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Archive for November, 2015|Monthly archive page

“J’assume”

In Circus, Drafts, En français dans le texte, Food, Hautvoir, humeurs, Local projects, news coverage, Revision on November 30, 2015 at 7:00 am

The day’s going to be a long one, considering it started at four am with the hacking up of gunk.

I’ll concentrate on a distant source of anger. The target offered itself in the morning news when the Minister of the Interior said : “J’assume totalement cette fermeté“. Too bad the French usage of the verb doesn’t find an exact replicate in English. Monsieur le Ministre’s “j’assume” doesn’t translate as: Dr Livingstone, I presume?  It doesn’t mean “I suppose” either. In this context, it means “I take full responsibility for”.

The man loves to take full responsibility for. Manly, what? Decisive, gung-ho, lead on, I ain’t no sissy. Arbitrary arrests? Lead on (until the boss says, uh, Bernard, cool it OK).

I stop right there. No time for the stupid nonsense of breaking down people’s doors even when they offer to open with their key. Handcuffing, holding a pistol to their head, cuz cuz, hey, somebody saw the man put on a djellaba. Oyks. He prays even. To Allah. Triple Oyks.

Liberté, liberté chérie.

***

First day of English classes for children between the ages of six and eleven. No idea what I’ll do beyond introducing myself into their lives (and their teacher’s), getting my bearings in the school, and making it to the end of the afternoon. In the program, I saw something about giving them a taste of British Christmas traditions. The previous English TA was from Britain. I guess that explains it. A bit of Dickens? A bit of Paddington? A bit of Wind in the Willows? who knows.

***

“J’assume totalement cette stupidité qui est la mienne.” “I take full responsibility for my own stupidity.” Try it, Bernard. Yes, it hurts. Yes, they laugh at you. Their laughter is no way as damaging as what they did to that kid you wiped off your conscience with a belated “my biggest regret…” Was the biggest regret the fact a harmless kid had died when a cop lobbed a deadly device at him? No, Bernard’s biggest regret was the fact he took so long to say what a shame it was that a young ‘un died. Looks bad when you don’t make the first news cycle, so true, so true.

I’ll save the uglier expletives for a fictional character who now wears a mask most similar to the face of the present Minister of the Interior.

***

Allez. Monday. Pack a lunch. Get organized and so on. I’m told the contract insuring I’ll get paid “is just a matter of time”. C’est la France. J’y habite.

Sunday, and the asthma attack tones down

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, photography, Revision on November 29, 2015 at 10:00 am

Those times – this isn’t the first – when it becomes crystal clear: your most cherished dreams will not come true. Not only will they not come true but no one will feel the slightest need nor have the time to bother with the fact you are not part of the equation. Dispensable, in short. Dispensable, that is, insofar as you were even a glimmer on someone else’s screen.

From this harsh and brutal bit of knowledge, nothing terribly uplifting can follow.  Count your blessings if you have a few friends around who will take the time to check out how you’re doing. Add to the blessings anything, anything at all, that keeps you engaged in other people’s lives and projects.

And wait for some of the hurt to subside.

Years ago, some well-meaning idiot told me there was no point in dreaming, because dreams never came true. This struck me as stupid beyond all bearing. I know full well dreams don’t come true. I also know that while you’re dreaming, harsh and brutal truths release their grip, if only for that time.

I don’t know how I’ll end the story. Hopefully, I’ll manage to step back from my personal anxieties and disappointments, and let the characters find their own ways to… well, to go on dreaming when things in real time suggest you should just shut up and tow the prevailing line.

Years ago – I was between six and ten years old – my father’s favorite pastime on Sunday afternoons was to “go on a nowhere”. A nowhere was a drive with no fixed destination. A drive for the pleasure of driving and owing your time to no one.

To those I can’t reach and only wish I could: I’ll go on pretending we’re on a pleasant trip to nowhere. A Sunday drive to the country when even time stands in abeyance.

***

Coincidence: of last night’s dream of men wearing their wedding finery in a clear reference to a wedding I photographed in Albi once. I’d combined some of those photos with others of pink sand dunes from Mars. Another, similar, Martian view on the web this morning.

Sunday, November 29 2015

Making it to the next tiny stretch of clear sailing

In Artists, Drafts, Food, Hautvoir, Music, Revision, Theater, Wine on November 28, 2015 at 10:09 am

Moments when you know you’re on your own:

The show was called Le chibani – a word meaning The Old Man or The Ancient One. A tale of an Algerian worker in France, told with a fine sense of irony. Most of the audience was of Algerian origin, and laughed at absurdities they recognized. Laughed at some of the Arabic asides. Clapped along to the music. Well and good.

At the end of the performance, the actor took questions from the audience. His childhood in Marseille, his father’s life, etc.

He’s winding up, about to leave the stage. A woman says: “I didn’t understand everything because you spoke in Arabic at times.”

Duh, the performer doesn’t say. Tries to answer without calling the woman a dummy. She insists. She missed a whole lot of the show because he spoke Arabic.

Round-eyed, I look at the woman sitting next to me. “She’s right,” she says. If I had come with my children, they would have complained.”

The woman who was sitting next to me teaches in a Lycée. She’s an active participant in social and environmental events.

There are levels of obtuseness I fail to understand. My one consolation: despite every other aggravation, the life choices I’ve made spare me much worse comments at the table of some fine exemplars of racism and bigotry as ingrown as a toenail. If their tongues were loose with venom a few years ago, I can well imagine the vileness served up along with the good food and fine wines now.

Bread pudding. People filled with doubts. People willing to let go of the shoreline. Long stretches of alone time. The only constant: nothing ever plays out as expected, and humor isn’t for the fainthearted.

The times

In Drafts, Hautvoir, humeurs, Local projects, Music, news coverage, Revision on November 27, 2015 at 8:56 am

Back then – late-late nineties – the woman had the following claims to fame: she had been the public mistress of a French political figure; she had been a political figure of import in Quebec, occupying several ministerial posts; a major woman’s magazine had included her in the list of Quebec’s Most Beautiful Women (Hollywood standards need not apply).

None of those claims to fame ever applied to me so how should I know how I would preen and chant Off with their Heads in similar circumstances? I do know she made an ugly stink when she found me sitting at the main table at a public event. She was the guest speaker. I was one of the workshop leaders. Well. She had known me as a lowly press aid – kitchen help, really. “What is she doing here?” she asked. Loud, too.

In last night’s dream, I answered the phone at the request of the choir leader. ‘Twas the lady of great claims to fame, wishing to speak to the choir leader and wanting to know who the hell was answering the phone in her stead. The choir leader didn’t want to talk to her. I made all the expected insincere apologies.

I note this early on in the day because I haven’t given this woman a moment’s thought in over twenty years. Dreams are funny that way.

***

Still no sign of a contract but the schedules – ah, the schedules. Fortitude, my daughter wished me the other day. Indeed. Plus strong sphincters. In one school, I get a pee break between classes; not in the two others.

Still working on the scheduling puzzle today. Story is in the low-flying zone i.e. I’m reworking existing material with something of a treadmill feeling. A few of the major additions, still refusing to land.

***

Commenting all the War Fear and Panic news yesterday, a local restaurateur vowed to me he would grab a gun and “rid the world of scum” yes sirree. He had to step outside for a smoke, first, so that’s one major bloodbath averted.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the pile …

In Circus, Drafts, Food, Fun, Hautvoir, Local projects, news coverage, Revision, Sanford Meisner on November 26, 2015 at 9:35 am

I could do the same exercise with headlines over here, except they’re in French and this is in English. So, two brief ones from the sidebar at The New York Times where “How to Carve Your Turkey” is followed by “Video of Teen Shot by Police Released“. In terms of overall coverage, you’ll learn more about the proper festive look than about anything else. I have nothing against festivities but, on some days, you need a particularly robust sense of humor to appreciate the proper setting of a Manhattan dinner table à la TNYT.

Same holds true for the proper way to serve the Christmas fare, as decreed in Paris. Meanwhile, at the local level, a minuscule battle goes on over the attribution of an apartment to one (1) family of four. Hundreds of thousands of others moulder, rage and despair at the borders, and the War themes play a lot louder than Peace on Earth and Goodwill Towards Men.

Save for the weaponry, there’s nothing new since the Trojan War? I guess the biggest difference in war-making concerns the personal safety of the leaders. They used to go into the fray. Not any more.

As for the seventy-odd persons displaced from their apartments during the raid on the Paris killers, they still moulder inside a gym. Nobody seems in any rush to settle them anywhere else. It’s Showtime. Leaders with bowed heads, holding a single flower picked out by an aid. Leaders in impeccable suits striding forth to meetings with other leaders in impeccable suits. Who bombs whom, when and where.  Who gets top of the news. Who gets a ten-point spurt in his popularity rating (weekly rating? Daily? at the mid-day level?) Who’s this week’s ally who was last week’s foe? The important stuff. Ego, like gas, expands.

Of course, all those bombs are for our collective safety.

***

I’m slightly hexed at the moment, story-wise. Why? Because the lady character said something out loud to the writer that the writer can’t simply drop into the story. The writer has to find a way to slide the lady character’s words (or intent) into a meaningful scene. It may be a one-liner. It may be even less. It’s crucial, that much is clear.

So, Part 4 where there’s still lots to do, somewhere between classes, meetings, phone calls, and sputtering indignation over our leaders’… I hold back the word and save it for fiction.

 

Rainy Wednesday

In Animals, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision on November 25, 2015 at 8:15 am

Long sigh aka breathing exercise. No contract yet, no teaching materials. Stand-by to report for work on Monday – once one of two school principals decides I do not report to her school on Tuesday. The third principal says I show up on Thursday at his school, and adds one of the two others is in the wrong. No kidding. All I know: I’ll work four hours in each school, three days a week while pursuing the coaching sessions. Age range of the children: five to eleven. I’m familiar with the schools. My most devout wish: I’ll spend a modicum of time teaching them English vs negotiating peace treaties and/or imposing sanctions.

You sense my bubbling enthusiasm? Saying you like children is like saying you like dogs. Both statements call for refinements in terms of behavior – and sheer numbers, too.

***

Allez. Fiction-wise, one of the characters woke me in the night. He wanted to know who the hell was that lady he’d never met before. He asked as if I should know. I never met her before either, I told him. You’ll have to ask your friend, if you get so see him again. I write the stuff doesn’t mean I know why a character has unexpected friends.

***

It’s raining out there. I have a stuffy nose and a scratchy throat. Finished reading Moby Dick last night – they were a talkative bunch aboard the Pequod. My sympathies remain with the whale. Seriously: impressive feat of writing. I say this with one eye on the pile of attempts at storytelling done by a class of eleven year-olds. One third of the group longs to be a sports champion. One third wishes to save the world from assorted nasties either earth-bound or invaders from outer space. One third tells family-based or animal-related stories (orphaned children, lost dogs finding a home).

***

Revision is slow business. Especially when interrupted by paperwork and scheduling issues over which school children learn to write blue for bleu on Mondays and which on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I doubt We Shall Overcome. That’s one pressure less on the system, isn’t it? I think so.

Tuesday, and yet more unexpected twists

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision on November 24, 2015 at 8:11 am

Time – the most precious of the non-renewables.

Revision stands in abeyance. The characters, at a loss. If the writer doesn’t provide the energy, nothing happens. Characters aren’t real. The writer attempts to make them seem as if they are.

CV: updated with the required adjustments. Changes to the schedule. “Free” time, about to shrink, not only because of twelve additional hours of work per week. I’m looking at twelve hours multiplied by some two hundred and forty children. Whether they’ll learn any English at all beyond naming the colors and saying Hello, my name is… I don’t know. I do know I’ll come home and need a lot of the precious “free” time for nothing other than recharging the batteries. Writing will have to be part of the recharge, or it won’t happen at all.

Do I aspire to teach basic English to 6 to 8-year old children, on the eve of my seventh decade? No. Can I afford to turn down the job, knowing  such opportunities won’t show up often, if ever again? No.

So, characters, you and I will have to adjust. Winds change, and so does everything else. Every one of you wishes your life would play more to your liking. You have my deepest sympathy.

For now, in real life, I know there are three delighted school principals to contact this morning. I’m pleased to know they’re pleased. Meanwhile, I have a cast of characters in full dismay. I’m sad for their sake and for mine. We’ll have to recoup, gang. Modify the way your times play, maybe. Or how I deal with your various expectations – and mine.

Bits on a Monday morning

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Names and Titles, news coverage, Revision on November 23, 2015 at 8:05 am

I hesitate to start the day with a walk-through the news. Not so much because of the “news” in itself – most of it horrid enough without the added cinematic overlays. Screaming banner-high headlines, slick action-movie treatment of armed warriors (Ours and Theirs). The thump-thump style, the war beat – man oh man, where do I sign up etc.

Clear, rock-cold morning. Men, women, children, babies sleeping outside or in makeshift shelters. Old news says the desk editor. Give me the step-by-step on the assault. Hate tags on mosques? On synagogues? In Christian cemeteries? Let’s have them. Etc. If it’s bad, it’s good.

Which makes sense in fiction – at least, some of the time. As a staged and framed depiction of real life as it’s happening? Could we open up the frame please? Take in a larger swath of real?

Monday. Mundane. The shuttle goes back and forth. Story-wise, I lost my concentration somewhere while revising Part 3. Lost track of something or someone.

In the mundane category: Some seventeen or eighteen large index cards (14.8 x 21 cm) with awkward script and awkward attempts at stories, waiting for typing and printing. I can’t show up on Thursday with some clean copies and others, not.

Cold clear morning. Six fifty am, even if the blog clock says it’s an hour later somewhere else.

***

Listening to four minutes of new musical composition last night, the composer hands me the book he’s reading. You know this writer, he asks. The name means nothing to me: Boston Teran. A brief wiki search leads to  someone’s pseudo with a list of titles and awards. Who’s Boston Teran? No idea.

***

Also, for a fictional social worker: the comment of a real one at last week’s meeting concerning the way they must couch their written observations in lingo befitting underlings. Higher-ups make the judgments – even though the social workers take the heat for “under-reporting” or “missing the clues”… they were asked to tone down in the first place. “Yours is not to sit in judgment on the child’s parents. Yours is to suggest ways and means to improve parental dynamics for the well-being of the child.” Ah. My fictional one must remember that.

“How kind the moon is. Look, maman, she’s following us home.”*

In Artists, Circus, Dance, Drafts, Film, Fun, Games, Hautvoir, Music, Revision, Sanford Meisner, Sundays, Titles on November 22, 2015 at 9:28 am

Charlie Chaplin kissed me. Oui, Monsieur, Oui, Madame. (I write this down before all the magic gets abraded in full sunlight). He kissed me, swept me up in his arms and we danced – the step, something between a fast waltz and a slow polka. Charlie wore his hair long – a white mane flying back as we danced. Then we moved on to the main order of business i.e. determining the stage area.

An invisible stage it was. We (Charlie, myself and a third short person who landed in the dream straight from the ongoing draft) would perform in an open space with a wooden platform. We had to establish the boundaries of an imaginary circle that would move with us as we scampered and played. The audience would surround the playing area.

Voilà. In the dream, this happened right after a disastrous audition by a woman who wanted me to hire her as a stand-up therapist for old people. She’d followed a certification program (the dream is already fading in the light of day, so I forget the name of the program – something brief, a three or four-letter acronym maybe).

More to report?  This will do for starters. I’m not fully settled on titles for Part 3 and Part 4 of the draft yet. At least one scene to add to Part 4. Other changes too no doubt.

But even if only once in her life, and even if only in a dream: a girl gets a kiss, a dance and a chance to play with Charlie Chaplin, she picks up and carries on from there, yes?

* little girl, looking out the car window on a chilly, chilly day with the moon out in full daylight

Threats both Real and Imaginary

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, news coverage, Revision, Sanford Meisner on November 21, 2015 at 8:50 am

After the morning meeting, I spent a lot of time pulling together every scrap of writing done by ten/eleven-year old children in a six-session workshop. Thursday was the fourth. Some of them who swore they couldn’t write down more than their own name couldn’t stop when the bell rang this week. Others who had started writing “lost” their work. One boy looked me straight in the eye and handed back an index card with nothing other than his first name. Almost like one of those I Am (fill in the blank), the slogan that has gone viral as an affirmation of solidarity for victims of the latest reported atrocity.

Well, in his case, the boy seemed to say, I am me and no one else.

Complicated times. Some people were late to the meeting yesterday morning because of another ongoing police raid in the same neighborhood. Fear does strange things to the nicest people. Scape goating is rampant. The meeting served as a time-out. A place to sort through the virtual and the real. The scariest right now: the number of instances where people no longer distinguish between the imaginary world (in which anything goes) and the real one where mutual respect and Thou Shalt Not Kill should serve as more than pretty doilies over bloody acts.

Dealing with real threats – to life, to limbs, to liberties. Dealing with curfews, censorship, what you say, how you say it, to whom and why.

Moving on with those projects that matter most to you. Facing unexpected challenges to the values you cherish the most.

On the way home after the meeting, I walked by the local flower shop. To the side, the florist keeps discarded things on their way to the trash. Found three flowers there, in perfect condition. Brought them home and improvised a vase with a hacked-out bottle of mineral water. Every bit of beauty helps. Every bit of light-heartedness too.

Allez hop.