mardi 17 mai 2011


I have a scanner, and it is a magical thing. My cousin Eric gave me a super machine: printer,copier and scanner all in one. And it's compact, too! I have been approaching the machine tentatively, figuring out one feature at a time.
So I scanned sketches. I remember loving to leaf through my friend J's sketch book, seeing what was new as well as revisiting old-time favorites. We were in 7th, 8th, 9th grade, and she was good. She was extremely talented. I felt lucky to see her process, to have access to the beginnings of her creative journey. I loved those sketchbooks so much.
 J and I lost touch since. We're still friends, but from afar and on occasion. She's still (thank God!) an artist, and I'm sure that she has filled her fair share of sketch books since high school. Lucky are those who browse through them.
J's talent was unquestionable at the time, and I knew that my creative strenghts lay elsewhere, in writing and theatre. But nonetheless, her sketchbooks inspired me deeply, and I have since kept the habit of sketching. Not all that often, sometimes so badly I have to throw the paper in the trash out of sheer shame, but frequently enough to have a sketchbook I can leaf through.
So here are a few.I'll give little explanations along the way, because I'm a writer and I can't help associating those images with words, memories and sometimes stories.

Jimi Hendrix -From Electric Ladyland album photograpy. I was listening to the album on the beat-up cd player in the Henn House, Fillmore Street, Bethlehem. It was my first year of apprenticeship at Touchstone. No internet to distract me, possibly Lehigh students screaming in the background. Zach in or out, Michael cooking. 

Ray Lamontagne, Till the Sun Turns Black album cover. Probably drawn the same night. I had just discovered Ray Lamontagne's music after having heard a lot about him. One of the first second hand cd's I ever bought on amazon. 

These were characters I wanted to write: Claire et Aurélien. But I felt the need to draw them instead. I wasn't basing my work on photos or previous drawings. But when I looked at what I had done, I realized these characters looked a bit like my French grandparents. Especially the man. Perhaps the similarities are only in my head. It doesn't really matter. 

When John Updike died, they published a striking picture of him in the New York Times. It was all contrasts, very luminous and soulful. I tried to find that quality again in the drawing, but I made his face a bit too wide. 

Study of a hat, based on a real hat that I own (different color, but same shape). I was trying to understand volume, and wean myself out of drawing from pictures. 

Jacques Prévert, qui me toise - ce visage ancré sur la couverture de l'édition folio de Paroles. 

Ma grand-mère et une amie, à Kersiny, Bretagne. Je n'ai pas réussi à convier la perfection de la journée, le soleil éclatant, etc. Mais bon, il faut bien commencer quelquepart... 

dimanche 15 mai 2011

Reaching for sunlight

I have a lot of bad habits when it comes to writing, but the one huge bad (bad, bad, bad) habit is not writing enough. A couple of weeks ago, I sat down at Touchstone and wrote for about an hour. I had no laptop, so it was all long-hand. I had a character in mind, and I randomly chose a word to end the story. I eventually decided not to end the story with that word, but it is at the very core of the tale...
Here's this little piece, typed and redrafted.


The time had come. She knew she had it in her. She no longer tolerated excuses from her struggling conscience. Eventually her conscience stopped pining and settled into an eerie silence. Her cover was perfect – she didn’t have to touch a single thing about her appearance. Well, she did straighten the bow in her hair, for her to look more… perky and… angelic. That was what she was going for: the look of joyful naiveté.

Standing in the shade of the patio, she was still in the safe zone. The others were playing a game of croquet. The boys feigned disliking the game but she knew they had been looking forward to it all day, to the point of trepidation. They were mocking some of the moves made by the opposing team but tolerated only encouraging cheers when their turn came around. Typical.

The lunch table, set outside on account of the glorious summer day, was at a safe distance from the croquet game. It was deserted, except for Aunt Lily, seemingly dozing at one end, still clutching her fork on which an alluring piece of creamy coconut pie was still attached. Approximately a foot away from the coconut pie fork was a glass – still half full.

Armed with her straight bow and her innocent looks, she was ready for the big cross from the patio to the table. She thought that skipping all the way would surely not attract any unwanted attention, since everyone would surmise that she was a happy-go-lucky child, enjoying the afternoon. Watching her skip, with a straight bow in her hair, no grown-up would guess that she was on a mission. A last skip, and she reached the table. One glance at Aunt Lily and she knew she had nothing to worry about. The steady rhythm of the old lady’s breathing and the soft whistle that came out of her mouth were assurance enough.

She looked at the glass. The delicate bubbles were subtly indicating carbonation, and the color – it was… sunshine. Pure and simple. A late summer's ray captured and distilled in liquid.

She had to taste it. For close to three hours, she had imagined what it could be like, alternating between syrup and molasses but wanting it to taste like werther’s caramels, only – better than that. And now there it was, the glass within reach. The laughter and brouhaha streaming from the croquet game gave her courage to reach her arm out. But when she felt one of the boy’s head turn towards the table, she picked up a pie crumb and ate it. She knew, somehow, that eating a crumb off someone else’s plate was a minor offense compared to what she was about to do. The boy had only been distracted momentarily by birdsong and redirected his attention to the game. Her arm extended again. Her hand reached the cool glass, surprisingly wet on the outside. Now, to pick it up. It didn’t seem reasonable to drink in the open – too risky. Eyes could easily turn from the game to the table and be surprised at the picture of a five year old drinking from an oversized glass. Better to bring the ambrosia underneath the table where she would be free from hostile stares.

She lifted the glass, surprised by its weight. She realized all over again that she was meddling in grown-up business, but wasn’t exactly sure how. Being as careful as possible while also being quick, she brought the drink to the safety of the shadows. The table was thankfully covered by a long tablecloth made of heavy cotton – for all intents and purposes, a tent for the girl. She sat cross legged, clasping the drink in both hands, bringing the large glass up to her lips.
Surely, she thought, surely, this will be the sweetest nectar I shall ever taste...

Dreams of caramel crashed when the first gulp reached her taste buds. Not molasses, not even syrup! Nothing like that. She didn't understand why anyone would drink this bitter, strange drink. She stared at the glass half full of beer. She was struck again by the outer beauty of the liquid and couldn't equate the outward beauty with the vile content. She couldn't stop staring.
Sitting underneath the table one sunny afternoon, the girl had her first taste of deception.