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.

Today

The book should be arriving today and I hope that it adds to the new character. As usual, I’m not having too much of a problem developing the women character, but can’t quite get a focus on the man yet. I guess it’s because I spend more of my life looking at women rather then men. They make for more interesting characters in real life and in fiction. This time though, with this new book, I’d like to get the men characters a bit deeper. I think that Hollywood Forever did a good job with that – I liked Harold Hall very much – but I’d like to get at more of a created history with the new male character in the book. Give him some scars that are a must to get over.

That’s a fantastic thing about characters that I really enjoy – getting over a wound. It’s important to show why someone was like they were. If they kill now – though I am not sure I have ever had anyone murder someone in one of my book – but if I did or do, there would have to be that deep reason that gives you the understanding of why they do what they do.

That might get me in trouble a bit in the real world as I am constantly looking at people – at why they do what they do – and try to find the reason behind that. Everything worthwhile on the page takes place off the page. The creation of history – so I am looking forward to getting the book – and am curious what stage it’s going to play in the book I am writing now. I guess you can call this writing – at this stage anyhow. Saturday morning at 7:37 A.M. fishing around for history. I have a scientist character at this point in the book – I had her for a long time actually, and I think she has to have some history that she is running from. Something that she doesn’t want to face, and therefor throws herself into her work so much that she is able to escape reality for a little bit – or as long as she may like – so that she can continue on with her work. That’s interesting. I had written some things about her father being a furniture maker and he was doing pretty well until he refused to sell his designs to a big manufacture – So his family had to do without and she had to work her way through all of her schooling.

I had him in a little shed in a house in upstate New York with a cool pick up truck they used to drive around town in – Though I think it’s too much of an ideal to have her and him like that. I know little about trucks and even less about making furniture, but if I was to stick to only what I know, my characters would be repeats of each other instead of individuals. Sarah Striker, the main character in Pharmacology, I had her with a nice and close relationship with her father – and that character was someone who had given up on his life so he could raise a family. I think this character would be a little different. It would be nice if something took a life away from her that she felt she deserved. Something with the economy I think – some force outside of what she could control as a little girl – that’s what happened – that force changed her life as a youngin and shifted her course.

This way, if it happened this way, I would be able to show her running away from something but at the same time running towards it and trying to fix it. I guess that’s always one of the things that’s hardest to do: Start out by giving the character exactly what she wants, taking it away from her, and having her chase it even if she doesn’t realize that she is running towards it instead of running away from it.

So, that is where it’s at for now. Over 150 pages of notes from the past few months and now to go into all of them and find a few lines. That should be interesting. I’d like to give her some things that she absolutely loves. I think the sounds of motion are going to be keep to her. Something like “My eyes have never been able to replicate what my ears take in. It’s just always been this way.” Something like that. That and of course, a name, which is always the pain in the ass for me. Who knows.

Spirits again.

The other night, I couldn’t sleep, so I started in with the Google friend. It’s a close comfort some on those late winter nights when you have no choice but to go to bed and get warm before the radiator wears out. It was Christmas even, but we don’t much go in for celebrations of that kind of thing these days. Presents and cut down trees just don’t rank. There is a burning inside both of us these days to get ahead. For me, it’s always on the search for a new story. Things had been going pretty well with my father as of late. I went with him to the MOMA to check out the Christian Marclay exhibition – The Clock.

It’s an interesting concept – Marclay edited together 24 hours of film footage with clips showing the actual time it was in the real world – so that, if it was 1:34 PM in the real world – the world you were sitting in the theater experiencing, up on the screen, someone would have that same time on a watch or clock. It ran for 24 hours and people were just sitting there watching time move. Really interesting on a conceptual level I think – and for someone like me, who has time in their minds and constantly has a clock winding down, it’s amazing.

I had been, I think, feeling his father’s (my grandfather’s) spirit around me for the past couple of weeks. So, that night, with the images of clocks ticking away in my head and me wondering what the movie was playing somewhere – I Googled my grandfather and managed to find him – and not only that, but I found a book he had written and started reading experts from it. The stories of my grandfather were far and few between – either because I haven’t had much time to talk with my father about them or perhaps because his life was too painful to talk about. I have felt that a piece of myself was missing for never having known him.

Anyhow, I started reading about him and found that he had written a book here in the United States called “Motor Disorders of Nervous Diseases” – and written in with a man named Tracey Putnam. I had known my grandfather had written a book, but in my mind it was all in German and published back in Germany – so I thought that I would never get to read it. However, on this night, I was able to find the book and read little passages of it. Not only that, I found out about the man who had written the book with my grandfather – Trace Putnam.

As I read more, I also found out the my grandfather had produced 10 films on Neurological disorders that came with muscle spasms in the body – and that these films were available at a university in Maryland. These appear to be pretty hard core in their experimental nature – but I feel like I need to see them. Perhaps he will be on the film. We’re going to need to take a trip down to Maryland I think. Now, as I saw the book, I figured, well, got to check on Amazon to see if the book was there. It was. For 10 bucks. Placed my order right there and got excited.

See, lately, I think I said this, I have been feeling his spirit and I think he is coming around the house late at night trying to talk with me. I stayed up until 4 A.M. on Christmas morning reading about him and Mr. Putnam. It appears that Mr. Putnam was relieved of his duties at Columbia as head of the Neurology department there because he refused to join in the anti-Semitic talks that had been going on through the university. There was very little about my grandfather though – and I started to wonder why. It turns out the Putnam was credited with being the man who discovered a drug that would temper the effects of epilepsy – but there was no mention of my grandfather.

When I woke the next day, I had an email from the man who I had purchased the book from – and strangely enough, he seemed to know my neighborhood very well. It turns out that he used to live a few blocks from where I live now. The story grows from there – the book of my grandfather’s was part of a huge collection of medical books that had been rescued from this library here in Brooklyn – again, not but a few blocks from where I am now.   The man who wrote me an email – the one who had my grandfather’s book – actually holds a collection of over 100,000 books that he had rescued from libraries around the country. He is a savior of books, and one of them, happens to be my grandfathers.

We started emailing back and forth, and it turns out that the man who had the book had inherited – somehow – the massive collection from somewhere else. Soon, this was turning into a great story of discovery, and much like some of the fiction I write, the real world started coming across my reality. The book that my grandfather wrote deals with neurons and all of the madness happening inside our brain – telling us what we do and why we do it – something that I am trying to base my new book on but can’t really put the story on it. I believe that my grandfather’s spirit is going to guide me in this new book, and the adventure of writing it is going to lead to a great many places. I’ve decided to, try at least, to document that here. Excited as hell to get the book, but also learn more about the man who saved thousands of books from being destroyed.

Does each one of those books that were destroyed have a history and purpose and story to tell itself? I do believe so – just like all of the people out there who are being needlessly destroyed – they too have stories themselves – and perhaps some of them are calling out to me through my Grandfather’s spirit. So that’s what I am in search of now – his spirit to guide me through the next book. Perhaps we hold all of the DNA of our ancestors inside of our minds and when we open up to them, we can bond with the past. We are just extensions of everyone that came before us – made up of neurons and all of the axons that information seems to be traveling on these days. Those pathways. I am trying very hard to get inside the mind and find out how we travel – how our thoughts travel and how are thoughts literally become us. Then though, the thoughts we have in our brain are somehow not only ours, but they belong to our ancestors – the ones who are responsible for us being here. I have to let these thoughts guide me on this one – to see where it all leads.

The book should be coming soon – but I intend to explore a bit all of the people responsible for making it come to me. There had to be a map – some reason or science behind who were are and what we think. That connection might be there – in some way it has to be there. Anyhow, the book is coming and I think that it’s going to be something special. Perhaps he will be the narrator of the new story, though I’m not sure how that would work. The story is set in the modern world, and he existed in a another time – a time of patience and process. All of it though was stripped away from him – perhaps I can give it back. I’ll be up here in the mornings working it out and getting these things out of my head so I can write the actual book, but I have a feeling that the search for what really happened is going to be a story in itself.

Why is it being put in front of me like that? Maybe it was the pictures of my grandfather that I have around my house – those black and white ones, One I have is from 1939 – though I don’t know if that was before or after he was taken away only to escape and do a new life all over again. I don’t know much, but I am going to piece it together – all of the information has to be in my mind.