On Writing

Creativity and the Commuter

The only way to travel.
The only way to travel.

Last Friday I rear-ended a truck while driving to work. I wasn’t going fast or being careless, the roads were just terrible. Long sheets of ice, really. All I could do was skid and brace myself for the collision.

After the impact, we pulled over to assess the damage.

“Wow!” Truck Guy exclaimed, looking at the nose of my car, which sported a grille cracked in several places and a flapping bumper. “I didn’t think that little hit would do so much damage!”

“It didn’t,” I replied. “I did that five minutes ago when I hit a telephone pole.”

Truck Guy laughed appreciatively.

Then there was a pause.

“Wait. You serious?”

I was.

My average speed for the rest of my journey was, I think, 3 mph – because when I hit that pole at 12 mph, and then the truck at 7 mph, I was being just too dang reckless.

As I puttered along, cursing my luck all the way, I reflected on the commute I had 20 years ago. I worked in New York City. It was a much longer haul than the one I have now (two plus hours, as opposed to an-hour-and-a-half) but it was by train. And, like the road less traveled, that had made all the difference.

A train is a perfect place for reading, so I delved into books that I probably should’ve read in high school.

I read about Trees Growing in Brooklyn and fell madly in love with the bookish, myopic Francie.

I read 1984, fruitlessly hoping that Orwell put a happy ending in there somewhere.

I read Kafka who, by comparison, made Orwell look like Dale Carnegie.

I wondered why Victor Frankenstein lacked the parental love so very evident in his comedic alter ego, Victor Frahnkensteen.

A good parent. Pay attention, Mary Shelly!
Pay attention, Mary Shelly. Your Victor should’ve been like this guy.

I fantasized about being the travel companion of Mark Twain, or better still, John Steinbeck.

And I read Nectar in a Sieve, a book that should’ve been titled Just One Damn Thing After Another.

It was a great way to get to work.

But that was only the New Jersey Transit part of my journey. I stopped reading once I got to Hoboken. After I hopped onto the PATH Train, which scooted me under the Hudson River and up to 33rd Street, I switched from reading to writing.

Back then my passion was theatre, and the PATH, with its herky-jerky motions, frequent stops, and Subway-ish vibe, seemed to be a fine place to come up with authentic dialogue.

From 33rd Street, I walked the 10 blocks to my office, where I could reflect on what I had written and/or read.

At the time I was a graphic designer. I hated the job. A lot. I was lousy at it, too. That decadent commute, however, made it all sort of OK. No matter how badly my day went, I knew it would end with me writing on the PATH and reading on the train.

Now the situation is reversed. I have a job I enjoy very much – one that allows me to stretch myself intellectually and creatively – but my day is book-ended by a hellish commute. To get to work I drive on both the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike. And then I motor down the side streets of hick towns – places where salt truck drivers are not considered Essential Personnel.

By the time I come home, I am exhausted and crabby and uneager to write and read. “I wrote and read during my entire workday,” I tell myself.Isn’t that enough?”

At this point I would love to write: “Well, no, it is NOT enough! Despite how tired and crabby I am, I continue to write and read! I am a writer and a reader! Writers and readers must always write and read!”

But I can’t, because, well, sometimes after getting home from work, I choose to sit on my butt and reach for a second glass of wine. One such day was Fender Bender Friday.

I think that’s OK.

My point is, don’t beat yourself up if you decide to get out that corkscrew once in a while. Your mind is not always going to be in the right place. Your schedule is not always going to be kind. We can’t all spend several hours a day on trains. If you truly love writing, you will find and make the time to write. The time might not be every single day, but the time will reveal itself.

As for me, I soon made up for my lazy Friday. I got in a whole lot of writing time the other day. I worked for hours and hours without a break. I was sitting in a molded plastic chair waiting for the nice man to replace my bumper.