Thursday, April 23, 2015

Over the Rainbow

I am eternally grateful to my mother for giving me a fascination with and love for words. It was she, by reading me stories even before I was able to understand many of the words—though I loved the sounds—who opened the doors of wonder contained in those words.

From the time I learned to read, the library was a very special place. I got some sort of award while in first grade for having signed out more books than anyone in my class. Most of them were pretty elementary stuff, but among the first "real" books I remember were the Oz series, by Frank L. Baum. The most famous of which, of course, is "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", from which the classic movie was made. I saw it when it was released in 1938 and though I was not yet five years old, it enthralled me then, and it enthralls me now.

Once I discovered that there was an entire series of Oz books--fifteen in all--I'm quite sure I read most of them if not all. I can still close my eyes and see them...outsized, as I recall, with thick cardboard covers with wonderful illustrations. To open them was to open the door to the imagination and all the wonders therein.

The fifteen books, should you be curious, were The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, The Road to Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, The Patchwork Girl Of Oz, Little Wizard Stories of Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz, The Scarecrow Of Oz, Rinkitink In Oz, The Lost Princess Of Oz, The Tin Woodman Of Oz, The Magic of Oz, and Glinda Of Oz.

For a child (and later an adult) who never felt he belonged, books offered an escape from the world—and the restraints—of reality. The concept of the Oz books is that there is a special place, somewhere "over the rainbow" with enchanted creatures and wondrous fields and forests and cities where anything is possible. They acted like a magnet for my own imagination, and taught me that if I was not happy with the world in which I lived, I was free to create my own.

One of my favorite characters in the Oz series was a little boy named "Button-Bright," about my own age, who appears in several of the books. He got his name from his parents, who thought he was "bright as a button." I'm sure I strongly identified with him. As I recall, he was constantly getting lost, then being found, then getting lost again. Eventually, he moved to Oz permanently. I take particular delight, on looking back, to realize that he was a friend of Dorothy's, because a long-time code between gay men was to ask "Oh, are you a friend of Dorothy?" I certainly was, and am. And the rainbow about which Judy Garland sings in the movie, lent its colors and its symbolism to the gay community.

The Oz books contain all the ingredients required to nourish and enrich any child's imagination, as it did mine. They teach the child that the mind—the imagination—is not tied to the body; that it can go anywhere, do anything; that it can provide a refuge, a haven, when the real world is harsh and cruel. It teaches that there are other places, other worlds. Every book is an arrow, a path, a guide to where the imagination can take us.

In an inscription to his sister in one of his books, Baum wrote: "I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp, which when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one's heart and brings its own reward."

I'd take that one step further and point out that an adult with an imagination is still a child, and it is to the adult child that I have dedicated my own books. And so I embarked on a life-long journey to create my own arrows, my own paths, my own guides for others. It's been a wonderful journey, and I hope that when it is over I, like Button-Bright, often lost and often found, may move permanently to Oz.

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, April 20, 2015

The Past-Clinger

I just got out of the shower and began getting dressed, starting to put on the same pants I wore yesterday—the pants my friend Gary had pointed out to me as having developed a hole above my right knee; the pants that are also badly pilled from Spirits’ claws having frequently gotten caught in them while laying on my lap. 

I bought those pants, and four others just like them, when I was still living in Pence, in Northern Wisconsin. I bought five pair partly because whenever I go clothes shopping I can never find anything I like, and when I do…as with these pants…l stock up. 

I moved from Pence nine years ago, and I’m still wearing the pants, alternating among the five pair. They are all showing their age. I’ve had to give up wearing one pair other than around the apartment because the pockets have frayed to the point where I can’t put anything in them without its dropping immediately down my leg and onto the floor. They each are in different stages of being frayed and pilled, and I should just pitch them all. But I simply cannot bring myself to doing it. Why?

Partly…an totally illogically…because of my strange sense of, well, loyalty. If something has served me well, I find it next to impossible to simply throw away as though it had never mattered. I’ve worn those pants while walking on the beach in Cannes, and wandering the streets of Pompeii. To throw them away is to throw away a tangible link I have to those places, those times.

Throwing away is ending. It is closing the door on the past, and I have always, always clung to the past for security. I truly do understand…and agree…that this is neither normal nor healthy from a mental standpoint, but I am powerless (or utterly unwilling) to change.

I’ve talked before of my attachment to…things. The little art-deco store-display statue of a lady with a real bakelite necklace. I’m sure I would never have bought it for myself, but Ray bought it for me, and each time I look at it, I think of him. It is, again, a tangible link to him. He touched it, I can touch it, and by the strange workings of my mind, touching it is touching him.

So many things are similar connections to my past; to parents and others who are no longer actually in my life. But tangible memories of them provide me with a hard-to-explain sense comfort. 

I’ve often said, and take pride in the fact, that I never really feel lonely…and I realize that this is largely because I have surrounded myself with the tangible memories of so many things and people I don’t really need more. 

The future is unseeable and therefore a source of uncertainty—we hope for the best from it, but have no assurances. The present is merely the vehicle which carries us from past to future. But the past is known. It cannot be changed. It is filled with a lot of unhappiness and sorrow, of course…all lives are. But we have the freedom of picking and choosing which parts of it we wish to deal with, and which to ignore.

And this entire blog has been written between the time I realized I could not wear that particular pair of pants, and this moment, when, pantless, I must decide what pair of pants I will wear. 

(Have I mentioned that I am not wild about decision making, either?)

And after all this is done, I must decide what to do with the pants that prompted this all. Maybe I can just wash them, fold them, and put them in a box somewhere. At least it will spare me the trauma of throwing them away.

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, April 16, 2015

Tar Bubbles

When I lived in Los Angeles, I enjoyed going down to the La Brea Tar Pits to stare out over the still surface of the largest of the pools and watch gas bubbles slowly form little black igloos, linger a moment, and then more melt away than burst. They’ve been doing that for millions of years, and never seem to run out of the gas to create the bubbles.

My mind’s a lot like that. Thoughts, ideas, and memories from deep within me will work their way to the surface of my consciousness, remain for just long enough for me to acknowledge them, then vanish to rise again without notice or warning. Where they come from and how they were formed I have no idea. I suspect it is some sort of short-circuitry in my thought processes.

When I thought of my school days, little bubbles of memory began breaking the surface of my mind. I realized that putting 16 years into a one page blog might be a tad difficult. But here are a couple of bubbles that rose to the surface while I was contemplating it:

Because I’d broken my leg badly just before I was to enter first grade, I had to wait until the next year. I first attended Loves Park Elementary—though I’m sure it had another name—in Loves Park, Illinois. Shortly after I started school, the United States entered WWII. My three male cousins all went into service immediately, and I distinctly remember my prize possession being a military-type jacket that made me feel very grown up. 

I loved “The Weekly Reader” a very early form of news magazine made especially for elementary students.

I remember going from door to door selling packets of vegetable seeds to raise money for the school to buy a motion picture projector. I hated going door to door selling packets of vegetable seeds, no matter how noble the purpose. And of course just before the projector was purchased, we moved and I transferred to another school, Harry Morris...which was located on the south-west outskirts of town and had a total student body of 68. In one of life’s little serendipities, after more than 60 years, I am once more in contact with two of my Harry Morris classmates, Dan Sable and Marion (then) Bender.

I remember the mothers—mine specifically, of course—taking turns walking to the school in winter to make hot soup for us for lunch: Campbell’s Tomato and Chicken Noodle were of course our favorites.  I remember “milk money” and buying pints of chocolate milk.  I remember The Bugville News, my first literary effort, which was a “Newspaper” relating the various disasters befalling the insect citizens of Bugville. I would tack each “edition” to the school’s front door, like Martin Luther.

I remember hating recess if organized sports were going to be involved. They would always choose up teams and then argue over who had to take me, and I would go into the bathroom and cry. Recess was not a fun time.

But I also remember many a happy hour, walking home from school, spent wandering through a side-of-the-road dump, breaking bottles.

I remember learning to ride a bike. Because my family was what was referred to as “lower middle class,” my dad bought me a used bike much too big for me...I could barely reach the pedals...and one day riding down the hill from school I could not stop and sailed directly into cross traffic where I was hit by a car. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt. But I was very badly shaken, and following my experience with my broken leg—caused by being accidentally jumped on by a playmate—it reinforced my aversion to doing anything which might cause me physical harm. Odd how such incidents when we are children can remain with us through life.

I remember with great, great fondness my teacher, Mrs. Larson, who always reminded me very much of Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Larson was who God had in mind when he created teachers. Her exact opposite was another of my teachers, Mrs. Hines, a red-headed harridan who, for punishment (which was frequent), would make us write every verse of the Star Spangled Banner.

Oh, Lord, I remember so much. So many people; so many more lost to memory. If I allow them, the bubbles rise faster and more thickly, until the surface of my mind is like a vast, rapidly boiling pot and I can no longer separate one bubble of memory from the next.  I seem to be approaching that point as I write this, so it is time to turn off the burners for now. But don’t be surprised if the bubbles start rising again before long.


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, April 13, 2015

Remembering Fairdale

The recent tornado which swept across Northern Illinois all but wiped out the tiny town of Fairdale, of which I had fond memories from my childhood. About a year ago, I’d written a blog about Fairdale and a long-gone rural Midwest America. I’ve rewritten it and am reposting it in memory of a time—and place—now gone.

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 which cuts vertically through the center of Wisconsin and Illinois . It was probably less than 25 miles from my hometown of Rockford, but seemed like hundreds of miles—and decades in time—from anywhere.

Fairdale consisted of three very short streets, each no more than one-or-two-blocks long, The longest, and only one I can remember, had once served as the town's "main street." It ran north and south between Hwy 72 and the railroad tracks. 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 stale 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 east of Grandpa's place, on the highway, was Fairdale’s 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 from the school was a farm with a large—to the eyes of a 5 year old kid, 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.


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, April 09, 2015

Custodial

When I was in college, my best friend, Russ Hogan, used to say, "Margason, you're custodial" after I would make yet another in an endless string of goofs/gaffs/mistakes. Much of the criticism was (and is) based on the fact that while I understand and can fairly well define the word "organization," I seem incapable of practicing it. This situation has not materially improved in the years since.

Last week, someone was kind enough to ask me to do a guest blog for their site. I was of course flattered, as I always am by gratuitous acts of kindness, and immediately set out to do the blog. It is not due until later this month, so I set it aside for a few days. When I went back to work on it this morning, I realized to my horror that I could not remember for whom I was writing the blog, nor did I, therefore, have any idea of how to contact the person who had requested it! I frantically went back through past emails hoping to find our exchange, and cannot. Of course, my search was negatively effected by the fact that I have no fewer than 25,000 emails in my “In” box—I am also incapable of using the "delete" key if there's any possible chance I might want to go back to a past email—and was of course unable to find it. And unless I do find it, I will miss the deadline and the person who asked me to write the blog will, wrongly, assume that I just couldn't be bothered, and have every right to assume that I am not to be depended upon. This drives me absolutely crazy!

I never make notes, simply because at the time I should be making them, I know perfectly well what the note would be about and therefore don't feel I need one. It's the same with my keys, my wallet, my glasses, and almost anything I might have in my hand at any given time. I set them down knowing perfectly well at that instant where I put them, yet fifteen seconds later when I go to retrieve them, I haven't a clue.

Russ having sadly died several years ago, my best friend, Gary, is—like Russ—a former school teacher whose life revolves around organization. He constantly tries to convince me of the value of always putting things in a certain place so that I'll always know where they are. All well and good. But when I walk in the door with a couple magazines and a piece of mail I want to open right away, I'll set my keys down on, say, my dresser, and go to get the letter opener—which, of course, I can't find. So I pry up one corner of the envelope's flap, insert my index finger, and rip the envelope to shreds in the process. By that time, I'm not even thinking about my keys, and I won't think about them until next time I need them, at which point...well, you get the idea.

A key (no pun intended) factor in my not being organized is that I have never been a candidate for "Homemaker of the Year" award, so chances are good that whatever I'm looking for at the moment has been buried beneath something else (a stack of magazines, for example).

I am also cursed with a total lack of short-term memory. I spend an inordinate amount of computer time bouncing back and forth between windows simply because if I want to use a name or a number from one window in another, by the time I get to where I want to put it—all of three seconds—I’ve forgotten what it was, and have to go back to look it up. I've been known to do this five times in the space of thirty seconds.

When I was in the service, I took movies, which I had converted to CDs. Earlier today, I wanted to send the CDs to a friend. Can I find them? Of course I can't find them. I live in a very small apartment only slightly larger than a breadbox, and I keep all my CDs in one place. I look, and sure enough, they're all there...except the ones I want at the moment. Where in the hell can they be? Where can I possibly have put them? I know they're here, somewhere. But where?

Organization takes time, and I simply do not have the time to organize. I'm too busy looking for things.

I think Russ might have been on to something.

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, April 06, 2015

Odd Man Out

How very odd, we humans. On a genetic level, we are all but identical. On a mental and emotional level, no two of us are the same. And we each have only ourselves to use as the basis for comparison with others. Many, probably most, feel comfortable in and around others, with whom they share common beliefs and reactions to any given situation. Some, however, consider themselves to be “odd men out.” I am one of them.

I am frequently made acutely aware of the fact that I am so far “out of it” that I could never find my way “in” with a map and compass. This awareness was most recently renewed by the incomprehensible frenzy engendered by “March Madness.” I definitely agree with the “Madness” part. It’s a basketball game, people! A basketball game!  And not just a game, but a game that no one other than the teams involved actually, physically plays! Shrieking and jumping madly up and down and reacting like…well I’m afraid its hard for me to find a word that wouldn’t offend those involved in the shrieking and jumping…for a group of guys you’ve never met and who wouldn’t know you from Adam strikes me as just a tad, well, odd.  And “March Madness” gives way without so much as an eye-blink’s pause to baseball season, which in turn segues seamlessly into football season, each chock-a-block full of vitally important “BIG GAME”s which are all but immediately forgotten to make room for the next BIG GAME. I am sincere in saying I simply cannot comprehend any of it.

Organized religion is, for me, on the same level of incomprehensibility as organized sports. I am embarrassed in the proximity of those who obviously understand and support either/both. I have never understood, or had the slightest interest in understanding, either. Since I am so vastly outnumbered in my attitudes toward them, it must be some sort of deep flaw within me. It is safe to say that organized religion has accounted for more human grief and tragedy than all the earthquakes and floods and natural disasters in the history of the world. Why? Every human being has his or her own moral code—has an intensely personal sense of right and wrong which guides their lives. I can understand how organized religion provides comfort and reassurance for those who for whatever reason feel they need it. But too many people use organized religion as a crutch…a way of avoiding responsibility for their own lives. I can respect those who feel strongly about anything that does not harm others, but I deeply resent proselytizing, which I consider a form of arrogance. There is a great difference between believing strongly in something and demanding everyone else share that belief.

I have never felt I belonged in the human mainstream, though I have absolutely no idea as to where or among whom/what I would belong. Life and the actions and reactions of others are eternal mysteries. I manage within the carefully constructed confines of my daily life, but the farther I wander from those confines, the more alienated I feel.

While I was born to a heterosexual couple and raised in a heterosexual family of which I was the only homosexual, being homosexual I simply cannot grasp, on any real basis, the personal interrelationships between men and women. The heterosexual world of weddings and baby showers and anniversaries and the various forms of socializing between couples is utterly terra incognito for me. The gay community, of course has its own versions of many of these events, but I now have largely been aged out of participation in even them, and remain uncomfortable among any group of heterosexuals I do not know personally.

And of course I realize that to a degree, all these problems are mine: I could make an effort to blend in more with the heterosexual world around me…you know, maybe go to a Cubs game, listen to my neighbors talk of their kids and ex wives and grandkids and golf games. But the harsh truth is, I never felt I belonged to, or was wanted by them before, and I’ve reached the point at which I don’t want to. I’m lucky enough to have a few good friends who keep me as connected to the Big World as I care to be. And, hey, I’ll always have me. There are worse things than being an odd man out. 

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, April 02, 2015

Lives

The young woman in the photo is Annabelle Fearn (nee Erickson). The year is probably around 1910. She is, if it is 1910, 34 years old. Married to Chester (Pete) Fearn, she has two children...a boy, Charles (Buck), 10, and a one-year-old daughter, Odrae. She has friends and acquaintances, and an extended family. She is a homemaker. She irons and sews and tends to Odrae and gets Pete off to work at the foundry and Buck off to school each weekday. She has only 8 more years to live.

She had no computer, no cell phone, no iPad, no TV, no radio, no electric refrigerator or electric stove, no air conditioning, no washing machine, no drier. She could not vote.

William Howard Taft was President. The Wright brothers had taken their first flight only seven years before. In Belfast, Ireland, 3000 men were busy constructing the ship that would become RMS Titanic. World War I would not begin for another four years.

And yet these facts were, to Annabelle, simply facts. They were the way things were. Her days were too filled with...life...with day-to-day existence...to ponder things which did not directly affect her or her family. Every day was spent in chores and routines and conversations and laughter and problems and sorrows and joys and plans for the future, just as yours are. But without the distractions of today's technology, her entire world centered around her family and friends. People were the focus of her world, not gadgets. She did not know about all the things she was missing, and therefore she didn't miss them. While I'm sure she would have loved many of the things we so take for granted today, she didn't feel deprived because she didn't have them.

The entire world was filled with people like her, who went about the business of living without too much pondering what was yet to come. The thing is that she was ALIVE. She was alive as you are alive and the people you pass on the streets are alive. Her mind was filled with thoughts, and plans, and dreams and hopes and grocery lists and birthday/holiday gifts. And every moment of her life was measured by exactly the same inhaling and exhaling that measures our own lives.

America's population at the time was under 100 million. Not one of those 100 million is alive today. Yet they all had names and faces and personalities and families and friends and jobs. They loved laughed and cried and argued and made up. And they are gone. Every single one of them.

And a hundred years from now, people will look at our lives and think us quaint, wondering how we could possibly have gotten along without the things they take totally for granted.

And none of this should be seen as morbid, or depressing. It is simply the way things have always been, how they are, and how they will always be. I have always taken great, if difficult to explain, comfort in wandering through cemeteries reading the tombstones' names and dates of birth and death, and the epitaphs on the stones. And I think—really think—of the people who lie beneath them, and imagine them as they were when they were still alive. I try to give them the individuality that death has taken from them. And I realize, as I do so, and especially with the older stones, that I may be the first person in a very, very long time, to be aware that they ever existed as living, breathing human beings.

Reflecting on the past and all those who have gone before us should give us greater appreciation for every day...every minute...we have this infinitely precious gift of life.

Annabelle and Chester and Charles and Odrae are now gone, but we must never forget that they once were here, and that they loved and were loved.

My favorite epitaph reads: "As you are now, so once were we. As we are now, so shall you be." So the next time you're sure your world is coming down around you because your computer has crashed, or your cell phone has dropped a call, think of Annabelle Fearn. Please.


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).