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.


  1. Funny; I started writing a novel like that several years ago (only with Manhattan at its center). I wish you the best of luck in that journey.

    Good to see you back, too.


  2. Thanks, man! I'm about half-way, maybe a little more, through the first draft. Maintaining focus on a single project for the past 3 months has been kind of tough, and I'm interested to see how it hangs together. So far it feels a little disjointed. Thanks for the encouragement. I'd love to see where you ended up with your effort!

  3. I entirely understand. For me, maintaining focus for more than about 3 minutes is kinda tough these days. But as all the pros say, just get it all down and you can fix it later. It sounds like you're getting there.

    My problem was the usual (for me): I got through about 130 pages, hated 3/4 of it, and that just drained my will to continue. I've learned a lot of techniques since then to help keep that at bay, if I only had an idea I was excited enough about to get started again.

    There are still moments in it that I'd love to salvage, and have considered for other projects.

  4. Apparently that's the crux. I'm working very hard to not judge, or read back at all, if possible. I have a daily discipline that helps me. 500 words a day, at least, whether I like it or not. It's the only thing that keeps me going on it, sometimes. Just write. We'll see how it works.