Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

Sound of footsteps on a wooden stage

In Dance, Drafts, Hautvoir on November 30, 2011 at 8:18 am

Characters on the loose. Or: Caution Character X-ing.

Not much else to say. The situation inside my head is something like those moments in a theater when the curtain goes down between scenes, and you hear a lot of running footsteps and moving of heavy things, before the  main curtain rises again, revealing a bucolic scene behind a filmy white gauze. Or something. A garbage-strewn back alley? A nightclub? The side entrance? A child’s room with a night lamp shaped like a merry-go-round or planet earth?

No idea for the time being. Why the photo? It caught my eye with that special ping that says: never mind why, just grab it and go. So, I did.

Sounds of footsteps on a wooden stage?  Those are the bits and pieces, this morning. Ah yes: plus a conversation I overheard while waiting for a curtain to rise. A group of boys, about twelve years old, intent on grossing one another out. Jonathan Swift’ modest proposals had nothing over their suggestions for menu items. The game they were playing was: let’s say you’re stuck somewhere and this is all you can eat. Do you eat it? Cooked? Raw?

Adults forget? Prefer to dis-remember? Some do; some don’t. Ah yes. Plus the mothers. The ones with nothing much left to lose.

P.S. Oh yes; plus: funny.

Caught in the Act

In Drafts, Hautvoir on November 29, 2011 at 7:09 am

An incident. The setting: a boarding school dormitory. The scene: a new kid starts talking in her sleep. A few of us older-timers are still awake and overhear her yearning. Cut to the scene in the refectory on the following morning, followed by a short scene in the schoolyard after chapel and breakfast. Not one of the proudest moments in my life: I was one of the taunters. On the Friday list of sins, the nuns didn’t provide a name for that kind of behavior; they didn’t need to. I was the new kid in school often enough to know what I was doing that morning was wrong. It had to do with the short surge of power you get from being part of the gang. I was on the other side of the equation often enough to discover the gang wasn’t my natural turf.

Occupational hazards. Being caught on the cusp of daydreaming your way in or out of writing. Embarrassing? Sometimes. Unless the contents of your daydreams are bizarre in the extreme, the embarrassment is in being caught out in a childish moment, just as the new kid was caught out yearning for home. Given some of the uglier moments of living recorded and available through any electronic device imaginable, you might think getting caught out in your simpler daydreams and aspirations is a no-starter, writing-wise.

Not so. In many ways, owning up to your own dreams is a crucial step. In “real life”, it’s at the heart of a tough situation for a twelve-year old I coach every week. A lot of adults on his case; a lot of confusion in his mind; a lot of kids in his school wanting to feel powerful by taunting him over incidents both real and fabricated.

Writing. Using words to build something useful. Meaning? Useful for living and for dreaming (that definition being lifted from a song called Utile that says: “je veux être utile à vivre et à rêver”).  


In Animals, Drafts, Food, Games, Hautvoir on November 28, 2011 at 8:02 am

Yes, I was photographing the exquisite work on the Thai puppets (even the mouths open and shut). The photos were part of a more complicated exercise involving two dogs, one boy and myself. The mother left us to our own devices for an hour while she headed out to finish a project calling for silk-screening on glass. Her son having agreed “in principle” to remedial reading and writing sessions, every Sunday afternoon at five.

I held him to the “in principle” part of the deal. In other words, he used a piece of charcoal to scratch out the present tense of four verbs – faire, pouvoir, avaler, finir (to do, to be able, to swallow, to finish); he struggled through two brief paragraphs in a book illustrating various theatrical contraptions (massive puppets as high as three-storey buildings, exploding cars, etc). After which he went back to his computer and phone games while I circled the room, taking photos, under close observation by the family dog – and silent sounding-out by regular pings coming from the boy’s direction. Just like the initial circling behavior of two animals who haven’t decided yet if what we have here is friend or foe.

When his mother drove me home, we talked about the boy’s interests. Animals in the wild, initiatory-type stories, anything to do with cryptology. OK. Shopping list down; I know to which neck of the woods I need to be heading; best not be too blatant about it. The kid has something of the coyote’s sixth sense when it comes to adults trying to “reach”  him.

Something of the same sense in the draft, at the moment. Characters refusing enticements, or doing things they know they shouldn’t. Characters leaving the writer at a loss when she wants them to play nice. Characters at a loss themselves, with no direction home. An uncomfortable place for them; not too comfortable for the writer either. How the story will move forward; where it will go? Not a clue, this morning, save for the appearance yesterday of  characters I had never met before – plus the wife of one of those characters who never showed in the living-room; but the scents from her kitchen kept wafting out at intervals. While talking with his two sons, her husband kept lifting his head, trying to determine what it was exactly she was preparing for the Sunday meal. There was lamb involved. Apricots, maybe? Cinnamon?


A good trance (never too many of those)

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Music on November 27, 2011 at 8:47 am

Stopping short. Letting sleeping dogs lie, and so on. Sleeping, period. Changing the subject. It’s interesting to watch, especially when all the characters in the draft are doing it at the moment. Pointing in other directions; skirting issues and veering off to something inconsequential. Nu?

Forgetting yourself. It happened yesterday morning for over an hour. Not a single thought about my life, my worries, my life and times, my, my, my. We were rehearsing in workshop mode i.e. working on short bits of repertoire, singly and in chorus, for pitch, rythm and overall voice placement and expressivity. Over an hour without a single thought unrelated to the exercise, to the difficulties and the fun of it.

Finding the same kind of space for some of the writing; maybe that’s one way the characters can move into territory starting with: “I’ve been meaning to tell you.”

The difference between seeing or hearing something, and experiencing it. The difference between how things happen in real time, and how they play out in the retelling. Breaking things down into manageable bits. Keeping the me, me, me out of it. Why? Because the me, me, me distorts everything, the same way thinking about how your voice will sound throws  you offkey. You place your breath – in the belly, in the chest, in the throat or in the head – and you sing, yes? Yes.

We also did a great Funiculli, Funiculla, by the way. Three-part harmony; fun. Two of us sang Dona, Dona in sort-of yiddish while Cha improvised a second voice to it. The second voice makes all the difference, creating something akin to a trance state.

Meanwhile, in the upper town

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Story material on November 26, 2011 at 8:10 am

The library visit? A flop. Good intentions are die-hards. Animals, children and “the dispossessed” can sniff them out even at concentrations of one or two parts per million. Oh you want to expose me to culture, do you? In front of my work colleagues, yet? Ha! (Yes, one of the visitors was sneaking a peek at a book when I shot this photo. He’d be mortified if I published the shot, so I won’t even though he’d never know.)

The draft feels like a billiard ball. The characters in it behaving like most people under duress i.e. taking wrong turns, quitting jobs they need to feed their own body and three other people’s, risking life, peace of mind and a go at the Golden Pension Years as if they could reclaim all of these once the story is over.

A fantasy at the language workshop on Thursday: one of the women “who doesn’t speak French” has turned into something of  class wit, landing zingers between her efforts at copying down the words on the white board in her large and clumsy script. By the end of the class, she had assigned us each a Mercedes which we had taken out for a spin. One woman drove to Marseille to see the family; another picked up the kids at school to make them proud; another parked the car in front of her apartment building, and so on. After laughing a lot at their own daring, the women drove their cars back to the parking lot in front of the building, and poof-ed them out of existence.

Except. Leaving the classroom, they ran into a group of  the Well-Intentioned, returning from a visit to the different work sites. One of the men was thanking a staff member for driving him around. The class wit walked by, still in her buoyant mood; wagged a finger at him and said: “You parked too close to my Mercedes and scratched the side!” The other women tittered; the group waddled down the stairs in a fit of giggling. The Well Intentioned one didn’t quite recover even after I explained we’d been playing with words in the language workshop. Part of the lingering shock for him being the notion this woman does understand and speak French i.e. she gets more than the drift when he discusses her with others, in her presence.

It’s tricky business. Time to take a temperature reading over in the upper echelons of Hautvoir? If you think the Well Intentioned have it easy, that’s just because you’ve never had your better motives stood on their metaphorical heads.

“As Told to…”

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects on November 25, 2011 at 7:06 am

Between five and six pm yesterday, I stopped at the Office de tourisme for a few shots of the installation before the Annual General Assembly at work. This morning, my fingers come to full stop while I ponder why I chose this as the point of entry for this post. Possibly because of the discrepancy between the sleek video installations and their framed/edited/controlled contents, and the messiness of the real processes going on all around the tourist office at that moment.

I took photos yesterday every time I was struck by the same sense of the discrepancy between what I was seeing before my eyes and what I knew was happening simultaneously in the next office or the next building; or what the discussion topic happened to be when I snapped the photograph.

During the General Assembly, I sat at the back of the room, as I always do when I’m asked to take photos. Sitting closest to me were two women who work at City Hall; both have a profound  dislike (as in deep, abiding and gleeful) for the woman who heads the service where I work. While she went through her presentation, they kept leaning into one another in a running commentary regarding her appearance; her choice of words; her facial expressions; and – unholiest of crimes – the fact she chewed on her gum at intervals. I happened to know why she was chewing away. Had she asked me, I might have suggested less obvious ways to deal with her nervousness; she didn’t. In any event, gum or no gum, the running commentary from those two would have been the same.

More work-related stuff this afternoon: a visit to the médiathèque for the people ending their six-month work contracts. I doubt more than a handful will show up. In any event, the real order of business for me is sorting through the latest mass of impressions, and listening to whatever words in my head will lead back into the new draft.

Laughing helps a whole lot

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects on November 24, 2011 at 7:20 am

At one point in the afternoon, I walked by my director’s office. She looked up from her screen. We burst out laughing. “Circling Zenitude,” she said. “What won’t get done, won’t get done.”

A work marathon today i.e. an overload of people, running from ten am to approximately eight pm. People with issues; people with ideas, suggestions, plans, messy problems they want to shove onto your lap, secrets they want to reveal – this last being a biggie at the moment. Part of the discussions yesterday centered on that very topic; first, in the morning with local teachers of the primary and middle schools; later in the day, with a mother in need of an ear; two twelve-year old boys trying to sort out Big not to say Huge questions about ethics and morality; plus, one disturbed guy to whom I refused to listen because the two boys had priority. Whether the disturbed one will be part of today’s mix or not? No idea; I’m sure he has no idea either.

Is there an ordering principle? If so, what is it? Those two questions summarizing the two twelve-year olds’ questions, comments, outbursts and evasions around loaded issues of sexual identity, status, personal responsibility… I could go on, and won’t. (I had been expecting a teaching session on the topic of irregular verbs, by the way; had to spin my wheels when the big questions started popping like flashbulbs.)

Uncharted territories. The notion of an ordering principle of the implicit kind that has little to do with the simplistic my-God-is-better-than-yours pseudo-debates. Words spoken by someone at the teachers’ meeting in the morning. I can’t remember the exact formulation. Basically, what I understood her to mean was: you choose to believe humans are geared for survival; would rather succeed than fail, and would rather enjoy life, love, laugh and be healthy. Or you choose to believe it’s all crap anyway, so why bother.

As far as I’m concerned, I saw part of the underlying ordering principle at work yesterday, when the first twelve-year-old said: “OK, can we talk about something else now?” Hallelujah, thought I; let’s do that.

(The burst-out laughing moment occurred afterwards.)

Night Sky, Wild Fennel Stalks

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Querying on November 23, 2011 at 6:59 am

At least, the matches were dry, and the dry grasses caught the flame. The rest of the dream meandered all over the place; when I woke up, I decided I’d stick to that small moment, and let the rest fall back from where it came.

Said flame was in an oven. Food – meat, I think – wrapped or cocooned in dry herbs. The kind of cooking you do over a rough grill. The interesting part it calls back up to memory, in waking hours: standing out in the yard at Le Rugissant last night. Either the space/time continuum is shrinking or I’m walking faster. Either way, I got there earlier than planned, and didn’t feel like doing the social chit-chat prior to rehearsal. So I stood in the yard, under a sky popping stars all over. The stalks of wild fennel are dried out and stand much taller than I do; they crowd against the company’s heavy transport rig.

Nothing much to report from such a venue? Yes and no. Everything was clear and sharp. Neither joyful/buoyant nor despondent. I’d just received the first negative on the round of queries I’ve started. Everything changes over time, even the way you respond to negatives from perfect strangers. I’m at the point where it feels like a good thing, insofar as it tells me to keep looking. Like cold calling; or climbing those endless stairs in Montréal, in the days when I did canvassing for political candidates. Most of those knocks and rings result in duds: no answer, phone slammed down or door shut back in your face. Ah. Just recognized last night’s clear and sharp space. Once you get the hang of it, there’s a kind of good mood that sets in. You start paying attention to things like stalks of wild fennel poking up against a rig.

We’ll see what comes of them when I get back to the draft later today.

Getting Away (Life as story material)

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Story material on November 22, 2011 at 7:06 am

How it happens. Overload, probably. Of good, of bad, doesn’t matter. During a boring lecture or meeting. During a boring yammer in your own head; or a surfeit of good intentions, earnest striving and every other commendable attitude.  Something happens. Trips the wire. The system takes off in another direction, for the sake of seeing something else, hearing other voices, learning other things; or just plain goofing off.

A week of Highly Serious Meetings. Issues of Import; fluffy isn’t part of the mix. Had someone taped and published parts of the last meeting of the day, yesterday, we would all be branded insensitive louts (by those with some outer reach in their vocabulary); idiots (by those with limits on same); while the choir continued on the theme of “what did we tell you?” Why? Because the comments were somewhere between frat house highbrow and medical interns’ four am coffee break, that’s why.

I tried a bit of fluffiness at the meeting prior to that one; facetious doesn’t fly at a meeting with social workers; looking good-humored gets you suspicious looks.

All this as intro for a guy presently driving out of Hautvoir in an electric blue Clio with an overlay of dust. There’s a light drizzle on the road toward Lautrec. His right windshield wiper has a knock in it, and skips one swipe out of two. Canned goods on the back seat. Stuff crammed into the front passenger side. I can’t quite make out the details of it yet.

My Town (Details)

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Visual artists on November 21, 2011 at 7:54 am

Sticking to the Mexicali Rose-type detail on the wall. For one, even though the space is a hanger with a filming space in the middle of it, it also happens to be someone’s private home. I took photos of it until the battery ran out; doesn’t mean I intend to share her living space with the world without her prior permission.

Wandering through. To the back; along the edges of the plywood film stage. Out a side door that gives out in a shallow valley where the deer play, minus the antelopes. Lots of hare, too, her son tells me; plus a variety of birds, including a small falcon, the English name for which I don’t know – wiki says it’s a kestrel, I see no reason to doubt the info. Which means the valley is also rich in small rodents.

The family dog had feasted on a strange mushroom brought back from the wild on Saturday, and was still behaving in strange ways yesterday.

The woman who lives here is a member of my choir. To get to her place, you turn off the main thoroughfare running East to West through the town, and meander up a country road the width of a private lane. About five hundred meters from main street, you’ll come across a thicket with a red caravan (busted) pretending to be a hunter in ambush. Keep going for twenty more meters or so, and you’re there.