musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


October 3, 2007

Five years ago today

According to PRNewswire, Dennis Kucinich, in an impassioned plea five years ago, made a point-by-point argument against going to war in Iraq. He analyzed what he knew of the intelligence, and he persuaded 132 other legislators to vote against going to war. You can read the text of his speech five years ago in this PDF document.

Where would we be today if more people had listened?

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:03 pm PST, 10/03/07

July 9, 2007

Gloria Steinem proposes a new film genre label

Gloria Steinem: In Defense of the ‘Chick Flick’:

“I propose, as the opposite of “chick flick,” films called “prick flicks.” Not only will it serve film critics well, but its variants will add to the literary lexicon.” (read article)

Maybe the term “prick” is too strong. It’s not the word I would’ve chosen, yet it answers the fact that a lot of women are put off by the tone and expression, if not the word, used when we hear the term “chick flick.”

Steinem’s editorial reminds me of something that occurred in a “Modern Fantasy” literature class I took, back in the seventies, when Mary Stewart’s first two Merlin and Arthur novels, The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, were recent bestsellers. One of the young men in the class was so taken with them, he asked what other books Mary Stewart had written. I told him she’d written mostly romantic suspense in the past. I had an entire collection of her books at home, older hardcover editions gleaned from thrift store shelves. I thought when he expressed an interest that here was another new fan. But when the young man heard the word “romantic,” he took on a look of utter distaste and lost interest.

Some female mystery novelists still publish today using their first and middle initials rather than their full first names, in order to stretch past that still-existent gender barrier in many male readers’ minds, a practice reminiscent of the Brontës publishing under masculine names. One would’ve hoped that by the time this century rolled around we’d have advanced further. I don’t have statistics on this, but I’ll hazard a guess that there are more women who read and write fiction containing a predominately masculine point of view than there are men who read or write fiction containing a predominately feminine point of view.

Yet I know women, myself included, who enjoy a good action film, of the type once considered a favorite of men. Why is it that women, both in their reading and writing, as well as in movie preferences, might more readily cross old gender barriers?

Mind you, many men do take an equal interest in less violent or less action-oriented movies and books, and I admire men who are open to genres and interests considered historically feminine. I also admire women who open up more to interests previously considered masculine. More women today are sports fans than ever before, and don’t restrict their interests, as I do, to figure skating. My lack of interest is mostly due to bad experiences in physical education classes — I was that awkward, non-athletic kid always picked last for the team. It has nothing to do with my admiration of any outstanding achievement, physical or otherwise, and I enjoy watching good sports-related movies.

What is it that continues to keep some men from enjoying what they term as “chick flicks?” Is it that they truly don’t enjoy more thoughtful, slower-moving, or less action-oriented stories, once they give them a chance? Or is there another reason? Is it adrenaline addiction? (Understandable, among men and women, in today’s world, though perhaps best not encouraged.) Is it fear of what their friends will think? I’m trying not to make assumptions here. I’d really like to know, especially as a female writer trying to sell my fiction.

We all have types of stories we don’t like, or even parts of movies we like that we could do without. I personally back away from anything about child abductions, gangster movies that are overly violent onscreen, comedies that resort to tasteless bathroom humor (bathrooms have doors for a reason), and horror with too much blood and gore added for shock value. As far as I’m concerned, vomit and excrement belong off-screen. There’s enough of them in real life, and they’re not entertaining. They’re certainly not the kind of realism I’m looking for in a story.

I can understand someone not liking romance, even though I usually enjoy it provided it’s not overly sappy. But no one’s personal preference for certain types of stories and not others explains why we need the term “chick flick,” and especially not why it so often seems to be used as a derogatory term. Do the men who don’t like “chick flicks” prefer movies with only men? Is that what it boils down to?

I’m reminded of a line from Frank Herbert’s Dune regarding taking the “waters of life.” It mentions the place in their minds the Bene Gesserit mother superiors (women) fear to go, a place they believe only the fabled Kwisatz Haderach (a man) can access. The Kwisatz Haderach, once he accesses that place, becomes a superior being destined to lead his people to freedom. I wonder about the allegory Herbert intended, if any. Is there a place like that inside the female psyche, where some of the toughest men fear to go? Is that what they fear about “chick flicks?” Will they gain power if they find a way to access that, or will they lose power, possibly even die, as many men did who attempted to become the Kwisatz Haderach? Or will they simply gain a broader understanding of life and the world around them? In that case, maybe it’s worth a shot.

Gloria Steinem makes an interesting observation about power, and about nouns and adjectives in labels:

“Just as there are “novelists” and then “women novelists,” there are “movies” and then “chick flicks.” Whoever is in power takes over the noun — and the norm — while the less powerful get an adjective. Thus, we read about “African American doctors” but not “European American doctors,” “Hispanic leaders” but not “Anglo leaders,” “gay soldiers” but not “heterosexual soldiers,” and so on.” (read article)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:35 pm PST, 07/09/07

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 2, 2007

Essential Guitar

I’ve mentioned before how much I love guitar music. Well, I did it. I’ve wanted a guitar of my own for many months. I finally bought myself one — not too expensive, and not a piece of trash, just a nice, modestly-priced beginner’s acoustic guitar. I’ve begun learning to play it, and I’m hooked. My guitar is my best new friend, and is rapidly becoming essential to me.

I hesitate to mention the following in the same post as my halting beginner’s attempts. If you heard me play, you’d think it wasn’t even the same instrument as what these guys play, and it’s not exactly, since mine isn’t a classic guitar with nylon strings, and theirs probably cost thousands — but anyway, the word “guitar” is involved.

Essential Guitar

Essential Guitar: 33 Guitar Masterpieces may be the best money I’ve ever spent on anything. It’s a 2-CD set. The first is 77 minutes long and the second is 75, so I get 2-1/2 hours of bliss for less than what I’d usually pay for one CD. It includes Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, performed by Pepe Romero on the guitar with the Acadamy of St. Martin in the Fields (I needed to replace my old LP recording of that), plus 30 other classical compositions and traditional Spanish pieces, performed by various guitar masters including Pepe Romero, Los Romeros, Julian Bream, Andrés Segovia and others. The composers include Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Bach, Vivaldi, Albéniz, Scarlatti, and more.

Have you ever heard music that you wanted to last forever, maybe even to dive inside and live there for a while, immersing yourself in sound? That’s how I feel about this collection. The only problem I have with it is that I bought it thinking it might be nice to listen to while I write. Not so. It’s terrible for that. I’ll sit with my hands poised above the laptop keyboard, assuring myself I’ll get some work done while I listen. The music takes hold and carries me away.

I’m not expert at describing this or any type of music. I just know what I love. You might too, if you enjoy classical or Spanish guitar — unless you have absurd expectations about combining listening with work.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:35 pm PST, 04/02/07

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 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 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

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

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 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


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