musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


May 17, 2008

We’re cat people — even the dog

I’ve always been a cat person, and my spouse converted soon after we got together. Our dog is a cat person too, since he grew up with cats. Ever since Emily died in August, Indi has been lonely and bored. He started acting like a very old dog. We’re apparently boring, depressing people for a dog to own unless he has a cat around to spice things up, and he’d known and loved Emily all his life. Well, things got spiced up again yesterday, but good.

Meet Tara, named for the Goddess Tara, revered in Tibetan Buddhism as well as in Celtic lore. Cats are supposed to be worshiped, right? Tara thinks so.

Tara

MakingFriends

In the second photo she’s making friends. Any time she ventures near her new doggy friend she receives a great big juicy kiss on the face, which of course any cat should be delighted to receive. Especially if she just finished washing the last kiss off her face. Indi also loves to get swatted in the face. I think Emily taught him to see that as fun, as a former owner had Emily de-clawed. Indi realized earlier today that Tara comes fully loaded, though she only swats when she’s playing.

We were a little concerned about the introduction, since lately Indi’s become enthusiastic about chasing strange cats out of his back yard. But when his new kitten was introduced as a member of the pack, he happily reverted to baby sitter. Tara took to him with no hissing, having been born into a home with dogs. She knows the drill. Avoid doggy kisses by cruising behind furniture and darting under beds. Especially after the doggy has just taken a long drink of water. (Very drippy business.) Indi is getting old, which you can tell by all that white fur on his face where it used to be mahogany. But having a kitten around has put a smile on all our faces and zest in our steps. (Handy when there’s a kitten darting about underfoot.)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 4:42 pm PST, 05/17/08

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

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 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

June 21, 2006

Have you ever noticed

How if someone insults or threatens you, your response may be passive, avoiding conflict. But if someone insults or threatens one you love, your response is more passionate and involved?

How you can go for years without eating something you did as a kid, but one smell or one taste will roll back the years?

How you forget others’ suffering if not exposed to it regularly, and can forget there are others less fortunate, even among friends and family?

How we remain acutely aware there are others more fortunate? How we all feel poor at some point, and blame others for it, but when we see another as poor we tend to think it’s their own doing? (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:05 pm PST, 06/21/06

May 30, 2006

Writing for yourself

A comment discussion at Eric Mayer’s blog post, Putting Ourselves Out of Business, involved the idea of considering one’s writing just a hobby. I have a feeling that most fiction writers, published or not, feel to some degree as if they’re hobbyists these days. After all, there isn’t much money to be made in this business, except by a very few. But they also have to take it seriously in order to get far, it has to be an intense, obsessive sort of hobby.

Late in 1993, after a lot of discouraging experiences attempting to sell my fiction, I decided to “quit fiction writing for good” and I wrote nothing but personal journals and technical manuals for a year. I began writing fiction again early in 1995, but with a difference. I did it, as I’d begun as a girl, to please myself, primarily to complete a story I thought had to be written or it would drive me nuts. That story had been percolating inside me since I was seventeen. I surprised myself then by doing some of the best fiction writing I had in my life to that point. My decision at that point to please only myself with what I wrote carried me through a kind of barrier into a different way of looking at writing fiction. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 3:49 pm PST, 05/30/06

May 27, 2006

What good is hope?

Partially in response to some complaints that his blog is sometimes too pessimistic, Dave Pollard looks at hope and its place in enviromental activism, in an article titled, Beyond Hope: The Radicalization of Derrick Jensen. He includes an excerpt from Derrick Jensen’s book, A Language Older Than Words, which includes the following: (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:44 pm PST, 05/27/06

April 28, 2006

Plagiarized or packaged to death?

Or both?

Far be it from me to judge what exactly happened with Kaavya Viswanathan’s novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. I haven’t read it, and I don’t intend to—wouldn’t intend to even if the publisher hadn’t turned around and pulled it off bookstore shelves. But when I read all the off-shoot accounts of the state of book packaging today, I find myself sympathizing at least a tiny bit, as Rachel Pine seems to, with the young author. Not enough to defend her, perhaps, or to excuse what happened, but honestly—what a confusing business this has become.

I recall an old episode of The Avengers on TV, in which a publisher created a computer to crank out formula novels, then passed them off as having been written by a human being. I thought for sure that was pure fantasy until I began reading about this plagiarism case. Kaavya Viswanathan’s name is on the book’s copyright page, but according to what I’ve read so is Alloy Entertainment’s. So who is to blame? How did this happen? (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 4:41 pm PST, 04/28/06

April 23, 2006

Which words count?

I’ve decided there are three kinds of writers when it comes to word count. Those who wind up with too few words, and those who wind up with too many. Then there are those fortunate souls who write just the right amount.

I’m in the second category. I’m a wordy writer, and it frustrates me to see how many extra words I write. If I’d been able to keep my words in check, the story surely wouldn’t have taken so long to come together. Or would it? Why this need to expand so much on what can be said with so many less words? (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 4:05 pm PST, 04/23/06


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