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Archive for March, 2015|Monthly archive page

A small boy in a blue hooded rain slicker

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision, Sanford Meisner, Scene Prep on March 31, 2015 at 6:37 am

The small boy. The word toddler incarnate. He came out of the day care area ahead of his mother yesterday. Decided he didn’t want to leave the building. He didn’t throw a tantrum but chose to lie down in the reception area and take in all the wonders of the featureless ceiling. Outside, the rain pelted down.  I looked at him and felt a strong pang of envy.

The envy hasn’t subsided. Next to my computer, the paper mountain grows. A paper mountain of lists detailing new requests for more paper, plus letters confirming the mailing of important papers, plus photocopies of yet other crucial, essential, vital papers. Outside, the rain. Anyone who still holds to the fantasy that the world was created for mankind’s pleasure and dominion need only look at overall rainfall levels across a world map to see the fallacy of that view. I prayed to a non-existent god last night that he/she might send the precious rainfalls to areas in dire need of same. The non-existent god was not moved to action.

Back to the small boy and those quiet eyes taking in the ceiling, the way a grownup would lie on a grassy knoll and watch the clouds move across the sky.

I sit here, lost in thought. Visualizing the rolling motion he made into the crawling posture and, from there – hands still on the ground – up to the standing one. Another pang of envy? Definitely.

A desk lamp. Two plants . A pile of personal papers awaiting further administrative processing. A pile of books, notes, assorted reading materials. A long sliding pile of documents pertaining to other people’s lives – this last, almost colliding into the camera, the phone, scribbled notes and a bowl with a few remaining dregs of café au lait.

If this is scene prep for the next trek out into the draft, one of the characters feels somewhat mired and weighed down by paperwork.

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A work post on a work blog

In Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision, Sanford Meisner on March 30, 2015 at 6:46 am

I’ll be working a good part of the day and thus spared a lot of repetitions. Whether pre-electoral or post-electoral, the noise levels drown out common sense ten to one.

Common sense, she says. What a cop-out. In these, apocalyptic times. Times such as the universe has never known, etc. True enough, none of us have ever lived through the coming day before. Whether pre- or post-apocalyptic may depend on mindset.

This may be democracy’s biggest problem. Compared to totalitarian regimes, democracy doesn’t cut it in the drama department. Parliaments and National Assemblies are boring. Politicians are pompous and ineffectual for the most part. Etc. Not that life looks all that much fun in North Korea but talk of the boogyman raises more adrenalin than an umpteenth report from the sub-committee investigating the possibility of a new subdivision of existing burroughs.

So let us dream elsewhere.

I hear no two pregnancies are alike. At the metaphorical level, this holds true for story writing. Some stories are harder to pull together than others.  Too many characters in need of greater definition in this one – I’m shunting several of them aside for the time being, to get a better fix on others.

The feeling as I write this: about as thrilling as pulling apart a piece of machinery to examine its individual components. Is there a mechanic in the audience?

No mechanic. All right, back to the parts laid out on a large piece of canvas.

 

A day off

In Drafts, Film, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Revision, Sundays on March 29, 2015 at 7:26 am

How the search terms “witches and marijuana” led someone to this blog yesterday: one of many online mysteries. Since I tend to follow up search terms when they intrigue, the main benefit of this one was learning that so-called witches used cannabis in the herbal remedies. Maybe a salve would work to ease arthritic pains? (I haven’t smoked the stuff in years – too harsh on the throat, plus I prefer modulating my moods with music, reading, writing, and so on.)

What with no outside obligations other than food shopping, the day ahead feels like a full-fledged holiday. There will be time to read slowly, to mull things over while doing laundry, dishes, sweeping. A movie at six. No one to accompany through bureaucratic mazes.

Singing yesterday morning. After a few months away from the group and the realization the winter has been tougher on me than I’d noticed on my own. No, not the voice; it still holds up well. Stamina? OK. Recuperation time is the issue. I’m most definitely the senior member in the crowd, and not about to become less so. Finding a ground-level living space: soon to be a priority.

A day off. Someone else taking responsibility for maze-wandering tomorrow. As with prison administrators, I wish all those involved in the bureaucracies of refugees and immigrants had a mandatory period in which they had personal experience of the maze they impose on others.  No surprise: the interrogators were back in dream-time last night. Expecting detailed explanations on each and every one of the family members’ movements and thought processes. The main interrogator was a young man called The Mayor, so I suppose some of that dream material will find its way into story.

The story’s natural flow

In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Music, Revision, Wine on March 28, 2015 at 7:51 am

Draft : at the moment, structural work, for the most part. Reading through – backward, forward, at different landing points. What belongs where in terms of dramatic action, build-up and resolution. Starting to get a sense of how the story might hang together if I let it flow in the right way – whatever that may be.

A lot of time away from this desk. A lot of complicated balancing acts. And, as a friend said yesterday, the absolute necessity of paying attention to the small pleasures when they crop up. In that specific instance, she had opened a bottle of red, so we could share a glass and some nibbles as an apéro. “Listen, I love this sound,” she said, and poured out the first drink. The gurgle – glub-glub-glub – makes her laugh. The glub-glub-glub doesn’t happen on the second pour, only on the first. I insisted she take the glass from the first pour.

Administrative double binds. A family under house arrest until the father’s deportation while appeals fly left, right and center. Under house arrest in an apartment from which the leasing agency wants the family evicted. The Court case: scheduled for Tuesday in Castres. Except the family is under strict orders not to leave this town. And so on.

Back to choir rehearsal after an overlong winter break made of flu, fatigue, hoarseness and just too much to juggle.

Rain today, again. The draft: Parts 1, 2 and 3? More or less. Adjustments to the chronology, seasonal details, verb tenses, placement of significant events.

Current reading: still Katherine Mansfield’s The Collected Stories. Still opening the book at random. Last night’s read: An Indiscreet Journey.

At the Court of Ludicrous

In Drafts, Hautvoir on March 27, 2015 at 7:01 am

A fact: when life takes several bounding steps ahead of its usual fare, characters in a draft tend to lag behind. I come back to the writing desk, drop in on characters A, B, X, Y, Z. Nod at some of the things they’ve said, lose interest in other aspects of their lives. The energy is elsewhere; somewhere in the fine thrum of fear real events inspire (fine as in thread, not fine as in what a fine day this is!)

Unless you’re in a war zone, the first intimations of violence don’t knock you to the ground or send any of your limbs flying away. They take the form of attitudes, aggressive questioning, verbal threats and a few well placed artifacts – tazers, guns, power tools or solid bits of scenery such as rocks or wooden implements displayed in menacing ways. Any or all of these matched up with  well-chosen words  of warning. Your choice to submit or to expect the second round of unpleasantness. After all, you didn’t cower when you were supposed to. Your bad.

In the news yesterday, among other well-selected horrors to daze and numb the minds: that fine young man imbued with the entrepreneurial spirit who once served as Monsieur Sarkozy’s ambassador to Tunisia. Border police intercepted this fine young sprig of manhood (fine as in what a fine day this is!) with a lot of undeclared currency  ( a lot as in several hundred thousand euro). Well, you see, the banking system is so rotten in Irak, there’s really no other way to do business there than to close deals in hard cash, he explains. Are we making perfect sense? Of course we are. There seems to be a lot of currency traveling around this way. None of it behaves in the ways expected in the economic model known as trickle-down.

Will the characters play catch-up soon? Hautvoir is a small, small town. Not much running and not much hiding possible in small towns. As for satchels loaded with cash, rumor has it they were common in the town’s heyday. How things fare now that the tannery buildings slide into the river?

Good question.

Real

In Hautvoir, Local projects, Sanford Meisner on March 26, 2015 at 6:54 am

Not much I can do about other people’s meanings, intentions, opinions. Is this one being sarcastic? Is that one pulling my leg? Is so-and-so to be trusted? Etc. I wish I had time to spare on the exquisite distinctions from a purely imaginary level. What if I tweak this or change that: one of the fun aspects of writing, but something for which real life does not allow much space.

In real life, for real people I know and care about, the administrative steam roller is on the move. Any day now, and at any time, their hopes can be dashed to pieces and their lives sent spinning into more confusion and circumstances even more painful than the ones they must endure now. All the work done by others in support of those hopes may come to nothing except a good deal of heartbreak. This is the reality at the moment, outside whatever time I spend on fiction I hope to make as meaningful as possible.

Whether people care about the fiction or not; whether it makes them laugh at me or not, dismiss me or like me, matters. I’m human. I enjoy being appreciated and understood. But I’m glad that I don’t have much time to delve on “I wonder what he or she meant by that”.

Real life. Real consequences. Real good times and bad. If the fiction can convey some of that, hurray. Priority goes to the real people. What others make of my choices in that regard is their business. It’s great when I can count on real support and it hurts when I thought I could and the support isn’t there or doesn’t hold when I expect it, but them’s the breaks.

As the fourteen-year old girl said to me while we waited for her father to come home: “Life is too hard.” I had to agree: sometimes, it’s way too hard. Sometimes, sometimes, it isn’t.

Notes for later

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, notes on March 25, 2015 at 6:31 am

The setting of the dream: a large farm the dreamer understood to be Orwell’s. Visitors had come – six or seven. The dreamer sat in a closed car with them because, outside, a hailstorm was in relentless progress. Hailstones the size of golf balls. Whatever spring greenery had started to sprout was being cut down and flattened to the ground. With a start, the dreamer wondered if her brother was out in the storm. A voice said he was inside the stable, tending to the panicked horses.

Dreams have a way of synthesizing and dramatizing events. They do so with no concern whatsoever about judgmental issues such as good or bad taste.

Speaking to my contact from Réseau Education Sans Frontière last night, I learned another family was under house arrest in similar circumstances to the one here in town. Coincidence or not, the other family is also Rom. The papers served on that family also state they received the order to leave France back in January. They didn’t. At this end, I’ll go through every scrap of paper at the family’s apartment again but I doubt I’ll find a trace of said document. The significance being that the January date places the present house arrest until deportation too late for an appeal.

Other institutional proceedings are underway. When systems get screwy and lose sight of every last human consideration imaginable, the only thing you can do is to stand by people who don’t “deserve” what’s happening to them. No one “deserves” to be treated like excess luggage that gets shunted off while, all around them, life goes on as if the dream hailstorm was happening inside the parked car. Outside, the sun shines or a drippy rain falls. People kvetch (in France, it’s called “râler”; a kvetch is a “râleur” or a “râleuse”; “râler” is something of a national pastime.)

***

The draft in all this? Much on my mind, not much in my fingers. More paperwork to photocopy somewhere (the home printer, out of ink and none of the cartridges to be had in town); a stop to say good morning to the local gendarmes where the family must sign in every day until the deportation;  off to Albi with them for another procedure at the Préfecture; then, back for a full afternoon of coaching children with little appetite for school learning.

Avoiding pathos. Making the best of the breaks when they show up. Keeping a mindset as clean as that of a dreamscape, no matter what images, sensations and emotions the dream projects on the inner screen. In real life, there was quite a bit of laughing yesterday, when the father finally came back from the gendarmerie. Relief; we all had visions of him going straight to a retention center. There’ll be less laughter further down the line, that’s a given. When you know worse times are coming, is there any point in anticipating?

Best I can do is to make sure there’s some laughter in the story when I get back to it, or when it gets back to me. (Pocket notebook with me? At all times, when awake.)

 

A day in the week of in-between

In Circus, Drafts, Film, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry on March 24, 2015 at 6:51 am

Last Sunday, forty-nine percent of the people who had the right to vote in this town, didn’t. I assume some of them consider voting is a useless exercise; once elected, those empowered by the people do what they want for the six years of their term, so what the hell. I also assume several of those who didn’t vote saw staying away as a form of protest. I further assume some from this group will feel sublimely empowered to criticize everything that will happen henceforth and from now on. I don’t doubt some of them will add an almost gleeful “what did I tell you” when the more outrageous and unacceptable things come to pass.

The final round on this election: next Sunday.

The system isn’t what it should be? I agree. It needs a major rehaul, and it would be nice to think the rehaul will happen in an orderly fashion? One hundred percent agree. Staying away from the polling stations doesn’t belong to the major rehaul category in my opinion. As for orderly progression, let’s say I look forward to watching Power of Ten, the short film posted on the Astronomy Today website for Tuesday March 24th 2015. I once owned the book, a long time ago. Orderly progressions amid the chaos: a fascinating combo.

These comments hold true both for real life and for story purposes.

***

I was racing around from one urgent task to another yesterday when the character piped up and said: “You think it’s easy, mucking out those stables?” To which I answered: “You think you’re Hercules, maybe?*” To which he answered: “No and that’s precisely my point. I’m stuck with the mess, that’s all. So stop hitting on me and give me a hand, if you’re so concerned about this town.”

Ah, Hautvoir. Trying times behind you, and trying times ahead. Trying times in the present tense too.

Although the character is a character and I am me, I notice he tends to stop and admire the flowers every chance he gets, same as I do. Micro-mini vacations away from the drudge and the stupidities. The power of ten second breaks, watching the river flow under the bridge. The flowering trees reflected in the water. Basho would compose a haiku on the theme. The character and I take in the beauty. Free. No taxes yet on reflections in a stream.

Allez, etc.

*Herakles to the Greeks. Fifth in his labors: cleaning out the dung produced by one thousand head of cattle over thirty years. It takes a worried man to sing a worried song. Here’s hoping he won’t be worried long.

Somewhere, in the din and the fray …

In Animals, Circus, coffee, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Sanford Meisner on March 23, 2015 at 7:56 am

The various clever designs purporting to give Departmental election results are only clever before I click on the so-called selections. Window dressing for the most part. All I know – apart from the reams of clever commentary: in this town, the second round of the election will play out between the Parti Socialiste and the ultra-right Front National. In absolute numbers, the FN scored more votes than the PS. The week should be filled with rallying cries, plus extra reams of clever commentary plus posturing from the various candidates.

While I sort out any number of complications in my own life and those of a few other people around me, the characters will have to do the same with their own lives, and I’ll do my best to record their attempts at standing on their individual logs, and rolling them uphill.  (This is a clever variation on the old lumberjack trick of log-rolling down a white water river; which is more exciting to watch than attempts at rolling a log on a quiet lake; which, I suspect, ain’t as easy as it sounds.)

When, in combination, both real life folks and fictional ones get too much for me, perhaps I’ll repair to that excellent blog discovery that shone some extra brightness on my day yesterday: a spot called Karl remarks dot com where a London-based gentleman of Lebanese origin produces the kind of irony and satire so dear to my personal sensibilities. Ah yes, ballot boxes shaped like bombs or How to Put Excitement Back Into the Electoral Process.

Meanwhile, as if my battle with reams of personal paperwork weren’t enough, here I am saddled with extra-urgent delivery of reams of paperwork for someone else, plus the Monday schedule that involves learning more than I ever cared to know about what butchers do and how they do it. The fun part of that exercise being the asides from the young man I’m coaching and his comments about the blandness of French meat compared to that of his place of birth.  After which I’ll transport myself back up several flights of stairs. Hopefully, make my way to the Post Office with reams of paperwork filled out in proper sequence and addressed to the right office. Prior to discussing topics such as respiratory insufficiency with a Romanian applicant to an interview by the Departmental branch of France’s Ordre des Médecins.

Then, back to see if the characters have figured out how and what, when and where with as little time wasted on why as they can manage.

Oops. Mustn’t forget the dog.

Another coffee? Good idea.

Oblique

In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Scene Prep, Sundays on March 22, 2015 at 8:09 am

Last night was the kind of evening when, after a fair amount of work on the draft, I rested my arms on the top shelf of the bookshelf in the living room, and waited for one or another of the books to send out signals. The first to do so was Katherine Mansfield’s The Collected Stories. Which I opened at random – since it was that kind of evening when too many thoughts lead in too many directions. The pages opened on A Suburban Fairy Tale in which a small boy wonders why there aren’t two kinds of eggs, “little eggs for children and big eggs like what this one is for grown-ups”. From where I read on, then discovered a website from New Zealand with several of Mansfield’s stories available for online reading.

How Mansfield drew me next to Denis Diderot and his Jacques le fataliste I can only understand as a matter of something in the manner. The jauntiness – one of the “colors” or “flavors” I experience when reading something by Mansfield, no matter what the short story may be. Diderot is much wordier, of course. For one, he’s French, for another he wrote in the eighteenth century. The wordiness soon gets annoying. I stop reading when the annoyance threatens to overtake the feeling of skipping along on the road, next to Jacques and his Master, eavesdropping on their collection of tales, reflections and anecdotes. The French often hail the originality of Diderot’s manner, but rarely mention the community of spirit between Jacques and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. I have no idea if said community was accidental or intentional.

In any event the useful question for me is: Whereto now? In real time, a few must-dos out on the streets and up a few stairwells. In story, a collection of characters like so many life-sized puppets strung up backstage in no particular order. Each one has a role to play – whether as an essential walk-on or as one of the main characters: still to be discovered, in many instances.

Plus politics, of course, in the limelight on this Sunday, the first in the two-tiered departmental election process.   Some people prefer rugby matches to electioneering, some people love both. Winners, losers, jeers from one side of the stadium to the other, breathless and mindless updates on instant news platforms, plus endless commentaries. In it all, sorting through for those nuggets that set the stage for the appearance of the next character.