Thursday, September 03, 2015

Shells




Every human being is linked to every other human being by DNA and a myriad of complex commonalities  that define us as human. Yet, ultimately, despite all of these links, each of us is on our own when it comes to dealing with the intimidating complexities of life surrounding us. In that regard, each of us is not unlike a single Hermit crab on a vast beach, seeking some a “just ours” shelter into which we can retreat for comfort and security. 

My own little protective shell is composed, not of calcium carbonate as are most seashells, but of logic. Logic is the tether that anchors my view of the world and, in fact, my sanity. 

However, as strongly as I rely on logic to protect me, far too much of my life is spent in frustration which at times verges on being debilitating. It is difficult to cling to one's beliefs and Illogic, clearly demonstrating that logic is utterly worthless when dealing with the real world. I simply cannot comprehend how things which are, to me, so quintessentially logical, are so easily ignored or dismissed out of hand by what seems at times to be the majority of my fellow human beings. The current state of our political system is perhaps the strongest single example of how little power logic has in our world. I firmly believe that those people in and out of Congress who swear allegiance to the Tea Party are far more closely aligned to Lewis Carol than to Boston.

To me, logic is the mind's salvation, just as hope is the soul's. However, to be continually shown irrefutable evidence that what is so vital to me is held in such disregard--and viewed with such disdain and contempt by so many--is truly disheartening. I simply, sincerely cannot understand how otherwise rational, intelligent people can be so totally unconcerned by not only the neglect of logic but its downright rejection. How can the most egregiously illogical precepts/ideas/theories be foisted upon us as gospel and, incomprehensibly, almost universally accepted without question?

It is when I find myself personally abandoned by logic that I am most exposed and vulnerable, and this happens most often when it comes to issues of consistency. Consistency is logical. If I do something in a certain way 99 times and get the same results all 99 times, should I not be able to safely assume that doing the same thing exactly the same way as I've done it 99 times before will produce the same result? Alas, the answer is no. I can never be sure that doing the same thing the same way will produce the same results as the last time I did it.

I've always found my reliance on logic at odds with my refusal to accept reality. Logic is, after all, the ultimate reality. But like most humans, I am quite good at making my own accommodations between the two.

I'm fully aware that my sincere belief in the basic goodness of our species flies in the face of both logic and reality, and marks me as incredibly naive. But it is because I so sincerely believe in the goodness and honesty of others that every single instance of outrageous, blatant dishonesty upsets me so. I walk around like an exposed nerve end.

I simply cannot understand how people cannot be more kind to one another, or more considerate, or how or at what point the Golden Rule metastasized from, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you," to "Do unto others as you would have done unto them."

And yet, in spite of it all, I still find comfort and safety within my increasingly thin little shell of logic, and try to ignore the storms that rage outside.

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out http://bit.ly/m8CSO1 for information on Dorien's "Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs."


Monday, August 31, 2015

A Letter from My Father

My father has been dead 47 years now. Our relationship, as with many fathers and sons, was often contentious, and much of the “blame” I now know, rests with me. I often treated him very badly, though I never doubted for a single moment that he loved me. But when one is young, and away from home for the first time, feeling one’s way through a huge and complex world makes it next to impossible to maintain a proper perspective.

I recently came across a letter my dad had written me two weeks after I entered the Naval Aviation Cadet program in Pensacola, Florida. My mother, bless her, kept every letter I wrote home while I was in service and I, in turn, saved every letter I received from her and my father.
Mom wrote nearly every day; Dad far less often, but that was totally in keeping with the times...writing letters wasn't something that men did.

It's hard to describe my feelings as I read the letter below. Dad always tried so hard to be the kind of father he thought a father should be, which meant doing his best to guide me and guard me against perceived dangers. I truly ache that I never, at the time, really, fully appreciated him or realized just how proud of me he was and how much I meant to him. I would give anything to go back, physically, in time knowing what I know now. Perhaps I would have been a better son. I know I would have tried.

Aug 30 - 1954
                                                                          
Dear Son―

Just read your letter and from your attitude of words I feel I must say this―Don’t forget you are not the only one undergoing the same treatment and you were warned that it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to go through. Time and time again I have tried to tell you that you must learn to take the easy bumps before you can face the hard ones.  You are getting your first taste of the world as it is and you must learn to face it on your own. I believe in you and sincerely want you to believe in yourself. You are no worse than any of the fellows there and you just have the will to get ahead in order to do so.  Sure, I grant you that it seems dark a lot of times but son you and you alone can make the grade.  Nothing I can do can help you and again I believe you have the stuff in you to be as good as any man there.  So please (not for my sake or your Mother’s) be as good as the next one.   IT’S UP TO YOU.

Enough of this lecturing―it’s really not meant to be that but just a boost to your seemingly sagging morale.  Don’t under any conditions lose that wonderful sense of humor you have.  But again please son think of your future.  I know that you can do it.  So son just a little more effort on your part and I’m sure that there will be no more demerits.

Remember Son it’s no fun punching a time clock and you are receiving the finest training and education that no college in the world can give you.  So Son chin up and try just a little harder. Huh, Son?

I know I’m not the best Father in the world, but none could hope for any more happiness or success than I have for you. This is evidently one of my more serious moods Son, but take it from a guy who knows, nothing that is worthwhile comes easy.  Everything I have someday will be yours but you must earn it. We did and no one can take away the  satisfaction of knowing we did it on our own.  Take all the above Son for what it is worth and whatever the outcome Son, you’re mine now and always.  Whatever comes up we can meet it Son, but again, let’s try a little harder.   Sorry if I bored you but again Son it’s you I am thinking of.  

                          Bye Son
                               Dad   

I had never realized before that in this single letter, he calls me Son 13 times. I am trying not to cry.

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, August 27, 2015

Philosophies

Each of us, as we travel through life, develop our own individual philosophies during the journey, based on an infinitely varied combination of experiences, assumptions/understandings, and our emotional responses to them. They usually develop slowly, often without our giving them much if any conscious thought, until they are a part of us. I have several of the “fortune cookie” variety, though I admit I immodestly find most of my philosophies...rather profound.

Back in the 1950s, my father gave my mother a beautiful grandfather clock, which has been part of my life since Mom's death. It stopped working a few years ago and I just don’t have the money required to get it back into working condition.  I always found its ticking and its chimes comforting, and the sounds became so ingrained into my life—rather like philosophies, now that I think of it—that I assume they are still there. Grandfather clocks work on the interaction of weight and gravity. Three weights suspended from chains are slowly moved down by gravity. Each swing of the pendulum releases a tiny bit of the tension on the weights, which gravity pulls downward until it's time to pull the weights back up to rewind the clock. It is the swinging of the pendulum moving the small gears holding the counterweights which produces the familiar "tick-tock."

This morning, glancing at the now-silent clock I realized that life is very much like a my mother’s clock. We are born fully "wound," like the clock, and each day of our lives is a "tick" of morning and "tock" of evening. And very slowly our lives pass until the weights of our existence have reached the bottom of their chains, and we, like the clock, stop. Unfortunately, unlike the clock, our lives cannot be rewound.

But having so said, I amend it with another of my basic philosophies/beliefs: that of time being a Mobius strip, constantly replaying eternity. Our individual lives, though an incalculably small segment of eternity, therefore keep recurring over and over again, and while that means that we are doing the same things, instant by instant, somewhere, and making the same mistakes and suffering the same pain and sadness—and exhilarating in the same loves and joys—each second is, to us, new and very-first-time. This in no way conflicts with the idea of free will. We do the same thing over and over and each time, and with life-changing crossroad, we are free to choose which one we take; the fact that we choose to take the same one every single time is simply part of the loop.

And that philosophy/belief leads me to yet another, regarding death and what lies beyond. I believe nothing more strongly or with more sincerity that when we die, we simply return to the state that preceded our birth. Death is the end of life. Nothing more, nothing less. There is no awareness, no heaven, and no hell. And how can one be afraid of nothing? The wish for something after death is partly answered by the Mobius strip of eternity; every instant of our lives is being replayed constantly, and has always been replayed and will always be replayed. Therefore the concepts of life and death are in fact moot.

Not all philosophies are, or need to be, profound. Many, perhaps most, are basic, every-day guides to how we live our lives and view and interact with others. They need not even appear to be realistic, but as long as we hold to them and truly believe in them, they are valid. I believe, for instance, in the goodness of our species, despite frequently harsh and overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It is not the reality of our philosophies which matters in the end, it is the comfort they provide us. 

Pondering our individual philosophies and trying to trace their origins can be a fascinating mental exercise...if, in the end, probably pointless. But, like an old fashioned razor strop, it hones the mind.


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, August 24, 2015

The Child Within

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. -- Corinthians 13:11

As with so many things, what is true for most people is not necessarily true for me. I may no longer speak as a child—though I have reverted to the point where my speech is all but unintelligible and getting worse, but I consider retaining the ability to understand and think like a child to be a great blessing. Children are born with priceless gifts: wonder, unquestioned trust, and infinite hope, all of which reality tends to steal away over the years until little—and sometimes nothing—of the gifts remain. They are stolen so gradually that we don't even realize they're gone or, far worse, that we don't miss them or care.

Far from putting away childish things—and I prefer to substitute "childlike" for "childish"—I have clung to them, cherished them, and nourished them. I would not be who I am had I let them fade away or to be stomped out of me by reality. I would most certainly not be a writer.

Whenever I am asked for a biography, I often begin with the same sentence: "When I was five years old, I never wanted to be six." And it is absolutely true. Strange as it may sound/seem, though I chronologically and physically crossed the line between boy and man well over half a century ago, I have never considered myself to be a fully-developed "adult." To me, "adult" is synonymous with "grown-up," and like Peter Pan, I've never wanted to be a grown-up.

Interestingly, as a child, I never had imaginary friends. But today I take a childish delight in having divided myself into Roger, who is the trapped-in-the-physical-world part of me, and Dorien, whose realm is as unlimited as the imagination.

Dorien is my child within. He doesn't have to worry about the mundane. He is totally free to like bunnies. And toast with cinnamon and sugar (which Roger can no longer taste). And lying on his back in the tall grass on a warm, silent summer afternoon staring up at the clouds and seeing the wondrous forms and faces and animals within them. He's been around long enough now that he frequently totally takes over with those few friends who know how deeply a part of me he is. One of those friends just sent a message referencing some article which concluded with the line: "We'll all end up having to worry about rabbits." My instant, without-a-moment's-thought reaction was: "Dorien is always worried about rabbits: do they have enough to eat? Do they have someplace nice to live? Do they wear their mittens when they go outside to play in the winter?" Ageless questions.

Those hardened into the shell of adulthood will undoubtedly find that sort of thinking silly, affected and childish. I prefer to think of it as utterly harmless and fun. It's the way my mind works and has always worked, and the veneer of adulthood has never gotten thick enough to repress it.

But again, as with all things, being child-like has its down side. Children expect more than reality can deliver, as do I, and it is in the slow acceptance of and adjustment to reality that being childlike is lost. My life is built on a child's assumptions that everything is simple, with the result that I do not handle problems, negative challenges, or stress well. While I naturally assume, for example, that I can follow written instructions, this assumption lasts only to the point of attempting to translate the manual's words into action. I still expect it and therefore am condemned to bounce from one frustration to the next. My emotions are too often a child's emotions, and as a result disproportionately given to confusion, frustration, and anger; I seem unable to comprehend even the simplest things “grown-ups” deal with without a second thought.

Because I so naturally assume, I have never found it necessary to accept reality's total dominion, and as a result reality and I have become estranged to a point approaching open hostility. I am truly incapable of understanding why things cannot be as I expect them to be—which is to say, as they should be. Because I expect life to run smoothly, effortlessly, and without conflicts, and expect simplicity in all things, complexities lead to frustration and unhappiness far more frequently than I would imagine is the case with those I would consider fully-developed adults.

And while I feel very sorry for those who have lost their inner child, I am not so far removed from reality as to refuse to acknowledge that in many ways their lives of non-resistance are easier than mine. And I know full well that in the end reality always wins. But with me, it won't be without one hell of a fight.

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, August 20, 2015

The Housewives of....

Ah, I've done it again. I began this blog by heading off in one direction and then wandering off in another. There is a connection, but it might be a little hard to tell at first. See if you can connect the dots. 

Let's start at the beginning:

My cat, Spirit, seems to enjoy staring at walls. He does it a lot, and with such concentration I would give anything to know what he sees or thinks he sees there, or what his motivations might be. Usually this is done relatively calmly, as though pondering some weighty philosophical issue. But frequently he will race madly around the apartment and dash to a corner where, screeching to a halt with his face no more than three inches from where two walls meet, he will stare up at God-knows what and "me-owl" at the top of his considerably powerful lungs, then suddenly break off the stare, spin around and dash off into another room at full tilt. 

To say I don't understand cats is rather redundant. But I fear I can say the same of an awful  lot of people as well. I never cease to be amazed at how many of them, too, seem to spend so much time staring...figuratively if not literally...at walls and often making a great do-do about nothing. Well, let's modify that to "nothing that I can even remotely understand." 

I freely admit that I probably watch too much TV. My pattern/routine/rut is such that after spending most of the day writing, I stop at 5:30 for the evening news and then spend between 6:00 and 10:00 wandering across the vast TV landscape trying to find something to catch and hold my interest. I guess in that regard, I might have something in common with Sprit and walls. But I at least try to defend myself by saying I prefer programs which involve at least a smidgen of involvement on my part. And I'll also admit that the "smidgen" occasionally dominates...I'm not above, if the programming landscape is particularly barren, watching an episode of Cops and Hell's Kitchen and HGTV home renovation programs,  on the grounds that they are interestingly informative even though I have not had a bite of solid food in over a month now and I haven’t lifted a hammer in years.

But I convince myself that those programs are profound when compared to the likes of the wildly if inexplicably ubiquitous Housewives of Name-a-City. While I have never watched a single episode of one and would have to be forced at gun point to do so, they are all but inescapable. Both programs seem to delight in glorifying stupefyingly, totally unwarranted vanity, infuriating arrogance and the glories of utter idiocy. At least one of the first of these dumb-fests, Jersey Shore did include some provide some attractive male eye candy--Warning: digression follows!--beauty only goes so far.

(Digression: the men--or, if you're so inclined, the women--on Jersey Shore reminded me of an exchange overheard many years ago in an L.A. bar: "Take a look at that guy! He's incredible!" "Yeah, but I'll bet he doesn't have a brain in his head." "That's okay. I didn't come here to f**k brains!")

But while with Jersey Shore one could turn the sound down and just concentrate on the eye candy, from what I've been able to tell, the only conceivable attraction of The Housewives of Name-a-City is to see what obscene amounts of money can do to people who otherwise have absolutely no reason to exist. As I said, I've only seen the trailers for these shows, but as I race to change the channel, my overwhelming desire is to slap those obnoxious, disgusting, hand-seductively-on-hip poseurs silly and put them a one-way flight to Darfur.

And to yank us all back to the point where this blog began, let me tie a neat bow with the observation that whatever Spirit sees by staring at the walls has to be better than The Housewives of Name-a-City.


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, August 17, 2015

"Let's Pretend!"

Cream of Wheat is so good to eat
that we have it every day!
We sing this song, it will make us strong,
and it makes us shout 'Hooray!'

It's good for growing babies
and grown-ups too to eat!
For all the family's breakfast,
You can't beat Cream of Wheat!

And with this ditty, from March 24, 1934 to October 23, 1954 began Let's Pretend, one of the longest-running children's programs on radio. I probably came upon it in the early 1940s. Each program was an adaptation of some classic children's book or fairy tale, and I loved and looked forward to every episode.

I don't think there are programs like Let's Pretend anymore, and I consider that to be a very great loss. 

Are there, in fact, any radio programs aimed at children? Radio was to the imagination what water is to a plant. Children today grow up watching Sesame Street—a wonderful program, but fundamentally different from Let's Pretend on an elemental level: it is totally visual; the child sees everything; there's no need to imagine what Big Bird or Elmo or Cookie Monster look like—-they’re right there. 

But I think the major difference between Sesame Street and radio programs is that Sesame Street's primary focus is on developing learning, whereas Let's Pretend's focus was on developing the imagination, and I would argue that learning without imagination is like a cake without frosting. 

(You can, by the way, hear a few of the original shows by going to http://www.freeotrshows.com/otr/l/Lets_Pretend.html)

Do kids today play the same kinds of games I played? Most of the games did not have specific names but simply sprang from the utterance of the three magic words "Let's pretend like..." and from that point on, the imagination took over completely. A tree became a castle, a pile of dirt a fort, a towel tied around the neck a superhero's cape. 

While age has far removed me from the games I played as a child, it does seem that kids today live in a totally different world, in which the value of developing the imagination is all but totally overlooked. The emphasis is far more on preparing children for adulthood than it is on letting them simply experience the joys of being children. Piano lessons? Violin lessons? Good for developing skills, but terribly short, for most children, on fun. While it can be argued that soccer practice, baseball practice and other sports activities are technically games preparing children for the grown-up world, they are structured activities designed to produce conformity, and the child involved in them is all but totally deprived of the need for any...well, individuality, any mental freedom to explore and engage the imagination.

Do moms today still tell their kids to "Go out and play"? And if they do, do the kids do it, or do they prefer to hunker down with their video games, the vast bulk of which, though set in imaginary landscapes of someone else's creation, seem to emphasize physical dexterity in pressing the button/waggling the stick to kill monsters than in actually thinking what it might be like to be inside the game?

Does the child today, sitting in the Little League dugout, glancing up at whipped-cream clouds lazily floating overhead, have the time to look for castles and whales and sailing ships? Or does he just see clouds as he waits for his turn at bat?


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, August 13, 2015

The Circles of "We"

This started out simply enough, with the idea for a blog talking about why I've always found the word "we" to be my favorite word in the English language, not for its sound but for its definition. (We: pronoun [ first person plural ] 1. used by a speaker to refer to himself or herself and one or more other people considered together). It's the commonality, the "together,"  I love. 

And then, as so often happens when I'm looking up the definition of a word, I found myself thinking of another word which I then have to look up, which leads me to another word, which....Anyway, looking up "we" led me to think of the word "us" and how, to me, "us" and "we" were synonymous. So I looked up the definition of "us" and thereby went from dipping my toe in the water to plunging in far over my head.

The dictionary definition of "us" ( pronoun [ first person plural ]1. used by a speaker to refer to himself or herself and one or more other people as the object of a verb or preposition") for some unknown reason pretty much drains the humanity out of it. The quality of  "together" in the definition of "we" isn't even mentioned in the definition of "us," and for some inexplicable reason that both surprises and bothers me. I still can't help but seeing "we" and "us" as synonymous and overlapping.

But wanting to get on with the original intent of this blog, not knowing which word is really more applicable to its theme, I'll just arbitrarily use "we" because I like it more.

There are concentric circles of "we" in each of our lives, in which our individual selves are the center.  And the minute I typed "our" in that sentence I was compelled to look it up to see how it relates to "we" and "us"!  (our: possessive adjective 1. belonging to or associated with the speaker and one or more other people previously mentioned or easily identified).

I swear, I shouldn't be allowed around a dictionary! 

Dragging myself back to the circles of "we": while all circles appear to be generally the same, there are an infinite number of variations within each one. The individual is always the center of his/her own set of circles. The first circle outward from the center is family and, for most of us (and there we go with "us": see what I mean about overlaps?), the next one beyond that is friends. From that point, the lines between the circles become progressively less distinct the further out from the center one goes, with more overlapping and more variations: acquaintances/co-workers/colleagues, one's religion, social contacts, political affiliations, nationality, ethnic/minority identities. 

Your circles...my circles...are as unique as fingerprints; while all circle categories may be basically the same, there are an infinite number of variations within each. Some circles, like family, religion, and ethnicity, we are born into and, while we may be free to leave some of them, we seldom do. As we pass from childhood to adulthood, we tend to add to our circles, to create new ones, or to join the circles of others.

But what all these circles have in common, and the point of this blog, is that they all—as with so very much of our lives—stem from our individual, personal concept of the word "we"...those things and people which create within us the sense of comfort and belonging.

"We," "us," "our," and "together" form the bases upon which human society is built and wherein lie our hopes for the future.

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).