Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Questions, unanswered

In Animals, Circus, Contes d'Exil, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music on December 31, 2011 at 8:09 am

The boy. The donkey. I slept, also. When I didn’t, I wondered what gives with the boy and with the donkey. Last seen by the writer heading towards a place where he didn’t want to go (the boy). That’s one problem. Leaving open the question of what then happens to the donkey.

Other elements: more reading in La Fête foraine d’autrefois (French carnivals and fairs in the nineteen hundreds – many of the circus people I know, influenced by these); and in Sacks’ Musicophilia, a passing comment about Nabokov’s gifts as a jester and ironist being such, it’s hard at times to know if a comment is meant seriously or not (as it turns out, Nabokov’s son confirms his father’s inability to recognize and enjoy music as anything other than ‘sounds’).

Irony. The double-edged nature of. A gift when it helps make light of moments unbearable without it. A – can’t find the proper word, one meaning a way of avoiding unpleasant truths that throw a nice party into serious disrepair.

Back to the boy. Who is he; why is he still in the story, and what does he want from it? Yes, I believe characters want something from a story, or they wouldn’t stick around in it. Yes, as a medical doctor once verified, I am aware the writer is the source of the characters. But, as for a host of  other mind-triggered events (why this piece of music dredged up by the brain, and not that other, for example), your mind being the source does not mean you understand how the process works.

What does this boy have to do with the story? Why was he one of the first characters to show up (inspired by someone playing music at unbearable  decibel levels, yet). Why the Polish name?

(The donkey is a sweetheart, as donkeys go. Although writers shouldn’t meddle with their own stories, there’s got to be a way to get him back to his home in the hills above Hautvoir.)

The Trail

In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir on December 30, 2011 at 7:47 am

It may still happen – F doesn’t always give advance notice; she may call at the last minute and say: “Ready? I’m picking you up in five minutes.” She may; then again, chances are higher she will not. It’s not all smooth sailing for her since her ex was struck down and killed while bicycling. She takes on too much; tries too hard; collapses out of exhaustion; pushes on; collapses some more; calls out for help but sticks a smile and a ‘can do’ expression on her face as soon as you respond.

“We all need affection,” the daughter tells her mother in the final pages of Returning to Earth. This, after her mother takes a young lover – whatever the age, an option more often available in fiction, dreams and fantasies than in the  dismal light of overdue payments, adolescent children, flea-ridden dogs, and other causes for hyperventilation.

I’m still labeling Harrison’s book current reading. Finished the obvious physical part of that exercise yesterday. Now, the book is working its way into my system. Lay in bed for a long time, thinking about the various characters in it, as I would about real people. Which lands me back on the doorstep of my own characters – my  choices, theirs. What happens next in their lives, as much of a mystery as what happens next in mine.

There’s talk of set building, somewhere in the low-level background noise in my head. Earlier, a young man in his thirties called one of the characters. There’s some glass work in the pre-assembly stage; a man sipping food through a straw, following a shattering encounter with someone’s foot; a lost boy, a lost donkey, a small girl discovering London, her mother discovering something else in a small room – or in the hallway leading out of it?  No lack of trails to follow. In real life, the feet must decide first; in writing, the fingers. Stands to reason: they’re the ones doing most of the physical work. Least you can do is allow them that one luxury: choosing the direction and the moment for this day’s trek.

The photo that inspires reminding me more of another character to whom others raised their glasses a day or two ago.

Bring on the dancing bears

In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Dance, Drafts, Hautvoir on December 29, 2011 at 5:22 am

If it happens tomorrow, getting out and away will be great. In my one meaningful local human contact yesterday, F mentioned she was driving to Toulouse with her kids; would be happy to take me along, drop me off downtown, and bring me back later. When a whole town starts giving you cabin fever, a day trip to Toulouse makes a damn exciting prospect.

Still. For all the annoying, long-haul aspects of spending endless hours hearing one’s own mind chatter, there are benefits involved in sorting out and re-organizing old papers. Didn’t burn a single item, as one of my characters did in a scene that may or may not survive the revision stage. Did read through a lot of dead-end meanderings and half-decent attempts at grabbing on to something else – meaning something outside the tight little box of habitual responses provided by genes and upbringing. The most fun being another look at a collection of stories revolving around a fictional village in the Ural mountains. The place serves the same  purposes as a hometown for me: a spot you visit to get your bearings and see how you’ve evolved relative to the scenery, the people, and the stories they tell.

Lots of real and fictional bears around – in those stories (the real animals lived and roamed in the place where I wrote most of it), and, of course, in the Jim Harrison I’m reading. The greatest advantage to reading a top-notch writer: the way it helps you discover your own specific take on themes. You can’t get sad or envious over not being Jim Harrison or Louise Erdrich. You can try to fill your own specific niche as best you can.

The blend over here involves a lot of deep dark musings (reams of paper devoted to same); self-important to the nth degree. I refuse to consider them as anything other than the growth medium out of which other things can sprout.

A day trip out of  this town wouldn’t hurt the process in the least.

“Enter a flea-bitten chorus, on a creaky, squeaky hand cart”

In Drafts, Hautvoir on December 28, 2011 at 6:44 am


“angry birds, hungry ghosts and assorted killjoys show up on cue”

It’s a stage direction, of sorts. Indicating a weary familiarity with the assortment – the Greek chorus element to the living and the writing, both. Showing up on cue. Crying: Stop! No further! The Earth, she be flat! Thou shall go Splat!

On cue, you do, and so does the story.

Weary familiarity because, no matter what the life circumstances, the Greek chorus shows up the minute life or story are about to break into something new. Hubris, they cry. Step back, don’t go there, remember what happened to all the others who

Icarus, for example, not to mention


Meanwhile, the new – whatever it may be – pushes through, unheeded. Yes, it may get plowed under, tarred over, flooded or reclaimed for landfill. The new doesn’t care because it knows something the Greek chorus doesn’t. It knows what the Greek chorus is really saying. It’s saying: Please, show us it can be done! Please run away with the circus. Please walk up to the moon on a tightrope. Or whatever more ordinary thing the new is attempting to achieve.

Creak on, chorus. Me and my story are busy talking to one another about new places to explore.

Same, renewed

In Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music on December 27, 2011 at 8:29 am

I shut down the computer before listening to the Jacqueline Du Pré interpretation of the first movement (Haydn’s cello concerto). Had taken in Rostropovitch and a young Yo-Yo Ma. One of the bars is playing in my head; a place holder of sorts. A bar I wish to compare in all three versions.

Am I loving Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia? More than I can say.

Seems I have to listen to Du Pré right this minute. (Tried pasting it here; not working, for some reason; it’s on youtube).Yes, she does the little skipping bow thing Rosropovitch does, and Ma doesn’t; hers is more subtle.

Need for space here. As in room, air. Cleaning out old files; throwing out old papers; finding bits of paper on which thoughts were jotted down, for future use; then lost. They show up again. Small ah-ha moments, same as when you find that damn piece of puzzle that kept eluding you.

Then… ah, please not to rush. Please to let the long-awaited character reveal himself. He’s lurked in other stories I’ve written. He was a juggler once, making a small boy laugh when there wasn’t much to laugh about. Or maybe he’s that juggler’s son? “Le bateleur” in French tarot card parlance. (In the desk clean-up, I came across the hand-drawn tarot cards I’d made once. Story has it the tarot de Marseille was the work of travelling artists, reworking ancient mythological themes and, possibly, using some of the cards as indications for setting up the stage.)

Perhaps I’ll even locate the large Russian playing cards I copied out on cardboard, a few years before the tarot?

An old thread, from way, way back. There’s red in it; yellow; there’s an old coat, appreciated by a few  moths over the years; embroidered.

Orderly conduct

In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir on December 26, 2011 at 7:53 am

the meander starting at one of the last pieces of writing on which I worked at the office, last Thursday: an edit on a summary of the first year of  a gardening project in this town – a place in which over sixty percent of the families live on six hundred euro a month, or thereabouts. The telling sentence in the document: there has been no vandalism in the vegetable and flower patches. In a town where decorative plants get uprooted on a regular basis and where low-grade types break into the Restos du Coeur food supplies days before the Christmas distribution – literally stealing the food out of the mouths of their own families? Rows of leeks, carrots and salads allowed to thrive and prosper is a huge victory of sorts.

Not that people don’t squabble over who gets the plot closest to the water supply; or whether so-and-so hasn’t planted two rows of corn in his neighbor’s allotted space. Eden shut down a long time ago, remember. Simply, the arguments don’t degenerate into violence; for one. For another, kids see their parents doing real work that  brings in tangible results; some of the children even get to discover the taste of their own sweat before sitting in the shade and eating a handful of fresh raw peas.

Why tyrants can’t stand disorder unless orchestrated by them: the answer is obvious. What moves people to protest or to civil disobedience; or to a quiet digging in of the heels; to reclaiming their right to say: this is acceptable, this I refuse. How communities organize – not at the overtly political levels; at the human scale of everyday behavior patterns. How to express these things simply. The power of passive resistance – which has nothing to do with passivity when you think about it. How you choose to live. What you choose to underline; what you choose to ignore, or  to work around.

Current reading: so far, the only two new books I haven’t dipped into are the Jack London and the Paul Auster. Reading of the others proceeds the way reading does over here: several pages or chapters in one book, a sentence or two in another. Set aside when something or other grabs hold and demands personal attention.

(Once you press Publish, WordPress posts a quote in a sidebar, these days. This morning, Erasmus says: “The desire to write grows with writing.”  True. Where you put your attention producing more of same, basically.)

First off: quality panettone, quality café au lait

In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir on December 25, 2011 at 8:39 am

First off, pull together some theme-related photo for the community blog. ’tis Christmas day, after all. There’s a sprinkling of frozen white stuff on some of the tiled roofs across the street – the dog being more interested in the baker’s panettone I’ve just opened. It is – hold on. Let me put it this way: you take a bite of this panettone? You never buy the boxed versions again, be they from the supermarket or a specialty shop. When she sold it to me, the baker’s wife explained the intricacies involved in getting the batter just right; the origin of the dried fruit providing the only source of flavoring; and more.  It’s every bit as good as she claimed.

Next up: opening the parcels I gift-wrapped yesterday. Yoiks. Panettone crumbs all over my papers and books on my writing desk. No matter. Presents. Let’s see; big parcel or small parcel first? Small parcel.

James Joyce. Dubliners. Open at random. P, 13: “The summer holidays were near at hand when I made up my mind to break out of the weariness of school for one day at least.”  Breaking out of weariness is always a clever move. Hail, James. Thank you, daughter mine.

Next. Big parcel. Wow! Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia, and Jim Harrison, Returning to Earth. Mucho mucho mucho merci, daughter mine.

The other parcels can wait because they are things I gift-wrapped after acquiring them myself. Three freebies: Paul Auster’s Moon Palace (in French);  Jack London, The Sea-Wolf; and D.H. Lawrence, St Mawr and The Virgin and the Gipsy. Plus a new perfume.

Voilà. This was Christmas Morning, brought to you live from Graulhet, France.

The best part occurring off stage when I dip into this book and that one, until one or another grabs and holds for some duration; then inspires personal musings, triggering reactions from some character or other; leading to some writing of my own, leading to more reading, more writing, more reading…

you get the drift.

All right. Now: first off, pull together some theme-related photo for the community blog.

Getting it right

In Drafts, Hautvoir on December 24, 2011 at 8:16 am

Why the reluctance? The question applying to wonderful experiences, and gruesome ones, both. Why the reluctance to move them up from inner world to outer expression in words, photos, paintings, drama, comedy, etc. A reluctance almost as powerful as the need to express them, somehow.

The whole dance between the need for privacy and the need for sharing; part of it.  More to the point: if not expressed well enough, the experience is devalued. Whatever made the moment special is lost. The telling turns as trite as an old greeting card. A powerful encounter seems overblown or ridiculous. Capturing the authenticity of the mood, the feeling, of those elements making up the unforgettable nature of an event, no matter what the event may be. Getting the values right.

Slept in the living room last night. Woke up with the slight (pleasant) disorientation caused by the unfamiliar. Eyes on the first thing I saw –  the wallpaper – I started tracing the pattern with my finger, the way children do. Memorizing through touch, smell and direction; even more powerful than visual memory because more ancient. Direction, as in spatial orientation of the various limbs. Pressure points, air flow. Touch – rough, smooth, pleasant, painful, warm, cold, hot. Smell – familiar, unknown, evoking pleasantness or the opposite. Finding the right mix of words to convey how those elements combine and play out.

The most interesting part of the writing yesterday: the meeting between two characters I hadn’t “planned” to introduce one to another. Not much, if anything,  is planned, at this point; at least, not at a conscious level. The encounter is interesting because, no matter how the story plays out, I know the woman isn’t afraid of this man. The rest of the scene needs revision, but, story-wise, that unexpected bit is the value-added element.


Rouge, blanc, noir

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music on December 23, 2011 at 8:14 am

Whichever fleas survived the onslaught on the dog ( spray) and on the floors ( white powder working itself into all the cracks) have migrated onto the bedding and the bed. This morning I scratch, therefore I know. Time to move on to the next phase in the operation: treating the bed, mattress, pillows, sheets, blankets; (catch my breath): night clothes,  day clothes; objects in contact with same such as chairs. Meaning I’ll be sleeping in the living room for most of the holidays. Yes, mustn’t forget the edges of the drapes: they touch the floor. The area rugs are outside getting soaked in the cold rain. Once dry, they’ll be the last to get treated.

I give as little thought as possible to the knowledge I have of the apartment below mine. A word to the wise: whenever feasible, before leasing an apartment, visit the landlord’s living space. No matter. It’s too late now, so the dog and I are on mission to maintain this as a flea-free zone in a flea-infested universe. We may not overcome; we may even have to accommodate an errant colony or two. They are hereby put on notice: you can run, but you cannot hide.

Can’t say I like fleas. Must say I admire their survival skills. Also: ridding a house of fleas is a superior form of housekeeping. What I mean by that? Housekeeping is annoying. Annoyances are a great stimulus to the imagination. Some of the characters come out with their best performances when I’m annoyed. What’s more: nobody says an annoying flea can’t be transmogrified into an annoying something else. Or a pattern of red stings on a leg into something more (or less) dramatic. Or those same sources of annoyance escaped through a glorious moment when your mind soars through the window; looks beyond the dismal, soggy day; and follows the lead given by the bit of music gurgling in your chest.

Music to eliminate fleas by? Certainly; be my guest (at a distance, I quite understand; given a choice, I’d keep my distance from them too.)

Photo and title not directly related to fleas (although Red, White, Black could be the title for a story featuring a flea-ridden bed). In reality, the photo exhibition of local works done in black and white  is titled : Dans le rouge (In the Red) and I liked the combination of red, white and black in the shot.


In Drafts, Hautvoir, Music on December 22, 2011 at 7:03 am

As I was leaving the office, I recognized the look on the woman’s face. Couldn’t help thinking I must pull a similar one while listening to some of the stories people tell me, at work or on the street. The look is a combination of sympathy; attempt at reaching for a solution behind the person’s words; impatience or suppressed anger when the story loops back into more of the same; or  when the person clings, as if the fact you had listened meant you were now responsible for finding the way out. (This last wins extra annoyance points when the person has just rejected whatever suggestions you had to offer, the way someone turns down every menu suggestion made by a helpful waiter.)

Preceded by uninhibited, burst-out laughing moments initiated by a three-year-old. Others during which I had to bide my time, not make waves, not start rumors nor get caught up in them, or temper hasty judgments – my own, or someone else’s. Others still when I didn’t give a damn because the mood was on sunny within; nothing life could throw my way would make a dent in it; inevitably followed, somewhere down the line by a moment of regret or worry over how uncaring my happy little comment may have seemed to someone in the throes of deep anxiety. Back to up, down, sideways. And so on.

Of such moments are first drafts made; at least, in this head. With this draft, I’m not yet at the point of lifting my head for a general sense of direction i.e. reading through from the top in a systematic way. Haven’t reached the point where some inner reader says it’s time to look back – although one character did just that last night.

This morning, two additional visual elements, and one musical: a moment with a mother and her daughter yesterday, explaining the meaning of the word repères – reference points – as applied to a land compass and to a clock (the little girl has a lot of trouble keeping her bearings when it comes to the chronological order of events); a wonderment moment on waking at the sight of the Sun Tunnel designed by Nancy Holt, and featured on today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (“today” meaning December 22nd 2011). Everything about the image appeals, including the reason for Holt’s devising of the Sun Tunnel, although what caught my eye was the extraordinary quality of light captured by the photographer.

The musical element being the song playing in my head when I woke up. Called L’eau vive (Running Water), it was written by songwriter Guy Béart, some time in the sixties or seventies, and refers to a fictional character by the name of Manon des Sources (later played by his daughter Emmanuelle Béart in one of the cinematic versions of Marcel Pagnol’s story.)

As usual, no idea what – if anything – will come of any of these elements, in my own writing.