Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

Lives in progress or: the wonder of it all

In Animals, Circus, Collages, Current reading on November 30, 2009 at 7:45 am

(photo: M. Pedelmas, Mirepoix)

Yes, the title refers to the photo, quite obviously. When I took a snapshot of it, I couldn’t help wondering what the elephant thought about it all. As in: did he sometimes have memories of other times and places sifting through his brain while doing the balancing act? Did he sometimes ask himself: how the hell did I get myself into this? You know, existential type questions. I was less intrigued by the ongoing thought processes of the guy on the elephant’s head. I figure he’s the instigator, so he’s probably concentrating on pulling it off – at least, he’d better be.  At that point, the onlooker may wonder about the why of it all but, clearly, it would be unwise for the principals to be doing the same.

But this morning, I’m mostly thinking about a review I read in The New York Times yesterday  of Alice Munro’s latest collection of stories, Too Much Happiness. Reviews are strange animals because you’re reading excerpts chosen by  and filtered through the reviewer’s sensibility. As I haven’t read the book, I was left with something of a conundrum after reading a seven-line paragraph on a story called “Wenlock Edge”.  On the basis of the paragraph, I learn the narrator, a young college woman, feels “violated” (the reviewer’s word)   after accepting a man’s request to undress herself and read to him in the nude. Something is clearly missing for the word ‘violation’ to make sense to me in this context – the something being coercion under threat of physical harm. If the young woman accepted, she may question herself later about her own motives in doing so; she may wonder about the nature of her acquiescence or of the exchange that took place. She might also wonder why she feels something was ‘taken’ from her (the word used by Munro in the excerpt).  None of which adds up to a violation, in my opinion, but rather to a moral tale, in the most multifaceted sense of the word. In other words, one that leads me to wondering what other spins could be done based on such a premise, if the young woman were to think in terms both of  the give and the take that occurred in the exchange.

Which – thank you Alice Munro, thank you Leah Hager Cohen in NYT – leads me back to my own characters and  their struggles with unresolved issues and delicate balancing acts. Works in progress, indeed. That’s the great thing about being alive to spin and re-spin the tales.

A low-energy post

In Collages, I Ching, Poetry, RLB trivia on November 29, 2009 at 7:27 am

I took this photo a few days ago, so work has moved ahead some at the Arts Center. But considering the opening exhibition is planned for next Saturday, let’s just say the vernissage will be … different. I chose the photo this morning because it also describes  the present state of my work-in-progress; it doesn’t do too badly as an illustration of my general condition either.

I Ching is all for high-mindedness today, of the Contemplation and Keeping Still variety. I have no objection but, apart from the keeping still,  it seems like a bit of a stretch for the time being. Still, it’s always best to aspire to higher things, even if the fever gives them a bizarre slant. I just woke from a dream where the Montréal metro station I was in led to a platform from which a boat had just departed. The platform turned out to be a sandy river bed with no water in it.   I was waiting for the next boat, standing on an incline of black sand, down which water was trickling to refill the river. From which I gather the  Montréal metro system is more complex than I thought.

I’m a strong believer in recycling whatever comes up for story purposes, so today, I’ll see how my story can possibly benefit from an energy-depleted and feverish writer; but I’ll see a doctor tomorrow if things haven’t improved by then.

I hate to leave the reader with nothing but my gripes about my health so here is a little gem from the treasure trove at the Bureau of Public Secrets. The nice thing with Matsuo Bashô’s poetry is that you can enjoy it even when your attention span is at its shortest.

My best to everyone.

First set goes to the viral team

In RLB trivia on November 28, 2009 at 8:55 am

Never mind about writing anything meaningful – my biggest problem right now is staying awake long enough to read my way to the end of a sentence. Addissiatz pla brave mounde translates more or less as Hey y’all! in Occitanian.  I’ll be back later –  for the time being, I have to go root for the lymphatic system again.

And, preferably, some funny reading

In Collages, Current reading, RLB trivia, Tea on November 27, 2009 at 6:44 am

I just suggested the garlic treatment to someone whose personal internal drive is under viral attack. I’ll save the garlic for later, in my case: six am is a bit early for garlic, even in France. I’ll stick to tea with lemon and ibuprofene, for the time being. No, I hadn’t intended to blog about my virus attack but I offer it up in a spirit of blogger solidarity, so to speak.

The photo du jour is part of same: I grabbed it the other day on rue des Peseignes. As with just about everything on that street, Monsieur Gout’s supermarket was felled by the crash of the leather industry in this town. In French, ‘gout’ does not describe the same  painful condition it does in English; if you add an accent on the ‘u’, you get the word ‘goût’ which means taste.

In story, I stopped yesterday at a point when one of my characters was having thoughts of goofing off – a fairly uncharacteristic activity for her. I did some random reading, then picked up my good old Pablo Neruda.  Found him in Paris, after the Spanish Civil War, goofing off with none other than French poet Paul Éluard. At which point Neruda reveals the  following secret: nothing is more important to poets than wasting their time. Apparently Neruda and Éluard did wonders together in that regard. Neruda writes: “Avec Paul, je perdais la notion du jour et de la nuit qui s’écoulaient et je n’ai jamais su si nos propos avaient ou non de l’importance.” (With Paul, I lost all notion of the passing of both the day and the night time, and I never found out if our exchanges mattered or not.) Sounds like high-quality moodling to me.

I see Pablo is about to meet Nancy Cunard who has a printing press. Apparently, Nancy translated Lewis Carroll’s  Fit the Fourth into French. The mind boggles. How do you translate ‘Snark’? What about ‘uffish’, ‘gallumphing’, or ‘Jubjub’?

More tea is in order over here, for now. My best to mankind, both in the general and in its particular manifestations.


P.S. at 13:20 (it’s that kind of day):  a new Not To Be Missed link on the blogroll – the one, the only Bureau of Public Secrets. You’re welcome. I’ll now attempt a bit of writing( but sleeping and playing mah-jong solitaire come more naturally today).

Structure and chronology

In Collages, Current reading, Hautvoir, Summer Story on November 26, 2009 at 4:47 am

Two surprises yesterday: forty-seven years after the events, I finally managed to get down in writing a specific set of  inter-related incidents from that summer, in exactly the words needed for them – no more, no less. Once that was done, I found my way back into my story – not because I’m using any of those incidents in it but because some of the energy locked away in those memories finally became available for other uses. Things and people ripen at their own pace, if you let them.

That last truism also applies to administrative matters, apparently: the second surprise was receiving a letter from l’administration française informing me I have suddenly been deemed eligible to the ten-year  residency permit, will I kindly forward an entirely new set of those papers already provided for the one-year version. I admit turning the letter over several times and then reading through slowly again, looking for the administrative escape clause.  I haven’t found it yet. Still, I reserve my elation for the day when I’ll see the document itself. For the time being, I’m mostly  laughing at the thought of a paper with an expiry date that may well outlast my own.

Finished  The Plague of Doves last night. Apart from the pleasure of reading such a fabulous storyteller, the greatest thing about the experience is a renewed sense of freedom concerning my own writing. Erdrich’s book is tautly structured in a way that’s uniquely her own. Anyone who would set out to replicate such an approach would probably end up with a sorry mess, whereas here you have different sections of the story reverberating off each other. They’ll probably continue to do so for a long time in my own mind. On a personal and idiosyncratic note, I was really pleased to come across a dog named Pogo, living out his days in Louise Erdrich storyland – long may he thrive.

So I’m back in my own story with  these important pieces of additional knowledge: 1)beyond length or number of chapters and sections,  the structure of the work is determined by the author’s way of setting out what matters and why; 2) the only chronology that counts is the one having to do with the fruit being ready to drop from the tree.

Photo done on rue de Peseignes, two days ago while I pondered where I was going with my manuscript.

P.S. A happy Thanksgiving to my American friends.

The wall, yes indeed

In Collages, Current reading, Hautvoir, Summer Story on November 25, 2009 at 7:53 am

Major attack of cabin fever yesterday. Which is bad enough in itself when there’s nowhere to go, except down the same mean streets you feel you’ve walked once too many already. Combined with a barometric low on the writer’s sense of purpose, direction, worth … (it’s an add-on list, no point in naming every element in the series). So I walked the mean streets yet again, grabbed this photo and many more like it on the street where, some day maybe, my next story will be set. Kicked the gravel where, some day maybe, I’ll resurrect a tannery that’s now been pulled down.

But there’s no point in starting the next story when you’re stuck in the present one. The story’s never at fault anyway, it’s the writer’s job to let the story be what it is. It gets tough when the writer is really hoping to take the story somewhere other than down the mean streets yet again, and the story just keeps saying “sorry, not today, sweetheart.”

I could have finished The Plague of Doves last night. Decided to save the last chapter for tonight. I wonder how Erdrich felt about her story, once it was finished. You set out with some general sense of something you want to capture. If you stick to it, you end up with something. It may even be something to make you proud, or something others admire. But whatever it was you tried to grasp, it’s still out there, taunting you.

So, back I go to the ghost of the one character who never gets to tell her story in her own words. Why? Because she never had the right words to begin with.

Who’s got the ball?

In RLB trivia, Story material on November 24, 2009 at 9:13 am

Interesting experience yesterday evening: A invited me over for a drink. It turned out the true reason for the invite was something else (although we did have a drink in the bargain and some onion pie, too): after years of trying to get some financial backing for her animated shorts, A is finally getting somewhere, both with a producer in Paris and with City Hall. (City Hall is waking up to the fact there are lots of visual artists and more than a few film makers living here; ergo, a small subsidy can go a long way, in terms of subsequent positive fall-outs for the town.)

A was dealing with the anxiety of the long-distance reject suddenly getting positive feedback – a place I know well, so we cleared that hurdle fairly quickly – as in: how awful, A,  after all these years of knocking on locked doors … two of them start creaking open?   Grab that bottle and let’s head for the air raid shelters immediately! We laughed about it ha-ha, and proceeded on to the real issue: her pet project, the one she’s been wanting financed all these years, was giving her nightmares. Something wasn’t working with it.

We looked at the visuals, and discussed the storyboard. I agreed one of the two characters wasn’t earning her keep in the story. So we went wild on improv until it came to her that she had the characters reversed. In other words, she was leading with the character who didn’t  have the ball and not giving a chance to the ball-carrier to pitch.  Zoop-zip-zip, the story board gets reshuffled (got to love computers in that case) – et voilà ! It’s a whole new story, A is jumping up and down at the thought of the new visuals she’ll add, and the new pacing she’ll give the film. Myself, I leave on a little high of satisfaction – which never hurt anybody, at least nobody I know. I bet I could even stand having fun like that a few times a week. One thing’s for sure: I must find ways to get out of this house more often for f-u-n reasons with f-u-n people. It’s nice to be a self-starter and all, but  getting to bounce the energy around with other people doesn’t hurt either. The toughest part is finding people willing to play – as in, mix it up a bit and see what comes out of it all.

photo: done at A’s. An orderly person. Must be why we get along.


Now, in the next paragraph…

In Collages, Current reading, Summer Story on November 23, 2009 at 7:52 am

Apart from Evelina’s obsession with Anaïs Nin in The Plague of Doves, the elements sticking to the metaphoric wall in my head this morning are: visuals of New York (greatly aided by a visit to the Greenwich Village Daily Photo blog last night). One of my characters is spending a fair amount of time in New York for professional reasons at the moment; I thank her for it, as I wouldn’t mind a few days over there myself. Images of swirling clouds, as fine-grained and densely packed as stiffly beaten egg white. A story I encountered on Brian Browne Walker’s blog sacredprofane about a female academic whose identity has now been revealed as that of the anonymous blogger reporting on her sexual encounters as a do-it-for-kicks prostitute. The part that sticks in my mind is a question put to her by one of her readers:  “Have you slept with anyone famous?” she was asked.  The question struck  me as unbelievably sad – as in: poor dear, make up your own fantasies, there are limits to mental laziness, no?

This last part (about the blogger, not about the lazy daydreamer) was particularly amusing timing-wise as, in story, one of my characters (Kate) is dealing with some of the fallout from one of her media colleague’s fairly complex sexual history. Story-wise, I have no idea where this will lead; I’m a firm believer in the next paragraph as the only agent capable of extricating both the writer and the characters from whatever  situation has landed on them at that point. For greater clarity: by next paragraph, I refer to the as-yet-to-be-written one.

photo: self-explanatory, I hope, what with Kate being a journalist in New York, and oh, the Freudian connotations too, now that you mention it. (Still don’t know what those swirling clouds will bring to the story. I’m off to find out.)

I’ll just keep on trying

In Collages, Current reading, Film, Music, Summer Story on November 22, 2009 at 8:11 am

“Here I come to some trouble with words. The inside became the outside when Shamengwa played music. Yet inside to outside does not half sum it up. The music was more than music – at least what we are used to hearing. The music was feeling itself. The sound connected instantly with something deep and joyous. These powerful moments of true knowledge that we have to paper over with daily life. The music tapped the back of our terrors, too. Things we’d lived through and didn’t want to ever repeat. Shredded imaginings, unadmitted longings, fear and also surprising pleasures. No, we can’t live at that pitch. But every so often something shatters like ice and we are in the river of our existence. We are aware. And this realization was in the music, somehow, or in the way Shamengwa played it.”

Louise Erdrich, The Plague of Doves

When my own story came crashing down around me yesterday, I spent part of the afternoon in Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala. I consider both the movie and the language a home of sorts. Especially when I come to “some trouble with words”, as Erdrich puts it, the sound of Russian relieves the pressure in my head. As for Dersu, since his story is told from the point of view of the more ‘civilized’ Arseniev,  there’s a tendency to romanticize his lifestyle and personality. Even so, the movie deals with humans struggling with basic forces and needs. If things ring true at that level, they make sense to me. So I’ll just stick with my story until it connects back with the things that truly matter, at which point I’ll delete whatever it was that caused the crash in the first place.

Photo: in a bookstore in Albi, but mainly for the poster of Latcho Drom.

Strong voices and shy horses

In Animals, Collages, Current reading on November 21, 2009 at 9:39 am

The strong voices were those of Louise Erdrich’s characters in The Plague of Doves (read the chapter titled ‘The 4-B’s’ last night. Evelina and Marn together; the tottering towers of ketchup bottles; the children; the… yes, I like Erdrich a lot).  The shy horses were what their description implies. They liked me well enough and, yes, they loved to jump and to gallop; but, in the dream at least, they didn’t much care for the presence of any human at that moment. Just felt like hanging around in the pasture by themselves. There was also a fascination with the sound produced by the letters c and l – as in ‘clutch’, ‘cling’, ‘clank’, ‘clang’, clunk’, ‘climb’, and so forth. Those were the sights and sounds of the night.

What else did the night bring? Memories linked to a child dancing. When adults don’t interfere, how does a small child dance? With  full attention on the energy. If adults don’t intervene, when does the dance stop for a child?  When the awareness shifts away from the dance to something else. As a writer, go forth and do likewise, yes? (The most bothersome adult, in this instance, being the one in my own self. What a party-pooper is she. Poor woman. Not her fault, I know she means well.)

Story-wise, an interesting development happening, as one character’s memories start filtering through another character’s retelling of them.

Photo: taken at a local exhibition; a visual metaphor of the place where one of my character’s resides.