Empire State Days

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Empire State Days

-Collaborative Reflections by Jeffrey F. Barken

I’m in the Crow’s Nest.

There’s no better view of New York except on foggy days when the sky is white wash.

We sip our morning coffee.

“Not many people get to experience this,” Carter says, peering out the conference room window.

Carter puts his mug down on the windowpane. I watch him stretch his suited arms and legs, expecting to see his shadow loom over the city. He’s still bewildered by our fortune.

“You’re not King Kong,” I ought to tell the bragger beast in me, but these are Empire State Days, the latest chapter in a stranger’s life. I never expected to find myself working so high above Manhattan, and I certainly don’t recognize my reflection. I’m not the “Myles” in my books anymore, but his character is lurking.

I know I shouldn’t worry about my imagination wandering away from me. Jacob Kresovich, Monologging.org’s Chicago-based music critic always reminds me to accept my fate. In fact, that’s what he likes best about fiction writers. “They make up their world as they go along,” he says. “And they believe in their creation too willingly.”

All I’m saying is that it’s hard to keep grounded when you’re seventy-five stories in the air, juggling a dozen personas. But Jacob makes a valid point that sets me at ease. I bet even spiders prefer a web of lies to Charlotte’s truthful tangle. It’s more entertaining.

One thing I admire about Eliza Newman’s poetry, for that matter, is her pen name. She’s chosen an alter ego when she writes. Then she lets her consciousness go, waking up in strange places. The same was true with Myles when I wrote about his adventures in Israel and New York. I had my devil by the pen, exploiting the world’s embarrassments.

Dara Lorenzo is coming over later. I’ve asked her up to New York to snap some pictures. We’re collaborating on All the Lonely Boys in New York along with Diana Muller. As I work toward publishing my novel this summer, under the Monologging.org label, I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on the nature of the collaborative magazine. The writers in the monologging.org community have poured tremendous energy into the publication, providing regular content. Thanks to their hard work, the platform is now ready to launch the kinds of multi-media I originally envisioned, supporting up-and-coming authors and artists who are willing to take risks.

The morning is empty. Between coffee and bathroom breaks, I write a couple emails.

The walls are bare. We need pictures for the new office. I think Dara’s got something unique. The photography and printmaking processes she uses lift colors and lines from captured images, spreading detailed reflections across contradictory backgrounds and transcendent light. Most of her work to-date features urban Baltimore and Oakland. I wonder what she’ll make of New York. We’re planning a show in June to accompany publication of the novel.

I press send and have a look on Facebook. Roger Market, down in Baltimore, has been posting videos from his holiday adventures in Disneyland. His column, Big Screen Streaming, reveals the critic’s assessment of Hollywood motives and directors’ choices. All week we’ve been trading thoughts on The Interview. The question is; whether the film is worth seeing.

Dara calls me up. She’s downstairs having lunch. I join her and her friend at the bar. “Shoot for 2008, a seemingly hopeless, discontented winter,” I set the mood for her literary photo tour of the city. “There’s a crisis. The stock market is crashing as the wars rage. Everybody wants change, and Myles is in a bad mood.”

“I get it,” Dara says, setting off with her camera.

Back in the Crow’s Nest, Wesley Burdett messages me.  “Have you seen all the Robins?” he asks. He’s surprised to find so many red-breasted birds flocking the city in the heart of winter.

“Robins have irregular migratory patterns,” answers Google.

Time is flying. Was it last week that Wes and I attended the secret Sofar concert?  We’d gone down to “undisclosed” Brooklyn, digging surprise musicians. The idea behind the gig reminded me of the gallery nights my wife and I used to host back in Baltimore, offering one artist, one night and the use of all the walls in our apartment…

At Sofar, we sat on the hardwood floor of a stranger’s apartment, drinking hopped pale ales. HIGHLIGHT PERFORMANCE: Chargaux was improvising, and we were witnesses. Between sets, we mingled with the music crowd. We had some ideas for lights; I remember. These days Wes is always making new drawings. He recently started working at CX Designs, building Italian glass fixtures.

When I first arrived in NYC, winter of 2008, and began writing All the Lonely Boys in New York, I remember feeling that all my characters, real and fictional, were exactly where they needed to be. The story was writing itself without my intervention. For a long time after I’d moved away from the city, whenever I visited, I tried to get back into character. Recreating my favorite scenes from the novel, I’d retrace old paths, searching for Myles. It’s true what my hero says about New York in the book: “No other city in the world has made me laugh or cry so much.” Creative epochs—when the writer or artist is so entrenched in the world of their creation that every moment counts, echoing nostalgia—are rare. Though it’s undeniably strange to be reliving a formative experience outside my former self, one thing feels familiar again. Everyone is where he or she needs to be.

The hours pass. Dara is stuck in dreary rain. I text her: “Perfect, snap some lonely photos of umbrellas.”

That evening we cozy up at our place to watch Dara’s slideshow. Have a look:

It’s hard to imagine the editing processes these photos will undergo, and the method by which Dara will make her final selection. As we compile the collaborative gallery, I’ll submit some of my pictures too, and we’ll merge concepts in conversation with my book.

No need to take a litmus test. The energy is all there for fictions to come alive this summer… Until next time, these are Empire State Days. From the Crows Nest, this is Jeffrey Barken keeping watch.


Post Photos Courtesy of Dara Lorenzo and Jeffrey F. Barken