Thursday, October 29, 2015

The case against acorns

In February of 2010 my dear friend and onetime partner Norm died. When we first got together in 1958 his stated goal was to have $100,000 in the bank by the time he was 30. He worked very hard and though we never discussed personal finances, I am sure he made it. 

In March of 2011 I took a month-long trip to England, France, and Italy. In 2012 I took a 15-day riverboat tour from Budapest to Amsterdam, then stopping over in New York for several days before returning to Chicago. In 2013 I took a ship from Rome to Istanbul; the year after that the same ship (coincidentally) from Venice to Athens. 

Bragging? No...utter disbelief. That I have done these things--things that so many other people can only dream about, as I could have only dreamt about were it not for Norm's generosity--leaves me lightheaded in contemplation. And all these wonderful adventures were possible only because Norm did not spend his hard-earned money on himself when he could and should have. 

I am deeply indebted to him in death as I was in life. So do I feel guilty for spending money he worked so hard for? How could I not, to a degree. But I did with his money what I wish he would have done for himself. I think he would have appreciated the irony in that.

And therein lies the theme and message of this blog: you truly can't take it with you. I could have...and many might say should have...invested the money Norm was kind enough to leave me. But to what end? I have no family to support, and even if I did have a family, I'm well beyond the age of having to support them. I have finally learned to live within my income and therefore didn't really need the money, though I am of course delighted to have it. 

I fully realize that everyone's needs are different. We all have financial obligations, which vary greatly from person to person. And I am certainly not advocating just blowing every penny we have on our own personal pleasures. We tend to work hard all our lives, putting money aside for...what, exactly? Like squirrels collecting acorns, we keep stashing it away. But once we have accumulated enough to assure ourselves a reasonable and sustainable level of comfort, we keep going. "For the kids," is perhaps the most common reason given if asked. A noble thought, but once "the kids" are no longer kids, the obligation to support them largely vanishes--they need to stand on their own two feet and make their own way. Leaving them something when you die is fine. But too often "something" is, realistically, everything you have. Pampering children is one thing; pampering adults is something quite different, not to mention largely unnecessary.

Norm, for example, left a sizable amount of money to his brother, who has done quite well for himself throughout life and does not need it, and to two nephews whom he never saw and who, from all accounts, were also doing quite well for themselves. I do hope they will use that money as I am using it, to fulfill dreams. I'm sure Norm, too, had dreams, but he was too busy storing acorns to act on them.
I think a major problem in the acorn-gathering/money-stashing philosophy is that we are seldom aware of how much is enough. The majority of us, of course, have no idea of exactly when we will die. It would also be safe to say that the vast majority of people are unaware of their true financial condition. They do not budget, they do not plan, they have no real idea of where their money goes. They just keep gathering those acorns.

I'm not addressing this to those whose circumstances prevent much acorn-gathering. But there are still a very great number who can, but who are so concerned for saving for the future comfort of others they neglect their own comfort now.

I am, as I'm sure you've noticed if you've followed these blogs, excruciatingly aware of the passage of time, and that time is not limitless for any of us. If we don't take the opportunities presented to us, they may well be lost forever. One of my strongest memories of my 2011 trip was of sitting in the Piazza San Marco in Venice on a beautiful, sunny day, having a drink while listening to a small orchestra playing not 50 feet from me. I made a mental toast to Norm, wishing he was there with me, and knowing that he should have been there instead of me.

So please, please don’t spend all your time running around gathering acorns. Take some time to sit in the sun and enjoy them.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Monday, October 26, 2015

Scatter ye Breadcrumbs...

For some, life is a vast green pasture, for some a forest, and for some a jungle. But regardless of the terrain through which we pass, many feel the need to leave a trail to mark their passage, either so they can trace the path back to where they began or so that others may know the path they have taken.

Memories are the breadcrumbs of choice for most of those looking to retrace their steps along the way, but memories really don't hold up too well in the light of reality. They are much too easily warped by the passage of time. But since we tend to avoid staring into the light of reality just as we avoid staring directly into the sun, we seldom realize that what we're sure we remember clearly may not in actually be exactly what happened. Like pebbles tumbling against one another on the seashore, time wears away memory's sharp corners and fades the colors. As strongly as we believe something happened at a certain time in a certain place in the company of certain people or under certain circumstances, almost assuredly we are not 100 percent accurate.

Because I have never understood the world, and am so easily lost or led astray, I have been an inveterate breadcrumb-dropper all my life. But instead of relying totally on memories to mark my journey, I reinforce them with as many tangible bits and pieces of my past as possible, mostly in the form of my writings. Since words can last forever, I use them as my breadcrumbs. As a result, my trail through life is much easier to follow than most. I have an entire two-year period of my life, in fact—by way of letters written to my parents when I was in the Navy—documenting an almost day-by-day, as-it-happened accounting of events. I reference them frequently, and am invariably shocked to discover that several things I distinctly remember either did not happen, or did not happen when or in the order that I could swear they happened. 

Memories are ephemeral, words are solid.

I always strongly encourage anyone with a desire to be remembered to drop tangible breadcrumbs as they travel through life. Even if they have no need to retrace their steps, it allows those they care about, and those who care about them, to see the exact path they took. 

Photographs make fairly reliable breadcrumbs, but unless they are dated, even they can be misleading. When you take a photo, you know full well who is in them, their relationship to you, when and where it was taken, and under what circumstances. But unless you take a moment to caption them, 20 years down the line who else will know?

While few people think to do it, keeping a journal of what may seem uninteresting or even trivial to you can be a great asset a way down the trail. Taking brief notes on vacations and trips, saying what you did and, more importantly, your thoughts and feelings can, when you look them over in future years, sharpen memory and rekindle emotions—especially good ones.

I feel strongly about the need to leave breadcrumb showing our individual paths through life. If not for ourselves, then for those who come along a bit later and may want to know more about us and who we were. The more solid the breadcrumbs, the sharper the image we leave of ourself. Personal letters to friends or family, for example, are not only a part of who we are, they serve as a sort of time capsule for anyone who might come across them in the future.

What we take for granted, what is totally normal and may seem mundane or even boring—what is now—to us, will be viewed quite differently when seen from the perspective of the future. 

We can never go back in time and leave breadcrumbs retrospectively. But it's never too late to start.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and his book of collected blogs, Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Thursday, October 22, 2015

On Growing Up Gay

As you may have noticed, many of my blogs deal with various aspects of my being gay, and the reason is simple: I talk so much about being gay because for the first nearly 2/3 of my life I was, out of very real concern for the possible subsequences, unable to do so.

And now, looking at the title of this blog, it has the same vague redundancy as if it had been titled "Growing Up Brown-Eyed" or "Growing Up Right-handed." Of course I grew up gay: it's simply an integral part of who I am and who I have always been. The realization...make that the acceptance of the fact...that one is gay varies from person to person. I was blessed to realize and accept who I was before I ever heard the term "gay."

I don't remember when I first heard the actual word "gay" used to define those like me. Up until my early teens the only words I heard to describe what I was were "Queer," "Sissy," "Pansy," "Nance," and other equally charming epithets. Interestingly, I don't recall hearing "Faggot" (the most commonly derogatory term today) until I was well beyond my teens. I was, in fact, not directly aware that there were more than a few others like me until, when I was 17, I was picked up in a movie theater by a guy visiting from Chicago who showed me there was a whole world of us out there.

I never experienced any bullying for being gay, though in high school there were a few minor embarrassing incidents of name calling and whispers and, once, a car full of my male schoolmates--none of whom I knew very well--driving by and yelling "Queer!"

Knowing what I know now about the growing-up experiences of others of my generation and beyond, I realize not only how lucky I was, but that I was in fact utterly blessed. My mother and father loved me unconditionally, and had they ever asked, I would have told them. But neither of us did. They knew, and I knew they knew. They didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell.  But they didn't. They didn't have to. I never lied, or pretended to be anything but what I was, but we played a mutual game of avoidance.  My father was far more aware of my sexual orientation than my mother, and at a far earlier age. It wasn't until I was 33 and had broken up with Norm after six years that we addressed the subject openly. My dad said, "Are you sure? Have you tried being with a woman?" (No, I most definitely had not.) and my mom,  said, "Well, I wish you weren't, but that doesn't change how much we love you." And it didn't.

I had relatively (no pun intended) little contact with my father's side of the grandmother, aunt (Dad's half-sister), her husband, Pete, and their two kids. I heard only many years later that one time while I was a teenager, Pete apparently made some comment about my being "queer" to my folks  and my dad nearly got into a fight with him over it.

I always identified strongly with my mom's side of the family, the Fearns, and down deep considered myself more a Fearn than a Margason. Every one of them--my grandfather, aunt, uncle, cousins, and second cousins--never once so much as suggested that I was "different," though they all knew, and I love them all the more for it. One of my fondest memories is when I brought my then-partner, Ray, back to Rockford for a visit. The entire family got together for dinner, and treated Ray as they had treated one of the family.

My dad, being more aware, was deeply concerned for me, and sometimes this led to conflicts between us. Once, between my freshman and sophomore years of college, two of my best gay friends, Stu and Zane, and I planned a trip to New York. Dad did not want me to go, and we had several heated arguments until finally he said, "Okay, go to New York with your queer boyfriends!" This shocked me because he knew Stu and Zane and had always treated them warmly, and had never before said a word against them. I realize now his reaction was based on his true concern over the possible dangers inherent in my being a gay teenaged tourist in New York.

When I moved to Chicago after college and partnered with Norm, my folks and the entire family accepted him without question. Even though my folks and I had not yet even mentioned the "g" word, and would not for several more years, they adored Norm and treated him as a second son.

When I took my parents to Hawaii as a Christmas present one year, Norm stayed in Chicago. One night, when my folks were getting ready to go to bed, I decided I wanted to go back out (to check out the local gay scene, though of course I didn't tell them that). My mom said, "Well, when you get married you won't need all this running around," and my dad said, "Hell, he's already married."

I miss my folks...and at this moment, (no offense, Mom), I particularly miss my dad.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Damned if you do, damned if...

That we humans are able to exist at all in so infinitely-complex and frustrating a world is a testament to our resilience and flexibility. We are bombarded every moment of every day with contradictions and challenges and decisions, and somehow we manage to wend our way through the minefields, though it can be argued it is harder and harder to do so.

Ironies and contradictions multiply like spores on a petri dish. We have created technology to make our lives simpler, and have ended up being ruled by it. We come up with new ways of direct communications and lose the ability to communicate directly (as anyone who has ever tried to reach a real human being at a major corporation can attest). 

The invention of the computer has changed our entire world. But now, to have a computer is not enough. One must have an iPod and an iPad and a Tablet and a Kindle and a Nook and a Blackberry, several of which are already obsolete. Telephones begat cell phones, and cell phones begat texting and ring tones and 14,999 various "apps". I have a computer (and have made the quantum leap from sit-in-one-place PC to a laptop and have a small device that plugs into the laptop to enable me internet access from anywhere in the city of Chicago, only to learn that for no given reason, they will be shutting down in one month). I do not have an iPod or an iPad or a Tablet or a Kindle or a Nook or a Blackberry. I have seen them, but I have never used them, and though I'm sure they're lots of fun, I honestly get along fine without them.

I am bedeviled by endless TV commercials that encourage me to sign up for a mind-boggling array of supposedly absolutely necessary services I in fact do not need, each of which I can have "for only $99.99 a month for the first three months," after which it usually goes up to $129.00 per month as soon thereafter as they think they can get away with it. Multiply this by six separate electronic devices requiring some sort of service contract and you're getting close to the gross national product of Paraguay. 

I learn I can, at a minimal (minimal to whom is never explained) cost, "live stream" my favorite cooking show while on vacation in Bora Bora! If I'm on vacation in Bora Bora, why the hell would I want to waste my time watching a cooking show?

I am well aware that the single purpose of all commercial ventures is to make money, but I rather strongly resent the implication that if I don't have (read "buy") all these gadgets and gee-gaws, I am a pathetic relic unfit for society. Lord knows I get that message clearly enough in other areas of my life; I don't need it from technology.

I have yet to completely figure out Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and LinkedIn and and BranchOut and the 9,000 other internet sites I am told I "must" belong to if I intend to get/keep my name out there and find new readers for my books. And as a result, I spend so much time bouncing from site to site trying to keep up that I have almost no time to write. 

Obligations are part of life. If you are below retirement age, you have to get up and go to work five days a week whether you want to or not. We all have obligations, to friends, family, employers. For the most part, we meet them, and when we don't, there are often consequences. It is the obligations imposed on us by our culture and by technology which are the problem. We are in effect bullied into them.

The human need to belong, to feel part of the whole, is universal. It is a fact advertisers know well and exploit to the fullest. One of the most popular expressions in the advertiser's lexicon is "Everybody's talking about..." The fact that, of course, everybody is not talking about it is totally irrelevant. The clear message they are sending is that if you are not talking about it, you don't belong.

Bombastically partisan politicians are fond of saying "The American people will not tolerate such-and-so," meaning that if you have no objection to or may even be in favor of the "such-and-so," you are obviously not a part of "the American people."

The world, it seems, is the embodiment of that old vaudeville question: "Have you stopped beating your wife?" No matter how you respond, you're in trouble. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Thursday, October 15, 2015

When I was Who I was

When I was who I was, I was not satisfied. I took everything I had for granted and wanted more. Now that I am who I am, and no longer have what I had then, I look back in longing for it, and in self-recrimination for not appreciating what I had until I no longer had it. This seems to be an all-too-common human trait, and one which, if you do not yet understand, you surely will.

We tend to assume that life is just...there...all for us. When we are young, we firmly believe that we will be young forever. Life does not come with an instruction manual or a warrantee, and we totally ignore cautions of what lies ahead for us just as we ignore the tiny-print cautions that come on every bottle of aspirin. It is only much later that we begin to realize that life is not a gift, but a pay-as-you-go proposition, and that the cost goes up every year. It is not until we are well into our 30s or 40s or beyond that it begins to occur to us that the rules of mortality apply to us. The realization is like slowly being lowered into a bath of ice water.

We are far too easily distracted from where we are going by our real and perceived problems. Every human has problems—they’re a part of life. The vast majority are not life changing, though we tend to be exaggerate them in our minds because 1) they are our problems, and 2) we are having them now. Once they are past, they generally fade away to relative insignificance, to be replaced by newer problems. Life’s more serious problems, generally physical, tend to develop relatively later in life and, because we’ve tended to exaggerate the seriousness of lesser problems, we find them much more difficult to deal with. 

Some species, like ants and bees, seem to share a common awareness. It would be nice if, even as we remained individuals, humans were privy to some sort of similar shared awareness of the true path of our life. Because we are locked within ourselves and spend every instant there, we are not aware of the changes going on within ourselves...the gradual change from who we were to who we are. Seeing ourselves in a mirror each day is an example of this phenomenon. Reflective surfaces reveal these changes, but do so so gradually as to be unnoticed. I, unlike most people, go to great lengths to avoid reflective surfaces out of my refusal to accept what I see there. I therefore can go for months without confronting myself. But when I do, because I do not have the "buffer" of incremental unawareness, I am painfully aware of the changes between what I see now and what I saw the last time.

I don't want to be who I am now. I want to be who I was, once. And the full awareness that I never will be, never can be, does not stop me from wanting, or reduce the intensity of that want. And yet I find myself slowly coming to what I hope to be an...accommodation...with myself. No matter how old we are, we are never going to get any younger, but by the same token, we are, at this moment, as young as we will ever be, and I am determined to enjoy whatever it is—and there is much—I have now. I can't do anything at all about the past, but I can have considerable control over my future. I can and do plan for the future (plans are a subtle form of self assurance that there will be a future. But by the same token, I try not to put off things I want to do by falsely assuming I will have "plenty of time" in which to do them. I may not, and this is as true of you as it is of me.

To say "time is precious" is to repeat one of the oldest and most overused of cliches. But cliches are the fortune cookies of truth. And I relate my awareness of the value of time to my habit of, when seeing a penny on the sidewalk, stooping to pick it up. Not because I need the money, but because like time, it is there, it has value, and it should not be wasted.

I will never be who I was when I was, but I'll do my best to be who I am as long as I am.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Monday, October 12, 2015

We Humans

We humans are members of an endlessly fascinating species, constantly at war within and among ourselves. We each exist in and move through a world of astonishing everyday wonders of which we are never aware. That we are not is understandable in that, were we to be aware of them all, we would have no time, given our relatively short lifespan, to do anything at all else but be in a state of constant, overwhelming amazement, like a deer in the headlights, immobilized.

There are around 9 billion of us, yet each is unique, never really knowing anyone other than ourself. But every now and then we should stretch our minds by giving some thought to those things never thought of. Our genetic imperatives, for example. Our DNA is almost identical to the primates and carnivores from which we evolved--and yes, you Tea Party Speakers for God, we evolved! Get used to it. 

But for all our genetically based aggressiveness, which has plagued us since before we became identifiably human, we are also programmed for what might be called nobility. Our genetic imperative is centered on the preservation of the species. We protect our children instinctively. With few exceptions, we would without hesitation give our lives to save theirs. And, to our credit, not only our own children, but all children within our circle of influence. Were the starving children in remote areas of the world within our physical reach, I have no doubt but that we would do anything to save them. It is the physical distance which gives us a sense of helplessness. Our only recourse, given the distances separating us, is to contribute money to be used by those physically closer to the problem to help them, and it can always be argued that no matter how much we do to alleviate their suffering, we can and should do more.

I've always been fascinated with sudden, unexpected natural and man-made disasters--fires, earthquakes, explosions, tsunamis, ship sinkings, floods, tornadoes--not for the suffering they cause, but for the very best qualities of our species those disasters bring out. Caught up in violent events, we react instinctively, and to our great credit, most of us act nobly in attempting to protect and save our fellow humans--and often other living creatures also directly involved.

We have created complex societies with complex laws which we obey without thought or question. We hear a siren behind us while we're driving, and we instinctively pull over without giving an instant's thought as to why we are doing it. With few exceptions dictated by circumstances, we stand in line rather than trying to rush to the front. We pay our taxes, we vote...all elementary, simple things until you pause for a moment to wonder why we do these things. We have schools and hospitals and libraries and stores and factories and build roads and bridges and establish national parks and playgrounds. Think of any one of them and wonder how they came to be and why--really why--we invented them.

It is sometimes difficult not to truly despair for the future of humanity. There is so very, very much evil and hatred and bigotry and cruelty and gratuitous stupidity in the world it tends to overwhelm us, and makes it easy to forget the good, the selfless, the caring, the kind. It is, again, to our credit that we pay so little attention to the positive because we expect the positive: it is simply assumed to be the norm. And because the negative still surprises, shocks, and saddens us, we tend to forget that it does so because it goes against what we assume and expect--through desire if not always through fact--to be the norm; to be the way we expect the world to be.

Of all the gifts given humanity, the one which most separates us from all other species with whom we share the planet is hope. With it, we can and do face any challenge. Without it, we are doomed.

I wonder if, were they to look for it, scientists might find a Hope gene in our DNA?

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Thursday, October 08, 2015

"Dear Dugbate:"

My name is Dorien, and I am a Spamaholic.

After each blog posting on the subject of internet spam, I swear that I will go to my spam folder only long enough to hit "Delete All", and thereby save myself from the fits of uncontrollable fury reading even the subject lines of those messages inevitably evoke.

But today, like an alcoholic who, after a period of abstinence, thinks it will be okay to have just one little drink--I gave in to the temptation of trying just one, brief, totally objective look at the messages awaiting me when I came on line this morning. 

I sincerely wish it were possible to write the real people...and I am being kind in referring to them as either “real" or "people"...behind these messages to see if I could determine exactly why they have chosen to throw away their humanity for the sake of pure greed. But I guess that sentence both asks and answers the question.

Anyway, since I know full well that to actually respond to a spam message is to automatically have my email address and whatever other information I might be foolish enough to provide put up for sale to thousands of others of the morally dead, I thought I'd pick out two at random and write--though not send--a response. This is, I've been told, a valid and often recommended form of therapy.

So here are just two of today's spam subject lines and my responses:

SGT LARRY WAYNE - Pls do not disregard - Hello, How are you and your family sincerely hope all is well. My names is SSG Larry Wayne; I....  

Hi, there, Larry!

Why of course I wouldn't disregard your message: You're a member of the United States armed forces,  to whom I and every American owe a great debt! Though I am a bit curious as to why, since as stated in your note, your "names is" SSG Larry Wayne in one sentence and "SGT" Larry Wayne in the next, the message was sent by ".ro" is the e-mail designation for Romania. I assume Suzana is your Romanian girlfriend, and you had her look through 2 billion email addresses to specifically find mine while you were out there putting your life on the line defending my freedom. 

Your folksy approach in asking about my family--though I don't have one--was very much appreciated, and yes, all is indeed well except for being able to comprehend that anyone would stoop to posing as an American serviceman in an egregious attempt to screw me and the 18 million other people to whom this same message was sent.

You're so far beneath contempt, Larry, you could not be located on Sonar, and I wish I believed in God so that I could fervently pray for you to get what you so richly deserve if not in this life, then the next.

Your Buddy,


Federal Bureau of Investigation - Federal Bureau of Investigation Contact Mr Dugbate John for your payment...

Dear Mr. John (may I call you Dugbate?)

While I was unaware that one of the duties of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was to send out "payments"--I won't presume to ask for what--to complete strangers, I am eager to accept your kind offer. Please, however, save yourself the time and effort in asking for my bank account information in order to complete the transfer. Just send the check to me, and I'll deposit it.

My best to J. Edgar,


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (