Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

All the rest

In Hautvoir, Revision on May 31, 2011 at 2:53 am

The spot. It doesn’t matter which; it’s always the same one. The place where it all feels scripted and inescapable. The weight of the past, the set patterns, the blind spots. The tons of negatives. The self-fulfilling prophesies. “You’ll never amount to anything.”  “The problem with you is…” “I knew you’d let me down.” And so on, and  on. And on.

Leaving it. The town or the toxic mindset. The never-ending mantra of parental lies, absorbed like Scripture. Letting it go. Making your way to something else. Being the one others see, and like well enough. The ones who don’t buy into the cartoon figure: The Dunce, The Problem Child, The Failure – whatever the old story said you were.

It’s an unspectacular form of courage. They won’t make movies about it. They won’t post larger-than-life images of that lifetime achievement; especially not if it’s one that needs tackling over, and over, and over again.

It’s not about who they said you were. It’s not even about who you think you are. It’s about everything else you’ve never known the first damn thing about, or never wanted to acknowledge, or never dared to be simply because you bought into the stories of who they said you were.


Step by step by step

In Hautvoir, Revision on May 30, 2011 at 6:21 am

From now until the physical move into the new appartment, the less time I’ll spend thinking about everything that needs doing, the more I’ll have for either doing, or resting up for the next bout. The hardest part of this move being age-related: a body doesn’t manage its energy the same way at sixty-five as it did at twenty. Meaning: 1) many short breaks required between tasks; 2) the need for stronger, younger ones around soon, to carry off things that won’t fit into the new place. Energy-wise, I seem to function on the principle of bursts-and-sputters these days. The positive side of that being? Learning how best to respect my own limits. Not always easy; if the greater challenge at twenty was dealing with the surplus, now, it’s more a question of not wasting the energy on the useless stuff – worrying being highest on my personal list of energy sinks.

Insecurity – in life, in story. What happens next? How? Why? Who goes where to do what? What’s the main order of business to pursue? What can fall by the wayside with no real consequence (aka Delete). What will cause grievous harm to the character unless he/she finds a way out of the mess (in story and in life, the ‘way out’ being the Save); what simply doesn’t work and must be re-worked into another pattern. Revision, it’s called. Re-visiting, re-viewing. Looking at it from a different perspective. Which is the main order of business from this point onward in the draft. Where will the characters’ inner momentum take them? Barrelling down the hill? Hugging the wall while the stampede goes by? Strolling down a side street, blissfully unaware of the drama playing itself out on the main drag?

Breaking out of the Mold

In Hautvoir, Revision on May 29, 2011 at 7:05 am

A group of nine buddies. Their photo appearing on a blog produced locally in 2006 by someone I know.  I look at the photograph: one of the buddies is now the mayor’s Chief of Staff. One of them is in jail, with another yet awaiting sentencing. A fourth is busy trying to recycle from small time dealer to a paid job in woodworking or construction. Starting next week, we’ll be working on his spoken and written French, using the tools of the woodworking trade as the main source of teaching material.

I may know the other five buddies by name, or by reputation, but their faces aren’t familiar. The tenth compadre who was snapping the photo is now in Marrakesh; perhaps to stay there, perhaps to drift back to France, once again. Between jobs, between continents, between languages and cultures. Back and forth, like waves tapping the flotsam against the edge of the pier. You lie on your belly, peering down. Sometimes, mixed into the seaweed and the plastic bags, something intriguing.

Revision: How is it that this one pulls himself out of the mess, while that other perpetuates it; adds to it, the way a fractal grows new iterations of the same pattern. At some point, the first character said no: to the family, to the clan, to the code of his gang. Not only did he say no, but he found some way to make that stick, and to steer another course. Even more impressive, he managed to do so without moving to another town or starting over on a different continent under a different name. How and why did he do it? What keeps him going? Storywise, where will it take him next?


In Hautvoir, Revision, Story material on May 28, 2011 at 7:00 am

One of the features I liked about my now-defunct camera was the adjustable  viewer I could slant for different angles on the same subject. It was useful also when I wanted to grab someone’s photo – with their consent but without the cheesy look-I’m-happy smile plastered on their face. The specs on the camera I’ve ordered mention an adjustable viewer of a different type, the main thing being the possibility to modulate the angle of the shot without necessarily crawling over or under  obstacles; I’m sure my knees will appreciate the manufacturer’s thoughtfulness in this regard.

At my neighbor’s house last night, I wandered around, camera-less,  clicking the mind shutter on features that define that family. The father is a film maker, the mother, an orthophonist. The fifteen-year old boy is hesitating between film and music as career choices; the thirteen year old girl is into dance. Friends are constantly streaming through, staying for a few hours (or weeks). There’s a garden and an old stone extension to the house that looks like something out of a Cuban or Mexican movie – Zorro, perhaps, but in a vintage edition, with the colors a bit off and the soundtrack slightly out of sync. I wandered through it, grinning with delight. Stories, everywhere, just waiting to pop up. That space morphing seamlessly with another in which children were playing at swinging off ropes and crashing into the cloth backdrops.

But first, someone talking brave talk while lying, arms crossed and at a three-quarter angle, in a cramped space.

Breaking Points (or: Requiem for a Camera)

In Hautvoir, Revision, Story material on May 27, 2011 at 8:11 am

Metals have them. That’s how they’re tested: load-bearing capacity, stretching, resilience, thermal shock, wear. At some point, the chemical bond breaks: a nail breaks off instead of straight into the board; a paper clip snaps in two; a bridge collapses.

Boiling points: same thing. Depending on chemical composition, altitude, atmospheric density, pressure and heat, something in a liquid state will change over to steam, and, eventually evaporate.

Whatever chemical bond reached its outer limits on Wednesday night, my Nikon camera conked out, never to shoot another photo again. The program manager at the community radio station and I agreed on one thing: a camera could not hope for a finer ending than during a shoot of an evening devoted to Plasticiens Volants‘ new show: Big Bang. (As seen above, the Nikon’s demise was more in the nature of a visual whimper. C’est la vie, sic transit gloria mundi.)

How the writer handles breaking points in her own life is one thing. How her characters deal with their own being of interest here. Case in point: one of the children I coach gets under my skin, and knows it. What ten-year-old doesn’t get a kick out of having the better of his elders? Testing, testing, one, two, three. Then? Pow. What  happened? Why the power failure? Why the angry words? Why the: “Go to your room, this is chill-out time” ? Why the punishment? And, most important of all: how do you get the better of your elders in a way that gets you treats instead of harsh words?

From the onset, that boy has inspired me for the child I imagine one of the “villains” to be in this story. Said villain’s passive-aggressive streak being nastier by several orders of magnitude. Scaling up; scaling down. How to keep it credible, no matter how outrageous the behavior may appear.

Small magic

In Film, Hautvoir, Revision on May 26, 2011 at 5:08 am

From the long and complicated slog that was yesterday, the one image that shows up this morning: walking toward the bakery with my dog, the sight of a man riding a bicycle. Standing behind him, and holding onto his shoulders: a boy of about ten. I didn’t have time to see what the boy was using as footrests on the bicycle frame because the image flashed immediately into that of one of the characters, riding with his dad. Will the image as such be part of the story? I don’t know.

That father; that son. The mother is no longer living with them. The image I saw isn’t about that or anything else, apparently. The man and the boy glide by on an early-morning bike ride. The air is still cool; traffic hasn’t started up yet. Quiet; nothing but the faint whirring of the bicycle wheels. Of course, they’ve come from one place, and they’re on their way to another. The boy is looking ahead, so is the father; there’s no straining forward or special expectation in their attitude. Awareness of the  immediate surroundings, the pull of the muscles, the shifts in weight distribution, the balance. The special pleasure that comes when all of those are working together. The small, magic moment when all the pieces are aligned.

Plus this animation short, because it goes on feeding into those aspects of the character the story hasn’t revealed yet.

Focal points

In Hautvoir, Revision on May 25, 2011 at 5:49 am

I left off on revision yesterday just as a character was trying to decide if he chucked a bunch of old papers, or not. Considering the number of such moments in my own life right now, the answer isn’t always obvious; no more than the outcome. Chuck it and forget it or regret it; save it and wonder later what was wrong with me, or send up quiet words of thanks to the gods who knew better than I did what’s truly best for me.

Why did the character’s mother save those papers? Why did she stick them in that spot in the first place? Finding them at that point in the story: what will they mean to the character? A chuck it, forget it and move on moment? Or the dawning of some realization about how and why events in his town are still playing out in a particular pattern? What did his father figure out that so angered his mom, all those years ago?

Things break; get discarded; or saved, for a variety of reasons. It can be that the person is a pack rat and just can’t let go of anything; or, in this instance, maybe the person has an old and favorite ax he or she loves to grind, and will grind all the way down to the handle; or there’s  something about the papers that makes the character think over old assumptions.

The right words to (or from) the right person

In Hautvoir, Revision on May 24, 2011 at 6:17 am

Or under the right circumstances, maybe. I quoted it once, but I forget the exact formulation at the moment; something about putting a question and life answering a few minutes, months, or years later. Something unfolding. Or: beginning to unfold and hitting a snag.

A seed, for example. How the signal works, what triggers it? No idea. There it is, totally in the dark; it starts morphing, exploding, growing things it didn’t know it contained. Some of those things start heading downards, others, up. All’s well, la-de-da, then – oops, an immovable boulder, four-lane highway or other obstacle. End of the story for a whole bunch of seeds. Search for the way onward, for others.

The right words at the right moment. Does it matter if all the others didn’t work? Or all the other images, metaphores, similes? Drafts, scribbled notes, botched attempts (piles of manuscripts so bad I keep them just to remind myself instant miracles have strange beginnings. Seemingly unrelated, so different is the initial seed, compared to the thing sprouting up through the asphalt. “How the hell did that get here?”)

Getting there, getting there. How it began. Where it leads. The right clues, the wrong interpretations. Discard this; retrieve that. What? That; the piece of green glass, over there.

photo: “This looks like an archeological dig,” I joked yesterday at the park. Maybe that comment was closer to the truth than I thought.

“The Heaving Bosom, the Gushing Tears”

In Hautvoir, Revision on May 23, 2011 at 6:04 am

Drama Queens (Dealing with):

First off is knowing one when you see one. Two tip-offs: 1) they rarely (if ever) get a joke. If the joke is on them, escalation from annoyance to tragedy is guaranteed. 2) As the escalation gathers steam, notice that it (whatever “it” is) will never, ever be their fault. Bad genes, bad parents, or bad luck account for most of their misery; the rest is handled by astrology, karma, depth psychology or, failing all those, a pressing engagement elsewhere.

I have one specific drama queen in mind in my caseload; my main job with her daughter being in getting her quiet enough so she can hear what I’m saying.  What I most appreciate about her crazy mother is how she keeps alerting me to the drama queen permanently embedded in my own psyche.  Yes, I was raised on melodramatic excess. I can’t knock it; it gave me a front-row seat on how to make something out of nothing. What it didn’t give me is immediate access to self-derision as a first response to  the more absurd numbers staged by some of my elders. I’m learning, but it’s a long and tedious process.

None too surprising if most of my characters first show up sounding as if everybody else should clear out because this story is about them. Full and definite stop. Followed by another saying: “Oh yeah? What about me? Anybody ever care about me at all?” And so on, down the line to the last flea on the last mangy cat doing his solo in the middle of the night.

The drama queen. She’s part of my inner scenery. Always was, always will be. The best I can do is 1)rein her in as fast as possible 2) use her excesses to fuel some better attempts at storytelling 3) apologize to those who’ve been submitted to her latest screed 4) get on with it after mopping off the stage.


In Hautvoir, Revision on May 22, 2011 at 6:16 am

What is the best thing to be said about having your heart broken at regular (but unpredictable) moments? No, this is not an essay In Praise of Masochism.

It’s not a subtle town I live in. At times, it’s hard to tell the posturing from the real thing. Kids, practicing their tough-guy stances or their Lady Gaga numbers – some of them getting the part down so well, they make it all the way into real jails and real whorehouses. Others move on to janitorial jobs, if they can find them; or housecleaning, maybe.

Trust? Trust. In whatever makes the scrapes, and the splats and the bad calls worth the risk. That’s what I tell the ones who’ll listen. Who am I to apply a different ethic to heartache than I would to any other crushing disappointment?

Scraped to the bone. Then, what happens?

The air is a bit cooler this morning; in for another hot day anyway. It’s not June yet, and water levels are down to mid-summer figures.