Mike’s Coffee Shop in Brooklyn

There are places that capture a voice. They allow for the brief moments in the world – free of movement and distractions. Free of wild-eyed algorithms determining fate. They are simply, a door to open up and allow the characters that are hanging around in your brain a chance to come out.

For me, the silence of writing is maddening. I can’t keep it all down for very long. I’d much rather be in a noisy place with the madness of the world happening around me than alone in a room with a computer. It just works that way for me. The computer time is the actual work, while the writing, the act of the writing, is one of the few spiritual connections I have with the universe.

I wrote much of Hollywood Forever in nightclubs  or in pieces of type-written chapters that I posted on lamposts up on Sunset Boulevard. There is a heartbeat that provides the rhythm to prose – one that starts perhaps in poetry and is knifed out by hours of carving. I have been searching for places where I can connect, and yesterday found one in Mike’s Coffee Shop just near Pratt in Brooklyn. Everything there was a step back in time – not one of nostalgia, for I’m slowly moving past all of that.

No, this was a step back to movements. Sitting at the counter with nothing more than a pad and pen, I was able to connect with my characters in a way I hadn’t been able to since I sat on my fire escape writing The Last Block in Harlem. I have been on a search recently for my grandfather – Some of you may already know that if you’ve been keeping up with the posts. It’s been an overwhelming response from people who either knew him or studied him, and now I have that connection. That connection seems to have opened up a bit more for me in ways of connecting to the story.

How it happened I’m not sure  – perhaps it was a bit of just running into wall after wall and not being afraid that they weren’t coming down. The characters to go with him are starting to appear as well – so I’m on watch and overly sensitive to the sounds that come to me. I can’t help it. Those are very magical moments – and ones that I enjoy because of the peace it gives me inside. Like medicine writing is to me – a drug that calms my shaking and makes the world appear in a way that makes sense. I feel like I have a purpose when I’m putting it all down.

Now it’s taking shape and I feel older – like I’ve put in my time and spilled out other words just so I can get to these. Each book is that way – when finished, they’re like pieces of a mountain that I’ve blasted through in order to make a tunnel safe enough to go through. I can’t figure out if live is the tunnel or it’s the pieces of mountain that we’ve turned into rock. Passageways or matter? That’s seems to be the debate – but regardless of what we call it, the process feels correct. It’s there in so many ways.

And so, while everyone around me was eating scrambled eggs with two slices of cheese that they mixed in, burgers with fries, or perfectly shaped waffels, I sat with a cup of coffee and asked the universe to write through me. Carrying around my grandfather, he is now the guide to the story, and it’s unfolding in a way I can’t believe possible. What’s more, it has me retracing steps of places I’ve lived, of lives I’ve lived, and I have such clarity. Even in Harlem, where I thought I got it all out, those bricks are calling back to me.

It’s amazing because when you look back at a place that you’ve lived or been, it’s easier to see it – I mean really see  it – when you’ve had some distance from it. Inside of it, when you’re actually living, there is too much tied in and you’re part of it. Part of the story. It can be a dangerous act to live and write at the same time, but that’s the high wire act of doing it all. It’s a blessing to be at peace for some moments – I have to believe that it’s a hight power  pushing out the madness inside of the chest just long enough to get the words out. Just long enough to do so.

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