Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanatophobia












What? You know what "thanatophobia" means and you're still here? And what the hell are we talking about death for today? It’s Thanksgiving! Could there possibly be two less compatible topics? But the fact is that the greatest thing we can possibly give thanks for today and every day is…being alive. Taking a moment to realize that we won’t always be should only increase our gratitude!

The very subject of death any day of the year sends 99% of the population mentally heading for the hills. Of all the astonishing number of fears afflicting mankind, surely the fear of death is far ahead of whatever might be in second place.

We go to great lengths to throw a sheet over the elephant in the room. Uncle Charlie didn't die, he "passed away," or "passed over." Uh-huh. Our grotesque funeral rituals--painting and primping Uncle Charlie's corpse so those passing by his open coffin can pretend he's just taking a nap--are a case in point.  I love the lines from Oklahoma's "Pore Jud Is Daid": "Poor Jud is dead,/poor Jud Fry is dead;/he's layin' there so peaceful and serene..../He looks like he's asleep;/it's a shame that he won't keep,/but it's summer and we're runnin' out of ice."

I find it fascinating that thanatophobia covers both the fear of death and the fear of dying, and to me, they are two quite separate things. I'm not afraid of being dead, but I am more than concerned by the process of passage between the two. Though it is impossible to know, I’m quite sure that most people are as unaware of crossing the actual line between life and death as they are aware of crossing the line between being awake and asleep. Except for those relative few who experience a sudden trauma resulting in their death and are conscious of what is happening up to that very instant, most people first lapse into a coma. Few, I suspect, experience real fear.

I know that, for myself, the "fear of death" lies primarily in the reluctance to give up life...to imagine the world going on without me, and most specifically the thought of all the wonderful things I will never get to see or do once I am dead: all of which is counterbalanced by the simple fact that once I'm dead, I won't be aware of what I'm missing. I've never considered this to be morbid; quite the contrary. There is a wonderfully calming sense of peace in wandering through a cemetery, reading tombstones and thinking of those who lie beneath them. Try it sometime, if you don't already understand what I'm saying.

I am firmly convinced that organized religion came about as a cultural reaction to our fear of death. The idea of a heaven and a hell (the latter created largely to keep the living in line) and the concept of an afterlife ("Oh, don't worry: when you die you will move on through the Pearly Gates and live forever.") may be comforting in theory, but crumble like a waters-edge sand castles at high tide. Far, far, too many questions and far, far too few answers. Logic, so vital to our culture, civilization, and human existence, utterly vanishes.

And it has always struck me as wonderfully...well, perverse...that those who so strongly proclaim the glories of heaven very seldom seem to be in any hurry to get there.

As a total romantic, I would, truly and with every fiber of my being, love to believe that there is a heaven. I would also truly like to believe in a hell, for there are a large number of hate-mongers and bigots I sincerely believe richly deserve to suffer the flames of hell throughout eternity for their cruelty to their fellow humans. But I simply cannot believe, no matter how hard I try.

I always remember a discussion I had with a friend on the subject many years ago. As to heaven and hell, he said, "I believe that if, at the moment of death, you can look back on a good life, that is heaven. If you can't, that is hell.”

But for right now, I am truly thankful for being alive.

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, November 24, 2014

Moments and Times

Each of us has indelible memories of events in our life which stand apart from all the others, and which shape and mold not only how we view the world, but who we are as individual human beings.

I was thinking today of the moments and times in my life that I consider to have had the deepest and most lasting effects on me. In my mind's eye, I became like a gold miner in a rushing stream, swishing memories around in a mental sieve, and carefully picking out the ones which remain. I hope you won't mind my sharing some of them with you. And while they are indeed mine and not yours, I hope you might see why I chose them.
1) Hearing, while eating dinner with my folks when I was around four or five, the ringing of the bell on my tricycle, which I'd left on the sidewalk, realizing someone was stealing it, and my father—who had not heard the bell—refusing to allow me to leave the table to go save it. I'm sorry to say I think it negatively affected my entire relationship with him for most of the rest of his life.

2) Being asked by a stranger, at around the age of five, why I was singing Christmas carols in July. For some reason I was humiliated and I look on it as the moment when my tendency toward shyness turned to stone and put a wall between me and being able to express my emotions freely.

3) Attending the funeral of my beloved Uncle Buck in 1953. I had never before experienced such wrenching, unbearable grief.

4) As a Naval Aviation Cadet drinking beer with a NavCad friend and eating pizza at a little bar off Pensacola Beach while the Everly Brothers' "Unchained Melody" played on the jukebox.

5) Soaring alone in a huge valley surrounded by clouds, doing acrobatics and looking down at the green patchwork quilt of the earth far below.

6) Diving off a quay in Cannes into the crystal-clear Mediterranean with Marc, Michele, Gunter, and Joachim as part—though I did not realize it until later—of one of the happiest and most memorable weeks of my life.

7) Driving with my then-partner (the word "lover" has fallen out of fashion in the gay community, I fear) Norm back to Chicago from my parents' cottage in my new, bright red Ford Sprint convertible, watching from the corner of my eye as Norm studiously rummaged through a large bag of potato chips, finally pulling out the perfect chip, and handing it to me.

8) Being awakened at 6:15 on February 9, 1970, by the deep, ominous and absolutely unmistakable rumbling of an approaching earthquake.

9) Driving my mother back to the hospital from which she had just been released earlier in the day, after subsequently suffering a minor stroke which left her only able to point to things and say "What's that?" I was in anguish, and she reached over and patted my hand. I still cry when I think of that.

10) Leaving the theater after viewing Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake for the ninth time and suddenly realizing that my obsession with it was that, to my mind, I was the Prince and Ray, the love of my life, was the Swan—goodness and sweetness and kindness when sober, and incomprehensibly cruel when under the influence of alcohol, which eventually killed him.

11) The true sense of shock and sadness I experience every single time I look into a mirror or accidentally see myself in a reflective surface.

These are only a few of the many, many memorable moments of just one life out of billions. I know you have your own, and I hope you join me in the appreciation—hard though that word is to use with some experiences and memories—of each and every one of them. Gather all of yours together, then step back to get a better perspective, and what you see is...you.


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, November 20, 2014

Rules to Live By















I am nothing if not a strict adherent to the set of rules I have painstakingly established for myself throughout my life. I fully acknowledge they may not work for everyone, but they are my rules applicable only to myself.
First and foremost among these: Anything worth trying is only worth trying twice. If it does not work the way I want/fully expect it to by the second try, I give up. I know most people go along with the old "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" nonsense, but not I. This is a ridiculous premise fostered, I suspect, by cardiac physicians who make huge fortunes treating the resulting apoplexy induced by the frustration of trying and trying and trying and failing miserably every single time. I have learned  through long, hard experience that if something that has not worked by the second time I've tried it, it's not going to work. Ever. And by throwing my hands in the air and screaming "F**K IT" after my second attempt, I am spared the mounting frustration and fury of trying it a third and fourth and seventy-fifth time, each and every one of which I know to the depth of my being will turn out exactly the same way as the first. 

Secondly, time is an infinitely precious commodity not to be wasted by thinking before acting or speaking. I call this the "knee-jerk" response. There is little point in reading an entire e-mail, letter, or article if I disapprove of what’s in the first paragraph. That any question may very well be answered or the point addressed two paragraphs further on is beside the point. It should have been answered/addressed before it arose, and I am not responsible for the poor planning of others. React first and immediately is my motto. There is plenty of time for regret later.

Never bother trying to remember names, or dates, or numbers. They can always be gone back to and checked again if and as often as necessary--a point proven over and over and over again, sometimes up to ten times on one name or set of numbers. They're always there...somewhere. Going back time after time is much easier than going to the bother of remembering them.

Housecleaning is vastly overrated. Quentin Crisp's profound observation that dust never gets any thicker after three years is a good one to live by. Living alone is a plus in this regard. There is no point in washing dishes as long as there is still one clean plate, knife, fork, spoon, cup or glass remaining. When they've been used, then do all the dishes at once. Making the bed is totally pointless, unless you're expecting company or hoping the people from House Beautiful might stop by for a photo shoot.

Never pass up the opportunity for self-deprecation. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, with everyone just waiting to pounce on your every flaw and failing. By constantly running yourself down, you beat them to the punch and let them know you are perfectly well aware of what a loser you are.

Organization of any sort is a huge waste of time and never works. "A place for everything, and everything in its place" is laughably unrealistic. And just think of the hour upon hour of fun looking for car keys or glasses or billfolds or cell phones provides. And there is no need. When I set my glasses or keys down, I know exactly where they are and, sure enough, when I finally find them again, they are exactly where I left them.

Never make lists. Chances are excellent that if you do make one, you won't be able to find it when you want it, or you're going to leave several important things off. So why bother? Grocery shopping, for example, is much more fun when you go to the store specifically for a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, and a loaf of bread and end up coming home with a ton of things you hadn't intended to buy, but without the milk, eggs, and bread. This only provides you with the opportunity to return to the store soon and buy still more wondrous things you hadn't thought to put on your list.

There's that old saw that "Rules are made to be broken," but if you adhere strictly to those rules outlined above, I can guarantee you that the danger of breaking them will never be a problem.


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, November 17, 2014

Stranger in a Strange Land
















I was born to a long line of heterosexuals, going back to Adam and Eve. I was raised and nurtured by heterosexuals whom I loved deeply, and have lived among heterosexuals every day of my life. And yet I have never understood them, or felt I really belonged in their world—understandable, I think, when I was constantly bombarded with messages which made crystal clear that homosexuals are beneath contempt, damned to burn forever in the flames of hell, and definitely less than human.

It is often said that one is more than one’s sexual orientation, and while I readily agree that being homosexual involves far more than the sex act, my being gay is and always has been a fundamental part of who I am, and has influenced every aspect of my personality and my dealings and interactions with other people. I am who I am because I am homosexual. This doesn’t mean that I see being gay as superior to being straight; I honestly think of us as being simply two variations on a theme…like oranges and grapefruit are simply two varieties of citrus.

I’ve heard heterosexuals ask, “Why do gays make such a fuss over this Gay Pride thing? Heterosexuals don’t celebrate being heterosexual!” No, they don’t. Because they don’t have to. They’re the vast majority and directly or indirectly they never let gays forget it. Gays are proud not so much of the fact of being gay as having managed to survive the discrimination and hostility of the majority. No one who is not a member of a persecuted minority can possibly fully understand. 

I must hasten to say I have never experienced the violence so often and still suffered by gays, nor have I been the target of much overt prejudice from “straights.” (I find it interesting that while heterosexuals have a wide litany of epithets for gays, the only term of approbation I can think of that gays use against straights is “breeders.”)

All my life I have stood in awe of how African Americans/blacks/negroes—choose the term of political correctness you prefer—possibly could have endured what they have endured for centuries. It is totally beyond my comprehension. It’s impossible and pointless to “compare” the sufferings of blacks, jews, and gays. On the one hand, gays and jews have the “advantage” that at least most cannot immediately be spotted in a crowd. On the other hand, simply being black or jewish in the United States was never a codified crime.

As far as I know, I am the only homosexual in my family, though for some reason I suspect that my mother’s uncle, Peter, who died of tuberculosis at the age of 20 shortly after the turn of the 20th century, may have been gay. Sadly he did not live long enough to confirm or deny my suspicion.

I’ve said often I was truly blessed with the family I have. My mother’s side of the family, the Fearns, always instinctively knew I was gay, and their love and support has been unconditional. My father’s side of the family defines the word “dysfunctional” and I was never really close to them. My father, who also knew I was gay before I had a word for it, almost came to blows with his half-sister’s husband for suggesting that I was a faggot.

I think a great many gays share my disillusion with the world as it is, and seek reassurance and comfort where they can find it. Gays are “known” to love musicals, for example. Is it any surprise? Musicals, books, and movies represent an escape from the harshness of reality, and I am not the only gay man to take shelter there. I am, in fact, firmly convinced that I became a writer as a way of countering reality. If I didn’t and don’t care for the world into which I was born and in which I live, I could and do create my own worlds.  

Though it has taken far too long in coming, we are currently in an accelerating state of profound social change, as heterosexuals increasingly if slowly acknowledge our basic human rights and recognizing us if not as equals, then as oranges to their grapefruits.

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, November 13, 2014

The Learning Curve

I know, I know, I too often despair (and one of the things about which I despair most is the mounting evidence that I'm turning into a grumpy old man), but let's face it…there's a lot to despair about.

Remember courtesy? Good, old-fashioned common courtesy? "Thank you" and "You're welcome" and "After you," and "Can I help you with that?" You still run into it occasionally, but it does seem in distressingly short supply. Rudeness and insensitivity and ME seem to be the norm in today's society.

We learn from what we see, and take our cues as to how to react to others from that.

 The commercials we're exposed to 18 minutes out of every hour we watch TV foster these norms. What lessons are we...or more importantly our children...supposed to learn from the pain reliever commercial where a woman is putting six boxes of one brand into her shopping basket while a voiceover tells her she can get the same effect from one box of the sponsor's brand. And what does she do? She picks up the sponsor's product, puts her basket with the obviously inferior product down on the floor in the middle of the aisle, and walks away! (Don't bother putting the other stuff back, lady. Just leave it for somebody else to do.)

 Or the oft-referred-to-here commercial with the frizzy-haired blonde who, checking her sales receipt as she leaves the checkout stand, assumes the store has made a mistake. Does she ask the clerk if there was indeed an error as basic common courtesy would dictate? Hell no! She races out of the store, yelling to her husband to "Start the car! Start the car!", absolutely giddy in the belief that she has gotten away with screwing the store out of something. What a message that sends!

The prevailing attitude seems to be, if you're stupid enough to fall for whatever con I'm trying to put over on you, tough cooky. You deserve whatever you get. (And, frankly, I must admit there is merit in that belief.) The ubiquitous spam messages that flood cyberspace are not only aimed at those too naive or trusting to know they’re being preyed upon, but at those who know damned well that “the $10,000,000 award we talked about” was never talked about, or the “I need your help in getting $30,000,000 out of Iran” proposals are obviously illegal, but the spammers count upon the recipient’s greed.

Those few of us who were born in a time before mass media infiltrated every cell of our being can recall a time when we learned from our parents and relatives and friends, and those to whom we related on a person-to-person, face-to-face level. Now we live in an often sickening world of Ted Cruz, Fox News, and a legion of hate mongers and mean-spirited, rude, sub-humans interested only in furthering their own warped agendas. Being exposed to this uncivil, uncivilized donkey diarrhea every time we turn on the TV or read a newspaper or a magazine eventually affects even those of us who know better. And for those who are not old enough to remember a time when people were respectful of others, I shudder to think of what they will become.

 Why do we expect from others things we are ourselves not willing to give? 

Where, along the way, did the concept of making someone else feel good, or appreciated, without there being something in it for me disappear? I don't recall ever having received a bill for smiling or saying "hello" to a stranger. How did we become so selfishly insular? Rudeness breeds rudeness; incivility breeds incivility. Where did we ever get the idea that we should be treated with the courtesy and respect we are not, ourselves, willing to show others?

But you see, here I go again, despairing. I can do nothing at all about the lack of courtesy, respect, and common sense in others, but that does not mean I have to be like them or follow their lead. I don't, and won't, and fervently hope you might feel the same way. There is truth in the old saying "It's you and me against the world.” Maybe we should actively recruit others to join us? Oh, and thank you for reading this.

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, November 10, 2014

Cassandra and Me

I’ve always been fascinated by Greek mythology and identify strongly with some of it. I find the parallels between the prophetess Cassandra and myself, for example, to be downright eerie. Consider the uncanny similarities between us: Cassandra was the daughter of Priam, king of Troy. I am the son of Frank, factory worker of Rockford, Illinois. Both of us carry the gift of prophecy and the curse of those prophecies being believed.

A few more parallels should you not already be convinced: the god Apollo became smitten with Cassandra and gave her the gift of prophecy. I have, when younger, been the object of brief bouts of smitten-ness and received the gift of free drinks in bars and could instantly prophesize the outcome. When Cassandra rebuffed Apollo’s advances, Apollo was in something of a quandary: a gift once given by the gods cannot be taken away, just as a drink once given in a bar can’t be taken back even if the sender and recipient don’t get together. But Apollo was able to amend his gift to make it so that while Cassandra could still prophesies the future, no one would believe her.

And somehow…I’m not sure how, exactly…I acquired both the above-mentioned gift of prophecy and the curse of never being believed.

For literally years now I have been trying to convince scientists and anyone who would listen that wedding rings cause a wide range of medical problems. The proof is overwhelming and clearly laid out on television literally hundreds of times each day, but no one but I can see it! And what is this proof, you will undoubtedly ask, not believing me when I told you? Every single male shown in an ad for erectile dysfunction is wearing a wedding ring! Every. Single. One!!! (It is fascinating to note that gay men seem immune! Even though an increasing number of them wear wedding rings, have you ever seen an erectile dysfunction ad featuring gay men?…I rest my case!) The same is true of arthritis. Have you ever seen an arthritis ad where the victim was not wearing a wedding ring? I think not.

For years before the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I prophesized that gays would be allowed to serve openly in the military…a fact vehemently and continually denied by the likes of such renowned military experts as Senator John McCain and vast numbers of the military hierarchy, who were absolutely convinced that opening the doors to acknowledged homosexuals would utterly destroy civilization as we know it.

Gays allowed to marry? I knew it was inevitable but stopped even mentioning it to avoid an avalanche of vehement denial. 

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the curse of not being believed is that, once something I’ve predicted comes true, the reaction is not “Amazing! You were right!” but a casual “oh, yeah, I knew it all along.” Those who screamed and shouted and dug deep trenches in the group with their heels as history dragged them along are suddenly absolutely silent. Has anyone…anyone…asked John McCain and the spittle-lipped naysayers if they regret their stupidity? Of course not. Scream and outrage immediately becomes “yeah, okay,” and the screamers are off on another rampage on something else that they will inevitably have to accept.

I do wish Cassandra were around today. I could use a little moral backup.


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, November 06, 2014

Remembering the Future



















My mind is nothing if not...uh..."untethered," and it far-too-frequently just wanders off from the path I've chosen for it. Such is the case today.

When I lived in L.A. and was with my partner, Ray, whenever we'd go out where there were jostling mobs of people, Ray would grab the back of my belt so we wouldn't get separated. So I invite you to do the same, here, so you don't get lost trying to follow me.

I find myself--as I have since I was a child--fascinated with pondering the imponderable. While it is admittedly rather pointless, it’s fun, every now and then, to just let your mind take a tiny molehill of thought and turn it into a mountain of wonder. The fact is, of course, that no matter how much time or effort we put into pondering questions which have no answers, absolutely nothing changes, and the universe is exactly the same when we stop pondering as it was before we started.

Being human, we are always seeking simplistic answers for infinitely complex questions. The mystery of time, which rules my existence, is always a rich source of speculation, and the relationship between past, present, and future...between then and now...is an endless source of wonder.  The subject lends itself to endless analogies, similes, and metaphors in attempting to explain it. One I use frequently is of time being a speeding train, on which we all ride facing backward. We catch each second of our life as if it were a telephone pole flashing past the train's window, and we no sooner see it than it is gone. The present lasts less than a nanosecond's nanosecond, and “Now” turns future to past. That every instant of our past was at one time our future is intriguing to contemplate.

And typical of my mind's workings, as I wrote the above (still holding on?) another analogy suddenly presented itself to replace that of the speeding train: Time as a zipper, with “Now” being the fastener that joins past and future. Unfortunately, the zipper only zips up, not down.

Time abounds in paradoxes. We've all seen movies and TV programs and read dumbed-down-for-the-layman articles detailing the flexibility of time; how it can move and bend and bow and turn into itself. But in the real life of humans, time is inflexible: it moves in only one direction and it does not stop or slow down at our command. 

While so many of us...me included...would like to travel back in time and change those things we so desperately wish we could change, logic dictates that were we able to do so, the “Now” from which we began our journey back in time would cease to exist, replaced by a new series of “Nows.” Which sets off all sorts of interesting speculation on alternate universes, an utterly fascinating topic in itself. 

And, when all is said and done, if you will allow me one more analogy, all this speculation, fun as it maybe, is not unlike being in a hamster cage in which no matter how fast our minds run, it really gets us nowhere.

So while we cannot know the future until it becomes the past, we can be free to contemplate it and do our best to manipulate our Now toward what we want our future memories to be.

Or, we can just sit back, not bother about contemplating anything at all and let time take its course and bring us whatever it may bring us. Given we really don't have that much of a choice, it's probably the most logical option. 

You can let go of my belt now.

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).