musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


December 28, 2006

What draws us to the animals we love?

Violetismycolor commented on my post, Interconnections, parallels, and epiphany, and said:

“I had a horse, growing up . . . well my sisters and I did, anyway. I liked riding well enough, but a couple of my sisters were absolutely horse-crazy. And still are. I think that you are either born a horse-person or you are not. Clearly, you are one of them…the horse people. I always wonder what it is that causes this and have been unable to ascertain what it is. Do you wonder this, too?”

You know, I think if I’d grown up with horses I might very well be as much a horse person as anyone. I confess I’m intimidated by them, unfamiliar as I am, but I’m definitely in awe of their power, beauty, and grace, and I’ll never forget one really sweet horse named Joe, a dappled gray that belonged to a coworker-friend who let me ride him once.

I wonder the same thing though. What causes that attraction for a particular type of animal companion? What makes one person a horse person, the next a dog person, cat person, or bird person?

Although I love all kinds of animals and I’ve been blessed with some special friendships with dogs, cats, and a few parakeets, I have a slightly stronger affinity toward cats, and I don’t know why. Maybe because they’re quieter, more solitary creatures, as I tend to be.

Maybe it has more to do with positive experiences and special individual relationships though. I’ve often thought an unspoken language exists between other creatures and us. (Maybe on the whole I speak cat better than dog?)

The dog I live with now made a silent connection with me the day we met. I didn’t want a puppy, when I stopped with my husband to look at a litter for sale. We’d planned to get a dog again, after we moved into this house, but that day I was about to leave for three weeks out of town on business, starting a new job. I didn’t want the committment of a puppy yet. Still, as soon as this one puppy and I made eye contact, I felt a connection with him. He walked over to me. I picked him up, and then told my husband we were taking him home. I don’t remember our exact words, but Ken said something like, “Oh, you changed your mind. You do think we should get a puppy.” I said something like, “No, but we’re getting this puppy.”

The same thing happened years earlier with a cat, only that time it was both of us who felt the bond take hold immediately. We visited a little mountain town for the day with friends. We split up at some point, and Ken and I wandered into a gem shop. There was this skinny little orange cat that the owner had found starving, abandoned at the town’s dump, and she wanted a home for him. We didn’t think we needed a cat. We petted him anyway. When I picked him up, it was as if someone whispered in my ear, telling me I was going to take this cat home. I just knew, but I didn’t see how I could know, so I didn’t say anything. Ken was the first to say it out loud, and he looked as surprised as I felt. Our friends must’ve thought we were nuts when we left that gem shop with a cat. We named him after the little town, Julian.

Sadly Julian was only with us two years or so before he died of FIP (one reason our cats are now always indoor cats). But both those pets I mention above turned out to be amazing friends and cherished family members.

I suspect the relationship between any two creatures is much the same as that between two people. Maybe human-to-human relationships are bad comparisons, since I think animals are less judgmental and easier to get along with. They know how to love less conditionally than we do. Each creature has a personality, a spirit, and I think friendships between members of different species are just as individual as between people. I speak the same language as most people I know, but I get along with each one a little differently. I try to be adaptable, but sometimes I meet a person that I don’t click with very well. We don’t understand each other. Sometimes I meet someone and we understand each other on a level where words are barely needed. It’s the same with other animals. Although I love cats, there have been a few I’ve met that I didn’t hit it off with.

Maybe someone who becomes a horse person has met a particular horse, or more than one, that they get along with especially well, and are able to communicate with the way they would a best friend or a soul mate. Maybe each, as an individual, has something important to share or teach the other. Maybe if horse and rider are a good match, the horse teaches the rider something about all horses. Perhaps that’s what I’ve picked up on in books and movies about the horse-human relationship. But again I don’t know, and I still wonder.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 9:30 pm PST, 12/28/06

December 20, 2006

Interconnections, parallels, and epiphany

While watching The Ice Storm again for the fourth or fifth time recently, I was struck by how strangely prophetic the movie is when it opens with Tobey Maguire reading a Fantastic Four comic book on a train. Five years later, he starred in Spider-Man. I can’t help wondering if whoever cast him had been watching The Ice Storm and made that comic book superhero connection. It made me think how life is like that. One thing leads to another, and looking back it often seems to fit like pieces of an intricate puzzle into a perfect whole.

These are the kinds of connections that strike me after viewing movies a few times — or reading books more than once. Once I get to know a story, my focus changes and, if the depiction is sound, connections and inner workings start to reveal themselves. I see not only the primary theme, but layers of meaning, sometimes meaning no one ever intended. I like, so far, the fact that I know little about how movies are made. My lack of knowledge lets me keep the illusion alive even while I look deeper.

One of my favorite forms of interaction in movies is between humans and other animals. Horses in particular. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering the connection between horses and people throughout our shared history. But horses in movies seem significant to me because, in spite of the historical relationship, so few of us spend any time with horses today. Including me. I don’t know much about horses except that even though I’ve ridden them only three times in my life (and not very well), I love them, in real life as well as in movies and books. I ate up the Misty of Chincoteague series as a girl, and Airs Above the Ground started my idol worship of Mary Stewart’s books. When I first read The Lord of the Rings, as a teenager, I was almost as upset as Sam when Bill the pony had to be released before entering Moria. I’ve thought that if there is one tiny flaw in Peter Jackson’s movie verions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy it was that Shadowfax didn’t get more attention. He was bigger than life in the books. (But the movie version is so intense and rich that I can’t complain. I can only suggest that anyone who loves the story should also read the books.)

Maybe my fascination with horses is genetic. My mom grew up around horses. Her father traded them, and spent a lot of time at the racetrack. Her maternal grandfather, a Danish immigrant, was a rancher, and a few of her relations were cowboys, either the working kind or, more recently, the rodeo kind. My dad’s grandfather was a blacksmith. So yeah, horses must connect to my DNA somehow. Possibly to everyone’s, considering human history.

There is a special horse in the movie version of The Lord of the Rings, nonetheless. Each time I watch The Two Towers, I have to go back and play a particular scene over again. Perhaps you know it. Aragorn’s horse finds him washed up on a riverbank. The horse nudges him awake, and then kneels to help his injured rider mount. The relationship between horse and man hits me, there, every time. It’s just a movie, right? Well, a little research led me to the fact that Viggo Mortensen spent extra time with that horse during filming and even purchased the horse after finishing the movie. He went on to make his next movie, Hidalgo, with another horse named TJ, again spent lots of time getting close to the horse during filming, and again purchased the horse afterward. Old news for many fans, perhaps, but new and touching for me. I haven’t seen Hidalgo yet, but now I’ll have to.

My favorite movies are the ones with so much intricacy and detail that I can watch them over and over and see something new each time. I’m the same way with books, with poetry, with artwork of all kinds, including architecture. I like the appearance of simplicity, with complexity running deep within. I like infrastructure, lots of background and foundations we never see but sense are there. I like fine craftsmanship in all forms, and the drive to put one’s heart into one’s work. I’ve started to notice this chemistry in movies sometimes, a hint of how a cast and crew must have worked as a team, that remains as a very personal energy running through the finished product. I like to think that even what winds up on the cutting room floor has a part in that energy. That’s how the world is, after all, it’s full of interconnections and even interspecies cooperation, as well as competition, yet deceivingly simple on the surface — for all its obvious glory. The best fiction and the best artwork is, after all, a metaphor for life — at times even something beyond this life.

Which leads me to a final observation from those movies, one that led to an epiphany for me. It came to me the last time I watched The Return of the King. At the very end Frodo turns for a last glance at his friends, and his face transforms from a look of sorrow and grief to a combination of mischief, delight, anticipation, and near beatification — the same expression Galadriel wore when we last saw her a moment earlier. They remind me uncannily of accounts I’ve read of near-death experiences or of messages received from the other side by mediums. Earlier in the story Gandalf even spoke to Pippin about death, referring to it as a passage to a distant country, full of wonder and beauty.

This got me to thinking about why we love fiction, and Joseph Campbell’s perpetual examination of the power of myth.

Too often today fiction is criticized as a form of manipulation, and in many cases rightly so. We see the manipulation in advertising every day, even the most artistic of it. More and more product placement in TV, sensationalized — almost fictionalized — news rather than objective coverage, celebrity worship, so-called reality TV, politicians pumping themselves up or dragging others through the mud, and religious figures taking on exaggerated roles, promising to save us from hellfire of one flavor or another. Even in purer forms of fiction, in the quest to make money, publishers and writers pump out novels faster and faster, according to contracts and marketing ploys, seeking the next book that will be like the one that sold so well before. Stories seem to lose something in the process. They become pure entertainment and cleverly rather than artistically crafted, in a hurry, with little art remaining, little beneath the surface. A tree is cut down for something that remains on bookstore shelves for a couple of months and then is sold used for a penny at Amazon, or forgotten. The reader can begin to feel manipulated or addicted to the illusion and rapid consumption rather than edified by it.

In the midst of all this, why do we still love fiction? Why do we feel driven both to create and consume story? Is it a waste of time? Is it mere child’s play, the pastime of dreamers who need to get a grip on reality? Or is there something much deeper, an innate hunger or instinctive need at work?

If, as some philosophers surmise, and many near-death experiencers and mediums claim, this world is but an illusion, then is all fiction a metaphor for this great stage performance we call life? Plays within the play? Dreams within the dream? Is its purpose to teach us to see the difference between the smaller play and the bigger play, in order to prepare us to see beyond the greater play we act out in this life? (Which might mean Shakespeare’s Hamlet is holy scripture.) Is fiction a tool, an abstract ritual object we use to prepare us to see through that illusion and finally leave this world behind?

I wonder does that make directors, actors, publishers, and fiction writers the priests, handing out the keys to salvation in the form of story? Are theaters and libraries our true temples? Some of us would love to think so, I’m sure. What an ego pump that would be, for a few. What a power trip.

Or is the truth that each human saves himself, perhaps with the cooperation and companionship of his chosen cohorts? Does each of us take in each story and each experience and sift out those of his own choosing and discretion? Does each, in his own way, create his own story, and interpret it as he journeys through life, thus honing his ability to see past the illusion? Does each person make his own way to a deeper truth, progressing step by step toward the blazing dawn of enlightenment?

How does that come about? The best fiction, the best movies, draw us in so completely that if we let ourselves we can believe they’re real at the time we’re in the story. Is that the key to realizing how completely we can be drawn into an illusion, the key that helps us begin to see that it is possible this life, this world that seems so real and has such a hold on us, might possibly also be just a story, only an illusion? Does creating our own illusions show us how it’s done?

That’s my little epiphany, perhaps not meaningful to anyone but me. These things are personal. But I didn’t invent the possibility of the world as an illusion. Plato wrote about it in his Allegory of the Cave some 2,300 years ago, and it’s my understanding there are similar teachings in Hindu scriptures possibly more than 5,000 years old. It’s a thought probably older than that, painted on the walls of caves and leached into the earth from the ashes of ancient campfires, blown on the wind by their smoke, still inhaled each day by us. An ancient thought, as ancient perhaps as myth itself, and human self, which we explore today in the form of movies, plays, short stories and novels, through art, poetry, music — as well as through religion, history, and science. But it’s new for me to think from this perspective, and I don’t think I can ever see the fiction, fantasy, dreams, or creative endeavors I choose to partake in as a waste of time, from here on out. Not that I ever did. Some instinct in me drew me to them, and I answered. Perhaps all I’ve gained from my epiphany is an answer for those who would denigrate such as being a waste of time, of being a symptom of escaping reality or not being practical. It could be that carefully selecting my chosen forms of illusion is a way of taking greater control over my own life rather than escaping it. I can tell the “realists” who call me nothing but a dreamer to . . . watch a movie . . . read a story . . . write a poem. Get real by way of study of the dream within the dream.

Edited 12-21-2006. —BK

— Barbara @ rudimentary 4:44 pm PST, 12/20/06

December 17, 2006

Silver-edged morning

It wasn’t exactly sunrise, but the sun’s debut for the day.

After a soft, steady rain all night and continuing into this morning, I got up to raise the heater setting and found the dog curled in a tight ball in the back corner of his bed. He didn’t stay outside very long either. We are all wusses here in So. Calif. when the temperature dips. It dipped to 35 or so degrees F last night, outdoors.

When the sun first peeked through the clouds in the east, rain continued to fall, and the sun outlined everything in sight with silver. I’m sure there was a rainbow. I couldn’t see it from my window. The world was brilliant, shiny, a jewel, in those few minutes. Of course it’s always a jewel. We just tend to let our view of it get dusty.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:11 pm PST, 12/17/06

December 3, 2006

December skies — wind and shooting stars

The wind keeps us awake, the past few nights. It blows little black berries off one of the palm trees (they’re too small for me to call them proper dates — though they are as sticky as dates), and they hit the back deck with a surprising amount of force. The fact that it’s these wild gusts instead of a steady wind unsettles me. Just when I doze off, something rattles or whooshes outside and I wake up. And dry — the moisture has sucked out of Southern California, to make snow elsewhere I suppose. We do not have a semi-arid but a fully-arid climate today.

Last night when I took the dog out for his final walk of the evening, I saw a shooting star. You’d have thought the wind blew it, except it moved in the opposite direction. It was there in the eastern sky (slightly southeast) for an instant, slanting in almost horizontally northward, a golden yellow flame, brilliant and burning, soon extinguished.

I thought of the Sara Teasdale poem, The Falling Star — after I made a quick wish.

Was it a late Leonid, or an early Geminid, or something in between — maybe a Puppids-Velids? Or just a stray puppy, for that matter? I don’t know, but I feel lucky since seeing it. Lucky to have seen it, lucky to be here, lucky the wind hasn’t blown the house into the Land of Oz. Luck is good.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:59 pm PST, 12/03/06

November 24, 2006

A little late but Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Not because of the food so much, but because it’s not religious, not limited to any special interest or group like mothers, dads, veterans, lovers. No one need feel left out. It’s universal and focused on simply being grateful for what we have.

Hope you and yours had a peaceful and abundant day, and I wish you many more.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 2:50 pm PST, 11/24/06

November 9, 2006

A revolution of Kindness

I used to include the following in my signature when posting on some forums on the Internet:

“I want to start a revolution of kindness.”

I still think kindness is important, though that particular revolution was started at other times by much more qualified people than I. The biggest reason I quit using it as my signature line was, I began to think people looked at those words and thought “bleeding heart liberal” or “easy mark” — or they saw it as just plain cheesy. I became self-conscious about it.

Why? Why do we think of kindness as uncool, naive, or unrealistic? (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 2:11 pm PST, 11/09/06

October 27, 2006

Golden light

Today left our region hot and dry with gusts of wind, movement and change allowing for a promise of cooling moisture in response to it, even the slightest hint of autumn-toward-winter chilling — as far as things ever chill here, though they cool quickly when the air is this dry. Dissipating smoke enhanced the golden autumn light, and a pink sunset lightened the colors of bougainvillea against hazy green foliage, under a hazy blue sky. My backyard at sunset today made a sight I wanted to memorize, or paint. Even a deadly fire leaves some beauty behind.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:12 pm PST, 10/27/06

October 26, 2006

Yellow skies

Fire season in Southern California. The sky is yellow, smoke lingering like fog in the sky, the sun orange, and our windows closed. A wildfire burning in Cabazon, near Palm Springs, has killed three firefighters. Santa Ana winds have blown much of the smoke in our direction. This creates a surreal world in which we’re not sure from one minute to the next whether the fire is still far up in the neighboring county, or a new one has flared up in our own neighborhood. I try to keep my mind off it, but the smell has seeped into the house, and it’s difficult to ignore — a constant reminder to pray for the firefighters.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:03 pm PST, 10/26/06

October 8, 2006

Outing my secret love

Or should I say, let me take you on an outing with my secret love.

“Who?” you ask.

“Poetry,” I whisper.

Those of you who’ve read Shadows Fall have probably guessed that I’m a huge fan of William Wordsworth and Emily Brontë. I’m a poetry fan, all the way around. I love dead poets, old poets, young poets, and poets yet to be born. While writing that novel, I feared that I’d bore all the non-poetry fans with my unrelenting references to poems. I held back as best I could. For instance, I wanted to quote the entire body of Wordsworth’s “Daffodils,” and the entire portion I was then familiar with of Emily Brontë’s “The Prisoner.” Which reminds me, until recently I was only aware of five stanzas of that Brontë poem, beginning with:

He comes with Western winds, with evening’s wandering airs,
With that clear dusk of heaven that brings the thickest stars
:”
(more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:04 pm PST, 10/08/06

September 29, 2006

When reading is impossible

I’m in what I hope is my next to final re-read of my novel before I start submitting it. I’m attempting to just read, without editing, to get a feel for how the reader will receive it.

I loved to read, as a girl and a young adult. I still do, but I often wish I could read the same way I did back then. Once you’ve been a writer, editor, or proofreader (and I’ve been all of those), it becomes nearly impossible to just read, without editing or analyzing or noticing parts of speech. I can barely make it through almost anyone else’s writing anymore without wanting to stop and edit, or at least correct a typo here and there, or think about some aspect of it besides the story being told, the information or advice being relayed. Plot structure, characterization. Wondering why the author did that, or admiring a description rather than staying in the story.

It’s even worse with my own writing. No matter how many times I’ve been through it, no matter how good anyone else thinks it is, I find it impossible to just read what I’ve written. I’ve heard that near the end of his life Ernest Hemmingway could barely compose a single sentence, he’d become such a perfectionist about his writing. But, I wonder, how was he at reading? That’s the thing that kills me.

It’s a mad dance with myself, trying to read this book. But I hope that as I read through this draft, if I can distance myself enough from it, I’ll see it more the way other readers will. I also hope to come to a final decision about a title for this book. Finally I hope to see the big picture of the story, and notice any gaping flaws or errors in logic, rather than the little nit-picky things I’ll focus on the final time through.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 12:55 pm PST, 09/29/06


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