Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Difference with a Puzzle:

In Drafts, Hautvoir on February 28, 2011 at 7:36 am

The puzzle comes in a box, the cover of which provides a photo of what the assembled pieces will reveal. The story comes with a vague, shimmery mental space in which many things will happen. Things so captivating, the writer wants to find out what it’s all about, and what happens next.

As with a puzzle, some pieces get set aside early on. They intrigue. They are different from the others. How they fit the general pattern isn’t obvious. They grab attention for that very reason. Unlike a piece of puzzle, though, the edges don’t provide any clues as to the final placement of that particular item.

Why these three pieces, this morning – the graffiti above being one of the initial photos that got me started on this story? Only a vague idea.  They hang together; an intersection between several of the characters, that much I can see right away. The rest I’ll only find out in the writing.


In Animals, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects on February 27, 2011 at 8:13 am

Things worth noting about that brand of dreamtime visitor: 1) they don’t show up often, for which I am grateful; 2) they show up in bunches; ergo, I get through the proceedings in one fell swoop; 3) once they’ve finished pointing out my every failing as a daughter, sister, wife, lover, mother, friend, relative (I must be missing…oh yes, employee, adversary, etc)? Every angle seems to be covered, at least until the next onslaught.

I use the word “hauntings” because that’s the main feeling to those dreams: ghostly figures, detached from their habitual moorings, and intent on getting their pound of flesh. They know I’ve got it all wrong, have failed at everything, always will,  and so on. Apart from the consolations listed in the first paragraph, I figure everyone must have their own version of The Crones. Intensity-wise, they remind me of the dreams that appear in young children around age three, when something or other gets activated in the psyche and the child discovers his or her cast of resident Scary Ones.

Meanwhile, the sun is out; the choir is starting to sound like one; whatever couldn’t get done yesterday, didn’t; whatever will get done today, will. The biggest Boojum of all? Taking myself too seriously. My thanks to friends, animal and human alike, who remind me to lighten up when the inner Scolders start showing up to do their number.

Dealing with Overload

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects on February 26, 2011 at 8:09 am

Apart from the visiting architectural students and their  profs, I knew there was something else sneaking up on me while I was working at the new job, getting in some writing time, going to choir practice, and dreaming of a hypothetical moment of quiet time over the weekend: today’s the due date for my contribution to the regional blog. In real time, I don’t feel like doing much, apart from staring into space while drinking my coffee, and holding conversations in my head with friends and/or with characters in the present draft. It’s one of those mornings of feeling crowded by reality, and wishing I could push back the walls on same.

Ergo, this blog right now, as a breathing space. What won’t get done, won’t. Time to listen. Time to feel. Time to put names on what I experience. The week feels like an accumulation of strong impressions; the day, like that moment during a trip when you long for a break in the jumble of new places, new faces, new vistas, new foods. Quiet time in a quiet room. A sense of familiarity, if only with the objects surrounding you. Time in which to sort out where you’ve been and, possibly, where you’ll be going next – not according to a schedule or an agenda. According to what the body points out as the next direction.

Quiet time. So many people clamoring for attention, yesterday. So many, complaining they didn’t have a moment for themselves. At one point, as I was walking from one meeting to another (and not being interrupted in my thoughts by someone wanting to talk to me), there was a tiny moment when, if you paid attention, all was well with the world. It reminded me of The Subtle Knife, opening spaces between the worlds, and landing for the briefest of moments in a universe that wasn’t in need of fixing.

But who was paying attention?

What to do with it

In Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir on February 25, 2011 at 7:08 am

The scam itself is a variation on the theme of “there’s one born every minute”. I eliminated the phony email this morning. After reading it again, the joke for me was: after spending the day coaching people with serious problems with grammar, vocabulary and spelling, how did I miss the glaring mistakes in the phony email from my phone and internet service provider? Answer: if you are tired, and someone tells you something dire will happen to your account if you don’t fill out the attached form immediately, chances are you’ll do as you are told. On second and third reading, that particular scammer gets an F, plus the suggestion to sign up for a refresher course in French spelling and grammar. Even a scammer can’t get by without decent writing skills. It’s a tough world.

Work-wise, as expected, the problem will be fitting everything into the twenty hours per week for which I’ll be paid – overtime being on a strictly voluntary basis. One thing is certain: spending four days a week in intensive coaching of others, whatever weaknesses may exist in my own knowledge of French grammar will soon be corrected.

The Clowns sans frontières T-shirt: snapped at a recent choir practice, it belongs to the choir leader who was in India as a Clowns Without Borders’ musician last December. I have a mind to sending the photo to a local buddy who is locked into the downbeat view on everything, and insists on bringing your attention back on The Problem – no matter what it may be; as if the whole point were in feeding and mulching the damn thing so that it may cover every wall in your courtyard. Personally, I’m more of the opinion that you prune the problem to make room for other forms of growth. I sense this buddy will provide hours of training for my own sense of humor; therefore, I award him a symbolic version of the above T-shirt since, in a way, he’ll be providing me with regular practice in how not to give into despondency.

All of which has direct bearing on the draft, in more ways than I can enumerate. What grabs a character’s attention; why; what he or she does with the attention-grabber.


In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects on February 24, 2011 at 7:42 am

The poster caught my eye on my way to a meeting at City Hall yesterday. I just checked the Museum’s hours; as for most French services I know, you had best read the information to the end. If you do show up in the posted hours, and find the premises closed, you may safely assume there has been an unscheduled walk-out. At which point, you are allowed to vent against l’administration – a national pastime similar to hockey and politics in my place of birth.

Why does this serve as a metaphore of the writing process, this morning? For one, because the poster holds my attention, the way an unformed story shimmers in my mind, full of beauty and the promise of more beauty to come. For another, because I’ve yet to see the reality of the process (and its result) match up with the initial promise that got me started on the quest for this story. The reality of the writing is embedded in aggravations and delights, large and small; in near misses, and unexpected side trips on the part of the characters themselves (or in the writer’s own preoccupations.) The pressure of a deadline (my god! I’ll be late at work, if I go on writing this scene!); the scribbled notes thrown up on the screen for later perusal; the slower moments when you try to make out the pattern all these characters are spinning into… into something that may or may not resemble the initial story, still shimmering away at odd and unexpected moments.

The characters themselves, refusing to behave as expected; or refusing to say what you, the writer, thought they would say at that specific point. This is a specialty, with my characters: whenever I’m thinking they’ll say X, they bob away, and show up a few lines later with something I hadn’t worked into my expectations for the scene. As if some teenaged delinquent lurked somewhere in my psyche, ready to annoy the adult. “I don’t  perform on cue,” the teenager announces, intent on sabotage… yet distraught when the result doesn’t provide much beyond the short flare of vindication.

And yet. It’s out there (or in here): the dream. The promise. The beauty that shimmers. It’s as real as dew on a dragonfly’s wings. In the next scene, maybe. Or, during revision. Failing that, in the next story?

A Ukrainian Song about a Nightingale

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Story material, Theater on February 23, 2011 at 7:46 am

How well the choir will perform on this stage in one  month, I don’t know. But I look forward to the performance, if only to compare it to the fun we’re having in rehearsal.

The choir leader was in great spirits last night, and funny too. Among others, we practiced a Ukrainian song that will end the medley. She looked up the translation for it. “Oh,” she said, sounding disappointed. “All it says is the: the mother nightingale calls to all her little ones. There I was thinking it was a sad love story.” – “But why is she calling them? Ah-ha; because…” says I. Her eyes lit up, and we were off on a tale so sad about a hunter and a nightingale, and, and, and… that one of the choir members managed fabulous throat catches on the melody.

Earlier in the day, I had spent almost a full thirty minutes trying to get full sentences out of an eighteen-year-old boy who’s core belief about himself is: he’ll never amount to anything. The full sentence followed this question: “In your wildest dreams – one in which the most wonderful thing can happen to you – what would be your story?” His answer: “I’d find a good job as a carpenter, here in town, and make a good living.” What he didn’t add was: “this would allow me to set up my alcoholic parents in a semblance of a life, and allow me a semblance of a life also.”

I happened to pass this boy’s home last night, on my way to practice; the only light coming from it was the bluish flicker from a TV set. What does this have to do with the draft? Just about everything. A town like the fictional one – and like parts of the real one inspiring it – is a repository of stunted dreams. What happens when some of the dreamers dare to dream more fully? Dare to believe they can achieve a modest objective? Thinking about one of the characters on my way back to work yesterday afternoon, that was the part that seemed most important in her own story: the small, quiet courage of believing her own senses. Not in the sense of taking arms against a sea of sorrows; in the sense of trusting her own eyes, her own memories, her own likes and dislikes. A quiet kind of triumph; that’s what I’d like her to achieve.

Regular Programming Soon

In Drafts, Hautvoir on February 22, 2011 at 7:57 am

It happens when you least expect it. There you are, putting a brave front on anything and everything coming your way. “My decision,” you write in your notebook, while the rain pours out of the sky. For an extra serving of pep, you list the titles of the novels you’ve written in the past few years.  Nobody has made a move for said manuscripts, and the querying process on one of them needs a fresh boost; but this is about drawing a happy face on a glum day, so let’s not start on the to-do list.

The meeting with the lawyer – both his premises and the man himself – make you happy serving the public as a Legal Aid person was never your calling. The light reading in the man’s office calls for artificial plants only, and he wears a jacket he must have bought in the eighties, when he had that one great success in his career? You get back home to a new slew of documents to pull together, and the sound of rain dripping out of the ceiling onto the floor in your bedroom. And a note from the Mayor’s wife, letting you know that, despite the fact you are about to become a divorcée, you are still on the list of people she wishes to know.

It’s called despondency. You look at your writing, and say: “So what?” You think about your choices, and tell yourself: “In all honesty, I could have done worse.” The smallest aggravation feels like The End – no, really, I can’t take another annoyance, not even another drop of rain in the bedroom. (The landlord’s take on a leaking roof? It doesn’t rain often enough to spend money on fixing it. His words, not mine.)

I know my bouts of despondency inside out. Right now, I’m feeling low enough to know I should hit rock bottom within the hour, and start climbing out of it again. But while it lasts? Man, I feel like a failure as a human being. No! Don’t tell me I’m not even bad enough to qualify as a failure. Leave me at least one illusion, yes?

It’s 7:50 am; I should be back on the horse by 9 or so. Laughing at myself? Of course, how could I not laugh at myself? It’s just not a convincing laugh yet. By 9; for sure.


In Drafts, Hautvoir on February 21, 2011 at 7:16 am

Compared to most other old French towns, this one sprawls out, tannery owners following the banks of the river as the decisive factor for settling yet another section of territory. Save for an occasional shuttle, there is no public transportation. The narrow-gauge railway is long gone; its main function was bringing in coal from the town of Carmaux and sheepskins from Mazamet. The factory owners had transportation; the workers walked.

The town isn’t linked directly to the main highway serving Toulouse and Albi. Without a car, you are dependent on the regional bus service. It’s cheap (2 € for transportation just about anywhere in the département). The schedules are such that a ride to neighboring Gaillac for an appointment this afternoon means I must leave at noon, and return at six. How close to my appointment  will the bus take me in Gaillac? I don’t know, and Gaillac doesn’t have a local bus service either (or  if it does, it’s a damn confidential one).

It’s all part of the pattern of adjustments beginning in my daily routines; but a salient feature for many people in this real town, and in the fictional one in my draft. Time doesn’t flow the same way when  you must walk several kilometers to and from your destination. Your priorities change; so does what you consider an occasional outing – or an exceptional one.

Walking Cybèle along this end of the river yesterday, I encountered two groups of youngsters closer into the center. In both cases, they were walking toward me, then disappeared suddenly. When I got closer, I noticed a shortcut between the Young Workers’ Home and the Social Center; it’s nothing but a narrow passage between two buildings, but part of one of the many physical and mental maps with which you can read the town, and its stories.

La Rugissante

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music on February 20, 2011 at 8:22 am

“Whatever you do, do not listen to  La Squadra di Genova,” she said yesterday. Meaning: one month away from doing part of the opening for their concert in Graulhet, our choir mistress considers the last thing we need is to be comparing ourselves to a world-class act.

Of course, I cheated. I love comparing myself to the best – not out of a  peculiar form of hubris, and not out of masochism either. People at the top of their game inspire me, that’s all. There’s something joyful in the way they take on whatever it is they’re doing. For all you know, the person may have received a parking ticket just before stepping out on stage. Or learned a distressing piece of news. Or had a stupid argument over something too silly to mention. No matter: the play’s the thing – or the concert, or the story, or the juggling act involving a pair of deer antlers. Whatever. The juice is on, and it’s all getting poured into the performance.

So, we are looking at three evenings and three half-days of rehearsal in the next month. Hopefully, there won’t be any more tweaking required on the translation of the film because – short of taking out the dog during bouts of midnight sleepwalking – I’m not sure how I’ll manage. One thing is certain: no asthma allowed + I’m stocking up on honey lozenges.

Impact on story? If there’s a choir in Hautvoir, I haven’t been informed. There’s an art center though; and yesterday, I came across a snapshot of someone who is a dead ringer for one of that center’s principals: a woman in her late forties who looks as if she were born knowing all the answers at the end of the book (and can even teach you how to whiten your teeth while you are making your own puff pastry and teaching the laws of perspective to a slow learner).  Her name is Brigitte, named after author Berthe Bernage’s Icon of Perfection young Christian ladies of my generation were expected to emulate:

As her real-life counterparts did, the fictional Brigitte in my draft has discovered some serious drawbacks to perfection including – but not limited to – horrid migraines and embarrassing temper tantrums. What now looms in her life? Ah, mes amis… Berthe Bernage never lived in Hautvoir, that much is clear.


In Drafts, Hautvoir on February 19, 2011 at 8:11 am

Now that my little tough-guy character has shown up in Hautvoir for a visit to his mama, I have to give more thought both to the neighborhood itself, and to the gangs in this fictional town. When reported upon by the media, “violent neighborhoods” come across as zones in which all rules are suspended, and anything goes – which is not the case. Dress and behavior codes are just as strict in a “violent neighborhood” as they may be on the fashionable streets surrounding Place de l’Odéon in Paris. In either venue, the unexpected is not encouraged, and there’s always a good explanation for it: so-and-so just wasn’t himself (lack of sleep, overdose of some kind, family problems…). Or things got out of hand – this explanation usually provided with a sheepish expression of the boys-will-be-boys variety.

What is astounding isn’t the range of excuses provided for anti-social or violent acts. Read any collection of police reports on incidents involving alcohol and/or other intoxicants, and you’ll find the blandest excuses for  the most extraordinary behaviors – all of which can be subsumed under the general heading of: It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time.

One of the most striking aspects of gang behavior is how similar the patterns are, no matter what the species. Testing the boundaries with taunts and demonstrations of physical prowess; raids into the neighboring territory; retaliation; counter-offensives: a lot goes on prior to an all-out confrontation (and a lot is done to avoid such an outcome, including choosing individuals from both camps to fight it out on behalf of the groups).  The simple truth being: fighting hurts, whether it’s done with fists,  with rocks, with knives or with guns. The system needs to get pumped up to those levels because, given a choice between fighting over your ‘hood (or  your sister’s) honor or toking up and dreaming of the good life, your average sixteen-year-old doesn’t give more thought to honor than he truly must.