All posts by Conrad Reeder

About Conrad Reeder

B.A., M.F.A. Film, Theater & Communication Arts. Creative Writing: Playwriting. Lecturer at the University of Hawaii. Adjunct Faculty at Palm Beach State College. Currently working on a Ph. D. in Mythological Studies with Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. :: Graffiti, a new play about Goldie and Alice, neighbors who live in a trailer park in Holiday, Florida, and fight about Junior, the grandson Goldie raised. Junior is now a man, and Alice has noticed.

weSPARK Creative Writers



Mentoring a Creative Writing Class for weSPARK has been a remarkable experience for me, and I feel very blessed and honored to have met some wonderful people in this process. As a non-profit that is “dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for cancer patients, weSPARK has become “home” for many people trying to survive the chaotic events around cancer. My husband died of pancreatic cancer (2011) and recently (2016) my dear sister died with kidney/brain cancer. The suffering of everyone involved, the people with cancer and the people who love them, is inescapable and incalculable.  After Roger died, I fell apart. Slowly, I rebuilt my psyche and forged a new life. One of the tools I used to do this was writing and that resulted in a book: Memory Clouds: Good Grief Bad Grief. 

Regardless of any success for my work, my life has continued to bloom and soar in all directions. I owe that, in part, to the benefits I get from writing.

Working with the beautiful, talented people in my class at weSPARK, which lasted four sessions, specifically helped me process the grief surrounding the recent cancer death of my sister. We all have to deal with grief eventually. I suggest writing as one way to help in process.

The following poems and scenes were generated

from our class.

For the poetry, I gave everyone the same two prompts (one of the prompts was the picture of the ocean at the heading of this intro). The diversity of subjects is a testament for the variety of talent in our class. For the scene descriptions, I asked the writers to describe a place using our five senses. Out of this, I asked them to come up with characters to step into their scenes and talk, and that dialogue was read with great enthusiasm in class.

Many thanks to the writers who are sharing their work (see below).

My heart to yours,




An Homage to Friends Seen and Unseen by Beth Brown

The life I knew quickly came to a halt.

I think I hear the attempts to communicate

Or is it a way for me to really listen to my longing heart?

In the middle of this chaos, I finally heard the laughter…

Laughter from another place


Reassurance that life goes on


Now with me, more present, more alive

Sometimes I feel freer than ever before

Those on another plane have come to my aide with grace

Are they the saviors of the world?

Are these the new mediators?

Somehow many others have heard my cries


Seen friends new and old have also aided me with grace


Advice, comfort, and delicious delights

Either way, I gratefully accept the support whether

Spiritual or corporeal

Three Haiku by Joyce Kane

Acolyte pilot

Lands aircraft, eager to set

His suicide bomb


Bodhissattva swoons

Buddha’s hand lifts, flame ignites

Love explodes on earth


Squirrel toes red bark

Six nipples, soft dangling cones

Claws clasping acorn

 Three Poems by Andrea de Lange

Tranquil Night – Limerick

There’s magic at twilight, tonight
Colors pop in the glimmering light.

The jasmine’s in bloom,

And there’s plentiful room

For the feeling that all is alright



The scent of jasmine is thick as a fog

It fills me up and feeds my soul.

Its essence soothes my mind

And the tension drips away

My muscles surrender to the newness of calm

At this moment, it seems all is right in the world


Tranquil Knight

He was a tranquil guy

Not your typical knight.

He spent his spare time

Writing poems and whittling wood.

He wasn’t aggressive,

And didn’t like to fight.

He’d rather be daydreaming,

And finding figures in the clouds.

Like most knights, he was loyal,

And chivalrous to the core.

Luckilly for him,

There was peace, and not war.

Poem by Sara Davenport

She climbs.

The ache of her bones comforts her.

She knows the dirt, but not the ground she explores.

She does not look back at the cold unmoving calm.

Only Forward

Searching outward

Trying to catch the wind.

Tranquility by Jan Finer

To have some faith and trust would help

Allay my frequent fears.

The worries and the what ifs

Have plagued me through the years.

I’ve often felt I’m doomed to stress

And can’t claim calm and mellowness.

My goal, in life, will always be

To conquer what now conquers me.

Lullaby and Goodnight By Lynn Smolen

Lullaby and Goodnight, a touch of madness in my prison of eternal life.

I sat upon a rock. Here the earth met the sky, the horizon peaked through the night in the moonlight a path in the water broken by the rising dorsal fin slicing through its surface. Its silent assent blended with the crashing waves. I watched it come. So like me, the mighty hunter, the Great White Shark. Behind me sea lions slumbered. Not knowing what waits for them in the coming dawn.

Another lay upon the sand. His blood still warm upon my lips. He wore the mark of the vampire on his neck.

Foolish man. He, who hunts with his crosses and stakes, knows not who he trifles with.

I stood upon the rock, the wind had risen. I raised my arms and turned into it and vanished as I came.

Heart shape tree on green grass field. Love symbol, banner


The Vineyard by Sara Davenport

Row after row of knobbed and twisted Ts reaching out for their caretakers offering fruit in exchange for water. Edges of the grounds are lined with olive trees dropping slippery seeds leaving streaks of heavy oils on the ground. Jasmine awakes as morning glories nod their heads into slumber, their perfumes cling to the ar. Bees pass by humming while they work, building the terroir in the dusty afternoon haze.

Five Senses by Joyce Kane

The smooth, pastel green and white tree stands proud and tall, covered with rough, thick, orange sheaths peeling off in chunks. Rust, grey and brown patterns snake and intertwine like fingers across the pale trunk, creating strange shapes like an abstract painting. A squirrel head with pink cheeks and button eyes peers out between curving strips of shining sienna skin. A forlorn man with one big, hollow eye holds a walking stick, a black feather falling from his brow.   A brown baby elephant sits on his haunches, reaching down with his thin snout. A man with round, white eyes and a funny khaki hat stares at nothing. Long, rectangular strips of wet, yellow bark bend and lift up, revealing glowing lime wood speckled with tiny pinpoint holes. Raindrops glisten as they run in rivulets over interlacing patches of red and brown bark. A breeze streams drizzle through the air.

Leaves gently rustle, then shiver in waves high above, crinkling like paper. Long, thin, pointed chartreuse blades drop like spinning darts down onto muddy grass. The fresh, invigorating smell of mint wafts with the damp air. I breathe deeply, the scent filling my lungs. I lick cool, soft rain on my lips, taste the fresh water on my tongue—grateful for the swaying, majestic eucalyptus in the storm.

I Was There…Were You? The 80’s by Beth Brown

(The Atlanta Limelight)

Thump. Thump. Thump. The bass was hypnotic. Where was my friend? We’d come here together and now…I don’t know. But, all the beautiful people dressed in crushed velvet, boots, gold chains, and fringe were there. Strobe lights illuminated the rhythm of the dancers on the floor, on the dancing platforms above the masses and even glistened off the koi and gold fish swimming underneath the dance floor. Where was I? We’d come here out of curiosity, and though I thought I’d never been here before, it seemed familiar. Red ropes and green velvet curtains hid the activities behind me where I now suspected my friend to be. Thump. Thump. Thump. It was loud.

I sipped at a drink that was sickly sweet and took an empty seat at a previously occupied table. The place was glamorous and fantastical, but had a familiarity to it that I couldn’t place. Observing the layout, I noticed the long railing behind me, the circular pattern of the room and the barely noticeable but still there, the tragic/comedy masks of theatre hanging above the dance floor like a guiding star to someone who would notice. Is that a Gloria Gaynor song playing?

The dance floor is packed and I’m bored. I concentrate on the Muses above and the realization hit me. The Harlequin Dinner Theatre had been my refuge from engineering school. Here it was turned into what I now decided to be a tacky garish nightclub despite its international clientele. I closed my eyes and images of Molly Brown, The Music Man and other memorable dates came flashing through. How long had I been in my naïve fog before strong pressure on my right shoulder wakened me from my innocent memories. “You can’t sleep in here!” The baritone voice boomed. As if I could. Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” began to crescendo as I looked around and saw my friend parting a green velvet curtain and straightening her dress.

The House on the Side of the Hill by Beth Brown

SCREECH! CRASH! Expletives from a fourteen-year-old boy as he sees what has happened. I looked out of my bedroom window and saw where our brown Pontiac station wagon had hit a Loblolly pine tree. He was driving. I decided to run away. My mother had 132 acres of Loblolly pine trees and knowing the reaction from my father, I could hide out in these woods for a while until the crisis calmed. I called out to one of our mixed breed dogs (part English shepherd, German shepherd collie) to follow me. Skipper had the markings like an Appaloosa horse and was a gentle, sweet dog. I left my room and began to walk fast and then run away from the hissing car and agitated two years younger brother. I could still hear him cursing in the background. I ran through the un-manicured woods and down overgrown trails away from the known paths to the three acre pond. This trail was not familiar and I knew these woods. Blackberry bushes covered parts of the path. They scratched me as I carried on to the end of Mama’s property.

I had now been running about twenty minutes when Skipper and I came to a clearing. The scent from the pines was soothing, and the sight of the rock in the sun was welcome. I sat. The panting dog next to me received a special hug for staying with me. Suddenly he ran off. I peered in the direction he was running and decided to follow him. There before me was a stopped-up stream glistening in the sunlight. Skipper was lapping up water. I looked farther down the stream and to my surprise, I saw three beavers working on their masterpiece. This sight took my mind off the previous events. I don’t know how long I observed them, but I began to notice the afternoon shadows in these woods.

Finding a stump to rest on, I began observing the surroundings. Across the stream and up a hill, more water streamed out of a pipe. I peered further up the side of the hill and saw it. The house was old. The grey horizontal slats were loose. The porch on the left side was leaning because the rocks holding it up were settling in the pine covered ground. The windows were dirty and the screen-door as well as the front door was closed. Wow. I didn’t know anyone lived here. It was on the other side of the stream and it wasn’t my mother’s land, so I just observed. Skipper didn’t seem to notice. As the shadows deepened, I decided to go back home hoping that the crisis had been resolved.

The next day I relayed my experience to my mother and father. They seemed surprised as they knew of no one that lived there either. My father was so curious that he took me to the neighbors and asked them about that area of their land. When I described the house, skeptical looks were exchanged. The neighbor flatly stated, “That house was there about one hundred years ago, just after the Civil War, but it burned down a long time ago and nothing is there now.” In that part of the country, my observations could make me a suspicious character, so we left quietly and never told anyone outside the family. My brother, though, was happy with this distraction as it took the emphasis off of his accident.

The Devil Has Three Faces  (Sherlock) By Lynn Smolen

A closed red floor length curtain was pushed open by a hand disturbing a layer of dust into the air. Sounds blanketed by the closed window were lost as he looked down into the London hustle and bustle of night life, where street lights cast their beams into the fray of moving headlights with the scurrying traffic below, as the glass in the window reflected his shadowed face.

He stood in profile holding a glass of spirits and sipped at it lazily, letting the tartness of its flavor coat his tongue and the heated swallow spread down into his chest. He turned slightly, street light advancing to engulf two thirds of his face and neck polishing his pale skin to a brilliance. His hair black as night was a curly mop cut short, partially covering his ears with fluffed bangs that lay upon his forehead. Elegantly shaped eyebrows were crowns for the beauty of his hypnotizing eyes. Eyes like a cat, pupils black framed by the almost colorlessness of light blue rimmed in black eyelashes. His nose straight was shadowed on one side. Prominent cheek bones gave him an air of nobility. His lips were soft and curved above a strong chin. He was a tall man, standing straight as his youth demanded. His frame was thin covered with an open beige dressing gown over a light blue shirt unbuttoned at the neck and dark trousers, the hem of the dressing gown ending inches above his shoes in total summation of the disposition of his countenance.

He let the curtain go and moved into the room pacing about as a creeping annoyance and a sense of restlessness began to consume him. He stopped and downed the last contents of his glass and put the empty container on a small round pedestal table. Trying to restore balance to his good nature he picked up his violin and bow placing the instrument under his chin, his hand caressing the aged wood. He put the bow to the strings while his bony fingers keyed them and began to play the haunting tune of Danny Boy. Behind him a fire burned brightly in the hearth chasing away the lingering coldness in the corners of the room.

The sweet smell of burning logs filled the flat. On the mantle under a square mirror a human skull rested on a circular box. Adjacent to it was an ivory handled knife, its blade sunk into a pile of unopened letters. A framed­-pinned vampire bat amid various beetles was resting against the wall. Comfortable armchairs, one covered in a plaid throw, the other cushioned in black leather stood on either side.

A lamp burned bright on a mahogany desk littered with papers and a lap top computer. Bookcases with many volumes stacked and slanted nestled on shelves that lined the walls. Multiple rows of black Fleur de lis-like patterns on tan wallpaper behind a brown couch clashed with the red Persian rug on a dark wood floor.

The music ceased as he felt the whisper of breath upon his ear and coated arms encircled his waist. He spoke, the deep richness of his voice tipped with mounting hostility, “You are late. I was beginning to think you were not coming.”

“Not so late. Don’t be angry,” she said resting her head upon the back of his shoulder. “You know I could never resist the invitation to dine with you.”

The devil has three faces.

“No, you couldn’t.” He replied pulling away from her and putting down the violin and bow. He crossed the room removing his dressing gown tossing it on the couch as he went to a closet opened it and took out a scarf wrapping it about his neck. He removed a coat from the hanger and shrugged into it turning the collar down. From the inside coat pocket he removed a small pull out magnifier and from the outer pocket a pair of black leather gloves. He put them on a shelf above the rack of long topcoats. The shelf stacked with blankets and pillows.

“Fool,” he muttered to himself as he put his hand under the blankets and removed a folded knife and put it it the outer pocket of the coat. He shut the closet and buttoned up the coat as he walked to the door of the flat. He opened it gesturing her out with a sweep of his hand. She passed him and waited on the landing of a descending back staircase leading down into a hallway as he shut the door behind him. He passed her quickly and went down first with her following.

“You are famous you know,” she said from behind him catching up. “How do you feel about that bloody awful name the London Times has given you?”

He stopped his descent, turned and looked up at her. “Ah…the new celebrity of White Chapel…Jack… Jack the ripper. How do I feel about it?”

He smiled broadly and clapped his hands together like an excited child. “Inspired,” punctuated by a click of his tongue. His right hand went into his coat pocket and he caressed the pocket knife within. He turned and continued down the stairs, his good humor restored. He reached the bottom and proceeded down the hallway, stopped at a mirror on the wall and pushed back the fallen locks on his brow before opening the outside door for her as they went out down two steps onto the sidewalk.

On the pavement she said along side of him. “You know he’s looking for you?”

He laughed then. The warmth of his breath dropping onto the cold air in a puff as he said, with an over confident air, ”Who? That idiot detective on Baker Street. Not a chance in hell he will ever find me.”

“Don’t be too sure,” she said as he went into the street to hail a cab.

In the distance Big Ben chimed the quarter. Bong…Bong…Bong.

Heart Repaired


While growing up in the 60s in Columbus, Ohio, I didn’t talk to strangers about my dad, Glade Reeder, who was a policeman because they were being called “pigs” in my world, and I didn’t want to be known as the “pig’s daughter.”

"Plain clothes" Detective Reeder with flashlight in hand.
“Plain clothes” Detective Reeder with flashlight in hand.

In my house, Dad would not even allow the word “cop.” He and his cohorts were to be called police officers. But even my dad said (when asked about police brutality), “Every organization has bad eggs.” Dad, however, was a compassionate giant of a man and never shot anyone. He would go out in the middle of the night to help people–off duty. Yet, my poor mom knew he could be killed at any moment, just for his job description.

Of course, people deserve to not be afraid of the police uniform and police absolutely deserve our respect. It is not the job for a weak heart, and predictably, my dad had a massive heart attack, which forced him to retire earlier than he wished. A scuffle in a bar was the last thing his heart could handle.

This fear and distrust between the police and the so-called general public will only create bigger problems. Shame on news agencies that flame this delicate issue either way. What we need is a fairer judicial system and solutions for the mentally ill. I lived in NYC when President Reagan shut down all the mental institutions and basically dumped thousands of crazy people on the streets, some on my block! Not much has changed.

Police can’t fix these larger societal issues, yet they are the ones bearing the brunt of the violence in our homes, on the streets and in our neighborhoods. Who are you going to call in the middle of the night if a burglar is breaking into your house?

Bless all the good police officers and all the families of police officers that put up with this strain on a daily basis, while the rest of us drive through Starbucks and complain. The police are us, all colors, all nationalities, and most are good men and women trying to serve and protect.

This week and every day I honor all the good people who have died while wearing a police uniform.

Where Do Our Thoughts Come From?

Some days I’d rather not think about Roger. His absence will always be painful no matter how many years roll by, and when I see him in family footage, my body aches. But, our girls and I are determined to keep going because we are producing a documentary about him and it has to be done.

Recently, I looked at this video again from the Grammy site of me, Cimcie and Ashlee accepting Roger’s Grammy for a Lifetime Tech Award almost a year after he died.

I barely remember this day or the ones leading up to it, but apparently I did this.

However, I do remember the moment I wrote the speech. Cimcie, Ash and I were in Jupiter, Florida going through the property that was going into foreclosure, the home I thought Roger and I would grow old together–where we would play with our grandkids someday. The ordeal was excruciatingly painful for me, but then we got the news from Neil Crilly that Roger won this Grammy. He’d been nominated the year before and lost, a sad day for him (on top of the cancer), and then he died six weeks later.

So, this was a bittersweet moment. I walked into his studio and sat in his chair, looked around at all the gear, books…all his stuff left behind when he’d driven away to Burbank in 2010 with a trailer of more “stuff” for his new job teaching at Video Symphony. His intent was to get the rest of his “stuff” later, but later never came. His diagnosis of Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer happened several months into his new job.

Tears. Sobbing, really. After some time, I picked up a pen. While sitting in Roger’s chair in his office, looking out at our beautiful flowers and the butterflies flitting around, a landscape we’d so lovingly cared for and enjoyed, I stopped crying and the words appeared on the page. I don’t know where all the words I write come from, but I believe those words came from Roger.

Because that’s how he wanted people to remember him: inventive, driven to succeed, passionate about life and fun.

I am grateful for friends who are trying to help us (me and our girls) put something out there on film about Roger’s brilliant mind and beautiful soul. Love will find a way and my thought wrote that.

The Family Tale of Anna Jarvis

On Mother’s Day, I‘d like to tell a story about my dad, Glade Reeder, or rather a story he told me while growing up.

Dorotha (my mom), Glade and me.
Mom, Dad and me.

Dad loved to tell people we were related to Anna Jarvis, the woman credited for establishing Mothers Day in the United States. He didn’t know exactly how, but that was the family myth. As a teenager, I would roll my eyes. My dad was always telling stories. But, as the world turns, his family tale is true. My dad’s mom was a Jarvis and thanks to, I can now say without a doubt that we are, in fact, related to Anna “Mothers Day” Jarvis. I wish Dad were here for me to tell him that Anna Jarvis is officially his 2nd cousin, 3X removed. Mystery solved.

My Grandmother (my dad's mother).
My Jarvis Grandmother (my dad’s mother), Chloe Jarvis Stubbs Reeder.

Emanuel & Lettice Jarvis
Emanuel & Lettice Jarvis

My daughter, Cimcie, is standing next to her gr-grandparents Jarvis tombstone in Marysville, Ohio, the same place my parents and many other relatives are buried. Emanuel Jarvis was a leading citizen in his day, yet no letters by this Jarvis have been found by me to date.

But, Dad loved words. He loved to talk, but really he could have been a writer. Instead, his father left his mother with five kids during the Great Depression, forcing my dad to leave his education to work labor jobs to help support his mother and siblings. Luckily, my grandmother’s extended families of Jarvis and Stubbs helped some.

Jarvis House Raymond Pike, Ohio
Jarvis House on Raymond Pike, Marysville Ohio

My dad spent much of his youth roaming around these large estates and this Jarvis/Stubbs house, “a fine, commodious residence of modern architecture, erected in 1884, at a cost of $3,400, – a home which betokens the taste and refinement of its occupants, and which cannot fail to attract admiring attention.”

Eventually, Dad was a detective in the Columbus Police Department and a president of the Fraternal Order of Police, so he did alright.

Glade Reeder Police Officer
Glade Reeder Police Officer

Dad’s  last name was Reeder, which I like to do: read. He also enjoyed my writings, especially for EQ Magazine in the decade before he died in 1999. I think he would like the poem I wrote for my own mother on another Mothers Day. Dad was a mush about her, too. Mothers were high in his esteem. My sisters and I always knew he was there for us, not like his no-show father. But Dad also encouraged me to write songs and poems and letters, and so it seems, just like my cousin, Anna Jarvis.


Mom laugh Pic Monkey Flowers

Years have past and still you are gone,

Yet in my heart,  you linger on.

My mind plays tricks: your phone is dead,

Mail got lost, your car repossessed.

You took a trip, forgot to call.

You got amnesia from a fall.

That’s not your name engraved on stone.

There must be more to you than bone.

On Mother’s Day I buy your card,

But don’t know where you really are.

I’m in heaven, I think I hear.

I’m all around you, very near.

Look closely in your mirrored eye,

For there you’ll see my soul sublime.

“I miss your hands, your laugh,” I say.

“I’d rather have you here to play.”

And just when all is doom and gloom,

A louder voice speaks in the room.

“Mom, I’m home, Happy Mother’s Day!”

And there you are…in my child’s face.

Mom and Me

Look Out Spain: ¡Here Comes Doña Quijote!

(Being in Mexico, all things Spanish bubbled back into my brain. The following is a paper I wrote for my MFA from the University of New Orleans’ “Spanish Literature and Culture Class” taught by Peter Thompson in Madrid July, 2007, oh, and yes, I lived right around the corner from the Plaza de Cibeles.)

Apartamento_Recoletos Pic

In 1974, I portrayed Antonia, the niece of Don Quixote at my college production of Man of La Mancha for Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN–my big break–the moment I fell in love with theater. Little did I know then that I would spend quality time in Spain 30 years later thinking/writing about Miguel de Cervantes and other Spanish writers–all things España, especially about how women have been portrayed in stories.Unamuno sentimiento-tragico-de-la-vida-Pic

Miguel de Unamuno (1864 – 1936), a Spanish philosopher and important literary figure, proposed that, in his time, the women of Spain lived only to give birth, but he believed “that the role of woman is what has made the United States great” (Sedwick 312), especially as it applied to the liberation of women in the workforce and in education, but the women in his stories are preoccupied with motherhood as their basic motivation, and “a woman is either a mother or a potential mother, as distinguished from female, hembra, a term which Unamuno seldom uses without disdain” (Sedwick 309). In life, Unamumo’s wife, Concha, was a simple, un-intellectual woman and gave him eight children–so the discussion at home about the changing role of Spanish women ended at the tip of Unamuno’s pen.

Spaniards say they are Catholic, but since the death of Franco (1975) attendance to mass has diminished. In post-Franco Spain, how does a 21st century woman assimilate into a secularizing society with a government sanctioned 4th century Catholic dogma? The mixed message is one that is being played out in the cultures of many nations of the world to varying degrees, but Spain offers a unique story all its own.

The arena of theatre and/or literature offers clues. Unamuno’s Fedra follows the basic premise of the Greek mythical story told in Euripides´ Hippolytus – retold as Phaedra in the 1st century C.E. by the Spaniard from Cordoba, Seneca, and in the 17th century by the French dramatist, Racíne.

Fedra Unamuno PicMonkeyThe doomed Fedra/Phaedra falls in love with her stepson, but Unamuno changes one important detail. Unamuno’s Fedra “has no children of her own” (Sedwick 310), unlike the fertile Phaedra of ancient myth. Unamuno constructed a drama in which “tragedy for anyone other than Fedra is averted when she dies of love, remorse, and a physically weak heart” (Sedwick 310). His story seems to say that a woman without children is more likely to be a victim of destructive passion.

The  production of Fedra at the Mérida Festival Teatro Clásico (2007), however, stayed truer to the original myth. The playwright, Juan Mayorga, included Fedra’s son, Acamante, but this Fedra ended the story by finishing off the dying Hippolytus with a knife, and then sliced her wrist, falling on the dead Hippolytus. The following video is a glimpse of the intense drama from my peanut-gallery seat. 

This updated Fedra text is written primarily to showcase the talents of the singer Ana Belén, but even so, Belén’s Fedra is a mother, albeit a repulsive mother who commits three hideous sins damned in most religions; she lusts for her step-son, she lies, and then commits suicide. It would seem being a mother does not prevent this Fedra from being the catalyst of these horrific events. The mother as whore turns Unamuno’s concept of motherhood upside down.

Benito Pérez Galdós (1843 – 1920) creates a world where women are the victims of their fecundity or lack thereof. In Fortunata y Jacinta, the women, respectively mistress and wife, fight over a man – Juanito. The mistress is fertile and the wife is barren. Fortunata has one clear idea: “A wife that doesn’t give children isn’t worth a thing. Without us, the ones that have them, the world would come to an end” (Galdós 603). Fortunata y Jacinta Pic

Unfortunately for Fortunata her childbearing prowess does not save her body and she dies, leaving her son for Juanito and his wife, Jacinta, to raise. The mother in this story is not socially or morally elevated by her ability to give birth–a precursor of the fully mixed message to come.

Spanish women eventually found their own voice to express their slant on motherhood. Some critics feel Carmen Martín Gaite (1925 – 2000) represents the best of the post-dictatorship trend in the writing of Spanish female authors who polarize the Spanish male into characters of “macho” and “the weakling” (Brown 59). Gaite was mostly concerned with “the centrality of a problematic of communication” (Servodidio 565). The issue of motherhood would not be the over-riding issue, once men and women communicated, and not just dialogued. In other words, the way to a woman’s heart and body is through her head, and not the promise of motherhood.

In Gaite’s Fragmentos de interior the handsome Diego abandons his artistic wife of three decades to take up with young lovers to assert his virility. Gaite FragmentsGaite herself had two children, and also had separated from her writer husband, Rafael Sanchez Ferlosio. Art reflects life.

In the real world, the women of Spain are taking charge of their bodies anyway, with or without the sanction of Unanumo or the Catholic Church. Spanish women are forging a new story about motherhood. Post-Franco women are having fewer children.  The Franco regime banned contraception and encouraged large families, but the subsequent administrations have had no explicit population policy. The following graph from the Rand Corporation shows how Spain plunged in birth rates after the Franco dictatorship ended.

Spain Birth Rate Rand

In addition, Franco’s not-so-silent partner, the Catholic Church, has lost some authority in dictating how people live. Some blame gay marriage passed into law in 2005 which produces rebuttals like this. Predictably, the Catholic Church attacks the law, but gay marriages only represent 2% of total marriages (Grant), so how can fewer children be blamed on gays?

For the first time in Catholic Spanish history, women are gaining some control over their lives that women in Western countries have already achieved. For example, the sale and advertising of contraceptives was decriminalized in 1978, the establishment of divorce happened in 1981, and abortion has been allowed in some circumstances since 1985 (Valiente 288). Separating women’s reproductive choices from the auspices of the Catholic Church, a policy that forced multiple and unwanted pregnancies on women, was an important step in viewing motherhood as a choice rather than inevitability.

A woman’s choice of motherhood is at the very center of the battle for the soul of Catholic Spain. Why do Spanish women (and women in most industrial nations) choose not to have children? The reasons vary, but many are practical, not moral. The word on the street is that housing shortage is a problem. Joshua Edelman, a New York transplant of twenty-plus years, is married to a Basque woman and they live in Madrid. The only reason they have two children is because her pregnancy was twins. Edelman says, “There is a shortage of housing and high property tax.” And, because of the housing shortage, many young Spaniards live longer with their parents affecting the birth rate (Hooper 329).

In response to the sweeping changes, Madrid’s archbishop, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, recently announced, “Madrid has turned into Sodom and Gomorrah” (Richburg).The choice to use birth control clearly contradicts the Catholic edict and last July when Pope Benedict XVI visited Spain to respond to the legalization of gay marriage, he lumped contraception in with gay marriage, abortion, and human embryo research—the laundry list of sins Catholics must reject (Gonzalez), but the times they are a-changing. Also, when José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, was elected in 2004, he “eased laws on abortion and divorce and refused to make religion classes mandatory in schools” (Dixon).

Lucía Extebarría (1966 – ) is part of the new generation of writers taking up the torch of feminine identity. Her first novel Amor, curiosidad, prozac y dudas (Love, Curiosity,Prozac and Doubts) deals with a variety of women’s issues: “discrimination in literary studies and academic recognition, sexual abuse, bulimia and anorexia” (Women 181). lucia-prozac The women of Spain struggle with the same issues as women everywhere, but in Spain the long shadow of the Catholic church shrouds all.

In a PBS interview, Ms. Gímeno, a feminist attorney, sees a change coming. “They (Catholicism) are against divorce, abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, gay marriage. With so many things that have been accepted by Spanish society, I think the church, or at least the church hierarchy, has lost contact with society” (Gonzalez). Given the chance, what thinking human being wouldn’t object to being polarized between a whore or virgin?

A century ago, Unamuno’s Fedre didn’t muddy the waters of holy motherhood. His Fedre was a barren woman–Unamuno’s device to explain the sinner’s motivation behind the debauchery. Half a century later Richard Wright reported, “All women alone (in Spain) are whores” (Wright 84). Now a century later, women not only stay single longer, but many choose to educate themselves and postpone marriage and child-rearing.

Ms. Gaite expresses in the late 20th century the desire women have of wanting to be treated as human beings first–wives and mothers next. “Ironically, it would seem that the longer Spanish men cling to traditional attitudes towards women, the greater the damage they will do to that most traditional of Spanish institutions, the family” (Hooper 133).

The Catholic Church stands to lose much of its value in society by condemning women for wanting to live richer, fuller lives. Ms. Gímeno speaks for many professional women: “I think if that (Catholic Church) keeps going like that, Spain will continue to be more secular, and the church will run the risk of ending up talking to practically no one” (Gonzales).

Writers like Extebarría are the tip of the iceberg. Women in Spain are issuing a “collective shout” for a whole generation: “we own our bodies.” In a land where Don Quixote is still revered as a national hero chasing his impossible windmill, a metaphor for the quest for spirit (Unamuno 314), the time is right for Doña Quixote to realize a dream of individuality and personal dignity that comes with owning one’s life and choices, a spiritual quest for women not wanting to be condemned for choosing to have few or no children.

The struggle for identity is a theme that runs through the work of Ms. Gaite who writes to an audience of women that on the one hand don’t join feminist organizations in large numbers, but on the other, “seem to positively value the achievements of the movement” (Women 182). For inspiration, women need look no further than the Great Earth Mother, Cybele, who is riding with her lions in the Plaza de Cibeles (Madrid), leading the way for women and the men who support them on the greatest quest of all: personal freedom.

Cibeles Fountain at Madrid, Spain

Works Cited

Brown, Joan. “Men by Women in the Contemporary Spanish Novel.” Hispanic Review, U Penn. P.: Vol. 60, No. 1. (Winter, 1992), pp. 55-70.

Dixon, Nancy. “Did Richard Wright Get It Wrong? A Spanish Look at Pagan Spain.” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Cultures 61.4 (2008): 581-591.

Galdós Pérez, Benito. Fortunata and Jacinta: Two Stories of Married Women. London: Penguin, 1988. Print.

Grant, Jonathan, Stijn Hoorens, Suja Sivadasan et al. “Population Implosion? Fertility and Policy Responses in the European Union.” Low Fertility and Population Ageing: Causes, Consequences, and Policy Options. Rand Europe: 2005.

Gonzalez, Saul. “Religion and Ethics News Weekly.” 7 July 2006. Video.

Hooper, John. The New Spaniard. London: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Richburg, Keith. “Church’s Influence Waning in Once Fervently Catholic Spain.” Washington Post Foreign Service: 11 April 2005, pA15.

Sedwick, Frank. “Unamuno and Womanhood: His Theater.” Hispania: Vol. 43, No. 3. Sep 1960, pp. 309 – 313.

Servodidio, Mirella. Dialogo e conversazione nella narrativa di Carmen Martín Gaite by Maria Vittoria Calvi.” Hispania, Vol. 75, No. 3. (Sept 1992), pp. 564-566.  (Hispania is currently published by American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.)

Unamuno, Miguel De. Tragic Sense of Life. New York: Dover, 1954. Print.

Women in Contemporary Culture: Roles and identities in France and Spain. ed. Lesley Twomey. Intellect Ltd:Bristol, UK 2003. Print

Wright, Richard. Pagan Spain. New York: HarperPerennial, 1995. Print.

The Phantastical Gothic Ghost of Horace Walpole


C. Reeder

otrantofootHorace Walpole (1717-97) wrote a ghost story, but not just any ghost story. The dire events and super-sized shade of Prince Alfonso in The Castle of Otranto spooked the reading public, and catapulted Walpole to literary fame.

Otranto was criticized for its thin characters, and outlandish machinations (Clery, Rise 84), but others, like Sir Walter Scott, found the story “grand, tragical, and affecting, (and concluded that) applause which cannot be denied to him who can excite the passions of fear and of pity must be awarded to the author of The Castle of Otranto” (Lewis 158). The new consumer reading public snatched up every copy, and publishers since then have printed over a hundred editions.

Otranto and its ghost contributed to the birth of an entirely new type of novel, a Gothic novel which combined “the ancient and the modern” (9), flaunting a supernatural twist that stood alone, free from the dictates of religious dogma, and wound down through the centuries, sprouting many literary branches on its way to our current age, like Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.

A distinct age of reason and enlightenment had seized the educated minds of Europe in the eighteenth century, so why would a privileged politician and part-time intellectual, albeit a dilettante, stir up a hornet’s nest, and bring back the so-called superstitious barbarism of the Gothic age when the literati had worked so hard to eliminate it, and the clerics claimed supernatural phenomena strictly their domain?

Walpole sidestepped the condemnation of clerics, and the censure of critics by going straight to the source: the reading public.

Otranto survived the cthe-monkriticisms because of the eighteenth century “rise of consumerism” (Clery, Rise 5). People bought the book, and the template for terror in Otranto inspired many later romantic novelists to copy its winning formula, the most famous example in the 1790s being The Monk by Matthew Lewis.

In Walpole’s opinion, “the great resources of fancy have been dammed up” (9). Walpole imagined an undeniable ghost the size of King Kong to break down that dam.

The Castle of Otranto was not the doodling of a delusional youth, but the product of a mature writer with an ax to grind. Before Otranto, Walpole published Anecdotes of Painting in England (1962), and was considered an expert on antiquarian artifacts and Gothic architecture (Lewis 167). Walpole was forty-seven when he wrote Otranto, and lived in a pseudo Gothic castle he had built from scratch. He claimed he saw a ghost in a nightmare, specifically “a gigantic hand in armour” (Clery, Intro vii). WithinWalpole1793 two months he wrote the story to keep his mind off politics with a passion likened to automatic writing (Lewis 161).

Two years before the ghost of Alfonso showed up in Walpole’s nightmare, a ghost of smaller proportions, the Cock Lane ghost of 1762, became “the talk of London” (Clery, Rise 13). Later demystified and exposed as a fraud, the ghost of a murdered woman supposedly scratched on the wall in response to questions, and attracted throngs of people from all strata of society day and night.

Hogarth Print, Thomas Cook 1744-1818, printmaker.
Hogarth Print, Thomas Cook 1744-1818, printmaker.

The event was likened to theatre and “commercial exploitation” (Clery, Rise 15). David Garrick’s successful play at Drury Lane, The Farmer’s Return, was representative of the enormous attention given to this ghost. Essentially, the play mocked the credulity of city-folk, a reversal of the belief that only ignorant country-folk believed in ghost stories (Clery, Rise 16).

Walpole believed that “a god, at least a ghost, was absolutely necessary to frighten us out of too much senses” (Walpole, Letters Vol. 3 381), a slam against didactic “sensibility” novels of the day, like the wildly popular Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa.  Many Englishmen agreed with Walpole. In a Preface to Faliero, Lord Byron praised author Walpole for not writing another “puling (whiny) love-play” (Walpole, Letters Vol. 1).


Walpole in  his Gothic Castle Strawberry Hills
Walpole in his Gothic Castle Strawberry Hills

One can imagine the slightly built Walpole in a trance, hovered over his manuscript with a Victor Frankenstein-like intensity in the act of creating a monster. Sunlight filters through a gothic stained glass, casting an array of colors over Walpole’s shoulder as it inches across the floor on a summer evening in 1764. The room around him dims, until the only light is from an oil lamp shining on the page he feverishly scribbles on into the wee hours. He later writes his friend Cole that his “hand and fingers were so weary, that he could not hold the pen to finish the sentence” (Clery, Intro vii).

The intensity of physical pain and sexual tension in Otranto must have had a cathartic affect on Walpole, and offered a release for pent-up imaginative fantasies, or a sedative for his nerves and brain. Burke wondered if these fanciful thoughts were “a sort of delightful horror (or) exercise necessary for the finer organs” (Burke 123).

Otranto ghost hand
Hand of the ghost of Otranto confronting the villian

Skeleton in The Castle of Otranto

Even with all the praise, Walpole did not see the immediate success of the genre Gothic. He admitted to Mme du Deffand, “I have not written for this century, which wants only cold reason” (Lewis 161). Yet, under the guise of offering a new literature, Walpole indulged his creative urges, and in the process formed a template for a ghost, and a storyline that did not vaporize into the questionable ether, nor direct the reader’s loyalties toward a particular religious dogma. Some laughed at the ghost of Alfonso for its ‘machinations’, but Walpole was unmoved. “If I have amused you by retracing with any fidelity the manners of ancient days, I am content” (Walpole, Letters Vol. 3 378).

Walpole’s murderous shade is a device of dynamic “terror, the author’s principle engine” (6). With a ghost of such an “immense magnitude” (112), its existence cannot be ignored, or denied. The phantasmal ghost of Alfonso still lives on as a relic of an early attempt to scintillate, possibly scare, or simply entertain. Most likely, future generations will continue to be haunted by dank castles, creepy ghosts, miraculous events, and romantic terrors. The human need for romance and mystery seems bottomless.

Oldhorry Sir Thomas Lewis 1795
“Old Horry” Sir Thomas Lawrence 1795

Works Cited
Botting, Fred. Gothic. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.
Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and
Beautiful. 1754. Ed. Adam Phillips. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990. Web.
Byrne, James M. Religion and the Enlightenment: From Descartes to Kant. Louisville:
Westminister John Knox P, 1997. Web.
Clery, E.J. The Rise of Supernatural Fiction: 1762 – 1800. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. Print.
—, Introduction. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. By Horace Walpole. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. vii–xxxiii. Print.
Daniels, Barry V. Revolution in the Theatre: French Romantic Theories of Drama. Westport: Greenwood P, 1983. Web.
Finch, M. B. and Allison E. Peers. Walpole’s Relations with Voltaire. Modern Philology 18.4. (1920): 189-200. Web.
Johnson, James William. Horace Walpole and W. S. Lewis. The Journal of British Studies 6.2. (1967): 64-75. Web.
Johnson, Samuel. The Critical Opinions of Samuel Johnson. Ed. Joseph E. Brown. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1926. Web.
Lewis, Wilmarth Sheldon. Horace Walpole. New York: Pantheon, 1961. Web
Sandner, David. Ed. Fantastic Literature: A Critical Reader. Westport: Praeger, 2004. Web
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet: Prince of Denmark. Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Contr. Germaine Greer, Anthony Burgess, Alec Yearling, and PeterAlexander. Glasgow: HarperCollins, 1994. 1079-1125. Print.
Voltaire. Candide: or Optimism. Intro. and trans. John Butt. London: Penguin, 1947. Print.
—, Philosophical Dictionary. Ed. and trans. Theodore Besterman. London: Penguin,Print.
Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. 1764. Ed. W. S. Lewis. Oxford:Oxford UP, 1998. Print.
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 2. Ed. Peter Cunningham. London: Putnam, 1840. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 2. Ed. Charles Duke Yonge.London: Putnam, 1890. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 3. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007 <>
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 4. Ed. Lea And Blanchard.Philadelphia: Sherman, 1842. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007
©All Rights Reserved. A paper submitted  25 Apr 2007 for Professor Barbara Fitzpatrick’s “Studies in 18th Century Literature” (UNO).