Archive for January, 2015|Monthly archive page

“…and since, somewhere, something good existed …”*

In Current reading, En français dans le texte, Hautvoir, Music, Revision, Theater on January 31, 2015 at 9:05 am

I left Dora at the end of chapter XV.** Given the limited options at her disposal, she was settling for the only career path open to her. God knows, she and Mrs Marks weren’t about to reach a place of casual camaraderie and given her peculiar attachment to her hubby… I shake my head.


Back then, and under those climes, the hysteria of choice centered on communism – the heathen hordes, Lucifer’s prideful minions defying the will of God, etc. Maurice Duplessis ran La Belle Province and we were little Christian Crusaders, our hearts aflame for Good Triumphant. (“Je suis Croisée, c’est là ma gloire, mon coeur par Dieu tout embrasé, combat sans peur pour sa victoire, je suis Croisée, je suis …” etc.)

Given the facts

A) we school girl Christian Crusaders were all of six years old

B) We had never heard of Korea before

C) Nor could we make any obvious connection between American soldiers (good; Christian; positive heroes), North-Korean soldiers (evil;communists;Lucifer’s minions); Russian atheistic children cheering on the minions; French-Canadian Roman Catholic children offering up their prayers for the safekeeping of the positive heroes; and the fact

D) the old nun in charge of our class beamed out to us from deep within the Realm of Crazy,

my recollections of first grade at Ecole J.J. Joubert in Dorval, Qc are baroque, to put it mildly.

I feel great sympathy for Iris Murdoch’s Dora. Must ask her where she buys the West Indian fabric for her dress.


So. Story. Scene: Pounding on her mother’s door, in full view of the neighbors. What will they think? And who’s inside the house? Who will open the door, or refuse to do so?


* Dora, heading back for more, at the end of Chapter XIV

** Irish Murdoch, The Bell


“Scolopendre! Bachi-Bouzouk! Autodidacte!”*

In Current reading, En français dans le texte, Hautvoir, Music, Revision, Sanford Meisner on January 30, 2015 at 8:49 am

DSCN7338Neither of the boys showed up for the last session, yesterday. The rain was coming down. I scrounged through old books at the Social Center and came across a copy of L’Affaire Tournesol – one of Tintin’s adventures I must have read when I was ten or so.

There, buried in one of the illustrated panels, was the source of one thread of narrative I followed in the story I finished before setting back to work on this one. How synapses work. The astounding amount of material stored in our heads.


Things coming to an end. Or the realization that domestication isn’t for everyone.  It will be an awkward scene for both of the characters.


The novel, essentially a comic form? The introduction to Iris Murdoch’s The Bell states that this was something “she used to say”. The writer, at the very least, as a comic figure. Same as other grownups who go on playing with imaginary things – scribbling cartoons instead of taking notes at the meeting; improvising sounds and rhythms with their ballpoints instead of taking in the lecture. Actors are comic figures too.

I suppose the butcher, the baker and the candle stick maker are comic figures also, as are the mayor, and the sanitation engineer; except not too many of them seem aware of it. They matter whereas you’ve chosen to play.

So, play.


* Some among the choice epithets Capitaine Haddock likes to hurl at one and sundry.

“The innocence of things”*

In Current reading, En français dans le texte, Hautvoir, Revision on January 29, 2015 at 7:38 am

Two meaningful moments in a long, long work day marked by much tediousness:

1)When my sneezing fit subsided, the Romanian doctor I coach in French asked me what was the proper thing for him to say. “A vos souhaits“, I said. He pulled out a pocket notebook and thrust it toward me. I wrote

– atchoo!

A vous souhaits.


He highlighted à vos souhaits in yellow marker and we proceeded with the intricacies of medical and colloquial French.

2) The eight-year old boy brought in his latest treasure: seven white pebbles that sparkle. He demonstrated their sparkliness. From there, we moved on to the tonal tricks of T: t as in… tarte, patate, tomate; T as in sss…patience, potion, portion; and T as silent partner at the end of a bunch of words where they tempt you to speak the T out loud, but no, chut! -the T is a silent witness.


Ah-la-la. How’s that for a piece of trickery. John Banville, The Newton Letter. You expected a stunning follow-up to my Kepler, gentle Clio? I hand you a brown apple core instead. Oh, and by the way, enough with Newton, I wish to make a full confession of how I have failed to see the light of day.

A marvelous book I will read more than once. One that, at first reading, plunges me into the prurient and murky zones known to children raised in cultures addicted to confession rituals. The mixture of excitement and dread at the thought of entering the dank wooden box in which you confessed the depths of your monstrosity to a hairy ear.

I don’t know at what age the expression first struck me. In entering the confessional, the first words the penitent spoke were: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” Not: “Forgive me, Father,” but “Bless me.”  Hurray, hurray, shall we dig into the particulars? Not for nothing did many a pious maiden have sinful, delightful thoughts of dragging the blessed father down into the nether regions with her. How much shame can you endure before deciding a weekly session of abasement and of cringing around the loaded questions  should yield something more interesting than reciting three Hail Mary and the injunction to go forth and sin no more?

At any rate, there’s a core of Irish, Male and Catholic in the narrator of John Banville’s letter to the dear teacher and friend – and that remarkable discovery said narrator makes that “real people keep getting in the way” of his grandiose mission. Many an Irish female could have told him as much, but that’s another story.

I also found Iris Murdoch’s The Bell in my mailbox when I came home. Looking forward to reading her take on life in the shadow of the Blessed.

* “The innocence of things. Their non-complicity in our affairs”. One of the many, many sentences I’ve underlined in my copy of The Newton Letter. A remarkable book. All the nice things the blurbs say about it are true. I will also read it at least twice.

But I’ll get back to my own stories, first.



Scene in Progress

In Current reading, Film, Local projects, Revision, Theater on January 28, 2015 at 6:55 am

Man, is this going to be a fun day. Never mind, must earn my keep.

The scene in question isn’t yet. Getting it there will have to wait. Right now, one character plays straight man while the other rambles on about  his life and times – all of it fascinating for him, no doubt. However, he’s not getting much help from the writer. No traction, so to speak.

Must get my hands on an original English version of Peter Brook’s The Empty Space. Between bouts of sleep and bouts of stupor, I made my way through the third section on Rough Theater, and want to read it again in the man’s words, not a translator’s.

Anything else? Yes, something about blockbusters. The curled lip the boys gave me all those years ago when I said: but the story is ridiculous! You don’t go to a movie for the story, they said. You go for the special effects. Oh.

In which case the three-minute lead-in I witnessed in my dream last night is the epitome of great film making. The scene that plays while movie goers are still heading for their seats. The three minutes costing more to produce than most full-length features in “other” countries. The scene was exquisite – meaningless but a gem that must have paid for several people’s mortgage and car payments.

So,  in confidence, man rambling on in a scene that may or may not work: can you tell me what’s so important about staying in this mean little town you call home?


System Check

In Animals, Film, Fun, Games, Hautvoir, Revision, Sanford Meisner on January 27, 2015 at 9:00 am

The dog is being good about her solitary strolls down in the garden. Still. I wish I could train her to go shopping. That’s what Alexandre’s dog does in the movie Alexandre le Bienheureux. Alexandre lies (or sits) in bed. Dog brings the victuals and spirits which Alexandre suspends on ropes.  Open window (this is Southern France): Alexandre throws out the garbage. Pulls down his trombone for a musical interlude, then settles in for a snooze.

A first for me, yesterday: shivers so strong, my fingers jumped all over the keyboard when I tried to type. Chattering teeth transposed into chattering fingers. I’m better now i.e. neither the teeth nor the fingers chatter. I stand up and I reel at the same speed as the world around me – what we humans call standing still.

Guilty little secret revealed: the fever, earache and all the rest of it can’t be described as fun. BUT the fact you can turn off your phone? Tell people you are unavailable, so sorry? Provides the bright side to the common cold – or flu, I never know which is which.

So. Let me tell you about the wondrous variety of life forms, both extra-terrestrial and Earth-based … In the beginning was the virus, a tight little bundle of self-interest that must have inspired Dawkins’s theory about the Selfish Gene. Came a point in viral evolution when something else came into play: after the discovery of great life forms off of which to feed, the virus discovered A) Feeding frenzies are nice but B) you’ve got to leave some for the next day. I have no idea how this message got through to the virus and, sad to say, some of them still don’t get it.

All right. The fingers are functional. We’ll take it from there.

With chauffeur, please

In Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision, Tea on January 26, 2015 at 1:24 pm

I won’t tell the man what the online etymology dictionary says about his profession. I won’t tell him because this server of writs is anything but a bumbailiff. (So called back in the sixteen hundreds “because he was always felt to be close behind.”)

A man must earn his keep. The server of writs I have in mind is a decent sort. Took due note of the fact the family still occupies the apartment ; flinched at the sight of the mother’s condition; and explained the whole procedure in the plainest, simplest terms. Short version: no panic. He’ll be back in a month or so, in my company, serving another paper*. With any luck at all, the family’s next appeal will be winding through the system, at that point. “Hope springs eternal in a young man’s heart.” The family isn’t out on the street and hasn’t been ordered out of France yet. You take your good news where you find it.

The title is a cheery bit of nonsense inspired by the father’s comment to his daughter. Once he has his papers and the right to work, he said, he will buy me a car. True, I could have used one this morning. The good news: I’m home, all my appointments are cancelled for the day. I sleep, drink tea with honey, and ride the upsurges of fever. Pull myself up to the sitting position and think about life forms in all their wondrous variety.

Mould, for instance. Do I work part of that scene back into the story? How? To what purpose, except for the fun of playing with it? Scenes are supposed to lead to something else, then something else again.

I won’t think about it for too long or the latest supply of energy will drain out of me too fast.

* which raises an interesting question: how do you call a bumbailiff’s occasional (and unintentional) sidekick?

Polar Opposites

In Animals, Film, Local projects, Music, Revision on January 25, 2015 at 8:09 am

The fact most of the people in the audience knew the film maker in no way guaranteed a positive reception. Compliments and congratulations, yes, because that’s more or less expected – along with one or two snide comments or head-on confrontations.

But the audience paid attention. The film spoke to them, both in the literal and in the metaphorical sense. A small rural area of piercing beauty below a towering viaduct. Old-timers, newcomers, what to make of the encroachments of tarmac and bureaucracy. Slow seasonal rhythms, productivity  as a guiding criterion, and the dying-out of family-based farm holdings.

Lots of talk, of course. The film is based on interviews and, save for the more taciturn among them, the French aren’t stingy with words. Natacha Sautereau’s camera captures the light in an animal’s eye and the careful snipping of a decorative pattern on the local baker’s confections. Bruno Izarn’s soundtrack provides the appropriate counterpoint – no, the tarmac and the pylons are never that far away.


Story – the never-ending struggle at getting the balance right.


Outside: the walk on icy sidewalks, down to market and back up again. Promises some fancy bits of footwork too.


How things get around

In Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision on January 23, 2015 at 3:13 pm

Small towns. This one jogs with that other. They exchange the latest gossip – third party hearsay, for the most part. Except the third party is one hundred percent trustworthy.

Only problem: the third party got the facts all wrong.

Or: the third party got the facts right, and the person being advised caution refuses to heed the warning.

Or: the third party never thought the information would get relayed /didn’t realize the import.

Or: the third party has an unsuspected agenda.

Who’s telling it as it happened? Who isn’t, and why?

(Good to  have the rest of the day to work out these equations in fiction rather than in real life? And how. The toughest part for me: keeping track of the wider picture while not losing track of the telling details.)


The next day:  today, working on the story struck me as more interesting than adding to the notebook. Given the number of times I’ve been through the story, the test is pretty simple: if something drags, I cut and set aside. Heck, if a character’s boring me, I hate to think what he or she will do to someone else.

Closure. Closure. Who gets away with murder. Who doesn’t.

Puzzling your way toward closure

In Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision on January 21, 2015 at 9:05 am

To whom and why does a character open up about information that may prove damaging to her? A confessional urge? Confession’s big, these days, not so much in churches as on talk shows. Hang down your head, confess. Make a show of humility and self-abasement.

Revenge is another motive. Tell the truth but slanted in such a way the real damage occurs away from your person. Somebody else did it. You were there, couldn’t avoid witnessing. You shut up because you had to save your own neck.


Or I’ll have to leave it at that for now because a full day looms ahead. But, at least, a glimmer of a trail emerged this morning for placing some of the missing pieces in the story.

May there be enough energy left in me this evening to pick up where I left off this morning. Amen and on to the work day.


The following day : double amen, and on to a day that’s shaping up to be a marathon run at the speed of a sprint. Hallelujah, variety is the spice of life.

the cup, it overfloweth

In A post to keep afloat, Animals, Music on January 20, 2015 at 7:54 am

Tired and fed up. The To-Do list – man, when people need something, they know where to knock, don’t they? Oh, and one more little thing, if you don’t mind. One more little meeting, one more little report. Tired. Fed up. This old grey goose is ready for the millpond, for crissake.*

Oh, we don’t know how to thank you. I don’t want thanks. I want a) results and b) … a bit of decency, maybe? As in – watch it, will she use the word… kindness? Kindness? Jesus, lock her up.

I don’t want to read another news report. I don’t want to answer another appeal by phone, email or direct solicitation at my door. If I could, I would walk out of here and never look back. Tired and fed up. This too shall pass, and so on.

Drop the blogs, quit the volunteering, write if I feel like it and shut up if I don’t.

* minus the profanity: Burl Ives – Go Tell Aunt Rhody (one of the recordings from the fifties with a nice switch into the minor key to mark the full tragedy of the old goose’s demise whilst standing on her head).

Fed. Up.