Archive for May, 2016|Monthly archive page

My name is…I am…years old. I come from…I’m in France since…and I wish to study…

In Hautvoir, Local projects, notes, Revision, Synopsis on May 21, 2016 at 9:54 am

The luxury of a Saturday morning sleep-in. Early morning dog walk, first. Unavoidable. Under a clear sky: a long-awaited pleasure in this cold and rainy spring. Some coffee. Some revision. A powerful beckon from the couch. A pleasant drift between sleep and wakefulness. The church bell strikes nine – twice, in case you miss the first count. The upstairs neighbor turns on her radio for the morning programs (her all-time favorite song will come later).

The movie showed a record gross in the first weekend, they say. The book went through its fifth printing in the first three months, and movie rights sold in the seven-figure bracket. The new boss was so good, they raised his monthly salary to a comfortable six-figure amount.

You are what you earn. At least, that’s the message blaring from all directions. The corollary: if you’re poor, you’re worthless. And lazy. Stands to reason.

On my neighbor’s terrace last night, we enjoyed the balmy weather. Ate, drank, talked about staying alive as musicians or as writers when success passes you by. The big recording contract. The full endorsement of an agent and a publishing house. The youthful dream of making a living from what you love.

I talked about some of the boys I’d seen in the workshop on Thursday. The workshop dealt with presentation. First hour: what others see and hear when you knock on a door, and enter a room. Sit at a table and address yourself to the others sitting around it. All the non-verbal cues – gaze, gait, mannerisms, pitch of the voice. Second hour: job interview simulations. I took notes on all eight participants. All of them provided feed-back to the others.

The boy most present in my mind this morning: a sixteen-year old from Bangladesh – with adequate conversational English and the first elements of French. In-country since February. Reason for leaving Bangladesh: family problems, he said. Reason for choosing France over England? A brief hesitation, a mild reply with eyes in mine: same family problems, he said. Code: he’d rather struggle through learning a new language and culture than join the ranks of the indentured ones. Why does he wish to train as a plumber, I ask. Same quiet voice and attitude: he doesn’t enjoy cooking, he doesn’t have the schooling or qualifications required to train as an electrician. He’ll keep on working on his French, and become a plumber.

He did the first part of his presentation in flawless French. When he ran out of French words he said: “with your permission”, and switched to English.

I’m thinking of him and others like him, this morning. You are what you earn? No. You are who you become, with the income and contacts, or without.


In Absurdlandia, Animals, Fun, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision, Synopsis on May 20, 2016 at 7:56 am

I’m tempted to stop with the title. It says a lot about why a joke falls flat or makes you laugh (or smile).

The kids – whether inner ones or the ones in real time. In high spirits, keen on having a good time. Adults -inner or real, same difference – anxious to get through the chores and take a breather. The kids don’t get it, the adult blows up. Hey! a whole new game! It’s called: getting under the grown-up’s skin. Ha-ha. Ha.

There’s a level at which the twain shall never meet between grown-ups and kids – the inner and the outer. The kids just want to have fun. So do a lot of adults. Except there’s money to pull in for groceries and rent. Income tax returns to file. Job interviews. Meetings. Calls from the teacher “about the problem we’ve been having with your child”.  Power outages. Email glitches. Software with built-in obsolescence. People at the door just when you’ve decided the day is over. Admin papers in need of urgent updating. Fun. Games. Not to mention quality time with a favorite grown-up (whether inner or etc – see above).

The dog whimpers started at five thirty am. At least, the dishes are done and most of the food prep out of the way for lunch with a friend. Must clear the table for stuff like plates and cutlery unless we pile everything on top of file folders, busted electrical appliances and other sundries.

Apart from which yesterday’s workshop was a delight. The boys were happy with it and so was I. Sometimes, though, the days feel like a high-wire act through a haze of mosquitos.

Must say the random hit on a Facebook message about pickles upping your happy-happy serotonin levels landed just at the right time last night. Five minutes sooner? Not funny. Five minutes later? Meh.


And now: shower, get into street clothes, clear the desk, take out the garbage and head to a meeting.


“…wait, OK, let’s go.”

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, news coverage, Revision, Sanford Meisner, Synopsis on May 19, 2016 at 7:56 am

At 7:27 am, I have no idea what I’ll do with the anywhere-from-four-to-twelve participants in this afternoon’s workshop. Nor do I know how many will be fluent in French, recent arrivals (as in, less than a month ago) or more ancient (as in five to six months of presence on French soil). However, the workshop organizer told me last night one of the teenagers stutters and another tends to behave like a hermit crab. Purpose of the workshop: How to Introduce Yourself. Only certainty: Will Not Be Boring.

The best moment in yesterday’s coaching sessions: three twelve year olds (two girls, one boy) discovering It Can Be Done. Memorizing multiplication tables, that is. Best moment, not because they can now reel off the tables of 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x and 6x. Because, a piece of basic info kicked in at 4x. It kicked in when one of the girls whined: “that one’s too hard”. Except, she’d said the same thing for 2x and 3x too. Once she’d sailed through 4x (5x is a cinch), she said: “Oh 6x is too… wait, OK, let’s go.” Hence, the title to this post. (The basic technique, of course, is the same as that involved in memorizing anything, including the scripted words for a stage or film role, as taught by Sanford Meisner: rote learning, no pauses, no special effects, nothing other than the words so you don’t have to think about them anymore.)

Ridiculous? The world is coming to an end, the sky is falling, Paris is burning (sorry, make that one police vehicle), the seas are roiling, the earth is heaving, we’re promised worsening catastrophes on all fronts. Three kids catch on to the fact you can exercise your brain, and I’m happy?


Fiction-wise: word-by-word revision with two objectives in mind. The first – and most important: maintaining the right tension throughout. Meaning? the right tautness. Without the right tautness i.e. each character as crisp as I can make him or her, there’s no way I can achieve the second objective: a synopsis that captures the overall mood of the thing. Easier said than done because nailing the elusive it, that’s too hard. Can’t be done, can’t…OK, let’s try anyway.

Round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows

In and other spirits, Animals, Artists, Hautvoir, Local projects, Sanford Meisner on May 18, 2016 at 7:41 am

This post as a favor to myself i.e. getting the swirl of yesterday’s events in some kind of order.

The five (5) cheeses sitting on the top of my mailbox, for instance, when I came back from the two sessions of coaching. (What vowel do the words torchon and cochon have in common? Poupée and poulet? etc).

Between loading the washing machine, seeing the rental agency about the power issue, answering the phone while buying a few bottles of mineral water, getting a boy’s exam paper typed up and photocopied, and making it to my front door again: the swirl remains.

Back home, then, with the hope of emptying the washing machine so the clothes could dry, I’m met by one (1) person with a stack of administrative papers, summons and Final Notices we dump on to the table in the living room. The sorting begins while another person shows up with cables he wants to check out on two (2) photocopiers he’s picked up in a sidewalk sale. While he toils on the floor, the cheese-bearer shows up with his two sons. We are now six people and one large dog in my living room. As one Fats Waller once sang: the joint was jumping. The cheese-bearer’s two sons had shoes with built-in rollers they wished to demonstrate. As for the cheese-bearer – a personable Gitano in his early thirties – I’m still unclear on what all the cheese-bearing portends in terms of special requests in the misty future.

A long and pleasant pause on my neighbors’ terrace. Sun, geraniums and tales over chilled white wine followed by grilled steaks. Followed by a list of agenda items for the to-do list. It was close to midnight when I got around to a bit of reading, then, sleep.

Dreamwise, a lot went on during sleep time. The most persistent dream image being of a long and steep cast iron staircase and of the dreamer, standing at the top and the precautious approach to it. At the foot of the stairs : a busy street scene and the figure of an androgynous black person, singing something operatic to herself/himself.

Will take this day as it comes? I’d say that’s the wisest course.

‘Speak for yourself,’ said the egg woman.

In Current reading, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision on May 17, 2016 at 9:12 am

‘Speak for yourself,’ said the egg woman.

‘I can’t speak for anyone else,’ I said, ‘I don’t know the language.’ And just then the bus stopped and the conductor told us our tickets wouldn’t take us any further.

This bit of writing shows up in chapter 33 of Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth which contains a total of forty-four.

I took in the Speak for yourself exchange several times last night.  I’m still reading it over in my copy of the book, propped to the left of my computer. Other things to do, of course. Important. But ‘Speak for yourself,’ said the egg woman is such a perfect sentence – and such a perfect set-up for Gulley Jimson’s reply, I read and read, the way you admire a small detail of craftsmanship that distinguishes hand-made from assembly line.

Among the important things in real life: the electric power issue. While retrieving potting implements from the upstairs entry closet yesterday, I noticed a thick length of wiring sticking out of the wall, all taped up and pointing skyward. Whether this has any bearing on the shifty currents in this apartment’s electrical supply, I don’t know but intend to find out.

As for story, Cary’s egg woman bit may resonate at the moment because, much like an egg, there’s not much else you can cram into the shell of story once the chick grows to full hatchling size. A bit more brooding over details to add or delete. Followed by a lot of whereto now, if I go through the same exit strategies I experienced with other stories I let go. I haven’t typed in the momentous words The End yet. Maybe this egg doesn’t contain a chick. Maybe it’s hardboiled and meant to be rapped against a hard surface, peeled, salted and eaten.

For now, it feels finished as far as the writing goes.


Some preliminary effects of faulty wiring on jollity

In Absurdlandia, Animals, Artists, coffee, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision, RLB trivia on May 16, 2016 at 9:51 am

The other day, the wiring did something strange and fried the innards of two useful appliances: a computer I used as a stocking device for photos and such, and a photocopier for which I couldn’t find ink cartridges anymore but could use as a scanner.

This morning when the dog insisted that 5:45 AM was the adequate moment for a search through the fresh garbage on place du chateau, the light switch from downstairs to upstairs failed to produce the expected result. For some reason,  Fiat Lux  was operational again when we returned.

I’m typing this on a disconnected laptop because I have a fairly healthy sense of humor but losing the contents of this computer would push the envelope of my equanimity straight over the cliff. The automatic back-up feature stopped functioning a while ago. The external hard drive churns but doesn’t save. Yes, I save my writing on little plug-ins. Still. When power systems play games and fry the innards on my appliances, I don’t fall down laughing.

The more pleasant times? Pleasant indeed. Brief though. Yesterday, for instance. Several pleasant hours, all in a row. At one point, on my friend’s terrace, I imagined my dog gamboling through the countryside instead of foraging for dreck amid the smashed bottles. But I’d need a car, wouldn’t I? Not much chance of having the kind of money that buys a car again. C’est la vie.


Of course, I appreciate the humor in someone using a search engine that turns up websites for upholstered furniture when you type in the title of this blog. Since my small frame is now well padded in all directions, there’s something apt in said ap. But the fickle power supply does something unfortunate to my jollity. C’est la vie.

A day off. I’d like to be racing through the draft, making the sorrier parts sing and so on. I keep giving the light switches sidelong glances instead.

Allez. Maybe it’s this room that induces gloom. Allez, allez, almost finished reading through The Horse’s Mouth again, or How to make misery sing.

I’ll need a bit more coffee first before another look at my draft.

Context: a story of

In Artists, Collage, Contes d'Exil, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Revision, Story material, Sundays, Theater, Visual artists on May 15, 2016 at 8:07 am

Something like finding the right word order for a sentence. Or where to hang a painting to best effect. Bits of scenes: where best to introduce in the flow. There’s a strong visual element involved in the space where one of the characters hides out. The visual element blocks further development into words for the moment. Image in transition from the visual to the verbal.

Context of another kind: in their first version, the words and sentences occurred in something I wrote over fifteen years ago. They were part of the final scene in a series of interlocking pieces. A few months ago, a musician friend asked me to speak a few words in the mix he was composing, based on Beethoven’s Allegretto in his seventh symphony. I used some of those words, spoken by a fictional old woman walking her way from Crimea to a point beyond Lake Baïkal.

Last night, my friend had me listen to those same words spoken in Soninke in one of the final pieces of his composition called Pérégrination. The speaker: a young man from Mali. The words I walk, I walk, I walk take on yet another meaning, given the iterations that brought him to our street five months ago.

Triumphant highs – brief. Crashing lows – always too long. No point in being told I’m “too intense”. What can I do about it, except acknowledge the intensity of the highs and the lows, and manage my life as best I can with the head I’ve got. I have no idea how life fares from inside someone else’s head, no matter how much I may attempt to imagine such in fiction.

Story: Bits of living – my own, that of others – like pieces of puzzle or bits of paper getting shifted around for the “best” fit, whatever best means under the circumstances.

Still re-reading Joyce Carey’s The Horse’s Mouth. At one point yesterday, chapter 13 felt like an odd piece of autobiography, save for the fact I never was a painter, let alone someone by the name of Gulley Jimson. But still in my mind’s eye from long, long ago: Cézanne’s painting of men playing cards. Something like a page holder in one of the unfinished scenes.

Hurts? You bet.

In A post to keep afloat, Absurdlandia, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision, Sanford Meisner on May 14, 2016 at 9:09 am

when fiction veers too close to reality, the real challenge begins. Maybe you want to howl. Or break down and cry. Or lash out. Or give up. You counted on someone and that one person on whom you counted does not come through for you. For instance. Or reveals that whatever you wanted or expected wasn’t in the cards at all, as far as he or she was concerned. You can pack up your illusions and do bloody well whatever you want with them. We iz not interested in you, not even one tiny bit.

In the cacophony yesterday afternoon – each one of the ten workshop participants was tuned in to different music and destroying his eardrums from what I caught of the sounds – in or of that cacophony over which I had to shout several times, I choose to concentrate on a few seconds only.

I choose to concentrate on a few real moments of contact. Eyes connecting to something I was offering. Taking it in, and making something of it. For the most part, the workshop participants weren’t. Participating, that is. They were busy shutting out as much of their present experience as they could. A body experiences enough contempt from others? A body often decides to treat others with contempt in return. Hurts, in both directions.

They’ll tell you – and life will demonstrate this, over and over again – they’ll tell you life isn’t for dreamers. Over and over again, events will show how vile and despicable humans can be. For some reason, this is supposed to shut down all reflexes other than those of compliance and submissiveness. Stay out of trouble. If trouble comes looking for you anyway, just shut up and put up.

As a first step in the getting-to-know-you process yesterday, I filled out my own card with name, age, country of origin and profession. A few of the boys said: wow, you’re old. Indeed, I answered. Humans haven’t found any other way to live for a long time than to age.

OK. At which point one of them said he’d like to live until a hundred. So, we managed to move on to the next second, and the next second after that in a two-hour session best described as a post-doctoral exercise in frustration – both theirs, and mine.

“living truthfully in imaginary circumstances”. a post to keep afloat.

On to the next thing – a howling wolf? a blazing inferno? a fly doing the back stroke?

In Drafts, Fun, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision on May 13, 2016 at 9:01 am

I’m keeping the agenda loose for this afternoon’s workshop. For one, this is my first meeting with “the group”. For another, I’m told, members of “the group” vary from one session to another. So do their numbers – anywhere from four to twelve participants. Basic language skills (and in what languages)? Variable, comes the illuminating answer.

As a general outline, the two-hour session will involve a basic getting-to-know-you section. On which – depending on the identifiable variables – I’ll tack on something about expressions imagées. For instance, what does a French speaker mean when he or she says: “j’ai des fourmis dans les jambes” or “il a la tête dans les nuages” or “je donne ma langue au chat“? Do you have a similar expression in your language to say I’m restless or he’s daydreaming or I give up, tell me the answer.

Plus: whatever happens for real, in real time. I’m bringing along paper, pens, pencils, crayons and such,  and we’ll see what happens when somewhere between four and twelve teen-aged asylum seekers from an assortment of origins sit down for a session they haven’t asked for but must attend or else.

Next week, in another session (90 minutes) I must lead twelve of the same (or other) youngsters through basic training in how you present yourself to a French teacher/potential employer/person in authority in order to exude respect, self-confidence and eagerness of a controlled/enthusiastic kind. Again, the session is mandatory and the group home is – how shall I say – experimenting in the field of occupational programs. Most of the thirty or so residents in the home are still in administrative limbo. I bet they spend more time with their head in the clouds or their eyes glued to their phone than devouring manuals on French grammar or memorizing the dictionary.

Somewhat in limbo myself, story-wise. Must up the ante somehow or the assembled ingredients will not provide a satisfactory finale.

As I write this, I’m looking at photos I did of a nine-year-old boy’s copybook. The boy does better with words when he can draw at the same time. For instance, a drawing to describe what happened (and why he was punished but not the other kid) when a classmate called him the dumbest guy in the whole school. The other kid punched him in his glasses to make his point and our hero swatted him on the head in response… ah! there’s another expression imagée for the group this afternoon: donner une bonne tarte. Which doesn’t mean giving someone a good pie but rather, delivering a vigorous swat with the open hand.

Of what, if any, use any of this will be in fiction? Time in one of its wrinkles may reveal.

From a place where soaring strings make me laugh

In Absurdlandia, Animals, Artists, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Revision, Scene Prep, Visual artists on May 12, 2016 at 6:47 am

Food happened somewhere after nine pm last night after a most volubile General Assembly. Not that the folks at Volubilo are more talkative than others. Words tend to flow before, during and after meetings here.

This morning, the dog wanted out at five thirty am. I relented at five forty. Climbed into my house clothes (paint-spattered work pants and T). While I did so, a singer by the name of Frida Boccara broke into her rendition of one of her hits from the seventies. In my head, that is. Minus the soaring strings, I sang along: “Il y aura cent mille chansons quand viendra le temps des cent mille saisons…” etc. Upstairs, near the exit to the great outdoors, the dog moaned along. At any hour of the day or night, surrealism may strike. Best enjoy it while you can.

A bit of rain fell overnight. Under the street lamps, the white blooms on the black locust trees twinkled with wee drops and the parked cars looked like a wedding party covered with confetti (none of the parked cars had smashed windows and none were charred heaps – things are quiet on place du château at the moment. Or were, have  been, or had been, whichever verb tense now applies.)

Numbers. Vast subject. Spent a good part of yesterday afternoon drilling school kids in the nine times seven and six times eight routines. Followed by the General Assembly of a collective forever teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. We’ll keep my personal finances out of this. This is no time of day to discuss issues such as minimum living allowances or minimum wages or any other minima whatsoever. Suffice it to say I’m not alone in the contingent of precarious livers. Maybe all the talk is a way to vent anxiety. I saw a photo of young people demonstrating under the banner Génération Précaire, and felt a strong urge to invite them to make that a plural. But I had other things to do, such as drilling school kids in seven times nine being the same as nine times seven.

No wonder then that I reconnected with Joyce Cary’s Gulley Jimson for a few minutes last night. Gulley’s just stolen a few tubes of paint to pursue his latest artwork, and packed newspapers into his shoes and trousers so as not to freeze while devising a paintbrush out of a bit of rope. He’s now attempting to discourage a little kid from becoming an artist. But the kid’s persistent. I’ve read The Horse’s Mouth several times already so here’s a spoiler: the kid sticks around throughout the story.

Which brings me, the long way around, back to my ongoing draft revision.