Archive for February, 2015|Monthly archive page

I speak the henglish good

In Current reading, notes on February 28, 2015 at 8:50 am

The sight of Eudora Welty’s house, maybe, where she lived all her life. After reading The Ponder Heart and Why I live at the P.O. What struck me as the utter confidence she displays in writing the way she does. I’m Eudora Welty, and this is how I write. Gather up your own spirits, go forth, and do as you can or must.

Her home. The notion of someone living in the same town and the same house for a lifetime must have set off the recollection of the fifteen or sixteen months in the house with the butterfly roof. An architectural innovation designed for snow-clearing through wind action. Side effects of which were best displayed in the springtime when a battery of pails, pots and pans lined the hallway in which melted ice plinked and plonked on irregular beats.

The house with the butterfly roof was in a town with a mining and frontier mentality. Vast reserves of aluminum in the region. Newcomers and regular food deliveries from the “South” (i.e. Quebec City) caused great suspicion toward the first, and a craze for five-cent bags of potato chips for the second. I was eleven years old in a classroom of thirteen year olds. The atmosphere in the convent schoolyard? I’ve never been on safari in Africa so the feeling of being sniffed out for my nutritional value  is obviously a metaphor. A powerful one nonetheless. Those girls owned the place. This was their town, their schoolyard and those were their  five-cent bags of potato chips bulging out of the pockets in their school blazers.

The nun in charge of the English class loathed her assignment for two reasons: 1) she neither spoke nor understood the Henglish language, nor did she see any value to knowing or teaching it; 2) she’d been assigned the Henglish language because her superior thought she found too much earthly enjoyment in the teaching of Home Economics. She would call me in before class and demand that “Miss Show-Off” – Mademoiselle Sait-tout  (yours truly) read through the lesson in her presence. When she floundered in class, she had Mademoiselle Sait-tout stand up and show off her skills in the Henglish to the circling hyenas. My knowing the Henglish good was a source of great hilarity.

At home, our mother insisted on reading a chapter of A Tale of Two Cities after the evening meal so that we would not lose all traces of the Henglish ourselves. When I wasn’t reading adventure novels, my best friend was another stranger, a German girl three years older than I and three times my size. This gentle giantess confided to me her intention of becoming a cloistered nun. In the meantime, we headed away from civilization every chance we had, and collected fine bits of rock around a small and icy cascade. One fine day, municipal workers laid down a stretch of asphalt on the back road. I recall a few thrilling bits of roller skating there. Then, it was winter again, we were moving. The loaded truck stalled in the minus forty-five or fifty degree weather and the back of the piano split open from the cold.

Other things happened too, of course, but those and related recollections kept me awake part of the night. Come to think of it, the thread leading to this post started before the sight of Eudora Welty’s home. It started yesterday afternoon, when I opened the door to the classroom in which I do my coaching en français. I excused myself, and shut it gently, eyes wide and ears stunned at the sounds produced by a woman teaching the Henglish to an unsuspecting victim.

Confidence, yes. Confidence.


Wisdom of the Ages

In Fun, Games, Local projects, Music, Synopsis on February 27, 2015 at 8:23 am

If failure appeals to you, you’ve come to the right place. Mired? Quagmired. My whole inner landscape one huge knot of confusion. Not the elegant knots they taught us Girl Guides of yore. More like a snarl I’ll never manage to sort out.

Yes? Oh, hello and good morning, boys and girls. All’s well if by well, we mean that familiar place where nothing makes sense but we whistle a happy tune anyway. Why do we whistle a happy tune? Because we know this too shall pass. Yes? Yes. This too shall pass. (Don’t think about that piece of comfort for too long. The more this too passes, the less there’s left to pass. The less there’s left to pass, the more you wish some of the passing time would be a whole lot more fun.)

(The second paragraph above provided the title to this post.)

Synopsis,  you ask? Wan smile. Something like a visit to the dentist for root canal work without Novocaine. In other news, I see the doctor I’m coaching in French conversation sent me a list of pharmaceutical products for a variety of diseases and ailments, so I assume we’ll be talking treatments of choice this afternoon.

Apart for yet another brief but intense bout of total discouragement on my part, as documented in this post? Alles gut, as usual. I can’t whistle, so I sing. Happy tunes but sad ones too. Either one, put to music, soothes a snarled soul.

His diving coach would disapprove

In Animals, Circus, coffee, Local projects, Music, Synopsis on February 26, 2015 at 7:51 am

Too much padding in his suits? A posture deficiency?  Who knows. Two things I notice in the man’s overall stance : 1) He walks with his arms held a distance away from his body 2) and with his chest thrust forward. Both of these things would affect the quality of his swan dive. Chest hits the water first? Oy. From thirty meters up? Oy several times over.

As for an orderly, uncluttered home bringing joy to your socks, your cutlery, your books and your treasured collection of… of… you know, things? We have miles to go before we sleep, dear socks. I even treasure the ones with holes allowing a big toe  some leeway.

This completes my round-up of significant news items in this morning’s online version of the Nouvel Observateur.


Kilometers to go before I sleep again anyway. In the rain, it seems. As to where I carefully stashed my umbrella so as not to forget it again? An excellent question. Alzheimer’s? Not unless it first struck me in early childhood.


The Synopsis Caper? Ongoing. For a short-tempered but pleasant-enough individual, I seem to have an extraordinary number of less-than nice characters in my fiction.  C’est comme ça. None of them seem on the verge of reforming. One of them may be the sort to keep an uncluttered home but the good luck charm she buries in a basement? I guess it’s best not to rile her.


Even though the Synopsis Caper isn’t explicit about this yet, I still maintain the story wouldn’t hang together without the presence of this one specific non-human entity aka a pet or a mascot. Plus music, of course. In this case, loud and brassy and not much concerned with standards applied at philharmonic orchestras.


Another coffee. Then, another day.


In Animals, Circus, Music, Synopsis on February 25, 2015 at 9:21 am

A bit of inner dialogue:

– For god sake, woman, will you get there, ever?

– Where?

– … at the synopsis, for crying out loud!

– Yes.

– (strangled sounds of frustration) WHEN?

– I don’t know. I’ll tell you when I get there.

End of dialogue because the frustrated one becomes inchoate.

Meanwhile, the other one takes yet another look at how the scenes move from one to the other in the story.


There are no divers in the story (save for a brief reference to pearl fishers in Bizet’s opera). Yet the image playing in my mind, over and over again since early morning: that of a diver in her walk to the edge of the board, thirty meters up.  The visualization of the dive. The walk to the edge. The stance. The push with the foot. The take-off. I know the landing must be with minimal splashing. I’m assuming it’s a swan dive but the visualization isn’t carrying me through the motions of it yet.

How this relates to getting the synopsis right appears to be self-evident to that part of my brain setting up this imagery as a metaphor. Mine is not to question but to follow through.


A shake of the head, because nothing else shows up as a title

In Local projects, Synopsis on February 24, 2015 at 9:18 am

Few, precious few, persons in this town with whom I can express unguarded opinions with no fear they will circulate in various garbled versions. Who know they can do the same with me. Even only one such person at any time in your life is worth something that can’t be measured in numbers of Facebook friends.


Someone’s idea of a joke? Just another random bit from the random internet universe? Who knows. Someone searched out the no-longer active community blog, yesterday. Being of a curious nature, I followed those search terms to a ‘joke’  – one of those women are like this and men are like that kind of jokes. The kind where, if told by a woman, all men are like this, and if told by a man, all women are etc. Funny? Not even close.


Telling a story. Attempting to summarize said story. Attempting to maintain a certain amount of light-hearted ribbing at my own self, selves, and perceptions of others’ collections of woolly persona.  Listening to this one, to that other. Noticing the places where the poke aimed outward lands smack in my mirror. Attempting, yes, attempting, not to tell the same story over and over again. A lot harder than it looks.


Next up: Others i.e. other people’s priorities as they relate to my livelihood.

De gustibus etc

In Artists, Circus, En français dans le texte, Music, Opinion, Revision, Synopsis, Theater on February 23, 2015 at 8:19 am

Circus, for instance. You like, you don’t like, you can take it or leave it. Bright colors vs muted: your preference goes to…

Music. You loathe… You love… Etc.

Books. Movies.  The ones you don’t care for. The ones you never forget. All the others, in between.

“Des goûts et des couleurs, on ne dispute point”? That’s what the Latin saying claims. Yet what else do we argue about, if not about tastes and colors, and whether a head scarf is required in the presence of invisible gods and/or a gesture of defiance when others around you loathe head coverings.

And so on.


Accepting something fundamental. The something: as a writer, whether you are good, lousy or somewhere in between, practice may improve some aspects of your work but it can’t change the way you see, the way you feel, nor the way you express what you see and feel. Reading your words, some people will howl in outrage, some will drop your work in the closest garbage can, some won’t even bother to do that much. Others will like some aspects, not like others, etc. Some will love what you write. When they’ll tell you what they love about it, you’ll measure the length and breadth of the misunderstanding. Maybe, sometimes, what you write lands where someone likes it enough to consider others will like it too.

You can’t know unless you try. First, you have to accept the fact you write the way you do. So far, the best way I’ve found to do that, is to read and read and read again every single word I’ve put down in a story. I may not even like the words or the scene, if liking means wanting to spend my life in that setting.

Writing is a discovery for the writer. What the writer discovers, the writer can refuse. Or the writer can accept it,  the same way there’s no denying a dream image. There’s only the possibility of accepting it and letting it stand for whatever it suggests or doesn’t.

De gustibus.


Monday. It’s raining. The children are back in school

23 x 16

In Circus, Local projects, photography, Sanford Meisner, Scene Prep, Synopsis, Theater on February 22, 2015 at 8:54 am

I can see the scene:

Monday morning. Grumpy civil servant shows up for work after a less-than thrilling weekend. The coffee machine is down again. His boss (female) gives him the withering look. To the Desk! To the Desk! the look says as if the civil servant had just ruined the French economy with his slouching.

To the Desk! Where a fresh pile of application forms await checking for approval. Whistling a less-than-happy tune between his teeth, civil servant grabs the first. Requested documents? All there… oops, no official translation on the birth certificates. Rejected. Score one for the French economy.

Next application form: passports, photo page… yuck, ugly one. Move on, documents: signed. Translations: official. Hm… what’s this? The whistling turns toward gleeful little ditty. He holds up the stamped, self-addressed reply envelope. Shows it to the colleague slaving for the French economy at the next desk. Waves it about. He and the colleague do a distant version of a high-five. Application form requesting the right to submit a further request for residency status? Rejected. Score two for the French economy.

And for why, rejected? Ah-ha and heh-heh-heh. Did not the list specify an incomplete application would  be rejected automatically? Hm? And did not the list of necessary documents  specify a stamped and self-addressed envelope measuring 23 x 16 centimeters? And did not this application contain an envelope measuring  22 x 11 centimeters? Hm, hm hm hm? Hm. Case dismissed.

Fictional, this. Of course.

The most amusing photo seen so far this morning: the President of the Republic, in dress shoes and impeccable suit and tie, smiling to the camera while holding a shovel, ready to dispense some dirt to a sapling about to take root on the Presidential grounds. Which photo, of course, has nothing to do with another where a representative of a confederation of peasants gets thrown to the ground by a presidential bodyguard for attempting to express something other than the scripted message at the photo op.

The sky has cleared after yesterday’s impressive drenchers. Light fluffy clouds drifting by, plus vapor trails from air traffic flying in and out of Toulouse airport. Smiling to myself at choice memories from my political aid days.  I never read Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, did I? Must. Shall, no later than today.

A character prepares

In Synopsis, Theater on February 21, 2015 at 8:10 am

“The actor who believes he may one day play Hamlet has endless energy:  the one who sees that the outside world is not convinced he will ever play a lead is already tying himself into painful knots of introspection with a consequent need for self-assertion.” (Peter Brook, The Empty Space).

 True enough for writers, too. More to the point, this morning, the sharpness of focus on a specific character. In reviewing his back story last night, I realized that he is much younger than he “felt” while I wrote his scenes. Much younger. How does this affect what he shows and what he doesn’t show? Clearly, he is the leader in his group. He’s a good leader on the whole, and a natural one. Meaning what. Meaning he doesn’t question the fact he is meant to lead, despite a prior event that almost cost the life of one of his colleagues. Painful knots of introspection  followed, no doubt about it, a journey and a return. Now, in story? He’s at another turning point but doesn’t quite see it yet – which is a damn difficult thing to convey to readers if the writer doesn’t get all the elements spot on. I’ll go on reading through different scenes, cutting and shaping the evolving synopsis as I go.

That’s the question

In Circus, Current reading, Local projects, Poetry, Synopsis, Theater on February 20, 2015 at 8:28 am

A small section in a poem by Octavio Paz :

Boy and Top

Each time he spins it,

it lands, precisely,

at the center of the world.

What does this have to do with getting the synopsis right? Just about everything.  As in: where is the center? What holds the whole thing together (at least, for me, if for no one else). How do I get this across to a potential reader at a literary agency.

The center. The place on the sole of the foot from where a gymnast can walk across a slack  line – do stunts on it, even – and make it safely to the platform on the other side.

The center. The play’s the thing, yes. How to convey in a synopsis that makes a reader want to experience the story in full.

Why Performers?

In Animals, Artists, Circus, Current reading, Music, Poetry, Sanford Meisner, Synopsis, Theater on February 19, 2015 at 7:18 am

Laughter, I wrote yesterday. Yes, of course. But laughter is a reaction. A coping mechanism (what an ugly way to describe something of vital importance, but so be it).

Coping with what and against what. Anger, for one, and lots of it. Anger at indifference, stupidity, humiliation, pain, violence, hopelessness. The list goes on.

Affirming what? Something one of the characters in this story says and demonstrates much better than I do.

When I came home from a friend’s yesterday, I found a slim book in my mail box : Peter Brook’s The Empty Space in the original English. In the opening page of the final section dealing with The Immediate Theatre, he writes : “From the first rehearsal, the aim is always visible, not too far away, and it involves everyone. We can see many model social patterns at work : the pressure of a first night, with its unmistakable demands, produce that working-together, that dedication, that energy and that consideration of each other’s needs that governments despair of ever evoking outside wars.”

In essence, what one of the character tells the others in the story is: you’ve done a good job. How the show will play out on the road, how others will react to it, there’s no saying. But we’ve put together something good. Let’s get some sleep now, and move it forward  tomorrow through whatever tomorrow brings.

Laughter? The space of freedom. No matter what, while you’re laughing, you’re free. The levitation won’t raise you more than a millimeter? It won’t last longer than a micro-beep? Maybe. Or maybe – who knows? – you’ll learn to laugh better next time.

Why performers? For confidence in the ability to perform, no matter what.