Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page


In Drafts, Hautvoir on March 31, 2011 at 6:34 am

Way too much, of whatever it may be: Too much at work, too much at home, too many administrative hassles. Health problems and/or relationship gone sour.  Whatever. Where are the breathing spaces?

For me?  People I like, and who like me. Tiny moments when the craziness and the turmoil stop; in mid-sentence, in mid-nonsense, whatever it may be, I’m out of there. I’m tuned into the raindrops; or the light on a plant. Or I’m paying attention to something in the speaker’s expression that belies the stated intention. Anything will do when the mind says: enough. Stop, look and breathe.

“You don’t understand,” he or she says to me. “I have hassles. Big ones.” I feel like answering: “No kidding; who ever heard of such a thing?”

“You don’t understand; I’m up against a wall on this. I need help.”

No kidding. Who ever heard of such a thing.

Breathing spaces. When to help; when to step back. When to let things slide.

One of those

In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir on March 30, 2011 at 6:44 am

It’s not even seven thirty am, and already a new, vexing problem has come along to fill the gap left by the resolution of the Explosive Water Heater issue: 1)yes or no, will my email account be deleted in the next few days; 2) yes or no, can I find some way to transfer the account to my own name, without benefit of modern payment methods? The best I can say about vexing issues is: they keep your mind alert. Sometimes, especially early in the morning and late at night, alertness isn’t something I crave. C’est comme ça.

Things having settled down somewhat yesterday afternoon, both at work and on the homefront, I started reading Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner last night. Five chapters into the book, I can tell there will be much to like about it, although the writer’s style won’t be the main appeal, at least for me.

With all the high drama that played out at work on Monday and Tuesday, why is the most significant moment the one where a nine-year old boy stuttered his way to expressing his indignation? As he spoke, I knew that, somehow, he, his mother and I were signing a pact of sorts: no, he would not be shunted off to a remedial class at the end of this school year. Whether we’ll be able to convince his teachers of his abilities, I don’t know; the main thing for now being to get his confidence to match the moments when he lets loose and trusts his own head. The power of teachers on young minds; a wonderful, fearsome thing.

This relates to the draft? Yes, and yes, and yes again.

The photo is blurry; I don’t mind. A quiet moment on Sunday, sorting through old papers after gathering spring blooms. Maybe it takes high drama to give such moments their full value.

Hungry Ghosts

In Drafts, Hautvoir on March 29, 2011 at 6:19 am

I still don’t know who killed the young woman. She and the suspect awaiting trial woke me during the night. Listening to ghosts at 3am – and ones from your own imagination, yet? Not the most relaxing way to spend a night. Whatever awaits at work this morning won’t be all that relaxing either. Conclusion? This is going to be a short blog post.

The photo: taken Saturday night, after adjusting the camera for night scenes. Prior to that, I’d written a poem – not that I’m gifted in that regard; I was participating in a writing/photography workshop, and those were the instructions. “Write a poem you would shout in the ruins,” the instructor said. I felt no such compulsion; the graffiti-covered walls I’d photographed earlier were shouting loud enough. The young woman I had met while photographing them had unnerved me enough too. A few weeks ago, she asked me to coach her in improving her basic language skills, then disappeared. Everything in her behavior last Saturday signalled “please believe the screwy tale I’m making up.” The poem I wrote included her and the screaming walls. Yesterday at work, I learned how screwy her made-up story is. Physically, she is not the murdered young woman in the draft, but much of her attitude and behavior is of the same flavor. Writing stories isn’t always loads of fun when they come that close to unsavory realities.

Hungry ghosts, they call them, in one Buddhist tradition or another. The needy ones. All of us, at one point or another. Dealing with aloneness; with longing; with need. How we do it; how we don’t.

Pieces from the Lost and Found

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Sundays on March 28, 2011 at 5:50 am

I spotted it during the afternoon walk with Cybèle. The first shot of it is all right. Then, the sun came out from behind a cloud, and hallelujah, there it was: the craziest sundial I had ever seen, perfect for the discombobulation caused by moving the clocks ahead by one hour, yesterday morning.

Two quotes inspire for this draft. The first is by Stendhal: “What I call character in a man is his habitual way of chasing down happiness.” Those words serve as a thread or lifeline of sorts, especially when dealing with the assortment of “habitual ways” displayed by the characters in the draft. The other is by Belgian poet Achille Chavée: “On peut se découvrir comme on trouve un objet perdu.” (One can discover one’s self as one would a lost object.) Also a useful aid as an exploratory device.

The title of this post: a small insight, late yesterday afternoon, after writing a scene with one of the less savory characters in it. I’ve tried dealing with this type in other manuscripts, and didn’t feel I ever managed to get comfortable in the writing. What I realized yesterday was the need to draw on several sources to build up this character into a credible human being. Whereas I’d been focusing on one or two people I knew several  years ago, the  character is evolving now into a more layered composite.

Apart from which the daily living part of the day was filled with a variety of small, perfect moments: spring flowers gathered from a spot above the river; a casual encounter that led to coffee and film talk in front of the local cinema; finding favorite postcards from the Portuguese Actors’ Union in a mess of other printed material, most of it clipped out of magazines.

Back to work today, and to various administrative hassles, but with a precious piece retrieved from the Lost and Found: some of the simple pleasures of a Sunday afternoon.

Do you know how your characters vote?

In Dance, Drafts, Hautvoir on March 27, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I see them around town, at some shows and vernissage: a well-assorted couple, both in their mid-seventies, often arm in arm, and discussing things with an obvious relish in each other’s company.  He’s a retired doctor, I think; she, his lifelong mate. Today, I spotted them on my way back from market; they were dressed in their finest Sunday clothes and headed toward place du mercadial.

It was too late for Sunday mass which meant there was only one other possibility for their destination. Sure enough, they turned left ahead of me on my street, and stopped one door short of mine. On principle, I don’t peer into the campaign headquarters of the UMP party. Today even less than usual; I occupied myself with finding the key to my door. Considering the UMP candidate is no longer in the running for the regional election now taking place, all the animation inside the HQ could only mean the lovely older couple – and all the other people inside – had voted for the ultra-rightist candidate. I find it easier to smile and be civil with someone when I don’t stick a Front National label on his or her forehead – a bit the way you avoid staring a stray dog in the eye.

On the way down to market, my thoughts were on a character who has been in the background of story since I started on this draft. I “saw” her yesterday, walking down the street – a woman in her mid-fifties, leaving the hairdresser’s, and lighting a cigarette before striding off in shoes and skirt designed to show off her stunning legs – dancer’s legs, still firm and toned, even though her back and shoulders are starting to show signs of settling into a slight hump. I hadn’t thought of this character as a former dancer. An interesting piece of background to work into her general outlook and attitude.

She looked nothing like the character photographed above during a photography/writing workshop yesterday. Although something in the stride… Would she vote Marine Le Pen? More than likely; might even justify it on feminist grounds.

The Next Scene

In Drafts, Hautvoir, RLB trivia on March 26, 2011 at 7:22 am

For the last part of the access to the work site, Cybèle and I squeezed into the small red convertible of one of the staff members. Once a landowner’s property, the space now belongs to the town. The workers were busy clearing underbrush, and trimming the briarwood hedges in what was once a large private park.

Cybèle and I walked home after the picnic. The shot above being on the borderline between the park and the new buildings in the low rental housing district of En Gach. On the drive in, the staff member had pointed out to me where he and his parents lived some twenty  years ago, when the first housing units went up.

Many of the women in my French language workshop walk from here: to bring the children to school, to do their shopping, to attend the class, to argue their case with a social worker. The space (and the walking) remind me of one such housing arrangement I once had, some forty years ago. How this will influence the next scene is still to be determined. All I know of it, at this point, being the words to which I woke up: “Of the two brothers, the younger is the shorter one.”

Earlier in the day, I had taken a shot of three men sitting on a bench in front of the Tourist Office. In the background: a large statue of a local Great Man. All three men are from Algeria; one of them still wears the white burnous of a desert dweller – a white overdress of homespun goat hair. How these three men affect the scene: also an unknown at the moment.

In other living, other than writing: a film festival this afternoon, an evening outing for night photography; and my first opportunity for a shower at home in close to one week. Yes, this morning we have: water flow;  electrical contact in the  heating unit; we have hot water.

Even then?

In Drafts, Hautvoir on March 25, 2011 at 8:22 am

The song starts playing in my head as I’m walking back from buying the day’s baguette, and taking Cybèle on her first walk of the day. “You’ve got to pay the band“, in the version done by Abbey Lincoln on a recording by the same name I no longer own.  I’m thinking about the draft and about personal issues when the song crops up. The next weeks, months – possibly, years – will involve a lot of paying off debts and clearing up administrative hornets’ nests.

In story, several characters can relate to that song; the one who cropped up  being a bumbling sort who may or may not show up for a job interview as a stagehand. He’s not an evil person, if by that is meant someone who sets out with the willful intent to inflict harm and woe on others. That doesn’t keep him from being a menace to himself and to others. The kind who, if hired for the gig, would drop one of the amps on a paying customer – better yet, on the customer who ordered the music in the first place. Hence the Abbey Lincoln song, and the title of this post, as in: Must you pay the band, even if it screwed up? The answer: Afraid so. It’s a tough world out there, especially if you have nobody willing to risk their life or their bank account to whisk you out of harm’s way.

The photo: this is a case of making do. If nothing else, it will serve as a reminder of the days when all things great and small flowed through a particular email account I considered mine, even though someone else was paying for it.

People Power

In Drafts, Hautvoir on March 24, 2011 at 6:42 am

Several fine instances of people power, yesterday – ranging from personal encounters with the kind that puts a glow in your day, to seeing photos taken inside the crippled nuclear reactor in Japan. There’s nothing like the scale given by one human body to make an event relevant and meaningful.

In a fit of anger, another human body used a booted foot to kick at the front entrance of the Young Workers’ Home in which our offices are located. The glass had best be replaced no later than today, the whole door now being a shattering waiting to happen. That – and the small rap poster above – being meaningful elements for at least one character in the draft.

The people power most relevant in my own life, this morning, being that of one civil servant entrusted with the job of inspecting other people’s living quarters, income tax returns and sources of revenue, in order to determine whether their subsidized rental allowance will be maintained, reduced or cancelled with a request for reimbursement. The person will show up any time between 8 am and noon. In material terms, everything else will have to fit itself around that visit and its fallout – including time available for all activities before 8.

March 23rd 2011

In Drafts, Hautvoir on March 23, 2011 at 7:24 am

Five people came to see me for language-related issues yesterday at work: two children, and three considered as adults, age-wise. Of the five, two of the adults forced me to dig into my personal discomfort zones: the first because I had to speak unpleasant truths so we could move on to new ground for him. The second because he dropped the mask of friendliness and gave his own version of the reality of this town; his vision being a form of self-serving cynicism I find hard to stomach. Walking home, I looked at the world through his version of it; it was at once an ugly sight, filled with absurd humor and flashes of beauty that seemed just as absurd, in context. The deeper I get into the job I’m paid to do, the more such moments will crop up. Language training doesn’t mean the same thing in all venues.

Will this have consequences in my personal outlook – on myself, on this town, on what is possible and what isn’t? No doubt. More to the point here, the job – both the space in which I work and the people with whom I deal on a daily basis – is a major force exerted on the draft. In terms of time in which to write, of course; more to the point, in terms of its content and the direction it takes.

Two nights ago, I dreamt I had fallen onto a small, snow-covered ledge from which I couldn’t extract myself. Someone above me was making reassuring sounds, telling me it would all work out if I didn’t move. Even as the person spoke, I could feel the snow slipping toward the wide stream below it. I lost track of the person’s words when the stream carried me away. The experience was neither traumatic nor pleasant. A fact, expressed in the dream as: “let’s see where this takes me.”

Spirit in which this draft proceeds on its uncertain journey.


In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music on March 22, 2011 at 7:31 am

Serious? You tell me: the meeting room is next to the Mayor’s office. The person who called the meeting sits at the top end of the table , below the statue of Jean Jaurès (where, I presume, the Mayor must sit when he calls the meeting). Invited participants plus underlings find the appropriate spots; I always choose mine with a view on the outside world. Escaping through the window does wonders when the person who called the meeting feels the need to justify the two-hour reservation she made on the space. Core mission (statement on). Objectives. Action Plan. Calendar. Who does what for when. Next meeting (shuffling of a collection of time-keepers). Followed by the nitty-gritty stuff at the tail-end: whatever rancor or imagined slight was behind the call for a meeting in the first place.

Step back out into the sun. Pick up the dog from her three-mornings per week daycare spot. Do the dog dance with her. Breathe a bit.

No, the shot above wasn’t done at the meeting next to the Mayor’s office. It shows the scramble offstage the choir did at the end of its part of the show on Sunday. One of the participants sent other choir members an email in which she mentioned the shock of going back to the office on Monday after the great time we had onstage. Fun. Whatever you do, do not let it get on your list of endangered species.