Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

The river as character in its own right

In Drafts, Hautvoir on February 29, 2012 at 7:27 am

I haven’t seen the movie that made the front pages of all French newspapers yesterday, and only remember the main actor in it from a French TV series based on a Québécois sitcom called Un Gars, Une Fille. Yet, I cut out the page dealing with it, in yesterday’s La Dépêche. Why? Maybe the story is apocryphal, maybe not; according to it, at a time when the movie couldn’t find a distributor in the States,   the film’s director told his wife he would put it out as a DVD so that the actors and the film crews could get to see their own performances. The rest of the article being the story of The Fabulous Rise from Nowhere of a quintuple Oscar-winning movie.

Do I see my own stories as achieving that kind of rags to riches success? In a tiny mind cubbyhole, what writer doesn’t? What made me cut out the page was something else.  The something being; you believe in what you’re doing? You stick to it. Success may come; or not. If it does, enjoy. If it doesn’t, you’ll have done what you set out to do in the first place.

In my case: that something is nailing the damn story right. How? By paying attention to it. By getting the mix of voices right. What is right, in this case? I can’t define it other than in that feeling of: yes, this is the sentence as it should read; same for the paragraph; same for the scene. Yes, this is where this incident should play; yes, this is the order in which the story tells itself.

Not there yet? No. The boys, for one. Which ones? Are some of them redundant? Would their presence make more sense in another draft – in which case they would become a passing evocation in this one, and no more ?

Meanwhile, the river meanders through that town; upstream, down, and the places in between.

Coping Strategies

In Drafts, Hautvoir on February 28, 2012 at 8:13 am

At age three. At age seven or eight. At eleven; at nineteen.

Later: late twenties. Mid-thirties. Forties. Fifties. Sixties. Later still. How you or your characters understand events in and around them. Relate to them. Deal with the hurts, the confusion, the truths, the lies, the less-than-candid accounts – be they their own or those of others. How you sort out tangled webs – or don’t. Who and what you choose to believe; why.

If reliable sources give conflicting versions of an event, how do you account for the discrepancies? If you can’t account for them,  how do you deal with the situation?

Never mind an event. What if reliable sources disagree about you, or about people you know well? What if no amount of digging will ever set the matter to rest completely, simply because the real-life players are dead and what everyone is claiming as their truth about them can’t be verified? What if confrontations, inquiries, investigations and third degrees simply don’t yield up the one version of the truth you most long for i.e. the one that confirms and comforts your own views about yourself, the world, and your place in it?

Scarier still: what if you’ve been lying to yourself and others all your life and must deal with that fact when you least expect it?

Sufficient unto the day? And then some. Yes, these were issues I was hoping to set aside until the next draft. The problem being there is no such thing as “the next draft” when the present one keeps shifting around for want of a place or a character taking on the shitty job of dealing with those unpleasant facts of life nobody wants to claim as theirs to cope with.

Yuck? Yuck. In local  news: daffodils started to bloom yesterday. Some  idiot managed four heists within a twenty-minute time span last Wednesday; only got a few hundred euro, plus his face on surveillance cameras for his efforts. At work, we were surprised to learn we didn’t know the man who done it; a few names had come to mind as the likeliest suspects. See?  The good, the bad, the true, the false. Some parts are easy; some, not so much.

Too Many Cooks

In Drafts, Hautvoir on February 27, 2012 at 7:20 am

I stopped writing – and reading – last night when I reached the point summarized by the title. Both in story, character-wise, and outside story, with real-life characters, there was too much information coming at me; too many points of view; too many leads, clues, conflicting messages – like those on some streets where parking privileges are so complex you’re bound to pick up a ticket before you’re finished reading through all the signs.

A poem might help right now. Or the remembrance of one; a few brief lines by Octavio Paz. A few brief moments away from the din.

Back to school for the children; back to work for me. In pré de Millet yesterday afternoon, three daffodils and four dandelions made a break for it. A grumpy man walked by with two grumpy children and said: “it’s way too early for blooms.” Which opinion didn’t seem to bother the flowering ones even a bit. They had their moment in the sun; I enjoyed the sight. Good enough for a pleasant moment of real living on a Sunday afternoon.

A lot of crazies running loose in my draft; I’d say no more than in real life, considering some of the astounding things I hear, both in the office and out on the street. Keeping some semblance of structure through it all. I’m not addicted to admin forms and books of regulations, I say music and poetry provide the best guidelines. Listening; stepping away from the screen, from time to time; walking; sorting through the voices in my head.


In Drafts, Hautvoir, Maison du Pré Millet on February 26, 2012 at 8:34 am

Until last Friday afternoon, walking with my dog in pré de Millet was one of the better moments for one simple reason: the dog ran around, rolled down the incline, sniffed at every tree. I walked around, checked on the mushrooms (in season), the daffodils (now sprouting), sorted out thoughts, feelings, real life hurts or pleasures, story lines. When the dog was through with her part of the walk and I was ready to go home? We walked back up to the road, and proceeded on our way.

Pré de Millet has become more complicated because someone now waits for the dog and I to appear. That someone then comes out on her small terrace and starts waving her arms in earnest, for fear we might miss her presence. I’m happy to spend some time with my eighty-three year old namesake; happy to listen to her talk about deceased husbands (two), children, grandchildren, memories of old hurts and old pleasures. I’m not so thrilled to be considered the sister she never had and whom life has now delivered on a platter – especially if this means every single visit to pré de Millet must of necessity become a visit to Renée Lucie’s room. Planned Parenthood should be expanded to include planned brotherhood and sisterhood, too.

Personally, I find friendships easier to navigate than  all the expectations placed on parents, children, relatives and other kin. A friend goofs? You say: that was pretty stupid. The friend agrees or disagrees. You argue, or you laugh. Case closed. You call a friend, and say: forget about me for the movie tonight; I’m zonked and want to stare at the walls instead. The friend says OK or asks if you want company or tells you off for wasting a ticket he/she could have passed on to somebody else. No big deal; you’re still friends the following morning. The friendship lasts while it lasts – which may be a few months or the better part of a lifetime.

Is losing a friend easier than losing a relative? No. In some instances, losing the friend can be tougher. You chose the friend; the friend chose you. When the pieces don’t fit anymore, you’re stuck with a  major re-appraisal of who and what it was all about.

A man’s best friend turns on him. Crosses the street to avoid talking to him. Sides with people for whom the man has nothing but contempt. That’s where the story stands in my mind this morning. Plus, the image of pieces of glass, forming a pattern that will never, ever be seamless.

Simple(r): not as in simplistic. As in: to each story its own complications. Enough material in this rough draft for at least another go-round in Hautvoir after this one is done.

Sufficient Unto the Day

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Music on February 25, 2012 at 8:57 am

Bearings. Whatever they may be. Singing, communing with a favorite animal, walking, doing small talk with a neighbor, the baker, a co-worker, a new acquaintance. Whatever.

Family Dramas turning into toxic sludge. Relationships gone stale or sour or missing. Festering psychic wounds. Resentful silences filled with unanswerable koan – the silences themselves providing a breeding ground for nightmares, further misunderstandings, compounded errors etc etc etc ad infinitum.

When all else fails? Music. Plus, the company of people whom I appreciate and who reciprocate in kind. In other words: friends, whether real or fictional.

Voilà. I’ll go with that for now, and may the day’s singing, writing and other occupations be sufficient to the task of making the best of whatever living provides as raw material.

Plus: crowbars and long poles

In Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir on February 24, 2012 at 6:29 am

The blue in the dream had nothing to do with that of gendarmerie cruisers; they are a peculiar shade with none of the luminosity I associate with that color.

In the dream, it was a shade of sky blue applied as a wash over plywood leaving the grain of the wood apparent. Yes, a shade close to the one in the shot above where it veers the closest to the rooftops.

Getting to the center of Hautvoir; or finding a way around the roadblocks to reach a specific destination. Trying to find out what’s going on; in the dream, the sky blue plywood was a sliding door into a washroom of European dimension i.e. half the size of a small North-American one. Physical spaces; how they affect your view on things.

Read an almost-novel last night, written by a Bulgarian woman who was a teenager when the Soviet block crumbled. The reconfiguration of the vast public squares into commercial playgrounds filled with bars. The habits of a lifetime, made obsolete in a matter of weeks. The shock of discovering her Left didn’t match up to that of her Leftist friends in France. After the leaden times of collective thinking, the slow learning of what being an individual means in terms of personal joys and responsibilities.

A new “pupil” showed up yesterday, sent by an agency for temporary workers: a Spaniard, in France less than a month. I spoke slowly in French; he answered me slowly in Spanish. In some aspects, the two languages are close enough for that to be possible. I’m not surprised the agency sent him over. They want to send him out on construction jobs; everything about him says he wants to work and doesn’t stint on time or effort. We shook on the following deal: two private sessions a week for one month, after which he must be up to speed for the group lessons.

Ah. Construction. Plywood. Building materials. The shadow of a tree on the construction site at the local hospital. Roadblocks. Approaching the familiar from unfamiliar angles. Separations. Reunions. Missed opportunities. New ones.

Deeper into the Land of the Second Draft

In Drafts, Hautvoir on February 23, 2012 at 8:45 am

No guaranty  concerning the end result, but the story begins when the characters can’t race around the stage anymore. Meaning: rough draft? Improv. The characters get to blather, rant, rave, emote, fall down, soar – they get to put on as much of a show as they want, or can. At some point (including a lot of words that will get cut out), the emoting gets repetitious or the characters run out of energy. Meaning: time to move into second draft i.e. shaping some of the rough draft (or drafts) into whatever I – meaning, the writer – can make out of the whole mess. Something like the way someone walks into a babel of voices and says: “you, over there; give me your version; now,  you, tell me how it played; hold on, no, please, I’ll hear your version next, let’s just hear out what…”

The truce either holds or it doesn’t.

In any event, writing is a lot slower from the second draft onward. There’s something inevitable setting in. Something that says: we’ll either get to the bottom of this or we won’t, but not a single character will come out of the experience unscathed. If a character seems to get away with a biggie, chances are story will catch up with him or her the next time a rough draft gets going.

The smell of greasepaint. Still pervaded the dance studio when I snapped a photo at the end of yesterday. Raw energy; raw emotion. Shaping it, the way you would work with clay, or paints, or movements, or sounds.

In story: a riot breaking out. What do the characters know of it at that moment. To which character should the writer pay attention next? Only certainty: contrary to made-for-television action movies, life is lumpy and doesn’t give too many opportunities for overhead shots from an All-Seeing one, somewhere out in space.

Not that I was short of subject matter, you understand…

In Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music on February 22, 2012 at 7:50 am

Picture it: early morning, after a good night’s sleep. Usual morning thoughts about organizing the work day; resolving a few outstanding issues from the previous one, maybe, or planning ahead for events scheduled later in the week. There’s a knock on the door or someone rings the doorbell. “Who is it?” you ask,  peering through the spy hole without seeing anyone. No answer. Intrigued, you open the door. Before you know it, a clown in full outfit springs forward and squirts water in your face out of his phony lapel flower.

“Welcome to the day!” he says, before breaking into “Dai-Dai-Dai-Daisy, beautiful Daisy, you’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore!”

Good morning, one; good morning, all. Read some more out of Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia last night. Chapter 19, to be exact, dealing with Rythm and Keeping Time, and the confirmation through inquiry that setting tasks (any tasks) to a musical rythm improves performance in spectacular ways. The sing-songs of childhood play or learning? The alphabetical lists of medical terms, set to a punchy beat? Or, as Sacks discovered in extremis, “rowing” yourself down a mountain with a severe leg injury, to the singing of The Volga Boatmen? These, and more, are some of the unexpected benefits of music.

(I break now to search youTube for Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, also quoted by Sacks in Chapter 19. Back soon.)

Ah yes, I see how that would work. (For the what and for the why? Read Sacks’ Musicophilia, and find out.)

Outrage, someone wrote. In my case, the word that got me going this morning is a spam filter find; one of those crazy automatic translations from approximate Chinese into discombobulated English. The word recombines parts of “ridiculous” and of “ludicrous” into the delightful word: ludicorous. As effective as a clown squirting water in your face when you least expect it.

Brave New Worlds

In Drafts, Hautvoir on February 21, 2012 at 7:28 am

The artificial kind is human in the sense of its origins i.e. devised by humans, automated search engines plow through millions of lines of code, and fire off like/like messages when they ping on something they’re designed to identify.

Comparing ivy to an iron corset two days ago: is that what triggered the appearance of search terms directing me to a full page of Google items relating to bondage? Will typing the word “bondage” lead to more of the same appearing as search terms, or emails? More than likely, as a gendarme explained and demonstrated to me two weeks ago. In this brave new world, automated responses invade every space they can find, firing off invitations to every possible assortment of the beautiful, the gruesome and the just-plain-crazy. “Spring morning”? Take your pick from anything from a tone poem by Delius, to lines from an A.A. Milne poem, to a band, to over-saturated photos of nature in its photoshopped splendor.

How do you keep yourself from going nuts when you add unsolicited phone calls ranging from offers for discount funeral services, new roofing, frozen foods or the best offer yet on twelve cases of premium quality, super-duper wine? You can’t block phone solicitations in this country. Your only option is to kill the ring tone on your phone, and miss real phone calls to be rid of the phonies.

Re-centering. All the time. On what matters now. To you, as a living, breathing human being, not as an automaton. To the characters as they make their way through the messy circumstances story throws at them. What matters. How it matters – not in someone else’s vision. A young woman on the phone the other day, insulted when I said “no thank you, I have no time for your sales pitch, good luck to you.” – “But Madame,” she said, “I have a quota!” – “In that case, don’t waste your time on me,” would have been the appropriate response; but I didn’t have that much time to waste myself. They call during your lunch break. They call just before the evening news on French TV. They  call during the breaks for ads.

Orchards are alive with the sound of bees and fruit flies. Bogs hum and buzz to those of black flies and mosquitos. The web is beset by automated spiders; the phone lines by automated dialing systems. You pick up the phone. When you’re lucky, a message kicks in: “An important call! Please hold the line!” I don’t mind hanging up on an artificial voice. The real ones disturb me; my imagination kicks in. I start visualizing who they are,  how they live, what their options are.

Meanwhile, one (1) young girl is on her way to discovering: one (1), placed in front of seven (7) is called seventeen (17) whereas the other way round is called seventy-one (71).

The Sound of a Sax Player in a Deserted Metro

In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir on February 20, 2012 at 7:44 am

Store-bought costumes? All told, two or three: one two-year old pirate, one Sir Galahad in the same age group, and one pouty pink Princess who complained because nobody wanted to dance with her. The rest of the adults and children were in get-ups contrived for the occasion, the most prevalent being long strips of colored fabric on poneys and humans alike.

As for the entertainment, no one will report on it in the local or in the international media. People danced and paraded to the sound of one steel drum, one clarinet, two trombones and two drums. After which the children demonstrated their acquired skills in trick riding, somersaults, walking and/or running on stilts, and back-pedaling on a unicycle. City Hall provided juice and cookies. The grand finale: three local circus artists demonstrated their acquired skills in trick riding. The battery on my camera conked out. If I tell you the two hundred or so participants in Graulhet’s carnaval had fun, you’ll have to take my word for it.

Ignoring the cheers, the hoots, the scattered applause, the “bravos” that spook the horse. Using performance as a better way to practice (I think Sonny Rollins was the one who said that.) You fail; they jeer? Good for them. You succeed; they go wild, and want more? The only question to ask yourself: do you have more to give? You don’t? You bow, say thank you, and take care of the rest of your day.

Writing the way street artists perform. For one person; for a small knot of people; for nobody in particular. A better way to practice. Period, full stop.