Monday, December 28, 2015

Reading the Signs

I get a kick out of signs. I suppose it goes far back to the dawn of time when, on long road trips before the invention of the interstate road system, the boredom would be broken by a succession of small signs spread out over half a mile or so. (“Shaving Brushes…You’ll soon see ‘em…on display…in some museum…Burma Shave” or “On curves ahead…remember, sonny…that rabbit’s foot…didn’t save the bunny…Burma Shave”). At the height of their popularity, there were more than 7,000 of these signs spread across the United States.
And I have always loved, still talking of road trips, the ones that say “Eat at Rosies! 7 miles ahead! We’re OPEN!” “Eat at Rosies! 6 miles ahead. Yessir, we’re OPEN!”…and you know damned well that when you get to Rosies, there will be a sign on the door saying “Closed.”
And how often have you passed, at night, a dark and shuttered store with a prominent “Open” sign in the window.
A large gas station in Los Angeles has the comforting slogan: “Your Only a Stranger Here Once.” My reaction was always “That’s nice, and if you ever learn to spell I might actually come in.”
At a supermarket I frequented near my home in Northern Wisconsin, the new deli/bakery put up a large sign trumpeting their “Bacon Powder Biscuits.” My pointing out to them that perhaps they might have meant “Baking Powder” was met with a totally blank stare, and the “Bacon Powder” sign remained up for another week or so. During deer hunting season (a huge tourist draw for the area) the deli’s baker came up with a brilliant idea to draw shoppers: tiny balls of dough he advertised as “Deer-droppings Donuts.” Yummy! And for St. Patrick’s Day one year he featured “Green bread!”…not, I suspect, one of the store’s best sellers.
But my favorite sign of all was in front of a small church in North Hollywood. It proudly proclaimed this to be “The Church of Our Blessed Lord and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Lest anyone confuse it with a synagogue or mosque, under the church’s name was helpfully included, in parentheses, the word “Christian.” Almost incentive enough to make me take up church-goin’. But not quite.
I remember fondly a co-worker’s car which was plastered with “America for the Americans!” “Buy American!” “U.S.A is #1” “America! Love it or Leave It!” The car was a Volkswagen.
Bumper stickers…sadly seldom seen much nowadays…are a class all in themselves, probably more related to the old Burma Shave signs than anything else. But while I love them, their humor was thought out in advance. (My favorite, seen on a car in Alabama, featured a Confederate flag with a red slash through it and the words: “The war’s over! You lost. Get used to it.”)
Signs are everywhere…and if you like to include newspaper headlines you might enjoy the recent headline on the satiric The Onion: “The Iraq War: Celebrating four years of winning!”
Where would we be without the ability to laugh?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

An Agnostic's Christmas

Writing this on Christmas morning, while having my morning coffee and chocolate donut (remember “Ruts and Routines”?) and listening to “What Child is This” on public radio, I was thinking of what a short shrift is given to agnostics, who are invariably and totally erroneously lumped in with atheists. Atheists don’t believe in God: agnostics just aren’t sure based on logic, but definitely don’t believe in organized religion, and the atrocities created throughout history by religious fanatics strongly supports this stand.
I love Christmas. I really do. I love the concept of Peace on Earth, and of hope and promise. I find the image of a sky full of angels lovely, as I do the thought of Santa coming down the chimney with a bag of toys. But while Christianity—rather smugly, I’m afraid—assumes it holds a patent on the Golden Rule and all that is good and noble in the world, in truth it does not. The principle of the Golden Rule is shared by most of the world’s religions.
I honestly do not think one must belong to a specific religion to believe in goodness and kindness, and to work for the betterment of mankind. Good people are good people. Simply belonging to a religion does not make one good. Bigotry, intolerance, and hate, however subtly hidden beneath all the “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” in the world, are still bigotry, intolerance, and hate and do not make one person or one group superior to any other.
Every human being is…or should be…free to choose whatever concept of God he or she feels comfortable with. Relatively few have or take this option of choice which, like any form of choice, requires asking questions. But it is far easier to simply accept what one is told. So little thinking is involved that way, and thinking too much can give one a headache.
I’ve been an agnostic since I was old enough to ask “Why?” in matters religious. “Why?” is a question neither welcomed nor tolerated by most organized religions. It is often seen as...well, sacrilegious...to question, and to persist in asking results in such responses as “God has a reason for everything.” Well, thanks, but that was my question: Why? Evasions are not answers. One of my favorite bumper stickers of all time is: “God says it. I believe it. That settles it.” Which is not unlike saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.”
I have no problem with anyone believing anything they want to believe. I appreciate that organized religion is truly and deeply comforting for many, and provides a form of stability in an all-too-unstable world. And as long as your beliefs do not result in a restriction of my own or anyone else’s rights and freedoms, more power to you. But I believe with all my heart and soul that if your religion of choice promotes or even condones anything that limits the rights or beliefs of others, you are in the wrong religion.
It is possible to firmly believe in God without showing up in a building every Sunday orFriday to confirm it. Again, if gathering with others who share your beliefs gives you comfort, that is fine…for you, as long as you do not fall into the trap of assuming superiority over others who do not think exactly the same way you think.
I try my very best to be a good person, to treat everyone with courtesy and dignity, and to always take the feelings of others into consideration. I don’t always succeed, of course, but I really do try. But the world abounds in those who assume their particular religious beliefs give them the right to impose their beliefs on everyone else. Again, how many millions have, over history, been slaughtered in the name of religion? How can God be on both sides in a war? And by what stupefying arrogance can and do people presume to speak for God?
No, thank you. I prefer to keep my own counsel. I have enough faith in myself to decide fairly accurately what is right and what is wrong…again based on the simple yardstick of the Golden Rule. I truly respect the rights of others to believe or not believe in any organized religion or philosophy even though I may not agree with them. Why does it seem to be too much to ask the same of them?
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits.  It's available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon:

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Train to Omaha

How many times has someone, looking at a photo of you taken in your 20s, said, either sincerely or to be kind, “Oh, you were very good looking!” The operative word in that sentence is, of course, “were.” Former celebrities, faces recognized but names forgotten, are frequently asked “Weren’t you…?”

As you may have noticed, I have a love-hate relationship with the past. I take great comfort in revisiting it, yet resent, with an intensity difficult to describe, the fact that the past IS past. And I am of course selective in this: there are many parts of my past…the cold blackness-of-outer-space grief accompanying the death of a loved one, stupid and/or hurtful mistakes made, opportunities either missed or thrown away…which I would never, ever want to repeat. But it is the happy times, the pleasant times, the people who meant so much to me who are now gone forever, that I wish I could revisit with the appreciation I have gained since their loss.

To spend one more Christmas Eve with my parents, grandparents, Aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck, and other relatives…. To lay on the abandoned quay at Cannes with Marc, Michel, Gunter, and Yohaquim as the warm, crystal-clear Mediterranean Sea ebbed and flowed around us…. To be with the college gang at my parents’ cottage on Lake Koshkonong, singing show tunes and playing charades…. To soar, alone, through the tops of clouds in a bright yellow SNJ trainer plane.... To be in love with someone who loved me….

Each of us has experienced our own personal joys and sorrows; that is, after all, what life is all about. A pendulum cannot swing in only one direction. That we do not appreciate what we had until we no longer have it is not only a part of the human condition but inevitable: distance is often necessary for clarity. It’s just that I think of myself as being far more aware of and sensitive to that fact than many. I may of course be deluding myself (I’m quite good at that), but by observing other people it seems to be a valid conclusion. And of course you would not be reading this if you did not understand what I’m saying.

And yet it is amazing how few people actually seem to be aware of these things. The past, now, the future are merely vague concepts. I am constantly aware of Carl Sandberg’s poem, “Limited,” from which I have often quoted the line, “I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he answers: ‘Omaha.’” Think about it.

Granted, there simply is not enough time in anyone’s life to contemplate all the mysteries, puzzles, and contradictions of that life. But, surely, a little more awareness is possible.

In our overall view of life, most of us tend to ignore the present. It is in fact the pendulum on which we ride, and we are largely unaware of its motion. Since we have spent all of our lives in the past, it tends to get most of our attention. It is where our memories—where everything we know of ourselves and can be certain of—lie. We watch it receding with a strange combination of confusion, a sense of loss, and helplessness. The future is an unknown; we haven’t been there yet. And since we are always in Now, we pay relatively little attention to it.

Perhaps if we gave a bit more attention to and were appreciative of the positive aspects of Now, this very instant, when Now becomes Then—which it does in a nanosecond—we at least will have the comfort of knowing we were aware of it while it happened, and perhaps the sting of loss will be somewhat less painful.

And meanwhile, we are all on the train to Omaha.
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The blog is from Roger/Dorien's ebook of blogs Short Circuits, which is available from Untreed Reads and Amazon.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Endless

People never cease to amaze me. Never. The bounds of their stupidity are limitless.
I watched a news program after hurricane Ike passed through Galveston…the city in which more than 8,000 people had died in a similar hurricane in 1900. They were interviewing a couple who had just been rescued the day after the storm. They had refused the mandatory evacuation order, since it obviously hadn’t been intended for, and therefore equally obviously didn’t apply to, them. As the waters surged into their home, they had called 911 for help and were instructed to tie identification around their ankles so that their bodies could be identified if found after the storm. They were completely outraged that the police, whose salaries, they made clear, were paid with their tax dollars, had refused to come drag their sorry asses out of harm’s way. And similar stories emerge from every hurricane.
I feel I have the right to speak contemptuously of the stupidity of others because I have worked long and hard in the field of Advanced Stupidity, and continue to hone my skills in it nearly every day. Though I cannot claim the same level of stupidity as the guy who reaches into the tiger cage to pet the big kitty, or decides to save time by blow-drying his hair while still in the bathtub, or robbing a bank and writing the stick-up note on the back of one of his own checks, I do what I can.
I never pass up an opportunity to speak before thinking, or to lose my keys or my cell phone or glasses while seated in my chair, or to write a series of up to four e-mails, each one apologizing for some dumb mistake made in the previous one. I get a note from Bethann and reply to Bertram, which necessitates an embarrassed note I invariably begin: “I’m so sorry, Beth Anne…,” and from there things just naturally seem to go downhill.
I am with a good friend when another friend, who has never met the friend I’m with, approaches. I have known each of them well for a number of years, and I start to introduce them. Suddenly, I cannot remember their names. The worst example of this was when I lived in Los Angeles and, with a friend, ran into a guy with whom I had…uh…a pleasant encounter…the night before and hoped to see again. I totally forgot his name. Needless to say, I did not see him again.
I never reread e-mails before hitting “send,” even though the instant my finger lifts off the “send” button, I see that I have typed several words or even a full line with my fingers on the wrong keys. Or I hit “send” when I intended to hit the space bar.
You do the same thing, you say? Well, that’s okay. You are, after all, human, and therefore allowed to make mistakes. Unfortunately, this magnanimity does not extend to myself. Every glitch, every error, every slip, every faux-pas is inexcusable simply because I damn well should have known better before I did it, but I went ahead and did it anyway.
I love stories of the legendary feud between Clare Boothe Luce, wife of Time Magazine founder Henry Luce, and poet Dorothy Parker. Speaking of Mrs. Boothe, a friend said to Ms. Parker: “You know, Clare is her own worst enemy.” To which Dorothy replied: “Not as long as I’m alive, she’s not.”
Alas, I am Clare Boothe Luce with no Dorothy Parker to take the heat off.
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This blog comes from Dorien's ebook Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads an Amazon.  It's also available as an audio book from Amazon.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Aliens and Hypocrites

If I ever needed proof that I am an alien in human form, it was proven irrevocably by a visit my friend Tony and I made to his neighborhood bar in Madison, Wisconsin after returning from Mayo.
Tony had been good enough to ride up to Rochester with me, and invited me to spend the night at his home on the way back. I had, prior to our going out for dinner, been looking at a large coffee table book he has on exotic creatures of the ocean’s depths, and walking into that bar after dinner, I might as well have been 10,000 feet beneath the ocean.
It was Baseball Night!!! (as opposed to Football Night!!! or Basketball Night!!!) And the place was packed with people with whom I might have felt some individual kinship and commonality under some other set of circumstances or in some other place. But massed together, enjoying…nay, reveling in…their unified bond of joyous heterosexuality, cheering wildly when good old Murphy (everyone in the bar knew every detail about every player on the home team—the Brewers…from Milwaukee, I’d judge, taking a wild guess) hit a double fly or whatever it is baseball players do which they considered cheerable, I was totally overwhelmed. Lots of manly arm-punchings, high-fives (a strange bonding ritual—I loathe high-fives) and prolonged applause, whistling, and foot-stomping. Meanwhile I stood there, a guppy in the shark tank, not having a clue as to what all the fuss was about, and having absolutely no interest in finding out.
Oh, and there was also a billiards/pool tournament going on to add to the general merriment. I can at least grasp the concept of pool if not be overly drawn to actually playing it.
So there they were, men, women, husbands with their wives, guys with their buddies, guys with their “chicks” (do they still use that word?): the very essence of the world to which I do not belong and in which, from the moment I realized I was “different” (I love euphemisms), it was made abundantly clear I was not wanted.
And yet, even as I rant and rave against “them” I realized that my parents and all my relatives, whom I love dearly, are, after all, “them,” too, and that this was simply the straight equivalent of a gay bar. I feel (or felt, before the years began pointing their finger at me and whispering “Go away: you’re not wanted here!”) totally at home in a gay bar, and can well imagine an innocent heterosexual stumbling into one unawares feeling pretty much the way I feel in their bars. Being raised in a culture which too long has considered me and those like me less than human, I am far too intolerant and critical of straights, and am, I am ashamed to say, as bigoted against heterosexuals as they are against me. Yet I fully expect them to accept me and my lifestyle as totally natural and comfortable. And therein we have a perfect definition of the word “hypocrisy.”
But the fact remains that I am and have always been deeply bitter at the general heterosexual attitude of superiority-by-birthright…of total smug assumption of their dominance and their inalienable and indisputable right to be dominant…of the vast majority of heterosexuals, and of how blithely unaware they are of the fact that theirs is not the only sexual orientation within the human species.
I saw a tee-shirt once that I think sums it all up pretty well: “How dare you assume I’m heterosexual?”
But, hey, I’m not really bigoted: some of my best friends are heterosexuals.
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This blog is from Dorien's book of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon and Adible.com.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Roger and Dorien


It occurred to me this morning in the shower that ever since I created Dorien, he has been increasingly taking over our shared life to the point where I am occasionally but frankly concerned that Roger will be totally lost and forgotten. Because the bulk of my life is spent in writing in one form or another, it’s the Dorien side which takes up the majority of my time and attention, and the Roger side seems increasingly relegated to breathing, eating, sleeping, and performing those utterly mundane details that make up reality. I am not a little concerned that Roger’s individuality is being lost to Dorien’s.
I suppose it’s only natural. Dorien, after all can do and be anything or go anywhere he chooses. It’s easy for him to ignore reality because he never has to deal with it.
I know, I know, Roger is Dorien as much as Dorien is Roger. Roger came first and has been around a lot longer. But far more people know Dorien’s name than Roger’s. In the early stages of our dual relationship, I preferred to keep the Roger part of me suppressed, partly as a matter of self-protection. I wrote my first few books while living in the Great North Woods, the land of beer-drinking, deer-hunting Packer fans locked in a time somewhere around 1950. To be known (as I eventually was despite my efforts to keep a very low profile) as a writer of books with fags and perverts in them inevitably provided those who were trapped in an area of few jobs and little hope for improvement a badly needed sense of absolute superiority over them uppity queers. Luckily it never went beyond the occasional terribly clever phone call from local teens. (“Hi, Roger. It’s your old buddy Jack...Jack Meoff!” Snickers and dial tone.)
At any rate, with Dorien’s emergence, Roger began slipping into the background, and I must admit my own complicity. The more freedoms Dorien enjoyed, the more I identified with him, sometimes at Roger’s expense.
It’s confusing for people not to know whether to refer to me as Roger or Dorien. To those I knew before Dorien came along, of course, I remain Roger. But for those who know me through my books, blogs, and other writing, very few...if they even know my duality...call me Roger, and I see little point in adding to the confusion.
I honestly don’t know of anyone else in this same position, though I have no doubt there are many.
And, speaking honestly, as I really always try to do, the fact is that Roger is not the person I would have him be. As you may have noted in these blogs, I frequently grow furious with myself for my seemingly endless shortcomings—which makes it easier for me to look to Dorien for those things that Roger lacks. Dorien is far more patient, far more thoughtful, far more able to express himself than Roger. Dorien can eat anything he wants and go anywhere he wants and do anything he wants and sleep with anyone he wants. Roger cannot.
I honestly doubt I will ever reach the point where my self-delusions will become a real issue for either me or the outside world. I don’t think I’ll start hearing Dorien’s voice in my head, telling me to do things Roger would never consider. So while I fully admit to being delusional, it is a benign delusion from which I can and do take a great deal of comfort and strange pleasure.
As the Roger part of me grows older and less able to do all those physical things I once could do, I find new reasons to turn more and more to Dorien. I’m rather like a passenger on the Titanic running up the slanting decks to keep ahead of the advancing water.
But I know all of this is just my Roger side giving into my tendency toward melodrama. Neither Roger nor Dorien is in any real danger of disappearing. The division between us is...like Dorien himself...far more imagined than real. But I do feel there is some justification for my concern that I am in effect neglecting my Roger side. I really must concentrate on fully appreciating that everything I love about Dorien began with and stems from Roger, and despite my notorious penchant for self-deprecation, I have to remind myself of the one rule I have successfully observed throughout my life: never, ever take myself too seriously. It’s a good rule to live by.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits; it can be purchased at Amazon, UntreedReads.com, and as an audio book from Amazon.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Russ

Russ and I met in college. He was Irish Catholic from Chicago and looked like a priest. Tall, black hair which later turned to salt-and-pepper, 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 friendship.
We both entered college at the same time but after two years I left to join the Naval Aviation Cadet program, and when I returned two years later, Russ had graduated and begun his teaching career. We lost track of one another for quite some time. And then one evening, shortly I graduated and moved to Chicago, I was in a bar with friends when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see Russ, face impassive. “Now, as I was saying…” he began.
Russ also served a stint in the Army. 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 drove it at full speed 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 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.”
Another movie episode I will never forget was in the much touted film 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. The film makers spared no expense. Every one of the tens of thousands of extras was on hand. There were trumpets and drums and elephants and the parade went on endlessly. Finally, her slaves lower her 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 for every one of the 20 or 30-odd years he taught before retiring. He helped write a textbook on English literature used in the majority of high schools throughout the United States.
Russ, in addition to being the quintessential English teacher, was also the quintessential friend and learning of his death created a vacuum in my heart which can never be filled. I never understood why he cut me 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.
Russ was my friend. Russ is my friend, and I would give anything to go to one more movie with him.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook Short Circuits.  It can be purchased at UntreedReads an Amazon.  There is also an audio version at Amazon.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The case against acorns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (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, October 26, 2015

Scatter ye Breadcrumbs...

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

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

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

Memories are ephemeral, words are solid.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to check out his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and his book of collected blogs, Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1 ).

Thursday, October 22, 2015

On Growing Up Gay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, October 19, 2015

Damned if you do, damned if...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (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, October 15, 2015

When I was Who I was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (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, October 12, 2015

We Humans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (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, October 08, 2015

"Dear Dugbate:"


My name is Dorien, and I am a Spamaholic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi, there, Larry!

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

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

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

Your Buddy,

Dorien

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

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

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

My best to J. Edgar,

Dorien

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, October 05, 2015

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

When I took my first journalism class in college, the professor pointed out the key to every good news story. Each, he said, must answer six basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how, and do so as concisely as possible. 

I always loved the story of the fledgling reporter who was assigned to cover the death of a local socialite who had committed suicide after attending a party. He submitted his story, which his editor rejected as too long, citing the six keys. He re-did it, cutting it considerably. The editor rejected it as too long. Three more attempts were also rejected. Finally, in frustration, the writer submitted the following. "Socialite John Smith, 48, attended a dinner party Thursday evening. He then took his hat, his coat, his leave, a taxi to his home, a gun from his drawer, and his life." I think he was fired.

I suspect that's why I never went into newspaper journalism, and why I don't even write short stories anymore: brevity may be the soul of wit, but when it comes to writing, I find it next to impossible to be brief.

A novel must answer the same key questions as a news story, but has the luxury of allowing the writer to take as much time as he ("No, no!" Political Correctness admonishes sternly, "He or she!" To which I reply, "Screw Political Correctness.") needs to do so. Also, whereas in a news story, the keys are most usually given in the set order of who/what/when/where/why/how, a novel can be much more flexible in the order of the questions/answers to suit the writer's whim.
As a general rule, of the six questions, the “who/what/why/how" are probably more important than the “when/where”—and this is especially true in mysteries. 

Probably because each of my fiction books is part of a series (two, actually) the "who/what/why" are the primary questions—the "when/where" are more or less constant from book to book. The “how" varies widely. And on closer analysis, it is really the "who" which is the most important. All my books are primarily character driven, and it is they who bind each of the series together.

I love writing series because by having the same characters return, book after book, set in the same surroundings, the readers can—and I sincerely hope, do—become more personally vested in them and their development. That many readers have said that they consider the characters as real people and friends is about the highest compliment a writer can receive. It's reached the point, for me, of considering each subsequent book in the series to be simply another chapter in the continuing story of the characters' lives.

But writing a series presents certain challenges as well. It's very important that someone who has never read any other book in the series not feel as though they have no idea of who these people are. So each book has to include a subtle reintroduction of the secondary characters and locations. However, each book can be read alone, in any order, without overly confusing the reader as to what's happened in previous books.

Many people understandably want to read a series in the order written, to get an idea of the development of the characters from book to book. The unfortunate death of the publisher of the first ten books of the Dick Hardesty series, and the dissolution of the company, meant that as the first ten books ran out stock, they became, in effect, out of print. Luckily Zumaya Publishing picked up and continued the series with the 11th book, and began reissuing the out of print titles. This created something of a logistical problem which could have been more serious were it important to read them all in the order published. Faced with what could be a considerable logistics problem trying to squeeze ten “unexpected” titles into the publishing backlog of its own original titles, Zumaya kindly turned the entire series over to Untreed Reads publishing, which is reissuing it in the order written, with the first four already available. (Book #5, The Good Cop, will be reissued on October 13.) We are on track to have the entire series, including a new one, back in publication by late 2016 with minimal inconvenience to you as the reader.

A writer's life, regardless of which form he specializes in, is not an easy one. Come to think of it, no one's is.
      
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, October 01, 2015

Friends and Lovers

When I was living in Los Angeles and very active in the gay "scene," many of my friendships stemmed from having met someone in a bar, gone home with them, and our then deciding—either before, during, or after our time in bed—that we would like to get to know each other better aside from the sex. Usually, the element of sex eventually dropped out of the equation completely. This was simply the way gay culture at the time worked and I suspect still does. It's not coincidental that in my Dick Hardesty mystery series, many of Dick's closest friendships began with sex.

As a minor digression, I find it fascinating that the gay lexicon has changed dramatically when it comes to the description of long-term relationships. The word "lover," which was used for most of my adult life, was almost totally replaced by "partner," which I personally prefer, and "lover" is now almost never used.

Of all the relationships I've had in my long and checkered career, only two "partners" stand out as having a major impact on my life: Norm, who was my first real relationship, lasting six years, and Ray, which lasted nine years, on and off—mostly off due to the alcoholism which inevitably destroyed him. After our breakup, Norm and I segued from partners to loving friends until his death in 2010. I realize that I have largely fantasized my relationship with Ray, who I did indeed  love deeply—seeing only the incredibly sweet, kind, loving young man he was when sober and ignoring the monster he became when drunk. For those of you who follow my books, Ray was the inspiration for Dick's partner, Jonathan—which is hardly surprising since I, in my fantasy world, am Dick.

In our lives, if we are lucky, we have many friends of both genders and a variety of sexual orientations. If we're very lucky, some of them remain friends or a lifetime. 

The word "friend" covers a broad spectrum of, for want of a better word, "intensities." Simply put, some friends are closer than others. Friends tend to come and go. A mark of a true friend is one who may have drifted away for whatever reason but who, when re-meeting after many years, can pick up a conversation in mid-sentence as though the intervening years never existed. I've been blessed to have several of those, and the re-establishment of the friendship is a joy hard to describe.

But throughout life there are relatively few we consider true "best friends." I've had three in my life—and I hasten to add that the term does not apply to lovers/partners, who are in a special category of their own. 

When I was in high school, my best friend was Lief Ayen, who looked like a young Charles Laughton, if any of you are old enough to remember him. We were both outsiders who knew we did not belong, and this awareness and our shared sense of offbeat humor was the glue that bound us for many years. We eventually drifted apart and, when I tried a few years ago to find him in hopes of re-establishing our friendship, I learned he had died. And even though it had been well over 50 years since I last saw him, I felt a great sense of loss.

Russ Hogan was my best friend in college and for 40 years thereafter. We drifted apart for reasons I've never fully understood, but for which I always felt oddly guilty, and I only learned of his death through a mutual friend. I still miss him terribly.

My current best friend (of coming up on 20 years) is Gary Brown, who is also my webmaster, my designated listener-to-my-real-and-imagined woes, and my run-to-every-time-I-have-a-problem-with-my-computer (which is at least several times a week) guy. He is infinitely kind, generous, and patient with everyone, but I know I must tax his limits frequently. It is simply understood that should either of us ever need anything, the other will be there.

Why, then, you might ask, are we not lovers/partners? Because the key element necessary for lovers/partners—missing between best friends—is sexual attraction/romantic love. Gary is the brother I never had. I can’t imagine brothers being any closer. But again the element of romance is totally lacking. (On a trip to Paris, arriving at our hotel after having been awake for over 30 hours, we were mistakenly given a room with only one double bed. Though we were exhausted, we waited four hours for them to find us a room with two double beds. Sharing a room, fine. Sharing a bed...uh, no way in hell.)

I hope you are blessed with at least one "best friend" who brightens and eases your life and without whom you cannot imagine your 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, September 28, 2015

Here Lies Common Sense


Let us gather here today to mourn the loss of one of humankind's greatest gifts, which has guided us through some of our darkest hours—simple common sense—whose loss has significant and increasing consequences on our society.

I think, being honest, that we are all complicit in its loss by increasingly ignoring its value and doing little or nothing to come to its aid when under attack. However, politicians are at the vanguard of the assault.

Though Michele Bachmann, that great humanitarian and scholar, has blessedly departed from the spotlight, who can possibly forget her single-handed war on the most elemental forms of logic or common sense? She tells us that a trip President Obama (a.k.a to Republicans as "the Antichrist") made to Japan cost taxpayers $200,000,000 a day; that he took along an entourage of 2,000 people, who stayed in 735 luxury 5-star hotel rooms (at least that comes out to nearly three people per room—a sure sign of frugality ignored by Ms. Bachmann). She also told us, with the deep sincerity and profundity for which she is known, that our founding fathers worked tirelessly (this is in 1776, mind) until slavery was eradicated from the land. And the protest against her utterly egregious nonsense was a deafening silence.

But her exit from the political stage merely opened the door for the likes of Donald Trump, who no longer feels it even necessary to even mention common sense. He boasts of huge plans…HUGE!…to “make America great again” without bothering to give a single example of how this would be accomplished, and we all “oooooh” and “aaaaaah” and cheer in response. 

Are Trump and the other embarrassingly self-serving candidates laughed off the stage and forbidden to play with sharp objects? No, they are running for the office of President of the United States, and their every vacuous word is greeted with applause and knowing nods of total agreement by their followers.

As our society becomes more and more ruled by technology—the workings of which are unintelligible to the average human—we feel, correctly, that we have less and less control over our own destinies. As even trying to figure out how and why things and institutions work the way they do becomes increasingly more difficult, more and more people are throwing up their hands in frustration and saying to self-proclaimed pundits, "Okay, you tell me what to think," and those pundits, whose motivations are based far more on greed for power than altruism, are more than happy to oblige. 

That old saying, “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost,…” is as true today as ever; maybe even more so. And with every patently false and misleading statement issued, another nail is pounded into the coffin of common sense.

Can this trend be reversed? Possibly, but I fear it would require more time and effort than most people are willing to devote to it—there’s a football game on tonight, after all, and priorities are priorities.

But just because we've tossed common sense into the back of a sock drawer doesn't mean we can't take it out and start using it again. First, we must all realize that just because something is said on TV or read in a forwarded email or seen on Facebook does not make it true. As someone once said, if ten million people believe a lie, it is still a lie. Before passing something on a gospel is to ask the simplest of simple questions: "Does this really make any sense?" President Obama plans to give every illegal immigrant $400,000 a month, free health care, a new house, and a new car? Forget that even if he wanted to he could not get it passed through a congress which, if he said the sun was shining, would run for their umbrellas. Hey, a friend sent me an email of an article he saw in some magazine, so it must be true.  Muslims use a melon scoop to remove the brains of Christian babies? They said so on Fox News, so it has to be true.

Politics, of course, is not the only thing lacking the nail of common sense. Internet spam is obviously unaware of its existence. After railing against Spam endlessly, I still cannot comprehend it, let alone how any rational human being could ever, under any circumstances, believe a word of it.

Television commercials—and especially infomercials and those ads aired late at night—depend on the lack of the nail of the viewer's common sense.

Instances of the effects of the loss of these nails are endless, and to point to them all is like standing in the back yard at night pointing up at the stars.

But the nail's not lost; we can find it and use it. All we have to do is try.

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