Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Good Old “Nel mezzo del cammin”

In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision on April 30, 2012 at 7:31 am

Ever get socked? Struck when you didn’t expect it – or make that struck, period. Even if you’re expecting it, the experience knocks out your preconceptions.

Getting socked. Or struck by a vehicle. Or attacked by an animal. Or by a human, or two, or three.

Part 1

First up: surprise. You didn’t see the fist coming, or the car, or the dog, or the idiots out for a good time.

Next, depending on temperament: a rush of panic or of anger or the urge to plead for mercy.

Then: pain.

Next? Depends how bad the pain. Depends where you are. Depends if you’re still conscious. Depends if your best bet is to go limp and stay that way or to attempt an escape or a diversion. Depends what it is, who they are. Depends.

Part 2

The aftermath. The physical, the emotional. Body aching, mind reeling. Dealing with the mess. Making sense out of what happened, no matter how senseless it is. One way or another, the story’s no longer the same. The event becomes a pivot; there’s before the attack or the accident, during (the briefest part,) then, after. If you thought yourself invulnerable before, you know that was a lie. If you think yourself helpless after,  you know that’s no longer the case.

Grappling with your own slithery mind. Falling into obsessive patterns. Pulling yourself out of them. Taking control of your own life again.

Part 3?

Ah. Good question.

“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita…” : the first line in the first book of Dante’s Divine Comedy. (The writer’s looking for shortcuts to the second book because the first is one hell of a bummer.)


In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision on April 29, 2012 at 7:35 am

In those days, I had disposable income. The Writers’ Conference was the fulfillment of a dream. A fabulous experience; never before had I been with so many  people who wrote and published; nor of so many others who wrote and hoped to be published some day; not to mention all the others who talked about writing some day soon. I went through a few attacks of hero worship – in some cases, worshipping the status more than the writer or his writing. Several of the workshops I found as boring and useless as school lectures or, worse, talks for geeks by technology experts. Most of all, I did there what I do everywhere: I walked around, I watched, I listened, I took mental notes and written ones too.

Time. Should have plenty of it today; over here, people don’t  phone or drop by without warning on Sundays. Time to follow individual characters in the story; to see where they’ve been and what they’re up to. Where the fantasy train went off the tracks or got bogged down. Time to sit in different chairs, taking in bits of different books. Time to let some parts of the draft burn themselves away, or reveal things I didn’t even know were there.

The characters. What they make of what they see. Just as  valuable: what they make of what they can’t. How they fill in the gaps; how they make sense out of the hodge-podge life throws at us every day. What they discard. What they value.

Going There

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision on April 28, 2012 at 7:49 am

One of those moments when both the character and the writer are in perfect alignment. As in: both willing to cover for the other. As in: we get our cover stories right, and we don’t budge from them.

As in: the character doesn’t want to go there, and the writer doesn’t want to write about it.

Eh. As in: gee, too bad. How about we pretend we were out for a stroll; happened to skirt the area; kept our eyes to ourselves; and went on our way, discussing – oh, whatever, so many topics to choose from.

Shying away isn’t smart. At least half the time, it gets you into worse trouble than the one you were trying to avoid – as demonstrated by one sad mess of a local guy, recently. It’s tempting anyway, because sometimes you get to put off the inevitable. As everyone knows, the familiar pain of a toothache can seem like your best buddy, if the dentist happens to scare the hell out of you.

Not that facing the problem is always smart either. Taking on a solitary and unarmed coward is one thing. I laughed with someone last night when she told me about the guy who fled when she turned around in the middle of the footbridge (late at night) and asked him  where he was from and if he liked the town. Maybe he thought he was about to get raped by a seventy-eight year old lady who weighs less than many a sixteen-year old?

Taking on a bunch of cowards i.e. a bunch of people even more scared than you are, on their own turf. Ah. A different issue. For starters, size won’t help you. A black belt in martial arts may be  useful but, unless you’re in a Kung-Fu movie, you get rushed from behind while tackling the ones in front of you? You don’t fare all that well.

All right. Places in need of a visit.

I’d rather go to the ceramics exhibition in Giroussens.

Photo: ultra-specialized equipment required for tackling a scene I don’t wish to visit.

Good Times

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision, RLB trivia on April 27, 2012 at 6:16 am

It was a laptop, that much I remember. What woke me from the dream was the fact I’d shut it down, and left it plugged in to recharge the battery. The deep symbolism of the dream becoming apparent the minute I type out the words: yep, I’m off work for five full days. In my wildest fantasies, all the nasties get arrested, but not only: they see the error in their ways, make amends and discover life has more to offer than ugliness, violence, then more of same.

In other words, I’m overdue for time off and the satisfaction of knowing I’m stocked up on food, with living quarters clean and pleasant again.

Balance. I keep coming back to that word. Not balance as some static thing; not balance as in relentless forces applied to unmovable objects. Balance as in dance; balance as in health. Balance as in  movement toward, and movement away from. Balance as in finding the inner spring that makes a surly kid – aka the little tough guy – start smiling and make large, looping letters across the whiteboard; stop in mid-letter and tell you he became an uncle for the fifth time today and guess what? They named the baby the way he’d suggested. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to balance out tons of ugliness. Why? I don’t know.

Free and Unscheduled R&R – Prep

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision on April 26, 2012 at 6:41 am

The break. The moment when you’re out of there:  the bubble bursts, and  all the heavy, the unavoidable, the predictably awful can carry on without you.  You are no longer in charge of solving whatever problem is thrown in your direction. Better yet? There’s an updraft. You get to feel light again – a bit foolish and giddy even.

Of course, when that happens in real life, the scene takes care of itself. Whether it makes good reading or good entertainment for anybody else doesn’t feature as a concern. Achieving the same thing in fiction. Finding the updraft when nothing in the preceding scenes suggests there could be cause for real light-heartedness to land on any of the characters.

How can it happen? To which one? Out of all the dire and the dreaded, where’s some good stuff lurking, unsuspected? Obvious ploys such as cute puppies or babies not allowed. No dopehead is entitled to one Sudden Free Revelation. No landings by Godmothers, fairy or otherwise, Santa Claus, or a TV host proclaiming you the winner of the windfall lottery  i.e. the writer isn’t allowed any of the predictable breaks from the realm of advertising.

Who, what, when, where and how. Forget the why. There’s no explanation to why bad stuff happens so who needs one for the better  moments to land, from time to time?

Yes, posting a poster for a concert on the Presidential candidates’ billboards is probably illegal. Gouging out the eyes of one of the candidates’ printed  image? Eh. What are political posters for, if not for added mustaches and other embellishments?

No, the photo doesn’t provide the updraft moment in story; not even close. Every little bit helps to get there.

Prelude to a Scene

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision, Sanford Meisner on April 25, 2012 at 6:16 am


The jottings last night aren’t a scene yet. Preludes to a scene, yes, but not a scene. Yet.

A complicated day, dealing with complicated lives. In the evening, during a meeting, a brief moment of breaking through a lot of nonsense of the picky-picky-picky variety. The discussion started off sounding like a simple matter:  a)what to charge in the overhead; veered into b) should there be a separate line item to cover travel expenses; before landing in c) if the person generated the contract in the first place, does she still have to pay the overhead to the collective to which she belongs? At which point, we finally arrived in d) the person was accepting contracts that were costing her money, instead of generating needed income for her (and for the collective).

Money. A complicated topic; made even more complicated in this country because you’re not supposed to talk about it unless you’re crass beyond redemption.

Back to the jottings for a scene. Whose family honor. Whose money. Who sets the rules? What happens if you defy them? Beyond those principles that  seem obvious to like-minded people – racial and gender equality, for instance, or respect for the values of other cultures and/or creeds – how do you handle obvious disconnects with the opinions and practices of people who are like-minded in different ways? People who don’t agree with your values, for instance? People who consider violence not only an acceptable option but a justifiable way to get respect for their world view? Said respect may amount to imposed silence of the permanent kind; the fact doesn’t change anything to the winner’s world view. He or she made the point, and it stuck.  On to winning the next argument.

At the heart of violence: fear. The largest, submerged part of the iceberg: the fear inside the perp. How best to treat the scene in that context, knowing it’s crucial to some of the events that happen later in the story.

Motivating Soggy Job Applicants in a No-Job Market

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision on April 24, 2012 at 5:46 am

Truth in advertising: the chairs were ugly before. In my opinion? Ugliness does not yield to a slick of paint and a potful of dye. Some objects start off ugly and stay that way. Such is the fate of ugly chairs.

However.  Beautifying the chairs wasn’t the main objective to the workshop. Just as yesterday morning’s workshop wasn’t really about identifying three of your strong points and three of your lesser abilities. The main point, in both cases: getting people to do something instead of waiting for the Fairy Godmother’s arrival and/or to put a name to their own experiences, finding specific instances when they demonstrated those qualities or those quirks. This, as a preliminary step before tackling the dread cv and the monstrous lettre de motivation – the document outlining Why You Want This Job which is a required ritual in this country, even if your ambition is to land a job mopping floors at the supermarket in the middle of the night.

The finer moments were few, yesterday. Glad I grabbed sunshine on new fig leaves in the morning because that was the end of the sunshine; again. Yes, this has a lot to do with story because in the fictional town of which I write, you have to keep your eyes peeled for the good moments, the odds being stacked in favor of annoyances both great and small. I don’t have to search far and wide for inspiration.

So. Outside? Rain, more of. In story? Revision of the slow, slow kind. At work? Hm… G and A have the mystery of multiplying by three almost solved. It’s not all about building empires in a day; true. However. I’ll have my eyes peeled for a few real fall-down laughing moments today. All this rain gets to a person.

The title: my job description at the moment. Perfect as prep for some of the scenes coming up for revision. Eh. You use what you’ve got.

Better Nonsense

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision on April 23, 2012 at 6:42 am

Maybe it’s a part of the story I’ll have to  delete or re-work even  more. Maybe I’ll have to ask one of the characters to leave the story completely or move way, way back in it. Maybe. Maybe not.

Setting aside eventual – therefore, hypothetical – readers, for the time being: the problem with that thread of the story is how far-fetched it seems, even for me, the writer. The fact real life has yielded up experiences even wilder and more unbelievable being a point of great interest, should ever a real life person want to hear about some of them. But story isn’t about real life. Meaning: it has to seem a whole lot more believable than real life will ever manage. Even the far-fetched has to seem inevitable. If it doesn’t, it goes clunk.

How to solve? I don’t know yet. Maybe Monday morning in a work setting will offer some possible… ah,  yes, more than likely (just thought of a real-life person who hangs around the office, and whose take on reality is at odds with everybody else’s; hold that thought).

Maybe I should write out for myself the real-life story inspiring some of the nonsense in that thread of the fictional one. Come to think of it, it’s a story in which ice-encrusted, treacherous steps feature in a starring role. The setting: a bland, generic hotel near an airport. Main characters: an uber-pompous politician and his handlers. The treacherous steps: in actuality, driving away from the meeting in some of Montreal’s ugliest winter road conditions.

If I get that out of the way, maybe fiction will get a chance to play better.

“En la mar, en la mar…”

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, Revision, RLB trivia on April 22, 2012 at 7:17 am

The rythmic shift is subtle. In salsa, the accent falls on the beat. For a cumbia, “pretend you’re walking in water,” Cha says. In other words, hold back a little, giving it a slight drag, and shifting the rythm just a smidge off beat. When you’re singing, you feel the difference right away.

Walking against the tide; or in a strong head wind. There’s a presence; you feel it. It can be exhilirating, tiring, scary, maybe a bit of all three. In revision, I feel it when some of the scenes I’d written start moving around, as if attracted to one another by an invisible magnet. Ah-ha. This is where the piece fits. Or is it even better – ah-ha. This works.

Then, of course, nothing else fits from that point onward.

It’s slower going;  in many ways, even more exciting than the first drafts because now, the characters are real. Whatever happens to them, matters.

In real life, the first vote in the Presidential election today. Weather’s clearing up. I hope those who have the right to vote, do.

(Title: “in the sea, in the sea” – the first words in the chorus of a cumbia we started learning yesterday).


The real thing

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision, Sanford Meisner on April 21, 2012 at 7:23 am

The balance. In the scene itself; then, in its relationship to what came before, and what follows.

There’s history now. Rushes of words, rushes of feelings; disconnects, others stepping in at cross-purposes to my own intents in telling whatever story I thought I  had in mind; further misunderstandings. Characters have quit, or been fired, have gotten dumped or asked for a divorce; they’ve had an accident, or fallen sick; their best friend ‘s been murdered and/or their life is an unending slog so tedious and familiar they feel like the invisible sleepwalker surrounded by vibrant, successful types who’d grab their seat if they could – and just might, if they don’t find a way to make their presence apparent to others.  Whatever.

The first, second, third – possibly fourth – draft have covered all the familiar territory of my own obsessions, both current and long-standing. I’ve got more than enough material – a lot of it, I realize, nothing but a placeholder for something better still in need of discovery; or an entrenched attitude standing in the way of a fresh look at the Same Old.

Case in point: the next scene coming up for revision. How to be a character for whom I experience as much natural sympathy as I do for a few Presidential incumbents here, in Russia, and in a few other places. How do I “play” a politician far removed from any of my personal favorites while letting him do his own attempt at letting his little light shine on his view of his central position in the History of the Universe?

Breath. How the person projects the voice: from the belly? from the chest, the throat, the nose, the top of the head?

Does he address the person standing in front of him? Or does he speak to the image of himself he wishes to project?

(Sidebar 1: would magazine icons hold the same power if we could hear their voices outside  the scripted bits?)

(Sidebar 2: public solitude – doing it right, when the natural inclination would be for utmost privacy instead.)