be possible for us—me—to actually be doing all this too. We never give a single thought to the fact that it would be physically impossible to be everywhere at once or do everything we might want to do. We are limited to be in one place doing one thing at any given moment, and it takes precious and limited time to move from one part of the earth to another. It's hard...for me, at any rate...to acknowledge that with so much to do and see, I can only do one thing at at time, and that no single life contains 1/10,000th enough time to do everything we might want to do.

Which does not stop us/me from wanting it all.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).




Monday, June 22, 2015

"i" before "e"

It’s simple, right? Basic, logical rules; step-by-step. “i” before “e”.

I hope it’s not writer’s block, but I have found it increasingly difficult, over the past six months or so, to write. Anything. Including blogs. It isn’t that the words won’t come…I’m inundated by them; overwhelmed. And none of the words are sufficiently connected to allow me to present them in such a way as to make sense of them. They spew out like water from a broken main, gushing in all directions at once and making the grabbing onto enough of them—the right ones in the right order, that is—to make a cohesive thought next to impossible. 

When it comes to working on a book, I find it very difficult to concentrate. What do I want to say? How do I want to say it? Is it a matter of late-onset ADD? And with the tsunami of words and random, out-of-nowhere thoughts, It takes amazingly little to distract me. (Oh, look…a tree! )

I do okay with Facebook posts…and as a result spend far, far more time there than I should…because Facebook involves short bursts of manageable thought which I can hold on to long enough to post them.

But with things like my work-in-progress Elliott Smith novel Cameron’s Eye I reached the point of spinning my mental wheels almost constantly and moving not one inch. I change a word here, move a sentence or a paragraph from one place to the next in an effort to give myself a mental kick-start and make the story flow more smoothly. Whereas I normally am able to have at least an idea of what the next sentence will be, and the one after that, I reach the end of one sentence and find myself staring at a solid, seemingly impenetrable wall. I have no idea what needs to come next. 

So I set Cameron’s Eye totally aside and started work on the next Dick Hardesty book, The God-Speaker, which actually is coming along, and I can sense the “old” joy of creating. But I’m not wild about the title. Yet I can’t come up with a better one. And once again my train of thought is derailed. (Do you like bunnies?)

Writing requires discipline, and while self discipline has never been one of my strong suites, what little discipline I had apparently has abandoned me. Plus, my muse seems to be on an extended vacation to some exotic locale where he can’t be reached.

Someone once said, “writing is the ability to apply the seat of one’s pants to the seat of the chair.” I can sit in my chair in front of the computer with no problem. But when it comes time to put my fingers on the keyboard and commence typing, all I come up with are bits and pieces and…(Do I need cat food from the store?)

The only thing between me and utter panic is the confidence that things will get back to normal eventually. If I can just concentrate on that fact…(What’s on TV tonight?)

Sigh.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Letting Go


I just noticed that there are 45,053 messages in my computer's "In" box, dating back some eight years! And these are just the messages I kept. It doesn't count the 37,875 messages I've sent and kept! Dear Lord, that's ridiculous! I've got to get rid of them...or at least clear them out. And I've tried. Really. I must have deleted several hundred. Why so few? Because I have to read them to know whether to keep or delete them. And despite my culling, I still have 82,978 individual messages to go.

"Okay, why not just dump them all?" you may well and logically ask.

Because I can't, that's why. I tell myself that it's because I know that ten seconds after doing so I will remember something I desperately need from one of them. But I know that's not the real reason. The real reason is that once I hit "delete" they will be gone forever and a part of me will be gone with them.

Bil (that's the way he spelled it) and Susie Evans and Skip McHam, and my beloved "Uncle Bob," dear friends whose words...whose essence...are caught forever in our exchanges. To delete their messages from my "in" box is in effect to delete them, and I simply cannot bring myself to do that. And, of course, to delete those messages in my "Sent" file is to delete my own words and therefore much of myself. The inherent now of these messages--the knowledge that every single word was created in a now as real as the now in which I watch each word appear as I type it here; created by vibrant, living people in the process of inhaling and exhaling and thinking and planning and dreaming—holds me in an unbreakable grip.

I'm fully aware that, in many ways...the one being discussed now, for example...I am not like other people. I've worked very hard all my life not to be. And I know that, to other people (though I would hope not to you) I often seem strange, or silly, or immature. I plead guilty on all charges. And the problem with that is...?

I've talked before about my inability to let go of the past and I really do realize the downside of it. I know that after I am gone, none of this will mean anything to anyone, and that I must drag the full weight of the past with me wherever I go, whatever I do. This morning, I noticed that the mesh fabric covering the underside of my favorite chair, which I bought when I moved into my first house in Los Angeles in 1968 and have had reupholstered at least once, has been torn and is hanging down. My cat, Spirit's, handiwork no doubt. And in lifting the chair to look underneath, I see that one of its legs is loose. Logic, reality, and rationality clearly dictate to throw it out; that to have it re-upholstered again would cost more than just buying a new chair. But I shall look for a re-upholsterer. ("But it won't be the same chair," even parts of my own brain readily acknowledge. To which other parts of my brain reply, "Yes, it will. In my heart." Just as my aging flesh is not the real me, a tattered covering is not the chair. And I am not responsible for what others may think. To be honest, it doesn't matter.

I suspect part of my reluctance to let go of things...which is to say, to let go of the past...is because I do not believe in an afterlife. I firmly believe, as I've stated so often, that when one dies, one simply reverts to the same state of non-existence from which one emerged at birth. So therefore, all I have of eternity is the very very brief lifetime allotted me, and I am loath to relinquish a moment of it into the non-existence already surrounding me.

And on rereading this, I see I have once again perhaps told you more than you really wanted to know, and that my insistence on detailing the entrails of my psyche might be considered "unseemly" or embarrassing. But, again "once again," if you might find something within these ramblings that you might recognize...though never have given voice to...within yourself, I consider it well worth it.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).



Monday, June 15, 2015

Acceptance

Acceptance, noun: 3. Agreement with or belief in an idea, opinion, or explanation

Human beings, as they pass through life, consciously or unconsciously establish their own list of things things they are willing to accept and those they are not, based upon their own experiences and personal belief systems. Most simply accept just about anything they do not see as a threat. 

Acceptance is subjective. You may accept a lot of things I do not, and vice-versa. I’ve never been terribly good at acceptance. If something strikes me as irrational or based on flawed logic, I refuse to accept it, regardless of how many others might. I’ve always admired that old saying, “If 50 million people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.” Of course, life is much easier for those who simply go along—acceptance saves endless time, thought, effort, and frustration.

The concept of acceptance is at the root of the Serenity Prayer (“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”), which gives comfort to a great many people, not all of them alcoholics. I personally find it admirable in theory but next to impossible in practice. That I have no difficulty in knowing the things I can change and those I cannot, does not stop me from trying. For me, there is a great distance between knowing and accepting.

We live in an increasingly fragmented, mean-spirited, polarized society in which traditional rules of civility and common sense have largely disappeared. I cannot personally change this fact, but I most certainly cannot accept it. I cannot comprehend, let alone accept, all the egregious pettiness and cruelty in the world. The fact that so very many people simply accept those things which they are told they cannot change contributes greatly to the problem.

It can be argued that acknowledgement is the same as acceptance. It is not. I can acknowledge the existence of a great number of things—war, hatred, bigotry, willful stupidity among them—which I cannot and will not accept..

I do accept the fact that I am an egoist, given to constant self-reflection—as opposed to an “egotist,” who has an excessive sense of self-importance and is given to arrogance and boastfulness. 

Human life is finite. I acknowledge that. But no matter how hard I try, I cannot accept that I am much closer to the end of my life than to the beginning. While I sincerely have no fear of dying, I’m far from ready to die, and therefore will not accept the fact. There are things which cannot be denied, but still cannot be accepted.

I refuse to accept the unavoidable evidence of my increasing physical limitations. I refuse to accept the fact that I will never, ever again eat more than three bites of solid food at a sitting, let alone a full meal, or chug-a-lug a full glass of cold water on a hot summer’s day. Fortunately, I can distinctly remember the taste of foods: my oft-ached-for bologna sandwich; a Vienna sausage on a bun with onions and catsup and mustard; turkey with cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes and rich, thick gravy. I need only concentrate on the sight and taste, and they are there…just out of reach.

I am not unaware of reality and its sway over me. But I don’t have to accept it…and I don’t. Once again I paraphrase Dylan Thomas; I shall not go gentle into that good night.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).



Thursday, June 11, 2015

Delusion

Delusion (dee-loo-zshun), noun: an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument

I haven’t heard a good, solid, definite, absolute prediction of the end of the world in some time. There was that 2012 scare, of course, which most people took for the nonsense it was, but the last one I can recall that caused a stir was the absolutely positive prediction that the world would end at 6 p.m. on May 21, 2011, as several hundred thousand people around the world were absolutely, positively certain it would. As you may have noticed, it did not. But it was a perfect example of a "pathetic delusion." And it is a testament to the power of delusion that those who were utterly convinced that they would be carried up to Heaven in the Rapture, were neither disillusioned nor deterred, eagerly accepting without question the facile explanation of why it did not happen—a slight mix-up in calculating the dates, as I recall—and eagerly await word to begin printing up fliers for whatever new definite, absolute date is subsequently set for The End.

Of all the wondrous traits, gifts, and abilities possessed by humans, none is more fascinating—and at times more powerful and destructive—than delusion. We all delude ourselves to one degree or another. Most delusions are basically harmless and provide a path-of-least-resistance alternative to dealing with the often uncomfortable complexities of reality. Delusions can be comforting, and protective of our egos, and offer us the inner validation that life too often does not provide. As long as delusions are kept within ourselves, they are largely benign...sometimes downright pleasant.

But when the delusions dictate that we insist that others share them, they can and often do turn malignant. The stronger the demand to spread the delusion to others, the more disruptive and destructive they become. They metastasize into the equivalent of black hole into which fact, logic, all rationality, all common sense, and too often all compassion and all common decency are sucked in and destroyed. Nations have fallen because of the delusions of their leaders.

We live in a world of rapidly proliferating malignant delusions, fueled by the hate mongers who wield them like a weapon in order to achieve some personal agenda—usually power or wealth and most often both. Politicians, self-appointed pundits, and religious fanatics are drawn like magnates to any spark of religious, cultural, and racial delusions they recognize in others, and fan them until they become raging wildfires which sweep across society, destroying everything in their path.

Our technology is largely responsible for the exponential expansion of destructive delusions. Email is the equivalent of a laboratory petri dish for the growth of astoundingly, patently, egregiously, incomprehensibly harmful nonsense. There seems to be some built in naivety in humans that says that if they read or hear something, somewhere, regardless of how blatantly illogical it sounds, it must be true, and they pass it on to others.

I am truly, sincerely, deeply astounded by how this can possibly be. How good, decent people can so willingly become complicit in spreading blatant or poorly concealed hatred and lies. I have a number of acquaintances...and even a few relatives whom I love dearly...who will send me screeds they have picked up from the internet and accept as true without question, but which leave me numb with disbelief.

Adding to the insidiousness of current malignant delusions is the fact that we have a black president, a fact which opens wide the doors of racial tensions that have existed in this country since our founding. President Obama has been in office for six years now, and not one of the dire predictions of his detractors has come true. Between the lines of every political attack on his administration are writ clear, in gigantic block letters printers call "Second Coming" type, the message of intolerance and hatred. That we are also engaged in a war against  terrorism largely waged by Muslim extremists is, to those fanning the flames of delusion, wildly serendipitous. It allows them to spread fear and hatred against not only a president with a strange—and Muslim-sounding—name, but to tie him in with terrorists. 

Those given to malignant delusions do not draw their conclusions with velvet brushes or fine-tipped pens: they use industrial-width paint rollers, and the only color in their pallet is...ironically...black.

The old saying about fire—that it makes a good servant but a cruel master—is equally true of delusions. And alas, far too many people willingly serve that master.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Monday, June 08, 2015

Communication















All creatures communicate with one another in some form. Cases have been made that the ability to communicate exists even in trees and plants. Animals and insects—elephants, bees, ants,whales, dolphins, other primates have developed the ability to effectively communicate basic information such as needs, fears, and emotions with others of their kind. But only Man—unless there is something we don't know yet—is the only one to have developed the skill on so many levels.  

Each of our basic means of communication—speech, music, writing, art—has it's own place in our culture and in our lives, and each has its own unique power. Museums are devoted to those inanimate objects which speak clearly and often with great emotional eloquence to us, and present a singular view of our cultural history—though largely without words or speech. The oldest and most universal form of human communication is, of course, music, which speaks a non-verbal language which all can understand. Mankind has been making music for far longer than history can record, and unquestionably predates spoken languages. We were scrawling on cave walls and making small figures out of stone and clay from our caveman days while our verbal communication skills were barely developing.

The development of spoken words and their gradual evolution into language is what truly branched us off from the other animals. Transforming spoken words into symbols others could understand—writing—is a relatively new method of communication in the overall span of our existance, but it is words, and especially the written word, which enable us to record our past, and therefore are unquestionably the single most powerful form of communication available to our species.

Today we are inundated, often overwhelmed, by the various methods of communication, and the advances of technology have exponentially exacerbated the situation. Every day of our lives we watch TV, or listen to music, or read, or email, or text, as well as communicating verbally with those around us.

But, technology's bells and whistles aside, probably the most basic of all form of human communication remains words. We almost never stop to consider, even for a moment, how vital language and written words are, not only to our species but to us as individual humans. There are those few of us who cannot read, or cannot speak, or cannot hear, but even they are nonetheless surrounded by words and language in some form and develop their own variations to convey thought among themselves, and are thereby not cut off from the rest of humanity.

Words appeal primarily to our intellect; music and art, the other major and undeniable forms of communication, appeal to our soul.

Words and music are the most naturally compatible forms of communication, and again we never give a moment's thought to how astonishing the ability to combine the two is. The incredible power of combining words and music to appeal to our emotion is all around us, and never more so evident for Americans than during a patriotic sing-along during 4th of July celebrations.

But the glorious power of words to move us, in songs, poems, stories and novels, is vastly under-appreciated. Words have the power to create mental pictures as vivid and beautiful as any painting, or as powerful as any sculpture. Writers are, in fact, artists who use words the way painters use colors, subtly shading or harshly contrasting, smoothly blended or rough-textured, and after having painted his/her word picture, becomes a type of sculptor, going back over the work to chisel away sections or paragraphs or sentences here, gently using a fine chisel to smooth out a word or phrase there. 

There is of course simply not enough time allotted to us to be able to fully appreciate everything in our lives that deserves appreciation, but to take a moment, every now and then, to give thought to one or two of them—to know that they are there and to realize the purposes they serve—cannot help but enrich our lives.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).