Born on a Train

March 9, 2014

Posting this tune for some inspiration.
Born on a Train – The Magnetic Fields

The #AmtrakResidency program is officially open for application.

I have been excited about the notion of this program since I first heard about it. I know that most of my writer friends have felt the same way.

This year has been a bit like “The Year of the Trains” for me. I discovered that when I sit by the window in the break room for lunch, I can watch the freighter trains traveling back and forth in the valley below. One of the truly awesome things about this view is that above the train tracks sits one of my favorite neighborhoods in Cincinnati: Northside. There is some kind of magic, for I’ve no other way to describe it, about this neighborhood that drives me to write. I love to chill on the patio at Northside Tavern with a pad of paper, or even my laptop, and just write. Or in cooler months, the back room at Sidewinder Coffee, sipping hot coffee and nibbling at vegan scones. Or wandering through the aisles of Shake-It Records. I could go on and on…

That was a bit of a derailment (har har) from my original intent of this post, which was to talk about what watching the trains has done for my writing. To get back to the point of Northside, the thing about the view is that the quaintness of this neighborhood makes the trains actually feel like you are watching a model train set. You can see at least one of the huge murals on the side of a building, and it gives the town an almost hand-painted feel to it, which essentially is true, with the murals spread here and there throughout the neighborhood.

There are certain places I have been that inspire my writing. Sometimes it is a local cafe. Sometimes it is simply being around other writers that sparks that fire to create. Other times, I need only to free myself from the restrictions of paper, pen, and even laptop, and simply go explore the world around me, unburdened by the act of creating, merely existing to observe. Watching the trains on my break has provided not only an escape from the mundane working world, but has transported me to many different places. While these aren’t commuter trains that I watch, they still spark stories set in such places. My initiative to write a certain story, the namesake for this website, actually, has been re-ignited by this daily observation.

Sometimes, I write a few lines in the midst of observation. Sometimes, I read a book, glancing at the trains on occasion, as I ponder over things I have just read. A few times, I have rushed home at night, sat down in front of the computer, and began to tell a new story about Scurvytown, one that happens to one of my so-called break-out characters, who has traveled by train, very far away from home. I would love for the opportunity to feel like I am walking in her shoes, writing her experience from a better point of view than my current one.

My commuter train experience is such: round-trip from London to Cardiff, while I was in a study abroad program in the winter of 2011. There are very few things I remember about it. The thing that sticks out the most is Paddington Station. I can still feel each awkward step we took as a class, waiting to board the train. I can remember finding our seats, and settling in for the trip. I wish I could remember the smell of it all, but I was getting over a nasty cold, which is the reason my memory is a bit faded from the experience. I recall the grey skies of the countryside, and stops in other towns, like Swindon. I can almost hear the voice of each announced stop, but I think I might be mis-remembering such announcements from traveling via The Tube. Watching the world move past, while actually being the thing moving so fast, reminded me of family road-trips, from the back of a station wagon that had seats facing each other.

I remember wandering around Cardiff, trying to figure out how much Doctor Who related sightseeing we could squeeze in before we had to head back to London. I recall running in sideways rain to hang out and drip-dry in a pub with the most massive restroom I have ever seen in my life. Seriously, it was like row after row of toilets, in pristine condition. And then, with travel back to London under a darkened sky, I read part of a novel, and caught up on my travel journal.

When we returned to London, I somewhat remember a rather lengthy walk to a tube station. We walked through tunnels that were covered with graffiti, and I wished we could have stopped to get a better look at it, but I think we were in a hurry to grab dinner somewhere, or to get back to the hotel. My mind is a bit muddled about it now, and I suppose I could see if I said anything about it in my travel journal.

I have been thinking, about where I would travel if I received an Amtrak residency. I am fairly certain that the destination is not of importance. The experience of the journey is what I seek, to continue to flesh out the story I want to tell.

I have another idea about what I want to write, however. For Sugared Water’s first themed collection, which I believe I have mentioned here before, we chose to compile “Epistolary” pieces of fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. One of the storytelling methods I wanted to use for Scurvytown was to convey my chosen character’s adventures through letter-writing. Since she is on a journey, it makes sense for her to write letters to someone, even if just to herself, I haven’t quite figured out her audience yet… but it also feels to me like train travel lends itself quite well to letter-writing. It’s the kind of travel where you have time to pick up a pen and scrawl a few words, and the journey isn’t so bumpy, that the letter becomes difficult to read. So I am going to take a day to think about this a little bit, and then I am just going to apply. The worst that can happen is not taking the chance. After that, if I am not chosen, it doesn’t matter. I will find another way to take such a trip, and I will find the inspiration I need to tell this story through whatever means possible.

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