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Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Tell me about it

In Collages, Story material, Theater on April 30, 2010 at 6:41 am

If gambling means throwing your own or someone else’s money at the odds in a casino or at a horsetrack, I’m definitely not a gambler. While I can relate to the thrill it must involve, it strikes me as an odd way to find the edge and throw your challenge out to it. That may be simply because roulettes and card games hold no magic for me. If they did, I’d probably say something like: “I can’t explain it. It’s just something I have to do.”

I’m definitely a gambler if it means taking everything you’ve ever managed to achieve and saying: “I’m glad I did those things;  now, let’s try something else.” I could try to explain it to myself or to others; I could relate it to childhood experiences, genotype, astrology or a slew of other Theories and Explanations. I’m not particularly interested in doing that these days because I’ve found something better than a casino; better than a confessional or a therapist’s office. I’ve found a way to keep myself on the metaphorical edge of my metaphorical seat. It’s quite simple, really: every day (or just about), I push the characters in my story along to whatever brink is lurking at the edge of the page, or of the screen. Every day, I do with the story what a troop of actors might do if they had an open-ended script, and it was their job to find the next part of the story in the performance itself.

It’s scary; some days, it’s worse than that: it’s downright depressing. Personally, I’d rather be scared than depressed, any time. Mostly though, it’s fun. For reasons I feel  no need to explore, I’d rather have fun than be scared or depressed. An oddment, given the times. I could explain it through Jungian, Freudian or Adlerian psychology, food preferences or any number of things. But basically, I’ve never met a good story I could resist telling my own way; nor a bad one I didn’t want to tell differently. Maybe I should set up an altar to thank all the elders who ever called me a liar. They didn’t know it but they were pointing the way to my true calling. Once you relabel it storytelling, there’s no end to the fun. (Note: as much as humanly possible, I limit the storytelling to storytime. As much as humanly possible.)

The photo above being a prompt for one of my characters who has her work cut out for her this morning. Whether she’ll go with it right away, or let another character speak up,  I have no idea. It’s a crazy way to write. Call it the Sisyphus and the Rolling Barrel of Monkeys technique. Where the barrel will stop, that’s where the story will end. I guess. (Who knows? Plus, Sisyphus and etc sounds like a rock group doesn’t it?)

Right, I’m out of here.

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The thin, thin line

In Collages, Music, The Art of Peace, Theater on April 29, 2010 at 6:40 am

I can’t say I was enthused when two of the characters I had left stranded a while back decided to drop in for a surprise visit yesterday afternoon. My first reaction was to scroll back and change the storyline immediately, to avoid dealing with the crazy situation in which I, the writer, had placed them. I didn’t and proceeded with the rest of my usual evening routine instead. Said routine involves reading some of the daily craziness reported in the papers, both here and in North America. After doing so, I’m still not happy dealing with those two characters as I’ve drawn them so far; but I’m not much happier dealing with some of the social, economic and political realities flowing from the illicit activities in which their real-life  counterparts involve themselves, whether by choice or otherwise.

One of the questions that keeps cropping up in my mind these days is: what exactly is sanity in crazy circumstances? It’s something of the question Ionesco raised in  his play Rhinoceros or that the local Théâtre du Rugissant treated recently in a puppet show called Dans l’oeil du judas (through the peephole). In real life, we have both the economic debacle and the ‘national identity’ debates going on, both in Europe and in America; the fact that both are occurring together is not necessarily accidental.

In other words, both in the story and in real life, one of the basic issues right now is how to handle that thin, thin line between conforming to the social norms because conformity makes for a more pleasant environment for everyone; and disagreeing with the norm and the values when they become means by which one group controls the agenda and oppresses others. If you disagree with the prevailing views, how do you best express that disagreement? How do you handle opposition – including violent one – to your own views or aspirations? Simply, when the debate spills over into hateful consequences – be they verbal or physical –  how do you deal with them?

It seems crazy to be having such thoughts, when you’re walking your dog on a lovely spring day, as I was yesterday afternoon. And yet: short of anesthesizing yourself with licit or illicit drugs, those questions are pretty hard to avoid. Personally, I find them easier to approach with a healthy dose of music to counterbalance the madness. This particular song being my haven in the storm, at the moment.

Things left unsaid

In Collages, Current reading, Irish Mist on April 28, 2010 at 7:35 am

I liked the contrast between the upper and lower windows when I walked by this building yesterday. It’s the photo that best matches the conversations I was having with some of my characters during the night. I wake up around three am – have done so for as far back as I can remember. It’s my equivalent time to a baby’s, babbling quietly to himself in his crib. Since I haven’t been a baby for several years now, I usually spend the time going over whatever story I’m writing or dreaming up.

The questions that were coming up were all background issues I haven’t fully explored – or that the characters haven’t disclosed spontaneously to me. The same way people don’t necessarily tell you everything about themselves, characters’ undisclosed information can range from the mind-blowing to the seemingly trivial.  Same for the reasons for withholding information in the first place: convenience, social conventions, trust, comfort, self-image or just-plain-forgot-I-swear. There’s another reason, much more subtle and, to my mind, more interesting than all the others: an event can take years or even a lifetime to reveal its full meaning. Some facts fall by the wayside or are misinterpreted,  simply because they don’t fit in the event, as the characters understand it in a given time frame. Revelation may strike like a bolt from the heavens; but realization usually happens at a much slower, more organic pace.

From a story perspective, the interesting arc then extends way beyond the revelation(s) as such – and also stretches back in time to those facts that appeared meaningless.

How does this article in The New York Times fit into any of this? I don’t know but  it seems to make tremendous sense both to the writer and to several characters, including some in a story still on the back burner; so it’s worth recording, as a place-holder for thoughts related to it.

Doodling my way to… something

In Collages, Film, Visual artists on April 27, 2010 at 7:22 am

“No, I don’t mind. So long as you don’t show the world the messiest parts of my living space.” That’s what my friend said the other day as I was snapping pictures in her studio again. So I won’t show the messiest parts, I promise. What I’m showing above is not messy; at least, not in my estimation. She had been working on some new visuals for the animated short. Was she supposed to put away each crayon in the box as she went along? Of course not. Sidebar:  I must get my hands on that Wim Wenders book of hers: La vérité des images, it’s called. Essays and interviews in which Wenders mainly talks about the genesis and structuring of his 1987 film Wings of Desire.

What does this have to do with my story? A lot. As the title implies, I’m doodling my way toward something. A messy-looking process with many false starts, meanderings and iterations along the way. I’m not there yet but the restructuring I started yesterday is helpful – at least, it is for the writer. I’m not sure the reader would necessarily agree. Patience, persistence, perseverance; we’ll get there. Plus,  new scenes started blooming in my head during the night, so all’s well that keeps on keeping on. What I’m  hoping is: once I get it right,it will seem obvious, easy and effortless. It will seem like the only way to get from the first word to the last. It will read like the only way to tell the story. Ha! = good luck and much fun to me.

A new experience for me today: I’ll be back in my friend’s studio for a two to three-hour photo shoot. We’ll be selecting elements from her paintings she wants to use in another animation  project. Borrowed a tripod from a professional photographer. We’ll see how it goes.

Thoughts on gathering lilac

In Animals, Collages, RLB trivia, Theater on April 26, 2010 at 6:08 am

After writing a short and unexpected scene yesterday, I was out in the country with a plan. Not a huge one: the plan was simply to find a flowering lilac bush on an abandoned property and bring home some lilac to put in a vase. Which mission was accomplished with the help of my travelling partner and one dog with an impressive-looking bandage. The splint and bandage  make Cybèle’s right hindquarter look like a trussed leg of  lamb, or the elaborate wrapping for a poulet de Bresse. A visit to the vet on Saturday revealed that Cybèle’s re-acquired limp was caused by a stress fracture to an old and poorly healed one; from the x-ray, he guessed at the initial fracture being the result of a beating with a stick in one of her undocumented adventures before she came to live with us. This splint only cramps her style when it comes to stalking Toulouse geese – ornery creatures who know an advantage when they see one.

When I took the idyllic photo above, my travelling partner had just told me about a recent tragic death here in town. I had managed to miss the news in the local paper. In a way, snapping this picture was a way to balance out the nastiness of what I had just heard.

In many ways, finding my way through the story involves the same, constant balancing act. Whether you call it genres or whether you refer to more ancient categories, life rarely complies  with the neat boundaries between comedy, tragedy, melodrama, farce,  pathos, and so on. It’s really an incredible blend of all of those things and more, all at once. How can a writer achieve that in a story  – preferably without  the reader being lost at sea in the process? Readers are precious entities; short of providing each one an emergency flotation device, how does the writer get the characters to tell the story  in a reasonably coherent way?  As Hamlet said: voilà la question. (Ever wonder what Hamlet did with himself when he was offstage and not thinking about his mother, his father, his uncle and that poor girl who drowned? Or, better yet: what he might have become, had he decided the time had come to give the family mess a rest?)

On my way to…

In Collages on April 25, 2010 at 7:01 am

When I took this photo, I hadn’t started writing the story that’s driving me nuts. I was working on a project I called “Mots en voyage” – a fairly apt title  as my own words seem to travel all over the place. The best way to summarize the writing/living experience at the moment is: On my way to living a life, I tried to write a story; or on my way to writing a story, I tried to live some kind of life.

The toughest part to writing a novel-length story is the time factor. Not necessarily the daily allotment of time, although that can be complicated enough to manage, at times. I mean the duration over which the project goes from first glimmer, first enthusiasm to final version. A lot of things can happen along the way – life, for example. It has a nasty way of not staying put while you record your vision, your search for the Grail, or whatever else you think you’re doing. No, life throws all kinds of things at you.  These days, I seem to spend most of my time asking myself “where was I?”  The story reflectst that because… because what? Because it’s a bit like chasing after a butterfly while crossing a landscape strewn with debris. A bunch of people trying to make sense out of their experiences,  in a world that refuses to stand still for the group portrait.

The photo shows a group of schoolchildren, at some point in the seventies, in the Upper Northern part of Québec. Parts of the ditty under their photo translates as: “After the Christmas holidays, the little sparks don’t seem to shine anymore. Let’s gather up our courage, let’s not pack our bags, if we want a good report card, let’s work right to the end.”

The only report card I can think of in my case would be to know I’ve done the best I could to honor whatever glimmer it was that started me on this story. I’m nowhere near that point, right now. I don’t even know if I’ll manage it. But I’ll certainly keep on trying; that’s a given. Why? I don’t know; it just is.

Still untitled

In Collages, FAR - Arts Center on April 24, 2010 at 6:28 am

It’s an eclectic place. When you enter the exhibition space, you can expect anything from beaded logos of the town to ceramics, to paintings in every style imaginable, to photographs, to… eclectic, I said. The classroom is of the same ilk: you find people working on a terra cotta bas-relief for the town’s celebration of a historical event, to someone struggling with the laws of perspective in a landscape, to a group working on a patchwork quilt, to another discussing a project for an off-the-wall installation (off-the-wall in every sense of the word.)

In other words, the local Arts Center is nothing like a traditional art gallery where selected works of selected artists are offered for sale to selected patrons. Which explains why the Center weathered yet another crisis yesterday in what promises to be a constant juggling and balancing act. Simply put, generations of town notables systematically refused to expose the locals to any and all improvements such as theaters, bookstores and other frivolities of that sort. This was a factory town. Outside the work place, factory workers had a choice between rugby for the men and volleyball for the women (but much later on than the rugby team, of course.) The notion that some factory workers might wish to paint, draw, sculpt was not even a consideration. Those with that kind of aspirations and enough gumption to do so, left town and made a go of it elsewhere.

The basic idea behind the center is to be a showcase and a learning center for the whole spectrum from the merely curious, to the talented and/or to the truly gifted  – from the most ackward beginners to the more accomplished and/or experimental explorers. It’s a huge gamble. For one, the Center can turn into a school and a repository for mediocrity. How to avoid that may be the biggest challenge of all. How to keep the more gifted willing to work and exhibit alongside the less proficient. How to showcase; who to showcase; when to do so. I could go on.

I didn’t go to the meeting last night. I stay away from them as much as possible because I can’t shut up for long when the debates heat up. I prefer to contribute from the sidelines, then get back to giving voice to my own obsessions.  Apparently, the meeting went well; the latest schism has been avoided, and the ship sails on. Hopefully, I’ll manage the same in story where I often feel the way navigators did before the seas were charted. Sometimes, the winds are brisk and I move at a steady clip – with no idea where I’m going. Other times, the winds die down, and I flap around, wondering what had me so excited about this story.  This usually happens just before the winds start up again, and I wonder how I’ll manage to keep the sails from flying away. Do I know where I’m going? Pas du tout; hopefully, I’ll know when I get there. Then again, maybe I won’t. A good enough reason to concentrate on the journey more than the destination.

The flight of the lost and meandering fly

In Collages, RLB trivia on April 23, 2010 at 6:54 am

Yesterday afternoon, there was no other solution than to shut down the computer, grab the camera, and head toward this part of town. It’s a section of road that leads out of Graulhet toward part of the hill country. As the above photo indicates, it’s not the part of the hill country where folks live in large homes and drive fancy cars.  The name of this store is a combination of the French spelling for teepee (tipi) with a c added. What is supposed to be typical about it, I have no idea.

The rest of the street is to the right of the photo. It includes abandoned garages, other structures that look abandoned until you see someone knocking on the door of a closed shop and someone else opening up from inside; whereupon you catch a glimpse of a clever imitation of a cozy home, set up in an abandoned grocery store. Chances are excellent that the resident is the former owner. When the economic debacle struck, the more affluent who wished to leave did so, leaving behind their large homes for sale (great property values around here, people – pass the word). The less affluent stayed, obviously. If they owned something, nobody wanted to buy it anyway. If they owned nothing, they couldn’t afford to leave either.

All this may sound terribly grim and glum. I suppose it is, if you’re in a grim and glum mood. I get grim and glum attacks, this is true. The best thing I can say about them is: they are so unpleasant they have an aversive, curative effect. My brain starts looping around like a drunken fly. “We shall not cease our meanderings,” says the fly, “until we get to a better spot. A spot with a view.” From which I gather the fly is a social climber, of sorts. More interested in the hill country (to the right of the photo);  from where a determined fly may branch out toward a) a horse farm further on up the road or b) Lac Miquelou (hang a left at the next corner).

Good luck to the fly*. Good luck to me**. Peace on earth, and goodwill towards (most)  sentient beings. (I won’t go into my diatribe against… I said I won’t go into it. I said: if you get started, I won’t let you read the newspapers anymore. I said: NO getting worked up about the burka issue***. I said…)

* redux

** redux squared

*** an emergency law to ban the wearing of burkas in France – an urgent question of dignity for women? What about equal salaries as an emergency application of existing laws? What about… (carrying myself away, bound, gagged and struggling.)

Occupational hazards

In Collages, Visual artists on April 22, 2010 at 6:56 am

The occupational hazards mentioned in the title have to do with mastering one – no, two – observations. They may add up to my entire font of knowledge about myself:

1) Irony is my homeland. I may travel away from it as often as I like, that’s where the baseline is.

2) Taking myself seriously leads straight to despondency – a place from where nothing but irony can retrieve me.

Irony is a hard gift to master. I suppose all gifts are. But since I claim this particular one as my homeland, I’m more familiar with the resident problems in it. To come out just right, irony has to avoid serving as a cheap coverup for self-pity, for seething anger, for self-induced panic; or for a whole bunch of other emotions wishing to hijack the process along the way. Irony must somehow glide through all or any of those. The basic message being: it’s neither as serious nor as funny as you think.  And yet, it is both of those, immeasurably.

The drawings photographed above are copies of Soviet-era Literacy Campaign posters.  I tend to smile more than to laugh when I look at them nowadays.   I drew them years ago. Under the heading: Woman! Learn how to read and write! , the top one has a little girl telling her mother the equivalent of: “hey ma, you can learn to read and write with me, if you like!” The bottom one has a poor sod of a peasant about to fall off the cliff, and for why? Because he is illiterate. The message informs the poor sod: “The illiterate are like the blind”. Indeed, it’s a damn shame when you think the poor sod can’t read the warning.

Maybe the real secret to irony, the one that saves it from spilling over into sarcasm, has something to do with a certain kind of generosity.

When in doubt…

In Collages on April 21, 2010 at 5:09 am

… stick to your own brand of craziness.

I could elaborate, of course. I suppose I should. The snarling furball of conflicting voices in my head all say I must elaborate. Except, each and every one of them wants me to elaborate on its views, opinions, theories and so on. Added to which I have three (sorry, a fourth one just piped up) – four characters all waving their hands and saying “I’ll take front stage! I’ll say it! No! Me, me, choose me!” And so on.

So. Fellow confederates. We stick to the photo we all agreed we wanted to post, remember? (Quiet acquiescence. Good sign.)

We chose the photo because we liked the line it inspired: “If the phone isn’t working, use the kachina doll.” Right? (All quiet in the head space.)

Does anybody want to add anything whatsoever to that wise piece of advice? (Not a creature was peeping, not even a louse.)

Good. So, we proceed. (Murmurs, mumblings and assorted snuffles which I assume to be grumbling acquiescence.)

“Kadima,” says the kachina doll.

When in doubt, don’t argue with a Hebrew-speaking kachina.