Archive for February, 2014|Monthly archive page

School Break

In Drafts, Film, humeurs, photography, Visual artists on February 28, 2014 at 8:00 am

Yes, I’ll have moments of too much time on my hands i.e. the sense of not doing enough, of creeping to a standstill. Yes, I’ll do things like staying in bed until the mental imagery grows stale, and coffee beckons.

Yes too, I’ll do things like watching old cartoons instead of appraising great documentaries for the next showing (in fact, I’ll do both, but don’t interrupt.) Yes, yes, yes, I’ll let the brain hum. I’ll pause. I  may even nap, here and there. Of course I’ll miss the children. Yes? I’ll miss them. Yes, but not now. Two. Weeks. Off.

How to catch the wildness in little Sara’s eyes, hair and body language. The other girl’s cutting put-downs and cackling laugh. They’re best friends, except when they’re not. Yesterday, they weren’t. Take one Palestinian plus one Italian-raised Moroccan girl. Exciting times over a math exercise. Moments of me staring straight ahead in disbelief; others of keeping the verbal fireworks verbal. Others still, of getting the homework done, girls? Homework? Sums?

Do I mention the following hour with the ten-year old? Spent, yet again, in getting those ornery numbers to yield their identity, and keep it. (Extra challenge: in French, sixty is soixante, seventy is soixante-dix; eighty is quatre-vingt and ninety quatre-vingt-dix. If you write quatre-vingt the way it sounds, you get 4 20 or 20 20 20 20, depending on where your mind’s at. Let’s try that one more time, dear.)

Outside my window, the sky is a lazy grey. Hurray.

I set aside a scene last night when I couldn’t get the Tagus right. In terms of wave direction and choppiness, as seen from the shoreline across from Lisbon. I have the color of the water right – at least, in my mind – but not the right description for it in words.

School break also means I can leaf through books of photography until words click together in the right order. Long, slow feeling of contentment. (I’ll get nervous again soon enough.)

Spring, Sprang, Sprung

In Collage, Drafts, Music on February 27, 2014 at 8:54 am

On average, fifteen or sixteen people show up for the mid-week rehearsals. Last night, we waited almost a full hour before we had at least one voice in each range i.e. a total of seven people, including the leader/pianist/accordion player. All seven in great need of singing. We ran through the repertoire for the next concert, minus two numbers. The advantage to such a reduced ensemble: you can’t fake anything, nor can you let someone else’s voice carry a few notes while you take a breather. It’ll make for interesting listening – not for an audience, for the singers.

Today : last coaching sessions  before the two-week school break. Wouldn’t mind leaving town, here and there, if only for a few hours. Albi, Toulouse, heck, even neighboring Lavaur. The bus ride only costs two euro. Need to see other faces, other buildings, other storefronts. Need real-life reminders other places exist outside the views up the hill from the meetings or across the rooftops as seen from my window.

Spring all over the place. Daffodils, plum blossoms, dogwood. Hello? Already? Then, cold, cold rain. More crocus, primulas – zap, a full yellow carpet within hours.

Once – years ago – I left Lisbon in such a funk, I had to take a cab from the airport back to the hotel: I’d forgotten every scrap of paper in the desk drawer, including my passport and plane ticket. Once in Paris, I collapsed in the tiny hotel room, and stared at the ceiling, destroyed by the news I’d been selected for a job I didn’t want. I turned it down, recommended someone else for it. Paid myself the luxury of a flat-out breakdown, then travelled. Travelled and wrote. Wrote and travelled.

The pieces. The order in which they fall. Why a memory of coral-hued gladioli in a neighbor’s garden? Hot summer day, the sound of adults talking in those higher-pitched voices they use when socializing. Why the memory our Polish neighbors had a German name? The unlaid drain pipes had the smell of uncured cement; or maybe that was scent from the concrete slab laid down where once we had a field with dandelions, followed by tiny wild strawberries,  red clover, daisies, and the stalks of plantain we liked to strip of their seeds, when ripe.


Pushing on

In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music on February 26, 2014 at 7:11 am

The one(s) in your head. You can’t say that. You can’t do that. Have you thought out the consequences. What if what if what if (all negatives, all mishaps, all terrible losses of face for you, and for anyone you care about).

Not to mention what the neighbors will think.


The overriding tabus for the one(s) in your head: light-heartedness and well-being. Offensive, both. Think of the starving masses, you think they’re laughing this morning. Think of war, think of mayhem. Reflect on your sins and failings. Sit straight. Don’t smirk. I hope you’re sorry or I’ll give you a reason for being sorry. Etc. Ad nauseam.


Finished reading Francine Prose Reading Like a Writer last night. Of particular interest right now: the chapter Learning from Chekhov.

Of particular importance: listening for all the one(s) in my head. All of them.

Be careful what you write

In Contes d'Exil, Drafts, Film, Hautvoir, Local projects on February 25, 2014 at 6:43 am

People are free in their distribution of kisses around here. Still, I can put a time and place of first meeting on most of those who do the double distribution – left cheek, right. (Or right cheek, left? Hm. Never stopped to notice. Must.)

At any rate, this is a small town so I may have seen the woman before she approached me yesterday.Halting, enthusiastic French. Smiles, kisses me. From her charade of vigorous walking, her arms swinging as if on parade. From the fact she repeats toujours, toujours; points to her eyes and makes it known she lives near the new footbridge, I gather she sees me walking by on a regular basis. This business of toujours toujours marcher, followed by widened eyes and laughter gets a point across. Why the point earns me two kisses, I’ll have to ask her when her French is more fluent.

For now: more toujours toujours marcher, first, down to a meeting, then back up to another meeting, then down again to a luncheon meeting, then back up again to… to… a bit of writing maybe? phone calls, emails, etc. Then the Tuesday boys for the third chapter in their adventures out on the river.

In something I called Contes d’Exil, years ago, the main character takes off on an unlikely trek from Crimea to a point she describes as loin loin to the East – meaning, beyond Lake Baikal. She’s found her name. She calls herself Celle-qui-marche.

Had I known, I would have supplied her with an additional vehicle besides her own two legs.

Hence, the title to this post.

Body Maps

In Animals, Current reading, Dance, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Now playing in a theater near you, proto drafts, Theater, Visual artists on February 24, 2014 at 7:47 am

Fiction must take the back seat again. The dream too?

In the telling, yes, the dream must wait. It involved a getting-to-know-you dance sequence between unlikely partners,  in an unusual setting. Try: a gun shop in the upstairs section of a restaurant? Never a dull moment.

For now: how some real events flow into fiction, no problem, straight from life to transmogrification. How other events resist the same process; insist they’re part of the story but not that way. Not here. Not now. Not in that pov. Not in that scene. Not. OK. Keep your wig on, Ethel, the tale will find the place that fits.


In the hoard of notebooks. There it is. I haven’t kept much from that period. Read through it last night. Embarrassed only by the moments when I panicked, although I suppose the panic was a natural response to the strangeness of it all.

I was working on – what else? – a novel. The notes from real life and from story, intermingled. They still are. Why this is no longer an issue now, I don’t know.

Notes about the People’s Daycare Center, notes about Gods in need of Editors. None of the themes have changed, I notice.

A brief scribble out of Jim Harrison. “I’ve always been a slow talker,” it begins. “If my vocal cords had been otherwise constructed I may have done well at a growl or bark or howl at scented but unseen dangers beyond the light we think surrounds us, but more often enshrouds us.”

I’m not in an enshrouding mood, this morning.  But that notion of what lies beyond or below light: one that, to this day, won’t let go of a fictional fifteen-year old boy. Who may or may not go further than putting his question to the universe, in this go-round.

Until, one day …

In Artists, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, photography, Poetry, Theater, Uncategorized, Visual artists on February 23, 2014 at 6:59 am

The weather front ran on a long diagonal – top left to bottom right. Winds of tremendous speed. Coils of wind, braided. We hunkered low. The  next onslaught, a tremor first, lighter than a flight of midges. Then, the trees shaking, the whole forest overtaken by an epileptic seizure.

A dream.


At the meeting yesterday morning,

two of the locals – by which one must understand native-born within the town proper –

elected members of the Municipal Council,


a motley crew of artists (some, quite ripe from the first of two nights celebrating another artist’s birthday)

parents (delegates from two of the primary schools)

two boys (approximate ages: seven and four)

paper, a jar of crayons

For the umpteenth time, a re-enactment of The Great Divide: you weren’t born here, you can’t understand vs I wasn’t born here why won’t you listen to me either?

In a friend’s book, much later, the words: Comment aimer l’avenir en sachant que je n’y fabriquerai que des souvenirs? (How to love the future, knowing I’ll only produce memories there?). The most apt description of the feeling I get every time one of those two local gentlemen turns an empty gaze on me. Both fine and gentle people, both longstanding contributors to the town’s betterment. I’ve lived here for several years now. They still look at me (and others like me) as if we were distant motes on the horizon. We stare back from the town we know; invite them to our events, describe some of the shows, musicals, art projects. Spin our wheels. Make no connection.

“We never get any information on any of these happenings,” one of the parents kvetches. Posters, all over town. Flyers in mailboxes. An illustrated calendar of events, also in every mailbox. Who can put eyes in someone else’s face, or ears on both sides of his or her head? You see what you want to see, and not one thing more.


The weather front ran on a long diagonal. A dream. Or some other rent in the fabric of the commonplace.

Of weeds and roses

In Current reading, Drafts, Wine on February 22, 2014 at 6:11 am

The difference between walking and getting somewhere by car.

Will the story survive yet another re-working of scene order, scene intent and further probing into the characters? I don’t know. I do know I can’t accept the story as it is right now.

Received the copy I’d ordered of Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer. In the final chapter (just before the list of some one hundred and fifty  Books To Be Read Immediately), she mentions a friend asking her “…how do you know if you’ve created a rose – or just a weed?”

A fair question. At this point, in my case, I’ll be proud and happy if I can read through something of mine from start to finish and consider I can’t do better on this outing.


Do they still plant a rosebush at the top of each row, in the vineyards? Used to be a way to monitor soil condition. The bush thrived, so did the vine.

Walking. How you experience life on foot and without a phone. What you notice of the world around you. How you organize your time.


“I don’t feel like it”

In Animals, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, photography on February 21, 2014 at 7:56 am

“I won’t do it,” she said. Crossed her arms for good measure. “This is a drawing for babies, plus I don’t like you.” This last as the final and definitive argument. She’s serving it up with more and more frequency, so I suppose we’re getting somewhere.

“For babies and you can’t even do it?” I shove the sheet of paper back in front of her. “You can hate me for all I care. You’re such a grown-up, you don’t ask me to draw it for you. You do it yourself.”

She hates me all right. Mutters dark curses in a language she thinks I don’t understand. She’ll have to work on the potency of her curses. Of course, she’s only nine years old. Years of practice still available.

The other girl decides she’ll take a stab at compliance this time.

The hour goes by faster with the two of them than with the ten-year old who can’t name the numbers yet. One hour, thinking up different ways to get one through one hundred to stick in somebody else’s head? Make that two hours, so far. A third hour coming up next Thursday.

Now? On to sorting through one hundred and eleven (see? you work at it, your numbering skills improve) – one hundred and eleven photos to select about sixty of them for a storyboard. I don’t feel like it.

What else. Two people signed up for tomorrow’s workshop. Yayy, I’ll rake in the equivalent of minimum wage for my afternoon. Plus,  I’ll have some fun in the process – a promise to myself I intend to keep.

So. One hundred and eleven photos. I’ll save the one of the ram out in the field for the epilog, along with the letter said ram writes to his foster family. You kept me in the attic, he writes. Now, I graze with my one thousand two hundred friends. Watch the deer nibbling at the edge of the forest. The boars come and lie down with us in the afternoon. We head down to the river and bathe. Later, the farmer comes to rout us back with his dogs. We bleat and run. Great fun. That’s the way my life plays these days. Yours etc.

“Never die, never die”

In Animals, Artists, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects on February 20, 2014 at 7:32 am

For her next project she wants to make five sculptures within sculptures. One for each of the five continents. I know her: if that’s what she wants to do, she’ll  do it. Only problem: she has no agent, no funding agency, no backing. She manages to get contracts anyway, for temporary installations. Only other problem: what do you do with the artwork when the exhibition ends. Sell it on eBay?


The bird. Splendiferous it was. The window was closed so how it got in: one of those impediments dreams don’t have to consider. Crimson feathers and white. Someone talked. By the time I pulled out my camera, the bird was outside again, light flaming through the red feathers. Beauty. Then whoosh, gone. A visitation.


The words in the title: from Banville’s Kepler. I suppose it would be a spoiler if I specified where the words occur in the book.


“Can we talk about crimes, too?”

“We can talk about anything you want to talk about. The question is more: what do you want to say about crimes, which ones, how and why.”

(excerpt from yesterday’s session with the junior college kids working on topics for the next run at a student newspaper. One of them bringing in sixteen pages on the topic of swimming, next Monday? The way two of the girls sit, covering their mouths. The way someone wants them to start writing as if doing a school assignment. “Start with definitions,” she says. NOOOOOO. Start with the burning need to talk about this. This. This crime, this swimming competition, this book, this, this, this.)

Play: merry-go-round*

In Current reading, Drafts, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music on February 19, 2014 at 8:28 am

The urge and I in a bit of a scuffle. I picked up Banville’s Kepler on my way to the desk. Set it aside last night after the first chapter in the fifth and final section. This, after long and careful attention to the masterful way in which he worked the Martian discovery, from the first two paragraphs in the book to the final letter in the fourth section.

The urge begins when opening the book now, I read: “Cold it had been that morning, the sky like a bruised gland and a taste of metal in the air, and everything holding its breath under an astonishment of fallen snow.” I read the rest of that paragraph. Put the book down. The urge says “but, but… more!”

I put the book down again.


The Tuesday boys and I worked on the second chapter of their book yesterday. This, after the heavy-duty session with social workers and psychologists on serious issues affecting several people’s lives.

In the first chapter of their book, the boys listed all the essentials they required for a day-trip out on the river. No surprise: the second chapter called Le Vieil Arbre (The Old Tree) begins with the boat so weighted down, the boys can’t push it out into the river. Their one hundred and nine-year old companion (pleased to meet you) must remove herself from the boat and put a shoulder to the job.

Before next week’s arrival at the island (chapter three): my pleasant task to figure out the cat and the dog’s diving suits – both of them do an underwater run with the boys. Ten chapters in all, if we follow the plan in the story  book inspiring their own.

(Homework gets down as a sidebar during the writing exercise. For some of the kids, I’ve noticed, the biggest problem with the homework is how simple it is. Simple to the point of meaningless. The exercise then takes an hour,  with tears and sulking thrown in because it’s so boring.)


Which brings me to the next point: not too many people enthused at the notion of writing around here. In fact, when I mention weekend workshops, even some of the  nicest people I know cringe or make up excuses. Meeting with a friend of mine this Friday to see how we can turn the thing around. She’s good at setting a scene and turning a writing session into something of a party. I have trouble with the staging; she’s a natural at it. The idea is for the folks to have fun, and get over the shock of enjoying the experience of writing.

Compulsory schooling: a fine thing except when the teachers are so bored they get angry at the kids. Reading and writing as exercises in scowling. “Just for that, you’ll stay in at recess and write out fifty times: I will not talk back to my teacher.” Yay. Fun. Love that writing instrument. Love that copybook.


Dreams. Wispy cloud types. Ragged edges of something. Like following a bird song from tree to tree. Ravel. Les Contes de Ma Mère L’Oye.

*A bit of rust. A bit of a squeak. A wooden platform with mysterious signs. Whirl whirl where it stops nobody knows.