Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Power of Touch

Whenever my dad and I were sitting side by side on the couch, he would, at some point, always reach over and squeeze my knee, which always made me jump and say “Jeez, don’t do that!” Why could I not see that this was his way of showing affection...which was always very difficult for him to do?

The need of human beings to touch and be touched by other human beings is probably one of the least understood but most elemental of human needs. It has been tragically documented that newborn babies not held or caressed or touched grow up severely stunted, emotionally. And while this need may lessen or be sublimated as we grow, it never goes away. Handshakes, hugs, pats on the back, playful punches to the arm, tousling of the hair, an arm around a friend standing beside you, reaching out to touch someone lightly on the arm, all are examples of how the need for physical human contact never goes away.

And toward the end of our life, the need grows even while the opportunities diminish. As loved ones and close friends slip away, so does the opportunity for physical contact. And while it is natural to make a physical fuss over children, the old without immediate family find themselves increasingly deprived of this essential need.

I don’t mean to preach, or pontificate, but this is, to me, simply the way things are, and it is one of the many things to which we should pay far more attention than we do.

Like that “food groups pyramid,” there is also something of a “touch pyramid” to categorize the importance of the different levels of touch. At the very top is the touch of a partner, someone one loves on all levels. Directly below that is the touch of parents; below that the touch of siblings, other relatives, then the touch of friends.

I’ve told this story before, I know, but when my mom was dying, she came home briefly from the hospital. That same night, she had something of a minor stroke and could not speak. Horrified and heartsick, I put her in the car and headed for the hospital. She could not speak, but she reached over and patted my hand. She was comforting me. She was comforting me! I cannot think of that simple gesture, even now, without crying.

The value of touch is in direct proportion to its sincerity. We all know the effusive “huggsies and kisses” type, and when I talk of the importance of touch, I do not include them. And I know some of us are for whatever reason basically undemonstrative, and that is fine. But when you sense a need from a relative, friend or even an acquaintance, don’t hesitate to place an unobtrusive hand on their shoulder; lay a hand gently on an arm, or do any of a number of things which involve gentle physical contact.

It is only the gestures of kindness, love, and affection not made that are later regretted. Make the gesture while you can, and appreciate those given you for what they are meant to be.

You have no idea what I would give to have my dad squeeze my knee.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Requited Love

Groucho Marx once quipped: “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

Human nature encompasses a wide range of perversities, each of which has its own range of intensity. One of the more common of these perversities is the predilection for deliberately sabotaging ourselves by assuring that we can never have what we want most.

Of all the things age has taken from me, one that I most deeply resent is the loss of the chance for true, romantic love: for having one individual whom I can adore on all levels, and who would adore me in the same way. I have no doubt that I could find someone my own age who might love me in this way, but the fact is that I could not return it, since I can’t conceive of loving someone my own age. Perversity, anyone?

To this day, despite the futility, I still occasionally fall in love, but it is always from a distance and never…can never…be requited. It’s sort of like wanting so terribly to sit down to a huge plate of fried-crisp pork chops, mashed potatoes, and gravy and eating everything on the plate in one sitting: I want it with an intensity difficult to describe, and I would give anything if I could have it, but I can’t.

I’ve often told the stories of a friend whose romantic focus was on young men between 18 and 21. He ached for them, and loved them deeply, and had many in his life. But as soon as the object of his affection neared 21, he lost interest and moved on to the next.

One of my best friends of my life was rock-solid in his beliefs and convictions. He brooked no nonsense from anyone. He was the poster boy for self discipline, and was, to those who did not know him as I did, quite intimidating. He never had a relationship, though he badly wanted one. His problem was that he wanted someone stronger than himself, and yet if anyone tried to be, he would tell them where to go in no uncertain terms and walk off.

It is only natural for one human being, regardless of sexual orientation or other real and imagined limitations, to want to feel wanted, and loved, and special. It’s far easier for heterosexuals to do this, since ours is a heterosexual-dominated species. Gays, and especially gay men, have a far harder time with this since we are even more prone than the heterosexual population to seek youth and beauty. The struggle for gay marriage is just one example that gays and lesbians need the same social protections that heterosexuals have always simply assumed was their birthright.

And so, as for myself and millions more like me, the search for requited love grows less realistic with every passing moment. Like most of those in my position, I deal with it. And I look at all the beautiful young men passing me on the street, to whom I am invisible, and think of Echo, the nymph who so loved Narcissus that, when her love went unrequited, she faded away until only her voice was left.

And the ultimate irony is that those same beautiful young people to whom the aging are invisible have absolutely no idea that, unless they are lucky enough to find someone with whom to grow old, they will be in exactly the same position as I. There is no comfort in the thought.

In my friend Norm’s final weeks, I would visit him and he would reach out and take my hand. We once had the kind of love I wish I could still have, but we were now less than partners, more than friends. I hope holding his hand gave him some comfort; some sense that he was not alone.

But the wonder is that, even as the darkness of the long night approaches and the cold, harsh wind of reality blows ever stronger, there is within me and within everyone still a tiny, glowing spark of hope around which we wrap ourselves and find comfort in its warmth.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Identities

Every human being has his/her own identity, formed over the years, which reflects the people and things with whom we ourselves identify. Our earliest exposure to other humans who provide keys to our eventual identity is, of course, to our parents, and we use this identity predominantly in a positive way. As we age we tend to become, with no particular effort on our parts, more like our parents. Rarely, we strive consciously not to be like them. But while it is they who primarily point us in the direction of who we will eventually become, they are not the only influencing factors.

Unlike circumstances beyond our control which shape who we become, the things with which we identify are largely a matter of choice and not some little effort, conscious or subconscious. And we tend to identify with them because at some point and for some reason we wanted to emulate them.

The books we read, the music we listen to, all the things we identify with become parts of our own identity. Each is like the individual colors on an artist’s palette, and the portrait of who we are is created by them. The degree with which we identify with something creates the tones and shadings of our character.

Just a few of the many things with which I have always strongly identified include:

1) The gay community. I know that one’s sexual orientation is only a part of one’s identity, but being a gay man (starting out as a gay child) is so much of who I am I cannot separate it from any other aspect of my life. It colors every part of my existence. I so strongly identify myself as a gay man, I am sure, as an act of defiance to those who assume superiority over me because I am not like them.

2) Minorities and underdogs...as a direct result of #1 above, as long as they do not themselves advocate the oppression of others.

3) Truth, honor, beauty, dignity, loyalty, bravery and all those uniquely human qualities which separate us from other animals.

4) As a further extension of numbers 1 and 2 above, anyone with physical, emotional, or mental disabilities; the misfits, the misunderstood; all those who ache with the realization that their dreams will never come true and yet go on anyway, doing the best they can with what they have.

5) Children, probably because I have clung too tightly to my own concept of childhood and I see myself (I would hope with some degree of accuracy) in their wonder and trust and assumption that the world is full of good things.

6) Anyone who clings to hope in face of the hopeless.

I identify strongly with all these things even while being painfully aware of how very far short I fall of really possessing any of them. Though I do take some small comfort in the knowledge that I try. I am eternally the small boy standing on the curb waving a tiny flag as he watches the soldiers and firemen as the parade passes by, wanting so very much to be one of them when he grows up.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Friday, August 12, 2016

Delusions

Over the years I have become something of an expert at self-delusion. I can honestly convince myself, short of defying the laws of physics, of almost anything. I hasten to add I am not so delusional that I am unaware that they are delusions, but they are harmless, and they give me a great degree of comfort.

My chief delusion is that I am ageless…well, actually I’m somewhere…anywhere…under the glass ceiling between youth and maturity. This delusion is quite easy to maintain except for when I am in the presence of reflective surfaces, and even then I can sometimes convince myself that I have absolutely no idea who that person is. I adopted this particular form of illusion from Don Quixote, whose ultimate enemy was a mirror.

Delusions are the armor many of us don to do battle with the world. The protect us…some to a greater degree than others…from the harshness of reality, and as long as they do no harm to ourselves or others, there is no real need to dissuade ourselves of them.

I’ve often used the example of one of the characters from the play The Madwoman of Chaillot who, every day, year after year, read the same newspaper—the same newspaper—because she liked the news in it. What was really happening in the world neither affected or concerned her. I empathize with her completely. I often choose to simply ignore those things which I know would make me unhappy if I were to acknowledge them. I may be deluding myself, but what does it matter, really?

Most delusions are restricted to the mind of the deluded, and it is only when they take physical manifestation do they normally call the attention of others. (The mental picture springs to mind of a 240-pound woman in a bikini, or the elderly man with a black toupee plopped atop the grey hair of his sideburns. And even then, they more often affect the viewer than the wearer.) We all see ourselves very differently than other people see us, but the more delusional we are, the greater the gap in perception.

Like most things, delusions can be positive or negative. I constantly berate and belittle myself for every perceived imperfection and flaw, and for falling far short of who I feel I should be. Yet this is as unfair as deluding myself into assuming the possession of sterling qualities not in fact in existence. I know I’m not…nor could I be…quite as worthless and stupid as I too frequently paint myself as being. But I do it partly out of disappointment that I am not living up to my own potential, or to what I perceive myself as being. And I have, as I’ve mentioned frequently, an odd compulsion to point out my failings as a first-strike defense against having other people do it for me. (“You don’t have to tell me how bad I am: I already know.”)

I honestly envy some people their delusions—specifically those which lead them to believe they can accomplish things which reality clearly says is far beyond their reach. Their delusions encourage them to get out there and at least try for something they really want, even though the odds are clearly or even overwhelmingly stacked against them. They are far better off than people like me, who don’t try for something I am convinced I can never achieve.

The wondrous thing is that many of the major advances in science and technology throughout history have been achieved by people everyone assumed to be delusional.
I am really quite comfortable with my own delusions. They’re like an old robe or favorite pair of slippers I wear constantly. And I truly believe the world would be a happier and less stressful place if more people allowed themselves to indulge their own.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Friday, August 05, 2016

That Which I Should Have Done

My favorite painting, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, is Ivan Albright’s That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (subtitled The Door). It is a somewhat-larger-than-life oil painting of a distorted, weathered door with a withered funeral wreath hanging from its center. From the left, an old lady’s arm, in a wrist-length, lace-cuffed grey dress, reaches for the knob.

What there is about this particular painting that fascinates me so, I do not know, but fascinate me it does. And for equally unknown reasons, I identify with it. (Ivan Albright also painted The Picture of Dorian Gray featured in the 1945 film of Wilde’s book.)

Missed opportunities and regrets are part of the fulcrum which gives balance to life, and without which we could not fully appreciate the bright joys of our existence. (Actually, far too few of us appreciate them anyway, but that is another matter entirely.)

For some reason, the highs of remembered joys do not carry us the same distance above the center line of emotion as the memory of our failures take us down. It’s just one of those odd facts of life we may not like but have to accept if we are not to be consumed by them.

When I look back on the choices I have made through life, I have to force myself to weigh the “yeah, but if you had” factor. I have always regretted my having been dropped from the Naval Aviation Cadet program. Had I studied harder and paid more attention to the things I should have been paying attention to, I may not have gotten the boot. And yet I knew in my heart of hearts that had I remained in the program I would have been killed, as were so many of my fellow cadets during that particular period.

I have often regretted the fact that, in my really active days in the gay community, I was not more aggressive in approaching people to whom I was attracted, or that perhaps I moved from Los Angeles too soon. Yet this was at a time when AIDS was raging like a brushfire through the gay community, killing everyone it touched. I lost far too many friends and acquaintances not to realize that, had I been more aggressive, or had I stayed in L.A., the next person I went home with may well have been the one round in the chamber of the game of Russian roulette all gays played at the time.

So even regrets may have their balances.

On a personal, day-to-day level, I regret not being more thoughtful of others than I am. I regret not going out of my way to be kind to my friends and family nearly as often and to the degree that they go out of their way to be kind to me. I regret my too-frequently hair-trigger temper which causes me to do things which immediately cause me shame. I regret my tendency to react in kind: if I say “hello” to someone in my building and they ignore me (for their own reasons, whatever they may be), the next time I see them, I do not speak. Petty. Childish. But me.

I regret not being more generous; not volunteering more of my time or money to causes I know are worthy. I deeply regret passing by a panhandler on the assumption that they could get a job if they wanted to, or would just drink away anything I gave them. I am fully aware that of twenty panhandlers, at least one is sincerely in need. But how do I know which one? And that lack of knowledge engenders anger at the rest. (But, again, against which of the twenty should it be directed?)

Life is full of choices which come at us like raindrops in a thunderstorm. In attempting to catch them, we are bound to miss far more than we catch. There are so many things we should have done that we did not do it is easy to forget that there are a lot of things which we should have done and did do; opportunities taken, acts of kindness unremembered or unnoticed. What we should not do is to be too hard on ourselves. Leave that to me.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Rejection

The stories we tell over and over of our experiences in life tell a lot more about who we are than we probably realize. I know I have a number of stories I cannot seem to stop retelling. One of them, which, if you’ve followed these blogs for awhile, I know you’ve heard before. It is the story of going shopping with my mother when I was probably around eight years old. She was looking for a new throw rug for the kitchen. She couldn’t decide between two, and asked me which one I liked best. I did not tell her…not because I didn’t prefer one over the other, but because to choose one would hurt the other one’s feelings.

I hate rejection, a fact that has strongly influenced my life in keeping me from making any move which might result in it. I’d been painfully aware since elementary school how very much it hurt to be rejected...to be the last person standing there while sides were being chosen for a game.

When I decided to stop by PetSmart the other day to see about possibly adopting a cat, I walked in knowing full well that I was going to be miserable. I knew my heart would go out to every single animal there, and that having to actually choose between them would be excruciatingly difficult, and that I would feel sincerely terrible for the ones I did not choose. (I know, I know…they’re cats…or throw rugs…they aren’t aware they’re being rejected. But I am.)

I’ve told, too, the story of how, before I was aged out of the gay community’s bar scene, I was constantly frustrated because I could not bring myself to approach someone to whom I was attracted unless I had clear indication that the interest might be mutual. My single friends had no such constraints, and as a result I would watch in frustration as time and time again they’d go off to approach someone—sometimes the same person I was interested in—and strike up a conversation. Often they’d be back a few minutes later, unfazed by being rejected. But just as often, they’d end up going home together, while I just stood there, afraid to take a chance.

I went so far as to sign up for a seminar promoting itself as being specifically designed for gay men with rejection issues. There were at least 50 guys there, and after a half hour of general mingling, one of the two psychologists moderating the session said, “All right, now. The first thing we’re going to do is a series of exercises to make you feel more comfortable. We’ll take three minutes for everyone to select a partner for the exercises.” Excuse me? I paid $50 to attend this thing and the first thing they want me to do is pick a partner? I was instantly furious, but a guy I’d spoken with briefly who’d said he was as uncomfortable with rejection as I was standing near me and we looked at each other with mutual unhappiness and partnered up.

The exercises were basic…uh…basics. “Tell your partner three things you like about yourself,” etc., then the partner would do the same. Neither I nor the guy I was with paid much attention, both being too angry to do so. But after about twenty minutes of this crap, the moderator said: “All right now, everyone stand up and mill around.” I figured the next section had to be better than this. They’d come nowhere near to addressing the issue of rejection. Five minutes later, the moderator was back for the second half of the program. “All right, now, we’ll take three minutes for everyone to pick a partner and….”
I walked out the door without looking back. It was one of the most excruciatingly uncomfortable and infuriating evenings of my life.

One would think being an author would be an odd career choice for one who feared rejection, and they would be right. But having a potential reader pick up my book in a bookstore, then put it down in favor of another has the distinct advantage of the fact that I’m not there to see it. I can live with that.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Doctor Is In

One of the best things about self-analysis is that there’s nobody to tell you you’re wrong. I have a doctorate in the subject, issued by the prestigious Dorien Grey University and Storm Door Company, and I have been my patient now long before I received my degree. The results of my efforts are, as you may have noticed, published on my website every Monday and Thursday.

I also, of course, am well qualified at analyzing others as well and consider myself something of the Jiffy-Lube of psychoanalysis. You have a problem? Just bring it to me for resolution.

In my active-in-the-community days, I seemed to be a magnet for people with problems, which I was more than eager to take on. It bordered on being a Messiah complex: “Suffer little emotionally insecure gay men to come unto me.” Lord knows there were enough of them. I’m quite sure that one of the major reasons I did it was that in devoting my time to their problems, I didn’t have to spend too much time concentrating on my own (one of which, of course, was why and how I really felt qualified to tell other people how to live their lives). I have occasionally looked back with true regret on the amount of money I spent on these people.

It really was rather fascinating: I would walk into a crowded bar and some sort of mystic sonar would start radiating from me across the room: “Emotionally needy? Right this way.” Apparently those who responded saw something in me…a certain stability, perhaps. And compared to some of them, I was indeed the Rock of Gibraltar to their sand castles.

Perhaps there was something of the Pygmalion complex involved. I’ve always secretly enjoyed control. By taking on people with damaged psyches, I was in effect playing Savior of Lost Souls.

Let me say in my own behalf that occasionally I really do feel that I did some good. For one thing, I genuinely did care and I did try to do something to help. Unfortunately, too many times they were shattered into such tiny pieces I doubt anyone could ever have put them back together.

And there were, of course, disasters from which I never fully recovered, specifically with one-who-shall-remain-nameless who cost me far more than $10,000 over a calamitous two-year relationship. I think I’ve discussed that one before, but my only excuse for having put up with it was that it was at the time that my mother was dying, and I had far more important things on my mind.

But the fact of the matter is that there are so very many people out there who are, truly, lost and who really can benefit from the help and advice of others. Just listening with an open mind and heart can do a lot. And it is also true that, having led the checkered life I have, I do believe I have a high sense of empathy and can understand how and why people feel like they do. I should point out that this is far more true of gays than heterosexuals who, though I have lived among them all my life, are still largely incomprehensible to me.

Being out of the gay mainstream now, I don’t have the opportunity…or as much of a desire…to play Lucy van Pelt sitting on the curb with her little “The Doctor Is In” stand. But, hey, if you have a problem, I’m willing to listen.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: