Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

“Ah, Madame Lucie …”

In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Revision, Theater on April 30, 2013 at 7:01 am

I didn’t laugh out loud. I’d flipped a mental coin in my head before ringing his doorbell. When he looked at me with sorrow in his eyes, I knew which of the two stories was coming up: “Madame Lucie… “(that’s me), “ah, Madame Lucie, si seulement...” (if only).

Short-short version of the tale: if the streets of this town aren’t awash in the blood of the feuding families, guess who’s to thank?  No, not me; therefore? Yes! my friend,the sole Montagu worth knowing. He has one buddy in the Capulet clan who can vouch to his sterling qualities. Problem, as I explained: papa Capulet (who’s in jail right now) won’t stand for a Montagu learning to read and write alongside his youngest son, no matter what sterling qualities he demonstrates. (I should add the rest of this real-life Montagu bunch don’t have much to recommend them; the Capulets aren’t about to get ramped up to sainthood either.) In real life, the matter rests in  limbo at the moment; maybe the honorable member of the Montagu clan will get another chance at learning to read and write. Maybe he will get a driving permit and stay out of jail – or at least, avoid jail time for the current bout of accusations against him. Maybe the coin will land on the negatives instead.

At any rate, my Montagu friend then taught me a whole bunch more about negative stereotypes. I kept as straight a face as I could because the levels of discrimination amongst the various Gipsy communities are just as mind-boggling as those in any other caste system. No surprise: this system also discriminates on the basis of skin tone, shape of features, color of hair and eyes, and speech patterns. The darker the skin, the lower the moral qualities of the person, as defined by the lighter-skinned ones. Considering the moral choices in question, the whole issue boils down to: says who? Says the one whose word carries the most weight.

All of which, one way or another, relates back to story since, in many ways, story is just another way to attempt making some sense out of the countless delights and absurdities humans can produce on any given day.

As for current reading: age may have something to do with it. Thirteen years old is a bit young for a full appreciation of Homer’s Odyssey, especially when you’re supposed to translate bits of it from classical Greek. (At the time, I was more interested in listening to the Top Ten on the tiny-tiny transistor radio under my pillow) . But at age sixty-six, in the French translation by Victor Bérard and presented by Philippe Brunet? Ah la-la. I’m only at Canto VII  because who wants to rush through something when every word is a delight?

What are you doing here?

In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Food, Hautvoir, Music, Revision, Theater on April 29, 2013 at 6:58 am

What if. A dreamtime filled with alternate versions of reality. A brother re-appearing – he’d been hiding in full view all along. But now working as a broker? In dreamtime, yes. An elevator. Unexpected consequences to meetings, whether scheduled or not.

What if morality were a much more complex equation than first imagined or understood? Based on clear-cut, definite rules, regulations, commandments and taboos, of course. Yet, like those complex structures known as fractals, filled with loops, twists and curves not apparent in the macro view. What if one of the stickier questions weren’t where and how to dispose of the body, but what to do with your prisoner? Note: said prisoner is heavy, wounded, stubborn and he sulks. You have nursing or other health-related skills but no taste for dental drills or scalpels as instruments of torture. In fact, you have no taste for torture. A significant flaw? Yes. So be it.

What else is  new since the last post? An unexpected real-time meeting with a woman named Rose. An even more unexpected reaction from my dog who stepped into the woman’s tiny house, did the rounds of the two small rooms downstairs, then went upstairs as if she lived there. Came back down, and slumped down between Rose’s chair and mine. When I left, Rose told me I was welcome anytime. “You knock on this door,” she said. “I don’t open to people who knock on the other one.” Bailiffs, please take note.

Some days, the biggest difficulty with fiction? Keeping it sounding a bit likelier than the way real life plays. Which is more fun than playing solitaire? Yes. (Now that I’ve stumbled on Rose’s lair by accident, I’ll have to go back at least once or twice for reasons unrelated to her person – a formidable presence. So formidable I didn’t take in the details of the wall hangings; now, the missing details are setting up an itch in my head. Plus, there’s the promise of that one hundred percent authentic paella, of course. Hiciste la maleta, indeed.)

(To readers dropping by and unfamiliar with this space: I’m tackling the fourth and final section on a work of fiction. At this point in our association, the characters and I tend to speak to another in short hand. Often, and even in the presence of others. Our apologies if all this is confusing and reads as if you’d dropped by during someone else’s family reunion.)

Mixed, folded, re-mixed

In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Revision, Theater on April 28, 2013 at 7:11 am

Rehearsals have begun on their new show. A family outing, this time – i.e. papa, maman and two kids handling the whole thing. Mirrors set up in the music room to get a better sense of how the puppets look from the audience. One of the mirrors creating deliberate distortions. “Have you started the musical score yet?” I asked the composer after seeing some of the instruments in the story on which the show is based. Yes, she started on it four days ago.

The intriguing part: one of my first attempts at a story set in the fictional town of Hautvoir began on my way over to my first rehearsal at Théâtre Le Rugissant. A broken piece of earring in the shape of a wheel. A panicked man in a run-down car stopping for directions to the police station. In the large hangar-like space at Le Rugissant: three children acting out a wild adventure scene.

At the end of yesterday’s rehearsal, I asked someone about two parachutes in her stable – a question I’d put off until now because I didn’t want to know the real story any sooner. All’s well: I may proceed with outright fabrications. The whole point now: making those fabrications as gripping and vivid as possible. (Note to writer and characters: if the writer can laugh out loud a few times while writing out the rest of the scenes? Even better; thanks.)

Improv on stage last night at a wedding between a school teacher and a carpenter: a bit of Baiana* by some of us from the singing group, along with the school kids who’ve mastered the hand-clap and footstep combo. My favorite moment of all: seeing the transformation in the quiet man who sat on the edge of the crowd until his moment came to shine: in the kitchen, then in the rousing hand of applause he got. This last photo, I didn’t catch. I’d used up both batteries on my camera. He came out with arms raised high in greeting. Beamed, then scurried back into the kitchen.

Fun. Now: sorting through almost five hundred photos for the ones the newlyweds will want to keep. Sorting through the threads of story for the ones leading to the equivalent of a Navajo rug – you know, the ones with the imperfection that allows spirit to move in and out at will.

* a simplified version of the Barbatuques’ choreography


In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Film, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Revision on April 27, 2013 at 7:44 am

The film maker was having lunch with his technical crew. His wife and I sing together. They pulled over my table. I ate one of Pepita’s sumptuous lunches, and listened in on the discussion. Shooting and editing are almost done. The discussion centered on the final scene: too abrupt? Too directive? Shouldn’t the viewer walk out of the screening and decide which of the characters’ versions of reality were “real”, which were illusions or hallucinations?

I listened, centered all the while on some of the unwritten scenes in my current draft. “Les sujets qui fâchent”, we call them in French. Disturbing topics unsuited to the dinner table: sex, politics, religion, wars – although, in many households, the TV set on the kitchen counter goes on spewing offensive stories on all of these throughout meal-time.

Discussing meat-treatment plants in front of vegetarians. Or getting shouted down and vilified for planning a gourmet meal. Why? Because some close and dear friends consider true communal living is within reach if we all forsake those earthly delights unsuitable in Utopia. Who decides on suitability? Guess.

Many threads to pull together at this stage of the story? Yes. More to the point: the writer has outlived her days of black-white militancy – you know, we the good people vs them those despicable etcs. Not to deny the existence of despicability; I’m neither deaf, blind nor dumb. At issue: how best to skewer the absurdities, knowing full well someone else, turning the mirror in my direction, is bound to say:  I knew it! Showing your true colors at last! You’re nothing but a  (insert despicable qualifier here). 

P.S. Will listening to Mozart on youTube be allowed in the current version of Utopia? I have multi-mixed diverse tastes in music,  food, friends, reading material …

Boy on a blue scooter

In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision, Story material, Visual artists on April 26, 2013 at 7:12 am

The boy’s getaway involves an electric-blue scooter, close to brand-new. Like the one someone drove up to me yesterday when I came back from the médiathèque with Cybèle. (No dogs allowed inside; she stands guard outside; the feral cat  who resides in the parking lot keeps an eye on her; distance-wise, they’ve worked out their arrangement. A choreography. The cat does the whole grooming number, just out of reach of the leashed dog. Dog licks her chops, and looks the other way.)

Apart from the new scooter, the person who drove up to me wore brand-new suede moccasins of excellent quality. The reason for stopping me: a rambling complaint about needing an agent, can’t live on two hundred euro a month, you gotta help me. The tone and attitude starting at humble and ramping up to aggressive in no time – this person’s usual pattern. The quality of the person’s work? Excellent, no question in my mind. The problem? Who wants to deal with verbal assaults on an  ongoing basis? Who wants to feel responsible for the woes of someone who claims a monthly revenue of two hundred euro while displaying his misery on a brand-new scooter?

Someone lent him the scooter; and the shoes. Appearances, don’t judge on, etc. (What’s the point in getting an education from the Jesuits if your mind doesn’t keep churning out counter-arguments at every turn?)

Back to the boy in fiction. I saw the getaway vehicle, and watched him make  his escape on it as I crossed the street with the dog. Only problem: I have no idea 1) what he’s been up to while the rest of the story moved on and 2) why he reappears at this point. To wreak havoc? The pattern’s well established already; I’m not expecting the boy to encounter a meeting with Self-Revelation on his road to nowhere. Not expecting him to act as some creaky device either – you know, the convenient thug kept in the wings until the moment comes for a rush of adrenalin.

Time for another read-through; this time from the boy’s perspective.

Variations and Inventions – the tough ones

In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, Revision on April 25, 2013 at 5:43 am

Meaning: those incidents drawn from real life and reworked for attribution (or claimed by) one character or another. The writer can’t claim innocence in this; can’t say it’s the character’s problem, let he or she handle the consequences. After all, the characters are her own invention. If their presence in story weren’t of vital importance to her, she wouldn’t allow them page time, would she? Which means she has to ask  herself why the characters are behaving the way they do.

The obvious answer: they want to save face. We all do. No surprise in characters behaving like everyday humans. The tougher questions: how do we humans save face? How do we handle situations fraught with potential embarassment or wounding attacks on our physical/mental integrity? How do we handle instances where the emotions cry out for revenge? Whether the emotions are justified or not being irrelevant – at least, while the emotions are in full explosion. How do we handle those cases where revenge is impossible or ill-advised? How do we make a clear distinction between what the characters are about and what the story tells – about us, about the world in which we live, about the ways in which humans cope with what life throws at them. No time for re-writes, life says: here, catch this!

Catch this. Or duck. Or pretend you don’t notice. Someone insists he or she is only a soul whose intentions are good. You’re more than willing to accept the self-definition; it happens to match  up with your own definition of who you are and what you want in your friends, relatives, spouse, business associates, not to mention all the crazies out there. How do you deal with the less fuzzy-friendly parts of your own psyche, when said psyche is goaded or provoked head-on? In those occasions when there’s not much listening space for Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier or the Beethoven piano concerto you’re dying to hear again but youTube just won’t stream to your computer.

How do you deal with the tough parts – the ones you can’t dissolve in appeals to the better angels in our nature?

Revision proceeds. Any wonder it’s slow going?

Slow walking in sunshine

In Animals, Drafts, Revision, Story material on April 24, 2013 at 7:26 am

A glorious day, and lots of free time. Depending on how you combine those two, you  have a recipe for 1) a few words on the back of a postcard ending with wish you were here 2) the intro to a travelogue enticing you to come away to the isles and leave all your cares behind 3) the set-up to some major boredom and/or bad decisions meant to see you into more interesting times.

In real time, the current run of glorious days and time off yield none of the above. I savor my morning coffee; walk at whatever pace I choose, sit and read/write in the garden, chat with people (or cross the street if I’d rather not); give thought to taking the bus to Albi for a look at the exhibition of hand-crafted books. Story material may lurk in any number of these moments. But even a string of them won’t add up to story – a better-rested person, yes, plus diary entries, maybe, and a few snapshots to revisit on a rainy day.

Revision: at a point where most of the characters have painted themselves into their respective corners. Their options getting squeezed down to: staying there until the paint dries; or  walking/running across the floor and making a mess of the job. In a third category: those characters who weren’t around and walk into the room without noticing the Wet Paint sign up on the door.

What people choose to share, how and why

In Current reading, Drafts, Revision on April 23, 2013 at 7:28 am

Sometimes, a book cuts so deep you have to read through several times. The opposite of a fluff piece, fast-food presentation on bread lighter than the chaff on the original grains of wheat.

Jean Hatzfeld’s interpreters are survivors. The men whose words they translate were once their neighbors, drinking and/or soccer team buddies. In one instance, when the interpreter intervenes, he’s speaking to a former colleague from the school in which they both taught. As it happens, the former colleague  massacred the interpreter’s wife and his child – among others in the month-long, nine-to-five exterminations one part of the community carried out on the other.

He intervenes because the man is fudging; there’s only so much the survivor is willing to accept in terms of evasions. Only so much he can let slide for his own sake, and the sake of what must be said and what mustn’t.

What mustn’t be said? Isn’t that the same as fudging? The same as refusing to look at the facts head-on and take responsibility for what they reveal? Depends on the facts. Depends who’s speaking. Depends who’s listening. The killers speak or don’t in the hope of obtaining something in return. The survivors speak or don’t in the hope of retrieving or saving something without which their survival would be impossible/meaningless.

One among the extraordinary strengths of Hatzfeld’s explorations of the Rwandan genocide of nineteen-ninety-four: the quality and resilience of his interpreters and his own willingness to ask the questions, and to listen. Not only to the words, but to the silences. To the tone of voice, the attitude, the different ways in which the killers and the ones who escaped death lie or evade the truths they do not wish to share.

If you choose to read Hatzfeld, remember this: you are eons away from the twitter experience of expressed-now, forgotten five seconds later. Five out of every six Tutsi living in the Nyamata region died at the hands of neighbors. The survivors and the killers live side by side, day after day after day.

Is there any point in exploring such extreme examples of the human capacity for unfathomable and cheerful evil and its aftermaths? Is there any way to avoid doing so, and still write in a meaningful way about the rest of the human experience? Dancing on the edge of a volcano. For some people, the image isn’t a figure of speech.

Getting back to more “ordinary” levels of story-telling takes some doing when I put down Hatzfeld’s book. What gets said; what doesn’t. What gets shared, with whom and how. No matter what they have experienced, the characters in my stories don’t carry such extreme loads as these. Nor am I attempting anything resembling what Hatzfeld has done out of his own need to put words on his experiences as a war correspondent.

Revision. Weighing words; those used by the characters; those the writer chooses to express the way they speak, to whom and why.

Load-bearing structures

In Contes d'Exil, Drafts, Revision on April 22, 2013 at 7:32 am

Ironies. Anywhere I look on my desk, there they are – in single items and in the groupings.

The name I’ve used for login purposes: the mountainside the ancestor received as payment for his naval deeds was supposed to be rich in gold. The man called the place Zlatovyek – gold mountain. He didn’t have much of a sense of humor, and not much education either. Irony wasn’t a governing factor in his makeup. I doubt he became a greater humanist when he realized the mountain mostly held low-grade iron ore – the kind his serfs collected in open-air pits when they weren’t busy keeping his family supplied in food, heating fuel and a surplus from which to improve the property.

Ironies, great and small. “You’re an ironist”, I tell one of the swifter minds among the children I coach. What’s that, he wants to know. Someone who sees things one way and describes them another way, on purpose. Proof the kid’s an ironist: he caught on right away. Proof he’s still a kid: he rushed to explain the concept to  his mother. Who replied: thank you, I’ll take good note of that next time you tell me you’ve done your homework.

“Exit strategies,” I wrote back then. “They’re important. Humans need to save face; humans need to feel at the center of their own story.” Indeed.

Moving a fictional story forward. The need to rest. The need to drop some luggage; or find tools better adapted to the rest of the job. Most of all: the need to take better note of the full import of the ironies assembled on my writing desk.

The question of motive

In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Dante Alighieri, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, Revision on April 21, 2013 at 5:59 am

Affording a car? Not about to happen. With a bit more persistence and a lot of luck, I may own a bicycle again. At which point I’ll be able to ride out to the supermarket on the outskirts of town. Cheaper; plus, better selection than at the smaller version on main street. But how will I lug home the groceries?

Ah-ha. The second part of the problem is resolved already. As of yesterday, still no car and still no bicycle; but I own the mercedes-benz equivalent to the shopping caddy. On large rubberized wheels with ball bearings; an inner pouch for frozen foods; a fifty-kilo capacity; and a special hitch that attaches the thing to the back of a bicycle*. My only twinge of regret: the model Pascal was clearing out of his shop doesn’t come with the fold-out seat for those moments when the urge strikes for a brief commune with nature. But that’s all right. The super-duper came with a fifty percent rebate on the purchase price; my old shopping caddy with the split wheel and the torn side left for disposal by the shop owner. And a “so you come back and pay me on Tuesday” thrown in for good measure.

All this because of yesterday afternoon’s urgent need for 1) grocery shopping; 2) away time from the current reading selections. Alternating between the book mentioned yesterday and Jean Hatzfeld’s Une saison de machettes: not the most relaxing way to explore questions of motive. Not the easiest way either to get to the heart of the more heartless ones in my own draft of a story. But if there’s one author I trust as a guide through a season in hell and some of its aftermaths, Hatzfeld has got to be the one.

Even so: breaks recommended. Music, walks, head-clearing activities that allow the characters to come back with their main concerns which may have little direct and obvious link to explorations into the jarring reversals of logic expressed by the men Hatzfeld interviewed for this second exploration into the Rwandan genocide of nineteen-ninety-four.

Music? Yes. More walking? For sure. Writing: as soon as the characters get their tongues unstuck from their palates.

* Once you get around to getting a bicycle. In due course. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so on.