I knew fairly quickly what I had done wrong with the intended follow-up to Ghosts of Gotham. That didn’t mean I knew how to do it right. So last Monday I got on a train and rode eleven hours to New York City, where my muses live.
I’d never taken the train for more than a daily commute before. I chose it because I made my trip plans in early January, when the government was shut down and the prognosis for flying was somewhere between “expect a three-hour security line” and “just hope an air traffic controller shows up to work.” I figured, no matter how that situation panned out, Amtrak was going to be just fine. It was serendipitous; trains are liminal spaces, see, a forever in-between where you’re not where you left and you’re not where you’re going. And liminal spaces are where stories are born. I got my laptop out and listened to the clack of the rails and the words began to flow.
Then it was a walk through Manhattan late at night, back in the canyons of granite and chrome, back in that vibrant darkness where I feel at home. I chose the High Line Hotel for a reason: that was my destination for my second trip to the city ever, and the place where the seeds that became Ghosts of Gotham took root. You can’t always capture the same magic twice, but there’s no reason not to try. That first time, the clerk had given me a lovely surprise: I’d been inexplicably upgraded (and that room became an important part of Gotham’s story).
So there I am, checking in, and the clerk says, “And you’ll be pleased to know you’ve been chosen for an upgrade.”
“…Suite Three?” I asked.
“How did you know?”
And it’s midnight, and my quest to find this novel’s voice has officially begun with me standing in the same room where the last one began. I had to laugh. This sort of thing happened a lot, when I was writing Gotham. And then there’s the weirdness of plotting new characters’ journeys while sitting at the same desk as my fictional protagonist, and everything started to feel a little bit like a Coen Brothers movie.
The trip coincided with my birthday, and some of my wonderful theatre family (love you, miss you already) came out to celebrate with Italian food, wine and whiskey. Later I was, as usual, a bit thoughtful and a bit maudlin about getting one year closer to the grave. But it was a good time for me to reflect on what I’m doing, where I’m headed, what I’m trying to create with my work and how I can focus in the year to come.
There was art. I took in the Warhol exhibition at the Whitney (still not sure what I think about Warhol, but I can say I have a deeper appreciation now), and then a journey to MOMA to visit Vincent van Gogh and Georges Seurat. The latter has a special place in my heart: Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George” is my favorite play, and bits of the book still pop up routinely in my real-life patter. “Color and light, it’s only color and light…”
(And steering back to the business at hand, when a friend asked what was wrong with my first attempt at the follow-up to Ghosts of Gotham, my response was “It’s just another Chromolume.” If you’ve seen the play, you understand.)
MOMA also featured an exhibition by Bruce Nauman, which for me was the pinnacle of the sometimes amazing, sometimes frustrating, sometimes delightfully confusing nature of modern art. I greeted one piece with exhilaration, absolutely floored at what he’d accomplished, and responded to another with “…you’re fucking with me right now, right? You are absolutely fucking with me right now.”
To be clear, I am a big fan of art that fucks with you. Playfulness is a powerful thing, and something we all need, especially in 2019.
The last night of the trip ended with seeing the Broadway production of Mean Girls. First off, it’s just a top-notch show, and you don’t need to be a fan of the movie to enjoy it. Contagious music, great comedy, a feel-good event that isn’t treacly or pandering, big thumbs up. It’s got a lot of heart. What struck me on a creative level is that Tina Fey managed to do something I’ve always wanted to: she took one of her early projects, a movie from fifteen years ago, and got a do-over. Mean Girls is the same story as the film but from a creator with over a decade more experience, and it shows. Character beats are more defined, plot points are better structured and more nuanced, it’s the movie version 2.0.
You should see it. It’s totally fetch.
There was a lot of walking, this week. Walking in Chelsea, in Hell’s Kitchen, in FiDi, tracing streets and studying faces. Getting the flow of the city and the heartbeat and feel so I could try to capture it with my pen. Method acting experiments to get into my characters’ heads and listen for their voices, seeing the city from their perspectives.
Yesterday, the train ride home. I stepped off the platform long after dark, and stumbled back through my own front door sometime around the witching hour. There was no witching, only restless sleep and a longing to return. Today there’s a melancholy clinging to me, but I expected that. I often think that the measure of a good trip is how low you feel the day you return. More importantly, my muses were kind, and gave me some pearls of insight to bring home with me.
Now I need to get back to work.