Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Life of Crime


In the interests of full disclosure, should I have any hope of having my application for sainthood approved, I feel I must confess my criminal past, shameful though it is.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, in 1966 (and yes, there
was a 1966 once upon a time) its police department was notorious for its storm trooper harassment of gays under the leadership of its rabidly right-wing chief Ed Davis. Gay bars were routinely raided without reason, and anyone or everyone inside was subject to arrest for “lewd and lascivious conduct”…a practice which ended only when a patron of a bar called the Black Cat was beaten to death by police during a raid.

Young, good looking plain-clothes officers were routinely assigned to the vice squad for the sole purpose of entrapping gays. Arresting gays was extremely lucrative for the city, and the police considered the city's gay bars and parks equivalent to fishing the Outer Banks for hauling in a profitable catch. They were energetically proactive: if a gay man did not solicit them, they'd do the soliciting. Supposedly, if you asked someone coming on to you if they were the police, they had to admit to it. Sure.

Barnsdall Park is one of the better known in the city. Small and very hilly, it is the location of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses, and its elevation provides excellent views of the city, particularly at night. It was fairly close to where I lived and I went there from time to time. That it was also a popular cruising area didn’t hurt. Though I was hardly a regular, one night I arrived around 9 p.m., parked in the nearly empty parking lot, and took one of the trails leading to the highest point in the park. There is nothing more beautiful than a city at night as seen from above, and while I was certainly not averse to meeting someone, it was not my primary purpose for being there.

There were very few people around, and while climbing the narrow path I passed a guy whom I had to step into the brush to get around. I passed him and went to the top. After watching the city for a few minutes, I headed back down, and passed the same guy on the path. He struck up a conversation, and I knew immediately he was a policeman. But the conversation was totally innocent until he asked “What do you like to do?” Alarm bells ringing, I told him I liked movies and tv and books and the beach, and I figured I was safe because I said absolutely nothing about being gay. We kept on talking and he kept asking what I liked to do.

I asked if he were a cop, and he laughed and said “no way!” I told him I had to get going, and started down the path. He followed, talking all the while. When we reached the edge of the parking lot I asked if his car was there, and he said no, he’d parked further down the hill. He asked if I would give him a ride, and I stupidly agreed. When he asked yet again what I liked to do and like a fool, I told him....though I did not use specific words. No sooner were the words out of my mouth than he nodded, and another man I’d not seen came toward me. I was placed under arrest and taken to the police station, where I called a friend to come bail me out, which he did within an hour.

I immediately made an appointment with one of L.A.’s best known gay attorney (upon whom the character of Glen O’Banyon in my Dick Hardesty books is based), and explained exactly what had happened. I told him I had not said one single word that I could not have said on national TV or at a D.A.R. luncheon. He merely looked bemused. He defended innumerable entrapment cases and became a very rich man as a result. He said he would represent me, but that I shouldn’t harbor any wild illusions of the outcome of the court hearing.

When I met with him again just prior to going to court, he had obtained a copy of the police report, which he showed me. If the arresting officer wasn’t gay, he certainly should have been… and he could have made a fortune writing gay porn. I apparently had told him I wanted to engage in just about every sex act known to the human species…all of which he lovingly detailed.

When I protested to the lawyer, he simply pointed out that it came down to the word of a minion of public decency against that of a disgusting pervert, and I agreed entirely, except that the roles were reversed in this case. I wanted to fight the charge in court, but he pointed out that that would cost far more money than I could ever afford, and that I'd lose anyway.

So I went to court with about 75 other entrapment cases, pleaded Nolo Contendre, was fined $365, and sent on my way. The L.A. police were happy. The city treasurer was happy. Even my lawyer, whose fees were in addition to my fine, was happy. I was not happy, but who cared?

And there you have it…the sordid story of my debauched life of crime. Move over, John Dillinger.
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).





Monday, October 29, 2012

One Man's Envy


Envy is one of the less noble but more common of human emotions. We’re all subject to it to one degree or another, but for some of us it is more pervasive and disruptive than for most. Envy has always been a regrettable part of my character, looming over nearly every aspect of my life, casting long shadows. It is a natural extension of my childhood-forged conviction that because I cannot be everything I want and expect myself to be, I am somehow unworthy and inferior. I’m sure a psychologist would find it significant that my envy is almost exclusively directed at men who are younger, better looking, more talented, more graceful, more intelligent, more well read, more successful, or wealthier than I, and I have worked hard—and not very successfully—to find some way of dealing with it.

Envy is not exactly a mature emotion—it has clear roots in childhood. A child who wants another child’s toy isn’t interested in the reasons why he (or she) can’t have it. He wants it. He doesn’t have it. It’s not fair. Period. And the more things the child/adult wants and cannot have, the stronger role envy plays.

Unfortunately, for those of us who want so very much that we cannot have, envy can become something akin to an emotional toothache, distracting us from fully appreciating those things that we do have. I’m constantly reminding myself of just how lucky I am, but envy is not materially affected by logic.

As disruptive as envy may be, it is largely an internal affair. The danger is when envy metastasizes into jealousy, and they are inherently closely related. Jealousy is envy’s nasty big brother, and can do real harm done not only to one’s self, but to others, as Shakespeare amply demonstrated in Othello.

I’ve been lucky to find, at least for myself, a partial solution to the problem of rampant envy, which has worked quite well for me. As you know, I some time ago divided myself into Roger, the day-to-day, bound-by-laws-of-physics part, and Dorien, who, being noncorporeal, has no such limitations and can do or be whatever he chooses. I neither know nor care what other people think of this unusual arrangement; it works for me and that’s all that matters. An analogy I’ve used frequently in an attempt to explain the relationship is that Roger is the bulb, and Dorien the flower.

So now, when I read a book I wish I’d written, or see a younger man who posses all the things I ache to have,good looking, talented young man, and the Roger part of me is consumed with envy, Dorien steps in, shrugs, and says “We hate him,” and then moves on. There’s no malice in it; it’s just Dorien’s way of dealing with it.

A friend's nephew came to stay with him for a few days while attending a medical convention. He is 27, a doctor, and already in charge of a small hospital's Emergency Room. I don’t believe he ever received anything less than an A in his entire academic career. He loves the outdoors, riding mountain bikes, and rock-climbing. He is a type-A personality who succeeds at everything he attempts, and if that weren’t enough to induce envy in anyone with a pulse, he is strangers-stop-and-stare, cover-model handsome. (He is also irredeemably heterosexual, but no one is perfect.) If there ever was anyone to whom Dorien would have more justification in dismissing with a simple “We hate him!”, it’s this guy. But he can’t because, in addition to all the young, handsome, athletic doctor's other envy-producing attributes, he is a genuinely nice guy.

Some things just aren’t fair.

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).

Friday, October 26, 2012

Egos


I forget who it was who said about someone’s ego: “He wants to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.” I fear they were talking about me. I long to be the center of attention at every gathering, or the favorable subject of every conversation. Yet such is the perversity of my nature that while I desperately crave attention, I am generally and genuinely embarrassed on those rare occasions when I receive it.

Ego is an essential component of one’s personality. It can be a healthy and useful tool in dealing with the world. It helps to flesh out the personality, to give it shading and color. It comes in many forms and a vast array of sizes. We all know people whose egos are like an avalanche, so large and all-encompassing that they sweep everything before them and totally bury any other aspects of personality. Those who possess this degree of ego can also be known as boors, the kind of people who brighten a room by leaving it.

Conversely, there are those whose egos, for whatever reason, are so weak, undeveloped, or repressed that they drain the person of character. They are, sadly, the wallpaper people. They enter a room and instantly blend in with the wallpaper, becoming all but invisible. I've always considered myself one of them.

And there are those who use their ego as a shield. I identify with them, too. It’s a form of bravado not dissimilar to those animals who puff up or put on various displays to forestall attack. One problem with hiding behind an ego, though, is that it’s rather like being Sisyphus, forever pushing the rock of ego up the hill.

But for those who hide themselves behind their ego, I doubt that anyone standing at the top of the hill looking down would see anything but the rock, and have no idea that Sisyphus was struggling behind it.

For many ego is a construct begun in childhood. The less worthy one feels as a child, the more likely one is to create a false ego for self-protection. Again, I can identify. If others won’t give me the adulation I so sorely crave, I will. But it is largely a case of the emperor's new clothes, and I know it.

For some perverse reason, perhaps as a too-strong antidote for the poison of ego, I have a tendency to not only never forget incidents in my life of which I am ashamed or embarrassed, but seem to take a perverse delight in using them to flagellate myself for not being as good as I think I am. One example which springs too eagerly and frequently to mind is of going to a birthday party for one of my younger cousins while I was probably about 12. I was the oldest kid there, and when the time came to play games, I deliberately went out of my way to win every one of them…hardly a major accomplishment given my age advantage. Finally, one of the mothers had to come over and ask me to please let some of the other children win. I’ve never forgotten that, try as I might.

These same tendencies followed me, in hopefully lesser form, into adulthood. I moderate a Google group for discussing and recommending gay-themed books and the writers who write them. I admit I formed the group partly as a way to promote myself and my books and, by extension, to seek approval and reassurance. When anyone posts a note listing their favorite authors or books and I and mine are not on it, my ego takes a hit.

Yet when I can objectively view the ego I have so carefully constructed for myself, I sometimes think I may overdo it a bit and, going back to my clothes analogy, I can hear Fanny Brice singing “Sam, you made the pants too long.”

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).








Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Unaware Days


I enjoy Unaware Days. They come in several varieties, and are those relatively rare days when you are completely unaware of any specific aspect of your life to which you normally have to pay some degree of attention—those wonderful days of late spring, much of summer, and early fall, for example, when you are completely unaware of temperature…shirt sleeve days when you just walk out the door without having to give a single thought to whether it’s going to be too cold or too hot.

Any day when you are totally unaware of your body—when there are no minor or major aches or pains or tender spots or healing paper cuts or annoying hangnails—is an Unaware Day, and a good one. And there are those very rare days when you have absolutely nothing specific that must be done that day: no scheduled work or chores or duties or appointments…, those days when your mind is as free as an untethered balloon.

The irony of Unaware Days is that we seldom fully appreciate them because, well, because we tend to be unaware of them. When they come along, we accept them as our due, and almost never give so much as a thought as to how precious and rare they really are. I suppose it’s just human nature to assume that things should always go so well, even though they too seldom do.

The vast majority of our days are so crammed to overflowing with have-to-do’s, with work and chores and obligations and responsibilities, that there is precious little time just to enjoy…well, just being. Yet, perversely, while we all but ignore our Unaware Days, we somehow always manage to devote ample time to being acutely aware...and to fret about...real, imagined, or anticipated problems.

It may seem strange that I, who cannot sit still for five minutes without getting antsy to be doing something, should espouse taking time every now and then just to sit back and appreciate our lives—and that we should do it precisely at those times when there seems to be no reason to do so.

I was thinking today, for no reason…and I really must stop saying that, since there very seldom is a reason for why I think what I do when I do…of just how blessed with Unaware Days I am. My life is, by and large, comprised of them. I really, at the moment, have no real worries, no real problems, nothing that I absolutely must do this very instant. I’m in no pain or discomfort, and, in generally fine spirits. There is nothing bad or sad going on in my life. That is not to say that I can’t and don’t, as you have noticed, find an endless supply of things to bitch about, but the fact is that they are almost totally outside myself and most certainly beyond my control, so to indulge them is a waste of time.

Yet even when I do have something I feel is a legitimate complaint or worry, if I can force myself to step back from whatever it is—and it is admittedly far more easily said than done—it’s immediately apparent that no matter how bad it may be, there are so many others going through infinitely worse.

I cannot imagine that there are many human beings who have never experienced soul-deep sorrow and unbearable grief, or not been witness to horrible things. But conversely, it’s hard to imagine anyone who has not experienced love and wonder and great joy. The world is steeped in both joy and tragedy, and it is how we respond to them, over the long run, and to which we pay most attention, which defines our character. Unaware Days provide us with a fulcrum for that balance.

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).




Monday, October 22, 2012

Love


Love is one of the most basic, powerful, and admirable traits of our species…though we cannot claim exclusivity on it, as anyone who has ever had a dog or a cat can attest. Like so many things in life, love has an infinite number of shadings and varieties and intensities, as does its balance between the individuals involved.

The love between parents and children is quite different than the love between friends, and the love between friends is different than romantic love between two people which includes but transcends the others.

Love feeds us and sustains us, and without it we wither and die. It is essential for our survival and our emotional development, and we seem able to store it up, like some animals store up body fat for use during periods of deprivation. Science has shown that babies need to be touched and held and fondled as much as they need physical nourishment. Deprivation of love and attention warps the individual forever. (I once saw a heartbreaking experiment conducted on baby monkeys, in which they were denied any contact with their mothers or other living creatures,, and it horrified and devastated me, as the very memory of it does to this day. Such experiments may further science, but their effect on the individual monkeys is unconscionable.)

As we grow older, our sources of love grow fewer. Our parents die as do, over the years, our partners and our friends, until we find ourselves like newborns once again, desperately needing love and attention and touch, but receiving less and less of it.

I am comfortable in my life. I am blessed with supportive, caring friends who provide emotional nourishment the human soul requires, and I try to reciprocate it, though I am far less adept at it than they. I still have some family left, and they remain my anchors to the past. I am fortunate, too, to have friends I’ve never met but who know and seem to appreciate me through my writing.

But what I do not have, and miss with a true sense of longing, is romantic love—a partner with whom to share my life. I used to joke that the one thing that separates friends from lovers is sex, and at the risk of eliciting a scrinched-face “eeeeee-eeewwww!!” from those under 40, I can assure you that for the majority of humans, sex remains a strong factor even after one’s own sexual appeal is totally lost on others.

For the most part, people tend to be pretty selfish when it comes to any form of love. They want it, need it, and even expect it as their due, though they are…like me…somewhat loath to express it as frequently as they should.

I have never met or even heard of a single person who, claiming with or without justification that they are unloved, ever claims they are happy. It is a tragic fact that far, far too many people in our increasingly self-isolated world are deprived of love, of affection, of kindness, of the even casual genuine touch on the arm from someone who cares about them.

In our increasingly predatory society, unfortunately, even the most innocent and casual physical contact with anyone other than one’s own immediate family is discouraged, and we are rapidly becoming a nation of paranoids. That teachers are forbidden to hug a troubled student for fear of official reprimand or dismissal is a sign of just how far down the path of dehumanization we have traveled. That a kind, well-intentioned stranger cannot reach out and casually touch a child without being suspected of being a child molester is disgusting.

As elemental as it sounds, the fact remains: the best way to get positive attention is to give it without really expecting it to be returned; the best way to make a friend is to be a friend. The best way to be loved is to show love. Sounds elemental, doesn't it? Then why isn't there more of it?

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).




Friday, October 19, 2012

The "Trompe l’oeil" Mind


It sometimes seems I spend more time in these blogs dwelling in the past than in the present, but then the more past one has, the more there is to talk about.

Memory is a trompe l’oeil painting of the past, done by the mind. The result may seem totally lifelike, but in fact it is not. The mind's inner artist takes small liberties, lightening the background here, touching up an area there, sometimes using heavier or darker hues than the actuality warrants. We display these canvases proudly to ourselves, and are certain that they are reality recaptured, when in fact they are not.

My brief and checkered Navy experience, oddly, provided me with several of my most treasured and vivid trompes l’oeil paintings, many of which I have shared in earlier blogs. Perhaps they stand out because my military “career” was so totally different from any of my other life experiences, and because they are all backed up by “certificates of authenticity” in the form of letters written at the exact time (or within days) of the events portrayed. But my two of the most outstanding hang in honored places along the walls of my mind. The first while I was learning to fly as a Naval Aviation Cadet, which has something of a “certificate of authenticity” in the form of a letter to my parents.

The skies over and within 50 miles of the Pensacola Naval Air Station were normally aswarm with pilots-in-training, like fruit flies around a bowl of ripe bananas. But on one solo flight, I found myself totally alone in a huge “valley” surrounded by mountains of whipped-cream cumulus clouds. Just me, looping and spinning and soaring between the clouds, looking down at the green quilt of the earth below. I’ve seldom had such a sense of pure joy. But my vivid memory of that day does not match exactly with the way I described it in my letter, written immediately after the event. Subtle differences, but different enough so that I notice them and am troubled by them.

The second of these specific memories is of the week before the Ti (USS Ticonderoga) headed for home after eight months in the Mediterranean, anchored off Cannes, France. It, too, is detailed in my navy letters and adds verisimilitude to the memory: days and evenings spent diving and swimming off an old quay—which I actually re-found after 55 years—with two French and two German young men, dinners at a tiny restaurant found totally by accident high in the hills above the city, walking down the twisting streets late at night singing old WWII songs, seeing the lights of the ships (including the fabled ocean liner, Ile de France) in the harbor below. My chest aches, remembering and wanting to be there/then now. But again, the picture in my mind is subtly different than the truth in the letters.

But like the painting of Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde's novel, there are also trompes l'oiel best avoided, and we all have many of them, stacked against the wall in some dark, cobwebbed place.

My main problem with memory, other than its tendency to reposition the elements of whatever picture is being recalled, is that it tends to be too strongly tied in with emotion, though there is one vivid memory painting that oddly evokes absolutely no emotional response. And that is of my seven-week stay at Mayo Clinic during my treatment for tongue cancer in 2003. I can picture quite vividly the daily routine: my large, comfortable room at Hope Lodge, provided free by the American Cancer Society, the fact that it did not have a TV set (how ungrateful of me even to think that!)—a deliberate decision on their part, I think, to encourage residents to get out of their rooms and mingle with others—the five-times-a-week two block walk to Radiation Oncology for 25-minute radiation treatments (35 in all); the decision to request a stomach feeding tube when trying to swallow became simply too difficult. I look back on all of it with a very strange detachment and no recognizable emotion at all.

Even the most pleasant of memories are tainted by a tangible sense of loss and longing, and often the more precious the picture, the more acute those senses are. I can’t just enjoy memories of things and people past, I cannot acknowledge that they are not real, and I must reach out to them. And each time I try, the realization that, real as they are to me, I cannot touch them, cannot relive them, cannot be at that time and in that place, fills me with sadness. And my memory's trompe l'oeil (literally “deceive the eye”) for me becomes trompe l'coeur and deceives my heart.

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).






Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Leaky Boats


Since I am quite fond of similes and metaphors—though admittedly sometimes hard-pressed to tell them apart—I’m always coming up with new ones to describe my perceived position in and reaction to life. This morning it occurred to me that each of us is afloat on the vast sea of time in a very small and leaky boat. Most people are too busy with living their lives and going to work and having children and watching “reality” shows and paying off credit cards and being generally distracted that they don’t notice their boat is sinking until it is too late.

I, alas, have been aware of my little boat and its inevitable fate all my life. I have made buckets out of words, bailing frantically to slow down the inevitable, or at least in hopes that when the boat does sink, taking me, its captain, with it, the buckets may bob around for a bit longer.

Though I’ve not peeked over the stern to check, I would guess my boat is named R.M.S. Egoism; the reason for the “Egoism” is clear, but the “R.M.S.” is a bit more subtle. R.M.S. stands for “Royal Mail Ship” and my little boat, while not in service to the English crown, is nonetheless devoted, after all, to carrying messages. Of course, it also does not escape me that the Titanic was, in fact, designated R.M.S. Titanic.

There’s the old saying that to suspect you may be crazy is pretty solid proof that you aren’t, since those who are truly insane almost universally deny being so. I think I can identify with that, though I’m sometimes not sure from which end of the sentence. I do know that when I am not busy building buckets for bailing, the awareness of the rising waters truly frightens me, and I have to force myself away from whatever may be distracting me and build another bucket.

Of course the fact that I spend so much time recording my life that there is little time left to actually live and enjoy it isn’t lost on me, and is in fact a source of constant bemusement. Who, after all, really cares, other than me? If I were in fact able to record every single second of my life, who, after all, would have the time to read it, even if they had any desire to do so? Subtracting every second of a lifetime from the vast sea of eternity still leaves a lot more eternity than life.

My single greatest fear, often repeated in these blogs, is of being forgotten…of becoming only one more lost-to-memory name on tombstone in a cemetery full of others whose markers are the only evidence to prove they ever existed. I do not fool myself into thinking that I am anyone particularly special to anyone but myself, or that my words will ever be in the same category as those of the great writers, but it would really be nice for someone, far in the future, to come across one of my books or my poems or (unlikely) one of my blogs and through them get some idea of not only who I was, but that they may idly wish I were alive so that we could sit down and have a conversation.

And a mental picture just formed in my mind as I thought again of the Titanic, of its fate, and of the fate of all our little boats. The image is of a full moon in a cloudless sky glinting on the vast, dark, calm surface of time, on which a few small buckets float. I would so like for one of them to be mine.

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).





Monday, October 15, 2012

The Lemonade Stand


Being a writer is not unlike being a kid with a curbside lemonade stand, hoping that someone will stop by. Best lemonade in town. Yessiree. But hope alone doesn't make cars pull over, or any passersby slow down. So I run around putting up signs all over the neighborhood. And I wave wildly as cars zip past. And nothing.

Such is the writer’s life…at least, this writer’s life.

Of course, I have to preface all this by expressing my sincere gratitude to you for stopping by. My—and every writer I know of not already enshrined on Mt. Olympus—continuing problem is how to get more people to read what I write.

The 200 million or so blogs currently flooding cyberspace all stem from one gentleman by the name of Evan Williams realizing way, way back in the mists of time—August of 1999, to be exact—that a website could be updated by just typing text into a text box. And thus was the Blog Genie released from the bottle.

Writers (like, let’s see…who might we use as an example? Oh, yes…me) using blogs as a variation on the spiderweb, in hopes that having been caught up in one, the reader might want to read more of the writer's work. The internet isn't known as “the web” for nothing. Granted, given all the blogs out there, this offers roughly the same odds of being snared as a single snowflake in a blizzard. It ain’t easy.

Unless this is your first visit, you're probably aware that I do a blog every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, designed to entice new readers to my books. I honestly believe that getting to know a writer through their blogs can establish some sort of unconscious rapport with them, and that therefore, when looking for something to read, the reader may be more prone to picking up a book by someone they in some way recognize. By posting each blog in several different locations, I hope to reach as many potential readers as possible.

Both writers and kids with lemonade stands have—and need—one trait in common; boundless optimism. The kid is certain you're just dying to try a glass of his lemonade; the writer is sure you've just been waiting to read his books. That the optimism generally is far outweighed by reality does not dampen the optimism.

So here I am again at my little lemonade stand, waving my arms and jumping up and down yelling "Hey! Here I am! Take a look! Try it, you'll like it!" It isn't that, after 20 published books, I don't have...or am not infinitely grateful for...a loyal following. But my pool of readers is, compared to the ocean of potential readers out there, very, very small. There are so very many more readers who have never heard of me or my books...all I want to do is present them with the option to know me and what I write. But there has to be some way to increase the readership of both my blog and books. (I keep seeing posts from bloggers mentioning regularly having 13,952 hits per day or some such, and my mind boggles. If I could just get 10 percent of those hits and the potential book readers they represent...Ah, dreams!)

And the eternal irony for writers, if not for the proprietors of lemonade stands, is that the more time spent trying to attract new readers, the less time there is to write new books.

I am more than open for suggestion as to what I might do to bring in more readers for my books. (But please resist the temptation to say “If you build a better mousetrap...” One metaphor per blog is enough.)

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).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nick


Nick never knew his father, though his drug-addict mother named her son after him. His name was Nicholas, and the fact that she deliberately misspelled her son’s name as “Nickless” was only the first indication of his fate.

While still very young, he was taken from his mother and placed in the Foster Care system, where he was passed from foster home to foster home like a bowl of potato salad at a picnic. His last ten years in the system were spent with a former marine drill sergeant who continually sexually abused him.

Whether he aged out of the system or ran away is not clear, but he wound up basically on the streets. No real education, no idea of how to behave in the society to which most of us belong and take totally for granted, he drifted. His few friends tended to be other lost souls like himself who simply existed in any way they could.

He was, not surprisingly, frequently in trouble with the law.

I was living in northern Wisconsin when I met Nick through a friend from Milwaukee, who had picked Nick up one evening while hitchhiking. Nick was living with a fellow lost soul he referred to as his “brother,” and the “brother”’s girlfriend. They spent their time smoking pot and dreaming the dreams of the lost.

He did whatever it took to survive, including hustling johns and working at menial jobs wherever and whenever he could, but never for very long at any one place. And of course when each job ended, it was never his responsibility. Responsibility was not a word in Nick’s vocabulary.

My friend took Nick under his wing and asked if Nick might stay with me for a while, to get him away from the big-city streets and try to break him free of those chains to his past. I agreed.

Nick was around 23 at the time; a tall, handsome and underneath all the “I don't need anyone” armor he forged to protect himself from the world was a small, lost child who, like an abused animal, trusted no one, and his entire life experience had proven him correct. But of all the things that had been denied him, from the day he was born, the greatest by far was the feeling of being loved for anything but his body. He revealed himself only through his drawings, which he kept in a tattered notebook. He carried a sheathed knife in his belt and carried it with him everywhere. When I arranged for him to apply for a job at a local supermarket, he wore the knife. He did not get the job.

Even in a small area like the one in which I lived, he managed to find others like those he had left behind in Milwaukee and soon got into the pot habit—it was, after all, a form of escape from a world he simply could not relate to and did not understand. It was winter, and when wreath-making season—which offered a rare surge of job opportunities, albeit brief, he got a job with one of the companies that made boughs and garlands and wreaths. He spent his paychecks on pot, but managed to save enough to buy a battered, tiny trailer which he planned to put on my friend's property and live in, though it had neither plumbing nor electricity. He didn't mind. He was used to it.

He got fired from the wreath-makers for talking back to the owner, and with his final paycheck he and a couple of his new friends pooled their resources to buy pot for resale. He was, of course, caught, and given the choice of jail or returning to Milwaukee, thus saving the local police the expense of incarcerating him.

He chose to return to Milwaukee…where he subsequently was jailed yet again. With absolutely no other realistic options, and without far more help than is available, Nick defines the term “lost soul.” He is so deep into the dark forest that I fear he will never find his way out.

When I think of Nick, and of what he could have been had someone…anyone…taken the time to care for him, to love him as any child should be loved…my heart truly aches. I did what little I could, but it was far too little and far too late.

I wrote a poem about him, called “The Broken Child,” which I'd be happy to repost as a blog should anyone be interested.

So why have I told you about Nick? Simply because those of us blessed with all the things of which Nick was deprived too often simply do not comprehend just how fortunate we are. We tend to be so consumed with our own petty problems that we cannot appreciate what we have, let alone understand the problems of others.

Nick is the candle I hold up in the darkness of my own self-absorption. I hope he can somehow, someday, find his own light.

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).





Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Marching On


A march is playing as I type…a march I played as part of the Naval Aviation Cadet band at a time, it seems now, both only slightly after dinosaurs roamed the earth and yesterday afternoon. And instantly I am back on the parade field at Pensacola Naval Air Station, sweating in the Florida heat, but almost euphoric with the sense of being part of the music and something much larger than myself.

I played the clarinet, though not particularly well. In fact, I dreaded the very thought of actually being heard as other than a part of the whole band. But I also know that I played far better when I was one of many than I ever could alone, which I find true of many things.

The need to feel we belong is an elemental but…other than, perhaps, during our teenage years…seldom considered part of being human. Few things promote a sense of belonging more strongly than patriotism, and patriotism is nothing but an awareness of unity and, underlying it, the human need to feel that we belong. There are, of course, both visual and visceral symbols of patriotism and unity: the flag being most prominent of the visual, music…and especially march music…being the most visceral.

There is something about march music that is unlike any other form of music; something that goes beyond the music itself. It evokes an almost primal emotional response. Marches convey a sense of power, confidence, boldness, exhilaration and inclusion which resonate strongly with something deep inside us all. We hear a march and somehow feel we are part of it, part of the music. It is not coincidental that the rhythm of march music has been proven to increase the heart rate. (Drums, the very first musical instrument after the human voice, echo the heartbeat. You can’t get much more basic than that.) It is not coincidental, I think, that marches are so strongly related with militarism...to the calling up of power and patriotism. The uniforms, the drums, the cadence, the blending and interplay of brass, percussion, and woodwinds all join together to produce a singularly unique sensation.

To stand on the curb along a parade route and hear the approaching staccato of snare drums and the flourish that leads into the start of the next march…or even better, to be in the band…never fails to create an almost out-of-body experience in me. I love it, and I am not alone…literally.

It has frequently been suggested that The Stars and Stripes Forever should be made our official national anthem, and I agree wholeheartedly. Can anyone listen to it without being infused with a deep sense of patriotism? The Star Spangled Banner evokes patriotism, I think, largely through a form of osmosis: we’ve been simply programmed for that response. But it doesn’t grab us with anywhere near the power and force, or provide the euphoria of The Stars and Stripes Forever. No need for programming there; it just scoops us up and carries us away.

I think those of us who have spent much of our lives being made to feel like we are outsiders, like we do not belong, take perhaps an inordinate degree of comfort in anything which tells us that we are not, indeed, alone. Music…almost any kind of music…provides this comfort, this escape from the world. Some find it in opera, others in symphonies or string quartets. But for me, play me a march, turn the volume way up, and I’m gone.

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).

Monday, October 08, 2012

Whispers of a Boggled Mind


boggled : bog-guld. verb [ intrans. ] informal. To be astonished or overwhelmed when trying to imagine something

Good word, “boggled,” and it accurately describes my mind a great deal of the time, especially when I look back on yesterday afternoon and realize it was in fact several months, years, or decades ago. It is especially applicable to my response upon reflecting on loss.

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

I came across a batch of photos of my last house in Los Angeles; probably the nicest house I have ever owned. I've been gone from Los Angeles for...dear Lord...almost 30 years, now? Impossible. (See: boggled) But no matter; looking at the photos, the ghosts of time reached out and grabbed me yet again, carrying me back to a place I cannot go.

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

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

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

Since I was a very small child, I have been aware that each passing minute brings me closer to the time when I will no longer be here, and that thought can, if I allow it to be, terrifying. Not the idea of death, but that I will no longer be able to enjoy life. And as a perverse result, many of the good times of my present are tainted by the realization that, even as I am enjoying them, I know they must pass and become more ghosts to wander my mind.

As I’ve mentioned often before, I spend the majority of my time storing up bits and pieces of myself as a squirrel gathers nuts; not for the winter but for the time when I will no longer be physically alive. I fervently hope others may find my books, my letters, my blogs, all small parts of who this Roger/Dorien person was and is. I would hope that they might enjoy my cache and allow me to live once again through their viewing of them. The irony of that fact I won't know if they ever do certainly does not escape me. Even as I write this, I am bitterly resentful of the fact that my physical body, already far from its best, will at some point simply cease to exist. It’s been a good body, and it has served me very well, and I feel sorrow that it cannot always do so. I still have it, but I deeply miss it already.

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

Also, as I write these little exercises in seemingly maudlin self indulgence, I wonder exactly why I expect you, who have your own life, your own losses, to have any interest at all in mine…and the answer is, as always, that I trust you may see in me parts of yourself, and realize that we humans are not quite as…I started to say “unique,” but prefer to substitute “alone”…as we sometimes feel.

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).

Friday, October 05, 2012

Innocent Questions



Having fought a losing battle with my serious addiction to outrage at internet spam for some time now, I've decided to try a new approach: perhaps instead of letting it drive me to utter distraction, I should open my arms to it, and get into the sincere, altruistic spirit I assume the spammers want me to have. However, I do have a few innocent questions I hope they might answer before I follow them to the next level of our relationship. For example:

Federal Bureau of Invest. - Re: Your Funds Has Been Approved!!!! (They has? What funds?)

Yahoo Thailand Lottery 2 – Yahoo!! International Lottery Organization... (Yahoo Thailand? There aren't enough people in Thailand you can approach?)

United Nations Office – RE-CONFIRM (Or?)

Mr. Henry OldsContact Mr. Henry Olds (And if I don't?)

Ms. Joyce Kouassi – Hello Dear. Dearest one, I am writing this mail to you with tears and sorrow from my heart.... (And I read your mail with nausea in my stomach. Can we call it even?)

Mrs. Ameera Hommed – Urgent Information. Dear Greeting in the name of Allah. I am writing you in tears. (Oh, you poor, sweet woman. May I put you in touch with Ms. Joyce Kouassi, above?)

Alice Sheldon – HELLO. Good Day, I am Mrs. Alice Sheldon; A citizen of United State of America...
(Really? Which United State of America are you a citizen of?)

Mr. Matthew Joe – Dear valued customer your atm card. (My atm card what?)

UN SECRETARY GENERAL – YOU HAVE WON ($650,500.00) FROM UN (Why is the United Nations just handing out money to strangers? And doesn't the secretary general of the UN have a few other things to do with his time?)

BERNARD BARUCH – BE BLESSED TODAY! (Thank you, Bernard, but I'm curious, since you died in 1965, why you're writing me now claiming to have esophageal cancer?)

Home Protection – Your Being Robbed at This Moment! (My what is being robbed at this moment? Should I call the police?)

Barrister Akpalu Yartey – Attn: I Would Like You TO Stand AS The Next of Kin To My Late Client. (And why in the hell would you want me to do that?)

Richardson, Benjamin Erv. - Important Notification!!! (Important to whom?)

Globe Secret Central Bank – Re: CONTRACT PAYMENT APPROVAL (What the hell is a “Secret” bank?)

MR JOHN GOODMAN – URGENT RESPONDS NEEDED ASAP. (What “responds” might those be?)

Smiht Adams – My trusted friend. Dear Trusted friend, my name is Mr Smith Adams... (May I ask on what grounds our “friendship” was formed, since I don't know you from...you'll excuse the pun...Adam?And don't you think trusting someone you've never met might be a tad risky? But setting these things aside, may I suggest you learn how to spell your own name?)

Ms Marette Johnson – Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ.... (How can I refuse such a heartfelt, sincere opening? Obviously, since you are such a religious person, I can trust you with my life. Can I send you some money?)

Rev. Donald Duke – YOUR CONSIGNMENT HAS ARRIVED YOUR CITY. (What “consignment”? What is a “Rev.” doing concerning himself with “consignments?” Why the hell should I respond to somebody who doesn't even know where I live?)

Sgt. Christopher Maynard - I have a profiling amount of 37Million United States Dollars secured in an offshore private bank.... (What is a “profiling amount?” How did you get it? Why do you want to drag me into something that is obviously illegal and could get me thrown into jail?)

SANUSI LAMIDO SANUSI – The Diplomat is at JFK Airport New York with your consignment. Call him now. (“The” Diplomat? What Diplomat? From where? How many JFK Airports are there? What's with all these “consignments” people keep sending me? What the hell is he doing in New York? Why didn't he come right to Chicago? If he knows who I am, why doesn't he call me? Will I ever understand what's going on?)

Ok, obviously my new approach isn't going to work. I think I'll just go back to the “Delete without reading” method. At least I can try.

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).

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Keep


keep: (noun) the strongest or central tower of a castle, acting as a final refuge.

Each of us, when born, is presented a vast kingdom of people and experiences, of wonders and sorrows, all competing for our attention. In the center of our kingdom is the castle of our bodies, and within that castle is the keep of our mind, from which we look out at our kingdom and conduct endless major and minor wars.

Because I have always felt myself something of a misfit...a stranger in the world of other people...I have always had the ability to stand outside myself and observe myself with a detached objectively. If you've been reading my blogs for any length of time, you'll know the theme of my perceived alienation is a constant theme. And because I've never felt that I belonged, I am endlessly fascinated with figuring out why. I frequently refer to myself as a laboratory frog on the dissecting table, laid out for the inspection of anyone with any interest whatsoever. I often talk of personal, within-myself things most people apparently think of as too private to share. I probably should not be so willing to expose myself, but for whatever reason that does not keep me from doing it. My kingdom has open borders. (And yes, as such I have probably invited in far too many would-be conquerors.)

As is inevitable, the wars we wage take their toll. We find the borders of our kingdom slowly but inexorably shrinking. Our court grows smaller as relatives, friends, and those we are accustomed to having around us take their leave. Places we called our own are slowly taken from us. We may be allowed to visit, but we are acutely and often painfully aware they are no longer ours.

Within my own kingdom, I am increasingly aware of the toll being take on the once-proud castle of my body. The once-bright banners flying proudly from the turrets grow faded and tattered, though they are still there. The paint fades and peels, cracks appear in the walls, the floors sag. I view the inevitable deterioration of the physical structure of my castle not so much with self pity or depression as with a mixture of resigned objectivity, horrified fascination, and indescribable sadness.

Please let me make it clear that I'm not writing this as a bid for sympathy, but as a simple statement of fact. Objectively viewing my castle as it is now in comparison to what I think of it as always having been is, admittedly, disturbing. There are so very many things I could do...eat normally, run, lift and turn my head, whistle, belch, spit, stick my tongue out far enough to lick my lips, experience the feeling of belonging to and being an active part of the gay community, (including going out looking for and occasionally finding someone to bring home for the night)...that have been taken from me. I find myself, with fewer exterior outlets, being driven more and more into my castle's keep.

I should point out that I'm relatively comfortable there; there are an infinite number of things to do there to keep me busy. But I do miss all the physical things I can no longer do, all the people who were once so important a part of my life. I do wish I could look into a mirror and not see a stranger.

That the greatest of kingdoms must fall and the most sturdy castles crumble is simply a fact of the universe, and there are compensations along with the deterioration...among them a stoicism and resignation which takes the fear out of the inescapable final words of every book ever written: “The End.”

My end is not yet here, nor am I anticipating it. I am merely acknowledging the reality I normally fight so very hard to ignore. My castle may crumble, but as long as my keep provides me refuge, I'll be fine.

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).

Monday, October 01, 2012

Russ


Russ and I met during our freshman year in college. He was Irish Catholic from Chicago—tall, with black hair which was even then turning salt-and-pepper—he would have made a wonderful priest. Despite our different backgrounds we somehow became friends as college students do, and we remained so until a few years before his death, when he inexplicably simply moved away and I lost track of him.

But that’s not the story I want to tell here. I want to tell you of my friend, Russ, and his marvelous intelligence and wit and how much his friendship meant...and means...to me.

Though we both entered college at the same time, I left after my sophomore to join the Naval Aviation Cadet program so that I would be able to take advantage of the G.I. Bill for my last two years of school. And when I returned two years later, Russ had graduated, served a stint in the army, and begun his teaching career. We lost track of one another for quite some time. And then one evening, probably two years after I'd graduated and moved to Chicago, my partner Norm and I were in a bar when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see Russ, face impassive. “Now, as I was saying…” he began.

Russ's military service was, he claimed, singularly uneventful. They assigned him to be a truck driver. Russ did not want to be a truck driver. He told his sergeant he could not drive a truck. He told his lieutenant he could not drive a truck. He told everyone within hearing distance that he could not drive a truck. They put him in a truck, and he immediately drove it into a wall. Getting out of the crumpled vehicle, he merely raised one eyebrow and said: “See?”

We always made one another laugh, and he suffered me with patience and grace. “Roger,” he would say whenever I would do something particularly stupid—which was often—giving me that priest-to-sinner look, “you’re custodial.” When he chose, he could take on an imperious manner, which stood him in good stead when he began his career as a teacher, and he used it brilliantly.

At one time after Russ had been teaching for several years, he helped the drama department put on a play, the name of which I can’t recall now, in which the dialogue included some mild profanity...shocking at the time since high school productions were generally scrubbed shiny clean. But Russ insisted it stay in because it was important to the integrity of the play. I was spending the weekend with him and the day after the play we went out somewhere when Russ was approached by a dowager-type woman who said: “Mr. Hogan, I want you know that the use of profanity in the play last evening was deeply offensive. I am, after all, a lady, and we do not appreciate such crudeness.” Russ looked at her calmly and listened until she had finished. Then he said: “Madam, my mother was in the audience last night. She was not offended. And she is ten times the lady that you will ever be.” And with that, we walked away.

I loved going to the movies with Russ, though I’m sure my pleasure was not always shared by other members of the audience. Comedy or drama, slapstick or Shakespeare, he would have me laughing hysterically throughout the film. I remember one movie we saw which had a very dramatic scene in which one of the male characters, emoting to the rafters, had just reached the end of a particularly heavy speech, yelling at the lead: “What are you going to do about it?” Russ leaned to me and imperiously commanded me: “Shoot that man.”

Perhaps my favorite movie experience with Russ was seeing the much touted Cleopatra—a lavish spectacle with a cast of tens of thousands. One of the major—and longest—scenes revolves around Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) arriving in Rome to be received by Julius Caesar. There were trumpets and huge gongs and drums and elephants and Nubian slaves and legions of battle-clad Roman soldiers and chariots and cheering crowds and the parade went on endlessly. Finally, her slaves lower her ornate sedan chair to the ground and Cleo steps off to approach Caesar. At this point, Russ again leaned to me and whispered: “If he says, ‘How was the trip?” I’m leaving.”

Russ was, as I’ve indicated, an absolutely wonderful teacher…English, of course…and his students adored him. After teaching in the Chicago area for several years, he moved to St. Louis, where he bought a beautiful brick colonial-style home and taught for more than 20 years before retiring. He helped write a textbook on English literature used in the majority of high schools throughout the United States.

In addition to being the quintessential English teacher, Russ was also the quintessential friend, and I never understood why he cut me—and, I understand, everyone else—off toward the end of his life. Perhaps he knew his health was failing. The last time I heard from him was when he called to tell me he had bought a condo in Florida and was moving. He said he did not have the address, but would mail it to me. He never did and I had no way to get in touch with him, though I tried. I'm not quite sure I remember how I heard of his death, but learning of it created a vacuum in my heart which can never be filled.

Russ was my friend. Russ is my friend, and I would give anything to go to one more movie with him.

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).