readingtheory

July 16, 2016 THE ICE CHURCH IN IBSEN’S SECRET HEART

IceChurch

My favorite Ibsen plays aren’t the ones that deal with social issues (A Doll’s House, Enemy of the People) but the ones that deal with secrets of the heart, complicated desires most people refuse to admit – even to themselves.

The common elements to Rosmersholm, When We Dead Awaken and The Master Builder are:

  • An aging artist is artistically blocked and the thrill is long gone from his marriage.
  • A stranger from the past appears and demands payment for an unkept promise.
  • The young stranger tantalizes, provokes and ultimately inspires the aging artist to ascend to high, cold isolated peaks.
  • This perilous climb results in death. Unfortunately, in Ibsen’s world the hero must choose between living death by secure but sterile marriage or actual death by passion, romance and self-actualization.

One might assume Ibsen is the aging unhappily married artist but late in life, speaking of his wife Susannah, he said, “I could not do without her greatness. “ He never left Susannah for any of his young girls. So what was going on in Ibsen’s secret heart?

Secrect Heart2

In an early work, Brand, which also ends high in the mountains with the hero’s death via avalanche, Ibsen refers to the “Ice Church”, a human soul in which love has died. All that’s left for the couple is to “try to fill that emptiness with something. Something resembling love.” (Little Eyolf)

Ibsen Plays

In an interview about The Master Builder, Ibsen said “Solness and his wife are worthy people who aren’t happy in their life together. They don’t become what they could and should have become. They aren’t actually miserable. Although they share consideration and a kind of tenderness and love, they cramp each other. They brood perpetually because each goes his own way mentally and doesn’t share with the other. Contrast Hilde and Solness. They are not extraordinary persons but they feel spiritually akin, strongly attracted to each other. They feel they belong together and life together would be immeasurably richer. They would be better people and their relationship would give their lives greater meaning. Then the collision comes – when Solness still has a zest for life, a need for happiness, and feels unable to live in subdued resignation. And so they decide to build a castle in the air and live together in spirit.

"Castles In The Air" by Kwatsu
“Castles In The Air” by Kwatsu

This lifts him higher than before, able to do things he had not been able to do for a long time.[1] He stakes his life on his passion and is killed.”

How many married people relate to this passage, even if they’re unwilling to admit it or act on it? Is this why these plays made people of Ibsen’s era so uncomfortable?

Ibsen also said, “It is wrong to think of unhappy love as two people who love each other but don’t wind up together. No, unhappy love is when two people who love each other get married and feel they…cannot live happily together.”  I think Ibsen meant, they can’t keep their passion and romance alive – but who can? Passionate romantic love requires an element of risk, uncertainty, mystery and a leap of faith – the opposite of a long term marriage.

From "What Would Your Future Look Like If You Took a Leap of Faith?" By Victoria Cox
From “What Would Your Future Look Like If You Took a Leap of Faith?”
By Victoria Cox

That’s not to say I don’t believe in marriage. I do; I’ve been married forty years (to the same man.)  However, it’s not always easy. My novel, REPRISE, struggles with these themes in more depth and I’ll write more on this topic in future blogs.

[1] Phallic symbolism no doubt intentional.

 

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Today marks the end of an incredible tour of Russia, Germany and Scandinavia.  This is a photo of me in Germany.

Kathleen in Germany

As I journey back home, I can’t help but think about our last few days in Copenhagen.

From a quirky ’60s restaurant where we had lunch,

A '60s lunch tabletop and the restaurant wall - festooned with old reel-to-reel tape players , record players etc - some of the kids had never seen such things!
A ’60s lunch tabletop and the restaurant wall – festooned with old reel-to-reel tape players, record players etc – some of the kids had never seen such things!

to yet another castle with an interesting throne,

King's castle privy - none of the other castles included this detail.
King’s castle privy – none of the other castles included this detail.

to our crazy Marriot Hotel.

Our crazy hotel in Copenhagen.
Our crazy hotel in Copenhagen.

 

A closer look at our hotel.
A closer look at our hotel.

 

Just ASK! Just Alex, Sam and Kathleen in this photo.
Just ASK! Just Alex, Sam and Kathleen in this photo.

Here we are in a church in Copenhagen.

So many churches and castles.
So many churches and castles.
With all the walking we have been doing, It was always nice to find a place to sit down.
With all the walking we have been doing, It was always nice to find a place to sit down.

I will leave you with this last photo as I reflect upon our adventure.

Reflecting on the crown inside Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen.
Reflecting on the crown inside Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen.


 

7/15/16 – Ibsen and I

HENRIK IBSEN
HENRIK IBSEN

Since my family and I are touring Scandinavia, it’s a perfect time to revisit my relationship with Henrik Ibsen.

Growing up in California the smart second language was Spanish, but in high school I opted for Latin. When I reached UCLA I registered for German but in less than an hour I realized what most people probably already knew – Germans don’t employ the same sentence structure as English.

Luckily, UCLA offered a plethora of languages, one of which was Swedish. As a second language its usefulness is debatable since most Swedes speak English, but it utilizes the exact same sentence structure as English. Sign me up!animated-sweden-flag-image-0024

Sign Me Up!

Today, the only Swedish I remember is “Ja kan tala da svenska mycket bra.”  Unfortunately, this translates to “I can speak Swedish very well” and since I kannot tala da svenska mycket bra, I dare not utter it to anybody who actually speaks Swedish.

REALLY WISH I KNEW HOW TO SAY WHAT I WANT TO SAY IN SWEDISH!
REALLY WISH I KNEW HOW TO SAY WHAT I WANT TO SAY IN SWEDISH!

Since a year of Swedish familiarized me with the Scandinavian languages building, I figured why not take Scandinavian Literature? The first book we read was “The Axe.” (That’s all I remember, but I’m willing to bet no one lived happily ever after.)  Next we read Knut Hamsun’s Hunger (logline – Norwegian writer starves himself to death for art) and then Barabbas

Barabbas

(not the feel-good movie version. In the Lagerkvist book, Barabbas escapes death on the cross, thinks about things but reaches no conclusions, and dies on another cross.) If you’re hooked on nihilistic hopelessness and can’t get enough tragic suicides or avalanches, Scandinavian lit is for you.

 

Modern Mythic Style

 

This brings me to Henrik Ibsen. What better way to follow up my immersion in Scandinavian lit than a ten-week four-unit course all about Ibsen, all the time? I might not know much about Strindberg but by God, I can pontificate about Ibsen as long as you can stay conscious. How important is Ibsen? He’s behind Shakespeare but ahead of Chekhov when it comes to fathering modern theater.

 

Fathering Modern Theater

 

Here are some things you might not know about Ibsen. He left Norway before he found fame as a playwright and lived most of his adult life in Italy and Germany. He had a yen for young girls (but not Polanski thirteen-year olds; Ibsen’s crushes were old enough to legally consent, although it wasn’t necessary as nothing physical was involved.)  Oddly enough, although I find the old man/ young girl thing a little repugnant, my favorite Ibsen plays are his later ones dealing – not obliquely – with old geniuses and young girls. Ibsen might be famous for A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Hedda Gable, Peer Gynt and Enemy of the People but I’ll take Rosmersholm, Master Builder and When We Dead Awaken all day long.

Part two of Ibsen and I to follow tomorrow.

 

INDEED, MORE TO COME.
INDEED, MORE TO COME.

 

But, before I leave you, today, here is a collage of some of our experiences on our cruise from Stockholm to Copenhagen.

 

OUR WAY TO COPENHAGEN
ON OUR WAY TO COPENHAGEN

Two weeks later, although I have visited many wondrous places and have seen some incredible things, it is time to stop climbing the endless castle stairs.

 

No! I Don't Thinl So!

 

7/6/16 Let’s Talk Tolstoy

COUNT LEV NIKOLAYEVICH TOLSTOY, USUALLY REFERRED TO IN ENGLISH AS LEO TOLSTOY
COUNT LEV NIKOLAYEVICH TOLSTOY, USUALLY REFERRED TO IN ENGLISH AS LEO TOLSTOY

July6, 2016
I have yet to realize the above scenario. It turns out Tolstoy rarely surfaces in California small talk. Luckily, the blog format allows me to start my own conversation but it might be too late. I haven’t given Leo much thought for decades. To test my knowledge retention, I’m writing this post without using references.

My favorite Tolstoy novel was the lesser known Resurrection, written relatively late in his life. I don’t recall the hero’s name but basically the plot was as follows. An aristocrat serving as a juror recognizes the woman on trial as the same girl he and his friends gang-raped years earlier. Overcome with guilt, he accompanies her to prison in Siberia. She is not enthusiastic and, as I recall, it doesn’t turn into a love story. It’s more about the guy’s spiritual journey. It’s shorter than War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

Reserection4

By My Authority2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My second favorite was Anna Karenina but I confess skimming the parts about Levin. Tolstoy used Levin to pontificate on rural Russian agriculture, not exactly a page-turner. Given this, it’s ironic the section of the book I remember and admired most involved the deadly dull Levin.

Anna Karenina2

Here is how I remember it.  Levin has been set up with an eligible woman (after suffering rejection from Kitty, the woman he wants and – spoiler alert – later gets.) They’re picnicking near a river. Tolstoy describes a moment in their conversation where they both realize – or decide – this relationship is dead in the water. The energy level drops but nothing is said. No doubt some of my admiration for this passage is due to having experienced similar moments myself although I couldn’t articulate them as well.  In a future post, I’ll paste the passage in question into my blog and attempt to analyze why it works – or I’ll admit my memory failed and what I recall reading doesn’t exist. (It appears this may, in fact, be the case. I’m mortified.)

My favorite Tolstoy short story is the Kreutzer Sonata in which the aging Leo rails against the evils of lust, sex and women. In reality, Tolstoy’s wife Sonya got pregnant shortly after its publication and referred to the baby as “the postscript to the Kreutzer Sonata.”  It’s a passionate story, raging against passion.

K Sonata

Ask me what I know about Dostoevsky or Chekhov and the answer is “not much.” But just wait until someone brings up Leo Tolstoy at a cocktail party!

Here are a couple of shots of our visits to Tallinn, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia.

ME IN TALLINN, THE CAPITAL OF ESTONIA
ME IN TALLINN, THE CAPITAL OF ESTONIA
VISITING ST. ISAAC'S CATHEDRAL IN ST. PETERSBURG - ALEX & ME - SAM & ALEX TAKING PICTURES - OTHER MEMBERS OF OUR GROUP NOT LOOKING INTO THE CAMERA
VISITING ST. ISAAC’S CATHEDRAL IN ST. PETERSBURG – ALEX & ME – SAM & ALEX TAKING PICTURES – OTHER MEMBERS OF OUR GROUP NOT LOOKING INTO THE CAMERA

June 29. 1964

June 29,1964A_edited-1
The News Edited

June 29, 1964BOh,Gosh!
Have you ever noticed how in virtually every fairy tale since the beginning of time, the oldest sister(s) are ugly harpies and the youngest is so clever, kind and beautiful – so gosh darn special – that she always wins Prince Charming’s heart? Sometimes older siblings have no plot function or personality at all – they exist only to make the hero a youngest child.

This blatant favoritism for the youngest sibling didn’t die with old-fashioned fairy-tales like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. It’s alive and well in contemporary fiction –  Ron Weasley is the youngest Weasley brother and Ginny (the youngest) becomes Harry’s wife in Harry Potter. Ender is the youngest of three in Ender’s game. Alyosha, the youngest, is the most morally pure of the Brothers Karamazov.

The purpose of fairytales and myths is to teach children about life. What lesson is an oldest child supposed to take from this bias? No wonder I look so ticked off in childhood photos of the three of us. The subliminal message in myth and lit was I didn’t count in this story. I was a stage prop, meant to do something venal and stupid and exit to make way for the chosen one, the good one – my youngest sister Joyce.

 

UH-OH. LOOKS LIKE JANET JUST FIGURED OUT SHE'S GOT A SHIT PART TO PLAY TOO, SINCE SHE'S NO LONGER THE BLESSED YOUNGEST. HURTS, DOESN'T IT?
UH-OH. LOOKS LIKE JANET JUST FIGURED OUT SHE’S GOT A SHIT PART TO PLAY TOO, SINCE SHE’S NO LONGER THE BLESSED YOUNGEST. HURTS, DOESN’T IT?

 

If you’re interested, there’s a list and explanation of this trope at

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/YoungestChildWins

And if you’re in the mood for some sisterly snark, follow these links to either or both of these photo galleries – My Two Years and Two Days of Bliss (link) and Kathy Vs. the Alien Baby. Pictures don’t lie!

It was all about animated-symbol-image-0219

 

May 28, 1971



This was one of the worst days of my life. To set it up a little, I was at UC Santa Barbara for one quarter of intercampus visitation and this was the day I showed the film I made for one of the classes  I took there.
May 28, 1971

Sad Kathy

Sobbing

First, I take full responsibility for this debacle. For some bizarre reason, I believed that if I made a complicated incomprehensible film that nobody could understand, the audience would be awed by my superior intellect and love me. If you doubt how pretentious and wrong-headed my film was, allow me to dazzle you with its full title – JOURNEY: A RITUAL IN FIVE PARTS.

Movie Clapboard

So why do I consider this disaster one of the luckiest breaks of my life? First, I made the film in Santa Barbara, where no one from the UCLA  Film Department would stumble upon it and it could die in peace. If I hadn’t launched this colossal misfire in Santa Barbara, I almost certainly would have made a similar film for my Project 1 at UCLA – which, at the time, was basically a thesis film worth 8 units of credit on which your entire  career in the film department depended. The humiliation in Santa Barbara saved me a far greater humiliation.

Second, and more important, I learned in a visceral punch-to-the-gut way that obscure  pretentious films are not the way to an audience’s heart. (Why didn’t I know this already? I must’ve been absent that day.) My value system changed, as is reflected in my subsequent writing career. I finally understood the most important aspects of any film, story or book are to be entertaining, clear and accessible.

And, when I made my Project 1 three months later at UCLA, it was one of four films that was awarded the Jim Morrison Memorial Grant.

Jim Morrison Award_edited-1

What am I doing with a 1963 Playboy?

It’s research. Really. A vintage magazine – particularly those aimed at men or women looking for love – is an invaluable resource if you’re writing about another time period. Wikipedia or your basic Time-Life retrospective is fine for a sound bite, but for a glimpse into how the sexes perceived each other and interacted, check out the magazines they read – and don’t skim over the ads! By studying what – and how – advertisers sold their wares, you’ll find clues to what people of that time period wanted.What am I doing with a ’63 Playboy?

VargasFramed

To illustrate, I’ll use the August ’63 Playboy which I referenced in my last blog.  On page 30, an ad blares, “Snap! It’s open! Beer cans will never be the same.”  The pull tab is referred to as a “new opening convenience” brought to you by Alcoa. It puts into perspective just how long ago and far away 1963 actually was. Another time warp ad on page 34 asks, “Do $5.95 slacks go with a $15 sport shirt?”  For the researcher, the question is a window into the fashion and economy of 1963.

BeerSlacks

My favorite ad, page 64, asks “What sort of man reads Playboy?” The answer in August is, “a young man about town and country who draws freely from the good things in life, the Playboy reader leads the pack when it comes to lighting up – a smoke or a girl’s eyes. Facts: Copy for copy, Playboy has more male smokers than any other magazine. What’s more, their taste for tobacco is as selective in form and shape as their choice of a playful playmate. 64.5% smoke cigarettes. 25.8% prefer the satisfaction of a fine cigar. 23.4% take pleasure in a pipe. This is the audience with buying power – enough to spark a new trend, or add a new glow to established brands.”  The bottom of the ad lists Playboy’s advertising offices.

Smoking

Just to be clear – this pitch is not targeted at cigarette manufactures. Smoking was merely something hip cool playboys did. The December 1963 “What Sort of Man Reads Playboy” reads: “A discerning young city dweller with an elegant eye for luxurious living, the Playboy reader is as selective with his appointments as he is with his dates. And he settles on only the best when it comes to making an impression in the right quarters. Facts: With a median household income of over $10,000 he has the money and manner to live life well-upholstered, can easily afford the fine furnishings compatible with his social and business status. To move your product with success, use the magazine he lives by – Playboy.”

And on page 141, “Fun at hand – the Playboy Puppet. Add a bright touch to any gathering with this captivating puppet modeled after the famous Playboy rabbit. As a gift, or for yourself. It’s the perfect thing for off-the-cuff amusement.”

Puppet

These are the ads in one issue. In my next blog, I’ll summarize the Playboy Philosophy column, in which Hef himself dispenses incredibly politically incorrect advice about dating and mating.

Balloon

My Values in Fiction

Baby K

MY VALUES IN FICTION

Since I’m going to offer reviews and recommendations, I thought I’d clarify my personal value in fiction. I don’t claim to be an authority on anything except my own personal taste. Your value system is equally valid, even if it’s diametrically opposed to mine.

• I read for entertainment. Story is more important than beautiful language. . That’s not to say I don’t admire the perfect word choice – but without an entertaining story, I won’t keep turning pages.
• I read to answer questions to learn something – what happens next? Questions create suspense and propel me forward. Answers (information) should be revealed slowly to keep me interested.
• The train must leave the station (story must start) fast (preferably immediately). As in screenwriting, start late and leave early.
• Never use two words when you can use one better word. No wasted words ever.
• The best stories involve hard decisions, true dilemmas.
• Use small, concrete physical details in description but make sure they tell the reader something new about the character or story.
• Ask yourself David Mamet’s three questions.
• Why now?
• Who wants what from whom?
• What happens if they don’t get it?
• Remember – everybody has their reasons. Even villains/antagonists.
• Protagonists want something passionately. They are active, as are your verbs.
• While not always necessary in literary fiction, I prefer stories in which protagonists change / arc in a satisfying way. Even a failed epiphany is an epiphany.
• Don’t let characters say “I love you”. Show it in interesting ways.
• In literary short stories, small turning points occur when very minor decisions change everything. For me, this doesn’t work in long fiction.
• Short stories shouldn’t snap shut “like a cheap lock” – allow for ambiguity. It’s good if the reader wonders about the story after reading it.


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