Archive for July, 2014|Monthly archive page


In Animals, Current reading, Food, Revision, RLB trivia on July 31, 2014 at 7:15 am

In no special order (priming the pump):

Before yesterday afternoon, I had never eaten a peach straight of a tree. This experience now added to the store.

There is sun and a clear sky today.

Also, lots of activity at the cemetery: the digging kind but also lifting and transporting big slabs of something – someone wanting a mausoleum? Must be another explanation.

The cat went off in a snit. At the neighbor’s, I think. Saw him peeking through the hedge yesterday when I took a break from this keyboard and screen.

Yesterday, after viewing page upon page of texts and photos of former colleagues from the days of yore, did I regret leaving that scene and landing myself in someone’s basement  in order to stare at the screen, then move my fingers again? I did not.

In fact, learning that one of those former colleagues has committed a book had me forcing down the sides of my mouth. Further, learning of the more-than-comfortable salary she was paid while committing the book has me smiling and staring at the low beams on the ceiling over here.

Where I notice an unusual drip pattern. Fossilized. Hm.

Plus, a whole bowl full of freshly picked strawberries, three peaches on a plate, a bit of jasmine (starting to wilt), The Norton Anthology of American Literature (holding down a stack of papers), a magazine dating back to two thousand and seven, put out by something called éditions du félin located on rue du Faubourg-Poissonnière in Paris (proximity to fish: one way to keep a feline happy).

From this magazine – Le Point Hors-série, Nietzsche Schopenhauer Kierkegaard Les Textes Fondamentaux et Leurs Commentaires – I’ve skipped all the basic texts and commentaries, thus far, save for a quote lifted from the Journal of Kranz Kafka (sic) who, in 1916, wrote something resembling this translation: “Plus, abandon this irrational mistake consisting in setting up comparisons between yourself and Flaubert, Kierkegaard. This is an absolutely puerile attitude. (…) Flaubert and Kierkegaard knew exactly where they were, they had clear intentions, did not scheme and acted.” (Et puis, abandonne cette erreur insensée qui consiste à établir des comparaisons entre toi et Flaubert, Kierkegaard. C’est là une attitude absolument puérile. (…) Flaubert et Kierkegaard savaient exactement où ils en étaient, ils avaient des intentions claires, ne calculaient pas et agissaient.) – Kranz (sic) Kafka, Journal 1916.

Ah, mon ami Kranz…

Where does the story go from here?

I have no idea.

This is news?




Vanity – yours mine his hers theirs

In Revision, Sanford Meisner on July 30, 2014 at 5:15 am

Put-downs. Blunt, subtle, intentional, accidental. Put-downs. Oh, you write with those cheap Bic ballpoints? Oh, your Laguiole is a cheap Chinese knock-off, you know. In other words: don’t you know the meaning of the words quality? class?

You make a comment. You consider it legitimate. The person takes deep offense. Your comment was rude, uncalled-for, hurtful, poorly timed, whatever.

Fun? No. Devastating? Depends. How much value you ascribe to other people’s opinions. How much the cheap Bic or the cheap Laguiole mean to you. How much you consider you have the right to question someone else’s views, or not. How much you’re willing to take jibes about your own vanity versus taking jabs at someone else’s.

Put-downs. Part of the mix. How do you deal with them? What do the fictional characters in your personal menagerie make of them? Do they go for

–  oh yeah? Well, your mother’s a… (blankety-blank)

– what do you mean, my VIP pass has expired? I’m a personal friend of… (fill in the blank)

– but I only meant, I only wanted, I’m…oh, how can you treat me this way?

– I’m a stoic, I can take this, mean and petty minds don’t deserve the cutting edge of my superior wit

– stunned silence; sudden decision to leave the shores of civilization; destination unknown; no, don’t talk to me, don’t try to change my mind; this was the final blow; goodbye; after all I’ve done, after  … no, not a word, begone, I’m gone, goodbye and so on.

– something else; such as…



In Food, Fun, Music, Revision on July 29, 2014 at 6:12 am

Kids having fun wasn’t a big, big item with parents and other educators back then. Much like dessert, fun was for those times when the serious stuff had  been done to the adults’ standards. In many quarters now, adults decree children must experience the learning experience as fun. How this applies to practicing musical scales on a daily basis, for instance, I don’t know. Given the overall state of the world as reported by news media this morning, this may seem like a frivolous topic. If so, hurray for frivolity here and there.

What is fun? Fun is something you like to do for, yes, the fun of it. Ah, thank you, now we’re getting somewhere. When something or someone is fun, there’s a lightheartedness to whatever’s going on. The rain doesn’t dampen your spirits. The sun doesn’t scorch or, if it does, even the sunburn feels worthwhile. Fun. The spontaneous kind. The unscheduled. The disconnect from whatever the program may be. But also the kind that shows up, quiet and unbidden, when concentration takes over. So concentrated you don’t even give one thought to the word fun.

At crossroads, scene-wise. I’ve read through most of the background material I have with me (variations, deleted scenes, etc); read background materials that may or may not be useful for some of the characters. Fine and dandy. Good girl. Did your homework. Now, what’s for dessert. A piece of fruit? Could be nice. Fresh though, not canned. As luscious as fruit can be, tree-ripened and picked at its peak of appeal.

What do the characters do for fun when no one’s expecting them to perform? Or when they’re so concentrated on their performance, they don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing?

Fun. I notice there’s no such category in the selection here. Add New Category? Why not.

La paix des cimetières

In Artists, Collage, Collages, Mary Etteridge, Once in a parking lot, Revision, Ridgewood, Sanford Meisner, Story material, Summer Story on July 28, 2014 at 6:10 am

I  killed off a character yesterday. Not an expendable nasty. One of my all-time favorite characters. I didn’t plan it. Given her job, the death isn’t surprising. Whether more than a glimpse of her will appear in the final version of the story, I don’t know. Whether her notes and the well-bred letter from her sister will play a part in the story, I don’t know either. All I know is: the woman is dead. Her death happens in the midst of all the rest of the action(s), and no one that matters in the story is aware of it while their busy lives tumble along.

As mentioned before, the house from which I’m revising the story backs up to the local cemetery – a lively place, as cemeteries go,  with lively visitors, loud-voiced  workers and care keepers, too. There’s also a fine bench at the entrance where you can sit and catch your breath if you’ve been walking for a while. A fine place from which to listen to the impassioned exchanges going on in the guardian’s quarters – not that I meant to eavesdrop but I’m not in need of a hearing aid yet.

Pulling a story together – as a vibrant, living thing. Something with a pulse (or several) running through it. Something you don’t want to take lying down. As much as possible, something that leaves a reader invigorated and eager to take things on; to try something he or she “has been meaning to do”; to try it now while the trying’s good. To try it now anyway, if the trying’s tricky.

In the thick of things. What road do you choose to follow? Which thread do you choose to pull? Which mistake do you choose? Go ahead, pick one. The house is all out of good, ready-made solutions. Therefore, grab a mistake and see where it takes you.

This advice was offered up by a committee of characters, milling around me in search of their respective parts.

In case you hadn’t noticed

In Animals, Artists, Revision, Sanford Meisner, Sundays on July 27, 2014 at 6:22 am

You’re on your own. Wherever you are. Less noticeable when kindred spirits are around. This makes kindred spirits precious. But even when they’re around, you’re still on your own. No one can write the story for you. No one else can figure out where you go from here – wherever here happens to be.

In real life terms at the moment, here is a quiet environment. Save for the bird calls, nothing stirs right now. As mentioned before, the garden backs up to the wall of the local cemetery. The house itself, surrounded by lawn, trees and a large vegetable patch, is at the end of an unpaved private lane  that runs between the gardens of two other houses. When they are home, the neighbors to the left speak Spanish. The ones to the right speak French – all told, some twenty words spoken to one another since I got here.

This morning, I’ll walk back to my place, and pick up the charger for the camera’s batteries. On the way back, I’ll stop at the outside market. See live people, hear them speak, talk to some of them. Buy bread and cheese – everything else is in abundance here. Thus re-charged through live contact with members of my species, I’ll return to what I’ve chosen to do with my time for several more days i.e. bring to completion the revision on a story written a few years ago.

We’re social animals. Even in strict or relative isolation, we need other humans. We talk to them in our heads, or we invent them as invisible companions. We remember them, argue with them, cry over them. Even their absence is all about us and them.

Sometimes – in clear, quiet moments – awareness of morning light on a wall, of the specific pattern made by a chair or a pile of book. Sometimes, making the words hold together well on your own is how you stay in touch with the rest of your species.

But an hour or so with live reps of same helps in keeping some froth in the mix.

And about, and about, and oh, about…

In Current reading, Revision on July 26, 2014 at 6:31 am

In the shelves downstairs, under Volume 2 of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, I come across something titled White Noise by Don Delillo. Read a bit over a third of the novel. His ear is phenomenal; so is the pervasive angst. The pervasive dread brought on by too much to think about and not enough to do about it. The middle-aged Northern American male with unparalleled access to information. Surrounded by preternaturally swift-minded children (his own from previous marriages, plus the offspring from his current spouse’s previous arrangements). Plus his current spouse – the equivalent of an Earth Mother symbol with anxiety  issues over her weight and whether to chew sugarless gum or not. “Heart-stopping, as if we were listening to a massive glacier breaking up,” reads part of the New York Times blurb on the back of the book.

This may well be but I’m in no rush for heart-stopping. Despite the remarkable run of inspired musings on everything imaginable, I set the book aside and got some sleep while the family fled a man-made toxic spill disaster and argued over the taxonomy of rodents. Sleep felt good. There was some nice, plain and simple writerly advice tucked into the seams of a dream or two. I don’t recall any of it this morning, but that’s OK.

(What also struck me about the book was how writing in the past tense is well-suited to the drifting-in-a-lifeboat-while-denying-the-existence-of-sharks feeling the novel inspires.)*

I’m keeping Volume 2 of The Norton Anthology of American Literature close by. It runs from Samuel L. Clemens “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” through Native Oratory, chants and Songs, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, Sandburg, William Carlos Williams etc etc all the way to Louise Erdrich (Lulu’s Boys) and American Poetry up to Li-Young Lee (b. 1957). Not to mention all the ones I haven’t mentioned.

* And yet, most novels are written in the past tense. So that pervasive drifting feeling in Delillo’s White Noise has more to do with all that thinking about, and about, and…

Listening to the rhythm of the falling rain

In Animals, Collage, Collages, Current reading, Food, Local projects, Mary Etteridge, Music, Once in a parking lot, Revision, Ridgewood, Story material, Summer Story on July 25, 2014 at 7:21 am

I assume the two gentlemen in work clothes walking through the cemetery this morning were there on official business. I base this assumption on the fact they spoke in loud voices about the need for planks of wood, and gestured with wide, expansive arm movements. I hope their official business is done (all quiet now, voice-wise) because the rain’s coming down hard and the thunder has a fine, deep rumble to it. (Unofficial visitors to the cemetery, other than grieving relatives? Yes, for such items as fresh flower arrangements and knick-knacks left by the grieving ones to keep their friends company. I hear there’s a brisk trade in almost-new flower arrangements and small plaques celebrating this one’s fishing skills or that one’s memorable performances on the guitar.)

Day One of Cybèle and Cacahuète worked out all right. Cacahuète (that’s French for Peanut) is a tom. Once Cybèle got the message those snarls were not for show, she didn’t lose interest in making friends. Vigorous canine tail wagging didn’t get Cacahuète’s friendship meter up in the least. However, a bit of chicken lifted by me from Cybèle’s bowl into Cacahuète’s: ah. A peace offering worth considering. A closed door policy on separate sleeping quarters. On to Day Two.

The gurgle of rain. The sound of it on leaves and thick sod. I was planning on an early breakfast of strawberries picked off the plants, but  first, I’ll let them get a few more hours of hot sun to re-concentrate their juices.

As for local projects, I have one and one only at the moment: it’s called revision.


Moving (a lateral slide)

In Animals, Collage, Collages, Current reading, Mary Etteridge, Music, Once in a parking lot, Poetry, Revision, Ridgewood, Sanford Meisner, Story material, Summer Story on July 24, 2014 at 6:15 am

The neighbors: quiet. The garden backs up on the wall of the local cemetery. A high wall. Not too high, I hope, although cats outrun my dog (at least, all of them have, so far). The peach tree, laden, the fruit almost ripe. The vegetable garden: three varieties of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, lettuce, herbs, plus everything I haven’t checked out yet. A pool. At least four different areas in which to work on the revision: under a linden tree in the garden, in a cooler part of the house on the ground floor, in the living room, in the attic. A tailor-made fifteen-day residency for someone who wants to finish revising this one before September lands. That’s the plan.

The dog ate a wild thing down in this garden last night. What it was, I’ll never know, except for the fact it had feathers, not cat hairs. The first day or two at the other place will have a bit of the corrida flavor between the resident feline and her. My dog is a pleasant type, easy to live with. But that’s her city persona. She was born to the hunt.

Met up with an old acquaintance in story, yesterday. I enjoyed meeting this character the first time he showed up in the draft version. Now that I’m reading some Simenon again, after all these years, I realize what the man owes to Inspecteur Maigret (who was anything but maigre). I don’t recall what led to this retired detective’s choice of family name. Doesn’t matter. Some link to Québécois writer Jacques Ferron’s short stories, perhaps. At any rate, Ferron’s collection called La conférence inachevée is part of the reading material coming to the place of residency with me this morning. I also owe a huge debt to Docteur Ferron as founding member of one of my favorite political parties – the first version of le Parti Rhinocéros in Canada. The magnificent rhino at Granby Zoo was not the Party mascot. He was the Party’s main candidate at the federal election. I forget the rhino’s name but Google will remember for me.

Other books making the trip across town range from the latest reception in my mailbox – Etgar Keret’s Suddenly a knock on the door  – to prose poems by Paul Valéry, a collection Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ early stories titled Ojos de pedro azul, plus several others chosen at random. The owners have a great musical collection. I shall not want for variety.

Once I land in the new space, first order of business: either a read-through from the top or an urgent response to a voice insisting he/she must be heard now. 

“But this is absurd,” she says. “You’re lying to preserve the family’s reputation for honesty !?”

In Collage, Collages, Current reading, Drafts, Food, Local projects, Mary Etteridge, Once in a parking lot, Revision, Ridgewood, Story material, Summer Story on July 23, 2014 at 8:46 am

Next, story-wise: the search through old computers and their files for the rest of the material. To think my first full-time paying job was as a file clerk. Then, order clerk in the same firm which entailed pulling up punched computer cards for the requirements of various drug stores. Aspirin with or without codeine. Cough syrups. The pill-makers with their face masks, working in a yellow haze behind sealed windows, down the hall leading to the cafeteria. The building was sold and became a Junior College. My daughter studied art there. My favorite story from the old Charles E. Frosst building: the day one of the Frosst’s (the senior one) marched out with his  nose in the paper, as usual. Lifted his left leg in order to slide his bum into the car. Problem: the chauffeur wasn’t there and neither was the limousine.

Yes. Disorganized when it comes to filing, saving, keeping things in order. I have this notion of building the next part around the father. Or the retired detective. Or both, who knows.

Walked around the apartment for part of the night. Leg cramps from too much sitting. Have to write enthusiastic copy for the local paper this morning. They tend to publish press releases.

Books. Starting to find assortments in bed with me. Somewhat of an issue because it’s a narrow bed. I don’t know who’s going to shove me on the floor first: Yourcenar? Simenon? George Eliot? And here I am thinking I really need to get the whole series of Joseph Cambell’s again. Not to mention… oh, you know. Plus James Joyce’s Ulysses because it’s such a perfect book for those times when you need just a sentence or two that will keep you going for days, like a super-concentrated energy bar.

(The title? A scribble on the edge of an old draft. It may not fit as such anywhere else in these stories, and I like it. Waste not, want not.)

Page holder

In Animals, Collage, Collages, Drafts, Revision on July 22, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Even with five minute stretch breaks, all-day or all-night writing sessions are not the greatest, health-wise. But the opportunities for them aren’t so common and when the juice is on, it’s on. Ergo, the dog and I now take a break.