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Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

“Rise and Shine”

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, New story, Now playing in a theater near you, Poetry, Querying on December 31, 2010 at 7:57 am

As far as motivational posters go, the above photo probably doesn’t have much of a future. It’s up as wallpaper on this computer desk, because one of the characters is looking at each and every detail  of that machine with exacting attention to its every feature, and its every sign of decay. Said character being at a point where he’s struggling to get one more spark out of the plug – the one that puts a bit of light in your eyes, a bit of pep in your walk. The one that makes people look at you and smile, as compared to moving over to the other sidewalk as you approach them.

No matter how you play your cards, there are moments when you feel life has shoved you into a space between the rug and the undercarpet. You may choose to see this as a divine judgment as to  your personal worth, and settle into as comfortable a lump as you can. You may choose to crawl your way backward or forward (someone observing the movement from above will note you are meandering and, possibly, going in circles). You may be so angry that you tear your way out of the rug and rise, Hulk-like, to challenge the Divine Agency with a “Sir, I exist!”. A wonderful writer once provided the Universe’s answer to that one. Depending on your mood, you catch the irony in it, or you don’t. You laugh, and pick yourself up; or you go for another round under the rug.

Other options? Up until this point in story, that character has applied the principle of: “Whistle while you work” even to his prolonged bout of unemployment. But he’s slipping; losing the will to keep at it; starting to consider the hard knocks like a personal vendetta between himself and whatever you want to call Human Destiny. Taking on the sulk and the snarl that goes with that philosophy. Making himself a target for the blows, as if this were the last and final option a man could exercise.

It isn’t, of course. What the character will find by staring into the rusted hulk above? No idea. But he’ll find something, that much is a given. And that something won’t come from anywhere outside his own ability to take it on, to slough it off, to see the same old stuff with brand new eyes. Again, and again, and again.

The title being a maternal grandmother’s favorite line; said grandmother being more than willing to provide both the spit and the polish, grandchildren were well advised to provide their own.

(Thanks to Mighty Mo and friends.)

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Starting cold

In Drafts, Hautvoir, New story, Now playing in a theater near you, Querying on December 30, 2010 at 7:52 am

There’s probably a short story in it. It sits on the desk as a visual reminder of another lesson learned. In the various ups and downs of yesterday, the letter with the re-usable postage stamp is the absurd summary for this particular moment in time. An attempt at making light of something turning into one of those moments where you long to be somewhere else, and not witnessing the melt-down.

The photo appeals as counterpoint. It has story in it. The house stands on the opposite bank from an old tannery. One of the characters’ mother once lived there. We’ll see what that brings to the mix, or doesn’t.

It’s the old flip-flop, this morning. Starting from another fall off the horse, to straightening up, to swallowing the lumps to your pride. Reminding yourself of why you believe this is what you should be doing with yourself. Reminding yourself you’re doing it because you want to. Then, imagining the character’s mother looking out one of those windows, and asking yourself how she would deal with the whole mess, and keep it moving on to the next place. Mostly, knowing self-doubt for what it is; not allowing it to seize your agenda.

Attitude, experience, temperament

In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, New story, Now playing in a theater near you on December 29, 2010 at 7:39 am

The emotional range of the day is already fairly complex when the writer encounters this poster at the médiathèque yesterday. And stops for a photo, because it adds several more layers of complexity to her thoughts about the town and its inhabitants.

The photos are gorgeous (as is the book, Graulhet, Art de bâtir, Art de vivre). Encountering them, you think of a beautiful actress, impeccably made up and posed by the very best photographer her agent could find. The wattage is on – in this case, the lighting, the angles, the color balance and the saturation are all impeccable. As a matter of fact, the images would be perfect for the website of one of the characters’ former companion – the kind of travelogue that gets reasonable adults dreaming of Santa Claus again, and willing to pay for a trip into the world shown in the picture.

Except that, once there, that world reveals itself in its multiple layers. No filters, no privileged angle, no messy crowds kept at bay while the film crew sets up the panning shot over the lovers by riverside. The writer lives in this town; has photographed each one of those sites herself, a number of times. At issue here is not her lack of technical know-how that makes her shots different from those above; it’s more a question of what you choose to record, and what you choose to smooth out of the picture. In other words, how much   complexity you are willing to grapple with, at any given point in time.

The sense this writer gets from this town? Why it inspires for the fictional one in the current draft? A respite, here and there. A moment of ordinary comfort, or of searing beauty. An avalanche of problems. Goofing off to fall down laughing. Encountering grief or anger, or annoyance,  and saying: oh yes, and how goes it with you, today? Pushing on to the next vista. Risking it all on the next foot hold, or hand grip. Insisting on seeing and feeling and expressing it all.

The writer had just come  from a conversation with a beautiful, sweet and kind woman who was born and raised in this town. The writer’s idea of doing good by that woman’s love of this place is totally different from that portrayed in the gorgeous book mentioned above. But it’s a nice to have anyway, because the illusion is part of that whole complex thing called love – be it for a person, a thing, a place. Seeing the unrealized  and the unattainable as necessary elements; a part of what keeps you going when the view from the bridge has little to do with the one shown above… or when it’s even more beautiful than any photo could ever depict.

At some point in the story, each one of the four main characters looks down on the river from exactly the same location. Each one sees and experiences something different. A question of attitude, experience, temperament.

 

 

In the Schoolyard

In Drafts, Hautvoir, New story, Now playing in a theater near you on December 28, 2010 at 7:14 am

The photo of the empty schoolyard was done last summer in neighboring Réalmont. For story purposes, the yard and the school  have now moved to the fictional town in which the writer’s four characters are working their way toward… something. The nature of that something being as unknown as the one of the point in (or outside of?) space called The Great Attractor towards which galaxies are flowing like flotsam down a river.

Two of the characters are local boys, and were in school together. A feature that fascinates the writer, since continuity was not a defining feature in her own childhood.  The notion of people knowing one another over the arc of a lifetime. Forming opinions, forging enmities or friendships over schoolyard incidents that still play themselves out, years later. Reversals in fortune, such as the class dummy becoming a successful businessman; or the one everyone thought of as a genius, ekking out his existence as a night watchman at a local factory. Marriages, divorces, funerals, christenings – all played out on the tiny scene of this one town, in which someone born fifteen kilometers away from it, is considered a stranger. How people acknowledge or ignore one another in that context. How they deal with the tragedies; how, in some ways, even the most terrible always have an element of the comedy to them.

Two other characters being strangers in the small town; the equivalent of the new kid in the schoolyard. Who to trust? Who to ingratiate? Who to ignore or patronize? How the newcomers modify the landscape; how they adjust, or don’t, to the conventions and unspoken rules of conduct. How they “make it”, or don’t. What lessons they all learn, and at what cost.

Stories.

Habits

In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, New story, Now playing in a theater near you on December 27, 2010 at 7:09 am

The character delivered her stunning information before the writer finished reading Tender is the Night; therefore, before sticking a piece of paper between pp 254 and 255. “Ours was the only family in which nothing ever happened,” the character said. This is like informing a cook she must do without spices. “What do you mean, nothing happened? That’s impossible; surely, a secret, a deep, horrible, never-told trauma…”. The character shook her head, added a bit of honey to her tea, and licked the spoon. “Not a thing. Blandness. Not a foothold, not a hand grip.” – “Horrors,” the writer said. “You are upping the ante, aren’t you?”

The piece of paper in Tender is the Night. A man says to the main female protagonist: “You know, you’re a little complicated, after all.” – “Oh no,” she assured him hastily. “No, I’m not really – I’m just a – I’m just a whole lot of different simple people.”

Well. Even typing that out feels like a revelation. Or, at the very least, as a useful way of approaching various habits and personality traits, and seeing how different characters deal with them.

Habits of being. Take a quiet type, and drop him/her in a loud and brassy environment. Take a TV executive and leave him/her stranded without a cellphone. Take a person who’s been through a major life change, and remove the pressure. Or change the nature of the pressure. “You mean, I no longer have to prove my point? But, in that case, what will I do with myself?” says the geared-for-disaster one. “You mean, I must hustle and fend for myself? Me?” says the laid-back, nary-a-care one. And so on.

Of course, the writer is highly suspicious about that oh-so-bland family of which the character claims to be an offspring. Why it called for the photo above, taken near the elevator at the local library? Why the photo itself summoned up the mood of a gorgeous day at a summer cottage? Why the very notion of simple, uncomplicated pleasures should have such an exotic appeal or an undertone of things-not-said?

Figuring out these four “different simple people”, coming toward one another from four separate stories. Discovering the extraordinary through the ordinary, the surprises hiding in plain view; different habits of being; different approaches to the same viewing point.  And hence, a different view from the very same spot.

Adolescence (or: The Year of Leaving Home)

In Drafts, Food, Music, New story, Now playing in a theater near you on December 26, 2010 at 7:22 am

In one of the fits of impatience that strike like gusts of contrary winds, the writer told off one of her characters yesterday.  ” Stand and Deliver!” the writer ordered. At which point, the character rushed around, grabbing at every memory she could muster that might be part of her identity. Not too surprisingly, most of those related to the year mentioned in the title of this post. A year during which long hours were spent inside the Monkland Theater (in those days, people could sit through the double bill as many times as they wanted); going through the index cards at the Jewish Library on Côte-St-Catherine Road (yes, the books appealed too; why the fascination with the index cards? the character will have to explain further); the Côte-St-Luc Library serving as another terminal in which to hunker down and disappear from the World of Home. An interesting concept in itself, that of “home” – relating more to a band of people than to the physical space in which they happened to be living, that year.

In other words, although this character is in her mid to late forties, the story finds her at a time of transition quite similar to that experienced in adolescence. Gusts of huge impatience to get on with life; sudden deflated sails landing in a sodden heap on the inexperienced sailor’s noggin; bouts of anxiety over what awaits away from the deeply annoying (but oh-so familiar) encroachments by parents and siblings; uplifts of elation when, walking down a street, the entire future seems to open up, like the treasure chest you never dreamed you would find for real. Practical reminders to proceed with judicious caution, lest you miss the curb.

The Orange Julep on Décarie Boulevard. But the music playing in the background isn’t rock-n-roll; it’s Bach’s Brandeburg Concertos (# 5 now piping in through the mind speakers). The character wants to joke with her sort-of date; but she is reading Cocteau in an edition with a brown plastic cover imprinted with stars in the Great Dipper configuration. Can’t think of an amusing thing to say to him. “Have you read Thomas l’Imposteur?” doesn’t fly with a sort-of date at the Orange Julep. The cover of the book, imprinted in her mind; the book itself, a blur among the hundreds read that same year. The sort-of date disappears, somewhere between two other titles.

Then, Jonathan Swift. Ah, yes. The power of outrage, honed and wielded with consummate skill. All things become possible, including telling an English teacher she will not do the requested essay; instead, she will write a comparison of Swift and of Rabelais. And does; it is more a parallel reading than it is a critical appraisal. But this is the year of leaving home; another thirty years needed before the character can get some grip on both satire and irony. The character is a writer, she insists. The writer says: no, I’m the writer. The character replies: well, you’re not the only one. So the character is a writer.

The photo:  yes, the character kept both diaries and scrapbooks as a child; both of which can prove as embarrassing as childhood photos. What’s next, dear character? A visit to the Chinese restaurant on Queen Mary Road?

Who’s Who

In Drafts, Hautvoir, New story, Now playing in a theater near you on December 25, 2010 at 7:47 am

The title suggests a list of famous people with their various claims on our attention. But it refers to an interesting phenomenon when  the writer sees words she was ascribing to one character shift and slide over to another one. The feeling produced?  “Ah,now, it makes sense.” A bit as if, in the first din of various characters showing up, it hadn’t been possible to tell the voices one from the other.

A slow process, this one. Letting go of a number of… of what, exactly? Tics? Tricks? Habits? Hard to tell. The voices have other things to say than the ones the writer expected. They insist on saying them as they see things. For the time being, they are all speaking in the first person. As if they needed a time in which to say “I”, and know what they mean by it. Who is this “I”? Or, again: whose “I” is this?

The most telling feature for the character’s voice ringing true: a sense of freedom in the writing of it. No matter what the scene involves, when the character is true, there is a buoyancy to whatever he or she has to report. The writer as reader wants to know how this character sees things. In the best of instances, the writer is surprised by the character’s landing point. Whatever it may be, the emotion isn’t pre-packaged.

In the preceding ms, the writer ran from packets of pre-packaged feelings and opinions by writing as quickly as possible, with no reading back until far into the first draft. The approach is totally different on this one where the process feels more like listening to voices approaching from mid-distance – let’s say, a small group of  people walking toward you from around a bend. Making out the number of voices; forming some sense of who they are from the way they express themselves, and the general tone of their exchanges. Who are they? Why are they here? Will they walk by, and be gone? Will something happen? What?

The photo: persimmon tree with holly, encountered on one such walk around town. The town itself playing a huge role both in the story and in the writing process.

“Eppur si muove”

In Drafts, Hautvoir, New story, Now playing in a theater near you on December 24, 2010 at 7:40 am

He didn’t shout it on the rooftops. The Inquisition comes after you, you say: “Yessir, no sir, thank you kindly for pointing out my grievous error.” He probably said it between his teeth, after signing whatever they asked, and making official pronouncements stating: ” Yes, and May the Lord be Praised! the Earth Stands at the Center of God’s Creation!”

Eppur si muove,” he said. “It moves anyway.” Was Galileo a cussing kind of guy? If he was, those three words were probably peppered with lustier expressions of sentiment. In any event, the French translation of Galileo’s astronomical views woke the writer from  a dream,  in the middle of the night. The matters at hand aren’t quite as lofty; nor will they have the same import on mankind’s understanding of the cosmos. “Is this dog’s breakfast of a draft worth anything other than the shredder?” – “Is there a licensed pilot aboard this Concorde?” – those were the nature of the existential questions rattling through the night. Along with memories of attitudes from back home. It could be argued attitudes are a universal currency but that’s not quite true. In many ways, the seasoning makes the dish – if it didn’t, who would bother to travel? Or to try the Indonesian version of curried fish vs. the Malaysian one?

In this instance and in this huge mess of a draft, several characters are reaching out to something or to someone they can’t quite name. They are also busy   using whatever skills and wit they can scrounge up to make it through the day; and insisting on stopping to listen in to  some version of the music of the spheres while they’re at it. Not that they are in a position to aspire to anything so grand. They’re just a bunch of stubborn cusses; moved along by their insistence on trusting what their own head says, over what the Official Statements read, no matter how reasonable those may seem.

“Eppur si muove“. Et pourtant, elle tourne. In this draft, the characters will find the tune to which they will all dance, in their own way. Again, it’s a question of trusting the characters – always tough, since they come equipped with a writer just as stubborn as they are.

Denial

In Current reading, Drafts, Food, Hautvoir, New story, Now playing in a theater near you on December 23, 2010 at 6:50 am

Not an easy topic. Unpleasant ones rarely make the top  of the Christmas List. Dealing with those issues that don’t go away. Turning the camera from the view to the photographer, for example. Seeing or hearing yourself as others see and hear you, either through a recording; or through coming across something you wrote that makes you cringe; or from your reaction to a stranger’s put-down.

Whether a street person or a pampered only child; whether a gorgeous young woman or an old lady with one lung, each and every human travels within some form of protective bubble involving some form of denial. The lady with only one lung, for example. You could say she is in denial, each and every time she trudges up the hill, and then back down again. The spoiled child avoiding a street person. The street person avoiding other people’s eyes. And so on.

The interesting thing about denial is the denial itself. The person with a “weight problem” knows it full well; reacts poorly to advice or criticism, not because he/she doesn’t know about the problem, but because the denial is crucial to the behavior; the behavior itself being crucial to maintaining some other pattern; and so on. The child avoiding the street person knows full well he/she is afraid: of wandering the streets, of losing whatever security is his or hers; or of any number of catastrophic scenarios playing out in the background of the lights and of the cheerful music.

Dealing with denial, other than as a search-and-destroy evangelical mission.  Changing behaviors upstream from “the problem”. In the draft yesterday, one of the characters put a question out loud to another. A question the whole town is asking itself without finding a satisfactory answer: what happened to us? Maybe it’s not the right question.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, there’s this, applied to one character (Abe) who is a terminal alcoholic: “…he just sat, happy to live in the past. The drink made past happy things contemporary with the present, as if they were still going on, contemporary even with the future as if they were about to happen again.” That’s just about the best definition of denial available.

Whatever the behavior, that definition pretty much sums up how the bubble of denial works. Which suggests that for a character to step out of it, the character must dream forward, not back, to challenges even scarier and more exhilarating than he or she has ever allowed onto the scene.

Ah, mes amis !

In Animals, Drafts, Food, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, New story, Now playing in a theater near you on December 22, 2010 at 7:18 am

With apologies to mathematicians worldwide, the man in the dream explained how and why metaphore speaks more clearly to humans than equations do. This was toward the end of a dream that felt as if it lasted all night. More likely, it was an episodic collection of shorter dreams on a common theme and with recurring characters.

The man occupying this booth yesterday also made the more traditional rocking horse; but the efelant held special appeal. The man and his son will be back on Thursday. This afternoon, the booth will be home to Santa Claus and his photographic helper.

The title? The first three words in the tenor’s great acrobatic number in Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment. When the guy announces proudly he’s joining the army and marrying the girl, too – what more could a man want? Why La Fille du Régiment? Many reasons, the principal one this morning relating to the peculiar business of the ways in which language shapes a country’s administrative style. The thought being driven home yet again yesterday, shortly after taking this photo, when a civil servant proceeded to hire Santa’s photographic helper. The deed was done. As with every other administrative act here, it was done through creative (metaphorical?) interpretation of definitions so detailed, and rules so all-encompassing as to be inapplicable. In such cases, mountain goat logic prevails. Santa’s helper will be a “storyteller”; should her finger stray onto the click button of a camera while she tells stories, well, so be it.

On the way back from the pleasant conversation that ensued, the song playing in the writer’s head was Le chant du départ, but Ah, mes amis! is nicer. (There’s a famous line in the first: “Un Français doit vivre pour elle, pour elle un Français doit mourir” (A Frenchman must live for her – her, meaning the Republic – for her a Frenchman must die. The practical-minded add, sotto voce: A Frenchman must live for her – that’s me – for her a Frenchman must die – that’s him.)

The writer is planning a recipe at the moment.* With an orange-colored food? In a café with predominant shades of blue? Methinks true love will bloom like a Christmas rose.

*The person will probably use it too, but the writer insists she thought of it first. A bit of Donizetti to settle the matter.