musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


July 29, 2008

His name was Independence

because we brought him home on the 4th of July. But we always called him Indi. I started out spelling his nickname Indy, while his “dad” started out spelling it Indi. But it always sounded the same to him.

We never called him Independence, and come to think of it he wasn’t independent. He made friends everywhere he went, and in his first obedience class he was voted No. 1 Puppy. He never chewed up anything he wasn’t supposed to, but he knew what to do with a rawhide bone, and in his prime he could demolish a large one in short order. As a puppy he surgically removed squeakers from toys, and wore out several plastic balls until they no longer squeaked.

Jan2003

Green was his favorite color. I know dogs are supposed to be color blind, but Indi always preferred the green balls to the blue ones or red ones. We tested this, several times.

He liked to be wherever we were, and most recently he was my gardening buddy. He wanted to follow me outside whenever I worked in the back yard, even when he was too old and sick for it to be much fun for him.

Jul2003

Indi died last night, after 10 years of faithful, loving companionship. He was the best dog we’ve ever known, and we feel honored to have had the chance to live with him.

We miss you, dear friend, and we won’t be at all surprised if you’re voted Number 1 Puppy in Heaven.

Mar2003

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:46 pm PST, 07/29/08

July 11, 2008

I promised pictures

Then my computer crashed for a couple of days. Here they finally are:

Tara at nearly 15 weeks and 3.5 lbs, in a rare moment when she’s sitting still —
Tara Still

Tara as a blur (her normal state) —
Tara blur

The first tomato? We’ll see.
1st Tomato

In case anyone is thinking that my fresh interest in gardening means I have a lush, fully planted yard, I have to confess here that these photos are a cheat. They don’t show the ground still barren of any planting. We live on a granite hill, partly decomposed and partly still-composed boulders. We also live in a semi-arid, overly populated part of the country, so water isn’t cheap. I’m also lazy. I’ve planted around what my husband already planted or nursed back to health, and that might make me appear to be a more productive gardener than I am. But I love my few plants, they’re producing, and I have big plans for next year, so we’ll see.

Sunflower front

Sunflower back

As you might have guessed, part of my garden is for the birds, though I like sunflower seeds too, so even the sunflowers aren’t entirely for the birds.

I’ve read somewhere that there’s a German paper company that makes fine stationery from sunflower stalk fibers, and that gets an artsy-craftsy person like me thinking. . . .

Sunflower 01

Sunflower 02

Of the seven or so sunflowers growing in our yard right now, most face east, most of the time. There’s one near the front door that faces the door, to its north, which means I see its shining face as soon as I walk outside. It’s had the same ladybug on its bloom (below) for three or four days now. I hope she’s taken up residence and plans to take care of it and keep it pest free until it’s finished blooming.

Sunflower ladybug

Then there’s this one (below), which faces the southeast (back) corner of the yard. Is it an errant sunflower that thinks it has to stand in the corner — my generation’s equivalent of a time-out? Or does it like the chattering of the caged parakeet the neighbors down there sometimes leave out on their patio during the day? Maybe it’s made friends with the bougainvillea. I don’t know.

Sunflower 03

I almost forgot one of my favorites, a picture of the quintessential Tara — at least when she’s mellow and not stalking whatever prey or toy or window screen is available to do her destructo-cat number on. This is from two weeks ago when she still had a little kitten fluff —

Tara sleeping

— Barbara @ rudimentary 9:13 pm PST, 07/11/08

July 8, 2008

Catching up

Our summer weather has set in, likely until mid to late October, so I have to wake up early to get all my outdoor work done. I’m amazed how fast things can grow in the warm weather and get away from me — mostly things I don’t want to grow, like weeds.

My usual care to wear gloves when working in the yard had lapsed recently, but working outside earlier than usual this morning meant that I happened across two black widow spiders. One, on the lower rock wall, was attempting to kill a big iridescent green June Beetle, or what we call a June Beetle here, aka Fig Eater Beetle. The beetle was 10 to 15 times the spider’s size. Their struggle mesmerized me for a moment as I wondered who would win, the beetle snapping spider silk as quickly as it wrapped around it. It was the noise he made that drew my attention in the first place. I would’ve intervened, if I’d had something handy to kill the spider with, but the next time I walked past, the spider — hiding from me, no doubt — was nowhere to be seen and the beetle was bumbling away. I’ll be more careful to wear gloves and not work in flip-flops anymore, unless I’m only watering. Black widows usually hide from people, but I don’t want to surprise one.

My little friend Tara is growing fast. A kitten in the house means lots of interruptions to play, or to stop misbehavior in its tracks, or just to cuddle. I’ll try to post an updated photo later, but it might be a blur unless I catch her when she slows down to nap, bask in a sunny window, or watch TV. She’s now more than three times the size she was when I took these pictures, and darker since her kitten fluff has been replaced by a true dark tabby coat. She’s a Siamese mix, but you wouldn’t know that to look at her.

Tara watched Mikhail Baryshnikov dance, in an older video on the arts channel last night, and I think she decided he’s the most cat-like human she’s seen. I hope she doesn’t expect us to move like that! But maybe it’s good that she knows some humans are capable of it, just to help us keep the upper hand. Sometimes we call her Rocket Cat, and one day recently, as the dog and I watched in glazed over amazement while she raced around and up and down a room, I commented to him, “You know, cats can almost fly.” Indi seemed to agree.

I’m not really sure what all else keeps me busy, but there’s a lot of it, whatever it is. I don’t work in the garden enough to excuse not blogging, but I do spend some time finding things to do with the excess produce.

We’ve had loads of squash from just four plants, so far, some of it now in the freezer and some given away. We may need a bigger freezer if I keep gardening. One way that we like zucchini is simply sautéed in a little olive oil with basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. We’ve had some cucumbers, which I personally think would make a good breakfast food, because just one bite seems to wake me up with its fresh, clean crispness. The tomatoes got a late start (from seed), so we haven’t had any to eat yet, but they’re blooming and setting fruit, growing like mad in the heat. There’s a San Marzano Roma about the size of the end of my thumb that I predict will be the first to the table, unless that little cluster of marble sized cherry tomatoes beats it to perfect redness. With the salmonella scare still pretty much a mystery I’m looking forward, even more than I expected when I planted them, to fresh homegrown tomatoes.

Yesterday we discovered how well extra garden produce can pay off, when we gave a large zucchini to a neighbor boy to take home, and later his mom sent over four of the most perfect little quesadillas I’ve ever tasted. Oh. My. God. These were not the quesadillas you find in Mexican restaurants, or the floppy things we usually concoct with flour tortillas and cheddar cheese, in a skillet. Every part of hers was homemade, including flaky six-inch corn flour shells folded in half and crisped. They were filled with chicken, some kind of white cheese, possibly one of the Mexican cheeses described here, and fresh cabbage, and they came with a magical homemade chili sauce to pour over them. I am positive we got the better end of that exchange. You can’t get food like that in any restaurant, and I’m in heaven just remembering them. It’s odd how a really good hot sauce can actually cool you. As my mouth heated up, my body seemed to cool right off. Must’ve been all my pores and sinuses opening. It was positively delicious. Mmmmh!

— Barbara @ rudimentary 12:49 pm PST, 07/08/08

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

March 17, 2008

The hawk and the dove

That title sounds like a metaphor for something, maybe political. But it’s not.

Earlier I wrote about the Ringed Turtle Dove I spotted one morning under our pine trees. I’ve been keeping a lookout for it, and have since seen it with a second dove, and the two of them courting. I think maybe they’re nesting in the pepper tree in the yard behind and downhill from ours. They like to hang out in our back yard, and I’ve seen them on the ground, on the fence, on the satellite dish, in the palm tree, in the pine tree, and on the old aerial antenna on our roof.

I also wrote earlier about the Red-Shouldered Hawks and Red-Tail Hawks in the neighborhood. I’m not sure which it is that’s been stalking the doves, but at one point yesterday I went out back and saw one of the doves perched on the satellite dish. As it sat there, I saw a hawk swoop out of the sky, diving for something in a yard two houses up the hill. I think it was a Red-Tail. The dove apparently didn’t see, or wasn’t concerned, even as the hawk flew over our yard, without any prey I could see. Disappointed, I suppose. The dove remained sitting there calmly, right out in the open, either unaware or unconcerned about the hawk.

A few minutes later, out front, I saw the hawk still flying around, getting hassled by a crow, but staying close by. When I returned to the house I took another look out back, because I’d just seen the hawk again. The dove was now perched on our back fence. I started to turn away, heard a kind of thump behind me, and turned my head. The hawk was flying away from the spot where the dove had just been. The hawk let out a frustrated cry, though, and then I saw that the dove had escaped into the nearby pepper tree. It sat there under the leaves, looking ruffled and scared. Yeah, me too. I think the noise I’d heard may have been the dove jamming off the chain-link fence into the tree with a split second to spare, but I’m not sure. It must’ve moved faster than I’ve ever seen it move.

A moment later I heard the dove cooing in the tree, but I didn’t see it sunning itself out in the open anymore yesterday, and today when I saw both doves up on our antenna, they seemed a lot more wary. The hawk, or possibly more than one, keeps circling the area, passing over now and then to see what prey is sitting out in the sun not paying attention.

I’m trying not to pay too much attention — though it’s difficult when these dramas unfold right in my back yard. It’s nature, and I love nature, but nature is dangerous at times, its beauty and peace transient at best. Today I’m keeping a respectful distance.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 12:01 pm PST, 03/17/08

February 23, 2008

More birds

We’d seen it before, many weeks ago. A big bird of prey with black and white bands on its tail. The rest of it was paler than a Red-tailed Hawk, but we only caught glimpses of it flying over, and not a long enough look to identify it. We thought it was stalking the ground squirrel that moved in last summer. Maybe it was, because the ground squirrel hasn’t been around for a few days now.

Day before yesterday, we saw the big bird perch on top of the nearby telephone pole, and we got binoculars out for a really good look. Its breast, the undersides of it wings, and its beak are indeed paler than a Red-tailed Hawk’s. Its breast is almost pinkish or strawberry blond.

It’s a Red-shouldered Hawk, which is apparently found all over the eastern part of the country and along the California coast. I’d never seen one here before, not close enough to identify anyway. Our dominant hawk is the Red-tailed.

I wonder how long it’s been here, because last summer we watched what we think was a clutch of young hawks taking their first flight from a neighbor’s palm tree. Maybe this is one of the parents, back again to nest in the same tree. Or looking for the squirrel, or more squirrels. Poor squirrel, if so.

Our local birds continue to intrigue me with their variety and number. I’ve read, in a Harvard study, that this area is one of the most biologically diverse in the continental US, and that doesn’t surprise me, just basing my opinion on the birds.

I saw lots of owls from the road, when I used to leave for work while it was still dark. I’ve seen plenty of Black Phoebes here the past few weeks. I can’t seem to walk outside without spotting one of them. We have what I think may be Purple Finches, a variation from the House Finches we knew in San Diego, though I’m not certain. Some kind of small woodpecker likes the neighbor’s palm tree. We even have a small flock of feral parrots in the neighborhood, though I haven’t seen or heard them yet this year.

I’ve also seen lots of Mourning Doves, all my life, as I’m sure most people in North America have who pay any attention to wild birds. I’ve heard their mournful song since I was a girl and learned to recognize it. But this morning I heard a dove that sounded different, so I looked out the back window and saw a Ringneck Dove, also known as a Ringed Turtle Dove, under our pine trees. These doves aren’t natives. In fact they’re supposed to have been domestic for the past 3,000 years or so. But I suppose quite a few may have escaped into the wild at one time or another.

I just heard it again, out there, hiding in the pines and cooing, reminding me to post this. I wonder if it’s moved in to nest. If so, I guess it had better watch out for the Red-shouldered Hawk.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 2:45 pm PST, 02/23/08

February 2, 2008

Groundhog Day

Some of our holidays have quite a lot of history behind them, and Groundhog Day is one of my favorites in this regard. I probed the pagan history of Yule a few years ago, so now I think it’s only fair to peer briefly into the past of Groundhog Day, earlier known as Candlemas or St. Brigid’s Day, and before that as Imbolc, which comes to us from the ancient Celts. The name Brigid has its roots in Celtic paganism, with the Goddess Brigid, also known as Bride. As a goddess she had three faces, each having to do with fire, according to the web page, Brigid: Goddess or Saint?

  • Brigid, the ‘Fire of the Hearth’, was the goddess of fertility, family, childbirth and healing.
  • Brigid, the ‘”Fire of the Forge’, was like the Greek goddess Athena, a patroness of the crafts (especially weaving, embroidery, and metalsmithing), and a goddess who was concerned with justice and law and order.
  • Brigid, the ‘Fire of Inspiration’, was the muse of poetry, song history and the protector of all cultural learning.

(read more at Brigid: Goddess or Saint?)

According to Wikipedia, Imbolc:

“is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:

Thig an nathair as an toll
La donn Bride,
Ged robh tri traighean dh’ an t-sneachd
Air leachd an lair.

“The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.”

“Fire and purification are an important aspect of this festival.”
(read Wikipedia article)

The verse quoted above, and in the Wikipedia article, is from Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations, Ortha Nan Gaidheal, Volume I by Alexander Carmichael (1900), and can be found on line at Sacred Texts Archive, where you can read even more about Bride.

Then there’s the perfect non-religious Groundhog Day celebration for our times, which is simply to enjoy the Bill Murray comedy by that title. That’s how I like to celebrate it.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 10:30 am PST, 02/02/08

February 9, 2007

Cockatoo love

I love birds, in fact we both do, but after the death of our last little parakeet friend, Kiwi, we decided we didn’t want to keep birds in cages anymore, so the bird cages we’d collected over the years, actually quite a few of them it turns out, now hang on our patio in a kind of empty-cage symbolism—or pile of junk, whichever your preferred interpretation.

We enjoy bird friends at greater distance these days. When I came across the linked story today, I decided I had to share. It’s a love story, just in time for that love-related holiday around the corner—if you’re reading this post while it’s fresh. But why wait until a particular time of year to celebrate love?

Here for your enjoyment, straight from Australia, is a tale of love among cockatoos. Note the first time I read it I assumed the first page was all there was to it, and only saw the “next page” link on my second time through, so be aware, there’s more.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 5:14 pm PST, 02/09/07

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


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