Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

You break me up

In Animals, Circus, Film, Food, Games, Music, notes, Sanford Meisner on August 31, 2013 at 8:33 am

An early morning breakfast of wild plums and blackberry, chosen and picked straight at the source (the wild pears aren’t ripe yet). Photos of the morning light. A fabulous dream, after sharing some of the wilder stories from the troves of my family and that of my hostess.* Walking along the road to Puech Miséry with Cybèle this morning, I recall something I read once about the Buddha – The Buddha – having a clown as a constant companion. The clown’s job was to  – yes – clown around every time The Buddha turned too lofty for even The Buddha’s own good.

This morning’s agenda includes a trip to a Salvation Army type place called Emmaüs where my friend has made most of her priceless finds of authentic nineteen thirties furniture and other such goodies, at prices ranging from two euro to a grandiose twenty euro for a solid mahogany writing desk.

The dream? Delightful. One in which I wake up in a strange house, the guest of a family whose members start telling me some of the vile and astounding things I did during the night. To say I’m ashamed and appalled at their narrative doesn’t begin to describe my state of mind. Especially since everything they’re telling me I know to be fact (or wild inventions by the principals) straight out of my family book. “You mean, I did all of this myself – including the bit on your dining room table – overnight?” Yes, they say with a gallic shrug. People start arriving while I nurse my shame. The man of the house holds a dish-shaped object above their head. Peers at the underside of it and describes to the person all the images streaming up from the person’s head. Goodness gracious. The horrors. The stupendous events. The Stories!

I turn toward the woman of the house (still in the dream – editor’s note). Ah, say my eyes. In dreamtime, the usual rules about I-you-he-she-it-we-you-they don’t apply. Everything up in the attic becomes me, right now. Ah, the woman answers with a twinkle in her eye. You’re starting to get it.

* Good news for the masses: craziness is alive and well. Some of the stories from  your own family may astound. But wait until you hear about so-and-so’s mother/father/sister/brother. You will fall off your chair. You will laugh,  you will cry, then  you will laugh some more.

Thirty years later

In notes on August 30, 2013 at 7:29 am

Everything’s there, as far as the official record is concerned. Plus, some background to some of the sorrier events in the Middle East between the Fall of nineteen seventy-nine and that of nineteen eighty-two. In several instances, names I’d forgotten popped up while I read the report, and some of the incidents relating to them. In even more instances, I was aware of the huge blanks drawn by the historian on those things history considers unimportant or best ignored. In one of the footnotes, I discover the author of the report was among the guests at an event I attended. Some thirty  years later, this detail holds my attention, much more than the speeches and all the nonsense to which they alluded. The nonsense had to do with who was King of the Castle and who, the Dirty Rascal.  The game plays everywhere. The military version – I stare off, the words knocked out of my mouth.

Years later. A meeting in New York. Interpreter again. A tricky job. How you translate, what you let slide. Challenges are fun, at least, some of them are. The implicit contempt between the parties, isn’t. Or the asides you must pretend not to notice. Or the asides you must report to “your” side, outside the meeting.

Treason. Loyalty. To what. To whom.

A huge bubble of sadness. Thirty years later. What became of this one or that one? Good guys, bad guys, cops and robbers, cowboys and indians. Even then, reality kept spilling over the categories and blurring the neat lines. Good guys could be traitors. Nasty people could turn out to be both heroic in their choices and unbearable in their execution.

Notebooks. Paper ones. Journals, diaries, agendas. Address books. Project books. Characters, claiming some of your own words as theirs. You know they’ll make something else out of them than what you intended those words to mean when you wrote them.

Letting go. On to what comes next.

Allez hop or: on landing in third paragraph of military specs

In Circus, Current reading, notes on August 29, 2013 at 6:28 am

Prior to the General going to Washington and getting the bloody foetus to sell like peanut butter (terms deleted from the formal transcript by a lowly civilian 0-7 – note the absence of the double 0), “missions were desired to be carried out”.

Unclear to me whether the desire sprung from the missions’ inchoate yearnings * or from the passive-aggressive types writing up the Colonel’s less than passive orders. Delightful in either case.

* the mission’s call on a lonely desert night – the night is lonely, and so’s the desert. Listen. It beckons yonder beyond the hills. Lonely hills? The hills, lonely too.


Marching orders for today:

Child-proofing living quarters prior to 0900 hr arrival of two females, ages two and four.

Immediate implementation.


Questions: When Jack Benny visited Haifa in nineteen forty-three, did he arrive with or without the shipment of Coca Cola syrup for the bottling plant in Tel Litvinsky? What happened to the lens grinders and polishers? What is the color of Napoleon’s white horse? What is the Captain’s age? What did he say to the Thai worker and why was  he fired?

Answer: I do not know.


In Current reading, Food, Games, Local projects, notes, Wine on August 28, 2013 at 5:51 am

The name of one of the Corps’ architects popping up – Rachel. Somewhere between attending to three other strands of realities. Her name, jotted down in the notebook serving as carry-around for this writing project. In it: bits from the report I’m reading, impressions evoked by the report, sudden recollections of faces, or of acronyms that mean more than a bunch of letters on parade.

In the midst of those notes, my hand writes down the word slipstream. I catch a glimpse of what the Chinese Taoists meant by the path of least resistance. The glimpse I catch doesn’t have much to do with passive contemplation. Slipstream. As in a sea or a river with several currents. Waters coming from different sources, each loaded down with different elements. Some settling in levels by weight and speed of displacement. Through the whole mix, the channel through which the moving on happens.

As usual, the story – whatever it will be – is building up through the characters. Two of them involved in the reading of a report published in Washington by the Center of Military History. Dry? Boring? Not if you happened to be there when it happened. Not if you have personal letters (now sorted out by period in the larger story). Not if enough time has elapsed for the personal stories to make way for fictional ones.

Again, I forget who said fiction was truer than the facts involved at its inception. Truer, in the sense of a line of masonry set plumb. Of an overall design or an organizing principle giving shape to a mass of impressions. You may not like the design. You may disagree with the purpose or with some of the more outrageous claims made for its value (for instance, the repetitive motif of “commitment to peace” invoked as a preamble to every discussion on how to build a better war machine.) Disagreement or opposition can be an organizing principle too.

Slipstream. Often, the most obvious way, isn’t. As for the least resistance? mamma mia. ah: the buffet lunches at Beit Asia, on one side (for the business lunches). The tiny lunch counter on the upper floors of the Ministry building, on the other side (for those brief times of quiet re-couping). Plus the Friday stops at the flower shop. I forget the name of the flowers – small, pink, waxy, with needle-thin leaves, and a heady resinous scent. Or the – oy, a whole stream of scents, here. Ripe guava. One tree? Perfumes an entire neighborhood. One ripe guava in the house? You are in guava land. (But right now, outside my window: the neighbor’s frangipani, in bloom.)

Another word slipped in to the notes last night: A sleeper. With all the sedimentary deposits attaching to that stream of thought. Plus, all the stuff I need/want to read about an old, old game called paper, rock, scissors. Why it popped up as the theme for a workshop, I don’t know. At any rate, when I mentioned it to one of the participants in that workshop (embroiled in a massive re-organization of his family’s  living conditions), he said: “I’ll have lots to write about.”

Kadima through this next bit of living.

Why people keep pets

In Animals, notes on August 27, 2013 at 6:48 am

Kill your darlings? That’s one solution. Another is to set them free and see what they make of the opportunity. Some come back, filled with new vigor. Others disappear, or show up somewhere else. The way loons do when they dive and chase their lunch underwater.

Communications: snarled, circuitous, filled with reverb. Computer glitches, people glitches, the whole catastrophe, as usual. Order is one of the temporary states of chaos.  I say: do the best you can with the bits you find (or manage to hold together for a time).  Then, let go. Let the stream carry you. Do what you can to avoid getting crushed by the logs whizzing by. For some reason, logs have greater velocity than human bodies. Or this may be a perception on the same level as considering the other line at the bank as always moving faster than your own.

Plus: pay close attention to the whiners in your stories. Like the howling babies on planes, they may be expressing everybody else’s frustration.

As for the title: if you’re a cat or a dog lover, you pet the animal. It serves as a surrogate to another  human petting you, if none such is available. Goldfish provide an illusion of blissful calm (nobody’s interviewed one yet to find out the koi’s take on this). Iguanas, snakes, spiders and other such life forms as pets: I can’t make out their interest. Maybe cold-blooded reptiles  hold a special fascination, for some. I find nothing cuddly about hairy tarantulas. Which is neither here nor there, as far as the tarantula goes.


In Animals, Contes d'Exil, Film, notes on August 26, 2013 at 6:24 am

At first glance, the animal looks like a large dog. The car drives by. The crouch has nothing dog-like. Why the other person in the dream calls it a capitan, I only realize as I’m making coffee. Dersu Uzala. The actor playing Dersu, repeating Capitan, Capitan as a warning when the expedition leader didn’t pay  close enough attention to signals – from the clouds, from broken twigs or from other elements in the wilderness they were exploring.

The letters, over thirty years old now. The differences between then and now, so huge I read them on several levels – as traces of the person I was between ages thirty-four and thirty-six, and as source material for characters. Same as earlier writing attempts. Growth rings. Spots where the blight struck. Good years and bad.

A quote among several others. “In this life, a man must cross a very narrow bridge, extremely narrow. The most essential thing is that he be without fear. Without any fear at all.” Attributed to Rabbi Naham of Brazlaw who may or may not have spoken something to that effect in  his own vernacular.

At this juncture, my impression on life is that it consists of nothing other than narrow bridges with fear as a constant component in the mix affecting decisions. Small fears, huge ones. Warranted fears and self-created boogeymen.

The exploration continues through old papers, current events both personal and other. The feline the passenger called a capitan turns to watch the car drive by, still in a crouch, still on the lookout for something beyond the ditch and the bushes.

Where the car is headed could be another story altogether.

Thirty year old letters on crumbling paper

In Irish Mist, notes, Story material, Visual artists on August 25, 2013 at 7:13 am

The first, dated November fourteenth nineteen seventy-nine. I haven’t reached the last one yet.  I guess end of August or mid-September nineteen eighty-two.

The most intriguing at the moment: one dated June fourth nineteen eighty-two. Therefore, the war planes are in full flight. I receive a phone call in the middle of the night from a friend from whom I’ll never hear another word again. In high spirits – intriguing in itself, considering some of her more spectacular downs and her sluggish responses in many instances. Things are wonderful at McGill she says, never been better,  never been happier. She’s planning a little trip to Beyrouth, maybe she could drop by to say hi, on the way? Huh, respondeth the sleepy-head. Beyrouth doesn’t sound like an ideal vacation plan right now; are you watching TV at all, or reading the news?

She doesn’t  pick up on this. Suggests instead we could meet in Cyprus for a long weekend before she goes to Beyrouth. Besides, she adds, Beyrouth  Stadium is at the other end of the city, she’ll be just fine.

From which I could conclude any number of things, several of them relating to the woman’s mental stability. I attempted using some of this woman’s physical and character traits in another story. In the other story, she was Swiss. In that story, her death by suicide in Cyprus did not ring true.

Not all the letters are fraught. Some are funny. In one, an eleven year old chastises her mother who is angsting over her responsibilities in the father’s problems. “You’ve always told me you can only be responsible for yourself,” the eleven year old says.  “So  how can you fix his life for him?”

The unresolved ones. The ones that resonate long after the gong was struck.

(Plus, for story purposes: a blank note card. The illustration: a detail of blossoms and buds from a seventeenth century Oriental manuscript.)


In notes, Summer Story on August 24, 2013 at 6:05 am

not even proto-anything yet. A hodge-podge of notes, quotes, impressions, assorted voices.  Showed up in the dream as yet another hopeful standing for a photo before attempting a run in a competition. Skiing.

Reading four years worth of posted notes in the Summer Story category. Each category, yet another arc, most of the iterations, boring, even for the person who wrote them. Even acute observations do not for sustained interest make.

I used to post photos in the electronic notebook. I used to address others. If nothing else, on some days: a trace of bubbling enthusiasm. I’m laughing now because the same, very same enthusiasm is more than willing to come skipping out to play. But something more required now. A higher grade of irony, maybe . If four years of notes don’t hold a promise of greater irony, greater tenderness and greater fierceness, what will?

The sound of wheels on wet pavement outside the open window. An almost proto-something hoping to split free or rise out of the personal notes, opinions, considerations, impressions of a tentative nature. Characters attempting to be born.

Two scraps of paper. Color keys for the initial Mots en voyage project. Each key corresponding to imaginary notes from four different parts of the world.

Oy oy, mon dieu, ah la la, have I put my foot in it etc

In Animals, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, New story, notes on August 23, 2013 at 7:23 am

For most of the evening, as I listened, the overall feeling was: have I ever landed myself smack dab in the middle, this time. (Not that I haven’t done the same any number of other times, but those are bygones; they can’t come nipping at my shins, chase me up the nearest tree or force me to either Stand and Deliver or skulk off under the closest rock.)

In it all, the small moment that sang. The moment when all worries took flight. Personal recollections by a man in his forties about a childhood in a working class town. The moment that sang the highest for me in his tales of family, friends and neighbors: an aunt who was known as “la reine du liseré“. The Queen of Borders.

The Queen’s job: with the finest and swiftest single stroke of a thin brush, she would draw the contrasting line on the frame of a bicycle. This done, she would dip the brush into the special enamel paint and draw in the manufacturer’s name, plus any decorative foliage or geometrical figures associated with the trademark. The frame then went to baking. The Queen moved on to the next one.

He can’t remember which of the manufacturers employed her; she worked for all of the ones in that area, at one time or another. The woman’s Alzheimer is now too advanced for her to remember (or retrieve) any of this. I was so enchanted by the vivid image of la reine du liseré applying that deft stroke of paint, I vowed out loud to include her somehow, somewhere in the next story.

Voilà. As for the kettle of fish (or whatever other metaphore I use) – oy, oy. As in: do I cross the field of nettles and, if so, how. Knowing me, if I choose to avoid the nettles, the kettle of fish will hold many, many unpredictable surprises. Moray eel sashimi, anyone? First, you grab the eel (barehanded). Then you let the electric current run out through your heels or the pad of your feet (exact location, optional). Then…

(For some reason, there’s an old Yiddish song running through my head. Now, I have to check what the word kolomayer means.)


In Current reading, notes on August 22, 2013 at 6:52 am

Maybe some people handle long bouts of isolation well. I don’t. I like solitude, need solitude. Isolation is different. The ones you’d like to see aren’t around. The ones to whom you’d like to speak aren’t available. There’s busy work you could do. There’s pretend stuff. All the while, there’s the gnawing inside. The back-burner stuff. The feeling of days as long and unmanageable as a punishment. So you didn’t want to play nice, did you? So you stay home and think of all the things you did wrong, said wrong, performed wrong etc.

You fight back of course. Re-arrange the furniture. Remind  yourself this too shall pass. Put on a happy face when you greet the neighbors. Meanwhile, you feel like an idiot for feeling like an idiot. This isn’t level ground. This is the grinding to a halt. The place where it seems to you everybody else knows the what why and wherefore. You are clueless and your efforts to pretend otherwise are pathetic. A full twenty-four hours before a dinner invitation to someone else’s home, you pretend time is just an illusion you must humor until you put on your act again. Any act. Anything that will make something happen.

You start reading. You go on reading. How can you not when the writer’s doing such a good job? Instead of feeling uplifted by someone else’s skill – your good-day response to good writing – you feel crushed. There,  you see? Others see their way through. Others manage to craft words in ways that transport  you.

Voilà. This too shall pass etc. I wasn’t designed for long holidays with minimal human contact.