Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Mistaken Identities

In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Revision, Sanford Meisner on May 31, 2013 at 7:17 am

Can happen to anyone. You wave back with all the enthusiasm you can muster, your heart flying out to the smiling face. Only to discover the smile and the wave were for somebody else. Oops. Pick yourself up, and try not to look too idiotic.

Eight years old. He’s smart and he knows it. Except, the best he’s found to do with his smarts is to make adults look bad. Adults always look bad when they lose their cool and yell at helpless little children of barely eight small years of experience. God forbid the adult should lose it bad enough to strike the little one on the bottom. This little boy is smart enough to leave the adult dangling with frustration. In conversation with the mother after the session, I learn the little boy gets high fives from  his dad, every time he manages to send his mother into orbit. What the dad does in response to lip from his boy, I can well guess. We’re back to dreams of planes crashing in the back  yard.

Frustration. Even the word feels like a walk through nettles. Bad starts. Wrong turns. The person doesn’t live there anymore. Worse yet, the person still lives there, but doesn’t remember you; or gives you a cold look that makes you wish you’d never, ever taken a chance on anything. Wrong, says the buzzer. Your Reality Principle, invalidated. Next candidate, please.

From the lousy sidewalk outside the one-way steel door exit, you make your way down the street, feeling like a squished worm. Your job to sort out those pieces of Reality you can now make into something good enough to fool everybody into thinking you really are the cat’s miaow. More important: good enough to fool yourself.

For the record. What serves as the sustaining element over here this morning is the following paragraph : “As Jeremy Adelman shows in his astonishing and moving biography, Hirschman sought, in  his early twenties and long before becoming a writer, to ‘prove Hamlet wrong.’ In Shakespeare’s account, Hamlet is immobilized and defeated by doubt. Hirschman was a great believer in doubt – he never doubted it – and he certainly doubted his own convictions… In seeking to prove Hamlet wrong, Hirschman was suggesting that doubt could be a source not of paralysis and death but of creativity and self-renewal.” (An Original Thinker of Our Time, by Cass R. Sunstein, in The New York Review of Books, May 23-June 5, 2013, Volume LX, Number 9)

Of straws, mules and horses, mythical and otherwise

In Animals, Circus, Contes d'Exil, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, Revision, Tea on May 30, 2013 at 6:51 am

A lot of figurative straws collecting on this metaphorical camel’s back, these days. The ones that tipped the load yesterday: as usual, the ones out of the clear blue. The ones that catch you offguard.

The disembodied voices exchanging a bit of advertising yammer, yesterday morning. One of those automatic shpiels that starts up because, unbeknownst to you, there’s a trigger embedded in the website you’re visiting? There you are, concentrating on one thing and, out of nowhere, manic or whiny voices invade your world, while the startled you looks for the source of the interruption.

Late yesterday, an email with negative comments about a manuscript of mine I would no longer dream of submitting for publication anywhere. Not all writing is meant for sharing with the world; some is meant for recording inner landscapes that serve as a mythical place of origin. But a friend had asked to see it, a long time ago; had mentioned sending it to another friend; who submitted the Tales to a reading committee. And so on.

In the real world of yesterday, the highlight consisted of clarifying the concept and use of negative and positive numbers for a girl whose confidence levels are so shaky, several of the bullies at school zoom in on her as soon as she shows up. She left feeling a lot better. I came home, and watched my confidence levels dissolve like adobe bricks in a flood – as  Mark Twain describes in one of his Roughing It adventures. The copy I bought in Lisbon cost seventy five cents at the time of printing. Says so on the cover. 75 c, to the right of the Signet Classic logo. Before the title page, there’s a brief bio of the man, along with a sketch of his head in profile. Part of the bio reads: “He was hot-tempered, profane , sentimental – and also pessimistic, cynical, and tortured by self-doubt.”

The girl : After we’d discussed how best to deal with the rude and vulgar insults hurled at her in school, we moved on to those ornery negative and positive numbers. Think of the zero as the top of your head, I said. It’s both positive and negative. The positive numbers march out toward the front, getting bigger and bigger as they go. The negative ones stream out the back, all the way out to places you’ll  never see.

She laughed. “I feel the zero,” she said. The rest was easy. I left with this as the crowning achievement of my current official professional life.

Then, I came home, read negative comments about a manuscript that’s too close to my heart to ever put out there again, and dissolved like sugar in hot tea.

Accepted Views (Tyranny of)

In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Games, Hautvoir, humeurs, Music, Revision on May 29, 2013 at 5:59 am

The character’s initial reaction: angry exasperation. Same reaction as for a body tormented by stinging insects. From the notes the character provided last night as a second response, I see osmosis has transferred some of the Jonathan Swift approach to her list of coping strategies. Good for her; the notes now await the best possible moment for landing in the story.

The tyranny of accepted views struck often yesterday. Whether the orthodoxy come from right side of the pews or the outer left fringe behind the barn doesn’t make as much difference as all the uproars might suggest. In any event, you are hereby required to stand tall for the views on parade. Failure to do so branding you as (take your pick) cowardly, unreliable, treacherous, mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy or otherwise undesirable in the gang.

Not all tyrannies work through outright terror. The most successful mold and persuade in much nicer ways. Age tyranny, for example. From ages such and such, you belong to this cohort. You then move on to the next, and the next after that, a bit like one of the passengers in transit getting shunted from Terminal A  to Terminal G for boarding at Gate Ninety-Eight.  At age such-and-such in country X, you are a desirable marriage partner. Further down the line, you get relabelled grandpa or granny and wish nothing other than to spend your days minding your children’s offspring and instilling the wisdom of the ages in their eager, receptive minds.

There’s also gender tyranny, of course. Title tyranny. Geographical origin, religious affiliation, political tendency tyranny, etc, and so on.

Some consensus is useful; no dispute from me on that score. Peaceful co-existence? By all means, except those requiring the permanent ingestion of  mind sedatives.  Where agreement becomes enforced, be it by pills, smiles, entreaties, pleading, threats, or temper tantrums involving thrown shoes or bomb-laden drones, I consider one may be excused for choosing The Ways of Wiles. Or for staring out the window the better to  soar off with a bird  during the endless repetitions  of the current views regarding Civic Education by the current State-approved dispenser of official wisdom.

As I must do my share in the molding of young minds today, I don’t know how much of the characters’ opinions will further express themselves in the draft, nor how the behavior  of their various parts will clash with the imperatives of their resident inner tyrant. I do know I’d rather be writing, laughing, singing and walking in the sunshine than scolding and playing the sententious adult. Ergo, characters, you have unrestricted authorization to act as you see fit. Class dismissed.

Character as seen by and told to himself

In Animals, Drafts, Poetry, Revision, Sanford Meisner on May 28, 2013 at 7:31 am

This many revisions into the story, why is this character still shape-shifting on me? Making fun of him is easy enough. We all  have a store of real-life models from which to choose if the purpose is to take aim at something ridiculous out there.  Getting even, revenge, having the last word, the last laugh, etc. Fine. But here you are, called upon to be this person. In other words, to look out on the world through this character’s eyes, feelings, preferences, opinions, justifications and so on – some of which you-as-you find repellent or absurd; and many more you find of no personal interest whatsoever.

Yet there he is, this fine specimen of personhood, at the very center of his own world view. My biggest difficulty in carrying him off: staying in his perspective. He looks out the window, he walks on the road, he experiences the world and his place in it. His soon-to-be former wife may see him in a different light; but she doesn’t travel inside his head. The man has set on a course. This isn’t the first time he’s taken the wrong fork in the road; far from it.

Years ago, in a nature documentary set in the Antartic, a team of scientists recorded a year in the life of a species of penguins. Most instructive, all of it; astonishing in terms of the animal’s hardiness. A documentary. The one haunting image and the one unanswerable question attaching to it? Every so often, a penguin detaches himself (herself?) from the community. Instead of heading for the sea when the season calls for it, the penguin takes off on a solitary trek toward the hinterlands of Antartica, thus dooming himself to a certain death. Why the penguin does it? Theories abound. No penguin on record has corroborated a single one of them yet.

How this may help in getting a better fix on this character? For the character to know (maybe) and for the writer to find out (perhaps).

Friendly strangers, quaint pubs, and so on

In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, Revision, Visual artists on May 27, 2013 at 6:22 am

If this part of the story had a chapter heading, which would I choose? Back to Goldilocks or God Bless the Child? Or something combining the two.

Goldilocks: young, pretty, innocent wanderer through the woods breaks into cottage and tries out poppa bear, mamma bear and baby bear’s chairs, porridge, bed. The innocent wanderer may consider the baby’s bed just right for her. The bear family disagrees. The three must have had a nice picnic in the woods because they don’t maul the innocent, but simply kick her out, lock the door behind her, and let her fend for herself. The story doesn’t say if she meets up with Little Red Riding Hood for a lesson in woodland etiquette. I say she does. We join up again with Goldilocks in her early thirties. She’s had more adventures than Ulysses at this point, and she’s trying to piece together a narrative of her adventures for her long-lost family back in Idaho. We wish Goldilocks the best of luck, and move on to the other main character in this, Part II in a longer story.

The other character is a singer,  hovering on the brink of the great Five Oh and juggling too many plates. Or juggling just the right amount of plates with too little patience. She has the type of temperament described in French as soupe au lait – meaning her temper boils over the same way milk does on a hot stove, and simmers down just as quickly once removed from the immediate heat source. Her daughter suspects her of Attention Deficit Disorder. Not so. The opposite, in fact. The woman’s attention span is both focused and narrow – leaving vast areas of reality unattended while she’s focused on something else. She’s no candidate for Multi-Tasking Mom of the Year, and – sad to say – not overly gifted in terms of diplomacy.

The writer’s task: to accompany these two as they navigate the reefs and shoals of the great Mother-Daughter   adventure among other, and often more pressing, concerns.

God bless the child that’s got his own. The interesting question being how the child goes about figuring out A) what he wants more than anything B) how he goes about reaching for it  and C) what he does with his own, once he’s got it up close and fully grown.

Curiouz sez to Marvelouz: wanna play seriouz?

In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, Revision, Sanford Meisner on May 26, 2013 at 7:28 am

“Rien de ce qui nous rend heureux n’est illusion.”  Goethe, as quoted in French by Jules Verne, so I may drift  a ways from the original German when I translate this into English meaning nothing of what makes us happy is an illusion. Me being me on every possible occasion, on my copy of Les Enfants du Capitaine Grant, I added in French: in any event, the happiness isn’t an illusion for as long as it lasts and no matter what its cause may be. (I’ve always enjoyed ongoing discussions with a book and/or its author.)

Of course, I don’t react to the book as I must have when I first read it, around age nine. But the magic still works for me: of the black and white illustrations; the adventures in wild, exotic settings; of the wealth of information no editor would consider including in a contemporary book for children (in which the main preoccupation seems to be on the process of growing up per se – growing up as an only child, as a member of a minority, as a… fill in the blank).

Sexist and racist stereotypes abound in Jules Verne – the bane of every well brought up adult of consequence, these days. For instance, the boy gets to ride horses, climb trees, battle condors, caymans, tsunamis while meeting a wild assortment of humans of every creed and physical description. Meanwhile, his ever kind and gentle sister keeps the main  hero’s ever thoughtful and considerate wife company onboard ship, under the as-yet undeclared attention of its young captain.

No matter. Even the stereotypes prove useful. They fly by, let loose in Verne’s enthusiasm to keep the story moving along. They appear at the most unexpected moments. I laugh, and plunge right back into the next bit of the cavalcade. Same as I still laugh at the cartoon figure of the opera singer Castafiore in Hergé’s Tintin – and to hell with modern exegesis on the man’s insensitivity to body size, color, gender and other characteristics to which we all pay due respect whether we admit it or not.

Given the Verne-like extremes in weather conditions these days, this important note: Almost cloudless blue skies above Graulhet, this morning. Walking in sunshine? With no pelting bits of hail smacking the back of your head? No wind tearing at the umbrella? No rain squishing up your shoes? “Rien de ce qui nous rend heureux n’est une illusion.”

The title applies to revision. Getting the mix right so that it moves along like children at play – whether the play be playing at serious grownup or not. Hard work, this business of playing – ever notice how tuckered out children are after a full day at it?

Allez. Out of this post. Time to play.


Cautious characters

In Animals, Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, Revision, Theater on May 25, 2013 at 7:53 am

On the back burner for several days. The quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet; the one about conscience making cowards out of us all.  I’m not sure I agree. Unless conscience means awareness of possible negative consequences to an action; in which case prudence may well lead to cowering. But is fear – of pain, shame, ridicule, loss of face, loss of life, whatever –  the sum total of what we mean by conscience?

It can’t be or how would some behaviors occur despite the fears? Not just spontaneous acts of bravery or kindness, but thought-out choices to act in accordance with something beyond self-interest. Or to take on the sea of troubles because, what the hell,  is a body going to spend a lifetime wondering what to do about the fact   ma married  the murderous uncle – and, quite possibly, aided and abetted in the killing of the beloved father?

This is only an idle question if I’m willing to settle for dithering on the part of some of the characters, just because I like them and hate to see them do anything foolish.

Thinking vs doing. Something must happen to tip the balance. An emotion strong enough to carry the body out of the mental agony (and safety) of the constant reshuffling of the limited base of known facts we call experience.

“Hark, who goes there?” asks the guard when the King’s ghost comes calling again. The question that never gets resolved by the Prince of Denmark:whether they be dead or alive, never mind what his family members want. What does he want even more than dithering and philosophizing over dead Yorick’s skull?

In Hamlet’s case, I think the sea journey was a good idea; but maybe he didn’t go far enough to return a changed man. Of course, had he done so, Shakespeare would have written another ending to the play.

Stepping into the known through a different door

In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Poetry, Revision, Sanford Meisner on May 24, 2013 at 6:49 am

One of those library visits with no specific title or book section in mind. Wandering through the stacks on the lookout for a title, an author or a book cover that tugs at my attention. I come across something called Fricassée de maris – Mythes érotiques d’Amazonie. Fricasseed Amazonian husbands sounds a safe distance away from Disney-like visions of bliss-by-pink chiffon. The determining factor in my bringing the book home, however: the words by the Japanese poet Basho used as an epigraph. “Je ne suis pas le chemin des Anciens,” they read, “je cherche ce qu’ils ont cherché.”  (I don’t follow the path of the Ancients. I go in search of what they searched for.)

Sounds like just the ticket for one of my characters. Said character spent a lot of time coloring in images in a cheap pocket book yesterday. Correction: the writer did the coloring while paying attention to what a nine-year-old boy might find attractive as colors for an assortment of determined-looking snakes. Gaudy is one of the quieter words that applies.

As for the fricasseed husbands, have no fear: morality prevails and the women get their come-uppance. Of course, this leaves the surviving husbands bereft of companionship. Et oui,  tough, tough choices. (Not all the stories are in the Ogre-Ogress tradition. So far, my favorite is the short tale called How Children Used to be Born through the Big Toe.)

The book Fricassée de maris (Moqueca de maridos. Mitos eroticos, in the original Brazilian)  is the work of  Betty Mindlin who collected the tales from some thirty story-tellers, and who provides a commentary at the end.

No, I can’t say how this book will influence  (or won’t) today’s work on the ongoing revision. Guess I’ll find out in the doing, won’t I?

Laughter: the Learning Curve

In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Games, Hautvoir, Revision on May 23, 2013 at 8:42 am

Truism : The joke’s funnier when it targets somebody else.  Not much that’s dependable in life, save for the fact laughing at yourself sometimes requires the use of muscles you didn’t even know you owned.

No, I’m not laughing yet, this morning. Only the canned variety of laughter shows up on cue. Not to worry. Pride and vanity take straight hits? Unless you’re an idiot or subject to hysterics,  you don’t burst out laughing. You start with ouch – or a howl of indignation, or a thundershower of tears. After which you examine the damage to the exploded pinata of your self-image. In which you can make all kinds of fascinating discoveries; so long as you don’t insist on all of them being cute, cuddly, pleasant and altogether harmless.

Fear, anger, panic, despair, despondency: rest assured, you too can find something humorous in each and every one of these states of being. Just remember getting to the humor involves experiencing them in their un-funny manifestations so as to get all the details right. At which point, your real job begins.

Revision proceeds in accordance to yesterday’s plan

In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, notes, Revision on May 22, 2013 at 6:18 am

When I’m too tired for anything else (last night, for e.g.), I dip in and out of books piled  up near my bed. When I first read Jules Verne at age nine, I didn’t dip in and out. Cover to cover I went, then on to the next one. All of his adventure books melded into a single one in my recollections, so intent was I at the time on reading the whole series.

I open Les Enfants du Capitaine Grant, last night, almost  sixty years after last reading it. The glorious expedition is in Patagonia. The little boy has just been saved from death-by-condor by a noble Patagonian. The expedition’s geographer, having studied Spanish onboard the ship, approaches the man and says: “Vos sois um homen de bem !” No response from the noble one who’s never heard a word of Portuguese before.

Did I remember this incident three or four years ago, when I salvaged my sanity by writing a weekly  spoof based on every annoyance crowding the radar? No. Yet, the same mix-up showed up in one of the episodes. From which I conclude the thirty-nine year old who showed up for coaching yesterday knows how to read. It simply hasn’t clicked in his head yet that every time he says “oh, I know that word, I see it all the time,” he’s telling me he knows how to read words, even if he’s not all that swift when it comes to  remembering individual letters. This, figured out while making coffee and thinking about Captain Grant’s Children, may modify my whole approach to his coaching sessions.

Also on the edge of consciousness: the name of a former pupil, also from the Rom community. Hopeless as far as regular schooling was concerned but lugging around close to forty pounds of old books out of which he’d devised his own notions about the world. The books ranged from nineteenth-century poetry, through early twentieth-century geography and grammar manuals, some comic books, and tables of equivalencies neither he nor I could figure out (this last, missing covers and several pages.)

In accordance with today’s title on the post: I have a stack of unused filing cards – larger than average ones. On which I’m jotting whatever snippets show  up during the day relating to one or another of the characters. During the read-through, I see where this fits, either as a comment by the character or as something observed by another. We may reach Patagonia, the characters and I. When we get there, the natives may understand our excellent command of the native tongue from another land. Or maybe not.

Meanwhile, the rain gives no sign of letting up yet. Something like the climate in the oddly-named Tierra del Fuego, no?