Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

As seen by others

In Artists, Collages, FAR - Arts Center, Film, Hautvoir, Local projects, RLB trivia, Visual artists on February 28, 2010 at 7:44 am

The ceramists among its members don’t know it yet. But now that I am formally registered in the “photography” category of their Fédération, I intend to suggest that they take on the restoration of the fountain at the Office de tourisme. Such a suggestion may not sound like a big deal, except I now have more experience on how things work over here. Believe me: there is no such thing as a simple suggestion. Ouh la-la. I hear it already: “Restore the fountain? Do we have an official decree from the patrimonial services? Are any of our members trained in and graduated from a national entity specialized in the matching of contemporary mosaic chips with those produced in the late 19th-early 20th centuries?  Is this artefact more valuable than the (insert your favorite artefact here)? Is this fountain not  a symbol of proletarian aspirations to a bourgeois mindset? Or, is it not rather a reminder of the Arabo-Andalusian roots of some of the town’s inhabitants? Or…” . And so on. Nonetheless, being from far away under different climes, I have a quasi-formal dispensation to say outrageous things, such as: “How about taking on the restoration of the fountain at l’Office de tourisme?”  I may as well make use of the privilege.

An interesting experience, yesterday in Gaillac, where I sat down at Le café des sports with six other bloggers from neighboring towns and villages. All of them have community-oriented blogs. Given the small geographical territory the six of us cover, the diversity of approaches was an interesting feature of the discussion. It was also an opportunity to see one’s own production through the eyes of others. As I rarely get out of Graulhet these days, that aspect of the meeting was particularly interesting for me. We’ll be meeting again and, possibly, setting up a common portal in order to give the region (and the individual blogs) greater visibility – that second aspect is not a priority in my case, but I have nothing against it either.

Except for  a lunch break to recharge both my batteries and the camera’s, there’s  a full day of photography ahead : several scenes being filmed in “Un hiver rouge”. Which means that, writing-wise, it will be long-hand scrawls in my pocket notebook with, hopefully, some quieter time tomorrow to continue the revision I’ve begun on the principal characters.


In Collages, Current reading on February 27, 2010 at 8:06 am

Staff at the local Office de tourisme seem to consider me part of the scenery now. This is how I got to stand in the small inner courtyard, and do a series of photos on one of my photographic obsessions:  objects and their reflections or shadows on various surfaces.

I had just come from the dentist’s office in whose waiting room  I’d read an article (whether current or not, I can’t say) about the purported marriage woes of a famous Hollywood couple. She, I learned, is compulsively unfaithful to the best-looking man in the world (I’m not stating an opinion here, simply translating what I read, from memory). He, I’m sorry to report, drowns his sorrows in alcohol and cannabis, after vainly pleading with her to see a psychiatrist in order to save their union.

Perhaps if you read this sort of thing on a regular basis, you swallow it and fall into unthinking ruminations. I was fascinated all right but mostly by the  artfulness of the photo selection and placement,  and by the generic tale contained in the text itself.   The wonderment of it all being: people pay, not only to read this, but to more or less believe it.  The stories about the couple’s troubled marriage serving as a morality tale, combined with the vicarious experience of all those no-nos: illicit sex, booze, drugs. Granted, the story was lacking a suicide or a murder for the full effect but, as the dentist was ready for me at that point, I had to leave the couple in the middle of a paragraph suggestive of incipient violence. Do they still live? Is he still the best-looking man in the world? Does she still sleep around on all of her film sets? Can this marriage be saved?

In my own story-telling, one of my characters is deep in reflection on a different, but related topic: her job as a journalist, and how the reporting itself shapes, and even becomes, the news. Think of the difference between the singers on the stage and their magnified image on the overhead screen. Or the evocative power of a single detail, isolated on a photo, instead of the same, lost in a sea of other visual signals. Or the confusion between a point of view contained in a blogpost, and the same point of view expressed in a different context. All of which may not be as sexy a topic as Angelina and Brad’s life, remastered and colorized by one in the world army of staff writers; but personally, these are the kinds of questions that hold my interest – and my character’s too.

Notes for another day

In FAR - Arts Center, Food, Hautvoir on February 26, 2010 at 8:58 am

My intent isn’t to make fun of the organizers of the local event I attended last night, so the name of the event and of its sponsors isn’t included in the photo above.  The text in the arrow pointing left reads: To your right at the top of the stairs.  Fact:   the hall of the Auditorium is indeed on the second floor and to the right of the stairs; to the left of the stairs, there are nothing but windows overlooking this sign on the door. Given the context, a sign like this is the type of thing that amuses me.

As for the event itself, I needn’t have worried about dress code before attending: this is a rugby town. Ergo: 1)attendees were mostly men wearing rugby-appropriate attire; 2) in the supporting cast of wives and girlfriends, the four younger ones were pretty enough to hold all eyes; 3) therefore, the ten or twelve of us older women were free to look as dowdy, frowzy and/or lacking in fashion sense as we wished. In that contest, I wasn’t even in the top three.

After listening to a presentation on ecologically-sound local industries, I discovered that, food-wise, rugby enthusiasts in Southwestern France enjoy: an overlong apéritif period – say, from 8:30 to 10 pm. After which  you sit down to a light snack of sauerkraut with four types of sausage + ham, wine and/or beer and/or both, cheese, pie, ice cream, coffee, Armagnac… (My own meal stopped after the second type of sausage – by ten-fifteen of an evening, I turn into a picky eater). I stumbled home past midnight, drunk on fatigue and the din of many voices. (Ever notice how the decibels increase with the consumption of alcohol? As each person’s inhibitions fall, voices get louder; everyone must then speak up to be heard… and so on.)

All of this carefully recorded as future reference for the French story, before heading back to the current project in English.

How is this nothing different from that one?

In Animals, Collages, Current reading, Hautvoir, Visual artists on February 25, 2010 at 8:24 am

Sometimes, the process is fairly simple: incidents, words, images you encounter in your day bounce off some element in the story you’re writing and – zip, snip, shape, reconfigure – the story moves ahead by a few paragraphs, or even by a whole chapter.

Other times, it’s much more complicated. What real life brings your way sets off an unexpected iteration through childhood memories, for example. Vivid recollections of places, events or, even, a specific food eaten in a specific convent refectory; the exact location of a bed in a specific dormitory; the sound and smell of a specific sewing room. The problem is: for one, nobody in the story you are writing has any use for these recollections, at least not in their raw form. For another, the recollections are so vivid, they hold your attention, and won’t let it go.

I’m starting to see some use for the flavor of the moments in those recollections. But it’s a slow process; first, it involves finessing out what the moment was about. That involves setting aside the automatic responses to a given setting, in order to see what is recorded in this or that specific memory. Once you’ve found the kernel in it, you can extract it from the personal  memory with its  setting and cultural references. That’s where the possibilities start in terms of making that sensation/mood  available to a fictional character with a different childhood, and a different life story.

The basic message for this writer always being: never mind what someone else would make of the memory or of the reference. Pay as close attention as you can to what it means for you. Even if the moment suggests nothing, pay attention to the specific quality of that nothing.  I think it was Georges Braques* who said something to the effect that a painting is also the empty spaces on the canvas, and that you must pay as much attention to those as to the more colorful representations on it. At the moment, the creative process over here is much akin to that.

The photo has nothing and everything to do with the rest: I took it last fall while visiting the countryside around Graulhet. Combined with other references to mules and to donkeys yesterday, it inspired a small moment with some potential for development in the story. For a person raised mostly in French, the donkeys also happen to set off powerful recollections of a book called Lettres de mon moulin by Alphonse Daudet. I haven’t read it in years, but something tells me I’ll be picking it up at the médiathèque soon. Just mentioning it, and reading a brief excerpt,  brings back the smell of the copy I read at age nine or ten. More to the point for my purpose here, it suggests an alternate pathway through which some personal recollections can travel to feed into the given fictional character.

*Ah yes, here it is: “Ce qui est entre la pomme et l’assiette se peint aussi. Et, ma foi, il me parait aussi difficile de peindre l’entre-deux que la chose.”  (What is between the apple and the plate must also be painted. And, in truth, it strikes me as just as difficult to paint the in between as to paint the thing itself.)

Scenes from an Official Reception

In Circus, Collages, Film, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music on February 24, 2010 at 8:56 am

It’s a complicated morning in Graulhet. The writer has made a fool of herself publicly in the local community. Bad enough when you make a fool of yourself in blogland; but on the street where you live? It takes some antidote to sweeten the pill.  Which is why I’m posting this photo, taken at the Official Reception at City Hall, to Honor the  Principals of the Film Mission Socrate. The three gentlemen in the center are about to perform the copulation dance of the genetically-modified earthworm (said earthworms have shoulders which they use as their instrument of reproduction). Also present are: the mayor (in black, back row, under the window; his cultural attache (short bleached hair, back row); Jackie Berroyer, co-director of the film (back row, standing and shooting photos); Bertrand Lenclos, co-director (in front of the mayor, with cap and scratching his nose); plus a cast of thousands.

To this, I add Captain Spaulding’s “Hello, I Must Be Going”. And a personal reminder to the writer that she is perfectly entitled to make a fool of herself so long as she is willing to make a fool of herself.

Writer: Are you willing to make a fool of yourself?

Same Writer:  You first.

Writer: No, you first.

Same Writer: Please, I insist.

Writer: No, I wouldn’t dream of it.

And so on.

Have you ever seen “Teamwork” by Habbe und Meik? You haven’t?  Then, you haven’t been following this blog. So Please: Habbe und Meik while I go put on my greasepaint before heading out the door, and making the best of my latest goof. (No, I feel no overwhelming need  to share the nature of the goof with the entire readership of the Writer’s Notebook. Suffice it to say the writer took many, many notes on it, and will make good use of same in a fictional setting.)

Et maintenant, un peu de musique.

Sketch from a Tuesday Morning

In Circus, Story material on February 23, 2010 at 9:19 am

The sketch starts with the kind of morning where the thought of facing another day makes a body wrap itself up in a cocoon of blankets. From which the body slowly extracts itself to discover every ligament it ever stretched or tore is sending postcards to the brain. They read: ” Greetings from the shores of Icy, Murky Lake Despond!” The body, having an inbred and indomitable sense of humor responds (delivery straight from the funny bone): “ha-ha.”

The body  then begins a slow, cautious descent to greet its coffee. On the way, it  encounters a second body on the landing. “You don’t have to be old to feel old,” first body says to second, “but aging helps.” Second body concurs, providing testimonials and affidavits from its own muscles and internal organs. Compelling. Conclusive evidence. First body starts feeling better already.

At this point, the pace quickens. There’s coffee making involved, not only dialogue: a frenzy of water pouring, coffee levelling, tamping, and so forth during the next bit:

First body: “So what’s your plan for this morning?”

Second body: “Terminal excitement to the nth degree, and possibly beyond: it’s my turn to visit social services, and check out the torn magazines. Care to tag along?”

First body considers, while still attempting to get right knee to join the bodily confederation. A wistful sigh. “I see it, I really do. Two old bodies, huddled together on the same bench. A little tremor thrown in, a lost expression in the rheumy eyes.  When the social worker gets to them, one body explains they’re taking turns eating – one day the one, the next day the other. But seeing as they’ve gotten so old, they’re mixed up in their days. They don’t know whose turn it is to eat anymore, so this is a true emergency.”

Both bodies seriously crack up, then go: “ouch, please, my funny bone hurts when I laugh.”

Second body: “Or they could say:….”

First body: “Save it. The  coffee’s about to percolate. My brain’s in overload.”

The photo has nothing to do with the sketch. The body saw it. The brain said: “I like it. You like it?” The brain answered: “I don’t know. You like it?” “Yeah, sort of.” “So put it up.” “Yeah?” “Yeah.”

So the body did.

Greetings from the land of Habbe und Meik.

Crossing the line

In Artists, Collages, Film, Hautvoir, Theater on February 22, 2010 at 8:58 am

Whether in a book, a play or a movie, if the scene is well done, readers or viewers will cross it. Meaning, they will step into that fictional moment, and transform it into a real experience – of wonder, horror, amusement, grief, delight … whatever that particular scene conveyed to them at that particular point in time.

For that to happen, the writer and/or the crew members in a production will have made a similar journey in the opposite direction. They will have stepped out of their daily reality, and brought into the scene whatever they could best contribute to it. To do so, they will draw on whatever resources they have – personal experience, knowledge acquired from others, past performances, etc.

Sometimes, in theater, the conventional lines are blurred intentionally between the public and the stage. The photo illustrating this post is a case in point. I took the shot last Friday during a performance of Le Cabaret Philosophique, during which the three actors stepped into (and on top of) the audience on a few occasions. As can be seen by the reactions in the audience, everybody understood this was part of the act. The actors may have been stepping over the line, but the boundary between the performance and the audience was never breached.

It came close to shattering at one moment in the performance. One of the actors started laughing with the audience. In other words, he stepped out of character and found himself so funny, he couldn’t resist becoming part of the audience himself. He caught it immediately. So did the two other actors on stage;  they worked the moment into the performance. It got extra laughs from the audience.

In one of my many notes to myself, the other day, I was reminding myself of that basic distinction between fiction and reality. It’s especially tricky for writers. The  real physical boundaries between off and on stage simply don’t exist. It’s all coming out of your own mind, all the time.  I suppose different writers use different techniques to know when they are “in story” and when they are not. Personally, I know that when I find myself reacting to real people the way I would to fictional characters, I’ve strayed over the line – the way the actor did when he started laughing at his own jokes.

In many ways, writing is one of the performing arts.  As such, it’s an  incredibly difficult craft. I have tremendous respect for those who perform well. It doesn’t happen by accident, nor do accidents keep the show from going on. I have recollections of some good friends in the theater world, going onstage at moments of great stress in their lives, and doing a fabulous job. They did it for the public; they did it for themselves; they did it to honor the craft they had chosen.

Over here, the story proceeds. I’m working on what could be qualified as secondary characters (or background, in a painting); before tackling the main protagonists and taking them to the next level of whatever I can manage as a writer, at this point in time.

The darker side of the hill

In Collages, Contes d'Exil, Film, Hautvoir on February 21, 2010 at 9:21 am

Someone typed the words : “balance of light and dark” as a result of which that person reached  this blog. What that person expected to find, I don’t know. Whatever that person did find, I hope it proved useful, one way or another.

In the story I’m writing, I’m working on fairly dark scenes at the moment – always a tricky process. You want to avoid excess – at least, I do. At the same time, if the characters and their reactions are to be credible, I think what I’m writing now must be part of the story.

A few days ago, I sat with a film maker who lives across the street. He wanted to show me an experimental piece he did last fall. It took quite a while before he could bring himself to do so because he  had explored some of his own darker materials. Sharing those with others is not easy. As it turned out, I felt I could work on English subtitles for that short. Whether anyone else will be interested in it, who knows? To me, it seems like a valid exploration of some of the excesses you meet in the film world. The scenes I’m working on in my own story at the moment have something of that same vibe to them. I’ll be glad once they’re written, and I’ll probably feel the same way as my neighbor did, when showing them to someone else. Goes with the territory – at least, in my experience, it does.

I think the photo is self-explanatory. The sun was setting behind the trees when I took this shot. The darkness is intentional.

Salut, l’artiste.

In Collages, Film, Hautvoir, Theater, Uncategorized on February 20, 2010 at 8:45 am

There are two “real” topics to my evening last night: the one documented in the photos I took before and after the point pictured above, and the one I recorded for myself during my walk from one venue to another. The evening was devoted to a celebration of a film shot locally,  Mission Socrate. The reception at City Hall was anything but conventional, the entire assistance (including the Mayor) joining the actors for a Socratic lie-in on the marble floor. The live show and the film that followed played to a packed house at the local cinema. The scene was probably just as zany at the bar afterwards, but at that point, I was walking home in the same state of mind as when I took this picture.

If, for you, bright lights signify happiness and darkness conveys gloom, that’s how you’ll read the above photograph. Your privilege; simply know that’s not what it represents to me.  Simply put, it’s the space between – between events, between identifiable sensations and emotions; the place of perception, just before the naming and the labelling start. The place of aloness.  The empty bag of tricks out of which all the tricks are produced.

For the main actors of the evening, that moment probably came after the bar scene. At some point after (or between) the applause at the cinema; after (or between)  the congrats, and the quips, the good feelings and the barbs. It may have started as a slight let-down of ‘over so soon’, while unlocking the car; followed by the slight (or huge) anxiety of ‘what do I do next?’; then, the mulling over of so-and-so’s attitude; the plans for the next show, the next film, the next useful contact; finally, the search for the adult’s equivalent of the security blanket –  the familiar thought, feeling or sensation that unlocks the sleeping space. Sleep. Dream. Wake. At some point, out of the empty place, you  know that you are you. From there, you take it from the top.

To an unknown pickle factory owner

In Collages, Contes d'Exil, Current reading, Film, Hautvoir on February 19, 2010 at 9:10 am

The map takes up most of the wall. Under it, the desk of the man who used to stick little pins into it, showing where a customer was expecting a delivery.  When you are in the room, you can see the pinholes; most of the factory’s customers were in the Northwestern sector of the Département, from which I draw an unproven assumption the factory owner probably came from that area in the Tarn, initially. The factory produced pickles. This being France, the pickles were probably cornichons, baby gherkin cucumbers, salted then bottled in vinegar. Neither the brine nor the vinegar are sweetened, as they are in North America. Cornichons are usually eaten here with paté or other fatty meats. The pickle factory is now someone’s home and studio.

We worked on an animated film project in this room yesterday. I was much taken by the map and the desk, and snapped many  photos of both. As soon as I saw them, I knew they would eventually find their way into a story. First, they have to go through that silent process, somewhere in the brain, where the raw stuff  gets filtered down and remixed with other memories. That filtering and remixing being part of the differences between a reporter’s level of  wordsmithing, and that of a fiction writer,  when faced by such a delightful artefact as the one pictured above. From real-life interest (if the map doesn’t hold your interest, it won’t make much of an impression on you in the first place); to telling a real or imagined someone about it (what I’m doing here); to wondering ‘and what if the map were in such-and-such a character’s office? and what if the deliveries were delayed that day because of…’ and so on.

Because of another local project involving the tannery workers’ strike of 1909-1910, I’m reading quite a bit of local history, written by people recalling events from their childhood or that of their relatives. Some of it is first-hand accounting of the finest sort; some is a lot more ackward. Even some of the less-successful accounts are truly poignant because of the things they imply about the way people lived; the things they valued most; the dreams they did not pursue; the need to leave some tangible record of what it all meant. Some of those writings are the literary equivalent of folk art, their very ackwardness being a part of their appeal.

Meanwhile, in the work in progress, I’m going through all the scenes involving one specific character. All of them need revision; plus I know there’s one scene missing which is still in draft form in longhand; it hasn’t quite gotten to the place where the opening words pop up at me with that urgency of the character saying: This is what I feel. This is what I need to express. It’s always about finding a balance between the spoken and the unspoken. To say or not to say. To say how and to whom. For most people, those are the questions.

For example: what was the owner of the pickle factory thinking about while he stuck those pins into the map? Was he Napoleon preparing Austerlitz? The retreat from Moscow? Waterloo? Was he planning his daughter’s wedding, or his own? Looking forward to a joyful reunion, or an ongoing argument?