Archive for January, 2014|Monthly archive page

Staying real in imaginary circumstances

In Drafts on January 31, 2014 at 7:47 am

Other people’s lives – their wants, their needs, their priorities, their pressing demands. Something like crowded venues with different bands playing in a variety of musical styles. You must enjoy the challenge or you wouldn’t find yourself dealing with conflicting urges, needs and agendas as often as you do.

Then, resounding silence, save for the sounds in your own head. Music, bits of dialogue, the odd stuffed-head feeling from an ear with issues. The transition back to your own writing. So much of dealing with other people involves distancing yourself from basic urges. Not telling someone to shut up, not saying how you feel about their performance or their behavior. Being reasonable, dependable, a presence others can count on. Others are more than happy to oblige. You must get some satisfaction from that, or you’d change your game, wouldn’t you?

Finding your way back to your own writing. Things are different here.

Yesterday morning, one of the boys wanted to “save” the fictional family they’ve invented by having the father win the lottery. Nope, I said. Too easy. Besides, going from dirt poor to millionaire might prove tricky. The notion money might be a problem took a while to sink in for him. Until it dawned on him the relatives would descend like a pack of starving wolves.

So. How to have real fun in imaginary circumstances. Real sadness. Real conflicts. Real heart-break. Real words, real comfort, real connection.

Three, two, one.

Space and time – stop, look, listen

In Hautvoir, Local projects, Maison du Pré Millet, proto drafts on January 30, 2014 at 6:29 am

A ninety-year old woman, happy to play around with real life memories, and tweak them. For the fun of another jaunt down memory lane, with different outcomes. Easy enough to play along with her, for the fun she’ll get out of this different take on  what could have been.

The next exercise: much trickier. Shreds of memories – all of them sad. Something like disheveled clouds drifting above a woman’s terrible fear of the dark night falling on her. She writes down everything, so as not to forget. Forgets she forgot a few minutes ago, and writes it down again. How to make something of the drifting clouds.

The exercise: something like a combination of ghost writing and interpreting. Closer to interpreting i.e. quasi simultaneous translation of a person’s words  into another language. Quasi, to allow for appropriate choices and, whenever possible, the avoidance of words with different connotations once they cross the linguistic barrier.

Then, once you’ve dealt with other people’s words and other people’s attempts at saying what matters to them: making your way back to your own words, and your own attempts at discovering how best to combine them to discover something else. Something other than what you’ve said all along, or believed all along, or conveyed in the same old way, until it sounds as trite and boring as an old political pamphlet.


Small surprises in my living space: the discovery of two doors leading to other places. One in the night table near my bed. The other in the storage space/catch all where I keep the washing machine, the ventilator (in winter) and the space heater (in summer).


The mood at the school in Gaillac, this morning. What will it be? Explosive enough, last week. With the staff changes since then? Looking forward? Yes. Rushing forward? No.


A Fitting Intermission

In Current reading, Drafts, Film, Hautvoir on January 29, 2014 at 9:16 am

You can admire someone’s writing to the point of setting aside pressing needs for fundamentals such as sleep. You can read the testimonials – ranging from People Magazine to Margaret Atwood, before moving on to four more pages of same culled from The New York Times, The New Yorker, Publisher’s Weekly, etc.

Then, you return to your own life and the demands it puts on your time. At yesterday’s Mardi Documentaire evening,  physical exhaustion and unbalance caused by the eardrum issue caught up with me. While people ate and talked, I went back into the viewing room during the intermission. As irony would have it, a spiritual looped on the sound system, over and over again. Male and female voices reiterating their leaving all trials and troubles behind, sailing off with Jesus to captain their ship over to Zion. As a closing gesture on Toni Morrison’s Beloved? I couldn’t have dreamed up a better one – save for a dream image where my flippant side showed up to remind me where my talents and stories lie. Whatever trials and travails I may have experienced, witnessed or recorded from other people’s lives, they don’t have much in common with books saluted as Masterpiece… Magnificent … Astounding… Overpowering! (Newsweek).

In fact, the only thing ever published under my own name has me standing in a washroom at Atlanta Airport while a black girl admires her towering masterpiece of raspberry colored hair, and turns a bit weird on me when I offer her a spritz of the perfume I’m applying in tiny, delicious bits. “French perfoooooom?” she said. Grabbed the bottle and sprayed it on her masterpiece like there was no tomorrow and no bottom to the vial of Un jardin en Méditerranée. After which she proceeded on to her job of cleaning the stalls and the wash basins, and I headed back out, on my way to Terminal E, D or F, I disremember which.

Allez ? Allez.

Slow, Fast. Shift.

In Animals, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects on January 28, 2014 at 7:05 am

Assuming all six show up for the final workshop in the three that were scheduled. With a lot of tweaking and editing, two of them may end up with stories worth sharing with a reading committee; all right, I’ll make that three. No matter what the starting point may be, the crucial issue remains: what do  you make of the impressions? The vivid recollections or the vague, persistent sensations? The obsessions. The tiny voice that says: and yet…

Images from childhood. Images from extreme circumstances when because of age, illness or unscheduled events, the familiar was jarred into dislocated jumbles. Someone, somewhere, tries to smooth out the wrinkles or glue back the dishes so you don’t notice the hairline cracks. But that’s assuming you find all the pieces. You never do.

How much comfort is enough? How much is too much? How much mayhem and disruption can this body take? How much can that one withstand? When fearless? When cringing? Let sleeping dogs lie, says one. Another comes along, and goads them with a stick.

Reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Or: how the unspeakable can be spoken. Everything depends on… ah. On what. The place. The inner place from which you take it on; or it takes you.

Spring in cold countries. Nothing to do with the idyllic. The grinding sound of thick, yellowed, dirty jammed blocks of ice, the white and blueish underside when, finally, one of them breaks free and topples over. Down the stream.  Then another. Then a cold spell, and another ice jam. Embâcle. Débâcle. 

Insert Appropriate Title Here

In Hautvoir, Local projects on January 27, 2014 at 7:40 am

Brief – must be at a local school in an hour. The head churned until two thirty am;  the rest of the day will be handled through the remarkable strength of my thumbs.

While I fried up accras de morue in a communal kitchen last night, a twelve-year informant who calls the place one of his homes told me the principal of his school mentioned my name while standing in the stairs with a well-dressed man. (My informant’s notion of well-dressed man? Dress armor consisting of dark suit, white shirt and tie). The exchange he overhead:  the budget was to include a participation by Madame Bourges (how do you do.) I gather this must relate to the surge of enthusiasm (or so reported) at the possibility of producing another copy of the school newspaper under my able guidance.



(a paragraph in invisible ink, just above; or a literary device indicating the passage of time. I now have fifty-five minutes during which to do all things that must be done before setting out in the heavy dew aka rain once for the dog and a second time for the me loaded down with files.)

No time for the visions flitting through my mind. Oh, come on: at least a passing mention of the prof at Concordia U, boarding the bus in his bee costume. The eye couldn’t decide where to settle. The antennae? The briefcase? The too-sheer black tights? The dress shoes. The black-rimmed glasses. The serious mien. I’ve always regretted not attending his Physics 101 lecture, that day.

allez hop.

A Death near the Central Bus Station*

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects on January 26, 2014 at 8:04 am

They loved me as a switchboard operator. Foresaw a great future for me as a supervisor. As a Departmental secretary? Non pareille. The Departmental Chair tsked over the great things I could have achieved, had I only stuck to my studies. Meanwhile, I caught the glitches and gave one of my super performances as the bright-faced kid who takes her lumps with a smile.

In fact, they loved me in that role in every job I had. They still do. My enthusiasm, they say. My willingness to do the extra work. My attentiveness to others. You get more than your money’s worth when you hire me. If you hire me at minimum wage, you get triple value, minimum.

Of course, the great old gal’s humor gets barbed, at times, and her temper grows short. Nobody’s perfect. I’ll turn sixty-eight this year. Yesterday, I noticed interesting new dips below my cheekbones. My face is growing into the one I’ll wear for the next part of the ride.

The train ride from hell with my daughter and one other passenger in the compartment. The young man sat across from us. Spotted the airline tags on my suitcase. I don’t know if my daughter even remembers the incident. It played out in silence, and the young man decided against causing us bodily harm, despite the airline tag, and the printed family name on it.

Hoping this day will be easier than yesterday. I have medication for the low-grade fever and drops for the ear infection. Tiny issues; they’re all tiny when they start. The biggie is figuring out which ones to let go, which ones to tackle.

* An incident, as they call them. One of thousands in the Middle East and elsewhere. Except I happened to come across the aftermath of this one.

 Allez. Sunday January 26, 2014. The rain: still at it. Cabin fever and ear ache. We start the climb from here.

Curtain ?

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects on January 25, 2014 at 8:00 am

I have to give it more thought. The temptation’s there. A walk around the block may clear my head . The rain’s still coming down, but not in pelts and halberds (the French hallebarde has more panache but who’s to argue with national usage?).

Lead us not into temptation, the prayer says. What a joke. Assuming there is such a thing as a personal God, where would he get his fun through the eons of his eternity, if not by playing with his toys? The stars and other celestial bodies hold their charms. But all those critters, both great and small. Add a twig. Remove it. Topple a tower. Build a dam. Watch them fare. Laugh or go tsk-tsk.  And so on.

Therein lies the chief advantage to believing in a personal God: you can rant, you can rave,  you can beg, plead and wallow. He’ll always be there for you in his immense and benign amusement. In fact, I keep a version of the personal God handy for just such occasions. The parent for whom the little kid stages his four o’clock meltdown in the Mall. No point to a meltdown if there’s no one around for it. Just watch a little kid in total hysterics. Wave something intriguing before his eyes. Hop. The tap’s turned off. What’s that. Interesting? If it’s not interesting enough, the little kid turns the tap back on and picks up in mid-tantrum, no problem.

Depending on the depths of my personal despondency, I give my personal God different names. This morning, I’ll call Him Peter Pan.

Temptation. Ah, yes. The community blog. Stop? Continue? I’m losing interest, that much is clear.

Magnetic Lines – your own, other people’s

In Current reading, Drafts, Revision on January 24, 2014 at 5:36 am

Any one of the short stories by Flannery O’Connor. Read. You won’t rush into the next one, and the next after that, as if you were sampling every chocolate in the box.

Apart from her obvious talent, the mystery resides in her religious faith maybe. Only someone who’s placed her faith and hope in another, better place, can yield the scalpel with such an unblinking eye. There’s a better home a-waiting somewhere else. No need to spare anyone or anything in this realm.

The rest of us poor suckers don’t have the secret mojo. It’s here and now, for better and for worse. Whatever we get, we’ll get in this world. Whatever we miss won’t show up in the afterlife. No consolation prizes, children. Do the best you can with the hand you’re dealt. Shlepping your person and your files from one place to another, you take the time to watch the perfect mirror image of the riverbank  in the water? Please, by all means. You’ll never see it quite the same way again.

As for your own stories. As for your own writing. Do as Ulysses did. Listen to the power of those voices. Feel the overwhelming yearning to sing as well as they. Then, steer your tiny craft through the tougher places, and hope to find your way home, some day. Or not.


The show was better than the intermission

In Drafts, Food, Local projects on January 23, 2014 at 7:02 am

Insomnia: not good. The dark  night of the soul variety. The glum, glum, will this dark night let me sleep already. Only good news about despair at two am: the body tires of the nonsense, and secretes something or other to put a stop to the wandering mad woman up there.

Insomnia: in my experience, does not mix well with comedy. At least, not while it’s happening.

Before or after the endless hour of What Hast Thou Done of The Brief Allotted Time etc ? Tons of people in party mode in a house. Food, drinks, laughs, patter. I was both hostess, cook, chief bottle washer, conversationalist. A brief moment of laughter and respite and the sun; then, lugging a huge tray of steak tartar. Heavy. Must have been before the two am visit to the realms of gloom.

Draft? Hope.

The day : no matter what, it’ll be better than insomnia which is the awake version of a nightmare.

For Our Next Project …

In Animals, Drafts, Local projects, Revision, Story material on January 22, 2014 at 6:38 am

Incongruities. Another. Add one more. More. Keep going.

I woke up, almost floating away on a sea of them. Floating, not sinking. Huge difference. The dreams, filled with moving day imagery (moving day was a regular occurrence in my younger and mid-years; all right, a regular occurrence for most of my life). What adds to the floating on a sea of absurdity feeling: all the rest. The meetings. The requests for write-ups on what my workshops are about. What people write. What I write. Etc.

My Tuesday afternoon buddies. Everyone should get the benefit, at least once in a lifetime, of being admired to bits by two nine-year old boys. We’ve completed one of the first projects. Title: Travaux Publics (Public Works). Unwritten subtitle: Ode to a father by his son. Our next project: much more ambitious than a six-page booklet made up of folded sheets of paper. Based on a story book by Reinhard Michel, their version of Un Jour sur la Rivière  will feature the two of them, yours truly, a cat named Florian and a dog named… I forget, they’ll remind me. All five, out for a day on the river that runs through this town.

The hour I spend with them every week reminds me of days way back when I played “school” or “grocery store”, either with live friends or imaginary ones.

The characters in the draft, finding nooks and crannies during meetings and workshops, to throw bits of information my way. Oh, so that’s what happened back then. Somewhere between grabbing a sandwich, imagining story lines out of a hodge podge of photos and bits of writing, and pondering with others how best to deal with disastrous malfunctions in some children’s lives: I move around the scenes, and re-arrange imaginary furniture in imaginary lives.