Monday, August 03, 2015

Let Me Count the Ways

If you have followed my blogs with any regularity, you have undoubtedly noticed that the majority have a common theme: me; my experiences, my reactions, my responses, my beliefs, my opinions. The answer to any charge of narcissism or egocentrism is simple: who else’s experiences, reactions, responses, beliefs, and opinions might I be qualified to speak of with any authority?

In any case, I was thinking yet again of all the ways I do not fit into this time, this world, this society.

1) I am not a sheep. I do not like things or do things or believe things just because other people like/do/believe them. This made it difficult for me when growing up, when “fitting in” equals acceptance, but it got me accustomed to the fact that I marched to a different drummer and preferred it that way.

2) I am excruciatingly uptight and self conscious in large groups of people having a good time. I do not jump up and down, sway to the music, raise my hands in the air. I do not fist-bump or fist-pump or high five. I do not vocalize my pleasure. I stand there like a pillar of salt, all but unmoving, and in my desire not to stand out from others, I stand out from others. I would love nothing more than to do all those things listed above, but I simply cannot.

3) I do not comprehend the appeal of organized sports, nor do I have or ever have had any particular interest in doing so. (The only possible exception to this is, for some unknown reason, volleyball.) As I have often said, I was 33 years old before I figured out what a “down” was in football, and even then I didn’t care. How people can get so excited over a game they are not themselves participating in is totally beyond my understanding. “We’re Number One! We’re Number One!”…No, YOU’RE not Number One unless you’re on the team…otherwise you’re just an observer. I do, however, admire individual sports—gymnastics, swimming, etc.—and appreciate the talent and effort of the athletes engaged in them.

4) Our national obsession with “celebrities” leaves me shaking my head in disbelief. How the lives and activities…the romantic entanglements, the personal problems…of people I have never met and never will meet can possibly have any bearing on my own life is incomprehensible to me. With all the very real things, the very real problems of the world, how can we waste our time on such trivia?

5) I find national politics to be beyond disgraceful, and the hateful, mean-spirited, vitriolic garbage currently spewed by (mostly) Republican contenders for election to President infuriate and disgust me to the point of despair.

6) I cannot tolerate willful stupidity, the unquestioned acceptance of the most egregiously false premises…or the people who encourage and perpetrate them for their own greedy ends.

7) Organized religion, like organized sports, are largely anathema to me. Throughout history more wars have been fought, more people have died, more intolerance and hatred and misery fostered by organized religion than by any other single factor. And yet every religion, when its credo is boiled down to its essence, shares the same basic message: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Thousands of years, and we still haven’t learned.

8) Unlike the vast majority of people, I am incapable of simply accepting without comment poor service, rudeness, or being ignored by people I am paying to provide me something. Not wanting to “make waves” only perpetrates this type of bad behavior. I insist on speaking to a manager/supervisor to make my displeasure known. It may not do any good, but it certainly makes me feel better. 

I’m fully aware that you, while perhaps reluctant to admit it, share one or more of the issues raised above. It’s part of human nature, I believe, for each of us to feel as though we don’t belong, don’t fit in. But unless someone is willing to openly talk about things few others do, how can we really know we’re not alone?

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, July 30, 2015

Perchance to Dream

I love dreams. The prospect of dreaming is one of the high points of my going to bed.  

Last night I woke up with a topic for a fantastic blog, and had the perfect title: “Whither Luxembourg?” It was to be a lighthearted piece (and, as I recall, actually had me chuckling) speculating on how, if people can’t find the United States on a map, they could ever be expected to find Luxembourg…let alone Andorra…and whether, since no one could find them, if they suddenly disappeared, anyone would notice.

As with all my dreams, it had deeply profound undertones, though I can seldom recall exactly what they were.

The study of dreams is a fascinating one, though it does have the element of removing petals from a rose to find out what makes the rose beautiful. To me, dreaming is vaguely like writing without the use of the fingers―and totally free of the confines of logic. When I write, I tell you stories. When I dream, I tell myself stories.

I’m pretty sure I’ve done a blog on dreams before; I’ve reached the point where after seven or eight years of  blogs there is bound to be some repetition, so I hope you’ll excuse me if I say some of the same things I’ve said before. (Though if I can’t remember them, how can I expect you to?)

At any rate, I am blessed that I cannot remember the last time I had a nightmare, though occasionally a disturbing one will crop up. On a scale of 1-10, the vast majority of my dreams fall into the 7-and-above range. Dreams of flying, in one form are another, are my favorite, but the very best, most euphoric dreams of all are those happy dreams which I swear are reality. Leaping off a cliff and soaring through forested canyons and knowing…knowing…that I really, really am flying is nothing short of euphoric. On thinking of it, however, it occurs to me that I’ve not had any euphoric dreams of late, and I miss them. Well, maybe tonight….

They say that the fact that one tends to dream just before waking up makes it seem as though one has been dreaming longer than actually is the case. But it does seem to me that I spend much of the night dreaming.

Perhaps it is because I am a writer that my dreams are so varied, and so vivid. I dream in dream-logical stories, I usually dream in color, I have dreamt full musicals with original choreography and score and a cast of hundreds, and on occasion I dream…and this is very difficult to explain…in concepts. I have dreamed in weights and in reams of paper and in cardboard boxes instead of word-thoughts. Interesting, but confusing and not really all that much fun.

Though I seldom dream about my parents or those people whose loss I so frequently bewail here in my blogs, when I do dream of them it is wonderful because the wall of knowing they are dead comes completely down. So when Dad walks into the kitchen in a dream, or Mom appears in some setting, doing something, it’s as simple as that. Dad is walking into the kitchen; Mom is wherever she appears, doing whatever it is she is doing. No need for grief or a sense of loss. Everything is fine.

And that for me is what dreams are…assurance that things are fine, and that all I have to do is lie back, relax, and enjoy them. I hope they are the same for you.


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, July 27, 2015

Moods

mood, n.: a temporary state of mind or feeling

We all experience moods, some more frequently and/or more intensely than others. They are yet another means of providing an overall balance to life. We often call them “mood swings,” though in most people, they’re like small ripples on a pond, and pass with relatively little notice. But there are times in every life where the difference between mood highs and lows become more intrusive—traumatic experiences which jolt the mind one way or the other—a new love affair, the loss of something very important to us. 

For most of us, mood swings vary from generalized happiness and contentment to generalized dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

But in certain people—manic depressives—these mood swings can be seriously disruptive, taking over and all but controlling the sufferer's life. The high end of the manic depressive’s mood swing is often a state of euphoria most of us rarely experience for more than a very short time, where everything is wonderful and positive. But the lows are bottomless chasms from which there appears to be no hope for escape. There are seldom if ever gentle slopes between them.

Some manic depressives become fairly adept at disguising their condition, giving the outward appearance of normalcy.

Clinical depression differs from manic depression and other lesser “moods” because it is ongoing, with no “upswings” and despite what many people may think, cannot really be considered a “mood.” Those who have never experienced it have no real idea of its impact on a the person suffering from it. I personally have come far too close to experiencing it only once in my life, and for a relatively short time, while recovering from my bout with tongue cancer in 2003. I’d been released from the hospital, the treatments were behind me, and I should have been elated. But I wasn’t. It was though I were plodding 24 hours a day through a dark, swampy forest where the sun never shown. I cried often, and for no good reason; I didn’t want to do anything, go anywhere, see anyone. Finally I contacted my doctor, who prescribed an anti-depressant, advising me that it would probably take a couple of weeks to kick in, which was the case. 

Lately, I’ve just realized, I’ve been undergoing what is probably a mild form of depression. The onset of a number of serious oral problems, the inevitable long-term side effect of radiation therapy, and my concern with how to deal with them has made me generally unhappy and ill at easy. I’ve largely lost my interest in writing—which was a major warning sign.

Moods are something we learn to live with, and they take up very little of our overall lives. It is when they begin taking up an inordinate amount of time that we should try to learn how to deal with them. 

When I was originally diagnosed with tongue cancer, I determined that I would not allow it to be anything other than a disruption and inconvenience, and viewed my treatment as such. While “the power of positive thinking,” is pretty much considered a cliché, I firmly believe it—as should you. It may not be easy, but it is well worth it, and far better than the alternative.

So, while wishing you success in dealing with any mood swing that may be outside your normal range, for myself I simply have to concentrate on looking upon my new set of obstacles and problems as merely inconveniences, and i know I’ll get through this as well.

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, July 23, 2015

Sharing Dreams


There is a trinity of dreams. First are the collective dreams of our race, which guide us toward a better future and urge us to strive to make them come true. That all these dreams have not yet been realized—and may never be—does not deter us from having them. We are an indomitable race, and we are patient.

Second are our individual dreams—our daydreams while awake and those which come with sleep. Our daydreams are generally centered on our wishes for the future and can be whatever we wish them to be. Sleeping dreams are totally beyond our conscious control, and serve a valuable purpose as a form of mental “housekeeping”—a way for us to seek resolution to our inner conflicts within ourselves and accommodation with the waking world around us. We seldom have any recollection of our sleep dreams, and if we can recall them or pieces of them, their meaning is almost always hidden from us.

The third of the trinity of dreams is what prompted this entry: those dreams which are conceived in the mind of individuals—artists, musicians, and writers and translated into words and sounds and images which build bridges between individuals and between the individuals and our collective culture. Born in a single mind, they can go on to encompass us all. John Philip Sousa, for example, is said to have dreamed every note of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” on a ship returning from Europe on Christmas Eve, 1896.

Books are the writer’s dreams set to paper: I know mine are. They are formed, as are all dreams, in the imagination while, for the most part, the writer is awake. And unlike sleep dreams, the writer has some degree of control over them. If unable to direct the dream’s every aspect, at least the writer can consciously influence them by nudging them in certain directions. But for writers like myself, it is the mind which frequently overrides writer's original intentions, and takes the story where it wants it to go. A relatively few writers are able, and prefer, to plot out every single step and detail of a story before actually sitting down to write. It works for J.K. Rowling, who has made more money from putting her dreams of Harry Potter on paper than I will ever see in ten lifetimes. But it would never work for me. The element of spontaneity, both in sleep dreams and writing, is far too crucial for me.

To use flowing water as an analogy, the detailed-plotting method seems to be like one of Los Angeles’ drainage canals—straight as an arrow and contained within concrete walls. I prefer mine to be like a meandering river: I know where it’s going, but while I can see the bends coming up, I have no idea what lies beyond them. And I am always aware that I am not on the journey alone: the reader and I are Huck and Jim on the raft, flowing through the story together. I can’t imagine it being any other way.

People frequently ask writers where they get the ideas for their books. Whenever I'm asked, my answer is always the same: I quite honestly have no idea. They just appear. I’ll be minding my own business, thinking of almost anything except where my next story idea is going to come from, when I’ll be aware of something rising to the surface of my mind like a bubble in a tar pit. I’ll watch while it emerges and forms a bubble of thought and finally bursts, leaving me with a topic or plot idea. I love it!

For me to try to explain how these bubbles form and exactly how I handle them when they do appear is as impossible as explaining how we dream what we dream when we’re asleep.

All dreams are born and are nourished in the nursery of the subconscious, and there they remain until they are ready to emerge, either as a sleep dream or as a book or a painting or a sculpture or a symphony. Dreams are our humanity, and I cherish them, whatever form they take.


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, July 20, 2015

The Diamond Lady

Looking back at my 17 years in Los Angeles (1966-1983) brings back a flood of memories of the people I knew there. And I immediately thought of Pat.

Pat was one of my favorite people during my Los Angeles days. I first met her while I was working as an editor for a public relations firm which was contracted to produce a glossy house organ for the statewide (and politically powerful) Engineering and Grading Contractors Association. Pat was the secretary for the association's president. Through my duties, Pat and I were in frequent contact, which developed into a friendship.

Pat was…well, to call her ‘one of a kind’ would not come near to doing her justice. She was one of those wonderful Charo-like souls who, in her passion for life, simply ignored age. She was probably in her 60s when we met. Her hair was almost waist-long and pitch black. She wore about as much makeup as Tammy Fae Baker, but she wore it much better. She favored toreador pants, spiked heels, low-cut blouses (often tube-top) and lots of expensive  jewelry. (She at one time had worked with noted jeweler Harry Winston and conducted  a side business selling jewelry. She referred to herself, on her business card, as “The Diamond Lady.”) Unlike so many outwardly effusive people, her joy for living went to her very core. In many ways, including her voice and certain of her actions, she reminded me of Carol Channing, and I found her just as charming.

I’d see her every time I went to the EGCA offices, but our friendship was cemented during an EGCA conclave in Las Vegas, over several French Cannons...a delightfully refreshing libation consisting of a equal parts champagne and brandy, three of which could easily have rendered me comatose. But Pat could belt them back like water and never bat an eye.

When we first became friends, she was married to a great guy named Chuck Blair, who had been a singer with one of the big bands in the 40s. They lived in a beautiful house in the hills overlooking the entire San Fernando Valley. The memory of looking out from their patio at night, with the valley spread out below like  a carpet of glittering jewels that put the stars to shame, is one of my fondest memories of L.A.

Chuck traveled a lot, so Pat spent a great deal of time on decorating the house to suit her unique taste, including curtains made of strands of crystal which, when the sun hit them, became a million prisms reflecting their light on every surface. She also spent literally hundreds of hours painstakingly gold-leafing every door frame in the house. 

But though I considered Pat and Bob to be the perfect couple, apparently they did not, because Pat filed for divorce and their house was put up for sale. She could not understand why the realtor did not feel that all her expensive gold-leaf and hard work would not be reflected in setting the selling price. The fact that the new owners may have different tastes or even want to repaint the house and door frames was incomprehensible to her.

Her second husband, Bob Mallon, was a very nice guy who adored her, but was not overly fond of gays, though he was always very pleasant whenever Pat would have my partner Ray and I over, or invite us to one of her lavish parties, for which she would spend several days in preparation. Their house, on a hillside just up a winding road from Ventura Blvd., did not have the view her old house did, but there was a large if steeply inclined back yard set into a hillside, on which she and Bob spent a fortune landscaping and decorating with colored lights.

After I moved from Los Angeles, we more or less lost touch, though every year I would get the same mass-printed postcard saying “Keep in touch!” and signed “The Diamond Lady.”

Several years ago now, I received a note from someone who had read my book "Short Circuits a Life in Blogs," which included an earlier blog I'd written on Pat, informing me that Pat had died in 2004, and even though I knew she almost certainly could not still be alive--she probably would be pushing 100 now--I was truly saddened to hear it. But I have developed the ability, over the years, to ignore reality. So to me Pat is still alive, bubbly as ever, sparkling like the crystal “curtains” in her windows, still throwing her parties and being her effervescent self. In some ways, Pat was for me a symbol of all my L.A. days, and every now and then―today especially--I truly miss them…and her.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. 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).


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Remembering

I'm not sure why I insist on sharing these things with you...I can't expect you to have any interest in someone you never knew. Yet it is precisely because you never knew Bob Combs, my friend of more than 40 years, that I'd introduce you—however peripherally—to him here. Bob worked very hard at being a curmudgeon, scoffing at and disdainful of everything. He frequently drove me to distraction, as good friends are wont to do. And yet under that carefully-constructed outer shell beat the heart of a romantic.

During the last years of his long battle with laryngeal cancer, he wrote a column for his local newspaper. Quite by accident I came across it not ten minutes ago, and in keeping with my long-held belief that one is not truly dead until one is forgotten, I wanted to bring Bob back for a brief moment. He is not forgotten by those who knew him, and perhaps by reading his words, he may come alive for you.

Following his death, I received the following note from one of his friends. Here it is.

05-21-07

Dear Friends,

With his customary impeccable timing Bob Combs passed away on May 19th 2007, his 92nd birthday. He valued his friendship and kinship with each and every one of you. In accordance with his wishes, there will be no services of remembrance, except the ones you may choose to hold in your hearts.

Attached is Bob's final Sunny Side.

The time has come to say farewell – while it’s still possible!

It’s been such fun these past 13 or 14 years, since Lon got me started on this every-Friday essay, or column, or whatever-you may call it, in an attempt to balance out the Letters page – that is, to point out all the wonderful, beautiful, happy-making things around us. “On the Sunny Side of the Street!”

Stevenson wrote: “The world is full of such a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings!”  Well, as Kipling wrote, “The captains and the kings depart,” but we are still here – until our time runs out. There will always be spring flowers out by Shell Creek,  and the beautiful, winding, climbing,roads of our county, and Black Mountain out past Pozo, lifting its lordly beauty, with its calm and its silence.

There will always be an annual crop of children, full of curiosity and joy – sharing all their exciting discoveries with us, as we once shared with our grandparents. What delights they are, and we must strive to see that the world they grow up will be even better that the one our parents built for us.

In due season will come the breezes and the winds; the black clouds or the fleecy clouds of purest white. The trees and bushes will bud and leaf out and blossom, and flowers will pop out of the ground, seemingly overnight. The birds will come back and my favorite mockingbird, Moxie, will sing his heart out under the moons of spring and there’ll be Moxie XVIII before we can blink!

In its season will come the rain, but nothing, in our part of the world, will rule us as will the sun – and its “Cooker Days.” And so the grapes ripen, “to make glad the hearts of man..” And this old earth turns and turns, and our solar system does, too, and our galaxy goes spinning through space – a tiny dot in the vastness of the unknown.

So, let’s do the best we can, while we can, and smile oftener than we groan, and chuckle more than we sigh, and look on the sunny side….and so, goodbye.

*****

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, July 13, 2015

Flashbacks

For some unknown reason, I awoke this morning having flashbacks of my days (23 years, actually) in Pence, Wisconsin. I moved to Pence from Los Angeles in January of 1983, driving myself in a 24 foot U-Haul towing a second 12-foot trailer behind it. The temperature the day of my arrival was -19. After a hard-now-to-believe 23 years, I left Pence in 2006 to return to Chicago after 40 years, and never looked back.

Geographically, Pence was idyllic. Just seventeen miles south of the magnificent Lake Superior, and surrounded by thousands of acres of forest, the setting is ideal for any nature lover. Endless trails wandered through soundless woods filled with patches of wild blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Autumns in years with just the right mixture of rain and temperatures turned the forests into sensory overloads of color which defy description. Winters bring temperatures of -24 and colder; annual snowfalls exceeding 300 inches are common.

Once a thriving lumber and iron-and-copper mining area, the mines had all closed twenty years before my arrival, and commercial logging had been reduced to a few small-time operations. The entire area sank into an economic depression from which it has never recovered. No rail service, and only very limited bus service further isolated the area. Employment opportunities were almost nonexistent. Several local ski hills and the making of Christmas wreaths provided some seasonal employment, but that—and whatever employment could be found in local shops—left many chronically unemployed.

So very many jumbled memories of people and events flood my mind as I try to make some semblance of them without getting into overly long detail on any one of them. The bed-and-breakfast I had moved there to open proved to be a situation I would never, ever repeat despite a number of wonderful guests-who-became-friends. Because the B&B never provided enough money to live on, I had to rely on other work—managing a local food co-op, working part time at a local supermarket, then as a paralegal for a law firm. I did begin writing books, though I felt I needed a pseudonym as a buffer against the intolerance of local rednecks.

Personal relationships? One of the reasons I left L.A. was in hopes of saving my then partner and love of my life Ray from alcoholism (of course a totally futile effort). While he did try, he could not go three months without drinking, which resulted in his being arrested more than once. Finally, given the choice by a judge to either go to jail or leave the area, he chose the latter and returned to Los Angles and was dead of AIDS within a year. I had a subsequent disastrous five-year relationship with someone I really did not like but could not get out of. And finally, my taking in, at a friend’s request, of a lost soul from whom I contracted the HPV virus which resulted in my bout with tongue cancer.

Friends? I was lucky to have some good friends. Two doors west of me lived the Reinerio sisters, Louisa, 80, Rose, 82, and Amelia, 89, who were very kind to me—all three sadly died while I was still living there, Amelia first, then Rose, then finally Louisa; Esther and Albert Baker, Jody DeCarlo, and Tony Barnes, one of the very few gays in the area, and of course Ursula Schramm, a holocaust survivor. I have fond memories of all of them, and each one could be—as Ursula already has been—the subject of a full blog. 

It’s odd how completely I have been able to close the door on those 23 years of my life…it’s rather like they were washed away in a flood, leaving only scattered, fragmented memories of my life there. To this day, I still rather miss my days in Los Angeles. I have many solid, pleasant memories of my time there. Why is the same not true of Pence, I wonder?

Your life, like mine, is made up of an infinite number of pieces, large and small…of places and people and experiences and memories. As I am the sum of all of “my” pieces, so are you the sum of yours. They cannot be changed, only remembered, reflected upon, and perhaps learned from.


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).