Monday, February 20, 2017

Poor Loser

Loss is a part of life. We all experience it…some more than others…and we each must learn to deal with it in our own way. I have never handled loss well, and even though I always manage to get on with my life after one, its ghost joins the many others walking the halls of my mind. I have developed the ability to largely ignore them, but if I’m not careful….

I was scanning photos of my last house in Los Angeles for inclusion in Dorien Grey: A Life in Photos blog (http://doriengreyphotolife.blogspot.com/search?q=los+angeles+home). It was without question the nicest house I have ever owned.

That these ghosts grab me is one thing…what really hurts is their whispered tauntings: “You had this once. Remember? Look. You’re almost there again. Just reach out, and…” and then the humorless laughter before they continue: “It’s gone, and you will never have it again. You will never sit at the breakfast room table, or look out at the hill behind the house, or spend time with the friends and conquests who came and went with comforting frequency. You can look at these photos, but you cannot have what you had there. Never again.”

While I am given to melodrama, as you may have noticed, I am being sincere when I say that those rare occasions when I allow myself to dwell on the whispers are not only mentally excruciating but actually cause a definite physical tightening of my chest. I had it. I want it! I want to see and talk to and touch all those people who were so much a part of my life. I miss them terribly. I miss the then-me terribly.

I know, too, that this dwelling on the past makes me—wrongly, I can assure you—seem ungrateful for the present and all the good things and people around me today, and I apologize for that, but it is simply the way I am, and I can’t change it.

Since I was a very small child, I have been aware that each passing minute brings me closer to the time when I will no longer be here, and that thought is terrifying. And as a perverse result, many of the good times of my life have been tainted by the fact that, even as I am enjoying them, I know they must pass and become more ghosts to wander my mind.

As I’ve mentioned often before, I spend the majority of my time alive storing up bits and pieces of myself for the time when I will be dead. The irony of that fact certainly does not escape me. I consider myself something of a squirrel, gathering up the nuts of my life for the long winter of eternity. My books, my letters, my blogs, all small parts of who this Roger/Dorien person was and is with luck will live on after I am physically gone. Even as I write this, I am bitterly resentful of the fact that my physical body, already far from its best, will at some point simply cease to exist. It’s been a good body, and it has served me very well, and I feel sorrow that it cannot always do so. I still have it, but I deeply miss it already.

Have I perchance happened to mention that I do not like reality? My body is forced to live in it, but my mind refuses to.

Also, as I write these little exercises in self indulgence, I wonder exactly why I expect you, who have your own life, your own losses, to have any interest at all in mine…and the answer is, as always, that I trust you may see in me parts of yourself, and realize that we are not quite as…I started to say “unique,” but prefer to substitute “alone”…as we sometimes feel.)
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com:


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Change and Endings

The recent awareness that my cat, Crickett, who is between 16-18 years old, is failing rapidly and has very little time left to her set me off on a little philosophical jaunt about endings and change. I was a little surprised to realize that there can be change without endings, but never endings without change.

But change is absolutely necessary for any forward movement, and it is not so much change that I object to as it is endings, which are generally an integral part of change. Change involves the opening of doors to our future, and often, especially on an individual-human-being level, closing doors to the past which can never be reopened. Death is the ultimate door closer, and the source of our greatest pain.

Man is a greedy creature. Once blessed with love, he is reluctant to give it up. He may pay lip service to the fact that love is not a gift but a loan. Yet we refuse to see what we do not wish to acknowledge: that time is a collection agency, and it will be paid. The response to losing someone or something one truly loves is sadness, grief, and an indescribable resentment for its having been taken away. It is not enough to merely be grateful for having had the love at all; we despair over its loss and, like a little child, want it back. “If I had it once, why can’t it be mine forever?”

Which brings me back to Crickett. She has been with me for many years, but her time, as is time for every living thing, is running out. I am trying, rather belatedly, I fear, to give her the attention she has always demanded but I have been too busy with my own interests to give her. I want her to know she is loved and that I appreciate her sharing her life with me. She is still alive, so I still have some time to make up for all the past years of benevolent neglect. The door is still open, but I know it will soon close, and Crickett will pass from the tangible now to intangible memory.

But Crickett is not human. She is a cat. My love and concern for her cannot possibly be compared to the love of one human for another. My mother, my father, my aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck, my remaining cousins, my close friends to all of whom I owe so much and upon whom I depend so strongly…how can I dare equate love for them to love for a cat?
Easily. Love doesn’t come with set values or limitations: it is neither quantitative nor qualitative; it simply is. Had I to make a choice between Crickett or my mother, there would be no question, of course. But I do not have to make such a choice. Love is love.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go pet Crickett. While I can.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com. 


Thursday, February 09, 2017

Reflections of Aging

Every day I find myself, to my horror, becoming J. Alfred Prufrock. Last night I had a pork chop for dinner. Today I had a pork chop for dinner. The same pork chop! Half of it yesterday, half of it today. Good Lord, just thinking about that is enough to make me want to weep.

I used to eat four pork chops at a sitting without batting an eye, plus a small mountain of mashed potatoes and a cup and a half of gravy. No more. No more. Do I dare to eat a peach? I’d love to, but I can’t open my mouth wide enough for a respectable bite, and I probably wouldn’t eat the whole thing even if I could open up.

I do not believe in aging gracefully, and the eyes of strangers and reflective surfaces make it eminently clear that I am not. Poor Navy-days or college-days Roger would be utterly horrified were we to somehow bump into one another. I’m here, now, and I’m horrified. How could who I have always been (and still am within my own mind) have become this Nosferatu-like creature…this ironically pseudonymed picture of Dorian Gray?

Please believe me when I say that I’m not being maudlin (not intentionally, anyway) or taking a high dive into the bottomless Pity Pool. I’m merely observing. I am hurtling down the steep slope of time with no brakes and little steering control and I am frozen like a deer in the headlights unable to do a thing to save myself. It’s a ride we all must take, if we’re lucky enough to live long enough, but the thing is that it happens to us as individuals, and very few of us are prepared for it.

When Eliot says, of J. Alfred, “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons,” I can relate. We each tend to concentrate so strongly on the little details of each day that we seldom take the time to realize just how much there is going on around us that we either are totally unaware of or simply choose to ignore. I know that for myself I am so busy writing about my life that I miss many opportunities to live it.

J. Alfred says, “I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.” I always wondered what that meant until I realized that whereas I used to be 5’10 ½” tall, I am now probably somewhere around 5’9”, though I’ve not measured lately. Something to do with spinal compression or some such thing, I imagine, and I do not wear my trousers rolled. But I am aware that I am shorter than I was. (Not being able to stand with one’s head held high is a definite contributing factor.)

My favorite line in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is: “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think they will sing to me.” As a gay man living on the edge of Chicago’s gay heart, I have paraphrased that to, “I hear the mermen singing, each to each. I know they do not sing to me.” And it hurts. I realize how silly that is to say. After all, I was doing wonderful things long before the beautiful young men who surround me on the streets were conceived—or conceived of. I have had more than my share of romances and loves and parties and partners. But much as I do realize how ungrateful I sound for setting the past aside as though it didn’t matter, the fact is that it did matter so very much, and I am greedy.

Yes, I had it all once. But I want it all NOW.

Well, perhaps on my next turn on the Merry-Go-Round….
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  doriengrey.com:

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Teeter-Totter

Life is a lot like a teeter-totter—balance is always strived for and seldom if ever achieved. We are all constantly going through the ups and downs of happiness and misery, between success and failure, and too often slamming our rear-ends on the ground. Getting both ends of the board level is one of those forever-elusive goals of which life is, in fact, made. And once balance is achieved, either in life or on the teeter-totter, it never lasts long.

All my life I have sought—largely unsuccessfully, of course—to find a balance between my totally unrealistic egotism and my excessive self-loathing. It’s a theme touched on constantly in these blogs. (I am not content to merely beat a dead horse; I insist on pureeing it.) My egotism makes me demand far more of myself than I or any human being could ever possibly deliver, but that doesn’t stop me from demanding it. And my inability to meet those demands—or even come within walking distance of them—fuels the self-loathing which truly frightens me at times. (And I suppose that having so said, I should add a disclaimer that I have never for one second, even in my darkest moments, ever considered depriving myself of life; the very concept is anathema to me. I am far too grateful for the gift of life, however rough it may be at any given time, to willingly give it up.)

I think, yet again, that I am so utterly fascinated with life that my frustration often stems from weighing everything there is to see and learn and do against what I have seen, or learned, or done or will be likely to do. I see life as a vast candy store, and myself a little kid shoveling candy into my mouth with both fists until I look like a chipmunk with both cheeks bulging. And then I get angry because I want it ALL and my mouth simply cannot hold any more.

I’ve often noted that every toddler thinks of himself as being the center of the universe. Life soon dissuades most of that notion, but I fear it has never totally succeeded with me. Even today, battered and shop-worn and often thinking of myself as being in the “Free! Help Yourself” bin at a rummage sale, I am consumed with the wonder of life. I am quintessentially aware that since the instant time began, through all the time involved in the birth and life and death of stars and galaxies, and onward through the rest of eternity, I am the only “me” there ever has been or ever will be. (Of course, so are you: but it’s still a mind-boggling thought.) How could I not think I am special?

And since I am so very special in that aspect, why shouldn’t I be equally special when it comes to everything/anything else? But I am not, and I cannot—well, let’s make that absolutely refuse to—accept that fact. (We won’t go anywhere near the subject of my tenuous relationship with reality here.)

Balance is often achieved through accommodation, through a system somewhat similar to the way submarines and lighter than air craft use ballast; getting rid of some excess weight here, or moving/adding it there. I fear I’m not all that good at accommodations. I want what I want without having to give up any of what I already have. Hardly practical or logical, but fully realizing that fact does not materially change things.

But on thinking it over (as writing these blogs often makes me do), I realized I actually have found something of a tenuous balance on life’s teeter-totter despite myself. Every teeter-totter has two seats, one at each end, and in effectively dividing myself into Dorien and Roger, my life has two parts. The real-world Roger, who must deal as best he can with the infinite frustrations and anger of daily life, and Dorien, who is largely able to ignore the wars Roger fights every day, and simply gets on with writing of worlds in which evil and cruelty exist only, as the scripts of plays often call it, as “voices off.” Dorien’s life is far less stressful, and while Roger must still constantly struggle for balance, it gives him comfort to know that he can use Dorien as emotional ballast to keep the teeter-totter a little more level.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Thursday, February 02, 2017

To Each a Dorien

I got my hair cut (long overdue) the other day, and decided that one reason why I wait so long between cuts is to avoid the ordeal of having to stare at the portrait of Dorian Gray in the mirror. My Dorien, bless his ever-protective heart, assured me that it is not a mirror, but a window into the next room, where my barber’s identical twin was working, with synchronized movements, on a much, much older and terribly unattractive customer.
Each of us has our own way of coping with the world, and Dorien is, to a large extent, mine. I’m truly grateful to him for helping me bail out the leaky little boat of my life.

Those whose boats ride high in the water, not constantly preoccupied with the little swells of annoyance and frustration that eternally threaten to swamp those with gunwales almost at the water line, may have little need for a Dorien to help with the bailing.

I deeply admire those who simply live their lives and go about their business without the continual distraction of wondering why something is the way it is, or who can simply ignore the ignorance and stupidity of the world. Each of us possesses a degree of egocentrism to be used when occasionally wondering about our role in life, and help serve as ballast in stormy emotional seas. But some were given an excessive amount, so large as to be disruptive to normal functioning in the world. I am one of those. And for those like me, I strongly recommend a Dorien.

Everything, of course, is in the mind, and to create a Dorien requires a bit of practice. It’s very much like one of those optical illusions one sees from time to time, like the classic black-and-white silhouette in which one sees either a vase (the white) or two faces facing each other (the black). One element is “Dorien,” the other is “you”…and it really doesn’t matter which is which.

Dorien not only helps me cope with things, but is rather fun to have around. You can give to your Dorien whatever parts of “you” you wish. Roger, again, is largely my body, Dorien my mind. Roger pays the bills and moves about and goes grocery shopping and mans the oars of our little boat. Dorien is therefore totally free to do whatever strikes his fancy. He sits in the back of the boat and writes blogs and books.

This division of responsibilities has proven very effective…for me. While I was dealing with my bout with cancer, it was Roger who underwent the radiation and the chemo while Dorien told him stories and kept assuring him that everything was going to be all right. And it was. I’m sure the outcome would have been the same had Dorien not been there, but I am glad he was. And then, as now, Dorien’s greatest contribution to my life is in never allowing me to take myself too seriously.

The need for a Dorien is not so great for those who have another, separate human with whom they can share their life, but for those of us who do not, a Dorien can help to create a sense of balance. In my own case, whenever I do or say something totally stupid, something I immediately regret and curse myself for—which happens far too frequently—it’s Roger’s fault, and Dorien can look at it with a degree of objectivity Roger cannot. In such cases, when Roger is consumed with fury or frustration, Dorien is the voice of reason. And difficult as it may be for someone without a Dorien, it really works.

If you don’t have a Dorien but need one, just open your mind. He’s there.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Gnats

Dorien/Roger often compared himself to the Li'l Abner Character Joe Btfsplk, the one who walked around with a little, dark cloud always over his head. I thought Roger was too hard on himself, but as an illustration, he wrote this blog.              -Gary 
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The shore of Lake Superior is magnificent in summer…endless miles of pebbly beach where one can walk for hours without seeing another person. But on a warm summer’s day with no wind, there is a reason why there are no people. To walk there then is to guarantee being enveloped in a literal cloud of tiny, swarming insects I assume are gnats. The locals call them “noseeums.” And their effect can be maddening.

Problems are like noseeums. One or two at a time and they can be shooed away with relative ease. We all have them, all the time.

But today is a Lake Superior lakeshore day. Why, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

My friend Norman is being released from the hospital today and to save the $400-plus expense of ambulance transportation, it was agreed that I could pick him up and take him from the hospital to the nursing facility where he’ll remain during the period covered by Medicare, and from there transferred to an assisted living facility.

But in order to let me transport him, he needs the oxygen tank from his apartment, which I arranged to pick up this morning before going to get him.

At 8:30 last night he called to say that they needed the oxygen tank immediately, in order to be able to check it out. I hate going out at night because I am never sure of being able to find a parking place when I return. But having little choice, I went down to my building’s parking lot to get into my car.

But my car was not there. I was positive I’d left it there, though on rare occasions I will leave it for up to a day on the street. But I was positive I’d parked in the lot, and even remembered where. It was not there. I walked up and down the entire lot three times, then walked up and down the street in front of my building another two times. No car.

I called the police to report it stolen. Not having driven it in over a week, I had no idea when it could have been taken. They asked for my license plate number, which of course I could not remember (I’m very good about forgetting things under pressure). I looked everywhere through all my papers for the plate number and finally found it. I was told the car had been towed.

Since I have a parking sticker, I could only imagine I had somehow parked it on the street.
So this morning, first thing, I began trying to find out exactly where my car was and how I could get it. I made no fewer than seven phone calls. The police gave me a number. I called it. They did not have the car. They gave me another number. I called it. They did not have the car. They gave me a number. I called it…well, you get the idea.

Finally…finally…I found it, in a city impound lot so far away from where I live I was surprised that it is still in the City of Chicago. To get there by public transportation will take well over an hour, I’m sure.

When I called Norm last night to tell him I’d be unable to pick him up today, he suggested I go and get his car, which has serious front-end-wobble problems.

So now, when I finish typing this gnat-filled note, I shall take the elevated over to Norm’s condo (half hour plus), get his car and his oxygen tank, go to the hospital, pick him up, take him to the nursing home, return his car to his condo, take the Red Line downtown to the Blue Line, get off at Western and take “a bus”—they didn’t specify which one—to the impound lot, where I shall hand them $275 and they, with luck, will hand me my car.
On pondering why they had towed my sticker’d car from the sticker-required parking lot, the only thing I can think of is that the stickers might have an expiration date…something, of course, no one ever bothered to tell me.

Oh, the fun we have.

They’re just gnats, and they’ll all be gone tomorrow. But for right now….
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Modern Science

When I first went to Mayo and met with the oncologist in charge of my case, I was offered the chance to participate in a “Protocol”…a new study on the effectiveness of various types of cancer treatment. My cancer was, I gathered, very unusual in that it did not present as tongue cancers normally do. It was located deep inside the base of the tongue, and I was given the option of radical (to me, anyway) surgery in which a large portion of the tongue would be removed to excise the tumor, or a combination of radiation (35 treatments) and chemotherapy (2 or 3—I can’t remember now—industrial-strength doses). I opted for the latter, not wanting to lose part of my tongue.

Seven weeks later (which I am proud to say I took totally in stride and only on reflection realized how horrendous the ordeal had been) I was released from treatment and told to come back in three weeks to have the major lymph nodes of my neck removed, to be inspected to make sure the cancer had not spread to them. It hadn’t, but once removed they could not be replaced, and the effects of having my throat and all the muscles involved therein slit from ear to ear combined with the effects of the radiation’s destruction of my salivary glands to create the “me” I now must live with for the rest of my life. (But “live” is the operative word and, bitch and moan as I do, I will gladly take it all when considering the possible alternative.)

In the course of my follow-up exams, I twice was given a P.E.T.—I have no idea what the acronym stands for—scan, but it involves a marvelous $1.5 million machine which produces a 3-D image of the entire body and can locate cancer cells anywhere they may exist.

Not being the quickest on the uptake, it took me until this, my 11th or so check up to think to ask the doctor: If the P.E.T. scan can spot cancer cells, why was it not used instead of going through the process of removing my lymph glands? It would have saved a very great amount of time, effort, and mental and physical inconvenience (a singularly inappropriate word), and may have saved me and others who have to go through it incalculable distress and physical disfigurement.

He replied that that is one of the purposes of the Protocol I signed on to. The P.E.T. scan, he said, while more than 95 percent accurate, still has some room for error. I observed, and he agreed, that everything, including examination of the removed glands, has a degree of error involved. They are trying to determine whether the removal of lymph glands is really necessary, given the advent of detection devices such as the P.E.T. scan and in light of the error factors of both.

He said, in summing it up, that it is very likely that removal of lymph glands will gradually be phased out as better detection measures are developed. While this will do very little for me or everyone else in my current state, I do take some comfort in thinking that something they may have learned from my participation in the Protocol may someday spare others from similar disfigurement.

Hope springs eternal.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: