Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

Character, Playing

In Circus, Hautvoir, Music, Querying, Revision, Synopsis, Theater on October 31, 2011 at 7:46 am

From where I was sitting, the technical proficiency on display was almost a secondary consideration. Make that: a given. The makeup session at the Scène Nationale in Albi yesterday held several of Graulhet’s puppeteers and their children in thrall before the performance. The instrumental and vocal performances had a musical composer’s full attention; I could tell by the expression on her face. The children laughed in all the right places. Once they got the hang of the show, the adults applauded in the right breaks.

What held my attention – apart from the show itself, and audience reactions to it? Overall effects and minute details. What made that soldier in the Monkey King’s retinue the best monkey in the lot? The looseness in his gait (knees, wrists, everything up and downstream from there). The woman interpreting the Nine-Tailed Fox: her stupendous handling of the sticks thrown at her would draw applause in any case. What made her special for me was the way she held her neck and the expression in her eyes. She knew all her moves; didn’t have to think about them; she could be the supernatural fox.

Loose. How do I react when I’m not uptight? Not defensive? What is my natural response when I’m not burdening myself with self-importance? Playing. Being the character. Then, being that other character, and letting the fun happen. The tricky place, right there. Trusting: the stage, the props, the technical crews, your own prep, the other players. From there, stepping out and letting it happen.

What about glitches? Spotted a few in yesterday’s performance. Yes, even at an evening with the Peking Opera, a ribbon may come undone or a stick may get dropped. How many people noticed? Does it matter? The jugglers went on juggling and the acrobats went on tumbling.

The art of comedy. Apart from the right pacing, the crucial aspect to making it work? Leaving yourself behind in the dressing room. Oh yes: I’m still learning, no doubt about it.

“Oh, it’s about losing again, is it?”

In Dance, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, Querying, Revision, Synopsis, Uncategorized on October 30, 2011 at 7:30 am

Does it help, knowing you’re not the only one lost at sea? Sometimes; not this morning. I’ll get it. I’ll see how I keep on tripping over my own two feet. I’ll laugh? I’ll laugh. I’ll revise? Yes, I’ll revise once more. I’ll finish the synopsis? I’ll… Send out queries? Yes, I’ll… etc.

A big deal in life as presently playing over here: a free ticket+bus ride to and from Albi for the Peking Opera production this afternoon. One of the women in my language workshop also accepted a free ticket. We will not be seated together. A blessing: spending the whole show taking questions and providing answers she won’t contest in a loud voice? No. A respite is all I ask. A break, as in a temporary parting of the clouds inside my head.

Cry when you have to. It’s one way of clearing the inner rainclouds. You know you make mountains out of ant hills. You also know you always break down millimeters away from the finish line – as if you were still paying attention to that damn mantra that says you are not allowed to win. Why? Because the mantra says so? (No, I’ve tried that already. I threw the mantra overboard; it rose up, climbed back into the rowboat, and bore a hole in the bottom, just to spite me. It’s one of those primeval mantras that like to throw their weight around.)

Hell. Woman: if it’s all illusion anyway, how about dancing, singing, and driving the mantra nuts with your racket?

To the tune of the title. Serenade for a Mantra. Starts on the downbeat. And a one, and a two, and a three, and…

“It don’t mean what? It don’t mean what? It sure don’t mean –  a –  thing. If it. ain’t got. that swi-i-i-i-i-i-i-ing doo-ha, doo-ha, doo-ha doo-ha doo-ha doo-ha doo-ha. Doo—ah.”

Dancing in Public

In Animals, Circus, Collage, Drafts, Music, Revision, Sanford Meisner, Story material, Visual artists on October 29, 2011 at 6:47 am

The illustration above is on the final page of  Joelle Jolivet and Emmanuelle Grundmann’s Zoo logique, an oversized bestiary a friend of mine used to inspire explorations in collages in her workshops.

Allowing yourself to do or say: the first step. Depending on circumstances and upbringing, taking that step may involve secrecy; finding ways to sort through what is considered unspeakable by those around you; finding ways to express those unspeakables that move you to utter your own version of Galileo Galilei’s e pur si muove! (and yet it moves!) – words attributed to him, after his forced retraction of his observation that the earth was not a stationary object.

Discovering your own way of doing and saying; allowing yourself to do and say. Then: moving on to doing and saying in public places. Taking the heat, be it of mild reproof, of jeers or of stronger objections yet. Taking the pleasant heat generated by cheering too; an obvious thing? No. Steering clear of the yeah-yeah-hey-great types of approval that leave you feeling both stuffed and depleted.

Finding ways to say it or do it better without factoring out the one, absolute requisite: the fun of conquering your own fear to experience the thrill of raising your head, your finger – or your voice – to point out discrepancies or to move attention away from the marching band and back to the crowd.

With the risk, of course, of finding a finger pointing straight at you; or of meeting a gaze that sends your own world spinning off in scary, crazy, unexpected directions. More (and better) fun than you thought possible without risking arrest, for example.

Music? Music.

Good places to be

In Animals, Circus, Collage, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music on October 28, 2011 at 7:27 am

Someone is bound to know: they came from Italy. You find remnants of their work scattered around town. In the garden outside my door: a round table with the foot worked into the shape of a tree trunk. Cement balustrades made to appear like intertwining twigs; or columns and facades with a flower motif, as in the one above.

Behind the windows: rows of bird cages filled with show pigeons – the kinds with ruffled feathers or extravagant colors and patterns. The garden runs wild, hollyhocks sprouting at random, fruit trees left to their own whims and those of the visiting birds. On occasion, a small black dog stands guard inside the rusted gate.

More dogs a bit further up this road. Two Siberian huskies who must suffer the torments of the damned in their confinement (not to mention the heat of the long summers). They mewl when my canine companion saunters by; she stops to consider them, does a few strokes of tail wagging, something like a human visiting relatives in the hospital. The huskies mewl some more; visiting hours are over, she moves on to explore the spot with the windfall of wild plums and figs. Plus, there’s a cove with rabbits further up still.

Rain today. Not much rabbit-chasing in store. Story sprouting out in unexpected directions. As I left work yesterday, one of our star trouble makers approached me, wanting to buy more of my discarded furniture. I stated my price. He stood transfixed when I told him I wouldn’t be back before Monday. (Translation: he already has a buyer for the stuff, at a comfortable profit for himself.) The crazy look started up in his eye; stopped as abruptly. I don’t know what’s happening with him, except for the fact a word image he improvised in a language workshop came back to me last night as story. Where it will lead – if anywhere – I don’t know. I do know the boy who was talking is an older brother to another boy who showed up for story duty the day before yesterday.

Plus music in my head. A soundtrack inside which I lived, literally, for several months during a time of strong tides. Circus music.  Plus… well, favorite music; all of it. Beats chemical mood stabilizers any day, leaving nothing but pleasant side effects.

One Year Later

In Drafts, Hautvoir on October 27, 2011 at 7:10 am

This time out, there is no other suggestion of a trail or a direction other than the name I’ve given to the file folder. The story is in Hautvoir again; some of the characters from the previous one are starting to wander back into the scene. This is one year later. How the story will evolve being a total voyage of discovery at this point.

The onslaught didn’t happen as planned, yesterday. School holidays this week and next; although their appointments were booked and confirmed, six of the children were no-shows. This has direct bearing on the new draft. The previous Hautvoir story was already heavily inspired by real-life events around me – not that any one of the characters was a direct transposition from life; that never works for me. For instance, I gave the name and the  grown-up physical appearance of an adorable little boy to a character who will probably be showing up again in this draft; I haven’t discovered much to adore in that specific character yet. Who knows what lurks in the deepest recesses of his heart? Maybe he doesn’t even know himself. Or maybe no one will ever know.

The real-life boy who inspired this bit of casting-against-type was in my office yesterday. Still as guileless as ever – although, in reading through the first pages of a book assignment from school, he caught on to the fact the names of the teachers were wordplays. For instance, the school secretary, Lara Leuze (la râleuse, the kvetch) or the school principal Jaime Lerôme (j’aime le rhum, I love rum). He wouldn’t have caught on a year ago. We also managed to clear (most of) the hurdles up to the sixth multiplication table.

The official reason for my seeing this boy: getting the parents to accept the fact he will be placed in a remedial stream, whether they want it or not. My personal reason for seeing him: getting the boy – whether his parents go along or not – to accept the remedial stream as his way toward the things that truly matter to him. Plus at the most selfish of levels: when he walks in, after all the mind snarls with the crazies and the ill-intentioned? He makes us all feel good.

Knowing story, both in real life and in fiction, there will be plenty of upsets to counterbalance such moments. Those moments exist anyway.

Ambling (pre-coffee)

In Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir on October 26, 2011 at 6:42 am

These days, Wednesday means: five hours of coaching for a total of nine children. With no assists. Best not to think too long and hard, and take it in small increments. Kids are fine with small increments; except for the ones who can’t seem to move things up to longer attention spans, such as staying on the task until you’ve read or written out an entire word.

Besides the coaching, there’ll be workshops going on for older kids wanting to learn how to create their own rap – words, stances, vocals, backup. Then, the tsunami of four and five-year olds at dance class, under the stentorian supervision of their dance master.

I have trouble with loud voices and jarring noises. A poorly adjusted compressor makes me physically ill or throws my brain into unexpected patterns. Some of the patterns are interesting, no complaints there; but none of the loud, jarring sounds do me any good at all.

Comedy is hard work. I’m blessed in that my life circumstances and my job provide me every possible source of material I can spin into a howl of outrage or – if I work at it – something mirthful. We’re not at the mirth yet; but we have our heart set on it (I slip into the “we” on occasion; especially after spending too much time between 2:45 and 4:15 am seeking a nugget of mirth in mind chatter that insisted on presenting itself as sullen, sodden, and spiked with indignation, and all points downward from there.)

I fell back asleep by pretending I had found a comfortable spot between two of the logs making up my raft floating down the Dadou. The sullen and the sodden drifted off in a fog. Somewhere just before waking, my mind got as frisky as a dog eager for a walk. Those are the nuggets I latch onto these days.

Inspiration vs Obstinacy

In Drafts, Hautvoir, New story, Revision, Story material on October 25, 2011 at 5:49 am

The inspiration for the title being a quote by writer Jean Echenoz: “Je ne crois pas du tout à l’inspiration, plutôt à l’obstination.”  (I don’t believe one bit in inspiration, but rather in obstinacy).

Look at it this way. Life events, diet, early childhood, education, relationships, jobs; soaring successes, dismal crashes. The whole thing. You let it rule? You tell  yourself the same old stories, over and over again, whether in “real life” or in fiction.

Unless. You take that one obstinate step, over and over again. You sit; you empty the contents of all the programmed stuff in your head. It makes you look like an idiot or a pompous ass? Fine, it’s all good; it’ll all find some use, somewhere. Then, as flat out empty as can be, you move on to writing your way into the opposite direction. Feels boring? Keep going. Feels stupid? You’re on the right track. Feels like stuff you’ll rip out and throw out later? No problem; consider it scaffolding and write at least three more paragraphs or exchanges between the characters; then, stop at a point that will have you saying: “oy; now what?”

Will this get you onto next year’s lists at the Goncourt (France) and/or the Pulitzer for best translation (or any other category)? Might. Could. Of course, you’d have to take the time to revise the stuff and send it out first; get an agent, and a publisher too. But let’s not crowd the issue, this morning. The point to this yammer is: when total confusion takes you back to the boring shores of your own habitual mind patterns, explanations, rationalizations, etc?  Sort through the whole pile, once again. Get a one hundred percent look at it; maybe an extra peek, for good measure. There is value in boring yourself silly. Value in making an utter fool of yourself. Sometimes, it’s the only way to get yourself out of whatever morass you’ve fallen into – again.

As for obstinacy, what can I say? How else do you think the breed would have swollen to a crowd of over seven billion? All right, through utter foolishness too. Which is just another way of stating all of the above.

Sunday Mining Expeditions

In Current reading, Hautvoir, Revision, Story material on October 24, 2011 at 6:51 am

What does someone do on a Sunday when disgust overrides compulsion? The disgust having to do with the mess I make using the autotext feature to label pages; the compulsion: the need to get the thing done.

But that’s not what’s on my mind. It gets trickier all the time. All the usual emotional bus stops available, all the time. Whatever your favorites may be, they announce themselves as the only bus stops on your route; of course, they aren’t.

Other emotions, then. Or other ways of approaching the same ones. Anger, for example. In anger, a man walked through the wall in the early-morning dream I had. A father-figure type of a man who didn’t like what a friend of mine had said. I told the father-figure type his was not the only opinion on that or any other topic. It angered him, so he walked through the wall. Didn’t seem to hurt him any more than it destroyed the structure – one of the reasons why dreams are favorites along my personal bus route.

Other favorite: the streaming “waterfall nebula” on today’s Nasa photo of the day. Because of the photo itself, and the name of the structure? Yes, that too; but mostly because of the “waterfall” notion. This is space; the stream of particles may be flowing upward as easily as downward.

Point of view. That’s one important variable. Expectations challenged; that’s another. Emotional launching point: the triggering emotion, the one that sets the writing in motion. Emotional landing point: self-explanatory but unexpected, hopefully.

Unexpected enough to leave your writing self suspended


Hopefully, yes; because then, you know you won’t accept any of your own same-old same-old. Risky business, writing. Blessings to the Universe for that.

(For anyone interested: Excellent article on Murakami in The New York Times Magazine section.)


In Hautvoir, Music, Revision, Story material on October 23, 2011 at 6:45 am

The cusp. Indeed. Not only that: the cusp does not play out only in the dimensional planes we associate with The Way Things Are. The road winds upward, down, sideways; then, into a full loop where you make direct observations on various physical principles – gravity being only one of them. Then, the moment of grace: singing, dancing, working out tricky harmonies, listening to the champs lift it to another plane. Then: crud, all over again. Simple operations you’ve never understood; page settings going ape; grim reminders of some of your less-than-glorious traits. Unresolved or unsolvable riddles from real life.

I figured the formatting on the previous story would be finished yesterday. Not. A total wash of time down the pipes. What to do; how to do it? At this point, I think I’ll bring the thing into the office and ask the secretary to kindly show me how to use auto-format to insert author name and story title at the top of each page, yes? Automatically, as the name of the function implies? Sounds like a plan; but first, I’ll have to delete everything I did yesterday, between bouts of re-establishing circulation in my legs.

The cusp. In all sincerity, someone says: “I love you.” In all sincerity, someone answers: “And I love you.” Only to discover, months or years later that the words didn’t attach to the same notions of what it means to love someone. Is the sincerity any less? Do you pretend not to notice the disconnect? Do you call it by its rightful name, and walk that cusp with all of its consequences?

Sunday, October 23 2011. It always gets curiouser and curiouser; never less. (Wouldn’t mind a bit of less, from time to time; as in: longer stretches of the laughing, singing and dancing parts of the cusp. Oh well. Maybe there’s another one coming, just a bit further up the road? Has to be. Let’s go find out.)

In this, the ongoing series of Notes to myself…

In Hautvoir, Music, New story, Revision, Story material on October 22, 2011 at 7:17 am

… a sign; hand-written on  two pieces of cardboard. It reads: The System was never broken it was built this way. Someone took a photo of it. It speaks to me. It goes into the New Story file.

A recollection: middle of the night,  somewhere in a bus terminal in South Carolina (or maybe Virginia). One of those hubs where people find themselves stranded because who cares about anyone whose only means of transportation is a bus?  Give me your poor, your downtrodden, your bodies made shapeless, your minds frazzled by worry. Yes, indeed.

More middle of the night stuff: this time, a mulling over the difference between a rant and indignation. The difference between laughter that topples the pretentious and the self-pitying ones – whether they lodge inside or outside who you think you are – and that other kind. I don’t have a name for it. I know it has an edge of sniggering self-abasement. Soundtracks; “joke” books; one size fits all. Meant to clog the wheels and keep you from clearing your head.It says:  Don’t bother. Don’t think outside the system. Settle for the lazy way out. Settle for  more stuff straight from the mills of  the already-tried.

Then, there’s humor. Unintentional (spam filter finds, for instance? filled with spoonerisms winding their lost ways among the online dispensers of mind-numbing crap); or scripted and honed to a sharp point, thanks to a moment where something or someone jolts you out of your comfort zone. The kind that punctures the inner nonsense. The kind that takes the stories you tell yourself and the stories they tell you; pulls them apart; looks at the sorry mess; then, re-assembles it in such a way you become part of the intended target for the shake-up.

Today’s agenda : Choir. Clean-up on the latest story I’ve just committed. Free-style yammers by characters in another that may or may not be emerging out of the cracks. Plus, the unintended, the unexpected and the unpredictable.

Getting from har-har to seriously funny. Onward; it’s an endless trek.