Archive for August, 2015|Monthly archive page


In Animals, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner, Scene Prep on August 31, 2015 at 7:16 am

The night was exceptional in that I slept all the way through, and so did the dog. Slept, dreamt, and woke at six, convinced it must be somewhere between two and three am, my usual time for a bout of sleeplessness. Perhaps the dreaming happened instead? One of the classic dreams in my repertoire where I’m struggling to make it over a concrete wall and – just – can’t – quite – except, this time just-can’t-quite found me standing on the top of the damn thing. What was on the other side? No idea. One thing at a time.

Teachers meeting again today to plan for the great surge forward beginning tomorrow. A friend who takes in the very very young in a local school’s kindergarden (very young as in two and three years old), tells me she’ll have twenty-nine little ones in her care. With the assistance of one TA. Twenty-nine. Two and three year olds. Wait your turn. Teacher will be with you in a moment.

My formal paid employment will start up again in the third week of this month, once the kids, the parents and the teachers have sorted out who does what and when. I should have some fourteen children per week to assist, either singly or in pairs.

What do you learn in school or in remedial sessions? Apart from book knowledge, your teachers’ tics,  and other children’s astounding habits? Apart from the need to belong or the need to stand out. What do you learn in school that can’t be learned anywhere else?

What is this? A trick question? Must be, I have no idea what made it shoot up in my head.

A small voice speaks up and says: “We learn resignation to the flatness of the days.”

Not. At least, not all the time. Gad.

Morning of a math exam

In A post to keep afloat, Artists, Circus, Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Poetry, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner, Sundays on August 30, 2015 at 7:46 am

There are times (this being one of them) when reading other writers’ words feels like a sack of wet sails landing on your head. You’re already struggling with your own writing; down to dribbles of words eked out after hours of resistance. And there they are: stupendous, excellent, good, not great and pretty dismal, arrayed for your appreciation and critical appraisal. Published, in a word. Added to the despondency, the inner critic adds the accusation of fraud. You’re a fraud, the inner critic says.

We’re back to the notion once spoken by an adult to an adolescent : you knew a writer by the fact his or her words appeared on printed pages bound into a book. Same as you knew a musician because he or she had recorded something, an actor because… and so on. All true of course – as in: nobody knows you if nobody knows you. How’s that for profound.

So. Swimming – close to drowning, actually – in other writers’ published words. The metaphorical exercise now consists in climbing back aboard my own ship after that unfortunate incident with the wet sails landing on my head. A character flaw. Everyone has them. How can one of my characters make some use of my own – because, at times, there’s nothing else to work with.

The title: another metaphor summarizing the feeling. School math and I were not friends. (A character raises a timid eye in my direction. A wavering finger, maybe?)

They can’t know you if they don’t know you. Desktop littered with Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Modern Short Stories (Mansfield, Faulkner, et al), three Icelandic detective romps of varying interest. Plus notes, notebooks, paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork for me and my pals.

Sundays are a bitch. So are some Saturdays. Several Fridays. Many Thursdays. and so on.



The Mix

In Circus, Current reading, Film, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner on August 29, 2015 at 5:53 am

This is written after a dream in which a local family, the Mayor and the Mayor’s wife all insisted on breaking down and revealing their personal sorrows to the dreamer. In the meantime, said dreamer was waiting for the Mayor to pay back a loan – money the dreamer needed with some urgency. (Any relation to the spot where the writing stopped last night is anything but fortuitous.)

After the dream came the latest in the local Scenes that Play Out in the Night. Involving a car, once again, and a motor chugging to life, and angry words, and a man yelling out “Au voleur!” (whether in earnest or in jest, who’s to know) and the heavy-sounding vehicle chugging off into the night. Whoever had yelled “Au voleur!”: now silent and possibly onboard the vehicle too.

After which the dog insisted now was the time for a sniff around the patch of weeds. After which I gave Walter de la Mare’s short story titled The Wharf a second chance. It is one of the stories in a collection “selected as likely to be immediately entertaining to adolescents.” According to the back cover blurb taken from a nineteen sixty-four edition of the Times Educational Supplement.

Immediately entertaining doesn’t strike me as the most apt description for The Wharf. Nor for Dylan Thomas’ The Peaches, or Faulkner’s Go Down Moses. I’ve yet to read the other selections in this book, picked up yesterday at the outdoor market in neighboring Gaillac. The schoolboy whose copy I purchased added some well-rendered cartoons on several pages.

Of equal significance, in real life and in story: a tiny moment in the bank director’s office – which was the reason for the bus ride to Gaillac. Purpose: a change in signing authorities following the yearly General Assembly of our small documentary film association. Hot in pursuit of minute and lavish attention to every possible intricacy designed to trap the fraudulent use of banking facilities, the director dashed out with a photocopy of the new Secretary’s identity card. She and I looked at each other. I don’t recall who voiced it first but we both shook our heads.

The head shaking referred to a recent Minister of Finances who, when pressing need made this imperative, was in the habit of ordering up a suitcase of cash from his banker in Geneva. Said cash hand delivered within the next few hours. We had  to wonder if the more minute of the check-points were part of this Minister’s legacy to the people.

Light/Dark. Up/Down. Solemn/Frivolous. Etc. On to the next bit.

Listening to Beethoven

In Animals, Film, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner on August 28, 2015 at 6:14 am

I may get the Allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony out of my head before the day is done. Turns out to have been the source of the conversation on the neighbor’s terrace that woke me between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Plus, the source of a conversation last night centering on subtle differences in three versions of the standard Western harmonic scale. I learned a lot, including the fact the audience at the first public performance of the work requested three consecutive re-playings of the Allegretto. After listening to it again last night, I’m still under the thrall. Imagine the effect it must have had on that audience, from first note to last.

Listening to music with a musician. Reading with a writer. Talking immigration law with social workers dealing with the consequences. Talking shop. Pleasures of. (Pleasure? Immigration law? Not the law as such, the pleasure derived from competent advice.)

Off to Gaillac for paperwork surrounding our minute speck of a documentary film venture. Then, back to this town for more about strangers and how they are treated – a major topic both in real life and in story.

The Allegretto returns to the forefront of my inner radio. Transitions from minor to major keys. So clever, that Beethoven, as my musician friend said last night. Five humans, four dogs and two cats in thrall, all agreeing in their own ways.


In Artists, Current reading, Drafts, Food, Hautvoir, Music, photography, proto drafts on August 27, 2015 at 7:00 am

Quiet night out on the street – people recouping and planning their next move, I suppose. Awake around two am. My neighbor is a night bird and discussed music with someone in a conversational voice, on his terrace next to my bedroom window.

Threads of thought: photos done by one of my sisters some thirty-five years ago and which I received in the mail yesterday. An interview of the Italian writer Andrea Camilleri, now aged ninety, whose fictional Detective Montalbano is a favorite of one of my characters. The first pages of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire – I sense this will be a book for slow reading, the way you chew dense, naturally leavened bread, a bit at a time.

The photos bring back memories, of course. Their main effect this morning centers on the issue of touch, as in affectionate display and ease. While walking the dog, it occurred to me I can’t recall any such photos with my parents from my own childhood. Which doesn’t mean they don’t exist, although casual hugging and embracing wasn’t part of the house style. The ritual night time kiss to both parents, yes. A cultural thing, at the time.  Same as people didn’t smile on photos much before the nineteen forties.*

Camilleri, speaking of his fictional Montalbano and how the character evolves over time because the previous cases leave traces. The natural aging process and how experience modifies perceptions? Yes. An important aspect. How characters react to their own aging. How those reactions affect the stories and how they’re told.

The Nabokov: some books are made for slow reading. Same as some foods are designed for slow eating. Maybe some stories are made for slow telling? Long pauses in the building of the current one, in my case. The voices, slower to speak up. Heavy-laden ships.

At some point, younger imps are bound to speed things up again.

*but my favorite: a close-up of my daughter in profile, then eleven, leaning forward with her camera to grab her own close-up – of someone taking a close-up of someone else? No, the mise en abyme stops there (mise en abyme: those illustrations containing a copy of the illustration, containing another copy of the… etc).


In Animals, Break - coffee, Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, photography, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner on August 26, 2015 at 6:50 am

The man at the end of my street – last night’s would-be suicide – has recovered sufficient equanimity this morning to stand on the bluff for a smoke, and watch the firefighters extinguish the blazing car in the passageway below.

The biggest oddity about the blaze: its tardiness relative to the rumble in the night. The arsonists used a timing device? Electrical fire unrelated to the vigorous night time verbal and physical exchanges? (Could happen; years ago, I lost a vehicle to an electrical fire when extreme cold shorted the wiring. However, the cold was not extreme at six am over here, although the stench of burning plastic forced a shutting of all windows.)

As a brave but not stupid policeman once told me when I called about a brawl  below another local window: “Make sure they don’t see you peeking.” This was the extent of the brave but not stupid policeman’s help. There’s a fair amount of weariness that sets in when the same cast of characters stages the same kind of inter-gang mayhem. The voice of weariness suggests you leave them to their favorite sport, and stay clear of the window.


Unrelated? Not at all. Even if James Joyce, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Kafka, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen’s work held no appeal (which they do), I’d recommend Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature for the nine-page essay at the end, titled The Art of Literature and Commonsense. A gem. I won’t provide spoilers from any of the many passages I’ve underlined. It’s a must-read, period.


Today: Story, yes, among other things. Including a slow working out of a course outline for six forty-five minute writing workshops with a class of twenty-five middle school children. For most of them, the very notion of putting pencil to paper sets off nausea and stomach cramps. The budget: minimal but, if the project is accepted on Friday, I wouldn’t miss it for anything.


Temporary: the word came to mind as I prepared my first coffee after the morning stroll and the return to billowing chemicals from the burning vehicle and the firefighters’ extinguishers. Temporary, as in: for the time being, all’s sort of OK that doesn’t really end. How could it end? A burned car cries out for revenge, does it not?  Ergo: my choice of early morning for the main stroll on the esplanade with the dog remains the superior option vs aimless midnight wandering in the passageway below.

My favorite of this morning’s early shots: the café owner has just set out the tables. First customer yet to arrive with his version of the night’s events.



In Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts on August 25, 2015 at 6:21 am

Things that go unsaid. Except to an early morning sky, maybe. Because the words need saying and you know the sky won’t hurl them back at you, or explain, or justify, or defend a different point of view. Years ago, you expected a dear someone’s visit. Made plans for it. Exchanged letters about details, schedules, calendar dates. Then – boom – the visit doesn’t happen. Something else was more important in the expected visitor’s world. You say: yes, of course, I understand. Maybe you mean it, being of a reasonable disposition. The hurt remains nonetheless.

Out of this personal hurt, can a fictional character make something worthwhile for others – or even for the writer? Maybe. Time will tell, today or some other day.

The school year, reaching out tendrils the way the vine does at my window. Meeting with a school teacher this morning. Has she discussed the project with her Principal? Is there a budget allocation? I don’t know. She approached me last year about her own feelings of inadequacy in teaching writing skills to her Middle School class. Wanted to explore a partnership to help her as well as the children get over the daunting aspect of it all. I glanced at some of the official wordspeak on skill acquisitions last night, and felt my own spirit shrink and long to fly out a window. How to allow the words to come out and play when surrounded by rules, goals, and the humongous fear of the ridicule about to pounce down with glee on some simple, basic and spontaneous assembly of words crafted by no one else but you. Attempting the exercise with a class of ten or eleven-year olds?

Unsaid. Unspoken. Unwritten. Giving life again to all those things pressed down into the compactor. Discarded, deleted, un-acknowledged. Facebook won’t do it. Maybe only fiction can.

In which case, at the personal level, reading Nabokov on James Joyce’s Ulysses may be the best intro I’ll ever find to breaking through to Joyce’s novel. (Amusing sidebar, last night, at the discovery of two typos that transform Vladimir Nabokov into a certain Nabakov. Almost too good to ignore. Perhaps one of the characters recalls a long-ago acquaintance by that name?)

Allez. Early mornings have turned cool here. The school year, lurking already. Calendar, rulers, pencils, crayons, and little children carrying their heavy tool kits in this season’s snazzy new selection of backpacks.

Grace Notes

In Animals, Artists, Circus, Contes d'Exil, Current reading, Hautvoir, proto drafts, Rejection, Sanford Meisner on August 24, 2015 at 7:57 am

When we come back from our morning walk, the dog and I, men are settling in at their sidewalk table in front of Le Grandgousier. Since this is Monday, others wait for the first bus out of town. I stand on the terrace overlooking the river, the two bridges and the market square. Complex light, this morning, scattered by banks of cloud into deep purples, oranges, and hot pink.

Why do you write what you write? Why do you write it the way you do? Which is worse: being ignored or being misunderstood? Or being disliked for those very things that matter most to you? Take  your pick or choose: all of the above.

The only editor ever to detail the reasons for rejecting something of mine hadn’t read a single line of the stories. He said so in the first paragraph of his letter, and then pasted in some of the comments from his reader. This was many, many years ago. The stories were in French, elliptical, and required a lot of reader participation. The characters were Russian. As a natural consequence, they had Russian names and patronymics. The reader objected to that. The editor relayed the objection.

What else can you do but read the letter with growing disbelief and thank the gods for the rejection? Do you want to argue with an editor who’ll want Irina Dimitrievna called Betty or Nadine?

Intelligent discourse with an intelligent agent. Same with an intelligent editor. Failing physical access to either, careful attention to the characters (1) and to what you enjoy reading and writing (2).

Yesterday, I read through Jim Harrison’s The Games of Night again. Can any writing be further in style from Nabokov’s Pnin? I happen to appreciate both. Finding an agent or an editor may be a “business transaction”. That’s the surface of the issue, at least, as far as I’m concerned.  You listen to advice or criticism when you and the characters see the value-added benefit – not so much in terms of salability as in terms of valuable reading.

So: grace notes. Those moments when both the writer and the character enjoy something for the enjoyment of it. Because it pleases the eye. Because it soothes the nerves. Because… because.

Back to a pile of junk in an imaginary scrap yard. Two characters devising the intro to a short sketch.

There’s no accounting for individual tastes

In Artists, Current reading, photography, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner, Scene Prep, Sundays, Visual artists on August 23, 2015 at 7:23 am

I don’t lend out my personal copies of books much – not only because it’s a fabulous way to lose them. In losing them, I also lose the markings, underlinings, and notes to myself a good book provokes. A bad one too, come to think of it.

My copies aren’t as marked up as Nabokov’s teaching copies, as evidenced by reproductions in Lectures on Literature. They’re more in the nature of agreements or disagreements with a specific comment, or a riff inspired by something on the printed page.

For instance, Nabokov, writing about Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (which he later compares to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis). Brought to mind Jim Harrison’s The Games of Night, a novella published in a book titled The Farmer’s Daughter (another novella) which, to my mind, takes the Jekyll/Hyde notion up several levels.

Some books I cannot lend, given the thorough job of coloring, outlining or framing I’ve done on favorite passages. Others I must keep because a character has identified with that book and done his or her job of coloring, outlining or framing.


Walking along the upper town’s main shopping street yesterday, I look up. A woman stands on her balcony and invites me in for tea.

In typical French fashion, the façade of her home, although elegant, doesn’t whisper a thing concerning the enclosed garden in the back. I admire. With her permission, I photograph. She scoffs. She’s let it go. Tired with plants, tired with people. Art is a sinister farce nowadays, our world is headed straight into the wall and this just might be what we deserve, she says. I don’t know how many of her eighty-eight years she has now lived alone in her elegant, art-filled home.

One memory brought a smile back to her face: summer holidays at her grandparents’ home. They were small-time farmers. Owned seven cows and a flock of geese. Her sister tended the geese and had them march by twos or threes. She kept an eye on the cows. As she recalls, for the most part, the job consisted of lying in the grass and gazing at the clouds, or sitting up for a view of the mountains.

I left with the gift of a photo titled Mahatma and the Masters – a large format post card used by a gallery in Brussels as advertising for an exhibition by someone named Atul Dodiya. “This is what they call art now?” she said. “You like this? Really? Take it. One less thing to throw in the recycling bin.”

I like it. In fact, the old woman’s dislike adds extra oxygen to my appreciation of the Mahatma’s bald head glistening under the Indian sun as he bends out of a van top-heavy with luggage and cooking pots.

The relation of any of this to the draft growing by slow increments? Unpredictable, at best.



In Circus, Hautvoir, proto drafts on August 22, 2015 at 7:30 am

While the meal finished cooking (chicken in a green sauce based on spinach), he explained: “Very simple. The soldiers come into the yard where many families live. A neighbor says: this one speaks Malinké. Or they ask questions in their language and the Malinké can’t answer. They take the Malinké men to the center of the yard and they shoot them. This is how it happened for my uncle. One of my cousins was lucky because the soldiers accepted money instead of killing him. ”

Somewhere else, of course, roles might be reversed, with the Malinké doing the shooting. Or the northerners vs the southerners. Or vice-versa.

Hard not to think about real-life stories while reading the latest on “securing frontiers”. Syrian families fleeing death and persecution greeted with tear gas and stun bombs on the Macedonian-Greek frontier. Erythrians mangled on barbed wire, attempting to reach the mythical Euro tunnel. The real life stories are everywhere, along with the glaring discrepancies in budget allocations for Security vs Aid. Never mind Health or basic needs. Infra-red body heat detectors: yes. Garbage bags, water, half-decent access to the basics: sorry, no budget.

The Best of cynicism: “We shall intensify our efforts to offer aid to those who wish to return to their country of origin,” say the British and French ministers. Someone risks death a thousand times over, and you invite him or her to run the gamut again, back to the point of departure? A bit of chemically-laced incentive, while we’re at it? Tear gas, at your service. A bit of mechanical aid? Truncheon, at the ready.

You are naive, they say. We are fighting the good fight against the scum exploiting human misery. Our methods are humane and our motives, the finest. Besides, these people are illegals. No papers or forged, or birth certificates more than three months from their date of issuance. They lost their papers in a bombing raid, they say. That’s what they all say, Madame. Trust us. We know what this is all about. You want us to allow criminals into this country?


One of the threads in story? Yes. Not the simplest to get right.