Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page


In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision on May 31, 2012 at 5:15 am

My eye was more taken by the flowering of a wild plant on an old tannery wall – my first photo stop yesterday morning. At the foot of the hill, a man who has self-designated as photo assistant pointed out a flowering rosebush near the market square. “Nobody knows where those roses came from,” he told me. “Nobody knows how long before the petals fall off,” he added when I didn’t look inclined to stop and click. So, I stopped and clicked The Miracle of the Flowering Rosebush.  Of course, my photo assistant wanted to know if I’d caught photos of the white water rat yet. Yes indeed, I said.

More unexpected photo ops in front of my place of work. A book delivery at home; but first, an unknown young man pops his head out the window, a few houses down from where I live to start a conversation.

I stop there. The whole day was one of smaller and larger incidents, some running in parallels, others converging; in all cases, setting up patterns the mind itches to understand. Why this incident at this moment? What is relevant, what isn’t? How does the story flow? Whereto? Whose story? And so on.

The book: a gift in more ways than one. I’ll come back to it at some other time. Stopped reading at the end of page 49 last night. Dreams followed – how could they not?

The problem, as always, being one of choices. What to cull, what to develop further, story-wise. Then, back to real life: what is useful for this boy going on thirteen vs this other one vs this third boy in the same age group? Complicated lives. How best to find and make use of the patterns in them? The first boy faces the daunting task of forging his own creation myths since no one wants to tell him how or why he was  brought to this country in the first place. Yesterday afternoon, we played with words printed on bits of cardboard; choosing five at random and making up sentences with them. Useless sentences, for the most part, until one set of words inspired a powerful image. As an exercise, I then had him write a short letter based on this image. He chose to write a letter to Romain Gary, telling him his cousin was the child of a Greek god and would Monsieur Gary be so kind as to write up his cousin’s story and have it printed.

“Have you read anything by Romain Gary?” I asked him. No, but he’d read about him, he said.



In Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision on May 30, 2012 at 6:25 am

Two characters sewing and talking. Thrills and spills galore,  yes?

Not. Two female characters sewing and talking. Talking, the writer knows well. Sewing? Buttons and hems, in a pinch. Not an issue. The main problem with the scene? The usual: not going deep enough into who these two people are and what the payoff  will be for them, beyond sewing costumes and discussing significant others. In real life, both of those objectives would be sufficient onto the day; this is a scene in a story. When I start fidgeting while reading my own stuff, and thinking of things in need of doing elsewhere, the scene isn’t earning its keep.

No quick fixes in mind, mainly because this is revision time i.e. a time when quick fixes stand out and say: come on, you expect anybody to believe this when you don’t believe it yourself?

Getting through the banter, the evasions, the almost-said but not quite. Getting to the place where there’s some sense of the inevitable in these two people finding themselves in that place at that time. Those are the moments we remember in real life. The least a story can do is take us to the places where real things happen to make fictional characters reflect the time, love and energy spent on them.

So. Two women in a converted factory, sewing up costumes for a circus act. One of them wondering where she’s at in her relationship with a man and with a town.

And the other?

Notes for a Character Who Loves to Eat

In Drafts, Food, Hautvoir, Revision, Theater on May 29, 2012 at 6:01 am

Accepting some of the more basic things. For example: maybe some fabulous actress impressed this character to a decisive degree. Happened to be in a tragic role. The fact the actress was long, lithe and with a face like the Greek mask for same, made  tragic roles an accessible – if not guaranteed – career objective for her. The fact the character happened to be a roly-poly boy – his father, a butcher, his mother, main cook and cashier? Put a damper on his aspirations to follow in the footsteps of one Marie Casarès. Call it the Reality Principle. He adapted. His inner tragedienne didn’t so she’s part of the luggage he carries around somewhere in his one hundred and kilo bodily presence.

Adaptation. Evolution. Yesterday, a serious news source informed humans they share eight percent of their DNA with the villain virus. I burst out laughing. Imagined attacks of flu as attempts by villain virus to claim the remaining ninety-two percent of our genetic material. A fact of life I must accept: my inner tragedienne always gets interrupted by her understudy. Things are dire, times are fraught? Sometimes, yes, no doubt about it.

Bringing us to fundamentals concerning trauma, as applied to this and other characters in the present story: some events are tragic in themselves. Leave traces, change lives, redefine a landscape or a community. Fact. Once the initial shock and horror wear off: what then? How does the one still standing react once the bodies have stopped piling up?  Or he’s nursing his triple fracture from the rebound of the crashing car?  Will he fall down crying? Will a bird song grab his attention? Will he start angsting over his ruined sorrel sauce?  What will be the first impulse to show up as his personal statement of: Life Goes On.

A personal and untested hypothesis: Maybe there’s imp in that eight  percent of our viral makeup?

Don’t ask me why

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision on May 28, 2012 at 4:58 am

I don’t belong to any book clubs. Most of the books I read come from the local library. I read the paper edition of one literary publication supplied by a long-ago friend from Toronto; on occasion, I browse through others, online or at the bookstore.

I don’t belong to a literary circle, or to a writers’ group; read only one blog related to the craft; don’t know anyone on a first name basis in the publishing world. My direct contacts with agents consist of a handful of (well-deserved) rejections on previous manuscripts. In my spare time, I work on revision to another story I may work up to a point where I’m willing to send it out for another go at The Great Dream. The rest of the time, I work for my keep, and do what I can to figure out how to best handle my days, one at a time.

Stopped revision last night before tackling a scene in need of a lot of attention. At issue, as always: getting the mix and the tone right. Easier said than done.

Would I be a better writer if I were in regular contact with other writers, literary agents, editors and publishers? I’d be better informed, maybe; wouldn’t mean I’d do a better job of it, alone with my characters and the messy ways in which story evolves for me. Would I find quicker solutions to problems, be they in structure or plausibility or reader interest? Maybe. Don’t see much point in  pondering this any more often than I do already. Life is short; before I know it, a day’s gone by. In some cases, all I have to show for it are modified sentences, deleted paragraphs and a handful of improvements to a scene I may end up chucking out the window at a later point.

Nobody’s forcing me to do any of this. No publisher, no editor, no agent pushing me with a due date. A handful of readers on this blog. A few search terms relating to previous posts, my reading, my writing, my mind; the world around me. Either what I make of it all will interest someone from The Great Dream world some day; either it won’t. I’d rather it did; never set out to be a hermit or a lady-writer. Every day is a surprise; which is more than a lot of people around me seem to think. Plus, I’d rather be trying to balance out scenes in an imaginary town than trashing an abandoned house near the park, as a team of boys was doing yesterday afternoon. Given the previous visits, there mustn’t be much left inside at this point; from the sound of it, they were hacking down the inner walls, and ripping off paneling with crowbars.

Notes for a Character on his way to a Meeting Outside his Neighborhood

In Drafts, Games, Hautvoir, Revision on May 27, 2012 at 5:58 am

Becoming who he is. Some moments stand out right away. He doesn’t know why this person’s voice resonates but not that other’s; or why an innocuous-looking street scene holds his eye. Or that specific angled view; or the way one patch of clover looks interesting but not another.

Mistakes. Huge ones. No point in doing things half-assed. Gambles; all it takes is a winning one to wipe out even the memory of previous losses. Right?

Becoming who he is. Marbles. Tennis balls gone soft from too many whackings. There’s a tennis court across the street from where his parents have set up house that year. Whacking the soft tennis balls against a brick wall. Some of them still have some bounce in them. A kid whose face he can’t remember. Lives across the street, next to the tennis court. Owns a set of puzzles on a rigid material he’s never seen before. Plastic? Could be.

Walking. No family around. Just him, walking; the world flowing through. Some pieces stick. Why? Who knows. Something catches his eye. Gets added to the mix. He’s becoming who he is. A strange business, at times; scary, at others; sometimes, too great for words, as they say. He tries for words anyway. Remembers a red bicycle instead.

Old, Old Stories in New Clothes

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision on May 26, 2012 at 7:27 am

Not the story itself so much as the atmosphere. The moment sits outside the story right now. Will I work it into the structure as such? Not sure. What I know as fact (a fact? in fiction? One thousand percent yes): the story and the storyteller provided a decisive moment in the character’s life.

How old was she when the story first registered? Nine, or so. She must have heard it before, most of the women around her were from Algeria. What made the story meaningful that day? She’s in a crowded kitchen; the women are taking a break from preparing a wedding feast. They exchange gossip, impressions on the prospective couple,  predictions on their life together. Who starts re-telling the age-old story in such a way the young girl feels as if it was meant for her, and no one else?

Methinks the writer just received the answer to her own question. Methinks the character’s just taken on greater depth and definition.

Given the number of existing versions of that story, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover it originated in some of the oldest recorded material extant, and found its way into different cultures and civilizations, carried along by travellers, retold in countless guises. In all instances, the emphasis is on the exceptional nature of the calling leading a young girl away from the expected patterns of female behavior. A  perfect counterpoint to the atmosphere in the crowded kitchen that day, ten years earlier, when the girl was all  of nine years old.

Setting Out on a Clear Day in May

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, Revision on May 25, 2012 at 4:59 am

There was music playing in my head at one point in the night. Woke me just long enough for me to remember it this morning.

A good thing because, sometimes, if I have nothing but the immediate facts of my immediate daily life to keep me going, things can get depressing. The moments of zen, yesterday, were of the absurdist school of humor. There aren’t tons of people around  to even see the humor in a seventeen-year-old, dressed in all the latest fineries, giving lip to a receptionist because “you think a guy has time to wait on you people when he’s got court appearances and jail time schedules to juggle?”

Sad? Yes. But funny too. Tends to frame my own personal problems in a different light. Music. As much as I can find. Evening light playing through branches. As often as it’s available. Finding better ways to tell a story. Working through glitches. Knowing there are people who appreciate me, and people I appreciate right back. Knowing the soaring moments can’t be scheduled the same way as meetings, court appearances or jail time.

Not a whole lot with which to set out for another day? Maybe not; depends on the point of view. Besides, it doesn’t matter all that much. Setting out is one moment. Lots of others will show up, taking me up, down, sideways; down again, up again. Mine is a temperament given to atmospheric instability. C’est comme ça. I work with what I’ve got.

So. Revision, and revision, and more revision. Through it all, making sure not to lose the music and the light luring the characters onward through the thick, the thin, the downright nasty; the stupid, the boring, the unintentionally funny and whatever else life throws their way.

We should be seeing the sun today

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Now playing in a theater near you, Revision, Sanford Meisner on May 24, 2012 at 6:06 am

One of those moments when listening to someone else’s woes lightens your own. Theirs don’t take an ounce off your shoulders; but after the talk, you have a better sense of the load on theirs. Their story is familiar enough in its general outlines for recognition and empathy to set your head to nodding. You listen; throw in a few of your own problems; share a glass of water, or an apple (in this case, two strawberries from the community gardens). Come home and write the damn scene to whatever its conclusion may be.

A lot more work ahead of me if I want this to be the story as I’m best able to set it free and let it be, for better and for worse. The last few weeks have been tough – in story and outside of it. The up side: I’m getting a better sense of the levels of trust I can share with some of the people I know and like. Trust being one of those values where one size does not fit all. It’s not even a question of whether you want or don’t want to trust. More a matter of what you and the other person can share.

Of the better moments at work yesterday: the girl who’d punched her brother in the nose last week. They came in to the classroom hand in  hand. He helped his sister through her homework and asked if he could have a file on my desk too (so far, he’s not on my official ‘caseload’; he tags along). We chose the color of the file he’d like. I’ll check today to see if we can formalize the arrangement next week.

I’ll pass on the lesser moments; let them sift down and settle into material suitable for story, once the more personal issues have cleared away. Although the sad story of a twenty-something drifter and habitual liar will serve, either for one of the characters in this second Hautvoir story, or for another, in the third.


Walking in the Rain, with Occam and Cybèle

In Animals, Drafts, Film, Hautvoir, Revision on May 23, 2012 at 7:24 am

In one of the written notes I leave to myself – sometimes on my computer, sometimes on paper – the question I put to myself last night was about one of those chicken-and-egg questions: does art imitate life or does life imitate art? Which is about as useless a question as asking what matters most – nature or nurture.

Still. There are facts and there are interpretations. Once assembled, the facts may suggest several possibilities. If yours is an inquiring mind, you’ll want to test some of those possibilities, if only to eliminate them from an overcrowded field, and get a better fix on the few remaining options and – if life is in a good mood – on the one inescapable conclusion from which you can proceed without falling back into a bog of uncertainties.

Occam. A neurologist I once knew was fond of Occam’s Razor. Translated in the vernacular, Occam was of the K.I.S.S school of thinking i.e. let’s keep this simple, folks – at least, as simple as the facts will allow. In the Hautvoir story preceding this one, a boy going on twelve expressed his personal take on Occam as applied to the notion of distortions in the space/time continuum. In simple terms, he told his mother there’s always a straight path through everything.  The whole trick consisting in finding the damn thing before falling into widening gyres of delusional stuff of the Lost in Space School of Reality.

In the real world over here: a host of computer glitches, both at work and at home. Enough to feed three volumes of paranoia-induced horror stories – except neither paranoia nor Stalking Avenger-type scenarios appeal to me. Maybe because I find health a lot sexier. I’m a simple person. The clutch of anxiety, I dislike. The burn of hatred, I don’t enjoy. The obsessional itch for revenge does nothing but spoil moments better spent enjoying a walk with my dog or great conversations with friends – such as those we had last night while debating the pros and cons of a film maker’s recording images of private grief in public spaces.

But what if, the mind insists? What if a bunch of coincidences must be taken seriously? What if refusing to do so spells disaster through denial? All I know on that score is what life has taught me so far: A) disasters don’t ask for permission before landing or crashing down on people’s lives. B) real disasters are best dealt with in the moment than in lurid brain-on-hype mode, whether induced by legal or illegal substances.


Major/Minor keys, Active/Passive voices

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, Revision on May 22, 2012 at 6:21 am

A personal recollection : The man lived in dread of his family wanting for the essentials. Yet he refused to let his wife get a paying job, whether outside the house or as a phone sollicitor on surveys (although she managed to get paid a few times in that capacity in his final year; but he was losing his grip by then).

The number of unresolved issues in the household could serve as a case study in dysfunctionality. The issue of interest this morning being money or what happens when a kid from the wrong side of the tracks meets and marries the daughter of one of the town’s eminent members . Whatever else may complicate matters between them, the bottom line issues will be sex and money; add religion if they are not both from the same side of the pews within the same denomination.

Money. Not a topic I relish. In fact, it feeds mostly dread in me. I deal with money by not thinking about it; paying the bills, making sure to handle the most pressing first. End of line in my personal relationship with whatever coin rules the Realm. The newspapers last night were filled with reports on Facebook’s losses on the marketplace? Good, I thought. Yes, I know. Years ago, I’d have been hauled up in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. That’s OK. I happen to work with people others call bums, school drop-outs, small-time jailbirds, and losers. In story, I’m now stuck with a bunch of people angsting over their personal net worth in money terms. I’m having a hard time finding their angst interesting.

But I’m also coming up against one of the toughest questions of all: how does a character deal with circumstances where the odds against him are such he may as well forget about winning, let alone making  his point?  How does he keep going when there are too many forces against him; too many targets; too many ways of not striking the one nerve center in the beast that will paralyze it long enough to cause a reversal in fortunes? (The word fortune applying here to inner matters relating to personal satisfaction; if those translate into better chances at acquiring prized goods, I’m sure the main characters won’t balk at things such as new winter coats to replace the threadbare ones, and more supplies for their artwork.)

In song, the other day, we worked on a tricky chord change that takes the melodic line from a minor key to a major one. Which is basically what major characters have to achieve in a story. The how not always being as obvious as their need to keep going, no matter what the odds may be.