Searching Again and Landing in Sugar Hill

sugar-hillI’ve discussed internet research before and, in particular, searching. I am 20 something years into using the Web, several years more into availing myself of Usenet, and a few more years beyond that into using electronic bulletin boards–oh the warm, sweet sounds of a modem, no matter how slow, chattering and finally connecting. (Oh, and a side note, some people conflate “the internet”,  and “the web,” but the distinction is both correct and useful.) Anyway, I should be jaded but I still marvel what is out there, a few keystrokes away.

Just to establish my bona fides in the physical world, though, let it be known that I have been doing some research offline lately as well. I have picked up a few of these things called “books.” I even took one out of the library using this miraculous, interstellar-like thing called “inter-library loan” (look it up sometime, it’s kind of amazing).

Still, I am amazed at the knowledge at my fingertips and how I can think of something, type it in, and read about. So as I worked on a short story recently, I found my way to:

  • Cerebral spinal rhinorrhoea
  • Arch (adjective)
  • River bank
  • Ice floe (after typing it as “ice foe,” perhaps a more interesting idea)
  • Hell is other people
  • Opposite of furtive
  • Famous crooked noses
  • Sugar Hill NYC
  • Man’s inhumanity to man (see “hell is other people,” above)
  • Jokes stinking drunk

I should weave my research history in more with the actual drafts of my writing–perhaps I can create a version of the story with the research threads I followed. I used much of what I looked up in the draft of the story, though Sugar Hill was left on the cutting room floor. “Hell is other people” and “man’s inhumanity to man” must have been more about my mood than the story. Indeed my character does break his nose (well, someone break it for him) and he ends up near an icy river (OK, enough with the spoilers!).

As everyone knows, there can be a serendipity in search. So when I imagined my character as a law student at Columbia, I decided his budget would put him well up in Harlem when Harlem was affordable. So as I searched for neighborhoods in and north of Harlem I found Sugar Hill. I knew a little about Sugar Hill because of the talents of Nick Bloom, the son of my friends John Bloom and Amy Farrell. Nick was in a writing workshop I taught, had been living in Sugar Hill, and wrote a song–a sweet farewell to the neighborhood he had lived in before moving to Austin for graduate school.

When Nick played the song to the workshop, it took all my composure to not fall to pieces. It was the first time someone wrote a song in a workshop I taught and it’s a wonderful song. It was a gift to us all, but whether Nick intended it this way or not, it was a special gift to me. My brothers had both gone to Columbia and my oldest brother had gone to the law school as well. I visited him there often, and he’s been out of NYC for decades but that part of the city still holds a special place for me, all the more so because we have been estranged for almost as long. When he left New York City, a small part of me left with him. I’ve been there at least 100 times since and I love the city but it’s never quite been the same.

Ultimately, because the character’s place in the world wasn’t central to the story, I decided, at least at this point, to leave Sugar Hill out and save it for another day. Perhaps I don’t know enough about it, or perhaps it deserves more than a passing reference. I saved the paragraph I wrote. Who knows? It could turn into something.

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