Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Fitting it all in

In Film, Irish Mist, Local projects, Music, New story on June 30, 2010 at 7:57 am

Looking left when I opened the shutters on the street this morning, it struck me that the three houses and shops starting on the corner of rue de la Soeur Saint-François are now empty. Turning right, as I fixed the shutters open, I noticed both buildings before the alley leading down to rue Pasteur are now occupied. I couldn’t resist going out to  grab a shot along with a few for the community blog.

Lots of local projects today, but the title mainly refers to the way the story is writing itself. Talking with my friend Anne yesterday, I realized that, in the last two novels, I was extremely preoccupied by timelines – in the first instance, down to recording the precise time of various occurrences. In the one I just completed, the timelines are intricate in a different way. In this one, time seems to be flowing back and forth with much less constraints on it. On the other hand, by the time I’ve finished this first draft, I’ll  probably have more characters than Vassili Grossman has in his magnum opus Vie et Destin (Life and Fate, in English). Thankfully, my own cast of thousands  is not involved in surviving Stalingrad, Russian gulags or German concentration camps, but  my early (and ongoing) infatuation with Russian literature has clearly left its imprint on my literary psyche.

Today: storyland beckons. Plus one press release, two meetings, two film-related writeups. Not to worry: I’ll still manage to get myself into some kind of trouble – no, let’s call it mischief instead. Here: a bit of Taraf Borzo doing Gypsy Heart.


Time: its vagrant ways

In Irish Mist, New story on June 29, 2010 at 6:00 am

The person who said it initially? I forget. What that person said was to the effect you ask a question; moments or years later, life answers. Sometimes, you’ve even forgotten you ever put the question in the first place – in which case the answer takes you off-guard and tends to be dismissed as you would a bit of spam in your spam filter or a message on your voice mail. Then, months or years later, you remember your question; you realize life provided the answer.

The way this new story is presenting itself to the writer is as if the characters – whether they know one another or not – were supplying both questions and answers to one another’s  queries and tentative solutions. As if, in a real sense, both questions and answers were literaly blowing in the wind.

In these times, we tend to think in terms of discrete entities – microseconds, milliseconds or larger but regular chunks – being ticked off a central clock charged with managing time and dispensing bits of it as part of a task-management team. The whole thing feels like trying to balance a budget in which the available resources are never sufficient to cover all of the organization’s responsibilities. Time becomes a sharp-tongued, shrewish taskmaster, and the rabbit is always late for that very important date.

Then, through force of circumstance, illness, unexpected delay at the train station – or any sudden eruption of the unplanned and unpredictable – time suddenly screeches to a halt while three ducklings cross the road, playing catch-up to their mom and six brothers and sisters. A cloud drifts by. Another driver who had stopped on the other side of the road gives you a wave or a smile as you start rolling again. Out of the blue, a tiny piece of sense makes its vagrant and meandering way through your head, then on again to another appointment back then , or over there in what we call the future.

Photo: yesterday’s answer to the overwhelming heat – mint syrup, lemon juice, iced water. Along with a tin advertising La Vache de Paris‘ superior clarified butter.

You start with a dream, and you keep going

In Artists, Irish Mist, Local projects, New story on June 28, 2010 at 7:10 am

Healthwise, I was in no condition to fly when I visited this space Saturday morning. A local someone sent a flyer announcing a new meeting space in one of the busted-out tannery buildings. When I showed up for photos, he took me through a guided (and loquacious) tour of his dream. Considering the space was supposed to open to the public that same afternoon, and further considering the someone sees it as a playground for children, I decided I’d wait a few days before inviting parents to send their little ones to play amid cement mixers, power tools, and sundries too numerous to mention. Let’s say the idea is there – the billowing silk parachutes being a powerful stimulant to getting the ground level  congruent with the visions they inspire in that resident member of the dreamer tribe.

The man’s rambling monologue was fascinating, however – at least, those bits on which I managed to focus despite my physical discomforts. One of the characters in the story will benefit greatly from the whole experience – although both the setting and the character himself won’t have much in common with what appears above.

More visits to dreamers yesterday afternoon. After months of rain and  winter clothes, the summer landed full force a few days ago. The meander through the countryside happened in 40° weather. I passed on several of the installations by young contemporary artists, the car being something of a broiler oven at that point. Whether the installations “worked” or not for me, the concept of bringing young artists to the region, hosted by local families, and letting them loose on a creative project? What’s not to love? The small country roads leading to each village and each installation were clogged with cars, entire families doing the rounds and stopping to discuss trees sporting plastic hoses or groupings of burnt out neons planted like candlesticks in a lawn. In several cases, you needed the artist’s explanations to “get” the intent. In others, the playfulness came through, as well as the artist’s pleasure at sharing his work with the public.

Now, if this fictional character will simply tell me which of the two names playing in my head is his so I can use some of this… oh, I see.  (The character just informed me.)

Slow, slower, slowest

In Irish Mist, New story on June 27, 2010 at 7:07 am

Riding slow this morning. Letting the characters find their own ways of using whatever energy is available – which is of the slow and easy kind. Exhausting day yesterday. Whatever plans I had made for today are subject to exactly the same directives as the ones given the characters, in the first sentence. If there’s a horse race on somewhere else, so be it, and good luck to the contestants. My own horse is off to meander at will.

And good luck to me

In Local projects on June 26, 2010 at 6:48 am

Will the writer get to write, today? No idea. The whole agenda is controlled by local projects and  priorities. What will be will be.

The only questions that matter

In Film, Irish Mist, New story, Sanford Meisner on June 25, 2010 at 5:49 am

Fact: Nobody works in a vacuum. No matter how easy or obsessive a person you may be when it comes to managing your personal work space, life as it plays is a significant and constant presence in whatever you’re doing. People show up for work (or don’t). Expected responses from a colleague or a friend turn out to be a puzzle instead of a clear Stop or Go. Your own concept for a project doesn’t mesh with a co-worker’s idea of where this thing should be going. Your child is sick on the day of the big presentation you’ve worked on all year. Your companion’s priorities are not your own. You didn’t sleep well. Somebody caught you offguard in a difficult moment. And so on.

The only questions that matter are: how do you cope with the disruption(s) and what do you do with their effects on your mood, motivation, enthusiasm, will to stick to it or chuck it all, etc. So far, the best answer I’ve found is to go with whatever the events bring up as a mood or emotion, or whatever they trigger in terms of memories – good, bad, indifferent, boring makes no difference – and pick up the writing at that point. One character or another can make use of that mind space. Which doesn’t mean the character will spew out the content of your personal enthusiasm, disappointment, elation or despair du jour. It means you use the space you’re in as preparation instead of impediment to the writing. Yes, here again, I’m applying a Sanford Meisner approach to this. Anyone interested in the details will find them in Chapter 6 of Sanford Meisner On Acting by Sanford Meisner and Dennis Longwell.

Does this guarantee you’ll get a good scene? No. One that will make it to the end of the final revision? No. It only guarantees you keep on writing, if that happens to be your priority. Or painting. Or practicing your musical instrument. Or doing whatever else you consider essential to your own self-definition and self-worth. The time for tweaking and double-guessing comes when you decide whether the scene fits at that particular spot, or should go elsewhere; or should belong to another character, another time in story, etc. The main thing being that, at the draft stage of writing, no matter how other people’s energy may affect you on a particular day, and no matter what your personal circumstances may be, you make use of it.

At another time, and in other professional circumstances, I once wrote my way through a difficult time by writing out my resignation letter every single night with all the proper shadings of intent, based on that day’s frustrations. In the morning, I would read it over, and ask myself if that’s where matters still stood for me. So long as the answer was no, I tore up the letter and went back to the job. The day the answer was yes, I revised the letter by removing the personal hurts and low blow comments, and handed it to the appropriate authorities. If writing is the thing for you, you write yourself and your characters into deep shit country, and you write yourself  and them out of it, as best you can at that point in time. On the really great days, you write yourself and them into a state of elation any fool and his brother would adopt as his or her permanent living space.

Once more, con gusto.


In Hautvoir, Uncategorized on June 24, 2010 at 5:02 pm

When I took the photo the other day, the humor was unintended. Given the fractious nature of the relationship between police forces and Corsican independantists, finding the two together on the window of a shop specializing in the finer foodstuffs of Southwestern France was too good to miss. With official news that the police station will indeed be closing in this town, the mood not being particularly light and cheerful this morning. Any bit of levity is better than none.

Oops because it seems I never got around to posting this as I went straight from that first paragraph to writing a scene in the story. No harm done – but not my greatest contribution to the writer’s notebook. Oh well. When the actual writing takes precedence on the notes, who’s complaining?

Behavior Cycles

In Irish Mist, New story on June 23, 2010 at 6:48 am

Extremes in human behavior. You can plot them on graph paper, then set the intermediate stages at different points along the line, an interesting exercise to see the range of possible combinations. Of course, in real life and anything fictional attempting to resemble it, people don’t function the way dots from a lead-pointed pencil do. For one, at any given time, there are several behavior patterns struggling to express their own priorities. You may be at the most solemn or touching moment in someone’s deathbed confession but, if you so happen to be allergic to pollen and the windows are open to the spring breezes, uh… could you – atchoo-  repeat  the name of your last vict…a… vict…. atchoo, victim, sir? Sir? (The writer is on antihistamines right now; you take your examples where you find them.)

Both in real life and in fiction, humans don’t always find themselves at matching or complementary points in their own behavior cycles. You might have a close friend or companion with whom all the old jokes and comforts no longer resonate. A one-time rebel longing to test the tepid waters of conventionality, while a terminally obedient man or woman might decide to break loose and explore the limits of what he or she was taught were the no-nos. Even  more interestingly, you may have characters who are dealing with internal conflicts between those different impulses, and struggling to define their own rules on issues of loyalty, morality, acceptable codes of behavior, and so on.

When the antihistaminic haze started lifting this morning, and as I thought about the characters assembled so far in the new story, it struck me how, no matter what their professions might be, I tended to listen in on them when they were outside the conventional moments. For example, spies don’t only spy and talk shop talk with one another. They also eat noodles and spill soup on bad days. That sort of thing: the funny moment in a pathetic situation. The sad glimmer amid the festivities. The delightful find in a day-week-year of drudgery. The discovery all your secrets are known and what do you intend to do about it? Those kinds of things. There being three basic responses to the unusual: you can flee into denial and regression to the way it’s always been; you can freeze, the better to consider your options; you can decide to brave on and discover if the flickering lights in the garden are fireflies having a party or Clancy-type fighter ninjas adjusting their night visors for an onslaught of your home.  All three  responses are important; all three are valid expressions of a character’s priorities at that time. Except that, in story at least, it’s best to have characters at various stages in those responses. This, to avoid a stampede into the bogs of nostalgia, a fixed-camera documentary on catatonic patients, or a wild cavalcade of the Heroz-All school of blockbuster frenzy.

Photo? A funny moment yesterday when I decided to take a  picture of myself in an old mirror at Anne’s studio. I was looking for a Through the Looking Glass effect.  Spent a good while angling to avoid photographing myself as a face with a lens for a snout. I ended up shooting way over my own head, as often happens (my head being somewhere near the black dot under the frame.)

The usual questions

In Irish Mist, New story on June 22, 2010 at 6:49 am

The usual questions are: what happens to a character when the old game no longer produces the expected results, or the old ways no longer satisfy? What happens when none of the anticipated benefits materialize?  What happens when the face in the mirror no longer matches the new circumstances? Never quit a winning game, they say. But what if the winnings turn out to yield none of the promises the seemed to hold? What if the mirage was the best part of the trip? What if beyond the mirage there is nothing but an empty water gourd next to bleached bones?

The writer and one of her characters parted ways yesterday while the character rode the Paris metro with no idea what came next. If the character figured it out overnight, she hasn’t informed the writer yet, that much is clear.

One recurring motif in the mental imagery these days is that of exoskeletons – as in shells of sea creatures or of chrysalids. In other words, the results of molts from one stage of being to another. The strongest image yesterday being in the form of a question: how does the molting experience announce itself and how does the molting one feel while it’s happening?  I may have been a crab in a former life (it would explain some of my less agreable characteristics on bad days); still, I don’t recall the molting experience as such.

My closest approximation would have to be childbirth which is a fairly demanding exercise both for the mother and for the child. There’s a phase in childbirth, a transitional place. A plateau, when the body recuperates from the first part of the exertion and gears up for the final pushing. Depending on how labor is going for both partners in the exercise, the plateau can be fairly short or it can last for a long, long time.

If  the writer thinks of both of those  experiences – the molt, the childbirth – as metaphores,  the place in which the characters find themselves becomes pretty apparent. All of them are in the transitional place. There is no turning back. Either the clues  to what the future holds aren’t all that apparent or they haven’t revealed their full potential as new ventures to pursue. It’s an uncomfortable place. It comes just before the next round of exertion begins.

Photo: done last Sunday in a cold wind. An abandoned brick factory up in the hills above Graulhet. The round tiles remind me of turtle shells and other such remnants from former lives.

The untried

In Irish Mist, New story on June 21, 2010 at 7:05 am

I took the photo a week or more ago: a collection of posters from Gaillac’s modest film festival dedicated to documentary films. As usual when I post a photo on this blog, I use it the way more religious types concentrate on a mantra or a holy image/symbol as a focus for a particular train of thoughts/emotions/sensations. In this case, the tricky space where characters look back on their experiences and try to find those elements in them that will serve as fuel for further growth, further exploration.

A tricky space, and a tricky exercise. The past – by which I mean our own images and stories about it – can be the most alluring mirage of them all. Whether the stories be tragic or happy, they shimmer and beckon, calling you home the way the Sirens sang to lead the sailors and their ships to their watery demise. Most, if not all, of what we call the future is predicated on those images and stories we call the past. Sometimes, you have to crash your boat into the same rock face many times before it dawns on you that the light from distant stars no longer reflects their current position. Things, they be changing all the time – in us, around us. Where you expected solid ground, there now lies a bog. Where you feared to take another step, you discover the cliff face has grown a few inches since the last time you went. And so on. Revisiting the past is useful in that regard, if you can just get yourself to remember the current lay of the land is the one through which you and your cast of thousands must wend their way. The untried. The unknown. The unexplored. The unthinkable. They rarely announce themselves. When they do, they’re usually brushed aside, because they don’t fit the story as we wanted it to be.

Another bend in the road. Another point of view to explore.