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Archive for June, 2014|Monthly archive page

“But order will too, from time to time”

In Circus, Local projects, Revision, Sanford Meisner, The Crab Walker on June 30, 2014 at 7:36 am

Spring of nineteen seventy-nine. My mother, feeling unwell, takes a cab to the hospital. Refuses to inform family, and dies alone, as was her wish.Life goes on in its chaotic way, with the added complications of the aftermath, including an unexpected windfall. Each of her four surviving children receives a share of the insurance money. What I receive isn’t a fortune, but it’s more money than I’ve ever had at one time. Calling for decisions: do I set up the living space for my daughter and I, the way “real families” live – i.e. carpet, couch, decent appliances? Do I save the money for some later time? Do I take the money and do what I’ve always dreamed of doing: get the hell out of Canada?

I opt to get the hell out of Canada. Offer a nine-year old girl the choice between traveling with me to see the world, or waiting for me out at her paternal grandmother’s place in Israel. This will be our second separation, with her on one continent and I on another. She opts for her grandmother’s place.

What I remember most, prior to reaching my decision, is sitting on my bed, reading the exchanges between the Apollo astronauts and their contacts at Mission Control. The memory makes an insistent come-back this morning.

***

At a recent City Council meeting, a newly elected representative of the people made a lengthy contribution. Those who were there tell me it was something like the roll call of his illustrious ancestors. Illustrious for the fact of having been born within the present borders of this country. I hear a woman told him the only person who could have total certainty as to his origins was his mother. I also hear many people are saying you mustn’t make waves in the presence of the Front National. I tend to think that, in this matter as in all others,  you choose how and when you respond, then, ride whatever waves show up as best you can.

***

Story? Has everything to do with what precedes.

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A man, walking toward…

In Animals, Games, Music, Poetry, Revision, Sanford Meisner, Sundays, Tea, The Crab Walker on June 29, 2014 at 7:49 am

A knot of people milling around a stalled vehicle (how many? Who? which ones have speaking lines, which ones bob around and play rubber ducky?) Playing in my head: a song from the seventies called Ely’s coming. You pull the right thread: a hem unravels, no problem. You pull the wrong one: everything snarls up, the thread breaks, the fabric puckers. You get annoyed. You forgot to wear a thimble. Prick  your finger with the needle. Drop of blood on the gorgeous fabric. For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. And so on.

However. Desperate times call for desperate measures. So while I dry the bath towels that sopped up the rain that lifted bits of the flooring (must weigh those bits down, or opening and closing the full-length windows won’t work anymore); and while I keep an eye on the weather on my way down to market, I carry with me

a fictional town with something of a problem you can’t pave over

and

several of the town’s residents  in unpleasant circumstances.

Rubber duckies. Such as those my sister bought at Musée Saint-Raymond in Toulouse? Put out by The British Museum. She bought two of the Roman soldier ones. One to keep, the other to give to our other sister.

If the thunder, lightning and showers don’t start up again, I’ll visit art work of a different kind this afternoon. Most of it will probably leave me thinking if this is art, my name is John Milton – always a good place to visit when the threads lead in too many directions.

 

At any rate, I’d scribbled down the main point already

In Current reading, Local projects, Revision, The Crab Walker on June 28, 2014 at 7:19 am

I still haven’t laughed out loud even once. Doesn’t matter. Some of the insights in Richard  Feynman’s chapter on The Dignified Professor prompted the use of my marking pencil – this is as good as saying a paragraph or two of “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” made the purchase worth the expense.

From my perspective, the interesting point being the validation of something basic, when I read it before lights out.

The context: At a specific point in the afternoon, I felt total boredom and disinterest with what I’m revising. There was no fun in it, nothing but a heavy sense of duty. “You start something, you finish it” , and all the rest of the heavy-handed moralizing that passes for education. At that specific point, one of the characters piped up. A brief insert, nothing more, but that was all the help I needed.

I’m neither a math or a Physics kind of person. In fact, I flunked math with such commitment one year, I was held back one of the two school years I’d skipped earlier. But the point Feynman makes (that prompted the marking-up) was about fun. About playing at the things you like because you like them. Granted, you have to learn the other lessons too. The ones about sticking with something whether you feel like practicing your scales, or doing your homework, or whatever else doesn’t appeal all that much. But if you forget how to play – or never learn in the first place, none of it

etc etc

As the title says, I’d scribbled out my game plan yesterday morning so enough with this. The game plan is about the kind of old woman I intend to be for as long as I’ll be old and in command of the decision-making as pertains to my person.

Now.Lots to do. There’s a great book sale on at the library, for starters. A drive out of town later, maybe. Plus, in story, an old coot on his way to see an even older woman – with or without the younger relative in tow, I’ll find out later.

Assignments

In Current reading, Revision, Sanford Meisner, The Crab Walker on June 27, 2014 at 6:57 am

I’ve nodded in recognition several times. Haven’t laughed out loud yet. The sword of Damocles hangs over my head. According to the Los Angeles Times Book Review blurb on the back of the book, “anyone who can read it without laughing out loud is bad crazy.”

This is like the school principal saying: “Gwendolyne, there is black magic and white magick. The curriculum at Toad’s Hall is strictly of the white kind. Do you understand me, Gwendolyne?” And poor Gwendolyne doesn’t get what the principal’s talking about as the principal (temporarily a small frog called a rainette in French) hops from one pile of school reports to an unfinished forty-five page grant application that must be in before the end of the business day.

But I nodded when the pantry man with stubby thumbs said  “Damn deez doilies!” as he tried to separate them and lay them neatly on the dessert plates. The whole bit reads: “I remember thinking: What a contrast – the person sitting at the table gets this nice cake on a doilied plate, while the pantry man back there with the stubby thumbs is saying ‘Damn deez doilies!’. So that was the difference between the real world and what it looked like.”

Nodded in recognition several more times, but I haven’t finished Richard P. Feynman’s Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman yet. I still stand a chance of discovering I’m good crazy. Hope lurks eternal among the shattered slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Photos I will not post: of an old woman with Alzheimer’s reciting an ode to a cupcake before chomping into it with vigor. Of a break-dancing competition during a coaching session and of me looking like the Laughing Buddha with bags under the eyes and the smile on crooked. The coaching’s done until September. I’ll have to find other sources of regular aggravation and delight (I am partial to the admiration of eight-year old boys who find me wonderful and funny too). For the nonce, I’m enjoying a photo done by someone else of two supporters of the Dutch soccer team. Something appeals about bunches of carrots parading as tresses on a fifty-something male. (And then I wonder why literary agents write nice rejection letters saying they don’t get it. ’tis a harsh and cruel world.)

The title relates to the parsing out of dream images among fictional characters. Something like an auction where the barker holds up a tattered bit of something and someone in the crowd bids a nickel on it.  We have a Large and Vivid assortment of dream images, in fresh from last night, characters. One last stroll through the offerings and the bidding is on.

One or two illusions

In Local projects, Music, Revision, The Crab Walker on June 26, 2014 at 6:07 am

Whether you choose them or they choose you, don’t even imagine you can get anything done without them. I don’t know why that is. All I know: there’s only so much looking facts straight in the face you can do without deciding the whole thing’s not worth the bother. You do enough staring at blunt facts that stare right back? You choose to meld with the asphalt and let the cars flatten you into it.

A song from way back then: Judy Collins was her name. She sang about clouds’ illusions, love’s illusions and the notion we never know what either one is really all about.

A meeting yesterday. After the kind of day where you choose between a wallop or boredom so thick you could suffocate in it. Folks aren’t big on gratitude. It’s mostly about deflecting the jibes. You smile, they figure you’re making fun of them. You don’t smile? What’s the matter, lost your sense of humor?

No, I haven’t lost my sense of humor. I didn’t know I’d have to make it sturdier still, that’s all. Maybe that’s the name of the game, as far as I’m concerned, both as a person and as a writer.

Allez? Allez. A few more illusions in need of updating for the next part of the journey.

 

Singing in the rain

In Current reading, Dance, Local projects, Music, photography, Revision, The Crab Walker on June 25, 2014 at 5:55 am

Rain. In the interludes, the birds come out. If the clouds clear out, it will be a hot one.

The searing embarrassment of photographs and videos, showing the physical me as others see me now – a short, bloated body. Along with the  usual direct hit to ego, self-image, self-esteem etc, the usual mix of anger, irony, sadness, resignation, anger, irony… and so on. An old story, the bloated one. With current and future  challenges and consequences. One of the women formerly from the singing group sat with me after the concert Saturday. She’s as thin as a stick figure, these days. “Hoping to make myself invisible,” she said. “It’s not working.” Fat is the other way to do it, I answered. Doesn’t work either.

The boy I probably won’t be seeing again. Asked me to sing his favorite song yesterday. I told him it was part of a movie. The man who sings it does a tap dance and even swings around a street lamp. If you can imagine a fat little woman pretending to tap dance to Singing in the Rain, you get the mental image of my last coaching session with a little boy who doesn’t know where he’ll be next year. None of us know that, you answer? Except, in his case, there’s nothing of the abstract philosophizing involved in the uncertainty. He hummed the song throughout the session. Of course, it’s playing in my head this morning.

“But how do we get in there,” one character asks another at this juncture in story. Indeed. Never mind what happens once they’re “in there”. The how has to get settled first.

No title suggests itself

In Current reading, Revision, The Crab Walker, Theater on June 24, 2014 at 8:10 am

The thunder ripped and the lightning crackled last night. So I shut down the system, and read the preface by Ali Smith to  Katherine Mansfield’ Collected Stories in the Penguin Classics edition. (Called an Introduction in this case but with the little Roman numerals that tell you the real book hasn’t started yet.) The power outage happened while I was reading the first story in the collection, Prelude. This is a nice, thick, substantial book and Mansfield’s writing is a presence I’ll want around for a long, long time.

The competitive relationship between Mansfield and Virginia Woolf. Woolf’s reaction to Mansfield’s death: “Now the only writer able to make her jealous was gone, there was ‘no point in writing any more … Katherine won’t read it – Katherine’s my rival no longer.’ ”

A curious thing, writing. Walking back from my last Monday coaching session of the school year, I stopped on the bridge. The heat, a physical thing bearing down. The water, murky green, filled with swirling ripples where schools of small fish fed on bugs, bread crumbs (or other fish? maybe). The character I had left was there with me. The writing works best when I accept the fact you don’t choose your characters for their charm or their social graces or their potential on Popularity contests. They stick around because they can’t leave off. They can’t leave off because something’s gnawing at them – a need. Most of them aren’t even clear what that need is. If pressed, they’ll give it a name. “Need to know who my father was.” “Need to make that guy pay.” “Need to hear her say she loves me.” “Need to…” Whatever. There’s no guarantee the stated need is the real one. Or the only one. Or the main and decisive one.

The only guarantee: the story continues. As long as the characters scribble notes at you or stop  you on the bridge or make you keep on walking to get back to the computer despite the pain in your legs, the story continues.

Katherine Mansfield.

Und now, next scene, and I don’t know what it will be.

Ma’am, I think the blue bird on your shoulder just pooped on your blouse?

In Animals, Artists, Collage, Current reading, Film, Music, Revision, The Crab Walker, Theater on June 23, 2014 at 7:55 am

Several annoying moments in Michel Gondry’s Conversation animée avec Noam Chomsky at the cinema last night. Moments where I was tempted to tell Gondry to shut up and listen to what Chomsky was trying to tell him (and let the viewer get Chomsky’s meaning by the same token.)

As an interesting consequence, those irritating moments when the two men seem to be talking at cross-purposes are what keep the film alive in my mind this morning. Those moments where I almost got what Chomsky was saying, only to have Gondry barge in to say “but what I mean is…” Enough of both men’s meaning came through to make the experience worthwhile.

Moments that flow. Times that don’t. Then, in all the stops to say hi on your right and hey there on your left at the Sunday market: pieces that fit together. Word of mouth is the main competitor to twitter, in this town. Hey, I hear you’re doing a workshop on improv. Hey, so-and-so’s looking for …. (fill in the blank: a dog, an apartment, a scriptwriter, a recipe for home-made leben, a piano teacher…). The man with the dim wit and kind heart (dim, in the sense he doesn’t know the difference between things you say and things you keep for yourself) stops me: your makeup was running all over your face last night, he says. No, it wasn’t, I answer. You’re not used to seeing me with eye liner, that’s all. Oh. Well, I think you have the best voice of them all, he answers. They say that, don’t they? That fat women have the best voices? Yes, some of them do say that, I reply. Pat him on the shoulder. Get bussed on both cheeks, and he’s off.

Rain: falling straight down with total abandon. Excellent for the new flowers put into the planters early this morning when the heat wasn’t oppressive. I wanted nasturtium but the plant lady didn’t have any so I took African daisies instead.

The revision: much like doing patchwork. Reading through the material. Snipping out the moth-eaten parts. Figuring out how best to recombine the rest. Plus improv, always. The small comment, the unexpected bit out of nowhere when the words show up on their own because of (and not despite) all the other attempts at making them show up on cue.

 

 

The Morning After

In Artists, Current reading, Drafts, Music, Revision, The Crab Walker on June 22, 2014 at 8:31 am

We did a much better job last night. The venue is perfect; the crowd, appreciative. We could hear the other voices – a crucial element on songs with complex inter weavings of pitch, words and rhythms.

Sunday morning. Flags and bunting to the colors of the local rugby team everywhere. A big-big match from what I understand – at the local level, winning would be the equivalent of Costa Rica beating out Italy at the games in Rio. Whether you care for team sports or not, who can resist the appeal of seeing the underdog triumph against all odds? A powerful emotion, no matter how short the golden moment may be. Rare = unforgettable. The day your ship came in. The day they stood and applauded.

The applause per se? The fine words, the thanks from people who loved the show? Nice, of course. But not the best part. The best is when you know you’re singing as you should; when the energy the crowd sends back in appreciation makes you give the performance that extra push. When the whole things flows. The folks are happy and so are you.

And then. Moving on. On the table: a slim volume – some eighty pages. A freebie received in the mail as a gift for buying two books in a specific collection. The text: a monolog Alessandro Baricco wrote for an actor. Ergo, meant to be read out loud. Called Novecento : pianiste, in French.

Writing – alone – that works at that same pitch. Writing as if it mattered. As if it made all the difference in the world. Because when it works, it’s like the small magical moment in the encore that starts when Tam and I segue from the crowd-raising El Pueblo Unido into the first tac-ou-tac-ou-tac-ou-tac-ou-tac, and the group ends the show on El Son No Ha Muerto.

 

Go Forth and Sin No More

In Animals, Artists, Current reading, Fête de la Musique, Local projects, Music, Revision, Sanford Meisner, The Crab Walker, Theater on June 21, 2014 at 12:35 pm

At our meeting yesterday morning, we agreed on a few things:

A) he needs a miracle to pass the driving permit theoretical test on a first go.

B) miracles are rare occurrences, except for the ones we  never notice, and those don’t count.

C) no matter how nervous we get, we aim for the Zen Attitude from start to finish (this last agreement followed on his account of one guy losing it and putting a stranglehold on the man who administered the test. We do not approve of the stranglehold mentality.)

D) Repeat : We Do not Approve of the Stranglehold Mentality.

***

That and other such matters settled in the afternoon,  another “we”  sang in two sets last night, after reaching a Gentle Agreement with the Hard Rock Extremely -Sound -and- Amp -Equiped Bands on the town square. This “we”  sent four emissaries to negotiate the agreement: two ladies in full performance plumage, and two men, also in stage attire. We did the first set while the crowd next door watched France begin trouncing Switzerland 3-0. Ate supper during the break in soccer play (the rock band played; we ate inside). Did the second set while France finished trouncing Switzerland in Rio. Left the delightful little town as crowds milled and celebrated while small children slept on benches or raised Cain  on the back streets.

Next concert: tonight as the first of three acts in another small town.

Note : If music  and strikes aren’t your thing, France isn’t for you, come summer.

***

Total morning goof-off, save for the dog’s walk around the block. Finished a re-read of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, years after the initial reading. An imperfect God. Not so much clueless as unaware of consequences. Not that his intentions aren’t good, but how can he calibrate to the nth neutrino for all of those creatures both great and small that keep tumbling out of the cornucopia? Like getting the sound balance right on the amps for  Extreme Rock Bands. Their just-right is another’s battered lower brain begging for mercy.

Faith, Hope and Charity are entitled to hang in there. Of course. They just need to know Extreme Rock Bands like their sound extremely amplified.

***

So you want to write stories, do you? And you think somewhere out there, there are folks who might relate to them. I wish you blue birds in the spring, to give your heart a song to sing. And then, a kiss, but more than this, I wish you love.

(Sarcastic? I only wish. Things might be a lot easier if I were.)