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Archive for April, 2015|Monthly archive page

Priming the pump

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision, Sanford Meisner on April 30, 2015 at 6:51 am

The first of the selves you encounter on waking up: a variable business. Confident, happy-go-lucky one day, riven with anxiety another, nowhere-don’t-know on a third. Or practical, or dreamy, or…

Getting in gear from whatever place. Correction: no need to get in gear from the confident, focused one. The getting in gear happened before waking up. Why? no idea. All the other states of mind need a shove of one kind or another.

Active vs passive tenses. They apply to the emotional landscape. Doing vs being done upon whether by someone else or by your own assumptions. Attitude? Blood glucose level? Call it what you want. Walking out of the Community Center at the end of the day yesterday. Sunshine, trees in blossom, the job done. “Liberté, liberté chérie,” I felt, and stopped on the bridge to watch the river flow, the ducks and water rats glide. Job done for the day, free, no further obligations.

This morning? Muddled, and so are the characters. None of them playing eager volunteer for the next scene. Nobody interrupting the others – the way one of the Wednesday afternoon children does because what she has to say matters so much more than whatever else is going on. “Sixty-eight?” she screeched after asking my age. “How can you be sixty-eight?” It only involves staying alive long enough to answer your question, I said. Can we get back to the fact you “forgot” your school books again?

Today: It’ll be a slower start. The pace should pick up soon enough.

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Bread

In Current reading, Drafts, Food, Local projects, Revision on April 28, 2015 at 8:32 am

The part of Primo Levi’s La Trève that resonates for me this morning: during the demented and surrealistic trip that takes him from Auschwitz back to Turin, a man settles into the boxcar he shares with DPs of every description. The man immediately becomes the group’s designated target. Or as Levi puts it, the predestined victim every group of humans seems to need as a scapegoat. The man is a young Italian soldier, of a kind, gentle and pleasant disposition. His flaw? He was one of the Carabinieri. For reasons no one can ascertain, the Carabinieri had an obscene and grotesque reputation including the legend of their abominable pledge to kill both of their own parents. Clearly such a one who pretended to be kind, gentle and pleasant deserved nothing but scorn, derision and ill-treatment.

The cruel taunts and vexations ceased one day. At one of their multiple and unpredictable stops, a young boy joined the group. Bare-footed and wearing a Red Army vest, the boy approached the Scapegoat who shared some bread with him. To say he stuck like glue is putting it mildly. The boy was fourteen years old, his relatives had died when a bomb destroyed their home. He explained this through a drawing, then crumpled it. E finito. That part of his life story was over. He drew something else: a barrel. No one understood. Laughing and happy, he drew himself next to the barrel, holding a hammer and a saw.

He was a barrel maker. He was alive, someone had fed him. His gratitude knew no bounds. He swept the boxcar, fetched water and treated the erstwhile scapegoat as his older brother.

I say erstwhile because the boy’s happy disposition lifted the cloud that hung over the kind and gentle soul who had strayed, unfortunately, into the dread Carabinieri. (At this point in the telling, Primo Levi doesn’t specify who picked up the mantle as Scapegoat, but no matter.) Why was the boy going to Italy? No reason other than the fact he had been wandering alone for months like a stray dog. He had followed the first human to show him some kindness.

Voilà. Why this matters this morning (and every other morning, whether mentioned or not): because the world is full of mean-spiritedness, hatred, resentment, violence and horror. All of these lurk and spring out when least expected, from the darkness of our own mind or of someone else’s. This is fact. It isn’t the whole story or there wouldn’t be anyone left to mention it, or anything else.

 

To thine own selves be true

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision on April 27, 2015 at 6:49 am

Do I call this Anonymous, for better and for worse? Do I call it Anonymous: the good, the bad, the indifferent? I don’t have much time to spend on the topic this morning, even though it is at the core of most of the difficulties in my life and in my writing. To tell, what, when, to whom, and to what purpose.

Anonymous. As in letters, unsigned. Search terms, undisclosed. Trails that peter out. Anonymous as in crazy makers, whether through idle meddling, good-intentions of disconcerting discretion, or plain maliciousness for the hell of an easy hit on someone who can’t get back at the attacker. Public blogs are for reading by anyone inclined to do so, and emails are not private exchanges – as everyone learns one day or another.

In daily living, the work weeks are back. Existential questions abound, all centering on livelihood. In the draft, the big questions are: why is this happening now, and under whose influence? The power triad at work is fairly well defined. So are their tangled webs of interests. The why relates to what sets off the major incidents in their power struggle.

But livelihood matters take precedence over story this morning.

Questions big and small

In as you see fit, Current reading, Film, Hautvoir, Revision, Sundays, Theater on April 26, 2015 at 6:52 am

Hamlet again? Yes, for one. Because the question is worth exploring: is the boy’s version of the facts trustworthy? He’s hurt and angry, disgusted by his mother’s remarriage to the man he claims killed his father. Well and good. But what if his father wasn’t as wonderful as the son claims. What if the uncle didn’t kill him and is outraged by the constant innuendo. What if his mother happens to love the uncle and her position as reigning queen. Considering the way Hamlet treats Ophelia – in his mind, his mother’s faithlessness implies this is the case with all women* – you have to wonder. Family tragedies happen every day, don’t they? A disturbed youngster who doesn’t get it that adults don’t always behave in honorable ways or that disliking mummy’s choices doesn’t make mummy the template for every single female he will encounter?

On another matter, after a second viewing of Laura Poitras’ Citizen Four. One of the speakers at an event she records raises the question of privacy and freedom. In essence, he says, without privacy, there can be no freedom. He elaborates by adding : “Without privacy, we no longer feel free to say what we think.” True? False? Undoubtedly, a state of constant and pervasive surveillance affects the way in which you express what you think. Anyone raised under the benevolent or malignant eye of a soft or hard authoritarian rule knows that. However, the exercise of freedom per se cannot be ruled out. How exercised? Where? When? A tricky question? ’tis that.

Given the pervasiveness of the surveillance dragnets, two things are apparent: for serious and specious reasons, you can, at any time, draw attention to yourself by expressing views considered inimical by the authorities – by phone, by email, by blogposts, Facebook postings, etc. If you’re addicted to thrills, eager for martyrdom  (or particularly unconscious of consequences), you might make a point of voicing loud protests at every turn. Or you may decide to be choosy. You may decide there are some issues you will not let rest because they don’t let you rest. At which point the exercise of freedom takes on its full meaning, as do the how and the where, and the when.

OK. Some small questions now? Tea or coffee? (There’s no juice left.) Breakfast or walk the dog first? Go to the park or up the hill? etc.

* which also raises the subsidiary question of faithfulness – its meaning, applied to whom and to what etc

Anyone remember TINA?

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision, Theater on April 25, 2015 at 7:50 am

Revision-wise for the present draft, I don’t see much use for this insistent notion. But a notion insists to the point of blocking the traffic to other notions, I comply and write it down.*

So, to it, insistent one:

Yes, if ever a Shakespearean play called for another reading, Hamlet has got to be right up there. He’s a university student, on leave from Wittenberg. Mulling deep thoughts, feeling the pull for Ophelia, discombobulated by his father’s death and his mother’s hasty remarriage to his uncle.

Vision? Dream? Hallucination? Visitation? Who cares, when the times are out of joint. Whatever the ghost may be, a certainty crystallizes: His uncle murdered his father. Hamlet must avenge his father, he must. But he’s a twenty-something university student. Majoring in philosophy, for sure. How can he reconcile the opposing forces fighting it out in his body, his mind and his soul? How?

I happened to be in Puycelsi yesterday, a small fortified village on a hill. The narrow path where the sentinels made the rounds? Still there. How could I not think of Hamlet when I saw it?

But then, how can I not think of King Lear or Macbeth when I read the reports on the financial and political scandals revealed every day by investigative journalists? Scandals may be an obsolete word at this point. When corruption becomes so widespread, words need re-alignment.

TINA: anyone remember? A certain Margaret Thatcher’s pronouncement. “There Is No Alternative,” the iron lady said. Meaning: yes, the financial system is rotten to the core. It is both the patient and the disease. The only way to keep the patient alive is to feed the disease. How? The more the financial sector fails to feed the economy, the more money it must receive because… well, because TINA says so.

* After which I start to see, even revision-wise, why the notion insisted so much.

Levels of discomfort

In Drafts, Film, Hautvoir, Local projects, Querying, Rejection, Revision, Synopsis on April 24, 2015 at 6:23 am

A cv plus what they call over here une lettre de motivation in which you sell yourself and your interest for a job rates an even higher level of discomfort than sending out a query plus synopsis. Why? I don’t know too many people who enjoy doing salesmanship on their personal experiences and abilities. Some folks have that skill to a remarkable degree? Yes, but I’m not one of them. I would rather clean up the spelling and the grammar on a student’s paper? Yes. Why? Simple: I know French spelling and grammar rules well, and no one will bat me out of the playing field for cleaning up the mistakes in a student’s paper.

Risk-taking at the wimp level. Note: we all have a wimp level. This happens to be mine.

Meanwhile, the town emerges slowly from an unseasonal and uncharacteristic fog while gender-related debates swirl on, from the most ridiculous to the most disturbing.

Watched an overlong documentary last night: a French school nurse’s daily ministrations, ranging from nicks to self-scarifications, minor belly aches to rapes and unwanted pregnancies, or teens dealing with the loss of a parent or a brain tumor. Overlong to my taste because the film maker chose to focus only on the nurse’s interactions with the teens where, of course, she dispenses pills, advice, compassion, humor, empathy, etc.  She’s good at her job, even with the girl who pushes all her buttons. But who she is, other than the school nurse – who knows? who cares?

Does any of this relate to the draft revisions? At first glance, no, except as a search for striking the right balance – the outgoing, the inner-directed. The brave, the wimpy, what makes this character advance and that other retreat.

microcosm

In Drafts, Film, notes, Revision on April 23, 2015 at 7:07 am

the center is everywhere

Start and end points on some of yesterday’s defining moments that inform this post:

At the mediatheque, a woman sits on a chair in the stacks near a wall plug where I usually set up my laptop. I choose another spot. Willy-nilly, I overhear her phone conversation during which she discusses intimate details about her own life and that of someone else. At one point, she says: “Of course, you keep all of this for yourself.” I jot down this stunner, and concentrate on the day’s exercise – reading through the draft for flow and sustained interest. The places where things fall flat or become too confusing, abound.

After the mediatheque closes, I visit a local family, then take in Laura Poitras’ Citizen Four at the cinema.

Privacy, disclosure, intrusions. The center is everywhere. Meaning? Good question.

At any rate, as I said to someone who was at the viewing of Laura Poitras’ film: it’s nice to know the good old handwritten note you destroy after use remains a stand-by for those moments when for your eyes only means just that.

Of course, I won’t repeat a word of what the lady at the mediatheque shared with me and anyone else scooping up information off her cellphone. The point isn’t the gossip value. The point is what people do with what they know, for one. And how out of widespread (not to say universal) meta-data collecting analyzed on the basis of suspicion of wrong-doing, an outside party can build a thoroughly skewed image about someone – while totally missing someone else’s footprint.

Way back in April of the year seventeen ninety-four, a man by the name of Robespierre declared: “Je dis que quiconque tremble en ce moment est coupable ; car jamais l’innocence ne redoute la surveillance publique.” * Of course, all those who were guillotined before he was weren’t around to make a case for or against that view.

* “I say that anyone who trembles at the moment, is guilty; for never has innocence had to fear public surveillance.”

P.S. And lighthearted laughter too? Oh yes, as much and as often as possible.

This morning’s baseline: laughter-causing disbelief

In Drafts, Film, Hautvoir, Poetry, Revision on April 22, 2015 at 6:42 am

Funny that The New York Times should mention Doctor Zhivago, this morning (now on stage after the screen version). Both the movie and Pasternak’s novel were on my mind yesterday, after viewing something called Enfant 44 (Child 44). What can I say? I gaped and disbelieved from the first frame to the last. The Soviet Union under Stalin as backdrop and prop store for a ludicrous action film. The kind where the hero gets rammed head first into a wall by three huge thugs and his tiny, beautiful wife contributes to his salvation and hers. The three goons die from their wounds, the heroine is not raped, and the hero doesn’t suffer a concussion. After which they both jump out of a moving train, etc. As for the closing scene, it gave fresh meaning to the word maudlin. Plus, I have to wonder if anyone took the time to check on details such as traveling time between places such as Rostov and Moscow back in nineteen fifty-two. But enough.

Another opportunity for gaping came earlier at the mediatheque where I like to work every chance I get. Some five or six women from the retirement home sat a few tables away with a woman who read poems to them and asked for their comments in return. While I agree that the subjects of aging and death belong to the human experience and deserve as much attention as any other, an hour-long reading of poems on nothing but? To a group of women, the youngest of which admitted to eighty years of living experience and the eldest to ninety-five? The reader treated them like doddering children. The doddering children responded as expected with “how nice” and “doesn’t she read well?”. Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gently Into that Good Night was not part of the reading selection.

More mediatheque time to work on the draft today? For sure. Plus another film at six. Taking advantage of the time off while it lasts.

 

In the thick of ordinary

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision on April 21, 2015 at 6:09 am

Between five and six am this morning, emotional overload threatened for a minute or two. Live and learn: on a day with no outside appointments, I can’t let that happen or, like Alice in Wonderland, I’m at risk of drowning in my own cup of tea. Dreams unrealized, loves and friendships left unresolved, state of the world, guilts, longings, yearnings, whereto now both in life and in story, etc etc and

So. No lack of practical things in need of doing. No lack of work on the draft either. The problem with words though is that, sometimes, they’re something like holograms. You get the sense of a presence but none of the reality a live person provides, for better, for worse, for annoying and for delightful. If words are your thing, you do your damnedest to make them suggest as much of the real as you can, and that’s about the size of it. But no matter how you assemble the words, they’ll never capture the reality of a physical presence.

Yes, I know. Some of the most basic truths sound unbelievably trite when you lay them out. I suppose that’s why we shut up about them most of the time, and feel embarrassed – or make fun – when someone else drops the guard and sets loose the primal wail.

Abandonment. Betrayals. Death, whenever and however it has the gall to step in and interrupt the game. Disappointments, great and small. Hurts, inflicted or received. The whole ugly weight, in constant need of a counterbalance. What? a couple of early morning peeps from the birds out there, or the slow shifting of light from night to day – this is all there is beyond the stacks of paper files, and real disasters in virtual form? (In The Guardian interview mentioned yesterday, I love the way Jon Stewart describes the 9/11 mindset in the media, and the flattening or crazing effect of reporting big disasters and dime store disturbances in the same sky-is-falling mode.)

So. Bird calls and morning light.  Tuesday, April 21 2015 in one small town among billions of others. What to make of this day in the sun.

Slow? Yes.

In Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision, TV, Visual artists on April 20, 2015 at 7:05 pm

This is how things play these days: in order to watch a thirty-eight second clip of Jon Stewart setting a few facts straight for Tony Blair, I had to put up with a ninety second ad. I know there were greater hardships endured around the world today but that’s not the point. The Jon Stewart interview is in The Guardian, by the way. (For some reason, for the past few days, my wordpress connection has insisted on printing out stuff in this version : http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/apr/18/jon-stewart-why-i-quit-the-daily-show. Worth a read, anyway you click it).

I spent my lunch period with a plate of delicious food and my pocket notebook in which to record an hour and a half of  1) mental interviews with some of the characters and 2) mental interviews about them with their nearest and dearest lovers, friends and enemies. Plus, backstories from days  prior to the times when they congregate (or avoid one another) in a tiny fictitious French town of eight thousand people.

Transferring some of this recently acquired knowledge into the revisions is as described in the title to this post. In many ways, the draft grows the way a drawing does – from rough sketch (with lots of subsequent erasing), to a fuller outline and, bit by bit, finer definition and clearer focus on who the subjects are, why they are there, and what they are up to.

voilà for now.