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Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Leave taking

In FAR - Arts Center, Irish Mist, New story, Revision, RLB trivia on November 30, 2010 at 7:54 am

As life would have it, four chapters away from the famous The End in story,  the writer was involved in two incidents of leave-taking in real life, last night – both related to the local Arts Center. In the first, one of the art teachers expressed the list of grievances motivating her decision to leave the Center, taking her students with her. After long and acrimonious exchanges, the person acknowledged she and her students were paid up until next May,  so maybe her announcement was premature. In the second, the writer stepped down from her responsibilities at the Center, and transferred them to a woman with considerable experience with press releases. The incident was as anti-climactic as… as a prepared statement at a public event. Wikileaks notwithstanding, as a former press officer, the writer likes a certain amount of decorum in gatherings of a formal nature.

Endings. Planned ones; unexpected ones; self-imposed or against the person’s will. Long awaited; abrupt. Leaving a place; familiar objects; a routine. Leaving for a new job, or following your employer’s shut-down of his plant. Leaving with prospects; leaving with none. Leaving in sickness; leaving with both an injury and the Gold Medal. Leaving with a sense of entitlement, or as a victim of fate. Leaving as a gift, both to yourself and to others around you.  Burning your bridges, or holding a housewarming. How is this specific story ending; or, rather, where is the writer leaving the various characters at the end of it?

As a reader, when you get to those final chapters, what is it you want to know? How your favorite characters will fare, of course; how you can expect them to live on, and make the best of whatever circumstances are theirs. You may wish the writer had paid closer attention to a so-called secondary character you happened to like; or dealt more or less harshly with one you found despicable. The finest endings, to this writer’s liking? The ones that leave you that nice feeling when, after a wonderful evening, guests do not overstay their welcome, and everyone moves on to the next strange and curious thing awaiting.

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Once more, with feeling

In Irish Mist, New story, Revision on November 29, 2010 at 7:35 am

(Note to Hebrew scholars: yes, the cover page of the Hebrew primer is upside-down; no, this was not intentional; yes, it was corrected in the final, unphotographed, version.)

“Oh, so you’re  finished,” someone said yesterday, hearing the writer has “only” six more chapters to revise. The writer doesn’t bother explaining some things in detail because, as with dreams, not too many people really want to know. The best the writer could come up with in response, was: “the final chapters are where you see if the whole thing hangs together or not; at least, to your personal satisfaction. It’s only finished once it’s finished.” In other words, a  piece of writing is a lot like a collage: there’s a lot of tinkering going on, right to the end… and, sometimes, the need to turn one of the elements around a full one hundred and eighty degrees. Or not. Or maybe, ninety degrees? Or… Tinkering, till it rings true.

With this particular piece of writing, the writer feels the need to imagine the story arc as spilling over both at the beginning and at the end – as if all the characters had been eavesdropped upon during the specific duration of those summer months of the year 2004; as if all of them had an ongoing life from which the time spent in story were but a moment – almost like shots grabbed from a movie, as opposed to a group portrait done in the early days of photography. The intent being for the piece to read as if it were a series of  moving images; as if it were all happening spontaneously, in the here and now.

Allez, hop. Once more, with feeling.

Shifts

In Irish Mist, New story, Revision on November 28, 2010 at 7:15 am

This isn’t a “real” b & w photo: it’s a color shot, modified through two clicks of software. “You should come anyway,” the person said last night. “It’s a darkroom; who’s to know you were there, or not?” At issue: cost of membership and of supplies at the local photography club. The message being: you can use some of our supplies and, since you won’t be there anyway… what membership cost?

It’s all about shifts, this morning. Shifts in perspective. As in: is that a solid wall or an optical illusion? A painted backdrop, or the horizon? Is this character’s perception of reality shared by this other one? This character’s definition of Who I am or of Who You Are unvarying, Gospel truth? What happens if you shift the camera angle? Does that Gospel truth still hold?

Or: a building; an appartment you have occupied in it. Walking by, a few years later, while the wrecking ball is at work; watching the sky appear where your painted walls used to be.

Or: being part of a given crowd at a party where the same participants used to dump their empty glasses on the tray you held out to them.

Or:  “You’ve changed.” Or: “Is it the lighting? You look different today.” Or: “You like that? Really? Oh.”

Shifts. They don’t have to be huge; in fact, some of the most powerful can be minute. Less than one degree on the arc? Now you see it, now you don’t.

It’s not called revision for nothing.

Appropriate/Inappropriate

In Irish Mist, New story, Revision on November 27, 2010 at 8:31 am

Who decides, and on what basis? When is it best to shield yourself and others from unpleasant realities; when is it better to deal with the sea of troubles?When something awful happens – say the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or the outbreak of cholera following on all the other horrors in Haiti – is it best to 1) cluck one’s tongue  and say “c’est la vie” 2) read and watch every single report on the horror, and obsess over it 3) contribute to some organization entrusted with fixing the problem 4) start  your own or join said organization  5) concentrate on making your small corner of the world livable 6) all of the above 7) none of the above.

To this writer, the fact of putting the question is already part of the answer. If the earth shakes under your feet; or an ice storm destroys all the power lines in sub-zero weather; or a forest fire engulfs your camping area; or a madman goes on a rampage with a gun in your work area. Do  you read off the list of possible responses in order to tick the appropriate one? More likely, you will run around like a headless chicken; hide in the tiniest space available; or expend a lot of energy  getting yourself – and possibly others –  out of harm’s way. No matter what you may imagine as the most predictable response  based on who you think you are, it  won’t play out the way a mind game does. Reality will probably combine some of those  three behavior patterns in a given emergency – and a different mix of them in another.

What does this mean when writing fiction? What is appropriate and inappropriate when dealing with… just about anything, really: sex, politics, religion, violence, love, compassion, cowardly behavior, responses to call for helps, need for peace and quiet – you name it. Is it all right for a character to do or say things the writer would never do or say in real life? What if the reader thinks ill of the writer because of it? Or what if… the writer is back to the first paragraph? Either you write, and find out in the process; or you think about writing which is the same as drawing up lists of possible responses to theoretical situations.

In other words for this writer, the only appropriate response is: on to Chapter 42. (The writer happened to be thinking on these things when she snapped the photo above, a few weeks ago.)

Because that’s what it is

In Film, Irish Mist, New story, Revision on November 26, 2010 at 8:11 am

The thing you more or less managed to shape into the closest approximation to the dream. Especially the one you can’t remember in the morning. The one that flickers like a camp fire that never gave up, despite all appearances to the contrary. That’s the reason for choosing the above photo, this morning – both for the good feeling associated with visits to Burlats and for the delight at this flying ship heading straight for the sun. Even if this particular view was not planned as such by the artists, that’s what the photo suggests this morning.

There were also giant insects at that exhibition by Bob Morse and Philippe Deltour; some of them looked like colorful kites. The writer was much taken by them. Combined with the bits of wire holding the ship’s sails to the hull, they bring back to mind a kite that could never have flown anywhere else than in someone’s mind -where fly, it did. The crossbars were crooked; there was nothing but old newspaper available to cover them. The string was way too short, and who even remembers what served as weights on the tail end of the thing? What still shines through, some fifty-five years later, is the excitement of making it; the visions of it soaring up higher than any kite had ever flown; and the magical moment of naming it – the name itself  long forgotten, but not the feeling of that crayon printing out whatever fabulous name was given to the misbegotten thing.

Even the memory of its dismal end and of the less-than delicate comments by various onlookers didn’t leave anything other than superficial dents on the maker’s vanity. The way that kite danced in her mind while she talked it into existence? Pure magic that never ceased.

Today: first, a short rewrite on a screenplay; followed by work session on same. Then, in revision: a longish and lumpy Chapter 41 to shape into something finer. It sort-of flies, by bits and drabs, but this isn’t a kite built by a nine-year old; the idea of it soaring isn’t enough. The point is to feel the words take off and soar.   Part of the excitement of getting there is the same as that of  kite-building, including the final suspense: will  it soar or will it crash? Except  Chapter 41 will fly, because  neither the writer nor the characters will have it any other way.

Should, really must

In Irish Mist, Local projects, New story, Revision, RLB trivia on November 25, 2010 at 7:38 am

It never fails. The Homework Syndrome hits? The system slows right down, and starts impersonating a crawler car on the highway. “Really must read those short stories before the meeting; really, really must,” the Homework loop repeats. Nu, and what does the body do in response? It dawdles. It looks up promising search terms. It browses through old photos. It thinks up a joke that must be shared with a friend no later than this minute. It works out imaginative excuses for not attending the meeting. Etc. (All the while, in the presence of another human, impersonating the Rabbit, so very late to that important date. You see, this is a crawler car with a significant horn.)

All right. Sixty-four years into the experience of living, both the Syndrome and its remedy are familiar. If those stories are to get read at all: best to ignore the “should, really must” part, or they will moulder into mulch before a single line makes it through the brain barrier. All the writer really wants to do is: look up promising search terms. Browse through old photos. Think up a joke that mst be shared with a friend… etc. Plus, meander with the dog,  and continue on to Chapter 40, of course.

Meandering with the dog being the only certainty in the whole process, the writer had best get on with whatever else she shouldn’t and mustn’t do, if she’s to make a dent in any of the shoulds.

To my American friends: is this the day you all finally stop worrying about making it the healthiest yet tastiest but thriftiest, yet somehow lavish-looking Thanksgiving ever? The day you say: “I really, really shouldn’t have another helping, but…”?  Relax. Enjoy. And remember: the best part follows even after the best/worst Thanksviging ever i.e. when the guests go  home, and you settle down with a good book and your favorite hoarded bits of food.

Must, must get on with it now. Those stories to read, another blogpost to put up, and… late, late, such a very important date.

The Scariest of them All

In Irish Mist, New story, Revision on November 24, 2010 at 7:19 am

Applying the same principle as in yesterday’s post here –  i.e. not allowed to list every single possible scariest thing/word/situation. Only one. All right. Eyes closed, pick one word out of the jar? Failure. For this writer, every other scary word/thought/vision of horror  pales when compared to the abject fear that word inspires. Oh no, not that; not an F – anything, take my life  (if you must) but… not an F, I beg of you!

The interesting thing about it being a realization, last night, that writing works exactly the same way as does the fine art of  walking a tight rope. Or carrying a filled bowl of a burning liquid, without spilling any. Or taking that fateful leap into the unknown, whatever that scary unknown may be. In every instance, the problem isn’t the rope, or the full bowl, or the scary prospect of a rejection/put-down/sneer/snicker/guffaw. The problem is that mental construct, similar to the decaying tannery building in the photo above. “I,” it announces, “am the Ghost of Failure. I stand guard as the Reminder of all those things that came to naught.” Etc, and so forth.

The realization last night being: put your attention anywhere you like, except on what your body is doing. Why? Because your body does not need any instructions from you. Your body figured out how to stand up and walk; how to pick itself up after a fall; how to run,  how to tumble, how to dive. It even figured out how to fall asleep without your ever having a say in it.

How does that principle apply to writing? Just keep the fingers moving, says the writing part of the brain; if you do that just about every single day, they’ll learn to do something akin to a by-pass. The fingers are mindless; they write whatever wants to get written down, exactly the same way  legs do the walking to a specifc spot without any guidance. The pity being you must put up with the Ghost of Failure yammering away  in the background (because such is the nature of that beast) while your fingers do the walking to an unexplored spot along the river. “A Worse Failure awaits you there,” the Ghost of Failure warns and wails. “At least, you know Me well, whereas all  those unexplored Failures over there will destroy you completely… oh woe, woe, woe.”

And so, onward in Chapter 39.

Things that matter

In Current reading, Film, Irish Mist, Local projects, New story, Revision on November 23, 2010 at 7:11 am

Pick a day; any day. In it, select one – and only one – moment. It can be a good moment, a horrible one; trivial, momentous – anything at all, so long as there’s one, and only one. Identify what grabs and holds your attention in that one moment. The light? The mood? Something that was just said, or that was just about to be said? A pause, maybe. A contrast. A harmony, or its opposite. (The photo above, taken yesterday as we were breaking for lunch, and before summarizing what the work session had yielded in terms of new insights for a screenplay and its accompanying storyboard.)

The things that matter? Insights. A change of perspective on what triggers a certain behavior – your own or someone else’s. A letting go of a verbal crutch, a favorite expression, a stance. Observing what happens when you do so: the shift in attention; what stands out suddenly at that point. “Of course,” you say. “Of course, why didn’t I see that before?”

Working on someone else’s project while pursuing her own is one of  the things that matter to this writer. It keeps the mind from locking into obsessive habits of thought or expression. The same is true of reading an author who isn’t necessarily right up your alley – which is the case right now with Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz.  The depiction of Egyptian society in the early nineteenth century? Fascinating – and a useful place from which to re-examine the values and mores in this time and place. The author’s persistent habit of jumping into the story, in order to explain what it is a character meant, or why he/she expressed it this way or that? Sufficiently off-putting and distracting to make another writer look more closely at her own writing for any such tendencies.

The thing that matters most, right now? The process.

Why is this melodrama like no other melodrama?

In Circus, Drafts, Irish Mist, New story, Revision, Theater, Visual artists on November 22, 2010 at 7:39 am

That blue terra-cotta figure in the window appeared at some point in a dream; possibly because it vaguely resembles Saint-Exupéry’s Petit Prince; possibly because the writer doesn’t care one way or another about that particular piece of sculpture, both of those reasons bearing some relationship to the writer’s main moodling point once she woke up.

What counts; what doesn’t. What matters most. What is this one willing to forego; what is that one adamant about preserving at all cost? The contentious issue can revolve around    a physical object, and often does: objects have a natural talent as incarnations of symbolic values. “Not my mother’s framed portrait of gardenias in a dew-bedecked dawn garden!” he/she wails. “No way will I relinquish the last bolt from the beam that held up my papa’s work shed,” he/she responds. (The story is at a melodramatic moment, folks; the writer hastens to add she rarely expresses herself in those terms herself – except in melodramatic moments of her own where she tends to push the genre to its most absurd limits.)

Contention can also move on up to a higher plane. As in: will relinquishing the cherished object win the relinquisher brownie points for  a) generosity b) noble-mindedness c)plus every other admirable characteristic he/she may hold dearer than the physical object itself. In the Nobler Than Thou olympics, who wins the least by hoarding the most? And vice-versa.

With these high-minded considerations firmly fixed as her guiding stars, the writer proceeds on with revision of chapters 35, and all points there onward.

With the assistance of Habbe und Meik? Again? Heck, why not. You  have something against Habbe und Meik? Huh? I happen to love Habbe und Meik, and you don’t. No, you don’t. You say you do, but you don’t.  Go ahead, say it, I know you’re thinking it, just come out and make a clean breast of it, you never say what you really think, you always

etc.

Slow Morning (Take 2)

In Drafts, Irish Mist, New story, Revision on November 21, 2010 at 8:17 am

Question: after days of grey clouds and rain, what is the nicest thing of all A) Sunshine  or B) Shadows?  Obviously, the answer is C) Both, as demonstrated by the photo above, taken during a break away from revision yesterday. The eye was drawn by patterns of light and shade everywhere. A fine moment.

If the writer has anything else to contribute to the blogosphere this morning, she isn’t aware of it. Deep in revision, which is somewhat akin to the photo also – the “real thing” (the window) being the draft in its clunkiness, the hoped-for result more like the interplay between the “real thing” and its projected shadow. Or something. This is the kind of yammering that happens when the writer doesn’t have that much to contribute to the blog. Basically, the writer just wants to get back to her story, but feels embarrassed at making such an unimpressive showing on her blog. Like showing up in your dressing gown and slippers at a public gathering, maybe.

That’s what it is: a slow Sunday morning in Graulhet. The title to this post could just as well be: The writer (Before Greasepaint).