Archive for October, 2013|Monthly archive page

“My father was the keeper of the Eddystone Firecracker Factory and one night he…”

In Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Poetry, Sanford Meisner on October 31, 2013 at 7:37 am

Once my contribution to someone else’s writing project is done, I’ll ask for the tin car as payment. The tin car is red, has fins and a paint job of raging flames painted on the sides. It sat next to the computer yesterday afternoon on the flecked and scratched metal table.

The car took on quasi-mythical dimensions when I got home. You see, I was disgusted with the English language. Disgusted with several other things too, including my ineptness at producing a newsletter on a system I don’t understand (I printed out and saved a copy of the mess I produced. There may not be a November newsletter unless I manage to cajole an ornery type into doing it; said ornery type loves getting cajoled to the point of refusal. People get their kicks in weird ways.)

So, as disgusted and dispirited I wandered through my books, I made faces and crossed my eyes at all the ones written in English. Bypassed all the ones written in Russian, Portuguese or Spanish. And opened Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Douze Contes Vagabonds at random, for the simple reason my copy is in French. (For some reason, I don’t ascribe as much importance to flaming insults hurled about in French as I do to milder rebukes voiced in English. Go figure.)

Where was I ? Yes, at Marquez. I open at random. Un Métier de Rêve reads the title of the tale. In the first paragraph? The Cuban seafront along Maleçon. The one featured in a clip done of the Buena Vista Social Club. In the story, a huge wave washes ashore and grabs several cars for Neptune’s lunch. One of those cars doesn’t wash out to sea. It gets embedded into the front of the hotel. The driver? Call her a has-been. An unfortunate casualty, a… But wait. The ring on her shattered hand. Is it… etc. (You want the rest,  you read the story.)

“… Catastrophe and ruin will come; disorder will triumph,

but order will too, from time to time.”

Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian

In context, I find Yourcenar’s “from time to time” funny. But that’s like most situational humor; unless the teller is gifted to an extraordinary degree, you have to be there to get the joke.

I guess I’m not gifted to that degree as a writer. Or I’m not telling my jokes to the right people. Or both. Or…

“My father was the keeper of the Eddy Match Company in Montreal, and one night he…”

A little bit, another little bit, watch nobody steps on you, then another little etc

In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, notes on October 30, 2013 at 7:36 am

Sometimes, the less thought, the better. Thinking uses up too much energy, same as tears do. So you laugh and get on with it, because laughing feels better than crying. The preceding three sentences summarize  the length, breadth and depth of my deep thoughts on the great For Why Do I Do This?

The next ridiculous challenge for the day (after organizing another bit of someone’s thoughts in a pattern that may or may not fit what the person meant to say in the first place): attempting to produce a newsletter on a computer I don’t know, using computer tools I don’t master and someone else’s filing system. Once that’s done, mailing it out to a number of different lists, also organized in a system the logic of which escapes me. Something like attempting to produce a meal for sixty in somebody else’s kitchen, and with ingredients you’re encountering for the first time.

I fell in love with Camus’ L’Homme Révolté at the ripe old age of fifteen. Read André Malraux’ La Condition Humaine that same year. I was a lot more given to Gloom and Glum at fifteen than I am now. Perhaps because there’s more novelty to Gloom and Glum when you’re young. As time goes by, you try to catch the glimmers in between as often as you can. This paragraph may or may not summarize my general approach to story; at least, as said general approach stands at seven twenty seven am on Wednesday, October thirtieth of the year two thousand and thirteen.

Recollections of a melt-down while sitting in a restaurant favored by union organizers. The meltdown occurring after weeks of long and frustrating hours pulling together a document the Great Leaders could call their own. Mission accomplished, I thought. Then, my boss, sitting across from me at the table said something to this effect: good. Now that we’ve got the foothills out of the way, let’s tackle the mountain.

Maybe some women like to burst into tears in front of large gatherings of macho types. I don’t. So, I don’t. I do what they do: I blow up.

But I’d rather laugh. Much, much rather laugh.


In Animals, Drafts, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Sanford Meisner on October 29, 2013 at 9:08 am

Even after I set her laptop on a pile of paper yesterday, the typing experience was electrifying. My friend lives in an old house she may or may not afford to renovate, some day. Her work and dining table : metal. Grounding on the electric circuitry : nil. Paper breaks up some of the charge. My home computer and her laptop don’t get along well. For instance, an email message I sent her last Saturday never reached her; had to be retrieved from my email Sent files. Glitches, as pesky and hardy as the mosquitos swarming her place while we worked against her deadline. I keep telling her she’ll make it.

An unusual request yesterday morning. One I was glad to accept, in part for the opportunity of another slant on Halloween – a celebration I do not hold dear for a number of reasons, including the loss of the family car to a bunch of pranksters, back in the fifties. The car itself was a tank-like vehicle from the thirties. My strongest recollection of it: a hairy climb up one of Québec City’s steep hills – Côte d’Abraham ? The road was icy. At one point, the car seemed to lose all upward momentum. I recall the moment because it’s locked into my body. Suspension. Over sixty years later, I’m here to tell the tale, so it takes on a humorous quality, as does the recollection of a taxi driver backing up to a highway exit as I watched a car speeding toward us, and tried to figure out how strong the impact would be (less than anticipated; I’m here to tell that story too).*

The request? To help a young boy keep his promise to an American cousin who lives in Milwaukee. A letter writing exercise in English. The Halloween theme being an important feature for reasons I’ll discover on Thursday.

Music. Writing. Painting. Playing with those elements – things, memories – that serve you best when the electric arc gets hard to bear. Insulation, if you like. A Faraday cage, if you prefer.

* The interesting part of that recollection: once it became obvious to me a crash was unavoidable, fear disappeared. Replaced by what? Good old curiosity. Hasn’t killed this cat yet.

Without imagination, you come to a full stop

In Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, notes, Now playing in a theater near you, Sundays, Wine on October 28, 2013 at 7:55 am

Life, alone and with others.

An abupt end to the dream. I had to set aside the glass of wine on the mantelpiece. The coaching sessions were about to begin. Why the setting was reminiscent of a boarding house on rue Hutchison where I lived at age eighteen  (and discovered the writing of Henry Miller) ?  Belongs to that brain-at-play aspect of living called dreams.

In awake memory time, there were also two boys from Hong Kong in that specific boarding house. (From there, the trail of boarding houses extends much further into the future).

The two boys were from well-to-do families. Neither one of them had ever set foot in a kitchen before their university adventures in Canada. The cooking vessel in which they prepared their rice must have been an abomination to whatever governs the use of common sense. They never washed it. Never removed the thickening layer of rice starch and overcooked grains in which they poured water to prepare more of same. As much as possible, I avoided the kitchen while they prepared their meal. My room was too small for a desk. In those days, I read and I wrote on my bed.

Life with others begins at 9 today. Coaching sessions. Break for lunch. Work on someone else’s writing in the afternoon.

Life alone. The French saying is: quand la santé va, tout va. As long as you’re healthy, everything’s fine. Amended, in my case, to: as long as the writing goes, everything’s OK. No matter how lousy the writing, trouble starts when it stops.

Just imagine, if you can stand it

In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Irish Mist, Mary Etteridge, Music, New story, notes, Now playing in a theater near you, proto drafts, Revision, Ridgewood, Summer Story, The Crab Walker, The Man in the Jar on October 27, 2013 at 8:29 am

I didn’t read the critic who started off by writing Richard Ford’s Canada had instilled a profound sense of boredom in him. Instead, I read through most of the day and most of the night. Finished the book around 4 am of what now turns out to have been 3 am because of the bi-annual fiddling with clock time.

I’m sorry for the critic who found the experience boring. I’m also sorry for myself who didn’t find it so. Sorry because, had I found Richard Ford’s novel boring, I’d have set it aside.  I can’t say I feel any jollier for the experience nor are my own woes as a writer any easier to bear for it.

However, as the saying goes, this too shall pass. No, the thought isn’t always much of a consolation.

Something farcical about the interview, yesterday afternoon.  The woman explained to me she’d decided to give journalism a try, at a friend’s suggestion, because – in her own words – she is devoid of even a trace of imagination. Thanks to this perceived lack, she is free of any temptation to modify or embellish anything of what her subject says. Instead, she concentrates on getting the facts straight. She insisted on taking a photo. Of course, I insisted on taking a few of her, too.

So. If at first  you don’t succeed, fail, fail again. You’ll see. If you stick to it, you too can get damned good, not only at failing but at putting as graceful a face as you can on this thing you call your life’s work.

By the end of Richard Ford’s Canada, my admiration went to the writer for staying with his characters and with his chosen way of telling the story as if walking  backwards in a snowstorm to keep the wind from freezing his eyes shut.

Letting it happen

In Current reading, Drafts, Film, Music, notes, Tea on October 26, 2013 at 7:22 am

Time will have its way with you, if you’ll let it.

I don’t know what prompted me to grab a sheet of paper, lay it on a horizontal in front of the woman and suggest she write out what she’d just said, first, using her habitual writing hand, then, the other. Whether illegible or not, no problem. Attempt it anyway.

A good person, willing to take chances at silliness. With her right hand, she wrote down a full side of one half of the page, and half of the other side. With her left: half of the first side. Then, she read both accounts out loud. In both instances, she was reporting the scene of a felled tree. The right-hand account was a third-person narrative and reported the effect of the fallen tree on the narrator.

The left-hand account was something else. The distance? Gone. There was close to a melding between the writer and the fallen giant. A melding and a wrenching gap. I suggested her character make use of the left-hand account. I’ll have to test this out myself on some of the materials gathering for the next story.

Walking back from the cinema with the projectionist the other night. The street does a slight rise up to a branching. The left side rises a bit more, then levels out. The right side moves down into the hill hugging the cliff above the river. We were discussing the movie we’d just seen, and stopped on the same spot. He crouched. “See? I’d hold the camera at sidewalk level for the full effect.” Atmospheric, no doubt about it.

Time will have its way with you, if you’ll let it.

The woman is writing a short story inspired by a sense of abrupt disconnect between two levels of reality. A bit like the sensation that occurs sometimes, when “falling” asleep and getting pulled back awake by the startle reflex. Where am I? What happened? Who’s there?

Brought to you straight from the Forest of Selves

In Current reading, Film, Local projects, New story, Revision, Sanford Meisner, Story material, Theater on October 25, 2013 at 6:54 am

Anyone in search of deep import and significance will have to search for them in other parts of the web than this post.

Then again, deep import is more a question of attitude than of content.

In the story I consider more or less finished, one of the characters moved from a position of some distinction to one not quite as impressive. The character was still one step above sharing a dingy cellar with derelicts. Will the story that hovers by my side take one of the characters down those steps? Considering some of the materials I’m reading these days, the thought intrigues.

I’m also thinking of reading Shakespeare’s Othello again. It’s been a while, and something about the nonsense surrounding blogs, bloggers, wireless systems and the public/private realms of email, phones and public surveillance cameras reminds me of Desdemona’s handkerchief. Or: how to infer, imply, impute on the basis of “but I saw it/read it with my own eyes!”

The added fillip: the web flattens out the differences between then and now. You said it, you wrote it, I saw it – and who cares that what you said, wrote or posted applied to a separate set of circumstances. You said it. I can throw the proof back at you any time I want.

Shakespeare. Yes. A sure thing, soon.

In the immediate and current present: I need to get some sense of what I’ll do with the people showing up for a workshop today. I need to organize someone else’s written material. I need to keep in touch with my own priorities in terms of choices in moods and attitudes. Playing in stereophonic sound in my head, at the moment: Arlo Guthrie singing Alice’s Restaurant, and Pierre Dac/Francis Blanche doing their skit Le Parti d’en Rire to the sound of Ravel’s Bolero. (Pierre Blanche being the funniest character in the cult French film Les tontons flingueurs I saw at the cinema last night. As with many cult films, the individual scenes leave a more lasting impression than the overall movie. Hm. Interesting thought.)

This, after a dream in which serious looking gentlemen (types known as Men of Means) sat in a small room, and admitted, one after the other, they too had been considered expendable by their employer. Why this registered as cheerful news in the dreamer’s psyche?

The dreamer’s psyche is and remains a place of wonder to the non-dreamer’s self.

The Quiet Hub

In Current reading, Film, Local projects, Music, notes, Revision, Story material on October 24, 2013 at 6:12 am

This week’s local project: a tad hairy in terms of delays. Plus, doing revision while a person is still pondering and writing adds an extra edge. Plus technical glitches just so you don’t forget who rules: technology or you.

However. When it’s all too much, the brain disconnects or goes into whirligigs. From which you re-emerge and say: hm? what did you say? Bits of music stream by – in this instance, old Arlo Guthrie tunes. The internal wiring in brains is way more complicated than that in electronic equipment. Which may explain why electronic equipment is so frustrating with its  literal interpretations of every single step from A to B to C to – no, you jumped over B, I won’t give you a D.

However, redux. The one not written  yet. The next story, hovering by my side. Half-formed fictional characters taking in the bios of real people someone interviewed for a work on the squatters’ movements in Europe, from the seventies onward. The mix of derelicts, homeless working poor, artists with no studios, musicians with no rehearsal halls, lost souls and others.  A mix of Joyce Carey’s The Horse’s Mouth, Lindsay Anderson’s film O Lucky Man, plus the current underground scenes in Barcelona, Paris, Lisbon, Korea… What will emerge?

Through it all, keeping some connection with the quieter place inside. As much as possible. When I forget to do so, the brain takes care of business. Disconnects. Time out. Breathe. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West from this spot here on Planet Earth.

Patronyms and other derivatives of the word Pater

In Local projects, New story, notes, Revision on October 23, 2013 at 5:18 am

The woman almost flew into me, in her eagerness to share. This was Sunday morning at the outdoor market. “Did you see that? They think they have every right! Shoved me aside! They think they…” – “Who are you calling They, Madame?” – “You know.” A wink. A head movement toward the women in scarves.

At that moment, had I carried a scarf in my pocket, I’d have plopped it down on my head. Instead, I told the lady she was talking to the wrong  We/Us about the Them/Theys. As if on cue, one of the circus crowd showed up to say Hi. We laughed and joked. The woman fell into line behind me, seething with resentment.

She’ll be back. With me or with someone else. She’ll join forces with the guy who felt empowered to rant against foreigners at the bakery, the other day. I’m a foreigner myself. I pay taxes, I choose to put up with the various levels of bureaucratic hurdles inherent to the French system. I’m a foreigner, but I don’t look foreign. I don’t wear a head scarf. I keep my regional accent to myself, and only trot it out on demand.

The experience: reminiscent of meetings in Toronto where smart-ass lawyers from the music industry liked to make smart-ass jokes about the frogs (French-Canadians, in Canadian parlance). I’m a frog, except you don’t know it unless you happen to know the patronym I received at birth. I happened to be presiding those meetings. Yes, I enjoyed the tiny moment when one of them ran a finger inside his tight shirt collar. You take whatever small victory you find.

Reminded me of another amusing incident when members of one religious community figured they could discuss me in their vernacular, assuming I wouldn’t understand a word. At one point, one of the gentlemen leaned into his neighbor and said: “I think she understands what we’re saying.” To which I smiled and responded: “Yes, she does.”

I’m a coward in too many ways to count. Riddled with anxiety, and subject to panic attacks. The one thing that knocks me forward instead of back in a cowering position: people making assumptions about me or others, based on physical appearance or speech patterns. I can’t stand others assuming I share their opinions, without even bothering to know me.

Not to mention the woman in Austria who didn’t want her daughter to play with mine, because of the patronym my daughter received at birth.

Or the internal memo circulated to a group of Americans in a foreign land.  From the intended expatriates, two small spelling mistakes turned them  into ex-patriots. Considering the nature of their business, the foreigner in their midst  who noticed the glitch  still tends to smile when she thinks about it.

Must be easier with the crib sheet

In Revision on October 22, 2013 at 5:52 am

Make of it what you can.  Discover for yourself who and what reads your words. What is automatic glitching, what is intentional. What is private, what isn’t. According to whose criteria. According to whose values.

You read. You write. You try to make sense of what streams through. You can only assume others do the same.

The world isn’t out to be your friend. Not out to be your ennemy either. Or maybe you don’t understand the first thing about the world.

You keep on trying anyway.