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Archive for July, 2016|Monthly archive page

Keeping House

In A post to keep afloat, Absurdlandia, Artists, Current reading, dreams, Rejection on July 20, 2016 at 8:13 am

The walls are lined with books, all in French. The literature sorted by period – the well-known classics, most of them from the nineteenth century and early twentieth. I pick up some of the more recent, read a few chapters, and set them down. Uninteresting? No. Predictable. You turn to the last page: sure enough the landing, as expected.

The boy comes back from his shopping expedition with two others in Toulouse. Tells me about his purchases and the highlight of their foray – a kebab shop where they ate so much, he says, that at nine PM, he’s not hungry yet. Large eaters they are not. He heads back to my place for the night, proud to have his own key, his own room – and the envy of some of his friends, still in the Home. Before leaving, he wonders how I can spend entire days alone. Reading and writing, I explain. The notion strikes him as too odd for response.

In fact, the writing is at an utter standstill. Something like a stunned silence with brief interjections from time to time. “I thought I knew, but I didn’t,” –  that kind of thing. Totally off track, in fact. Imaginary friends are tricky that way.

Recent writings in French don’t appeal much so I revert to a battered old find. The lives of famous seamen, offered in the year eighteen seventy-five to a young lady, as first prize in religious instruction. Instructive indeed in terms of the White Man’s great mission of spoil and plunder. The racism so blunt and blatant it could be lifted straight off some contemporary twitter feeds and Facebook comments.

Dispossessed and at sea. Basic theme: I thought I knew and I didn’t. A familiar place. I’d like to visit other spaces where some of the people keep some of their promises some of the time.

I’ll find my footing again? Of course I will. But I expected better and will have to find some way to make it so for myself and for others.

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When nothing works out as you’d intended

In Absurdlandia, dreams, Local projects, proto drafts, Rejection, Uncategorized on July 19, 2016 at 9:02 am

lots of ways to chip away at someone’s self-confidence. Lots. Anonymity allows for lots more. Add the “hark, who goes there?” factor to it and  you can do a mighty fine job – something like the psychological equivalent of earth tremors. Is the ground moving? Will it grow to a rumble? Will your entire life’s work crash or dissolve or pale into insignificance? Are you being overly sensitive? Is it all your own fault anyway, etc. Upbringings rich in guilt education make for extra-favorable ground to self-inflicted doubt. Fighting the paralysis when it creeps in – how best to.

Move the limbs. Move the fingers. Refuse, refuse the verdict – be it self-administered or someone else’s take on who you are, what you mean, why you said or did not say, why you did or did not do.

The world’s a crazy place and not about to get saner.

Tenir debout dans le chaos. Just because it’s your life and you’re not about to be handed another.

How this will translate in fiction? No idea. None. Right now, the whole project feels as lifeless and useless as a dead fish left to feed the flies under a pier. I’ve no doubt this too shall pass, because that’s what feelings do. Pushing out and out, and out some more. Taking time out to say hey, me, whereto now? Nothing works out the way you expected, does it?

Whereto now.

Vacuum filled with bits

In A post to keep afloat, Absurdlandia, Local projects on July 18, 2016 at 7:44 am

I’m pulled away from my morning rituals by the sound of the vacuum cleaner downstairs. The boy is back and he’s decided he’s in the mood for housecleaning. Which is a lot better than being in an angry and surly mood, granted, but so much for morning, noon and evening rituals.

Moving over to a friend’s house for a week of dog sitting, among other community services. If life choices were like cafeteria offerings, this summer wouldn’t feature as my automatic reach-for-your-favorite.

Will I get back to fiction some day? Maybe, but in the meantime life is being pretty intrusive.

 

Vendredi matin, le roi, sa femme et le petit prince…*

In Absurdlandia, Animals, Artists, Food, Hautvoir, proto drafts, Sundays, Visual artists on July 17, 2016 at 11:03 am

*the title refers to a traditional French song in which the king, his wife and their little prince come visiting the singer on every day of the week. Since the singer isn’t in, the little prince says: in that case, we’ll come back tomorrow. And so on, until the singer runs through the days of the week.

Friday morning my sister and I went to the supermarket in Gaillac. So did a whole bunch of people on holiday for whom the supermarket visit was something of a family outing. Crowded parking lot, impatient parents, blocked alleys while grandpa waited for grandma to choose the one essential flavored tea among the seventy-eight varieties on display. All par for the course – and the main reason why I visit supermarkets as little as possible.

Can you call it a moment of zen when the experience borders on disgusted amazement? Zen of sorts, I suppose, that landed on me in the yogurt section.

Yogurt. A double alley lined with refrigerated containers. Yogurt for children, one label read (this meant either slurpies  with cartoon characters on them or containers with – yes, cartoon characters). Next, you had organic, health (different from the organic kind, presumably), lo-cal, flavored, with fruit at the bottom or fruit mixed in. Did they have yogurt for boys and yogurt for girls? Not that I noticed. Maybe I should complain.

In other words, senseless glut, aisle after aisle after aisle.

Yesterday, before she left for Canada my sister and I took in a exhibition of ceramics in neighboring Giroussens. With all due respect for the potter who finds fulfillment in reproducing stones out of clay, my preference went to a large amphora in the courtyard. Shaped like a traditional receptacle for oil, wine or grain, it is decorated with leaping goats, flying fish and fowl blowing on trumpets and other friends of dance and music. A small sample?

DSCN3076 With thanks to the potter Thierry Basile, whose name lurks at the bottom of the jar, along with a pair of used work gloves.

Insular?

In news coverage, Uncategorized on July 16, 2016 at 8:44 am

Too much comfort. Too much horror. Shock, as when a cold front crashes into hot moist air.Coping strategies.

Headlines in France and in the States – an aborted (or ongoing) coup in Turkey, the aftermaths of the murderous rampage in Nice. Then: England. At the bottom of the roll-down menu, I could click on to a video in which the new Prime Minister says scripted words of support for France in its hour of need.  But no. Brexit and the new Cabinet notwithstanding, I’ll leave Britons to their own media obsessions for now.

A strange mood prevails. For one, meaningful drawings to express compassion tend to pale at the fourth, fifteenth or thirtieth unspeakable tragedy and folks struggle to find some kind of balance between conflicting needs and emotions. A whereto now sort of mood. Business, fun and gossip as usual? Grief and solemn No pasaran pronouncements?

“the urge… to normalize the abnormal by turning to emotions and attitudes that are familiar” –  Adam Gopnick in The New Yorker of July 14th – writing about Trump, but pretty universal in its application.

 

Frustration – dealing with

In A post to keep afloat, Absurdlandia, dreams, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts on July 15, 2016 at 8:01 am

Such are the ways of internet that I learn of grief and carnage further south here in France from an email received from Canada. The grief and carnage (and looming rage, revenge and so on): undeniable. But I have more immediate and local concerns centering around a group of teenagers – and one in particular – so you might say that, for the moment, the immediate looms large enough to counterbalance the further down the road.

The title summarizes the predominant feature in the inner landscape this morning. Frustration at not getting through to a frustrated teen ager. Of the group, he’s the one most at risk of falling in with the wrong friends. The one most in need of structure and of someone playing the role of a father figure or older brother. Obviously, I am neither of those.

Unseasonably cold weather. The proto draft on chill too, for no other reason than the impossibility of maintaining the breathing space in which to let the characters out to play.

Magpies chattering outside. Recollections of a long-ago dream in which my former mother-in-law and grandmother to my child instructed me on how to deal with all those dangers at my door and windows. Concentrate on one object, she said in the dream. Even as someone jimmies the lock on your door, concentrate on one thing and one thing only.

Breath, for example, the empty space between intake and out take. The space where potential likes to hang out.

 

Mischief

In dreams, Food, Fun, Hautvoir, proto drafts, RLB trivia on July 14, 2016 at 8:21 am

We’re in the car, driving to the glass museum in the former mining town of St-Benoit de Carmaux, when I say something about our mother’s recoil at anything resembling humor. Yet, in the trove of photos, I see a few of her looking jolly in social settings – parties and such. But jolly didn’t fly in family circumstances. My sister’s interpretation: laughing implied a loss of control. Given some of the less savory aspects loss of control can take, you could call our mother’s efforts at self-control commendable, if misguided. Given we’ll all die anyway, I’d rather die laughing and I’d rather laugh whenever possible between now and the final send-off.

The nuns shared this dread of laughter. As for portraits done in oils (or their later interpretations in the first days of photography) – how often have you come across a formal portrait of some grandee laughing his head off, or with his teeth showing and his wig askew?  The simple answer: never.

Therefore (since this is leading somewhere) a someone given to setting off bouts of giggling in others was not invited to exercise her skills at school commencements or graduations; in classroom settings; at her grandmother’s table or during a family dinner where the main concern of all centered on the edibility of the contents in the mystery pot about to be uncovered.

Solemn was good. Mischievous was bad. Simple. Basic. Prior to the meal, we now bow our heads to ask for heavenly assistance with our digestive juices.

***

After the glass museum, we ate salade aux deux saumons (gravlax and smoked) in Albi.  Giggled over some of the more memorable culinary fiascos from our childhood. And recalled with fondness our father’s   purchase of a gadget from which he produced grilled cheese sandwiches he served with pickles, when all else was lost to the Burnt, the Raw, the… the… that thing you just lifted out of the stewpot, what is it exactly, mother? Or would we rather not know?

(Both the visit to the museum and the subsequent walk through Albi were enlivened by my attempts* to keep my pants on – the change in diet begun end of June isn’t beneficial to my limited wardrobe.)

* successful, but this added an element of suspense to the outing.

***

One boy whose papers don’t bear up under scrutiny will show up at my door at some point around ten o’clock this morning. Beyond listening to him, there won’t be much I can do to help. Who knows – there may be a hidden thread in his narrative that leads out and away, same as in a Navajo rug.

Another boy sends me three pieces of writing he’s done. Of the whole group, he’s the one with a real grasp of the French language and a real desire to use the written word. Why he’s taken to signing his stuff so-and-so President of Africa in some cases, or President of Africa and revolutionary in others, I’m not sure. Given his enthusiasm for words, the fact the authorities signed him up to learn maintenance on industrial equipment can’t sit too well on his sixteen or seventeen years of life experience.

Of the three pieces he sent me last night, the best to my mind is the one he titled Immigration. Could also be called Immigrant’s Blues. Some of the imagery in it stays in mind this morning – for instance, his comparison of the Mediterranean sea to a cold storage chest for Africa’s youth. Funny, not.

Which makes humorous mischief the better option when the weight of the world bears down too much.

(Do I add a post to keep afloat to the filing categories for this blogpost? Yep. Along with food, dreams, fun, Hautvoir, proto drafts, and RLB trivia.

Allez? Allez.

Can’t get much briefer than this

In Hautvoir, proto drafts on July 13, 2016 at 11:30 pm

“Except that’s not how it happened.”

Those words, like a mantra, running in my mind while I listen, or while I read a family member’s recollections.

Not how it happened. How what happened?a fictional someone wants to know.  The boy’s death, a medical doctor answers – the how and the why of it, not as the facts suggest.

The characters, and the proto-draft, much in the background of things this week. But for some reason, a physical representation of one the characters lurks, just on the edge of my field of vision, to the right. Male. Narrow face, pale complexion. Slim, wiry. Smoker? Afraid so.

He’s in profile – the left one. Wearing a blue cotton worker’s jacket, except he’s a history teacher, so it must have belonged to someone else and he must be wearing it away from school.

Fiction. Lurking. Waiting its turn.

 

The past – treatments in life and in writing

In Current reading, notes, photography, proto drafts on July 11, 2016 at 8:44 am

A trove of family snapshots. One family member’s written attempt at transmitting some information about who the ancestors were and how life panned out for parents,  brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, the younger siblings etc Most of the trails concerning the ancestors lead nowhere, except to intriguing dead ends: did our maternal great-grandmother die aboard the Lusitania or not? What is this about the housekeeper I recall as Ukrainian and who appears in the notes as a sadistic German giving scalding baths to helpless children? My own appearance in the notes takes me somewhat by surprise, as much for what is said as for what isn’t.

Two pathetic tidbits stand out this morning: the first concerning her fiancé’s insistence they marry before year’s end, for income tax purposes – the rest of the relationship proved so disastrous most of it goes unsaid in the notes. The other: when our mother left for her final stay in the hospital, her husband went home and disconnected the phone – without telling anyone of her whereabouts. Thus providing his own take on our mother’s oft-repeated statement that you’re born alone and you die alone (comfort wasn’t a biggie in her trove of aphorisms).

Family – some get too much of it, some, not enough. Either way, the true wonder being how a group of people, related or not, will tell the story of a given event. Barring the framework, few of the facts will match up.

***

When in Mexico, my sister lives in writer Juan Rulfo’s home town. I’d never heard of Rulfo before nor of his novella Pedro Paramo. On the back cover, Gabriel Garcia Marquez compares him to Sophocles. She picked up a French translation of it yesterday which I hope to read during her stay.

The first sentences couldn’t be more forthright: “I came to Comala because I learned my father, a certain Pedro Paramo, lived there. My mother told me. And I promised her I would go see him after she died.” Take it from there, reader.

She also brought me a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with illustrations by Teniel. A bit of childhood revisited.

***

I’ll read through Number Two Sister’s notes again, for sure. I know we’ll talk about them – and our own recollections – with Sister Number One. My main interest being how people evolve, or don’t. How we re-write the scripts as we go along. And the gravitational pull exerted by all the Great Unsaid – or not said spot on.

***

The local Portuguese community went wild with glee last night. Portugal won against France in the World Soccer semi-finals. The honking cars, the cheering and the firecrackers went on for such a long time I’m still wondering how they all managed to sustain their enthusiasm over such a long period. I mean, how long can a body find meaningful accomplishment in racing around a town square, screeching the tires and blaring the horn? (Much longer than imaginable, I discovered last night). Then a thunderstorm struck, the revelers took cover, and I thank the gods for that.

 

Assumptions

In Artists, Circus, Food, Hautvoir, proto drafts, Sundays on July 10, 2016 at 8:19 am

All traces of the street festival gone, this morning. Stalls going up for the Sunday market. I’ll do a quick run down before it opens. My sister arrives from Canada at some point between ten and noon. Someone wants to see me before that. One of those someones who may or may not show up. If he does, he will have unrealistic expectations. Some people cave in when the notion sinks in of what unrealistic means. Some don’t. Either way, the paths they follow are unpredictable.

Details. Over and over again. What makes this one tick and that one balk? What crucial detail am I missing in someone’s life story that may provide a few answers to puzzling behavior?

Assumptions in need of airing. Disappointments in need of mending. Connecting back to family – maybe some folks get too much but then, some folks don’t get enough.

***

Everyone tells me I missed the best show of the entire festival. A tight-rope walker who’s perfected the art of the stumble. Who balances his balancing bar on the wire, then sits off-center on the bar and so on. From a height of some seven meters, I’m told – each meter corresponds to some three years of training. So the man has been at it for some twenty-one years or so.

I wanted to see this but the boy who crossed the Meditteranean in a crowded dinghy and doesn’t like green bean salad, doesn’t like circus acts either. The two of us reach temporary understandings on some issues. Then, I discover the words we exchanged had different meanings at their landing site. Understanding someone across  cultural and personality divides – it’s a slow process.

For now, market, then whatever comes next.