Archive for the ‘Current reading’ Category

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.


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.


Both unexpected and predictable

In Artists, Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts, Visual artists on July 6, 2016 at 8:35 am

Sorting through electronic files about local refugees this morning, trying to get some grip on my sloppy filing habits, I have to smile at the persistence of another habit: my decision to shelter the one who’s annoyed me the most – and, in all probability, will continue to do so. I’m a bit old to change some of the more basic attitudes in my makeup. In this instance, my need to understand what annoys or jars or disturbs. Plus, as Henri Michaux once wrote: don’t be too hasty in discarding your bad habits because, what will  you replace them with? (this being an extremely loose translation from the French).


My main problem as a writer right now: reality is proving more interesting than my fictional take on it. More interesting, and invasive too. This is a high-class piece of annoyance, obviously. At some point, the fiction writer will rebel and insist on telling it her way. So I guess I’ll let the fiction writer stew until she starts sputtering or breaks loose as she is wont to do. Beddy-bye for now, fiction writer, the door’s unlocked, you can walk in or out anytime you please.


So, for this next bit of living, a seventeen-year old joins me and the dog for a stretch of the trek. He’ll stay with one of my friends next week while my visitor arrives from Canada.


Reading two things in tandem at the moment, as I often do. The first, Boris Cyrulnik’s Parler d’amour au bord du gouffre and Kandinsky’s Du Spirituel dans l’art, et dans la peinture en particulier. 

The first part of the Kandinsky isn’t an invitation to read on. Writing in the Russia of nineteen ten, he seems quite taken in by the theosophists. My personal appreciation of the likes of Madame Blavatsky doesn’t lead me to any rush to further enlightenment. While I understand Kandinsky’s dislike for materialism of the acquisitive kind, I’m not a huge fan of mystical eye-rolling either. So why don’t I put down the book? Because it annoys me? No, because I’m getting to the good part: his reading on the language of forms and colors and his insistence on what he calls the principle of inner necessity that makes an artist’s work resonate with something basic in humans which he calls the soul. I don’t know what a soul is, but that part of what he writes makes sense to me anyway.


So, back to this business of annoyance. Better annoyed than bored? Yes. Especially when annoyance is just another name for curiosity. What’s causing the ruffled feathers? What is it about so-and-so that grates so much? Why can’t you let that particular sleeping dog go on snoring?

Story, in other words. Out in “real” or in fiction.

For now, back to real I go.


In Current reading, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts, Theater on June 28, 2016 at 8:51 am

Everything in need of one more push. Paper sorting and filing. Housework. Not supposed to look a given horse in the mouth? Maybe but a given fridge, yes. That part of the clean-up: done. Fridge operational and smokers take heed: baked white enamel can return from years of exposure to tobacco. Personally, I would clean a fridge prior to donating it but that’s me.

Paper. More paper. Emails. Phone calls. The blessed tumble into sleep. (Note to self: when read in an over-tired state, the final act in King Lear sees bodies falling left and right and the dazed reader no longer knowing who the players are. Kent, Gloucester, Albany, Edmund, Edgar, Regan, Goneril, Oswald, a manservant, another, exeunt, enter the mad king, etc.)

Paper. Documents. Scraps with scribbles. Kitchen, cleaning and re-organizing. Bedroom. Books. Office: incorporating a bed in limited space. Books. Sorting. Phone calls. Tiny, precious breaks to allow the child to play with a trinket or find the one and only right spot for a favorite stone or framed photo or book. Food to recover from the neighbor’s fridge. A haircut – must work it into the mix today before the photo shoot tomorrow after the meeting at social services, etc.

Pause. Time out. Seamus Heaney. A poem. Forget generalities. Specifics, always. This day. This moment. This story, searching for its own voice.

At the Wellhead

Your songs, when you sing them with your two eyes closed

As you always do, are like a local road

We’ve known every turn of in the past –

That midge-veiled, high-hedged side-road where you stood

Looking and listening until a car

Would come and go and leave you lonelier

Than you had been to begin with. So, sing on,

Dear shut-eyed one, dear far voiced veteran,

Sing yourself to where the singing comes from,

Ardent and cut off like our blind neighbour

Who played the piano all day in her bedroom.

Her notes came out to us like hoisted water

Raveling off a bucket at the wellhead

Where next thing we’d be listening, hushed and awkward.


That blind-from-birth, sweet-voiced, withdrawn musician

Was like a silver vein in heavy clay.

Night water glittering in the light of day.

But also just our neighbor, Rosie Keenan.

She touched our cheeks. She let us touch her braille

In books like books wallpaper patterns came in.

Her hands were active and her eyes were full

Of open darkness and a watery shine.

She knew us by our voices. She’d say she ‘saw’

Whoever or whatever. Being with her

Was intimate and helpful, like a cure

You didn’t notice happening. When I read

A poem with Keenan’s well in it, she said,

‘I can see the sky at the bottom of it now.’

Moving stuff around

In Absurdlandia, and other spirits, Animals, Current reading, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, news coverage, proto drafts, Theater on June 27, 2016 at 8:26 am

I’m not personally acquainted with toads. They have an unattractive appearance which leads to negative symbolic representations. But I’ve never met a toad in any significant way so I don’t see why I should insult the species by comparing the squishy and repulsive double-speak of a Boris Johnson to that of the warty amphibian.

Not that Monsieur Johnson is alone in his pond of squishiness. “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises…” Caliban says in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Not all of the noises are sweet airs, nor are they restricted to the isle. Given the cacophonies reported in various media outlets, a healthy and varied reading diet comes high on my personal sanity scale. While I’d like longer stretches of time in which to concentrate on my proto draft, varied sources of activity aren’t a bad idea either.

The title summarizes what’s going on over here, both in general living and in writing terms. Housecleaning, exchanging a fridge with a freezer compartment against the current one going as a donation to the street festival. Freezer compartments are nice to have if you plan to organize meals in a less chaotic way.

Back to toads for a second because there is something toadish about Johnson. In the literary sense:

“Meanwhile, Toad, gay and irresponsible, was walking briskly along the high road, some miles from home. At first he had taken bypaths , and crossed many fields, and changed his course several times, in case of pursuit; but now, by this time feeling safe from recapture, and the sun smiling brightly on him, and all nature joining in a chorus of approval to the song of self-praise that his own heart was singing to him, he almost danced along the road in his satisfaction and conceit.” (Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows).

As reported in The Guardian, Johnson wrote the following in his column at the Telegraph : “There were more than 16 million who wanted to remain.They are our neighbours, brothers and sisters who did what they passionately believe was right. In a democracy majorities may decide but everyone is of equal value.We who are part of this narrow majority must do everything we can to reassure the remainers.We must reach out, we must heal, we must build bridges – because it is clear that some have feelings of dismay, and of loss, and confusion.”

Brave new world, and the dawning of a gentler, kinder Boris. Yes, all of us lowly non-elected ones are well-served by our champions in the political arena, these days. I have to wonder what a Rabelais or a Jonathan Swift would have made of it all.

For now: windows open to air that’s still cool. The sound of pigeons flapping their wings above the rooftops. Oh yes, and the small lizard that’s taken shelter under my bed. He(she) comes out at times. Slithers up onto the mattress or freezes on the floor. I’d hate to squish it by accident. Plus, living under a human’s bed must make for a solitary life and a limited diet too.

But how to get the message across the species barrier? Fear not, I come in friendship, little lizzy, and wish to point you to the exit. The window, see? Open. Freedom. Escape.The great outdoors. (I’ve tried this approach. Last night, I even extended an old world wall map as a carrier. No go. When my sister comes visiting, I’ll have to explain about the lizard under her bed.)

quip, quack?

In Artists, Current reading, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, news coverage, proto drafts, Theater on June 24, 2016 at 8:14 am

Looks like rubber duckies are in for a hard time. Should they retire? Commit rubber ducky hara-kiri (a swift puncture on a rusty nail, rubber ducky fills with water and sinks in a dead faint, investigated by fishes in search of a tasty snack).


I promised my neighbors a moussaka dinner for tonight. Cooking early to avoid an overheated kitchen. A Greek dish, as the next scene in the European drama opens on cheering Britons (and despondent ones too). Plus cheering right-wingers across Europe chafing at the bit for their share in the dismantling of the European so-called union. The distance between symbols and their underlying reality: astounding, at times.

The words “the people”, for instance. Has anyone ever met an entity called “the people”? No. Collective swings in mood happen, some more enduring than others. The way some cloud formations persist longer than others. But “the people”? Whose? Where? Which one?


Meanwhile, King Lear grows ever more befuddled, poor dear. What can a poor fool do when his employer loses his grip? Observe, comment, quip. A good name for a fool, that. Quip. “I quip therefore I endure.” Until the curtain falls – in a stately manner, or in a heap.

So. Moussaka. Phone calls. Appointments. New story, bit by tiny bit. Plus Shakespeare, still my favorite Briton.

Whatever you do, make sure you re-arrange the truth

In Artists, Current reading, dreams, Hautvoir, Music, notes, photography, proto drafts, Theater on June 20, 2016 at 7:00 am

The estrangement is subtle. Subtler things are easy to pass by. When you do, they leave an impression, a dis-ease with no clear name stamped on it, except that of estrangement.

A group of people. Some you like more, some less, but you are linked together by a common task. At some point, one of them evokes a childhood memory – a song, a popular figure or even, the names of Snow White’s seven dwarves in their childhood recollections. The stories tumble out – first one, then another, in the usual way groups react to something meaningful. To some of the memories you wish to react with your own, except…

Except you know you’ll interrupt the flow. Why? Because you’ll need to provide context – another country, another culture, a different way of relating to what the group is sharing. Sometimes, you join in with this bit of yours and modify the flow. More often than not, you don’t. A camera’s a good thing to have in those moments. You’re the one in the group who clicks the shutter every so often, the way one of the dwarves is called Sleepy and another…whatever – the names of the seven dwarves never meant that much to me.

Meanwhile, it’s Act Three in the days before King Arthur’s time (at least, in Shakespeare’s play) and King Lear feels his sanity reel and sway. He counted on Regan after Goneril’s betrayal and lo – here they are, his two daughters, joining hands against him while he’s cast away the third.

Of course, once the betrayals begin they won’t stop until the play ends. The play isn’t called a tragedy for nothing and good king Lear could be called But, I thought

I wake from the dream with thoughts of James Joyce’s The Dubliners this morning. Of all those real-life encounters you can’t tell without at least a smidge of transmogrification.  Finding the one thread to pull so as to get away from what really happened: not always obvious.

Late morning. A young man lies in the grass, complaining that his head hurts. The story tumbles out of why he and the group leader arrived so late.

Medicinal, my dear Watson

In and other spirits, Animals, Artists, Current reading, Music, notes, proto drafts, Sundays on June 19, 2016 at 3:58 pm

I suspect we were the grungiest bunch of people seen in Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges in recent times. Traveling in the grungiest jalopies seen (or heard) in its vicinities too. For one, the pilgrims travel on foot (with excellent walking shoes and telescopic walking sticks). Their rain gear and backpacks: first rate. From what we saw of the locals, some favored traipses through the village with a faithful dog and a flock of sheep or resided inside medieval homes in a state of impeccable upkeep and drove cars better described as recent-model vehicles.

The music took them by surprise too. Many of the older residents who came to the concert looked stunned and attentive during the first set. But since they called in some friends to join them for the second set, I gather they found the experience a change from the usual Occitanian choir group or the classical ensemble in from Toulouse. (Although we discovered a fabulous gospel choir during the after-hours part of the evening).

The highlight, singing-wise: two songs inside the cathedral during an improvised stop (too windy and rainy outside, a few pilgrims followed us inside). Exceptional acoustics. For once, we could hear each and every one of the voices. Total harmony.

Four of us left the all night after-hour early (i.e. two AM).  For the time being, words fail in describing the home in which we slept – something like a museum, with the old woman who lives there in the role of caretaker of her family’s history.

She was born in that house, she told me as we left. Both she and her husband trained as pharmacists – the source of one of the collections in her  home. The old apothecary jars have names like laudanum or ipeca but also opium, cocaine or haschish “*but those were strictly for medicinal purposes then,” she said. This goes without saying.

For non-medicinal purposes, some of the singers brought bottles of rum and I lugged a large six-pack of mineral water. The rest of the spirits were free of charge – which goes part of the way in explaining why musicians may be poor but poor or not, they’re usually well soused and pickled by early morning.

My upstairs neighbor is singing right now. Off-key, as usual. I have some photos to download, some reading in want of doing, some laundry and some scribbled notes to sort through.

Next concert: Tuesday night in Albi. Final week of school coaching for this year.

*Almost forgot: and arsenic too.

Persistent, recurring*

In Animals, Artists, Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Poetry, proto drafts on June 18, 2016 at 9:13 am

*themes, that is.

When did this particular theme first appear? In dreams, then in attempts at fiction – scenes, short stories, unfinished longer pieces. I can’t recall. At any rate, it’s back again and insisting on getting it’s share of story time.

For the theme to be so persistent, it must link back to something quite ancient in my personal pre-historical period. I have some ideas about that personal link. Sharing them doesn’t strike me as the best way to feed – and transform – the story.

Last Wednesday, during a coaching session, a small boy asked me if he could draw while we talked “because it’s easier to talk that way”. I said yes, of course. I had just read him a poem about a goldfish with pimples from the measles, hiding under a sponge in the fishbowl. In the poem, a small boy said he knew about the pimples but didn’t tell anybody. Why? Because he liked to hide his wad of chewing gum under the fishbowl. The boy loved the poem so much he even stopped crying. He drew the measly pimply goldfish, the bowl and the wad of gum while talking about his family woes – the tale of which is a confidential issue on which I’m sworn to secrecy.

One source of the crucial need for fictional accounts may be all the times people swear one another to secrecy.  Leaving them the choice of sharing the secret, one person at a time. Or shouting it out in bouts of Tell All. Or of inventing genetically-engineered versions of truths in need of sharing – versions that protect the basic confidentiality agreement, while letting the truth out to breathe a little. Truth has a hard enough time of it – if you can’t air it out in fiction, what recourses are left to the poor thing? To hide its pimples between a piece of sponge and a wad of chewing gum?


Leaving this afternoon to sing with the group. Returning tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the rain raineth and raineth, then raineth some more.

Slowly through a thorny thicket*

In Current reading, Local projects, proto drafts on June 17, 2016 at 8:29 am

In conventional terms, Edmund is a villain in King Lear, and there’s nothing else to say about him. Except for his motives. So well captured by Shakespeare that I stop and wonder if William wasn’t the illegitimate son of some well-to-do household.

A credulous father and a brother noble,

whose nature is so far from doing harms

that he suspects none

while he, a bastard through no fault of his doing, has rancor fed and nourished by his every encounter. Of course, high-minded ones would tell Emund he should rise above. The high-minded often have better opportunities thrust upon them with no more justice in the process than Edmund’s start with a huge handicap not of his choosing.

This slow, slower, slowest fourth or fifth reading of King Lear may be the most productive one so far. A matter of context. Of reasons behind the slow, slower, slowest process. Of interruptions in mid-word. Of frustrations that build up to a point where something snaps. For better or worse, something must change.

Frustration. Thresholds. The person runs through his or her usual patterns for re-distributing the load, for evading a confrontation or an acknowledgement – of loss, or guilt, or innocence. The usual patterns no longer work.

Lear’s fool. Make that all of Shakespeare’s fools. Misshapen, misbegotten. Licensed to offend. Are fools passed on to the heirs when their master dies? thrown out beyond the gates with the rest of the rubbish from the previous reign?

*The title, like a stage direction of the Enter Steward or Exit a Knight variety.