Wednesday Morning

I’ve had similar experiences prepping for a book. Characters start to appear after I write them, but this time it’s something quite extraordinary. My past, and when I saw my past, I mean the people who have lived before me and carried my genetic code, my ancestors, are working with me. They are walking next to me and tapping me on the shoulder – asking that their memories become unearthed so that I may hear them. I’m humbled – now knowing that this next book is going to be an experience like no other.

My stomach is stronger for it – looking back in time it must be. It all started that night with my grandfather’s book and now is unfolding into a tale that has already happened, I just need to capture it. Slowly. Moving slowly and with the effectiveness of a detective or crime scene organizer – each piece has to be examined. Turned around. Thank goodness it’s the winter.

Jay Z’s MTV Unplugged set the tone I think for the season. “I was the winter…” he says at the opening of the album. In his voice, you can hear so many of those Brooklyn winters that he went through and I walked on the reverberation of his voice towards this story where, at the end of the tunnel, stood my grandfather. Finally, I have been able to meet up with him. In the real world – or the physical world which we call the real world, I was never able to sit with him. Now, through the exploration of this next book, I am able to.

I feel him sitting with me and it gives me comfort. There is a story that needs to be told – a sadness that needs the light of day so that it can be relieved. It’s possible to so. I never understood how one could properly carry on a family name, but I do now. Process -wise, I’ve written about 200 pages to get to this point and now I am finally ready to start. All of that is warm up – getting the mold ready to pour a story that will solidify. That’s the amazing thing about writing – it never is stale. It is never the same and each book has its own life – and when that life starts to feel right, and I mean right down in your gut – well, that’s why I do this. It must be a physical need to get it all out and down.

In the past week, I’ve been speaking with people who knew of or actually knew my grandfather – and I think that he has called down to me and asked that I tell this story. Truly a remarkable feeling of connection, and it’s here in the twilight that I can truly understand the enormity of what’s about to be undertaken. I’m not afraid to do it. I look forward to the challenge of pushing craft.

As the story shapes, I’ll put more down, but I know that I’ll need to do something I haven’t pulled off in the previous books – Show Two cities and Two sets of main characters and weave them all together. I’m not a knitter, so it will be interesting to figure out how it’s going to be done. At least I have history and, best of all, that history that I have has been documented so well that it’s going to be a strict traffic cop in my pursuit of the truth. Truth. Intent. These are essential for me when constructing a novel, so I’m grateful that so much has been delivered in the winter. The coolness and driving rain help to keep everything grounded.

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La Havre

Well, I just consulted with my physician friend who has helped me keep my facts straight for my other books. He basically told me the premise for the story I had in mind was impossible, so I need to find a way to play with fiction and reality a bit more to make it happen. That’s fine. Research and finding ways to make it all come together are the way to get the characters nice and round. Like them round.

Perhaps I can structure the whole thing with the skeleton of a french movie. I really like how they are done. I saw La Harve the other night and haven’t been able to get over how it was filmed. Each frame so perfect and each piece of dialogue moved with the settings. There was a sense that nothing was real and everything was real at the same time.

I emailed the director to tell him – his name is Aki Kaurismäki – I told him that watching his movie made me love films again, and he even wrote me back. Well, it was his assistant or someone – but they wrote me and said that they forwarded my email to him to let him know what I said, which made me happy. It’s nice to be happy at things like that. Perhaps somehow that could be in the story – another person answering my calls out the universe for help with this thing, whatever it turns out to be.

So far, I’ve been contacted by my grandfather (in spirit form), the man who was selling his book, the book itself – which arrived the other days and contains very bizar photo of medical examinations and experiments. That was odd, but I was ready for it. At least the book was in English.

Now I have reached out an been contacted by the assistant of the director of the movie that I was moved by. Maybe it’s coming together in another form. The structure of French Cinema – that seems fun to look at. I have always how they made their films – how they weren’t afraid to hold on a shot at the end for that extra second even if drew out the scene – and how they were not afraid to do a quick cut to go on to the next. It’s like how Milan Kundera writes his books – tender when it’s need and out the door when it’s needed as well.

It’s cold now – the radiators are off and the sounds of cars are sporadic at best on the street below. Brooklyn is quiet at 12:20 A.M. on a Friday night or Saturday morning, however you choose to look at the world. It’s cold at my back but the warmth of the blankets below suggest there are other options. French movies – Perhaps they just saw too much in their lifetimes happen on their own soil – they found beauty in the flickers.

Talking about the people of course – not the ones who sit inside of those buildings and exist because of flags. It happens most times like this when trying to get the next book done. I have around 100 typewritten pages from a typewriter that I will probably not use and another 100 on this machine that will serve as notes. I might finally be able to get down something decent, thought my trusted doctor friend blew a hole in my initial idea, but I will go at it from another angle.

One of my readers contacted me and told me a story of her father and closely it had matched some of my ramblings here about the back story of the women who’s father was a furniture maker. It’s interesting because the story that she told me I actually had written down over the summer – that happens for the most part with me – I start writing and it comes true in some odd form. Always in some odd form.

So that’s what I am working with these days and now these nights in this eternal search for a decent fish that I might land.

 

..What if life was like a French movie, complete with all the sounds that came from the speakers that were not attached to the screen. That’s the kind of thing I was thinking when I walked down Fulton street last night. It was hot – middle of the summer Brooklyn hot when you moved slow and had to spray a decent amount of OFF on you to keep the Misquotes from choosing you. They showed movies on the wall of the outdoor cuban cafe that was across the street from Greenlight Bookstore, where I always enjoy just looking at the covers of books through glass. Something magnificent about that I belief. They were playing La Havre, which I’d seen before but never outside and never so big. The colors were like a Norman Rockwell painting that had come to life and lived a little bit in bad neighborhoods to get some grit. Everyone acted perfectly in the film on the wall – and all of the tragedy was delivered straight up without sentimentality was served straight no chaser.

If life was like a french movie, I would have gotten a call by now. Someone with a lead on some business would have come and got me, but it wasn’t like that in the summer, and certainly not in this climate. I needed a client and bad or I’d have to go back to waiting tables or teaching English or some other gig that paid the rent but left me tired buy unable to sleep at night. I looked out at the carriage house across the street and, if life had been a French Movie, maybe I would have seen something that I shouldn’t have seen and gotten swept up in an adventure or romance or something like that. As it was, there was only the flicker from the TV.

An odd, empty tour bus rolled by, limping like a spotlight from a lighthouse that no longer had ships to guide. Those are usually not out at night but run like clockwork during the day, especially these days in Brooklyn. The secret is out. If it were a French movie, a spirt would try and contact me around this time and let me in on some secret or start guiding me towards something  – perhaps the spirit wouldn’t be in a human form or a ghost form, but only in a thought.

Maybe there is something there. We’ll see.

Again.

That was the break.

After moving around with sketches and trying to find a path, the book that was being fiddled with on here in done, in the cooker, and in the hands of those making it ready for the world. Best thing to do at this point is to put my head down and get going on the new one. For those who have followed this blog, you know the drill. It’s my playground out here and when done, it comes off and into the machine that makes it all go. That may be the mind. For now, it’s exploration time. The good times. The times of early mornings and first thoughts and not worrying about the smallest details.

Now, I’m looking for the voice of the narrator for the new story, and can’t figure it out. Reading some Dennis Johnson over the past month or so – particularly his novella Train Dreams. It was incredible to me how he managed to have the narrator speak in the times that his characters were living in. Language itself has so much to do with how a story unfolds: It can actually establish the setting more than describing the surrounds can. I’m working on this part of craft right now, and it requires some patience – which is something I don’t have much of but am learning and trying to achieve.

Example of what I’m working towards:

The street below was full of children walking around with the freedom of not having a bell to answer to for a few days.

or

Cracked cement is forgotten because being physical dropped in rank to kids who refused to take both eyes or ears off of their little screens.

Both sentences give a sense of the street, but the second one, I think, is more in tune with the present time, so that, if someone were to read it, they could place themselves squarely in the the modern world. The narration gives the setting. Let me try with a street in a different time:

The returning students wondered about the new kids – they dressed the same most days and had odd food in their lunch pails. When we all traded at the table outside, they didn’t participate. Said something about needed it to be blessed or looked over. One of them, skinnier than most, spent his time looking at how his shadow bounced off the schoolyard concrete that had just been laid. Part of the new efforts after the war to build the country and keep everyone at work were all the highway and construction programs to public works, which of course extended to the schools.

I think the few sentences above give more of a time and setting. The way the narrator would talk and the tone at which he would address different people to a new area – the narrator themselves would need to have an opinion. It works like that if you place the narrator in the time that the story is being told. So that’s what I’m after a bit right now for this new book – The story is there, now I’m just going back and making sure I’m okay with the person telling the story. I would very much like to try something than first person right now – I say that quiet often I know, but this time, it would be fantastic to get intimate with another form.

We shall see. It never really turns out how you think – and I look forward to all of the characters taking over as they usually do. Anyhow, I’m back sketching up here for a bit. My first 3 books were all scribbled on up here – a big drafting board. Not sure why the WordPress format brings out the discipline of morning writing, but it does. Perhaps the structure is there.

A new book found, brought..

The second one was easy. The third one, or getting started on the third one, not at all. I’ve tried two different subjects and two different time periods and two different countries but they weren’t working. You know when it’s all working and know when it’s all falling apart. Still, you need to keep going and smashing into those walls because there is a black cat buried beneath even if you can’t hear it screaming.

This weekend, I may have found what I was looking for. I took the train up out of the city to visit my grandmother’s cousin – He was the man who helped her and my grandfather get out of Germany during the war. A few years ago I had started talking to him about perhaps putting all of his stories down into a book, but it never came about. I still had Sarah Striker and Pharmacology in my head and heart and needed to put that out.

Now though, this time, I took the train back to Brooklyn with a purpose. This man had pretty much saved my family and myself – I would not be here writing if it weren’t for him, so I owe it to him, to my grandfather, to my father and, I guess in some ways, to myself to write this story. He was an amazing man, this man I went up North to see. I say up North because any time you take a train you are going North.

I’ve had glimpses inside the story over lunches and talks in an afternoon, but to get under the hood of this, I’m going to need to do a bit more. Tons more. Time will have to be sacrificed and life will need to be altered a bit, but I believe that it is worth it. What better way to spend time than to honor the memory of the person who made the time you had possible. Now comes to the process of doing something like this. The preparation and structure that I have yet to ever really produce.

That lives in fiction. I’m about to introduce truth and it feels so right. The book is now in my chest ready to fly through my rib cage and I have no intention of ignoring this feeling. Finally. I think I search for this feeling – it’s the only form of satisfaction that I truely get and really want other than laying next to my wife at night.

The margins are narrowing a bit. Yes they are.

They’re Not Yours

Begin Transcript:

Your memories are not your own. You think they are because the stories that you’ve been told since you were young all place you in certain situations. They’ve been gone over many times at the family table or wherever it is that you may eat your meals with those taking care of you. I realize of course that not everyone sits around a large table and exchanges stories.

Back to your memories. Your mom always told you that you enjoyed singing from the time you were 2 years old. She tells the story of how you got up in front of everyone during the Holidays and sun your grandfather’s favorite song to him. Some tell it that he laughed uncontrollably until he cried. Some tell it that he cried and almost put himself into shock.

There was that story of when you wandered out the door without telling anyone when you were 4 and walked down the block by yourself. Everyone was so worried. You had the best time though inside your own head because you made up stories of what was happening inside the houses of those you passed on your adventure. That is what happened when you were walking though. The story that gets told, the memory, is what your parents told you about how worried everyone was. Come to think of it, you don’t remember thinking what was happening inside of the houses as you walked by. That was told to you by your parents years and years after the fact that it happened.

Now then, your early memories, the very shape of who you are, are not yours at all. What belongs to you are the moments afterwards. After your initial thoughts. After what you believe to be true has turned to fact. This was the case for me up in that tree I think. But it was all so real, I’m not sure how it couldn’t have been because my parents had left me up there to fend for myself for all of those weeks. Weeks can turn into such a long time when you’re that age. Oh, how old was I really back then I couldn’t tell. Really, there was no way of telling much of anything in those times. I can’t believe it to be so. It just couldn’t have been.

What could have been. That’s what people are always after when they talk about stories. The memories aren’t theirs even I wish they weren’t mine. Now, I keep talking about being up in that tree in the late 1930s. It wasn’t like it is now with so many ways to communicate. My hope is that now, with the technology as it is, we might not be in such a rush to take over lands and destroy what’s left of the world. This is not in memory I don’t think, this is very much real. What’s left in the world from memory. For memory.

Perhaps my parents put those memories in my head before they left me up in that tree. Oh, it was a cold day to be doing that. The seasons changed so quickly then. It was the last day of winter, but still, they shouldn’t have left me up there like that. With all of that happening inside of the tree. Those ants marching night and day. The squirrels all fighting for the few nuts that were left at the very top of the tree. All of them had such tired legs from the long winter. My legs were fresh to be sure, but I wasn’t skilled enough to pick those nuts from the top of the tree. You’re still writing all of this down though, yes? You said you’ve be documenting this experience? What kind of project is this again, I can’t remember everything right now, so you’ll have to come back. My throat gets soar when I talk too much. Did you bring me that juice we were talking about? Yes. Yes. Thank you. I appreciate it.

We’ve talked about how I got down from the tree already, no? I can’t remember much except for the fall, but that’s not the interesting part. What’s really amazing is the time spent inside the tree. In the tree rather. These were the memories that were mine, not planted inside of me. They had to be mine because none of my family was up there with me. All of my memories are my own and not created for me. I wish I could remember what was created for me instead of what happened to me when I got down from the tree. I’ll tell you that tomorrow. Are you coming back?

Transcript end here.

My talks with the woman in the nightgown gave me some grounding in the city. Memory. She kept talking about that. Kept talking about what was hers and what didn’t belong. Got me to thinking about what was mine and what didn’t belong inside of my own head. Who knows how these things go. I couldn’t be sure. There were many papers to write before that weekend ended, but it was still Thursday and I knew that no matter what I did, I’d just mess around until the last possible moment and do the work.

How many degrees had I earned doing other people’s work for them? Couldn’t afford to go to school myself and my grades weren’t good enough to go for free, but I still managed to learn more than the rest of them by doing their work for them. For a price. Everything had that big price tag on it and I think that once I realized that – that everything could be bought and sold super quick, I’d be able to figure it out. And I did. The guy who hired me loved me and paid me well enough so that I’d stop temping.

It was a big stretch for me because temping is how I made the majority of my cash. Being settled in one gig was tough, but I didn’t have to to go into an office. I’d spend my days wherever I wanted in Hollywood while the rest of the world around me worked. I’d constantly have a back back on with books packed inside. Not my books of course, but the ones that others paid for and then paid me to read and bust out a paper for them. Of course, they’d put their names on the top, take the grades, then slide into the jobs that waited for them afterwards.

How much wealth had I created out there? It might have been me creating the who infrastructure of capitalism this entire time. Could have been the very center of commerce. Trickle me down and let that ride. Funny that there might be some folks who thought it better to protest me. The protesters would come later. The more more money I made off of other people’s wants at security, the more I realized that security itself was a sham. It was all fear based – that the world would drop away from them once they no longer had a steady source of income. Drop away. Can you imagine such a thing? For me, I’d dined at the 99cent store and put together enough change to get a 49 cent cheeseburger, so loosing jobs never concerned me. Now, now I had that very thing that most people dream of:

A Niche. Experience doing something and doing it well enough that people would never stop needing you. It’s in human nature to cheat if they know a system is in place. For me, the college system was a great place to be a middle man. I knew that the most important part was the education, not the name on the bottom of a resume. I soaked it all up and got paid well. By the time I was in my 3rd year of doing it, I must have stored enough information in my brain to have multiple Master’s Degrees. I should have stopped there, but that’s not what humans do.

The more I learned, the more I needed to know. Now, here’s the key I think: When you start to wish for something, the universe has this odd way of giving you exactly what you need. It’s what happens when you seek something. My brain was full and I couldn’t remember so much. Well, I could remember some – but not all. What good was it going to do to remember some and not all. I didn’t want to go back and start reading all of those papers that I had written for those college kids. I didn’t have time for that. All of that information I wanted access to. Like those politicians up there on the television who I saw everyday. They had access to it all anytime they needed it. I wanted that.

So, I did what those who needed help from me did. I sought someone out.