musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


July 5, 2007

Critiques II

I decided to answer your comments in a new post, since some of my responses are lengthy. You’ve given me a lot to think about and helped me reconsider my feelings about critiques. Even though I disagree with some points, as they relate to my writing at this time, you all shared wisdom that deserves attention. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 7:33 pm PST, 07/05/07

June 8, 2007

Thinking Bloggers Awards

ThinkingBloggerAward

Beverly Jackson recently honored me by including my name in her Thinking Bloggers Awards. She should be listed in mine, because she’s inspired me so much in the time I’ve known her, through her writing, painting, and poetry, as well as her perspectives on other poets and life. It’s Southern California’s loss that Bev recently moved to North Carolina, where she’s exploring her new home region and sharing her experiences via her blog.

I’ve chosen my five Thinking Bloggers with great difficulty, because I read many more than five blogs that deserve mention on a regular basis. All whose blogs I read are people who make me think on a regular basis. Many also share another special quality: In one of my favorite movies, Under The Tuscan Sun (a highly-fictionalized adaptation of the Frances Mayes memoir by talented screenwriter Audrey Wells, who also brought us Shall We Dance and The Kid), free-spirited Katherine (played by Lindsay Duncan) keeps reminding her American friend Frances (Diane Lane) of the advice she got from Federico Fellini, to never lose her childish enthusiasm. Good advice, in my opinion. Childish enthusiasm is a quality I greatly admire in people, maybe because mine is sometimes in short supply, so I need regular booster shots. It’s a trait that tends to be present in most of the people whose blogs I return to. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 2:02 pm PST, 06/08/07

April 13, 2007

Paper to digital

Has it been more than a week already since I posted? I lost track of time during my panic of the past few days. The other night, after a glitch occurred when I ran my backup program, I thought I’d lost all my files for my current book in progress. Panic ensued, while I scrambled to find and undelete the files. I spent almost 24 hours straight on that, with little sleep, piecing together fragmented files, hoping I still had a complete book there. Finally I came across the directory on the backup computer where my backup program had stored a complete second archive of everything — perfectly intact and up to date, including every last minute of my work on the book.

All that panic because I was too dumb to know my backup program stored an archive of deleted files, and because I had allowed too much other garbage to backlog on my hard drive. (The glitch occurred when that particular hard drive filled up.)

I could sit here and ask why me, or rather ask why I do this to myself, but I’m too busy getting back to normal and on with work. Still, it seems that I go through this sort of panic on a regular basis. It happened two years ago when my old laptop gave out and I lost work that I hadn’t yet backed up. This time it resulted from the backup process itself.

Once I’m finished with this book and it’s off getting a look by some agents, I plan to spend a few weeks getting my life in better order, including both paper and digital files, to prevent future panic episodes.

But one thing I noticed during all of this was that I don’t tend to print out what I’ve written as often as I used to. In spite of what might’ve been lost, overall I consider that a good thing, a good sign that I’m making my personal transition from paper to a digital world.

I admit to some affection for the paper world. It’s what I grew up with, and where I found my love of books and the written word. There is still something sensual to me about the feeling of pen and paper or a book in my hands. I like the shape of the book, the weight of it, the toothy or smooth texture of paper, even the smell of ink, paper, and binding materials. I still recall with nostalgia the particular smell of the book I was handed in third or fourth grade when we studied the culture and geography of Japan. Ever since, I’ve looked for similar qualities each time I open a new book. All these things make letting go of the paper world a clingy process.

At the same time, I love trees. Because of that, I’ve always been troubled that my chosen form of expression — writing — has a history of felling so many trees. So when I went through my computer files and some paper files over the past few days, I was pleased to realize that I recently have less tendency to print as I write. I used to feel a need to print out what I’d written more frequently, to edit or proofread on paper rather than onscreen, or just to get a sense of what the printed story would look like.

Maybe it’s so many years of writing on a computer that’s changed this. Maybe it’s the laptop’s portability and reduced glare being easier on my eyes. Maybe it’s no longer having a job that requires me to stare at a screen all day and then do the same all my evenings and weekends for my fiction writing.

Maybe it’s blogging. The immediacy of blogging tends to encourage me to edit onscreen. My blog is even set up now so I can view what I write in two or three different fonts before I post it, which I think aids the onscreen editing and proofreading process.

Maybe it’s a combination of all those factors. It’s interesting to note that more publishing venues have opened up to electronic submissions just since the CRT monitor has begun to vanish. Hopefully the less glaring monitors that are replacing them will be much easier on all our eyes, and continue to save more trees.

I still write a good half of my personal journal pages by hand, and I still use handwriting to jump-start or unblock my writing process. This blog post is in fact a segue from my morning pages. But my journal pages don’t get reproduced, except by typing them into a digital format, and they’re unlikely ever to be published in book form. The paper is eventually recycled if they do become digital, so I’m not as concerned about my journal pages killing trees. At least that’s what I like to tell myself.

Now if we can get the ebook technology to the point where fewer paper books have to be printed, at least for popular fiction, then we’ll have made real progress in taking publishing from deforestation for profit to a more pure form of edification, expression, and entertainment. Of course there will always be uses for paper. I can’t think of a better way to keep certain legal documents or accounting records, right now, though that’s not a world I work or have much expertise in. There are also some types of books that just work better, for now, on paper. One that comes to mind is the coffee table variety, with color plates of artwork or photography. But the less trees cut down for paper and books, the better.

Even if what this Guardian Unlimited article says is true, that planting more trees in temperate latitudes won’t help assuage global warming, it also states that destroying more trees isn’t the answer, that the greater need, and indeed our motivation for attempting to slow global warming, is to preserve ecosystems, including but certainly not limited to our own.

Perhaps my panic over my files had some value. It got me not only to change what I file away on my computer and how I back it up, but also to take a hard look at how I use paper, to keep heading along the road I’ve started down, of conserving wherever it’s reasonable, and wherever I can.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 2:16 pm PST, 04/13/07

March 14, 2007

Free books, first cars, and nightmares

I’ve been struggling for topics to blog about, but surely there can be no more chilling thought for a writer than people not wanting books even when they’re free. Someone posted, on a mystery mailing list I belong to, that she boxed up what I’ll presume were mystery novels, and placed them out in front of her home, labeled as free . . . and had no takers. This was in a small university town.

The story surprises me, because in our former neighborhood, where our back yard faced a community college parking lot, we had excellent luck putting things out in the driveway for free, including boxes of used books. Sometimes people took entire boxes rather than a book or two. Nearly everything we put out found a home, including an old sofa we’d acquired already well-used, which I was certain we’d wind up hauling to the dump. Ours wasn’t a busy street except during classes, when students parked there, so I have to assume it was sometimes students who took those items. Then again, my experience with that was ten years ago. Now everyone I see walking around has a cell phone stuck to one ear, and I’m lucky if they avoid colliding with me. Maybe they wouldn’t SEE the books, even with a big sign.

When I was a student, I would’ve browsed through any box of free books on offer, even though I had plenty of other reading that I should be doing instead, for school. My grandmother used to say that no one in our family could clean an attic, because we’d stop to read everything. (That was before bubble wrap, when we used newspaper to wrap fragile items.)

Which reminds me, I dreamed just last night about the car I drove as a student. I hadn’t thought about that car in years. It was a white 1964 Mercury Comet that had a lot of miles on it before I got it. The dream was a mini-nightmare, not because I found myself in that car, but because this creepy guy who’d just followed me out of a bank removed what I thought was a disguise — a wig, under which he had a shaved head — then tried to get me to give him a ride. I was suspicious of him, so first I told him that if I did that my dad would kill me. (I must’ve been a teenager in the dream, which explains the car.) He argued with me, but I got into my car and locked the doors. It isn’t the sort of dream that usually qualifies as a nightmare for me, but it woke me up, heart racing.

That first car had some real-life nightmarish qualities. One was its tendency to overheat if I drove it to a higher altitude. I love the mountains, so not being able to drive my first car to the mountains without it overheating frustrated me no end. As the car aged, it developed other idiosyncrasies. I think my dad and I were at one point the only two people on earth who knew how to start it, which involved pumping the gas pedal just the right number of times, then holding it down . . . oh well, I don’t remember the sequence now. It had other problems too, and I have to wonder now at my desire to drive the thing, but when you’re young I guess you just want to go. You don’t care what you put up with to do it.

That car’s most nightmarish problem was the front passenger door’s sticky latch. My parents paid for my gasoline on the condition that I drive my grandmother anywhere she wanted to go. One day the door didn’t catch, and it flew open when I made a turn. Grandma didn’t fall out, but that incident qualifies as more nightmarish than the dream that ratcheted up my heart rate last night.

What about you?

Do you rummage through boxes of free books whenever you see them?

What was your first car like?

Do different things scare you in dreams than in real life?

— Barbara @ rudimentary 10:38 pm PST, 03/14/07

February 17, 2007

Indie publishers ask for less and win

Less turns out to be a good thing at times in today’s corporatist economic and political scene, and especially in the publishing arena, where seven very big fish own almost everything, having devoured nearly every other fish in the water. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:25 pm PST, 02/17/07

January 11, 2007

To Kill A Mockingbird author makes rare appearance

Reclusive author Harper Lee attended a student performance of To Kill A Mockingbird on Wednesday night in Alabama. What a rare treat for those kids!

— Barbara @ rudimentary 5:35 pm PST, 01/11/07

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

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 20, 2006

Please ban my books

Some of my best days are those on which the postman brings a bundle of mail held together by a fat rubberband that includes a package. The package usually contains a book. Sometimes yarn, but more often a book.

I’ve read a lot of books. I haven’t read as many as some people, and not as many as I wish. I plan to read a lot more before I die. I’ve never bothered to keep count, I just look around me at those still on my shelves, and I think about those I’ve given away or sold, those stored in the attic because we ran out of shelves, those that I’ve borrowed, and—most important—those that will be alive in my mind forever.

Whenever Banned Books Week rolls around, as it will next week (September 23 – 30), many of us look at a list of banned books and count up those we’ve read. But the single curious fact that stands out for me is how many banned novels or their authors have won Pulitzer Prizes.

If that’s the company banned books and their authors keep, then please ban my books.

Vote for your favorite challenged book here.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 3:42 pm PST, 09/20/06

August 18, 2006

Water

After air to breathe, it’s the next priority. We tend to take it for granted. Rhubarb pointed out this article, in which some corporate experts predict economic problems “by 2015 as the supply of fresh water becomes critical to the global economy.”

Thinking about water shortages reminded me of the first business trip I made to Philadelphia. I wondered if Pennsylvania was always that green, or if it was possible the trees and grass were putting on a special show that summer. I recall experiencing the same amazement at the greenery of Western Oregon and Maryland, almost a distrust of so much verdure. It is never that green here. Even with the vast Pacific Ocean beside us, the nearest we come to that quality of green in Southern California is a dusty, grayish imitation in parks, and that in El Niño years. Our water is imported, much of it from the Colorado River, which is so strained by use that it dwindles to a mere trickle where it meets, or used to meet, the ocean in the Gulf of California. These days the spent river disappears somewhere in Mexico. The rushing torrent that carved the Grand Canyon, and spilled over in flood years to fill the Salton Sea, becomes no more than a creek trickling through irrigation culverts into thirsty Mexican farmland. According to U.S. Water News Online:

The valley along the river south of Mexicali produces roughly 10 percent of Mexico’s wheat, about 17 percent of its cotton, and important quantities of sorghum, alfalfa, and asparagus. Even when there are heavy rains upstream, a few steel culverts under a gravel road can handle what was once called “an American Nile” as it limps toward its mouth in the Gulf of California.

In dry years, the river is devoid of water. Between 1961 and 1978, when reservoirs were slowly filling behind upstream dams, there was almost no water in the lower channel at all.

Recently I read a collection of essays and stories by West Texas women, Writing On The Wind. The emphasis on drought, the importance of windmills, the quality of water in some places (one woman had lived in a house where her toilet bowl was perpetually stained black) carved impressions in my mind. I recognized, even if I’ve known it to a lesser degree, the disorientation and distrust of an unfamiliar abundance of green that West Texans feel when traveling to wetter places.

My limited travels and that book served as stark reminders of what a precious commodity water is. While those reminders centered in the wealthy US, where money so often manages to truck or pipe water where it’s needed, the world as a whole has a more tenuous claim on fresh water to begin with. If the shortage is worsening, we may all be in trouble soon.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 11:22 pm PST, 08/18/06


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