Monday, May 14, 2007

Dialogue vs Monologue

Well here it is folks: In the ongoing contest of dialogue versus monologue, dialogue has won.

It was my own personal contest, and it's been an interesting learning experience. I am not by nature a blogger, just as I was not by nature a journal-writer. I guess I just want dialogue unless I'm writing my own fiction -- because when writing my own fiction is about the only time I'm really interested in hearing that much of my own voice in my head. I can't quite get past the "who really cares what I think?" factor in blogging.

If there are people who've been coming here because they do want to read what I think, then come on over to, which is where I'll be hanging out some and spending the time, which might otherwise have been spent blogging, responding to some of Salon's posted articles, which are proving to often be on topics that I myself have been mulling over. I'm finding a lot of like-minded people at Salon -- something I enjoy a lot about the internet. Blogging alone, I don't enjoy so much.

This site will remain here until the end of May, and then I'm closing it down.

Many thanks to any and all who have visited here.

Dianne, Curmudgeon by Nature, Compassionate by Choice

Thursday, May 10, 2007


I was just wondering if Bruce Springstein is still proud to be an American....

Which I know is not much for today, but it's what the Inner Curmudgeon is chewing on, or part of it. Provoked I suppose by the impressive dignity of the Queen, as seen on TV with the Smirker.

We have only ourselves to blame, folks. Something, somewhere, has gone very wrong.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Stephen Hawking: The Singular and the Singularity

I have an earlier blog that mentions my life-long fascination with astronomy, the universe, and the mysteriousness of it all, which seems to me to become even more mysterious and fascinating the more we learn with the new, larger telescopes and computers and all. That's my take on the whole thing, just a deep appreciation of the vast unknown -- I'm not a physicist by a heckuva long shot, and any books about the subject are very hard for me to read, though I do try. I've read most of Hawking's A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, for example, though I don't pretend to have understood or retained a lot of it.

A couple of nights ago I watched a program on the Discovery Channel about Stephen Hawking and his most recent challenge to his fellow physicists re black holes. Hawking first made his reputation in physics about 30 years ago when he delineated a theory on the existence of black holes, and he coined the phrase "the singularity" to apply to a black hole. His theory was proven mathematically and then by observation a number of years later, with the Hubble telescope and even better with the Chandra. Hawing also coined the term "event horizon" which is where, so far as black holes go, things get tricky -- because once anything, even light, crosses the event horizon the gravity becomes so dense it can never escape. There is or was a paradox to Hawking's original theory, paradox because although his elegant equation works, it doesn't agree with one of the basic laws of physics, the equally-elegant one about conservation of energy: E=MC squared. The big question is, what happens to the matter that gets drawn into a black hole, into the singularity, where does it go? Hawking's answer was that the matter that gets sucked into a black hole eventually disappears from the universe, as in poof! Gone forever. Remember this was 30 years ago.

The other physicists did not like this one bit. They proceeded to spend a great deal of time proving him wrong over those 30 intervening years, and one of them (whose name I forget, sorry, no offense meant) eventually came up with an equation that would do it. In a recent survey of physicists as to who among themselves would they consider of importance in the previous century, Hawking's name did not make the list. It seems that he had been sufficiently wrong about his matter being destroyed in black holes theory that they have just dumped him.

Now, in the 21st Century, this Discovery Channel program said that Stephen Hawking has come up with a revision of his black hole theory, and they showed how he did it and what he did about it. A part of that was letting us the viewers know that Hawking was very ill last year and almost died. I think most people know that Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis aka Lou Gehrig's Disease, when he was still a young man. At that time he was given two years to live, but the man is my age and still with us. He is a genuine living miracle; he's also a great mind tragically trapped in a seriously malfunctioning body. By the time he was taken to the hospital with pneumonia his scant command over his muscles had disintegrated to the point that he can no longer reliably control the finger he used to use for typing on his computer. Now all he can do is get maybe one letter he wants, and then his research associate has to guess where he wants to go with it, with Hawking confirming or negating the guess by facial twitches that are themselves extremely hard to read. It is excruciating to watch on television. When Hawking was in the hospital for a couple of months recovering from pneumonia, the program tells us his body was slowly healing while his mind was altogether elsewhere. He was re-thinking his position on what happens when matter crosses the event horizon and enters the singularity.

When Stephen Hawking recovered from pneumonia and came home from the hospital, he began the long, laborious (for both of them) process of communicating to his research assistant all that he had worked out in his head. Then he sent a message to an international meeting of physicists, saying that he wanted to appear and to present a paper to them at their big meeting, and of course they made room and put him on the agenda. What he announced was: "I was wrong. I made a mistake thirty years ago." He now believes that when matter -- which the physicists call "information" for reasons that are too complex for me to really understand all that well much less explain here -- enters the singularity, it may appear to be destroyed in our universe, but somewhere in an alternate universe, that does not happen. The one cancels out the other, and so on the whole throughout all existence, matter/information is not destroyed. Then he challenged his fellow physicists to come up with the equations that will either prove or disprove it.

I frankly do not really care all that much what happens to matter/information when it enters a singularity. But I did and do care enormously that this singular man went before the ultimate group of his peers and said in his computer voice, which is the only voice he has left and even that, tenuously, "I was wrong. I made a mistake." And that is exactly what he said, I heard it with my own ears via The Discovery Channel's videotaping the conference.

Today's physicists seem to me much like alchemists of yore, though they aren't concocting anything, they're only scribbling numbers and letters on a blackboard. They're making equations that prove what's in their heads, instead of mixing stuff in retorts, grinding things in mortars. Because there have been physical discoveries made that confirm their equations -- the existence of black holes being one -- physicists believe they have an exclusive handle on reality. And maybe they do.

But I doubt it.

Here is what I find when I go intuiting things in my head without having the ability to create equations to go with them: Black holes are the ultimate engines that drive the universe; that is why they exist at the centers of galaxies, as has now been observed and photographed. They suck everything in, but they spew it back out at some point in the form of energy. Maybe they spew their energy back out in a different universe, I don't know. Maybe if you were to enter a black hole yourself, you really would come out on the other side of it and be somewhere different, if not better. The one thing I have always remembered best about Stephen Hawking, comes to me in his computer voice: "If we could understand the singularity, then we would know the mind of God."

Now I can add to that, "I was wrong. I made a mistake," in that same voice.

Now that is a great man.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

It's All About the Process

When I used to travel around and talk to people about writing, one of the things I often said was that the best reason to write is a love of the process itself. Writing is by its very nature something that must be done alone.

Or is it?

The ubiquity of the internet has turned -- is turning -- a lot of things we thought we knew on their ear. The writing process just might be one of them.

For example, here I am writing this after having had my usual debate with myself, i.e. To blog or not to blog. That IS the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to keep on with this, or.... etc., with apologies to Shakespeare. To me blogging sort of a continual, ongoing Ego Tango, in which the rub -- as in "Aye, there's the rub" -- is the absence of the dancing partner. Blogging feels like writing, but it's not, not really, because we blog on the internet and the internet is all about communication, and generally speaking communication requires feedback.

Writing fiction neither requires nor allows feedback. I'm a writer. Yet when I get on the internet and start to write, I want feedback, and blogging is not a form that provides it. Of course there are the comments, if any, but many people (including me) read blogs without leaving a comment and I know from my private emails that there are people who have read this one without commenting. [Someone asked me recently if the comments on my blog were hidden, and I don't think so, but just in case they might be I went into the settings just now and made sure I haven't checked anything that would hide them.]

When I was a student and then a practitioner of psychotherapy, we used to talk about "processing" things in our lives, or things that had happened in group. The point of processing is integration. I think what I'm doing now is processing blog writing, because it's new to me and I'm still uncomfortable with it.

I'm uncomfortable because it feels too egocentric. I began this blog because I thought it would be good discipline to force myself to express various concerns in writing, and I knew that if I did it in the more public way of the internet, instead of in a journal kept by hand at home, I'd be more likely to continue it. Why? Because there's always the possibility that someone else might read it besides me -- otherwise why put it out there at all -- and I would feel an obligation to continue doing it for the sake of that other probably unknown person or persons. My record at keeping a journal is dismal, as I probably said in my first post here. I hadn't anticipated the ego problem that has come up.

I'll keep wrestling with it for a while, if for no other reason than that I believe it's connected to the newness of blog writing as a process. The internet is changing the world. It's changing the very way people think. I will give you one example, an experiment I did with myself last week. I bought the Sunday edition of a well-respected newspaper, because I've gone over to reading newspapers online and I wanted to see if I've impoverished my life in any way by doing that. It's a feeling thing, a feeling that I'm missing something by not having a newspaper to hold in my hand as I sit in my comfy reading chair. Turns out, if I am only concerned with content, then no, I haven't got less news in my life by reading it online. Actually I have more news, because I don't confine my reading of it to one print publication anymore. I get different angles on the same news in different places on the net, and sometimes different news items too. Therefore, if I feel that I'm missing something, what I'm missing is the old process of reading that newspaper.

It's a subtle distinction, but it's there. And like most things that have to do with life, in the end when decisions must be made, it's all a matter of time. How I choose to spend my time.

I promise to be here tomorrow, writing some thoughts on a Discovery Channel program I saw about Stephen Hawking, whose best-known book is called A Brief History of Time.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Value of Making Noise

I just read a post to an online group I belong to, in which a shall-be-nameless-for-privacy's-sake person said "I'm mad as hell but there's nothing I can do about it." This was a local political thing she was mad about, affecting libraries, and thus our kind of people (readers, I mean) directly.

I immediately thought: Wait a minute, there IS something you can do. You can MAKE NOISE!

I still believe that forcing things out into the open, talking about them, yelling if that's the only way to be heard, is valuable. I have held to that belief in spite of the fact that I was challenged, hard, on it: A man for whom I had considerable respect tried to shame me into thinking the opposite. I had gone to talk with him as a representative of some good cause, not a political one. But our conversation never got off the ground because of this thing that he said: "Dianne, while I'm inclined to want to listen because you're attractive, and I know you're an intelligent woman, I can't hear a thing you say. Every time I look at you all I can see is that Peace Symbol tattooed on your forehead." He made his point, because I've never forgotten his exact words. This man, who was a newspaper editor and a writer of some well-respected fiction too, had lumped me with my fellow members of the Peace Movement. This was during the height of the Vietnam War. Our subsequent conversation that day, instead of being about the good local cause I was supporting, was about what happens when protestors make themselves obnoxious to people in power. His contention was that it produces a backlash, it doesn't work because the very people who might otherwise be willing to re-think are turned off by the very noisiness of the protestors.

He came very close, within the proverbial hair's breadth really, to persuading me that he was right. But at the last minute, I stood up and left him without further dialogue. Embarrassed, I mumbled something to the effect that we were too far apart, there was no point in continuing to talk longer, and I was sorry he wasn't willing to listen to what I'd come to say. I was, in truth, more comfortable being lumped with my fellow protestors than in the company of this man I much admired, whose approval I secretly coveted. Not to mention that he could have offered me a job (I wrote a freelance column for his paper occasionally).

There IS a time when making noise is important. It's when you are truly powerless to do anything else. The more people you can gather, the more noise you can make, the better the chances are that you will at last be heard. The real mistake is to be quiet and polite.

And maybe that, when you get right down to it, is at the root of some other things I've blogged about here. Maybe our current society is so in-your-face and impolite and just plain noisy because there are way too many things that haven't be heard by the people who make the decisions and who do in fact rule our world.

We writers make noise in a way that is essentially silent, unless what we write is read aloud. But our words are still powerful. I don't need to explain that. It's why I press myself to continue this blog. This is my way to make noise. But I'm going to do my best to be more tolerant of the noise-makers in the future.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


M is for May. As in, month of.

M is for Mother. As in, my mother was born in May.

M is for Mother's Day. As in, because Mother's Day nearly always fell on or around my mother's birthday, I usually wanted to combine the two and give her one present, but she wanted two presents, and was not bashful about saying so.

M is for Memories. As in, mine of my mother: She died last year, in July, the month of my own birthday.

Grief is weird. Don't ever let anybody tell you any different. I first learned about grief in a highly organized way, when I participated in a Death and Dying workshop led by a nurse (a man who later became my Theravada tradition Buddhist meditation teacher -- this was the early 80s) who had been trained by Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross herself. Kuebler-Ross teaches the stages of grief, which range all the way from denial to acceptance. I used to be able to enumerate the stages; I can't do it anymore. There's something about being in the midst of the process myself that has erased all the formal knowledge of it from my head. All I know is, just when I think I've achieved acceptance, evidence of that being that I haven't thought about Mother for a long time, something will happen that bounces me back to an earlier stage. The only one I know for sure I'm over is the first one, denial.

It's no secret that my mother and I Did Not Get Along. I put that in caps because in my life, it sure was written in caps. The truth about my mother appears to have been that she was one of those women who should never have children, due to an inability to grasp the basic concept of mothering. This was no more her fault than the color of her eyes (blue-gray) -- she must have been born that way. My father died when I was six months old, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. My mother took me and went home to her parents; not long thereafter, she was out working and following the naval officer who became my stepfather from one port to the next, during WWII. My grandparents raised me. I grew up caling them Mama and Daddy, and although I knew the pretty woman who came to see me and who was called Mother really was my mother, I was more comfortable with Mama. Way more comfortable. But the war eventually ended, and this and that happened, and by the time I was eight I was living with my mother and my stepfather, and I was pretty much uncomfortable, pretty much of the time, from then on.

The therapist who did the most for me post-divorce once said that I should be grateful to my mother for turning me over to my grandparents for those first seven years, because if she hadn't, I would probably have grown up to be psychotic instead of merely neurotic. Heh. He said it with a smile, but later on when I asked him if he'd really meant it he said Yes, he did.

Fast-forward to late adulthood, when I returned to California after years of being stuck in the East, raising my own sons after a divorce, having two careers and starting a new one (writing novels). I was in my late 50s when I came back, and my mother was 22 years older than I am (just as I myself am 22 years older than my oldest son). But it was not "coming home," because my stepfather died himself at age 48, after divorcing my mother; and she subsequently married husband #3 and moved from the Bay Area to Socal -- alien territory to me. Nevertheless I came back to the same state at least, and one big reason was that I wanted to reconcile with my mother, to do what I had to do so that she and I could get to know each other as adults, the way I've gotten to know my own sons as adults.

Well, it never happened. She died last year at age 90 and one of the final things she said to me was "I don't want you here." (This statement shoud be accompanied by a Letterman-type drum roll: ba-dump-bump.)

My mother did not like me. She may have loved me, but she didn't like me, and the awful truth is that I didn't like her either. I always wanted her to love me, and she said she did, but I never felt it. Never. Not once in my whole life. I loved her, and I told her so more than once in her later years, all to no avail. Maybe she didn't feel it either. And now it's too late. Maybe loving without liking, the one cancels out the other? I don't know. I just know it's over and time to let it all go; I've been trying to do that for months.

This is a heavy load, a bad memory, and I don't know what kind of grief process can ever make it go away. Because of May being the month of her birthday, as well as of Mother's Day, my mother is very much on my mind.

M is also for Mourn.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Lament of the Thin-Skinned Woman

I've known it for longer than I like to admit: I'm just about too thin-skinned to live.

It's not the physical skin I'm talking about, of course, though everybody's real skin thins with age, men too. So I suppose mine is thinning (and it's the only thing about me that is, so I should be grateful for it).

No, I'm talking about the opposite of whatever it is that defines the word "tough" in this day and age. I am not tough enough for today's world. Period. I've been finding this fact discouraging lately, and so I've been thinking about it quite a bit. When did this start? Have I always been this way? Did something happen when I was a child, or a young woman, or is this something relatively recent? Could it, in fact, have been brought on by changes in the world at large and not so much by changes in me? Are there other women of my certain age who have a similar problem, and they just aren't talking about it?

The summary answer to most of these questions is Yeah, I've pretty much always been un-tough, but I'd have just about died before I'd let anyone see it. Including myself. Until now. Or, well, until about 4 years ago -- the truth has been leaking out slowly for all to see, ever since.

I don't wallow in this stuff for hours and hours, you know, but I have been thinking on it more because I just made a decision (yesterday) to put an end to Diana Bane's existence on DorothyL. [Diana Bane is an old pseudonym of mine, and I've been writing book reviews and posting in that name to DL, largely because I didn't want to invoke the author dynamic that might happen if I used my own name.] People on that list were carping and snarking again about reviewers and finally I realized I was totally sick of being anyplace so full of tedious people. But I hadn't reached that realization until I'd had a brush with some offlist ugliness myself, which I would have kept offlist if someone else hadn't posted about it, and that was when I had to admit -- to myself if not to anyone else -- how thin-skinned I've become. It was time to leave, so I've gone no mail on DorothyL for now and will most likely, in time, resign.

I don't know why this is a big enough deal to blog about, except that I don't want to believe it's just me finding it increasingly difficult to plain and simply live. To get through the days. I'm tired of road rage and tv news where argumentative commentators both talk at the same time so that you can't possibly hear either one of them. I'm tired of commercials for reality shows that I would never watch anyhow, but even the commercials make me uncomfortable for the ways the people are treating each other. I'm tired of more things than I want to take the time to enumerate here.

I want to know: Can't we just all get along?