Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

‘gator, on your left.

In Animals, Drafts, Irish Mist, New story on August 31, 2010 at 6:54 am

Actually, in the dream, (it was in French), the woman didn’t say what the title reads. She said: “magne le caïman sur ta gauche” – which was precisely the spot from which said cayman was emerging from the water. Dreams are smart that way. Later in the dream, a woman (probably the same one) was finishing a portion of watery noodles. She said something to the effect of: “plain noodles are OK, but…” – I got the sense she was being polite about it. As in: some food is better than none, count your blessings, and don’t forget that last strand of egg noodle at the bottom of the bowl. (Being something of a spendthrift myself, I woke up instead of fishing around for that last strand. In any event, it looked more like vermicelli than like an egg noodle to me.)

I realize none of this will make much sense to anyone outside my brain pan, but the main purpose of this blog is the writer attempting to make sense to the writer. When I grabbed the shot the other day, I knew it showed potential. Maybe the woman in the dream should have given the cayman a crash course in metallurgy? What is the tougher of the two? A ‘gator’s jaw or a screw cap made of a good, solid alloy?

As Jiddu Krishnamurti was wont to say: Think on These Things.*

* I once quoted Krishnamurti on a previous blog, and received a bombardment of messages from someone wanting a full and frank discussion of the man’s writings. My full and frank take is summarized herewith: I’ve read every word of his, and even attended a session in Brockwood Park during his lifetime. Not once did I laugh, except while walking on my own in the English countryside, and thinking on all those things by myself.


In Drafts, Irish Mist, New story on August 30, 2010 at 7:31 am

It can be anything. A piece of art. A street sign. A color, a sound. The way a person moves. An insect. An unexpected word play or mental association. Anything that engages my attention, and holds it long enough to cause the break away from the yammering – be it the self-inflicted kind,  or that produced by someone else.

The trick is to run with it before the yammering starts up again – the judgmental type of yammering; the labelling, moralistic type.  The should/shouldn’t/no-no part of the brain. An essential device, that one. No living thing survives for long without some form of memory telling it what to seek, and what to avoid. But no living thing thrives for long either, if it doesn’t branch out in search of whatever feeds it.

Same in story. The biggest killer is avoidance. At the moment, several of my characters are in a holding pattern for that very reason. Either there is something or someone they don’t want to deal with, or their fear of negative consequences is overriding their curiosity and appetite. How will they escape the leaden weight of experience, memory, and all the rest of the accumulated luggage? How will one of them re-connect instead with that whiff of something else in the air? Anything can serve as a trigger. An appealing sight or an ugly one. A change of pace. Turning left where one always goes right. Taking a bite of something nobody else cares for. Telling someone: you do what you want, but this is what I like. Anything at all, so long as it is strong enough to override the status quo.

So much for the theory of it. Characters? On stage, please. (Funny. At one point, they were scrambling over one another to grab that mike. Hallo? On stage, I said.)

And a one. And a two. And a one, and a two…

In Circus, Drafts, Irish Mist, New story, Poetry, Visual artists on August 29, 2010 at 7:27 am

Big decision. Do I post the real-life shot. Like so:

or the illustrated poem by Apollinaire, like so:

We’ll see.

Big question: Have you ever seen a bass player handle the instrument as if it were a guitar? Answer: After snoring through most of my dream, the lady bass-player did just that. A double first, for me: for one, I’d never had a character in a dream snore through most of the dream experience before. For another, when the lady bass-player woke up, she took center stage with that bass, and used my dog’s chew toy* to strum the cords like a wild woman. The rest of the orchestra was playing a classical piece; so was she, sort of. Yes, shades of these folks right here.

* a knotted skein of colored rope, now sitting on a shelf. My dog took one look at it, and made it clear she does not play with inanimate objects.

Bottom line? I slept.  Always a good place to start. I’ll take it from there. May the gods have a bearable sense of humor today; if not, may my own take up the slack. Amen.

The Way Out

In Drafts, Irish Mist, New story on August 28, 2010 at 6:45 am

It’s a mind thing. No matter what the circumstances.

What the character really wants

In Drafts, Food, Irish Mist, New story on August 27, 2010 at 6:31 am

The title was one of the last comments on yesterday’s blogs.  What does the character truly want? Good question, because real-life and fictional characters often say they want x, act as if nothing were more important than achieving x – literally obsess about doing or getting x. Then, the possibility presents itself… and the character doesn’t make the expected move. Or external events keep popping up, making x an impossible outcome. Or the character does the radical opposite of what everyone expected.

The photo above serving to illustrate for the writer the focal point of one of the characters’ obsessions.  For the writer, one of the most intriguing things about this character is the  disconnects between her apparent conventionality, and the sudden twists away from it into unexpected behaviors. As if the fault line running through her  were as unpredictable  as  the exact path of a rift in an earthquake, or of a tornado or a forest fire’s meanderings.

A good topic to bear in mind, on a day during which writing will have to take second place to cooking for, then entertaining, guests.

What about those times when…

In Current reading, Drafts, Irish Mist, New story on August 26, 2010 at 6:22 am

Among the pile of other things I’m reading at the moment: La dramaturgie, by  French screenwriter Yves Lavandier. I put down the book last night just before reading about Providence aka deus ex machina – those tricks a writer or a director sometimes uses to get the story (i.e. the characters) unstuck when the odds seem insurmountable by any other means. In real life, providential events happen all the time, although they rarely announce themselves with soaring or booming music in the background. Also in real life, if Providence doesn’t intervene, the issue stays unresolved or things come to a grinding halt. In real life, this isn’t  interesting for the parties involved; in story, it’s worse then that. No solution? Not even an attempt at finding one? Sorry: No story. Nice try, but game over.

So how do I get the character out of the locked chamber at the bottom of a sunken ship in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle? (I’m exaggerating, obviously, as I often do. I’m not writing a blockbuster movie in which Good Aliens will send beams of Good Alien Light to release the heroes from their watery grave.) In other words, I’m assuming the story stays interesting only if the characters must find providence within themselves. Therefore, they must use their inner resources to deal with their immediate surroundings and circumstances.

There’s only one solution, isn’t there? The characters must dig deeper into their inner world and their untapped resources. They must look a bit more sharply at their surroundings – both at the objects and at the people or the animals in it. And, most of all: they must ask themselves how badly they want to find a solution. Which leads straight to the core question: what do those characters really and truly want the most?

The photo: self-explanatory.


In Current reading, Drafts, Film, Irish Mist, New story on August 25, 2010 at 6:33 am

I scribbled the note in pencil, years ago, at the back of my copy. Whether the words are Jorge Semprun’s or my own, after reading L’écriture ou la vie*, I can’t say. The scribble reads: nous avons récupéré l’essentiel – le temps. (We have retrieved the essential – time.)

My copy of that book is heavily annotated, with more than twenty stick-its to mark the even-more essential passages in it. It’s almost two years now since I’ve re-read Semprun. His book was the first topic of conversation with Anne, last night, before doing a word by word examination of one of the animation projects. She is discovering Semprun, and felt the need to read out one of the passages that has struck her. I’ll probably be leafing through my own copy again, thanks to her mentioning it. The power and beauty of that book, for me, residing in the how of his telling, the how of his writing, and these words, essential to this fiction writer: “La réalité a souvent besoin d’invention pour devenir vraie. C’est-à-dire, vraisemblable.” (Reality often needs invention in order to become believable. In other words, likely.)

More film-related revisions today with another film maker. The draft is at another interesting place, where parts of the story want to rush forward: piles of scribbles attesting to that. But something else is falling into place at another end of the story. I don’t know what that something is yet; all I know is, it has to do with beauty, and the photo above captures something of what that part of the story has to say.

* Translated as Literature or Life.

Next problem, please.

In Drafts, Film, Hautvoir, Irish Mist, New story on August 24, 2010 at 6:31 am

In itself, the fact things rarely get easier is not a problem. The problem occurs when  the coping mechanisms don’t work – either they are temporarily overwhelmed , or they are no longer adequate for the task at hand. In other words, the problem is one of perception and of the mood triggered by it.

Several of the characters in the draft are somewhere around that point at the moment – either heading for the next shallows, stuck in them, or desperately trying not to think about their personal dire straits. Welcome to the world of: but, surely, this should work. It has always worked. Damn. It doesn’t work anymore. Do I kill  myself? Kill someone else? Lash out? Lash in? Create a diversion? Trudge the next three hundred miles on foot? Whistle a happy tune? Visualize a four-leaf clover? Shrug, and say: next problem, please?

Next problem, please. Why? 1) better a new problem than the same old, same old – a change is as good as a holiday. 2) It may look like a problem, it may feel like a problem; it probably is a problem. Except, it doesn’t play exactly like the previous ones. Therein  lies the glimmer worth exploring. It may lead to worse problems yet, you say? If so, we’ll deal with them when they show up. As Meik would say to Habbe: Kadima, straight ahead.

The photos were done in Capestang, a few years ago. They are the setting for one of the characters’ present walks from one point to the next.

The Space of Freedom

In Contes d'Exil, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Irish Mist, New story on August 23, 2010 at 6:23 am

Interesting how yesterday brought together for me the triad of terms that supposedly define the French social and political pact. The word “Égalité“, provided by the post on this blog, and the reflections it inspires. The word “Fraternité” popping up at me while I was reading in the relative coolness of the basement,  in these words by philosopher Leszek Kolakowski: “Human fraternity is disastrous as a political program but indispensable as a guiding sign,”  or again,  of fraternity being “a regulative, rather than a constitutive idea” (quoted by Tony Judt, in The New York Review of Books, Volume LVI,  Number 14). The word “Liberté” attracting my attention in its English form as the title of Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel (of which, an excerpt here).

Interesting because, words being one of our defining traits, we tend to passionate bonds with them, rarely examining the contents we’ve attached to their definitions. Égalité, for some, can mean uniformity. Fraternité usually extends only so far as the feeling of comfortable fellowship does. As for Liberté, where oh where does mine stop and yours begin? Is my version of freedom an export product, the way various religious dogmas purport to be? Should the missionary zeal attached to buzzwords such as democracy (or any other political system) not be as suspect as all other religious dogmas – or political creeds treated as such?

I no longer question why my eye picks out one photo or another when I first start up the computer in the morning. No more than I question why they often trigger associations with words seemingly unrelated to them. The above photo, for example. Done two winters ago, while I was working on a travel notebook dealing with my characters’ travels, not my own. What I most recall about working on that particular page? The feeling of utter freedom the experience provided. The freedom of a child playing in her room with scissors, crayons and glue sticks. Combining unrelated bits, watching the story shape itself, change directions, find new meanings. Freedom as a space to explore. Égalité and Fraternité usually taking care of themselves reasonably well, when that’s what Liberté is all about.

The simple things. The hardest of all to let be.

The Blind Spot

In Hautvoir, Irish Mist, New story on August 22, 2010 at 7:24 am

Reading yesterday’s post, I realize I steered clear of it. Better yet, I refused to photograph it on avenue de l’Égalité, preferring to turn my camera in other directions. The first reason for that being an esthetic one: huge mansions in a perfect state of repair aren’t interesting to photograph, unless you are a real estate agent. The second is more subtle: having, on occasion, been a guest in similar piles of masonry, they exude for me the opposite of an aura of attraction. What I see in them crushes the spirit and extinguishes the voice.

In all fairness, I should say huge mansions and their inhabitants aren’t the only sources for that kind of soul-destroying potential. Avenue de l’Égalité is a great metaphor in that regard. Poverty and ignorance are just as effective as dampers on the spirit; the difference being that poverty is uncomfortable, and discomfort is a greater goad than its opposite for keeping your ass in gear.

Either way, the word “égalité” itself is tricky. It is usually taken to mean sameness – in tastes, opinions, and adherence to group rules, the tyranny of the group overriding whatever impulse for change one of its members might express. A member of the “privileged classes” disagreeing with his or her peers? Rejection and ostracism. Same will apply across the street from the mansion, in the middle-class dream of the row house, rigorously aligned with all its neighbors. The same rule prevailing further down the street where a neat yard will brand you as aspiring to a  lifestyle better suited to the gentry.

Being a human  is not a simple matter.

P.S. For greater certainty: the house behind the street sign is not even close to being the mansion mentioned in the first paragraph.