Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page


In Animals, Current reading, Drafts, Revision on January 31, 2013 at 7:14 am

dismay; the kind of word that makes me want to reach for etymology as a handle. Making sense out of bits and pieces. Reading The Echo Maker: a contributing factor. Should add the word cowed, here. Funnier in context, if you’ve read the novel.

All right; let’s add unsettled to the list. Confused? Also good. Things/events seeming to take on a certain shape; then, nothing. Throw the dice again. Look outside. Foggy morning;  yesterday, spring-like. This morning: pay-back time for an afternoon spent with a makeup artist. First, she had to sort through three thousand five hundred contacts to cull out old email addresses and phone numbers. Writing isn’t her thing; I promised to help with the text on her website.

The story? Nowhere right now. No, not nowhere: still staring into the void. Dismayed. Perplexed. I’ll run through a dictionary of synonyms.

Sadness, yes; always on hand, free for the asking. Loss, and so on. Any point in exploring that part of the woods again?

Story. The horse farm; don’t want to go back there? In its present incarnation that’s where the story begins.

Several no-shows yesterday. I spent some of the time taking photos of an old industrial sewing machine. “It just reminds me,” Mark says at the scene of his accident, unable to put into words more than that prescient feeling of something wishing for  meaning. A missing piece somewhere, floating about in search of a place to dock.

Plus, quick note to self yesterday: randomness, the brain’s recess time. A chance for new ways to connect the obvious.

Add: disconcerting.

These vagrant lines

In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Music, Revision on January 30, 2013 at 8:01 am

Like looking over the edge of a cliff. The story in revision goes

… with no time to work on it much today. Plus, not enough sleep in the system. Not wise, coming home from rehearsal and picking up a book “just for a few pages”.  I didn’t stop reading; my brain did. Hence, the drop  off a cliff feeling. One second, you’re taking in a sentence, and connecting it with all that came before. A millisecond later, the abrupt feeling of not-there-anymore. Not wise but  in The Echo Maker Richard Powers has introduced Gerald Weber and his wife Sylvia into the mix. Weber’s met Mark, and this reader’s hooked.

What else? A real life campfire burning in the night. Voice-by-voice breakdowns on some of the songs we perform in concert to sound out the flaws, discordant notes and such. Starting practice on an old reggae number for the finale with the other groups on stage. Reading up on an old friend that’s been with me for over thirty years now. All I knew about the sculpture when I chose it:  its point of origin in Africa. Central Africa covers a lot of territory.

Ah yes. I’d forgotten: cliffhanger. The contrived ones: a case of rushing forward to escape some discomfort, some dread or some uncertainty. But some characters are like that. Good thing, too; without them, the writer would stare down into the blankness for a long, long time.

The title: among the first words to line up in sequence for me this morning. The first being: a supplement of soul.

further note to me: the dog; missing in several instances when he should be in the scene, even in an unobtrusive way.

A name

In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Revision on January 29, 2013 at 8:44 am

Names. A big, big deal depends on them. I’ve considered giving this character the family name of the author of a cookbook called La Cuisinière Alsacienne. But Spoerlin isn’t right. Waechter might work; but no, his father’s side of the family would have gallicized the patronym. Family  history lives on in names.

I thought this character came from Mulhouse. Close, and the town features in the family story; the flag and the emblem matter a lot. But he was raised in a smaller place in the area, one with direct access to the woods. There’s a smell of green sap and pine pitch. Pine pitch, yes. Important. Plus soup, and his mother’s cooking.

Back to the flag and the emblem. Decisive moments. Something connects; sets someone on a path. May look like wandering; may seem to zig-zag and loop back; may hit dead ends. The connection says: not there yet, keep going.

Ah yes. Plus: the measuring device used by  his father when figuring out the market worth of a stand of trees. The formula; I noted it down somewhere when my previous landlord explained it to me. Circumference (C) x Height (H) x trees per square meter x some magic number =  y linear meters of milled planks. Or something.

Plus: his mother’s cooking, of course. Plus? Colmar, for some reason. Wood and metal.


Structure, again, and again, and again

In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Music, Revision on January 28, 2013 at 5:40 am

The story – at least, the one I thought was in the process of writing itself: best compared to a shipwreck at the moment.

Seeing as the shipwreck is metaphorical, the writer shows up to attempt yet another blog entry before attempting…

Nothing much, at least, not right this minute. A recollection of the dream that started the process; the woman in that dream did lead me further and further away from the traveling circus, didn’t she? Yes she did, children. Instead of leading toward the road, and following the merry, colorful band, she drove me into a town, and speeches in a town hall by solemn ones. Many ways to get lost; few of them lead to the open road.

Driving to the concert Saturday night. The energy of purpose. The focus performance brings, no matter the venue. Ours is a local choir of amateur singers led by a professional actress and composer. A few of us have decent jobs for rent and food money; the others get by with a lot of help from their friends. This is my world and my life now. Now is the only place where things can happen.

Choosing. Who leads. Who handles the time, the basic beat. Who gets barred from improvising; who gets denied solos. Who handles the solos; who takes the grace notes. Who holds what note, who doesn’t.

A song lasts anywhere between a few seconds short of two minutes up to almost five. A good song leaves you wishing it would last forever; but it mustn’t.

One, Two, Three

In Drafts, Music, Revision, Theater on January 27, 2013 at 8:51 am

Which is best: rehearsals, showtime or the jams that follow? Hard-pressed to say. Showtime has an energy all its own – the extra edge that says you can’t goof this time; or, if you do, you’d better find some way to make it part of the act. After the show – what can I say? The songs that didn’t fit into the set; the songs nobody wants to hear, except your buddies; the riffs on songs, half  the words to which nobody remembers.

Rehearsal, I’ll have plenty of time to explore. We’ll be having two per week until the next concert, end of March. The featured artists in that concert: on their way up to Paris this week for a four-day gig – where? In the  Métro. You audition for those gigs, I’ll have you know. Get issued your official pass; race the other acts to the best venues, and hope to do better than covering your traveling expenses.

The highlights after our set: a fabulous interpretation of Lhasa de Sela’s Llorona by another singing group. Plus, the clown. Perfection, he was. His act was so good, so well-timed in every detail, I would love to watch him through a rehearsal. He made three appearances on stage. The first, in a short sketch titled La Rigolade; the second, in La Magie; the third, with the apt title La Fin told everybody it was soup time. Except the huge pots of steaming chorba had to wait for encores of the Ukrainian Lullaby, Soledad and Bubamara, and another throat-catching run through Llorona.

The play itself? Rated a meh in my sensibilities. Some of its excesses serving as cautionary signals as I make my way back to the equivalent of rehearsal for a writer: draft, revision, more revision, yet more revision until the thing speaks for itself – or bows out, in search of another way to do it better next time.

Way too many Russian names, the editor said

In Animals, Contes d'Exil, Drafts, Revision on January 26, 2013 at 8:22 am

Who cares? I do.

I remember the scene as if I had lived through the whole story. Not just the one scene, of course. The whole thing. I don’t remember if I included that specific scene in what I consider as the tales in Contes d’Exil. I don’t care to even share Contes d’Exil with anyone anymore. If ever something of humans survives after death, I bet that part of me will  head straight for that mountain, and will take up the job the old woman’s doing in that scene.

What is she doing? Saving the bear’s soul. Or preserving it for her own needs, whichever way you want to see it. She doesn’t care and neither do I. A man has shot and killed the bear. She’s carving her way into the bear’s skull, through the upper palate, to get to his brain. She’ll use the brain as a tanning agent for a piece of the bear’s hide; out of which she’ll make a small leather pouch to house the bear’s soul.

Nobody liked Contes d’Exil. I don’t read it anymore so I can’t say whether it’s any good or not as literature. I don’t care. Sometimes, cursing some non-existent gods and placating others – just as non-existent? Matters more than what anyone, anywhere can think of what you do and call your life’s work.

Apart from which, alles gut

In Drafts on January 25, 2013 at 8:55 am

note to self: don’t be too harsh on insincerity. Sometimes, there’s precious little else to use. People streaming into a meeting, for example. Passing you in the hallway, some of them giving you the finest smiles you’ve gotten all day. They also happened to veto renewal on your contract?  Well, yes, so smile right back. Exchange New Year’s greetings, even – a custom that lasts till the end of January in this country, at your first-time meeting with someone in the new calendar year.

Less smiles but more laughs at rehearsal last night. Also a brief conversation with one of my favorites in the group. Rough going at the moment, she says; I’ve all this anger and nowhere I can take it. Gee, says I; want to trade for sobbing fits? Two for one. Two sides to the same coin, really. Her anger and my lacrymal dissolves don’t stop us from singing or working yet so I guess we’ll weather whatever. In the meantime, we make kewpie doll faces, smile and say “Hi!” on demand.

Even disgusted with the notion of story, never mind the notion of finishing this one. The story feels like a faithless friend right now. One you counted on in school and who taught you a few more things about two-facedness.

I’m not sure at what age little kids first learn how to fake their feelings. Some kids take longer than others to learn that basic survival skill. Had a case of two-for-one yesterday afternoon when both of the eight-year-olds got hauled over by distraught mothers. Boy number one had his face buried inside his winter jacket; snuck out one evil-looking eye long enough to vow he’d never go back to school again and multiplications suck. Boy number two looked as chipper as the lead chipmunk; his mother, not so: he and two of his buddies got into a contest of who could kick the wall  hardest in the school lav. Guess who’s going to pay for the damage?

After which, I had the streaming smiles; kept from banging my head against the whiteboard while a thirteen-year old counted out stuff such as seven times seven by lining up seven rows of seven sticks. Then I deleted a whole bunch of stuff from my computer; and croaked my way through rehearsal.

Story? I’m looking at it with the same dark, resentment-filled eye as my buddy who thinks math was invented to make smart kids feel like dummies.

This seat is taken

In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Dance, Drafts, Local projects, Music, Revision on January 24, 2013 at 8:47 am

Starting on empty is easier. These days, I’m starting every day from the energy sink, somewhere at the edge of a black hole. A fact, the way a chart showing vital signs gives a baseline. The energy sink is a drain; yes, lame as a joke but truth when it comes to climbing up and down stairs and hills; reading and writing reports and responding to a number of requests and expectations while actively ignoring others. People who say age is all in your head must be younger and in better shape; or mouthing the cheery “don’t worry be happy” mantra. I love happy; haven’t figured out how to get rid of worry.

However. Rehearsal tonight, at last. It’s been way too long. Singing helps, no matter what ails.

Started reading The Echo Maker last night. Not sure my reading will do justice to Richard Powers’ writing at the moment. Always tricky when characters cut close to mind spaces giving you trouble.

Both in story and out: the divide. People born in a place, settled there for generations; newcomers with different memories and experiences in their inner and outer luggage. “This seat is taken” applies in both directions. The tight group of school buddies sharing a table; but the loner too who happens to have his or her invisible pal sitting across the small table in the cafeteria. Nobody else sees the pal; nobody knows what the pal means or why it matters not to touch that seat. Even if they knew, for most of them, the chair would still be unoccupied.

Reaching out: tricky business. Keeping your own counsel: also tricky. Combining both?   A dance across a slack line (this last, for a character whose one abiding fear is none other than crossing an imaginary river on a shaky length of wire.)

Of course, the horse obliged

In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Revision, Theater on January 23, 2013 at 6:37 am

Knocked off the horse, I wrote yesterday? Make that thrown so many times, I stopped counting at four. The horse – a metaphorical one. I doubt anyone noticed my sorry state, either at the meeting or in the coaching session. Metaphorical horses can do plenty of damage anyway, as far as inner poise and all-round disposition go. A metaphorical horse can throw me so badly, I can barely limp my way to the outskirts of a story. Such was the case yesterday.

In real life, my best hopes for a speedy recovery lie with the children I’ll see this morning. In the first case, if the family’s appeal for residency still winds its way to a denial, the two boys and I will proceed as usual, and throw in as many laughs in the lesson as we can. The eight-year-old sweeties that follow should provide some respite too. The afternoon will take care of itself, one way or another.

Which leaves the matter of story in abeyance. Where to pick up the next scene once the horse has thrown you, the writer. With questions to the story:

Q. Which of the horses?

A. Neither Tempo nor Curio would behave that way.

Q. Meaning, one of the Akhal Tekes got excited again.

A. You know Tekes better than I do (or vice-versa). Asking the question is the same as answering it.

So. One of the Akhal Tekes threw one of the characters. Since their owner-breeder would break the back of any but the most massive of Clydes, or Comtois, things look grim for the only likely prospect to such a fall. Anything broken? I don’t know. Anything crushed? Her pride and her vanity, for sure. But muscle and tendon-wise? I don’t know.

I can say a lot of great things about Akhal Tekes – at least, about those I’ve had the privilege of seeing with my eyes of flesh. The one thing I couldn’t ascertain, so awed was I by their physical presence, was the extent to which their breeding leaves room for a sense of humor. Not all animals get endowed with one. My present canine companion, as close to perfection as she may be, doesn’t have the slightest notion when it comes to jokes. I’ve known her to sulk when I  laughed; whereas one Bouvier des Flandres of years gone was such a joker, he shook with delight every time he’d pulled a fast one on me.

Story. Animals and humans, both with and without well-developed and flu-resistant senses of humor. (In my case, a lot depends on the viral strain.)


Does it mean it doesn’t hurt?

In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Music, Revision, Theater on January 22, 2013 at 7:01 am

Granted, reading about clowns isn’t the same as clowning. As for the course outline in the Cont Ed program at the CNAC (Centre national des arts du cirque), read and quake. The Proto-clown, The Actor and the Clown, Provocations in Writing, Deployment: this isn’t the stuff out of which a Ronald McDonald emerges. This is about making choices, taking risks, and exploring self-derision as far as you can take it. Under Provocations in Writing, the course outline reads: Continuing to provoke the clown that doesn’t exist outside the actor interpreting him. Pursuing the research through individual and group improvisations (2, 3, …) to the point of producing a draft leading to a possible writing (of the clown’s act and script).

Clowning has a lousy reputation. “Arrêtes tes pitreries!” the teacher says to the one disrupting the class. But, what if… what if the teacher wore a red nose? Or, as one University prof did in Montreal: what if the prof took the school shuttle, on his way to his classroom lecture in Physics, wearing black dress shoes, not-quite-opaque black tights, a bumblebee costume and movable antennae. And proceeded to lecture with his habitual manner?  (It was Carnaval that day; how the lecture fared, unrecorded for posterity. Pity.)

Meanwhile, will my actor friends at Rugissant, stuck in a snowdrift somewhere, make it back with their trucks, their persons and their material in decent shape? Will we manage to rehearse before Saturday’s show in Lavaur?

On a “higher” plane: Can we solve the world’s woes by participating in Clowns sans frontières or exploring self-derision as far as we can take it? Who knows? We haven’t tried yet. One thing’s for sure: you may still be crying while you’re laughing. Except that: once you start laughing at yourself,  the tears stop blurring the view. They act as tiny lenses, bringing the worl into clear and sharp relief.

Now, to make that happen. again and again and again. (I know I sound pompous here; not to worry, I’ll get knocked off the horse soon enough.)