Monday, December 15, 2014

Cliffhangers

“Cliffhangers” are a time-honored tradition of luring an audience back for the next episode of a series. It all stems from the one of the original movie serials, The Perils of Pauline in 1914 in which each 12-to-15-minute episode ended in the heroine’s being placed in deadly peril. Audiences couldn’t wait to get back to the theater for the next episode. Movie serials were extremely popular through the 1940s and into the 1950s. Even today, big-budget “serial” movies tend to end with some form of cliffhanger to excite viewers for the next film.

Serials were a staple of my early-years moviegoing. In my hometown, Rockford, Illinois, the State Theater showed Saturday matinee films aimed at kids…generally westerns…which always also featured a serial. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Gene Autry, etc. Each episode, regardless of genre, would end with the equivalent of the hero/heroine bound to a chair with a ticking time bomb near by counting down the seconds to explosion. The camera would zoom in on the hero/heroine’s understandably concerned face, the diminishing number of seconds remaining—always less than 10—then a distracting shot of, say, the outside of the building, and then….BOOM!: the building dissolves in flame and debris. End of episode; come back next week, which of course you would, to find that at the last second the hero/heroine manages to free him/herself from the bonds, locate a trap door in the floor leading to a tunnel to safety, and get safely away before the bomb goes off. It never failed.

Movie serials were cranked out with little regard for niceties like logic or production values. An example that I still remember after all these years was an episode of a serial called, I think Nyoka, Queen of the Jungle. In it, Nyoka, our heroine—who, though ostensibly living her entire life in the jungle, always managed to look like she just stepped out out the beauty parlor—has been captured by the always-dastardly villain, trussed up, and thrown into a raging river just above a thundering waterfall. The next week we see Nyoka stepping out of the water below the falls, untethered, absolutely dry and not a single hair out of place.

Though major studios—Columbia, Universal and the quintessential B-movie king, Republic Pictures—produced serials, none cared much about logic or production values; that wasn’t the purpose of serials. Their purpose was to drag you back to the theater week after week, and they succeeded admirably from 1911 thru 1953, when Blazing the Overland Trail was the last serial from a major studio.

The tradition continues to this day with some serialized major productions: The Hobbit, Star Wars, etc. And those that don’t have specific cliffhangers always add “previews” of the next film in the series.

Television has picked up the gauntlet, especially now that most series are broken into two blocks…fall and spring, and are not above resorting to the Perils of Pauline tradition of having the hero/heroine in a seemingly impossible-to-escape disaster.

A classic example is the recently-aired cliffhanger for the popular show, Arrow. Our hero, for reasons too long and complex to go into here, finds him shirtless on an icy, snow-blown mountaintop facing an equally shirtless nemesis. Why are they shirtless? With bodies like that, how could they not be? Anyway, the duel rages until Arrow is run through with a sword and, falling to his knees, is pushed off the edge of the cliff to his seemingly certain death. I was a bit surprised the villain didn’t put a lit stick of dynamite in his mouth just to emphasize the point that his fate is sealed. So is it “goodbye, Arrow”? Uh…stay tuned.

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, December 11, 2014

Fun and Logic


I really enjoy a good, rousing everything-blowing-up-and-falling-down-and-people-running-around-in-total-panic/confusion “end of the world as we know it" disaster film, or an imagination-stretching outer-space yarn—as long as everything ends on a note of hope. I consider them perfect examples of how two elements...logic and fun...can either join together or be totally at odds. A classic “popcorn" movie lets everyone just turn their mind off, their eyes on, and shovel it in with both hands while totally ignoring the sound of logic banging at the door. 

Fun frequently requires "the willing suspension of disbelief," but, like a rubber band, it can only be stretched so far before it snaps. Each individual has his/her own tensile strength for belief—the point at which the band breaks—and I'm pretty lucky that mine will go quite a ways. I think that's largely due to the fact that I've never totally given up on being a child. 

A child's imagination is almost totally disassociated from logic. Life is a fascinating game that's never been played before. As logic encroaches upon imagination and begins to take on the role of teacher, one's choice of games changes to meld both fun and logic. Chess, crossword and jigsaw puzzles, dominos, most card and board games are both fun and involve varying degrees of logic. For many adults—me included—it’s often because things are not logical that makes them so much fun. 

While logic itself can't be fun, it can also be maddening. I tend to find many logic games frustrating simply because I pride myself on being logical, and I still can't get them. Mathematics, for example is pure logic, yet any game or puzzle involving anything beyond the "If Billy has three apples..." level utterly eludes me.

Likewise, the relationship between "fun" and "humor" is a most interesting one, and very difficult to explain...at least for me. While they are certainly not mutually exclusive, logic and humor, like logic and fun—of which humor is of course a part—can often be at odds, simply because what makes things funny often lies in the flaunting of logic. If we are led to believe or expect one thing, and something totally unexpected happens it can be hysterically funny. There is a certain shock value in humor.

And one can have fun without humor being part of the equation. "Enjoyment" is one of the first words in the Thesaurus's definition of "fun." Star Trek's Mr. Spock isn't noted for his sense of humor, but it's obvious he enjoys what he's doing. I suspect the same is true of many of those we call "workaholics," those who work with their hands, and artists. They do what they do because they love doing it. To them, work is both fun and logical, if they can't really see themselves doing anything else and wouldn't particularly want to if they could. I don't consider writing to be work, even though I spend six hours or so a day at it, but I most certainly do consider it fun.                                                 

The capacity for both logic and fun are essential components of human existence. The degree to which we utilize them, and in what proportion, varies from person to person. One can, conceivably, go through life without fun, but it is impossible to function as a human being without logic. I know, I know; most politicians, evangelicals of all stripes, hate mongers and bigots appear to be notable exceptions. But whether they can truly qualify as being human is a question best left for another blog.

My unsolicited advice is to try to apply at least some level of logic to whatever you do, to whatever you read or hear. It needn't be deeply analytical, and it really isn't all that hard. Just always ask the question "does this really make any sense?" The brain should be more than just something stuffed in the space between the ears to keep the wind from blowing through. Thinking can really be fun. Wouldn't it be nice if more people tried it?


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, December 08, 2014

"I Hear the Mermen Singing..."

We can’t change reality, but we can change our perception of it. I’ve been doing it since I was a child and it has served me very well. Our bodies are bound by the laws of physics and time and we are all but powerless to change them. But our minds are not subject to those laws. It is our mind which makes us who we are. How we perceive our lives and the world around us is largely up to us. We may be confined in the cage of reality, but we are free to “decorate” it as we choose. When it comes down to it, perception is simply imagination, and imagination can make the world a far more tolerable place.

Those like me, who have never really understood how or why the world works the way it does and who therefore feels inferior because of it, altering our perceptions to fill in the gaps left by reality makes life, in our minds at least, easier to deal with.

I tend to look on life the same way I view books and movies—concentrating on those aspects with which I am comfortable and ignoring the rest. I refuse to read books or watch movies that I know do not have at least a ray of hope at the end. Even Schindler’s List, which was agonizing to watch, ended in hope.

Though you, I, are each only one of billions, we are totally separate, unique individuals. And each of us, surrounded by billions of others like us, goes through life alone. We learn whatever coping skills we develop through observation of our fellow humans; by reading and watching and listening to their individual experiences. We can easily be overwhelmed by the sensations of being hopelessly, helplessly outnumbered.

Life is a board game I play without having all the pieces, but I do the very best I can with those I have. I am gay (I know…you never suspected) living in an overwhelmingly heterosexual world. I am not comfortable in an overwhelmingly heterosexual world. So in my mind, the world is overwhelmingly homosexual. Every attractive man on the street is, in my mind, gay. Whether he is or not is totally irrelevant, since the odds of my having the opportunity to find out for sure are pretty close to astronomical unless I’m in a predominantly gay area. So what’s the harm?

And that phrase, “so what’s the harm,” pretty much sums up my entire philosophy of perceiving things the way I wish to perceive them.

And I do reach certain reluctant accommodations with reality. The reality of time, having “aged me out” of active participation in the gay world, I no longer feel comfortable…or welcome…even there. I think of my favorite line from Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: I hear the mermen singing, each to each. I do not think they sing for me.

And yes, I changed the gender. What’s the harm, if it gives me pleasure? 

While one can learn of the world in many ways, it is only our own personal experiences and perceptions which matters in the end.


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, December 04, 2014

Mantras and Acorns

Odd how something can be sitting quietly in some dimly-lit and dusty corner of your mind for years without giving it a conscious thought. It wasn't until this morning that I was conscious of a word my mind had been repeating in the softest of whispers for I don't know how long. And it occurred to me that this single word was in fact a mantra which to a large degree rules my life. The word is accomplish. It's with me every waking hour, just below the surface of my consciousness, and I suspect in my dreams as well: accomplish. It probably would be helpful if it were modified by specifics, but it never is, and I guess that's part of the point: it isn't that I accomplish something specific, but that I accomplish something.

Since my skills are limited largely to putting my thoughts down on paper (ok, on the computer screen), it's why, I realize, that I feel I must write. Write something. Every single day. It's as though my time of existence in this world is a gigantic acorn tree, with each moment of my life an acorn. And I am one small squirrel, trying desperately to store away as many of those acorns as I can, while I can. It is why, when I don't write every single day, I feel guilty; like I've robbed myself of time which, once passed, is gone and lost forever—all those acorns lost. Had I worked diligently rather than done nothing, I could have used those non-productive seconds, minutes, and hours to store away who-knows-how-many more acorns. 

It is why I cannot spend hours at coffee or lunch with friends—my definition of accomplish does not include coffee or lunch. Unfortunately it also does not include a great many things in which I realize I should be taking pleasure, like just sitting somewhere enjoying my surroundings, or reading. (The act of reading is always accompanied by the awareness that in reading the words—the accomplishments—of others, I am losing time which could/should be spent recording as many of my own thoughts and experiences as I possibly can. And the irony is not lost on me that I am so busy recording my life that I don't have time to fully savor living it.

I know, too, that I will never—and never possibly could—accomplish everything I would like to accomplish, to write all the books I would like to write, or post all the blogs I'd like to post, or see all the places I would so like to see, or spend time with all the people—even those I already know, let alone everyone I would like to meet—I wish I could spend time with. So that means I must—we all must—establish some sort of list of priorities of what we wish to do with the time available to us. Not an easy task, and not unlike trying to fit a gallon of milk into a one-quart container.

That other people do not feel this need does not make me feel superior to them—just, yet again, different from them. They obviously feel neither the need nor the desire for constant self-reflection. Most of them have other people into whom they channel their time, efforts and thoughts and are too busy living their life to think much about leaving a record of it.

And just this instant, I flashed, as is my wont, on the TV show "Hoarders," about people who, for whatever reason, so cram their homes with things they are unable/unwilling to get rid of that their homes, and their lives, become uninhabitable. Stacks and mounds and piles of...things...to which they compulsively continue to add. At times I suspect the house of my mind is like one of the homes featured on the program, except that instead of magazines and newspapers and porcelain dolls and never-worn clothes and battered lamp shades, my mind is crammed with memories and thoughts and speculations and questions. 

I would imagine hoarders consider that they are accomplishing something by hoarding; that no one else can figure out what that something is is beside the point. I tell myself that I am not a hoarder of past memories on the grounds that I freely share them with anyone who expresses even the slightest interest (and, at times, I realize, even with those who really have no interest but are simply too polite to ignore me). The problem is that, after I've shown them my mountainous stacks of acorns, the acorns are still there. 

Hey, that's a pretty profound thought! Another acorn! I think I can squeeze it in over there, on top of that stack of memories of all the cars I've owned in my life.


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, December 01, 2014

The Doll House

I frequently start these blogs with only a general idea of a theme, and just let my fingers take over without much conscious direction. This one is a bit different in that I am not sure what approach to take with it. Writing of memories is always a slippery slope, threatening to slide into the deep sense of longing and loss that so many people experience during the holidays. So I’ll try to avoid it. We shall see.

Memories are based not on specific incidents alone, but everything that led up to them. I awoke this morning thinking of my doll house, and what led up to it, and to the special place it holds in my heart.

I was tempted to say that I was a strange child until I realized that being strange is part of being a child. When I was around six or seven, I announced to my parents that I wanted a doll house for Christmas. I really did. I really, really did. My father, of course, adamantly refused to even consider such a thing. He probably already suspected I would grow up to be gay, and wanted to discourage any overt signs of femininity in his son. 

He did not realize that I wanted a doll house not because I related it with anything at all to do with girls, but simply because it was an extension of my very active fantasy life. I wanted a doll house filled with doll-house furniture so that I could then have imaginary fights in the house and knock over all the furniture.

My family was what they used to call “lower middle class.” Both my parents worked  hard at full-time jobs all their lives. I had no idea at the time, of course, just how hard they worked and what they sacrificed to provide for me. I can never recall ever having to go without something I really needed, and I almost always got what I asked for for Christmas. 

A doll house, however, even if my father had approved, would have been an expensive gift. So, with my dad refusing to allow my mom to buy me one, she made me one…from an old wooden orange crate. There were only two rooms—orange crates had a center divider—and the furniture she was able to find was far out of proper proportion to the “rooms.” I don’t recall now what else she did to make an orange crate into a house, but she did her best, and I do hope I was properly appreciative—though, being a child who wanted a “real” doll house, I may not have been. But the thing was, I wanted a doll house and my mother got me one.

A slight pause between paragraphs while I forced myself to step back from the slippery slope and shift my focus from sorrow for her loss to unfathomably deep gratitude that I had her…that I had both my parents…in my life at all. 

All memories are part of who we are, and the holiday season seems especially rich in memories. The mind is drawn to them like iron filings to a magnet. Mine are filled with Christmas parties and family get togethers, good friends and laughter; the smell of pine needles; bubble-light Christmas ornaments; exchanging gifts—and being as excited to see the reactions of those to whom I’d given them as I was to open my own; Dad’s Tom & Jerrys; the every-Christmas jar of olives from Aunt Thyra; the smell of her Estee Lauder talcum powder…they are and will always be part of my life, just as your memories are a part of your own life. And I hope, when you reflect on your own memories, you can view them not with sorrow of loss but with warmth and love for having had them at all.

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, November 27, 2014

Thanatophobia












What? You know what "thanatophobia" means and you're still here? And what the hell are we talking about death for today? It’s Thanksgiving! Could there possibly be two less compatible topics? But the fact is that the greatest thing we can possibly give thanks for today and every day is…being alive. Taking a moment to realize that we won’t always be should only increase our gratitude!

The very subject of death any day of the year sends 99% of the population mentally heading for the hills. Of all the astonishing number of fears afflicting mankind, surely the fear of death is far ahead of whatever might be in second place.

We go to great lengths to throw a sheet over the elephant in the room. Uncle Charlie didn't die, he "passed away," or "passed over." Uh-huh. Our grotesque funeral rituals--painting and primping Uncle Charlie's corpse so those passing by his open coffin can pretend he's just taking a nap--are a case in point.  I love the lines from Oklahoma's "Pore Jud Is Daid": "Poor Jud is dead,/poor Jud Fry is dead;/he's layin' there so peaceful and serene..../He looks like he's asleep;/it's a shame that he won't keep,/but it's summer and we're runnin' out of ice."

I find it fascinating that thanatophobia covers both the fear of death and the fear of dying, and to me, they are two quite separate things. I'm not afraid of being dead, but I am more than concerned by the process of passage between the two. Though it is impossible to know, I’m quite sure that most people are as unaware of crossing the actual line between life and death as they are aware of crossing the line between being awake and asleep. Except for those relative few who experience a sudden trauma resulting in their death and are conscious of what is happening up to that very instant, most people first lapse into a coma. Few, I suspect, experience real fear.

I know that, for myself, the "fear of death" lies primarily in the reluctance to give up life...to imagine the world going on without me, and most specifically the thought of all the wonderful things I will never get to see or do once I am dead: all of which is counterbalanced by the simple fact that once I'm dead, I won't be aware of what I'm missing. I've never considered this to be morbid; quite the contrary. There is a wonderfully calming sense of peace in wandering through a cemetery, reading tombstones and thinking of those who lie beneath them. Try it sometime, if you don't already understand what I'm saying.

I am firmly convinced that organized religion came about as a cultural reaction to our fear of death. The idea of a heaven and a hell (the latter created largely to keep the living in line) and the concept of an afterlife ("Oh, don't worry: when you die you will move on through the Pearly Gates and live forever.") may be comforting in theory, but crumble like a waters-edge sand castles at high tide. Far, far, too many questions and far, far too few answers. Logic, so vital to our culture, civilization, and human existence, utterly vanishes.

And it has always struck me as wonderfully...well, perverse...that those who so strongly proclaim the glories of heaven very seldom seem to be in any hurry to get there.

As a total romantic, I would, truly and with every fiber of my being, love to believe that there is a heaven. I would also truly like to believe in a hell, for there are a large number of hate-mongers and bigots I sincerely believe richly deserve to suffer the flames of hell throughout eternity for their cruelty to their fellow humans. But I simply cannot believe, no matter how hard I try.

I always remember a discussion I had with a friend on the subject many years ago. As to heaven and hell, he said, "I believe that if, at the moment of death, you can look back on a good life, that is heaven. If you can't, that is hell.”

But for right now, I am truly thankful for being alive.

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, November 24, 2014

Moments and Times

Each of us has indelible memories of events in our life which stand apart from all the others, and which shape and mold not only how we view the world, but who we are as individual human beings.

I was thinking today of the moments and times in my life that I consider to have had the deepest and most lasting effects on me. In my mind's eye, I became like a gold miner in a rushing stream, swishing memories around in a mental sieve, and carefully picking out the ones which remain. I hope you won't mind my sharing some of them with you. And while they are indeed mine and not yours, I hope you might see why I chose them.
1) Hearing, while eating dinner with my folks when I was around four or five, the ringing of the bell on my tricycle, which I'd left on the sidewalk, realizing someone was stealing it, and my father—who had not heard the bell—refusing to allow me to leave the table to go save it. I'm sorry to say I think it negatively affected my entire relationship with him for most of the rest of his life.

2) Being asked by a stranger, at around the age of five, why I was singing Christmas carols in July. For some reason I was humiliated and I look on it as the moment when my tendency toward shyness turned to stone and put a wall between me and being able to express my emotions freely.

3) Attending the funeral of my beloved Uncle Buck in 1953. I had never before experienced such wrenching, unbearable grief.

4) As a Naval Aviation Cadet drinking beer with a NavCad friend and eating pizza at a little bar off Pensacola Beach while the Everly Brothers' "Unchained Melody" played on the jukebox.

5) Soaring alone in a huge valley surrounded by clouds, doing acrobatics and looking down at the green patchwork quilt of the earth far below.

6) Diving off a quay in Cannes into the crystal-clear Mediterranean with Marc, Michele, Gunter, and Joachim as part—though I did not realize it until later—of one of the happiest and most memorable weeks of my life.

7) Driving with my then-partner (the word "lover" has fallen out of fashion in the gay community, I fear) Norm back to Chicago from my parents' cottage in my new, bright red Ford Sprint convertible, watching from the corner of my eye as Norm studiously rummaged through a large bag of potato chips, finally pulling out the perfect chip, and handing it to me.

8) Being awakened at 6:15 on February 9, 1970, by the deep, ominous and absolutely unmistakable rumbling of an approaching earthquake.

9) Driving my mother back to the hospital from which she had just been released earlier in the day, after subsequently suffering a minor stroke which left her only able to point to things and say "What's that?" I was in anguish, and she reached over and patted my hand. I still cry when I think of that.

10) Leaving the theater after viewing Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake for the ninth time and suddenly realizing that my obsession with it was that, to my mind, I was the Prince and Ray, the love of my life, was the Swan—goodness and sweetness and kindness when sober, and incomprehensibly cruel when under the influence of alcohol, which eventually killed him.

11) The true sense of shock and sadness I experience every single time I look into a mirror or accidentally see myself in a reflective surface.

These are only a few of the many, many memorable moments of just one life out of billions. I know you have your own, and I hope you join me in the appreciation—hard though that word is to use with some experiences and memories—of each and every one of them. Gather all of yours together, then step back to get a better perspective, and what you see is...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).