Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page


In Hautvoir, Revision on July 31, 2011 at 4:20 am

Let’s take Dedalus as an example; as good a place as any to pick up on the theme of  story threads and where they can lead you. One such thread was once handed to a woman by a relative. It provided long-overdue validation of what that woman knew to be truth the Truth Keepers in her life called fabrications. After finding the courage to speak some of those truths to someone she trusted, the woman touched her own mouth in wonder, discovering she had broken the curse and – surprise – the avenging gods had not swooped down to destroy her.

Back to Dedalus, and how life expresses itself through story; alternatively, how story can lead you to years of wandering a dank and smelly labyrinth, or to the realization you’ve done it: you have broken free. I imagine Dedalus somewhat stunned when he first makes it back to the sunlight. He’s been wandering in the dark;  battling fantasmagorical figures born of his own anguish; following that goddamn thread Ariadne gave him, and wondering if it too isn’t part of a nasty trick. Suddenly, daylight. Suddenly, fresh air; the breeze from the sea; the sea itself.

The Point

In Hautvoir, Revision, RLB trivia on July 30, 2011 at 5:19 am

Where the stories the characters are telling themselves reach a critical mass, and the story itself takes on its own meaning. Locating the soft spots. What still needs telling or is best deleted.  Are the characters giving their best performances? Are they hamming it up, or withholding something the story needs? Whose voice isn’t carrying its share of the partition; which one is drowning out some of the harmonies?

Nine precious days of vacation time left in which to attempt giving this draft everything it needs to stand or fall on its own.

If only that were true

In Hautvoir, Revision on July 29, 2011 at 4:24 am

Someone left a comment on the community blog saying bad experiences are valuable because they teach you those things you must not do. Except that’s not necessarily true. Being in the path of someone’s car may teach a deer a brief lesson, except neither it nor its species will benefit much – save for the impersonal benefits of eliminating the slower, more dim-witted or dreamier members of the bunch.

Which is harder? Dealing with the painful consequences of unintended, accidental malice, or with those of the deliberate kind? Putting up with nameless, faceless sources of annoyance or, as is the case in story, living in a small community where everyone knows everyone else, and where the anonymity of an attack only feeds greater distrust, greater fear, greater inability to resolve past issues?

Either way. Damage done is done. If you can’t repair; if  you can’t undo;  or if you lack the skills/ knowledge/savvy with which to protect yourself. Or if, for some reason, someone’s idea of a practical joke happens to cause suffering and sorrow. Or if getting even/winning matters more to an opponent than any benefits accruing from resolving a conflict or misunderstanding. If the source of  aggravation can’t be eliminated or neutralized – how do you deal with those bad experiences? How do you keep on keeping on? How and where do you find your growing room even in the lousiest of circumstances?

Not where I was hoping to take the story? You bet. I was aiming for something much less fraught, much funnier, and much lighter. Who knows? Revision isn’t over yet.

The New

In Hautvoir, Revision on July 28, 2011 at 5:33 am

Mistakes aren’t at issue since they are a basic learning device. At issue being what is learned, and what the characters do with the lessons. No difference here between real and fictional insofar as the fiction serves as a navigational device of sorts – a way to make sense, nonsense or a mix of both out of whatever comes your way.

The toughest: self-doubt of the kind that transforms you from the one shaping those experiences into the passive one. The one who must accept a nasty diagnosis, a negative appraisal of your worth, or a rejection of any kind; who must grapple with it; make the best of it, and shape it into something worth experiencing, if only to find out where it leads next.

Or is the toughest when you were expecting relief and experience another reversal instead? Whichever. The same holds true. Acknowledge. Endure – all the necessary beast-of-burden aspects. Work to make things better for yourself and for others. Make the best of the good times. And so on. Stay tuned for the break: in the weather, in the mood, in the streak of near-misses and almost sure things. When the break comes, savor its every sweet, earthy, inspiring, life-enhancing quality.

No matter what, be it in real life or in fiction,  never, ever, repeat exactly the same pattern, no matter how suggestive of things past the new experience may be. It’s never, ever, about yesterday.

Further Up (or Down) the Road

In Animals, Hautvoir, Revision on July 27, 2011 at 6:33 am

Detachment isn’t the right word for it because it has connotations of distance, as if floating through space, untethered; it carries  shades of “who cares, so what, I’m all right, Jack.” Quite the contrary, “it” is a place of such total involvement in the moment, there is no room for the loss of control you experience when you are anxious, fearful or angry. Any combination of those emotions (or of more pleasant ones) may be present in the mix but attention isn’t on any of them. Attention is on what is going on at the very moment; the unfolding of it carrying that note of expectancy aka curiosity.

In story, at the point of revision, that note of expectancy – not quite expressed yet in the draft – centering on perilous maneuvers involved braking and backing up on a narrow winding road. Yesterday’s real-life spill into a ditch had none of the drama or the nasty consequences you might expect to provide fodder for such a revision. And yet. The Max-Sennett-like scene that followed was enough to wipe out even the car driver’s annoyance with herself and/or what life has been dishing out for her lately.

My favorite moment occurring when the second truck of un-needed firemen showed up, and a huge fellow fell into instant love with my dog. Good thing he wasn’t responsible for writing up the discharge papers we were meant to sign (after refusing medical help, since we didn’t need any); a love fest was going on before our very eyes. As a result, the second truckload of firemen stuck around longer than required while we detailed all of Cybèle’s wonderful qualities, both obvious and less immediately apparent.

So, revision-wise: in a car, in the narrow, winding road leading down to Collioure. What time is it? What happened in Hautvoir prior to departure? Prior to the traffic incident? What is happening at that very moment, other than the obvious pile-up, and the tricky maneuvering it requires so that everyone may emerge better than unscathed: somewhat changed, and somewhat eager to discover what other part of the adventure awaits just round the bend.

Revising in Dots and Dashes

In Current reading, Hautvoir, Revision on July 26, 2011 at 7:47 am

There’s no comparison between the book I finished reading on Sunday, and the one I started last night, Andreï Makine being a splendid writer. His latest, Le livre des brèves amours éternelles (The Book of Brief Eternal Loves) is somewhat disconcerting because it reads more like a collection of personal recollections than it does as a novel, for one; for another, I’m taken aback by the way in which he treats metaphor – something I hadn’t noticed before – with a tendency to underscore the symbolism in ways I find distracting. If a metaphor is apt enough in a given context, does it really need arrows and underlinings to make the meaning obvious? That said, some of the passages I’ve read so far are beautiful, and worth reading again.

Plus, there’s the pleasure of owning a new book worth keeping, and of Makine’s sharp and well-drawn recollections of growing up in a Siberian town at the end of the Soviet era.

Fitting revision around the pleasure of a visitor, and plans to explore various exhibitions in the region. What I discover: the story is now sufficiently real to me, and the characters sufficiently delineated to make stop-and-go revision possible. I attend to conversation, then tune out, back into the story – which I consider a good sign, both from a real-life perspective, and from a writing one.

“I like the way you’ve laid it out,” the guest says, peering over my shoulder at the screen. “It even looks like a book.”

Off to pick up some bound and printed ones at the médiathèque this morning. It rains out there. No matter. Apparently, the Universe is still unfolding as it…should? Must? Feels like?

(The photo being for story purposes, clearly.)

Getting It Right

In Current reading, Food, Hautvoir, Revision on July 25, 2011 at 6:38 am

Reading a not-really-successful piece of fiction. Two interesting things about such an experience: the first being the attempts to understand why it doesn’t work, and how it might have been improved; the second, the greater appreciation it gives you for those fictions that do fly. A bit like watching the Junior skaters, not only the ten best world champions, competing at the Olympics.

Apart from the poorly developed characters in the book I finished last night, the other aspect that didn’t work for me was the old: just wait until I Reveal All in the final chapter. Final chapter rolls along; you read; and you think: “Yeah, so?” Something like buying a book called The Secret of the Mummy, only to discover the archeologist found an empty mortuary chamber with beer tabs and Dorito wrappers strewn about. The real secret then becoming: who the hell raided the tomb, and why the hell didn’t I change the title on the story?

Getting the ingredients to meld. Getting the balance of flavors right. You start with a general idea of what you want the dish to taste like; it never comes out exactly as you’d imagined – sometimes much better, sometimes a mess, sometimes edible which is already something. How my own story will be, once I finish revising it? I don’t know. Not as I had imagined it, going in, that much is a given. But I’m still in the kitchen with it. A bit like the dish I prepared yesterday; it’s best made ahead so the flavors can find their balance overnight.


In Current reading, Hautvoir, Revision, Sanford Meisner on July 24, 2011 at 6:16 am

Out at daybreak, at the dog’s request, my thoughts on people I care about, some of them real, some of them fictional. And some of them, not quite realized as fiction which is the case with a novel I’m reading at the moment. Written by a professional journalist, it provides a host of useful insights into the Franco-Algerian mess; in some ways, some of the reading is made easier by the fact I don’t truly believe in the characters he chooses to portray. In the same way a photo, or a screen provides the distance through which we ingest a good part of the daily horrors we call news, the not-fully-realized characters in his fiction act as a shield or a filter between the reader and the events described in the book.

Except that isn’t the purpose of fiction. The most believable parts of the book are when the author speaks in the voice of the accused. Not only is the man unrepentant, he uses the same arguments as his accusers to justify the killings he condoned and/or ordered outright: they forced us to act that way by their own barbarous acts. La raison d’Etat providing the ultimate retrenchment.

There’s no arguing against an armed madman or a frenzied mob. Nor is there any sense to be made out of their acts, no rationale that can excuse them, any more than learned discussions on changing weather patterns can rebuild properties destroyed by raging elements. In fiction, the purpose isn’t to explain, nor is it to demonstrate – functions best left to the sciences or to various philosophies and religions.  What is the aim in fiction, then?

To the best of my understanding, fiction is a way humans have devised to discover what it means to be human. What it means in the actual experience of the contradictions between the warring impulses within; between the notes of perfect joy, the ones of perfect horror;the laughter, the moments of heart-stopping intensity, and all the drudgeries,  compromises, and glitches along the way.  In other words, attempting as you would on a stage, to express emotional truths as accurately and as fearlessly as you can.

The Best Part

In Current reading, Hautvoir, Revision on July 23, 2011 at 7:24 am

Was it when I woke up from the dream, because I was laughing out loud?

Was it the dream itself? The song playing in my head? Or the six sentences I wrote after putting the moka pot on the stove? Twenty-six years, summarized in six sentences. The equivalent, in writing, to the final scene in the dream. No regrets, no remorse; relief at how simple it was to clear away cobwebs.

The books in the current reading pile being library loans, I set them down on the floor before turning off the light – sleeping with my reading supply being an old habit of mine. Usually a mix of things I dip into like someone taking a bite out of an assortment of chocolates; the best part of reading being the moment when I put down the book because something in it (or in the combo) has triggered my imagination. Off and away I go into my own stories.

The best part. Does it have a name? Never mind a room; a life of one’s own, maybe, growing stories the way others raise ducks or build cathedrals out of match sticks; creating new things out of old ones. Finding a new thread to follow, one that fits the pattern, yet gives it another slant.

(Contented Sigh)

In Current reading, Hautvoir, Revision on July 22, 2011 at 6:36 am

I sit here, savoring mismanaged* time. In my world, that would be time not pinned to a schedule, and not bossed around as if each precious minute were an army recruit in sorry need of shaping up.

The first thing I did in leaving the office yesterday was dawdle. The second thing: sit in my living room with my feet on my improvised coffee table, and watch time go soft on me; a bit like Dali’s droopy watches but much more pleasant to experience. Read part of a Deborah Eisenberg story published in The New York Review of Books – the paper copy has followed me to the new address. Went down to the garden, and tinted a small shelf I mean to hang over a piece of furniture in the living room. Worked on revision – except ‘work’ isn’t the right word, in this context. When time goes soft, I wander into revision (or new draft) the way I would into that part of the garden the landlord keeps in a state of unclipped and unmown freedom. Because of the hedgehogs, he explained.

* the word itself conveying just the right note of moral reproof that attaches to things done for their own sake. Using your eyes for the pleasure of seeing; using your brain for the fun of discovery.