The Audacious Magpie
A Novel in Real-Time
Chapter 2: New Beginnings
Sunday April 27, 2014
I don't know if I really have this Big Ample thing down.
I started my now almost-daily email to Lenny.
This week's gifts were cookies and cards for my new neighbors. I suppose it is all meant to be a bit more anonymous? Does it help that I left them secretly on the doorsteps late at night to be discovered in the morning?
I was inspired by Good's impromptu Neighborday yesterday. Have you been on the site? It seems a bit like Facebook for kindness and community -- right up Magpie's alley. Take a look and let me know what you think.
- G. McA.
I closed my computer to return to unpacking. It was time to rebuild my dismantled home. After a long search, I had finally settled into a one-bedroom in Inwood.
It made me smile when I told people where I'd moved. Their quizzical looks confirmed that most people needed about 5 years of living in New York before they'd even heard of this neighborhood. It was like a relic from times past relegated to the attic of Manhattan.
Here at the northernmost tip of the island we lived next to Inwood Hill Park. According to the Parks Department, there was old New York and then there was old New York. Inwood fell into the latter category, the site of the island's only remaining natural forest, an outcropping sculpted by ancient glaciers to form prehistoric caves and ridges. The way they described it, you'd think pterodactyls were perching on our rooftops.
We had some of the regular old New York as well. The oldest remaining farmhouse was nestled in Inwood -- Dyckman house built in the late 1700's. Delivery trucks and bullet bikes might speed by daily, but this remnant of the past reminded us that not too long ago our streets were pumpkin patches and orchards. At least the neighborhood's antiquity kept the rent at flea market prices.
Then there was the space. In the great paradox of New York living, as the tip of Manhattan became smaller, the apartments ballooned to fill it up. My living room was twice the size of Izzy's entire apartment. I had big plans for it. Gus's Living Room would be the place for movie screenings on snowy Saturday afternoons and long, lazy brunches on Sundays.
That was the plan, anyway, if anyone would venture so far north.
"Don't worry, Gus, I'll visit you up there," Izzy had promised. "Please just remind me to bring my passport in case we want to pop over to Canada for a bit."
The train home each evening made it clear that I lived in the city's nethermost region. The subway cars slowly drained like a medical IV, dripping life into the city on its way north until it finally emptied at the last stop -- a quiet corner that wasn't dead, but definitely sleeping soundly.
My phone pinged with an incoming email.
Of course you are welcome to take the Big Ample in any direction you like! It is true that the ample aspect is meant to reach as many as possible, but if the venture serves to unite your apartment building, all the better!
In a totally different vein, I just realized that April is about to finish and it seems your poem-a-day project celebrating National Poetry Month stalled a bit. The Big Ample isn't keeping your from your other goals, I hope?
With wishes for a beautiful Sunday.
I wrote back quickly to assure Lenny that the project wasn't too much.
Not at all! I put it on pause because I hoped to include some of my own work in the mix. It stalled because nothing seems quite strong enough to enter a collection made up of the greats, like E. E. Cummings and Tennyson.
Lenny wrote back.
I have just the thing for you, Gus. Watch this two-minute animation of some advice from Ira Glass. He explains that everyone starting out in creative work finds a gap between what they produce and what they know to be great. He says it is only by practicing loads that you can close that gap.
So, Gus, no more stalling. Time to listen to Ira. Time to pump up the volume of work.
I watched the short film. Lenny was right. Ira was right. There was nothing to do but practice.
I sat down amid my stacks of still unshelved books. What better time to start than now? I looked around, rummaging in my mind for the fitting subject.
The piled stories looked up at me like puppies with expectant eyes. "What about us?" they seemed to say. Why not scratch our bellies a bit?
I opened a new document in Word and started:
Languid words wake up sleepy from a night in the trenches, having been tucked away when the book's cover is shut.
They do not trip over themselves like the melody of a song, stumbling over the tongue on their way to stampede the heart.
They do not blow apart the air like a bomb of color splattered on canvas.
These poor scrawny words. They must make up for a single picture with a thousand of themselves.
At times they are even forced to carry the message of their own inadequacy -- "words cannot express..." -- dooming themselves before their brothers hit the page.
Yet these brave foot soldiers march ever forward, with their knapsacks of punctuation and their bayonets of bold and italics. They'll carry the message forward, marching in a line -- all the stronger for sticking together.
It may be a tough contest to rally against the artillery of song, the torpedoes of dance, the tanks of film, the arrows of paint strokes, the bullets of photography and drones of sculpture. These other art forms carry a singular punch that an army of letters cannot launch in only one throw.
Still, they journey on. With each new formation they tell a new story, sending their best soldiers to the front. If these fail in battle, their trusty back-ups take on the fight, constantly reorganizing for maximum impact.
And so the author draws upon his army, calling the generals forward to conquer, persuade, enlighten, mobilize, stir, inspire, incite, motivate and comfort. The infantry gather in line for each conquest, for each battle to win men's souls.