Archive for February, 2016|Monthly archive page

Favorite things

In Animals, Artists, Break - coffee, Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts on February 29, 2016 at 8:58 am

This, for example (while I cringe at the thought of Things I Must Do Today):

One of my favorite online news sources (Mediapart) publishes a blogger’s enthusiastic report concerning a fiction writer/poet/painter’s prize for literature. I take a look, of course. No more than ten words into the reading, my eyes start to skip away. I ask them to be polite and read some more. They comply but it’s no good. You’re wasting precious time here, they say. Why? Because both the writer’s words and those of his admiring public remind me of the worse moments in French literature classes. Moments when chaste-by-obligation nuns turned ecstatic in dubious ways over some roiling sentiments by Gérard de Nerval, for instance.

So I revert to Seamus Heaney. Of personal contact with Irish soil, I have nothing but a brief stopover at Dublin Airport for some unexplained “checking” of the plane boarded in Paris, and supposed to cross over the Atlantic all the way to Montreal. Of the airport, I recall nothing but the sight of a priest with a full and beefy red face downing a huge mug of black beer. Plus, of course, tales by and about me Irish grandmother.

All this to explain there’s no trace of a brogue when I read Heaney’s poems out loud to myself. (Other times, I read them silently, because then, I definitely hear the lilt and the ponderous, the wondrous, and so on.)

The one I read over and over with delight last night – after endless dreary dealings with provisional budgets better described as desperate scrapings:


The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise

Were all at prayers inside the oratory

A ship appeared above them in the air.


The anchor dragged along behind so deep

It hooked itself into the altar rails

And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,


A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope

And struggled to release it. But in vain.

‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’


The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So

They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back

Out of the marvelous as he had known it.

Seamus Heaney


Is there a moral to this post? Two, in fact:

1 what works for you, works for you. What doesn’t, doesn’t.

2 the second I’m still struggling to carve out in fiction, with grateful assistance to those voices that matter to me.


More urgent, trying, pesky dealings with bureaucratic deadlines and dead ends today? Afraid so – with whatever delightful breaks I encounter in passing. You don’t tell an old horse to speed past a luscious bit of greenery by roadside – not unless you wish the old horse to jerk down his head and spill you out of the saddle.


Amid the noise and confusion

In Absurdlandia, Hautvoir, Local projects, news coverage, Opinion, proto drafts, Sundays, Uncategorized on February 28, 2016 at 8:45 am

There’s something almost quaint about the debate concerning the conflict over Right to Privacy vs Need to Know. If not quaint, at the very least ironic when the cookies follow you around like tireless pearl and garbage collectors. An immediate for instance? Reading the blurb on Amazon about a book titled Intellectual Privacy : Rethinking Civil Liberties in the Digital Age.

The irony: next time I visit Amazon’s website, my visit will have been referenced and I’ll find further titles of the same ilk for my reading and purchasing pleasure. Depending on an outsider’s take on my personality as outlined by my internet activities, I’m sure to fit into a number of bewildering categories. Should some of the more outlandish takes come knocking at my door, the bewilderment might ramp up to stupendous.

In real terms, one of yesterday’s moments of sublime and exquisite exasperation involved the downloading of a software application. This required opening an account, of course, with identifier and password, and sharing personal information on a website guaranteed utterly-secure-until-hacked. But wait! My computer needed an upgrade before I could download the app. The upgrade involved the sharing of personal information again + three secret answers to questions concerning pets, parents, jobs. Full disclosure here: only one of my secret answers isn’t a bit of creative fluff.

I’d love to think that, as a species, we’ll prefer creative and friendly developments in telepathy to further incursions into megatons of metadata. But even those friendly mind-to-mind moments, I suspect, would find truly horrible applications. Why? Because friendly is as friendly does. Sorry to say, all is not friendly. As demonstrated by front page wars and back alley fist fights alike.

Yesterday, out on a short stroll for the look and sound of fellow humans, a bug-eyed someone was offended by a light-hearted response of mine concerning the Horrors Afoot in Our World. “You talk as if the death of millions was the same thing as a neighborhood fist fight,” the person said.

I wish I could report I had the perfect answer to this comment, but half-decent answers don’t show up at every street corner.  Even in story,  the better ones do their best show after eight, ten or twenty revisions.

Had I been swifter on my intellectual uptake, I might have answered that bemoaning the discomforts of a common cold in no way equated it to the ravages of the Great Plague, for one. For another, sneezing your way out of a neighborhood fist fight made for a less heroic story than Saving Private Ryan, true, mais voilà: the one thing the cookie crumbs can’t predict yet is how a living body reacts to events this time, as compared to another. A body sneezing its way out of a straight jab to the nose is a smart body, in my estimation.


Meanwhile in the proto draft, noise and confusion rule the day. In local projects, the brain still struggles against the temptation to zone out and never return. But, of course, some middle course will prevail. Whether predictable through the reading of cookie trails or not, I can’t say.


In Break - coffee, Food, Fun, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner on February 27, 2016 at 9:52 am

A neighborhood butcher with a sense of humor is a pleasant addition to daily living. “Lots of blue out there,” he said when I stepped into his shop.

“With touches of white,” I added as the third vehicle from the gendarmerie pulled up.

“Well, it’s nice to see them around. It’s all about who wins the intimidation contest.”

I agreed, for obvious reasons. Still, I said, with so many of the downtown shops closed down, and so many young people striving to take the young entrepreneur route…

He fell right in. True, he said, and reached for my supper selection. The self-employed are France’s future. If a young man wants to sell small bags of baking powder, why arrest him? His friends wish to make self-rising crêpes, the American kind. Because I don’t care for them, should I stop others from eating them?

We bantered on in this vein for a bit because any given day is like what the title of this post says – an aggregate.  In geology, the term refers to a loosely bound mash-up of various minerals that went through a number of separate  traumatic events, and ended up glomped together for two or possibly ten million years. (The term “loosely bound” being a relative concept).

Do bodies – live, dead, barely living or about to be born – glomped together in a rubber dinghy also form an aggregate? They do, but of a briefer duration. And despite everything, grateful, so grateful (the living ones, that is) when human decency shows up on the sea or on the beach in order to extract them safely, one by one.

The relief after the ordeal is of shorter duration than the fateful crossing? Still. Better some food, some water, some medical care and kindness than none at all. Considering the indescribable jumble awaiting said bodies on the shores they so longed to reach.

What else in the mix, today? Fun, funny, boring and annoying things. Plus nonsense of every possible description. Was it Ferlinghetti or another who wrote the poem I should have jotted down years ago, and didn’t? The one about drawing a small circle on a piece of plain old dirt – then discovering the stupendous amount of unknown things revealed before your eyes. I think the poet had mentioned the number three hundred such revelations. If he did, I guess it was because he stopped counting so he could write down the poem instead.

Next up in this day: some very disagreeable stuff relating to accounting and funding requests. Mixed in with whatever makes that dreariness bearable. Dreaming up a provisional budget? Writing someone an email that says we’ve spotted sixty errors in the balance sheet you sent us?

As one of the characters would say: joy, joy, joy.


(For writing and general living purposes, the chewed up garden gnome has joined the bunch that keeps an eye on proceedings around here. He considers himself “honored and pleased” to feature in this shot with La Bienheureuse Germaine and a few other significant lares. He wishes to thank the ones who saved him from a disgraceful plunge off a cliff overlooking a parking with lots of late-night activity of a dubious kind.)

Accounting, RL. Accounting, yes. Coming right up.


Featuring, yet again, the tumbling team of Who, What, When, Where, Why

In Drafts, Fun, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner on February 26, 2016 at 10:13 am

Writing toward a complete first draft. Depending on mood and circumstances, I find the experience fun, stressful, aggravating, hopeless, useless, pointless, and/or the equivalent of whistling in the dark while listening to things going bump in the night. Wrong turns. False starts. Bits of dialogue floating through with no follow-up. Other bits of dialogue behaving like the seed of a barnacle grasping on to a piece of rock. Who’s who, why now? Are the voices behaving like an intruder at a politician’s fund-raising event? Like the paying guests wanting to hear what they’re paid to hear?  The politician? The politician’s retinue?

Why now? Why. Now, as I embark on the fourth part of the proto draft. Perhaps for the need to look away from the front-runners. The need to take in more of the background. Or to focus more sharply on “an irrelevant detail”. Bottom line: the need  to find out which of the characters refuse to give up. They all claim their take on life is what matters most. Which ones keep my interest engaged?

(At this point, the writer happens to be the reader, so the issue is even more crucial than keeping the pathos or ridicule in a synopsis. I’m at least seven full drafts away from calling this one done. Maybe I keep writing to avoid the loathsome encounter with the synopsis + cover letter +. One of my neighbors is convinced I have a psychological issue in need of resolution on this matter. Maybe my neighbor is right but this changes nothing to the fact some bits of dialogue insist on a landing spot somewhere while others float downstream.)

On one of the walks down narrow streets and narrower sidewalks  yesterday, I had the feeling that, true enough, all the characters wanted answers or vindication, or even a brief shining moment of spot-on realization, revelation, love, what have you. But maybe all of them were just like the writer at that specific moment: about to swing the umbrella away from a building so as to negotiate a right angle turn from one narrow sidewalk to the next, with no idea of the dealings about to appear on the next stretch of road.

Or, maybe like the writer, the characters spend their days in a proto draft – bits in the Sargasso Sea; bits on the rocky Atlantic cliffs; bits on dry land; bits in search of a misplaced landing document. And so on.

This is dedicated to…

In Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts on February 25, 2016 at 8:21 am

Whatever you do or say, plus whatever you refuse to do or say, you’ll be cursed by some, blessed by others and ignored by the vast majority of humans. Why? because they have other concerns. Such as finding food, drink, clothing, companionship, understanding, a cheaper plane ticket – or acquiring the utterly most recent gadget making the buzz in their part of the universe.

Violent contrasts. Minute tonal switches. Living in a prevailing  public climate of fascination for the bombastic, the excessive, the hysterical. Yesterday’s urgent call drowned out by today’s slew of petitions, dire warnings and helpless reports that repeat the same message over and over again: this is all too much, too big for us, too far gone, can only get worse, watch out!…etc.

Balancing acts. Choose this, ignore that. Record, observe, report, if only to your own self. Why this compels to words or action, why you let slide something else.

Somewhere, a tiny hub of silence. Somewhere else, ear and soul destroying anguish. Somewhere else, light-hearted laughter. Somewhere else…

A portrait of it all? Impossible. Small betrayals. Bigger ones. Acts of kindness, missed connections, imperfect stories, and the unceasing, relentless roar from those who insist on “controlling the agenda”.

So many ways to control the agenda. So many ways to miss the obvious.


To Gaillac, this morning, then back.


Finished reading Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time last night. Writing for those people – living or dead – that keep you human as in sometimes foolish, sometimes right, muddling along, often. And occasionally, spot on. Hoping for a lot of spot on moments still. Some of them require stepping back to watch, look and listen to real people, and fictional ones, with extra care.

This is dedicated to…? The mundane, maybe. The spurts of common sense. The self-deflating moments of derision. A pity self-derision isn’t taught as a compulsory course in Great and tiny schools alike. There might be less body parts flying apart in the real world, if it were.


Allez? Allez.


Post-script : Don’t want to miss the one and only bus out of town so I go down at 9 for the 9:15.

9:20 then 9:25 roll up. Still no bus. I’m reading under the awning. Sky opens up and drops a straight-down sheet of water. A man moves in under the awning. Wants to tell me his life story. I don’t pay close enough attention. He gets angry. I say: “Sir, I’m reading.” He gets angrier. Reading, fuck you, this is France, I’m free to speak my mind or aren’t I? Reading. They have libraries for that, this is a bus stop. I’m a good friend of Carcenac (the Senator), etc.

At which point I feel like punching him in the face. Or – better option – smacking him with the book, so as not to bruise my hand. But I don’t want to bruise the book either so I repair home instead.


Making your own attempts at sense out of it all

In Absurdlandia, coffee, Current reading, Food, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, news coverage, proto drafts on February 24, 2016 at 10:02 am

Well, I’ve been munching on my piece of toast, drinking my coffee and staring at the screen. Not for want of things to do, things to read, things to write, things to ponder. People to meet, moussaka to put together for a meal at the neighbors’ this evening. People knocking at my door, holding letters with the same exquisite bits of administrative nonsense in them as the last time. As if a huge fan hovered above administrative offices, stirring up sheaves of paper. The fan sometimes set on low speed, sometimes on medium and sometimes on Total Turmoil.

Meanwhile, the local services for this specific bit of kerfuffle: closed for the week. The website: well, yes, undergoing maintenance.

But, after all, this being vacation time for me, I stocked up on a variety of reading materials yesterday, including a “woman’s magazine”. Female bodies photoshopped to the current local standards of beauty suggesting twenty-five brands of anti-aging serum; modeling five thousand euros-worth of consumer goods; and even dropping into the Calais “Jungle” for a two-page spread on the horror and shame of “our” treatment of refugees. (“Our”? What is this? The Confessional moment? Who is this “Our”? The person modeling her current wardrobe on page seventy-four?The one touching up the glamor shots? Writing the advertising copy?)

We move on to advice from stylish women on how to look stylish, from age 27 to 94. From this last, I cull the closing comment by the ninety-four year old: “You know, not everyone has to be elegant. There are so many more important things in life… It’s better to be happy than to be well-dressed.”

No doubt. (Here, the Ironist starts stretching up toward sarcasm, so I let the matter rest for now. I like nice things as much as the next person but this is like an unrelenting diet of non-fattening chocolate truffles).

In a totally different vein: received and started to read Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time. Wrote. Pondered. Stacked up empty plastic bottles for a run to the recycling bins. One of the resident inner characters piped up about how nicely trained we were; buying even the most basic supplies in tons of unwanted packaging, then sorting out the garbage by category, and come rain or shine, making our way to the bins as conscientious consumers must.

Time out, time in

In Artists, Circus, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, news coverage, Poetry, proto drafts on February 23, 2016 at 9:58 am

Time calculations always being relative to something, vacation time flows at different rates and in different patterns from work days. No must be at such a place at such a time applies – except for meeting plane or train schedules and showing up at the museum during opening hours.

In this frame of mind, I’d gladly spend a leisurely hour or two going through all of Stephen Ellcock’s postings on his Facebook page. Space and time travel guaranteed for art lovers of all ilks. (Does the plural exist for the word ilk? Perhaps I’ll check, perhaps I won’t.)


Proto drafts – the bumpy road. Something like putting together a puzzle for which all the pieces do not tumble out of a box, and no one has provided the finished model. For starters, you have a word or two, and a handful of characters in the making perhaps. Regulars who’ve changed since the previous appearance or newcomers you’ve yet to appraise beyond physical traits or stated purpose of visit. You have assumptions, reversals, surprises. What it’s all about, you may not even find out after the final revision.

Voilà. You stick with it because you do.

Books. Doodles. Scribbled notes. Bills, appointments, domestic chores. The lifelong process of meditation through observation. The word meditation seeming to imply sitting in a special posture suggestive of something static and becalmed. Yet, whether sitting in a prescribed way or chasing down the day, there’s  nothing passive about the process, especially when one organized flow pattern of inner dialogue or imagery gets superseded by another. The brain switches gears, so to speak, a different hormonal flow starts up. What seemed self-evident or unsolvable a milli-second earlier appears in a different light or under another rhythm.

For the time being, one section of the proto draft comes to a temporary halt.

Whereto now, and to what purpose.

In real life

In Artists, Circus, Film, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner, Theater on February 22, 2016 at 8:46 am

Why the boy saw fit to discard the battery on his phone, we may never find out. Not all phones use the same kind of battery, apparently. Finding another that fit took a while. Mission accomplished by the remarkable people giving him shelter. For the first time since leaving home, he spoke with his sister on Saturday night. Who will convey the news to his mother that her son’s body hasn’t fed the fishes in the sea. From what I gather, direct contact between mother and son may need to wait – or may never happen again.

Today’s never-dreamed-of experience for him: a local musician heard him speak at a community event yesterday. Asked him to record words in his native tongue for his work in progress (a different musician and a different WIP from my next door neighbor’s).


Perhaps the understanding between the landlady and the ironmongers went through further negotiation. Perhaps this explains why all the metallic content is gone from the pile of rubbish on my street, but not the cushions, mattresses and other such refuse still occupying the same space as it did yesterday. On my way home from the film “Chocolat” last night, the garbage in the space where once a castle stood gleamed in a greenish, murky light. Even the moon cast a murky glow. Atmospheric? Even the black cats roamed – all others safely curled up on someone’s lap, no doubt.


“Chocolat” being a twenty-first century film director’s take on the life and times of Footit et Chocolat, a circus duo that rose to fame and fortune in the first years of the twentieth century. Footit was pale-skinned, and Chocolat – you guessed it – was of the darkest ebony. They did acrobatics, and fast-paced reversals involving lots of slapping and kicking of Chocolat by Footit. The crowds roared with delight. Then World War One began and the crowds grew sentimental. Exit Footit et Chocolat.


Voilà for yesterday, outside my own fictional writing which most resembles a balancing act – sometimes from one character or scene to the next, at other times from word to word to word.


Sanford Meisner, and other books on acting and clowning? Close by.


Over and over and over again

In Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts, Sundays on February 21, 2016 at 10:22 am

When I walked by the two houses in the morning, everything was out on the street, and all doors and windows flung open. Mattresses, old brass light fixtures, broken mirrors, bed posts. Old TV set with a busted screen, old gas stove that looked like a greasy time bomb.

When I came back after rehearsal, the owner of the two houses was finalizing removal arrangements with two of the boys from a local family of ironmongers. No picking through, she insisted, it’s an all or nothing deal. She interrupted the negotiation for a smile and a buss on my cheek. “They’ve moved out?” I asked. “And none too soon,” she said. Up until that point, I only knew her as the cleaning woman at a local venue. This is how I found out she was a landlady too. (Word to the wise: You’ll want to wait for lots of cleaning and fixing up before considering a rental in her properties.)


Understanding how somebody else’s mind works : like it or not, you make a few basic assumptions, based on your way of handling life, its joys, its miseries and its long stretches of when oh when does this lead to something?

Case in point: over an hour spent with someone yesterday evening, attempting to move on from the one point he kept on raising over and over again. I knew he was trying to make me understand something in his hesitant French. The closest he could get was to repeat: we have different Mayors. Meaning (I think) that the Mayor in his hometown fills out administrative papers his way, and the Mayor in another town handles things another way.

Even if this is what he wanted me to understand, my understanding won’t move things by one iota with the administrators in this country. Therefore, the young man and I shared over an hour exploring frustration the way a goat tethered to a post explores circling left vs circling right, then stops to bleat a bit (if bleating is the sound associated with a goat’s voice – must check with the Portal of All Knowledge.)

Sunday. Two-week school holidays. The days will be a mix of stop and go, I suppose. With fiction proceeding in something of the same stop and go pattern.

While exquisite light poured down on la Ville Rose*

In Hautvoir, Local projects, news coverage, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner on February 20, 2016 at 8:57 am

At the debriefing after yesterday’s grillings at the tribunal, we repeated the same thing, over and over: a harsh line of questioning does not mean the decision will be negative.

I admit this was akin to whistling in the wind. As experienced yesterday, the mood and the prevailing political stance reverses the order of priorities: refugees become possible informants on smugglers, period. Illegalities in the procedures used against them? You must be joking – our laws must protect us, not them. In some instances, the attitude is harsher still: were it not for these annoying refugees we wouldn’t be fighting against the smugglers leading the infiltrators into our wonderful country. Therefore, refugees are the source of all our woes.

The message was driven home out on the street where the sidewalks were filled with (pale-skinned) people heading off to the weekend. I was walking toward the car with two of the young men. Seeing them, a woman stalled, eyes frozen in panic. Here they were! The invaders, the rapists, the murderers, the…the…

I said “pardon, Madame,” as in: “Excuse me kindly, you’re blocking the way.” She looked at me – ah, a pale-face – and landed back on planet Earth.

These are not gentle times for strangers. Yet another photo drove the message home yesterday: two men, stronger than the other people thronged against the barbed wire, climbed over the others to reach the other side. The weaklings such as women with small children, shoved way way back in the jostling. Why? Because at the Austrian border,the admission quota on that day was eighty (80) people. Ergo, shove or fall back.

We laughed too, at the debriefing last night. About the fabulous job one of the boys would develop in his country of origin. Travel advisor, as in: here’s why you shouldn’t cross the treacherous waters. Of course, all the official nastiness is geared toward that aim too: shoving back as many people as possible so they can tell others the trip isn’t worth all the pain and all the losses of friends who straggled and were left to die in the desert; or shot by juiced-up and trigger-happy Jihadists; or drowned, be it full fathom five, or in a puddle-worth of water.

Court decisions expected for all four in three weeks’ time. Meanwhile, business as usual, as in: studying French and Math, as much as possible. Whatever happens next for them, skills acquired serve, eventually.

*most buildings in Toulouse are made of bricks of a tawny pink. The city seems to glow when the sun slips down toward the horizon.