musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


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

March 7, 2007

Words and weeds

Why is it that seeds I plant never sprout and grow the same way weeds do? They’ve sprung up since our last few rains, and the yard is now lush with their greenery. Yesterday I went out and murdered some weeds to keep the foxtails and other burrs from developing and spreading even more. I barely made a difference. I thought how my words sometimes grow the way weeds do, with wild abandon, and then have to be trimmed, uprooted, rearranged, or killed on the page, so the flowers can show through, get their piece of sunlight, and be seen by anyone but me. Sometimes both Mother Nature and I are too creative.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 11:53 am PST, 03/07/07

February 25, 2007

More poetry

Aside from the novel, I’ve been reading, writing, learning about, and pretty much immersing myself in poetry. I’ve posted some bits and pieces, mostly practice and works in progress, over at Spirit Blooms in the Poetry Sketchbook category. Feel free to drop by there if you’re curious. Though I’ve taken creative writing workshops in the past, I’ve never taken a poetry workshop, and I think I have a lot to learn before I go even that far. Right now I’m refreshing my memory with basics that I learned when I was young but are now a bit fuzzy.

Beverly Jackson has been an inspiration with her poetry posts, (not to mention her abstract paintings — wow!). She recently shared her experiences at the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway – Cape May N.J. and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival on her blog. She also provided examples and book recommendations she got from poets there. Dig into her January archive to read the first of those posts, beginning here.

Right now I’m reading Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, which I mentioned in a previous post.

HW Longfellow Postage Stamp

My renewed interest in poetry arrives just in time for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s bicentennial, which the United States Postal Service is commemorating with a special stamp — the second to bear his likeness. Longfellow is one of only two writers to be immortalized on more than one US postage stamp. Herman Melville was the other, a distinction he earned, in my estimation, with The Encantadas alone — his sketchbook about the Galapagos Islands.

The stamp displays a portrait of Longfellow, as well as a depiction of Paul Revere’s famous ride. The Smithsonian Magazine’s online biography, Famous Once Again provides lots of interesting details about Longfellow’s life. I never knew, for instance, that he was proficient in so many languages — ten altogether, at one point in his life. He’s considered the “uncrowned poet laureate” of the 19th-century US, and February 27 will be his 200th birthday.

I’m out of touch with today’s curriculums, but when I was young, just hearing or reading the first line, “Listen my children and you shall hear,” could set the cadence of Paul Revere’s Ride beating in my mind. Do kids still learn Longfellow in school? I was older when I read Evangeline, but the first verse is just as deeply embedded in my mind. I’ve since gone back for a taste, drawn in by the same first lines:

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?
Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers –
Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?
(read poem)

I had no idea what a Druid was when I first read that, but the poet drew me into that forest and I was hooked. I wanted to know everything about it. I wanted to know what happened to the Acadians who once lived there.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:23 pm PST, 02/25/07

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

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

July 23, 2006

Hot weather

This will be brief, since I’m on dial-up. The temperature got up to 101 Fahrenheit here yesterday, and though we held up, our internet service provider didn’t. I’m not into s-l-o-o-w blogging, so I think I’ll refrain until that’s fixed. Off to my disconnected laptop to write.

We heard rumbles of thunder yesterday, but no rain. Thunderstorms look even more likely today, but at least it’s cooler. (The thermometer says so, though humidity makes me feel otherwise.)

Stay cool.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:18 pm PST, 07/23/06

July 13, 2006

Bugs

This is inspired by Eric’s post, Jeepers Creepers. If bug stories bug you, proceed with caution.

Yesterday we had ants, the tiny black ones, in the kitchen. Not scary, just a nuisance that happens every summer. Usually they go for the honey jar on the counter, but not this time. I think they were looking for water, or they knew this heat wave was coming and were seeking a cooler place. We don’t like to use poisons, but when bugs start to take over the house, we’re forced to take action, to draw the line somewhere.

We do try to coexist. We find moths of all descriptions on the outside wall near our porch light. Some are quite beautiful. We leave the hordes of fuzzy caterpillars alone, picturing them as future butterflies, and gently scoop them up if they venture too near the front door. Daddy-long-legs don’t cause us much concern. We get lots of spiders here, outside and sometimes inside where we don’t want them, and now and then an exotic not-so-creepy-crawly wanders through, like the walking stick we found on the screen door—twice. That was kind of cool. Bats eat insects, and sometimes if we sit on the porch at night we’ll glimpse them, fast and silent, swooping in for small flying bugs attracted by the porch light.

Night before last, after a hot day, we waited until after dark to put the trashes out and retrieve the mail. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 2:06 pm PST, 07/13/06

July 11, 2006

Order and chaos

The cat’s litter box is clean. That mundane detail isn’t your favorite sentence I’ve ever written, I’m sure. Mine either. But my day often seems to revolve around whether that task has been accomplished, and what comes after it. I go through a list of chores, on the days I think to make one, eventually reaching the line that has to do with writing, after checking off a lot of other stuff. Today writing comes after important things like the cat’s box, which is of utmost importance to her, though slightly less to us except through our affection for her, since we don’t use it and it’s out in the garage, easy for us to forget. Vacuuming comes next, mostly pet hair this time of year. That task must be accomplished while the day is still cool enough to have windows open, or not at all. A late-in-the-day shower will be in order, after all the creepy stuff on the list is done. (Bear with me, I do have a point here, this isn’t merely a run-through of my chores.) (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 10:57 am PST, 07/11/06

July 4, 2006

What is privilege?

The subject of privilege came up on a forum where I sometimes participate, and it seems a relevant topic for Independence Day, since we tend to think of the US as a relatively privileged nation. The discussion grew out of one person claiming to be oppressed (my word choice, used to boil the idea down), and another saying he was equally oppressed, with a resulting one-upmanship of who was worse off or better off, at one point involving the term privileged. Out of that grew a separate discussion on what it means to be privileged in this world. Here’s what I shared on the subject, with some edits:

***

To me being privileged means having more than one’s basic needs met, and there are degrees of privilege, and it is relative, and basically meaningless. I’m more privileged than some people I know, and less privileged than some I know. But all I can really say about that is what I see on the surface.

It’s tragic that so few people in the world have adequate food, water, sanitation, shelter, clothing, necessary transportation, education, rest, safety, security, and health care, even some people in the US. Those should be basic, subsistence level expectations, especially considering how far we’ve come technologically in this world. Unfortunately those advances seem to be reserved for the wealthiest people in the wealthiest countries, for those living under certain forms of government and economics. Basic civil and human rights should also be considered subsistence level—everyone should have them. Not everyone does, even in the most economically “privileged” countries. We can’t even agree on what civil and human rights people should have.

But I also think many people in the world have a skewed notion of what it is to live under what they consider privilege (i.e. better apparent economic or social conditions than theirs). It looks easier. In many ways it is. It’s no guarantee one will be happy. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 9:40 am PST, 07/04/06


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