Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Heart of Magic and my new project.

New York City is a very special place. I remember the first time I ever felt its spell, one night back in 1997, sitting in a dark cafe on the Upper West Side with the first girl I'd ever truly loved who loved me back, watching the snow come down in giant flakes on the streets and cars outside. The fact that the love affair went south does nothing to diminish the memory. New York became, for me, a place of rough magic, bloody and grounded and friendly and terrifying all at once.

It seemed to have its own spirit, its own desires and preferences, a sense of itself and its purpose. I could, sometimes, when I was on the right track, feel myself fitting into the flow of it the way a swimmer in a river might feel his speed increase when he swam with the current, but I still wasn't ready. I moved far out into Queens, to the Shire, and hobbit-ized myself as best I could. I learned to love good food and quiet company and simple pleasures. But I became addicted to ease and pleasure, and I diminished myself, ransoming my future for an easy present, not counting the interest I would have to pay on the debt, both financial and spiritual.

And then I fell in love, and I went into the world of men and tried to grow taller. I found that it was tough to get big after you've made yourself small. I wasn't ready for Crown Heights and entrances covered in blood, I wasn't ready for hostility and racism (my own and that of others), and I certainly wasn't ready for bedbugs and poverty (again, my own and that of others). I won't say Crown Heights was Mordor, but it was a lot harsher than I was ready for. I also stopped using drugs, and all my problems came back, with interest.

Finally, I moved to Park Slope, to Rivendell, to heal and to find myself again. Over the past few years I've found some peace, some quiet, some equilibrium. And I've once again been able to find my love of the City. But I have found that the City has changed. Manhattan has smoothed some of its rough edges. It's gotten a face lift, and though it's prettier, it's not as mobile and emotionally expressive as it once was. That's OK, I guess. It happens. Everybody makes choices, and botox works for some. I'm not crazy about it, but I understand the impulse. You have to decide where your priorities lie.

But in Brooklyn, my new, adopted home? I've found there's still some life here yet. History has yet to be paved over (though they're trying), and the immigrants and those that don't quite fit in still have a place. I have my base to walk from, my home, my stronghold to retreat to, because I am still sometimes thin skinned, but I can walk through Brooklyn, and find that it is still a little dangerous, a little scary, a little bloody and grounded and unwilling to take shit. And magical.

Magical. When I first lived in Manhattan, I had a revelation that Central Park was the green emerald heart of the island. It had been contained, sure, hemmed in on all sides and cut off by the sky-scrapers at its corners and perimeter, but it still kept the whole thing alive. Without it, Manhattan would be a husk, a shell of concrete and steel supported by nothing and supporting nothing of value or worth. A small jewel at the center, however man made and natural in its artifice, created a context for all that structure.

So it is with Brooklyn, but in Brooklyn, it's not just the parks, its the neighborhoods, and the people that make them up. Brooklyn, even as it undergoes the same gentrification and homogenization that Manhattan underwent in the 20th century, still maintains a connection to something. Let's call it magic.

And so, I'm writing a book. I'm writing about Brooklyn as the last stronghold of Magic in the City of New York. I'm writing about architecture that supplements or diminishes the magic that naturally exists in a place, and the good and bad angels of geography that shape the history of that place. I'm writing about the decisions of otherwise good men that inadvertently shape the lives of the people who live under their care for evil, and about evil men who try to hide their malevolent intent behind laws and bribes and official violence. I'm writing about a secret history of Brooklyn beneath the world that we experience every day, a history that includes the immigrants that came here, bringing their ghosts and spirits and magics with them that interacted with Brooklyn to make something new, something humble and strong and broken and healing and tough.

That's what's coming. I hope I'm worthy to tell the tale.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Books in my room on the "Read or get off the Pot" list

The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats
Love and Will - Rollo May
Screams from the Balcony - C. Bukowski
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet - Reif Larsen
Supergods - Grant Morrison
A Garden of Pomegranates - Israel Regardie
The Conference of Birds - Attar
Ocean of Sound - David Toop
The Shack - Young (given to me by my parents - do I need more Christian thriller novels in my life?)
The Physics of Superheros - James Kakalios
The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005
How to Enjoy your Wine - Hugo Johnson

All these are going on the list. I'm making a Google Docs list which will include all these books, and cross them off as I am done with them. Gotta get 'em all!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

#bookbrag and straightening things out

Recently, a friend of mine lamented her increasingly large "to-read" pile. She had, sad to say, developed a rather substantial habit and had purchased far more books than she had capacity to read in a short amount of time.

Leaving aside her shopping habits, I told her that, in order to get through the books she should make a list. I am very fond of lists, myself. They always help me focus, and given that I am a bit addled in my head when it comes to getting things done, I like to refer back to lists to keep me honest and on track. This is all part of, even this late in life, figuring out how the hell to deal with my rampant inattentiveness. So she put together a list of all the books that she had that she hadn't yet read, and began plowing through them, marking them off the list as she finished them. Excellent solution, and all's right with the world, right?

Not so fast.

I started looking around my own, rather impressive collection (oooh, new hashtag: #bookbrag), and found that there were many, many books in my own collection that I had yet to get around to reading. Now, I may be a hypocrite, but I am not a hypocrite! If she could do it, so could I. So I began making a mental list of all the books in my collection that, either through lack of interest, or through fear (yes you CAN be afraid of books. Shut up.) I had yet to read. And there were... a few. A lot. Like, more than 30.

So in the interest of not being that guy, I have begun a project. I will read all of the remaining books in my collection. If, by the time my birthday rolls around in 2012, I have NOT read these books I must get rid of them. That's it. No excuses. I've got to start somewhere. If I don't read these books then I obviously don't want to read these books and I shouldn't keep them in my collection, because they're just taking up space.

And some of these books are awesome! There's V by Pynchon, a couple of books by Calasso, Don Quixote, Moby Dick, The Golden Bough, some books on Shamanism, and a whole bunch more. I'll publish a full list soon.

In other news, the other major project in my life (the new book I'm writing) has taken a major turn for the organized, and I feel more excited about it than ever. I've outlined the book I'm writing and now large chunks of it seem to be fitting into place. It may not be as digressive as originally planned (or it may - now that I know the structure I can write in circles and always know where I'm ultimately headed) but it has legs, a sense of purpose, a backbone.

I'm pretty excited. Now to write the damn thing.