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Archive for December, 2014|Monthly archive page

Connections

In Animals, Drafts, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, New story, Revision on December 31, 2014 at 10:12 am

Frost on the roof tiles. Fog of frost on the town. The dog sleeps, still and quiet with her nose up against  the radiator. So close, I worry. Lean down to check she’s breathing. She flutters an eyelash or two, and gets comfy again.

Dress. Go shopping for a few missing items. I have the buckwheat flour and the yeast for the blini. Forgot to buy some butter – never have any at home.

The story is finished, save for the final and tedious laying out of title and author name on each page (no, Virginia, I haven’t yet figured out the automated way to do this – sigh.)

Books all over the place. Year end. But I’m more interested in what arcs from back then, through now, into things unknown yet. Or not understood.

The story is finished, but the characters are still milling around. Suggesting a sequel. Saying things like: we could play some more with you in the next one, if you like.

But I must shop and prepare the batter for the blini, first. I’ll set the dough to rise near the radiator. One side of the radiator for the dog (on the floor), the other for the batter (on a chair). With me up close, just in case.

Sacrifices

In coffee, Contes d'Exil, Current reading, Film, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Poetry, Revision, Sanford Meisner, Scene Prep, Theater, Titles on December 30, 2014 at 8:13 am

Compared to millions of others, I’m privileged. I have shelter, I have food, I have work, I have friends. I have enough money to allow myself the luxury of heating the one room in which I eat and work. Sleeping in a cold room is healthy if you have blankets under which to snuggle. Showering in hot water makes up for any number of ills. Granted, preparing food in a cold kitchen isn’t inspirational, gastronomy-wise. But the room in which I eat and work has heat in it. I’m not at risk of losing both power and water in the foreseeable future, as are some people I know.

So when I read in the morning news that Premier Ministre Emmanuel Valls considers himself a brave and lucid leader by declaring the French must “sacrifice even more in the years to come” so that their industries will be strong and their administrations leaner and healthier? I know for a certainty neither Monsieur le Premier Ministre nor any others in his close circles know much about life outside the world of privilege.

Responding to one of the countless scams and schemes the journalists manage to uncover, one young and savvy press aid blathered what are known as “language elements” i.e. set pieces of soporific strings of words signifying nothing. The journalist insisted; asked for the woman’s reaction to the moral wrongs inflicted by the scammers and their political facilitators. The response was immediate and offended: “Surely,” the woman said, “you don’t expect me to comment that kind of consideration.” Morality? Morality??? Is that journalist mad? Does she expect me to lose my job by stepping up and saying what happened was wrong; no one wants to take the blame and therefore people must suffer and make sacrifices because such are the ways of the world. End of interview.

***

To my right on the table, just beyond the bowl of coffee : Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia. To my left, stacked on the Robert-Collins French-English dictionary: Donald Westlake On Aime et On Meurt Comme Ça ( a French translation of something he wrote initially under the title Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death and with the Tucker Coe pseudo); Basho, L’Intégrale des haïkus; good old Sanford Meisner & Dennis Longwell’s Sanford Meisner On Acting (Chapter 10, over and over, Making the Part your Own); Acting the First Six Lessons by Boleslavsky; Zeami, La Tradition secrète du No; and Osip Mandelstam Été froid & autres textes.

Sometimes, I read from them. Sometimes, I just like to be surrounded by friends.

I open the Mandelstam at random, and fall on a critique he wrote of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, as played in Voronej in 1935. The production was described as a “scenic failure” by others. Mandelstam is at his scathing (and loving) best as he describes the actors who have just left the stage: the actress “an old little girl of the theater in a black dress and white head scarf” who played Varia; the actor who played Lopakhine, still wearing  “the expression of a merchant pike-fish, sly but sentimental”.

***

An odd sensation as I revised part of the story last night. Part of the dialogue resonated like actors’ voices do in a movie theater. When a scene is supposed to be a close-up, private moment between two people, yet their voices fill the space in Dolby Surround. Of course, in the story, the two characters are acting/hamming for the benefit of invisible cameras and other recording devices so the effect is as it should be. But it gave me pause before moving on to the fifth and final part of the revision. Fault lines. Things said, not said. How they affect visible behavior.

***

Oh yes. Monsieur le Premier Ministre further considers “the vast majority” of the French population – not to mention party members – understand and approve the notion of further sacrifices. What are leaders for, if not to bite the bullet, ignore all ridicule, and believe their own language elements?

When Marie-Antoinette writes to the Chinese Empress

In Current reading, En français dans le texte, Local projects, Music, Revision, Sanford Meisner, Scene Prep on December 29, 2014 at 8:37 am

I haven’t done an evolving blogpost in a good while; this may be one of them.

The sky at the moment: like the inner part of a conch shell with the deep pink fading up to lightest blue. Cold outside; a longish walk to a coaching appointment awaits. Two astounding pieces of news (no, one astounding, one… no, both in the Moment of Zen category): a symphonic/operatic scam of international dimensions reported in Mediapart*; and also in Mediapart, the safe sheltering in record time of some fifteen thousand travelers stranded in the snow on their way to their skiing holidays. Meanwhile, the shelterless sleep outside in the cold and get denied access to park benches, heated spaces, public showering facilities, etc. Ho-hum, business as usual.

***

The story? Yes, still on it, adding a tweak here and another there. What can I say? I like spending time with that bunch.

here, for those with French language reading skills. The fiction-writing part of me, itching to get to the marrow of this one. (Yes, the title refers to the article. I’ll explain later, if time permits. If not, ask babel fish for help, the story might be even more astounding that way.)

allez hop.

Lies, cover-ups, delusions, and…

In Food, Local projects, Revision, Synopsis on December 28, 2014 at 8:37 am

Institutional violence is awful, of course, whereas institutional kindness is plain depressing. Gather ye all have-nots and partake of… well, of whatever we decide to give you.  Including a karaoke-type entertainer and enough fat and sugar-laden sweets to insure at least one case of cardiac arrest – if not at the community hall, in someone’s private home, for sure.

I didn’t stay for long. Walked around instead. The rain had stopped. Threatens again, this morning.

***

The not-much-fun parts of writing include the reading of your own words by others. The thumbs down or the squirms. The straight-out put downs. The attitude that says: this is the best you can manage?

I envy the writing machines – meaning those writers who churn out the stories, oblivious to their own limitations. Both their agents and their publishers manage to earn their keep with them, so I guess the limitations don’t bother them much either.

Along with outside comments, the synopsis is the closest the writer gets to seeing her own work as others might.  I read through yet again yesterday. Am I sick of reading and revising? Yes. Has the story finished with me yet? I’m afraid not.

Sometimes, the whole thing feels like attempting to sculpt something out of clouds and their shadows.

Those that don’t add up, and never will

In Animals, Current reading, Games, New story, Querying, Synopsis, Uncategorized on December 27, 2014 at 8:40 am

Years ago, someone close to me had what she considered the solution: write to formula. You know you can. You’ve written to any number of specs from any number of clients. Find a genre you like, read as many as you can, then do what they’re doing.

The mathematical approach. Works for the 1-2-3, algebra, algorithms. Even works for music.

Mystery novels use something of the same principle. They go from grade-one simplicity to elegant solutions to complex equations. When you put down the book, no matter how bleak the story or its outcome, there’s a sense of justice served or of something settled, once and for all. A killer, identified. A reason, or a modus operandi: same. A relationship: terminated or re-redefined forever by the revelations.

I’d love to write a book like that. I’d love to look at it with the satisfaction a mathematician must experience once he’s solved an intricate polynomial equation. Or when I watch a little kid “get it”, whatever the “it” may be.

Except none of my stories work out that way. Some questions get answers, but most of them don’t. Most of the questions open out on more questions. The End doesn’t lead to a sense of completion. Too many things unanswered. Too many unanswerable. Plus, of course, answers no one wants to claim as theirs.

Who done it? Why? How? More to the point: how will the knowing change the course of future events and redefine what you thought you knew? Whereto, now that none of the witnesses happened to look down from a high window at precisely the right moment?

I love mystery novels. A whole section of my bookshelves is devoted to them. There’s any number of writers I would love to be, but am not.

Maybe I’ll do my own online thingie and call it Platypus Press. Joke. My computer-related skills give new meaning to the word dummy.

Secrets. Clues. Riddles. How I loved solving them as a child. How smart and competent I felt, every time I did.

What’s a mystery with no answers? A mystery. It niggles, and forces you to write another story, for those moments when you feel that this time, for sure, you’ll “nail it”, whatever “it” may be.

This business of genre

In Current reading, Film, Music, Poetry, Theater on December 26, 2014 at 6:22 pm

I read. I wrote. I read some more. I slept. Went for a walk with the dog. Read. Watched excerpts of Disney’s Fantasia from the forties, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Read excerpts of Rabelais’ Gargantua. Forgot all about this blogpost.

I don’t think there’s anything more I can do with the story. It is what it is. Neither fish nor fowl, neither this nor that. I’ll stay clear of all agent websites that offer a drop-down menu out of which to choose your submission’s genre along with a tweet-length synopsis.

I’m at a loss to summarize it, other than to say the following :

Francesca Aretino has a gift. Or a curse. She hears voices. They don’t order her to kill for Jesus or for Allah. They don’t provide the winning numbers at the Lottery. No, they sing in Russian, recite Greek and Bulgarian poetry, and stream latitude and longitude readings through her head. The voices get Francesca into trouble on a regular basis. She listens to them anyway. Perhaps Francesca is crazy, as some people say? Then again, maybe she isn’t.

I wrote the story. Do I think Francesca’s crazy? No.  Too imaginative for her own good, as they say? Could be. Then again, maybe she isn’t.

***

Genre

In his learned introduction to the Oxford edition of Shakespeare’s The Tempest,  Stephen Orgel has this to say on the topic:

“Modern conceptions of genre are not those of the Renaissance, and our categories tend towards different ends: ours are exclusive and definitive, theirs tended to be inclusive and analytic. To find a new category for a play was not, for the Renaissance critic, to abandon the old ones. J.C. Scaliger describes the Oresteia as both a tragedy and a comedy; analogously, the Quarto of Troilus and Cressida declares it witty ‘as the best comedy in Terence or Plautus’, while the Folio editors included the play among the tragedies. These claims do not contradict each other.”

Yes, I know. This is the tail end of the year two thousand and fourteen of the Common Era. I am neither Shakespeare, Terence or Plautus, and the question of a genre category for this story befuddles me.

As for The Tempest, my favorite lines in the play always were, still are, and will probably always remain Caliban’s:

“Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises,

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,

That if I then had waked after long sleep,

Will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming

The clouds methought would open and show riches

Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked

I cried to dream again.”

***

The way a small child can sleep through the worst upheavals, and remember a small tin monkey rather than the rubble that surrounds it?

Something like that.

Physical evidence

In Uncategorized on December 25, 2014 at 7:24 am

I prefer personalized, that’s all. First choice: in person, as in sharing a physical space somewhere on planet earth. Barring that: a personal email even if it streams through countless mirror devices. Personal as in addressed to the one person you wish to contact.

A card  or a letter in the mailbox. The person who sent it chose the card, handled it, wrote words meant for you. Sealed the envelop, chose a stamp, made the trip to a postal outlet.

***

If the meal happened last night, it happened without me because that’s how it goes with some people. I’ll spend some time with live ones today.  Humans, that is.

I’ll wait for the first gloom of morning to lift, and attempt something more light-hearted as a Second Act?

***

This will do. When all else fails, absurdity works. A Christmas message. From Iranian President Rohani to the Catholic Pope (and to the whole world, while he’s at it.) It’s on Le Nouvel Observateur – sorry, it’s called L’Obs these days.

Best wishes to you too, President Rohani.

***

It’s time to pull out the Demon Chaser. (No, not because of President Rohani. Because of the Demons. From the Sloughs of Despond.)

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Con gusto

In Artists, Circus, Current reading, Local projects, Sanford Meisner, Theater, Titles on December 24, 2014 at 8:59 am

Looks like I’m out of sync this year, as far as cuteness goes. I’d be willing enough to hop on to the bandwagon if the platform weren’t so narrow. Best Wishes getting bandied about like in a Two-for-One sale. You have to be in a special frame of mind to stay extra-focused on the jollity of it all.

Circles. The inner edge, the outer one. Consideration. How far does it extend?

***

Blogs and Facebook are great platforms for a town hall meeting approach to conviviality. With little pockets here and there, where the less-fortunate or heartbroken ones exchange whispered confessions. When those get picked up by the loudspeakers, people titter, or pretend to be shocked. Some don’t pretend at all. They decide the whisperers should be banned from town hall meetings, period.

***

Puppetry. The art of. The best part of getting small translation jobs: learning all kinds of things on topics I’d never explored before. The techniques. The traditions. How they evolve. One such project landed on me just before the Holidays. It makes a good companion for the times alone at home, while the brain sifts through other matters relating both to real lives and to fictional ones.

***

Unpredictable: I won’t know until this evening if I’m spending a quiet evening at home or joining a family for the Christmas eve réveillon (midnight meal). People born and raised in nomadic cultures don’t hold to  appointments the same way sedentary ones do. Which makes for misunderstandings where expectations are concerned.

***

Ah. Expectations. I thought you meant. But I thought you said. I only wanted to.

***

Re-read Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard last night. Sanford was right. Chekhov is one tough number for actors. “Chekhov,” Meisner says. “But look how difficult he is. A line says, ‘Ivan, bring me a pound of tomatoes from the market,’ and the stage direction reads, ‘She bursts into tears.’ ” The class laughs. “Yes, he’s wonderful, but there’s no question but that he’s very difficult!”

“Build your Nest at Dawn”*

In Animals, En français dans le texte, Food, Local projects, Poetry, Uncategorized on December 23, 2014 at 11:58 am

Next up: the vexing question of the title under which this story must now sail forth in search of a harbor.

The question is so vexing, it leads to the evasive scratching technique dogs apply when humans stare at them for too long.

***

But it’s all right, I say. We’ll see each other after the break.

No, no, she insists over the phone. I said I was inviting you to lunch today. I’ll pick you up at twelve thirty.

Her voice: as enthusiastic as a deflated balloon. ’tis the season for jollity, god dammit, you will sit there and you will enjoy the food, you hear me? (To be on the safe side, I go out and spend too much on something to bring along.)

***

Poems streaming in my head. Some Shakespeare too.  Some nonsense verse. Hodge podge. Does a title lurk somewhere in the mix? How about Hark! Who goes there? Or: When the red red robin comes bop-bop-bopping along (along). Ah: Echolalia? Tinnitus?Hm…Whoosh? No.  How about Honk went the swans? Or…

***

* “Build your Nest at Dawn” is the first line in an Albanian poem by Din Mehmeti. I have no idea what else the poem says but every time I want to sound sagacious these days, I look the person in the eye and say it in French : “Construis ton nid à l’aube.”

It keeps them perplexed. They nod and wonder.

On the Second Day Off

In Hautvoir, Revision, Sanford Meisner on December 22, 2014 at 9:10 am

Yes, I know. In his Spoon River exercises, Meisner tells his acting  students to work from the emotional charge of the final lines in the poems. An excellent exercise that helps to give depth and individuality to the readings.

For my own intents and purposes as a writer, I figured out something else this morning, as I mulled about and watched the fog thicken over the town: I need to project the characters beyond the final lines into a future that keeps me smiling. Granted, I tend to smile at odd moments but that’s all right. A smile – even a dazed and goofy one – I prefer to most of the other options out there.

With a bit of luck, this notion will keep me interested enough for yet another run through this endless experience with the current bit of story  writing. I’ve stayed with it for so long now, yesterday’s day off felt like a blessing from the school director: yes, child, you may leave early today; no homework, and please dawdle on the way home. No need to read through the story. Holiday. Go out there, and enjoy yourself.

Granted, the times aren’t conducive to goofy pheromone-inspired smiles. The times, they are full of anger, despondency, strife and woes, woes, countless. Absurdities by the sack full. Relentless revelations of wrongdoing, corruption, evil, horrors, etc etc. And good old, plain old boredom in search of something, anything.

No matter. If you’re somewhat cuckoo, that is. Cuckoo enough to bob along, considering there’s not much else you can do anyway.

So. Without writing it into this story, how do I imagine things working out next for the main characters? My only proviso: what happens next must make me laugh, no matter what.