Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

What makes sense

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Music on April 30, 2011 at 6:48 am

Not to your mother, your father, your lover, your children,  your neighbor or your best friend (and certainly not to your boss.) What makes sense to you, in all the stuff streaming by and passing through, clamoring for attention, shouting warnings, or whispering enticements.

What makes sense. Makes all the rest fall into the background. Takes hold of your attention, and changes a predictable course of events into something else. Another story; another way of looking at things or at  yourself. Another interpretation of a musical standard or another way to relate to those around you; and to yourself.

The telling moment. It can be a glimpse of yourself, reflected off a storefront window. Your eye catches the movement, notes the presence of a person. “Oh, that’s me,” you realize; and you are fine with that, whatever the reflection showed of the person others see, and you rarely do.

Or in a mass of familiar thoughts, feelings, internal yammerings, there’s that tiny nugget of something else. Nobody else would pay attention to it,  you say? Nobody else notices or, if you point it out, they look at you and change the subject? Let them. It’s not about what makes sense to them; unless it also happens to make sense to you.

So, characters mine: whereto now? (As regular as a metronome, I hear one of the backup vocals to a piece we did at choir practice yesterday. “Action is music,” Charlie Chaplin once said; the reverse is also true.) Ah-ha: ever notice the sound of a metallic something striking the drum in a washer or a dryer? A regular, repetitive noise that suddenly serves as the focal point to an emerging thought. One that makes more sense to you than all the wisdom of the ages combined.

How things happen

In Drafts, Hautvoir on April 29, 2011 at 6:21 am

From the inside out vs the other way. How you sound when you speak vs hearing a recording of your voice. How you experienced an event vs the photo someone took of you while it was happening. The way you would describe yourself vs how others see you. The disconnects; for example, when someone says: “Oh no, I mean, I like  you very, very much, don’t get me wrong, but…”. Or you wave back to someone who’s waving at someone else. Or those horrible teen-age years when you walk around, your heart swollen with unexpressed love, lust and devotion for the one Perfect Being in your life; and someone cracks a joke about the dumpy little kid (you) chasing down every tennis ball in sight for the privilege of handing it back to the Perfect Being.

The one everyone takes for self-assurance  incarnate (with just the right touch of self-deprecating humor). Growing up in a small town where the roles are handed out the day the birth announcement is published in the local paper. Trying to fit in; to play it right. Then, waking up one day, and realizing you’re not the name on the cardboard cutout; you’re not the image recorded at the edge of the family photograph (or smack in the center of it). Who are you? How do you go about finding out?

“The love that guides the stars…”

In Dante Alighieri, Drafts, Hautvoir on April 28, 2011 at 6:21 am

First thing in the morning, while his cellmate’s dream yammering morphs into his daytime obsessions. Or during the trial, while the lawyers and the witnesses do their numbers; while the jurors and the audience stare; while the judge does occasional jottings that may be reminders to himself not to forget the dry cleaning; what is the accused thinking about? In this instance, the accused is thinking about his brother, and he so informed me when I woke up.

Is this a weird way to be tackling a draft? Will it lead to anything worthwhile for others aka readers, agents, publishers, and so on? No idea. I wish I could concentrate on those considerations, but that’s not how it’s working. In the early stages of this story, some bits of it showed up in French. Often, the French materials are more lyrical. I find them harder to use; too “personal” in many ways. This morning, I woke up with the character of the accused claiming some of those materials for his own. All right, I’ll see what I can do, my friend (we talk back and forth, the characters and I; not to worry, I’m harmless enough, if somewhat distracted at times.)

The title is part of a verse from Dante – not an author this character has ever read. No matter; he recognizes the sentiment, even it that’s not the way he would express it, were he gifted with words himself. Which he isn’t; at least, not when it comes to saying those things that matter. Not even to save his own life? No, not even then.

When all is not sweetness and light

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Sanford Meisner on April 27, 2011 at 6:24 am

The seamier side. Things told to you in confidence, in a professional setting, for instance. Or read in an account where you were expecting something much more pleasant. Or an interpretation of your own behavior that casts you in less-than flattering light.

How people deal with lust, anger, frustration. How they react to fear, be it of physical violence or of loss of face. How they deal with the aftermaths – of their own or other people’s loss of control. “What I call character in a man is his habitual way of chasing down happiness,” Stendhal once wrote. It’s one of the quotes I chose at the outset, when I first started on this draft.

Happiness. Whose? How defined? What if a man or a woman’s way of chasing “it” down is not only illegal and immoral; what if it threatens your own notions of happiness, your own world view, your own sanity? What if it forces you into a me vs them position? What if there is no elegant solution, no compromise you can live with? What if no one believes you?

Decency in an obscene world. How? At what cost?

Things to do

In Current reading, Drafts, Film, Hautvoir on April 26, 2011 at 6:07 am

First off: A’s daughter, opening the freezer compartment to show me how it had “grown hair” while they were away. Followed by a great conversation with her mother who has further improved the rythm in the film script; decision from one funding agency expected next week; re-submitting to another for a July response.

The clouds pile up like those in a speeded-up animation. I get home just before the clouds burst, dropping hail and  buckets of water. A new leak starts up in the bedroom ceiling, adding something else to the To-Do list.

Back to the main feature: after a query from the same friend for a text to use in her drawing class today (where her students will be asked to ‘illustrate night’), I settle into reading Colette’s biography, something I’d be meaning to do for a few years. Then, I dream of night. I’m on a train, someone is talking in the background. I look out the window at the most beautiful cloud I’ve ever seen – long, running parallel to the train and covered in the streaming ‘hair’ shown to me earlier by A’s daughter.

The image is so beautiful, I wake up so as not to forget it.

And now, back to work, and all the other lesser things that need doing.


In Animals, Drafts, Film, Hautvoir on April 25, 2011 at 6:42 am

All right, the title is an easy one. On the fourth morning of a four-day holiday, what do you expect? (I’ll be meeting with a live person later on in the day – starting my social re-acclimatization discussing a film script, what else.)

All right. The perfect specimen of found art photographed above. I have a thing for this specific junkyard. My dog doesn’t mind the destination either – lots of places half-grown back to their wild state along the way. Old tanneries mouldering. Evidence of further earth moving around some of them – a sure signal decontamination is starting, especially when the large blue barrels start lining up in the background. Tanning hides is not a gentler, kinder industrial activity.

Anyhow. The artefact above holds my attention. The speckling of the paint. The stress lines in the metal. Did someone use a wrench on this thing once too often?

The neighbor with his Winchester again. Either he’s a bad, bad shot or the neighborhood cats are swift and cunning. I like to think of them plotting – “you take the left side of the window, this morning, I’ll sneak up on the pigeon from the right; when the guy opens the window, we head straight up on the ledge, and peer down at him. One, two, three… go!”

When do we get to the good part? Or:

In Drafts, Hautvoir on April 24, 2011 at 6:30 am

Life is what happens, on your way to… whatever you thought, hoped or dreaded. I laughed by myself when I saw the flowering plant above. The two chairs reminded me of one teenager sitting on another’s lap, waiting for the weed to break into a song and dance. Flowering is all right but… could you give us a bit more pizzaz, mustard plant?

The discarded chairs being from the Young Workers’ Home, and stacked behind it; the wall art including sundry invitations to do in the local constabulary. Anger and its by-products seems to be the main source of inspiration for the taggers. Truth be told, the finer sentiments are more fun to experience but harder to express. Another tagger scratched out the entire alphabet along the stone ramp overlooking the river; I like to think of it as a parting message from the Gypsy whom I was coaching in reading and writing. The lure of his hometown caught up with him – unless the constabulary did.

The good parts. They come and they go, often enough to go on trying to capture something of what keeps you at it. When you do, it’s as accidental as a privileged glimpse at an impromptu dialogue between a weed and two busted chairs.

A strange occupation, writing. Don’t try explaining it to those not similarly inclined.

Small Towns

In Drafts, Hautvoir on April 23, 2011 at 6:55 am

You can go for months (at least, I can), carrying a central character in a draft with no idea who that person is, beyond a physical appearance and a few decisive elements – in this case, the young woman’s murder is a central event in the story.

You go on writing around that mystery of Who is she, How did it happen, and Why. All the while, bits of meaning aggregate – a head toss here, a street scene there, an overhead comment or the specific timbre of someone’s voice. At some point, the whole thing tips into: yes, of course, this is where the family lived. This is the street her mother walks every morning, holding her head up because doing so is all that’s left; that, and dressing as smartly as her limited means allow.

Small towns are quite similar to small stages – ones in which the  distance is minimal between audience and performers. There is no curtain; the podium may be raised by a few inches; there may be a backdrop to let you know the action is occurring somewhere else. But you can make out the creases in the actors’ makeup; if their concentration wavers at any point, you see the disconnect in their eyes.

It’s not that life is easier (or tougher) in a big city. Being nameless and voiceless in a crowd can be a harsh experience; same for being That Girl’s Mother or That Man’s Wife – or any other label ascribed by neighbors who like to keep the storyline as simple as possible. Who can blame them? What with one TV blaring on about catastrophic events and the next one oozing the simpering voices of an afternoon melodrama, who needs a real-life tragedy walking by? “Bonjour – Bonjour,” go the exchanges. If, on certain mornings, that feels like running the gauntlet, you can always sneak out the back door, and hope no one  is walking by on the road overlooking the river.

Under No Obligation

In Drafts, Hautvoir on April 22, 2011 at 6:53 am

An uncommon state of mind: even the fact the photo is blurry doesn’t bother me much. At least, not right now. I’ll get back to baseline soon enough. For now, I’ll explore this uncommon space: one in which I know there are things to do, characters waiting for their next go at a scene, a dog to walk, bread to buy, and so on – but none of those things make the slightest difference in the “no obligation” state of mind. Peculiar. I could learn to enjoy it.

Four days off. In the living room: stacks of posters picked up at the Office de Tourisme. The larger version of the one above is now up on one of the doors. (Meanwhile, my crazy neighbor just shot twice at the cats stalking the pigeons. May his Winchester backfire on him soon, Amen.)

The crazy neighbor bringing me right back to story. When to report, when to shut up; when to take matters into your own hands. Ah, me. I’ll finish my café au lait first; savor the rest of the “no obligation” mood before it evaporates entirely.


In Drafts, Hautvoir on April 21, 2011 at 6:37 am

Now that the work crew has finished trimming and cleaning up the park behind the new low-rental housing, a do-gooder at City Hall wanted all the hedges hacked down – same as the trees were razed along one part of the river. For the why? For the same stupid reason: to prevent drug dealing.

Bless my boss and bless the superintendent of the work crew. “The briars aren’t at fault, Madame,” he told the do-gooder. “Besides, the kids are dealing right outside your window as we speak. Should we have your car towed, so they can’t lean on it while they talk price?” As for my boss, she backed her super and gave an earful to a drunk who showed up to snitch on “the Maghrebi and the Shibani –  you know what they’re like.” Said boss being a Maghrebi herself, she showed him what they’re like, all right. Methinks the man will think twice before climbing the stairs on another mission of ear-poisoning.

Decent; the word I was looking for in English. It applies to the twelve-year-old I saw for his first coaching lesson yesterday. Everything about his life should point him toward murk, except for one thing: he’s a decent kid, making his way as best he can in a game where the dice are loaded against him. Will he manage to stay out of jail when he gets to be fifteen or sixteen? I wouldn’t swear to it, but even if he does time, my bet is he’ll come out of it armed and hardened, but unharmed in that one essential feature: he’s a decent person.

I saw another decent one walking down the hall, just before the coaching session. My boss had pulled in the woodworking crew for a session of straight talk. The kid on whom she can count in that bunch? A been-there-done-that eighteen-year-old with an inner compass nobody can knock out of kilter. I think he navigates the way birds do, using the earth’s magnetic field as his guide.