Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

What is Your Name?

In Hautvoir, Poetry, Revision on August 31, 2011 at 6:33 am

This morning, short of adding a small lizard’s pov to the proceedings, I can’t find much else engaging my curiosity about the story. (I’ll leave the small lizard’s view on things to the boy’s imagination, for the time being.)

In fact, I woke up concerned about the title. I don’t like it. It worked as a place holder, but it doesn’t have much to do with the story as it has evolved. Thinking about the title being an excellent way to discover if the story really and truly hangs together for me, in its present form. (What others will make of it being a separate issue.)

What is a title, apart from a label? What does it convey about the story? How does it grab the right readers’ attention, the way a shape, a color, a scent will attract the right insect to the right flower? How can the right title help me decide if the story has enough of all the right ingredients, and not too much of others?

As I think about it, the same book in the same edition keeps flashing in front of my eyes: for months now, I’ve been promising myself to make the offer to the local Médiathèque. I’ll donate a new copy of the French version of  Pablo Neruda’s autobiography if I can have the médiathèque’s copy for myself – it being an out-of-print edition in a format and with a cover I like. Since that book is at the core of my urge to write this story in this way, this strikes me as an impulse worth pursuing. So: Friday morning, I visit the médiathèque. In the meantime? Mull, read through, pay attention to each of the characters, see if they’ve given it their best shot, whether they’ll appear or not in another story about this town.

The photo: for the title of the show “Le chaînon manquant” (The Missing Link) for the way it feeds into my own thinking process concerning the title of my story.

Bringing the Story Home

In Hautvoir, Revision on August 30, 2011 at 6:36 am

Some sense of an irrevocable change. Leading to some sense that something other is about to begin. Books that keep on resonating leave me with those two impressions when I reach the words: The End.

The two characters holding my attention this morning haven’t been at the center of the story. One is a former spouse, suddenly finding herself in the position of the outsider in her own town; the other, an eight-year-old boy listening in as adults talk about his father who has died in murky circumstances. What is he making of it all? Last night, I set aside a scene I had started and in which he appears when I realized his point of view was the most interesting. How it fits into the story being another matter.

Same with the former spouse. She has always been on the winning side of the power struggles in Hautvoir, and part of a tight little clique whose every pronouncement is the final word on everything and everyone. How does someone like that react to ostracism or to the knowledge she is at risk of losing what has always been the two most important things for her: face, and status. From what she has revealed of herself this far, whatever move she will make – no matter how ill-advised – she will see as a way to restoring those two essential features in her life.

Can those two points of view – the boy’s and the woman’s –  bring the story to a place resembling the one contained in the first two sentences of this blogpost? I don’t know. A lot of other pieces are lying around still unresolved. The point isn’t in having everything neat, tidy and stowed away by the end of the story; but it isn’t in dropping huge clunkers and letting them lie there either.

The photo: because I imagine this woman as living in that house, and staring out that upstairs window as she tries to decide what she must do no later than right this minute!  (The boy is still listening to tales about his father, somewhere in a garden, a few streets from there. And someone else has had a momentous conversation no one else has heard about – the details of it being unknown to the writer also.)

Apart from which, all’s well that ends well. Onward? But of course.

Another Piece in the Puzzle

In Hautvoir, Revision on August 29, 2011 at 7:02 am

Getting this right. Exceptional moments happen in unexpected ways. But then, that was the whole atmosphere in the household she kept: secrecy about the truths crowding the living space, and forcing everyone to circle them; and manic, hysterical dedication to florid tales, lifted straight out of Poe, and a number of other authors from the same period. So there should be no surprise in waking, early in the morning, with an important piece of the childhood puzzle falling into place, after reading an author that would have inspired her to new heights of invention. A certainty attaches to such moments; exactly the same as when the missing piece snaps into place and reveals itself to be an eye or another significant element tying together a vast patch of browns. Ah. A bear, you say. Or, whatever the animal turns out to be.

A summer day in nineteen fifty six; a few months short of my tenth birthday. A fall off the swing while my mother is talking in the background with a friend.  They are discussing my father, away on a business trip. The fall knocks me out completely. I don’t remember a single word of their conversation. Come back to my senses, lying on my bed, with my mother saying it’s only a business trip, and he will be back soon. A few months later, we move yet again, to another house in the same town; then, to another town, less than a year after that.

As I understood it even then, the explanation was simple enough: my father had formed “an attachment” with his secretary. What I remember most about that year – besides the moves, the changes from one school and one grade to another, my running away, the dog my father gave me and that my mother disposed of : the extraordinary energy she demonstrated when she realized her position was threatened.

Nothing to do with the present draft? Quite the contrary.

Lights, Camera… Actors?

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision, Story material on August 28, 2011 at 7:13 am

Given the writing going on over here, I don’t see any immediate use for even the most superficial of acquaintances with the notion of synchrotron radiation – even less so when I scroll down the page and hit the mathematical equations; at which point my head starts swimming away. Math and I never found the right place and circumstance for a solid relationship based on mutual admiration, affection (and respect, of course.) In fact, math and I tend to look in opposite directions whenever our paths cross. (A quick look at the Larmor formula confirms this. Just as, in music, Wagner and I will never cut it, math  is  one of those languages the deciphering of which I leave to others.)

But the phenomena it attempts to describe? Those fascinate me. A five thousand light-year long jet of streaming electrons emitted by galaxy M87? Emitting blue light, yet? I’ve been looking at the image on my screen almost for an  hour now. (It’s on the Astronomy Picture of the Day web page, and will be archived under 2011 August 28.)

So. Add eerie blue light to the loose mix of elements floating around this morning as the characters circle the story. A few of them making tentative pokes, and checking for eventual toe holds. I’ll let it ride a bit longer until one of them decides: “oh, to hell with the lot of you. I’m grabbing this scene, and you’ll just have to pick up your socks if I happen to empty the drawer on the floor in doing so.” That’s how writing proceeds over here. The writer being the most civil part of the whole equation? Sometimes.

Time for some Fresh Air

In Hautvoir, Revision on August 27, 2011 at 7:18 am

Facing the wall. Again. Not the Facebook wall – although, in context, Facebook is also on my mind this morning. No: the wall of self-doubt; the one no one can scale for me. The place where I feel like the class dummy reading her lousy essay out loud in front of the class; while the class convulses in laughter or does ostensible yawning and gagging gestures. The entire cast living inside my own mind, obviously, since I live alone with my dog and spend inordinate amounts of my time trying to figure out why I can’t write a decent story, from start to end, after so many years of trying. Time spent on self-doubt being time wasted; knowledge of that fact doesn’t do much in speeding the process along.

So. Lift Self out of Self-induced Slump. Wander through the woods, and find the horse again. Either invite the horse to continue the journey or jump on the damn thing, and refuse to let go even if it starts rolling on its side, trying to crush me (metaphore; lousy and melodramatic; whatever works, when the Slump hits like a sandbag.)

The dog. The park. Fresh air. A new day has dawned. This morning’s lesson about self-pity: no point in showing it the door. Let it do its pitiful number; feel foolish; then, move on.

Scene Prep

In Hautvoir, Revision on August 26, 2011 at 6:55 am

Maybe the character has always thought of himself as easy-going. Not a confrontational type – more given to letting things slide than to calling people out in a judgemental way. Or maybe he thought his opinions and his general outlook on life covered every contingency liable to come his way. Maybe he never expected the slog to get as tough as it’s turned out to be. Maybe he expected help from an old buddy, or moral support from all the usual sources. In any event, one or several of those expectations aren’t met. The character finds himself on the morning of battle,  knowing there is no turning back and certain the experience will be traumatic, at the very least.

The character is different from the writer in a number of significant features. Gender, for one. Life experiences, for another. Chief among those: his being born and raised in a small French town, and spending his entire life span in it. On this particular morning, he may feel he has stepped out of his range; he may experience dread or the hope of an unexpected solution floating down from the heavens. More likely, he is sipping his coffee, and feeling the weight of his own body on the chair. Waiting for whatever impulse will propel him into the fray.


Signed, Sealed and Delivered

In Animals, Hautvoir, Revision on August 25, 2011 at 6:29 am

Yesterday, when I first saw the white board, and the messages added on it, I snapped a photo because I liked the juxtapositions, and the light on that corner of the dance studio.

Later, when I looked at the photo, and read the messages, I recognized their author immediately: by the words, by the phonetic spelling and text-message abbreviations on some, and by the handwriting itself. I coached this person in language skills for several months before he “lost it” in a spectacular way. I know he was the person assigned to dismantling the white board, and repainting the walls while I was on holiday.

Apart from the words under my own writing of the three basic tenses for the verb “to be”, he’s written: “A thing we possess ends up possessing us”; “I am a thirty-year-old kid”; and “not sure women are the solution to our problems”. I should add the “thirty-year-old kid” had a huge crush on my office mate that led him to acting out so intense we were all on edge for several weeks. The “kid” is on holiday this week. His work contract runs until December. The rest of his stay promises to be as interesting as everything that’s happened so far.

Story proceeds in just about the same way at the moment. Every time I think I’ve reached the heart of it – meaning, the place to which everything returns, then flows out again? Surprise, there’s more to discover. More and more, I feel like a certain fictional canine writer of canine dectective stories constantly learning from her own characters what’s been going on while she planned out the Incredible Adventures of her sleuth. The laughing moment in my dream last night occurring when said canine author (or was it her hero?) made a guest appearance, skulking up a stairway to listen in on office workers in some administrative agency or other. Hm… let me listen in too…

Dress Rehearsals

In Hautvoir, Now playing in a theater near you, Revision on August 24, 2011 at 6:26 am

Getting this right may be tricky. The elements: re-visiting a draft done a few years ago; the dream that follows; the wisps of… something, upon waking.

Dress rehearsals being the common element to all three. The best part of the dream being when the dreamer realizes she’s happy to see the whole crew wearing their Lusitanian national costumes and ready to go on stage for their big number; but also aware of the fact this is not the production for which she is in rehearsal. She’s dropped by to tell them all to break a leg, so to speak, and say how lovely they look in their purple, and  green, and pink, etc. Then, she skips down a long flight of stairs, on her way to… something.

The best part of reading through the previous draft is a brief moment when the main character says something about discovering yourself by accident i.e. discovering you are not identical to what others make of you; not even to what you make of yourself. All those opinions, judgments, evaluations and summations being like so many snapshots – some interesting, some not; some flattering, some grotesque; the most interesting ones being those where you look at the shot, and discover someone you don’t know in the group portrait –  only to realize that’s you, caught at a moment when you weren’t posing for posterity or for uncle Harry.

Reason enough to face the cringe factor, and go on reading through bits of older attempts at capturing that… something.

Photo: because this vehicle shows potential as the one a character uses for his election campaign in the present draft (I’m trying to discourage the other character from wearing a chauffeur’s cap when he does the driving. Knowing him?  Whatever will be, will be.)

“A voice echoes out of the night…”

In Hautvoir, Now playing in a theater near you, Revision on August 23, 2011 at 7:05 am

A moment in a meeting, yesterday. Three people exploring possibilities for a collaborative project linking two others. The premise: tenuous. The motive: hm…undisclosed, but breaking the surface of polite conversation through allusions, innuendo and, finally, outright declaration of the grounds on which the exercise would play out. Briefly stated:  a battle of my-art-therapy is better than your-art-therapy, with innocent bystanders serving as the demos for both ladies’ skills. Which is not to say something good might not come of it – we toyed with a concept that might work as a writing project in workshops dedicated to French-language acquisition. If everyone can choose to work on the project, that is, instead of using it as the new battleground for a final shoot-out between two rivals. Meetings or: the art of walking a minefield, and emerging unscathed. (Recollection here of a real minefield, an experience the amusement value of which increases with time and distance – ah, but a recollection that also triggers recall of a phone conversation in a dream last night, with someone I knew back then. Plus, the recurring motif of Vancouver as a destination – for reasons I can’t fathom, that city being somewhat akin to the Promised Land for this person.)

The characters having now declared their independence from whatever plans I, the writer, had in store for them, I am at their mercy once again. It makes for a much slower process, given some of those characters had been more or less dismissed from the proceedings, and now find themselves being paged back to the stage. Ah yes; it’s not over yet. Reason enough for rejoicing, if story feeds your soul. (In the background? I can almost hear the slow creaking sounds of an old-fashioned hoist for the deus ex machina.)

Escaping or: Who Let the Dog Out?

In Animals, Hautvoir, Revision on August 22, 2011 at 1:15 am

What if none of my characters give a damn what Stendhal thinks about character, happiness, or anything else, for that matter?  What if they don’t care what readers read, or agents like, or publishers wish to publish? The writer may care. Imbedded in her dreams about herself, the writer may  hope and try to read the signs leading to the Holy Land, be they in tea leaves, blogs, or anywhere else.

But what if the characters just don’t care what she wants, or hopes, or dreams?

Assuming for a moment this writer will never see one of her stories in print. Will never have one of her works publicly reviewed, lambasted, praised or – worse possible of literary deaths – ignored and killed off by reader indifference.  Assuming the internet collapses and no one ever reads this or any other of my yammerings. What then? Will I continue to write as if my life depends on it – and maybe it does, who knows? Will I continue to send out word signals – in longhand, on keys, in my head – the way pulsars do their thing and fireflies do theirs, the way dogs scratch at their fleas, and the fleas go right on  biting? The way some people collect match book covers, or movie memorabilia? Will I continue on making up stories the way you can’t help looking for the way out of a sealed room?

My landlord tells me the dog tried to escape last week. When he came home, she had managed to work her way partly under the wire fence; her head was sticking out, and she was busy working the rest of herself under and out. He’ll keep her inside with his own, he says. How that will work out being just as uncertain as how the characters in Hautvoir will fare with the writer, and vice versa.