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Taking the Train to the Writing for Charity conference

I got up before dawn to catch a train. This was not a thing I have ever done before, despite the fact that the commuter train has been here for years. Somehow I’d always defaulted to driving as more convenient. But today we only had one car, the other is still being repaired, and I had a conference 90 minutes away. When I realized that it was convenient to the commuter line, I decided to experiment with taking Front Runner.

It was quiet and chilly on the platform waiting for the train to arrive. I’d come twenty minutes early, so I had a while to sit and watch the sky lighten behind the mountains. A pair of ducks flew quacking through the sky. I breathed and felt peaceful. Driving was not peaceful like this. Driving is full of paying attention and making judgement calls. For this trip my only job was to wait. The train arrived and I boarded. I found a seat with a table and an outlet. My first thought as the train pulled away was how easy it had all been. Then I pulled out my laptop and began to work as landscape passed beside me.

Writing is a process of alternating typing and staring off into space to figure out what to type next. On the train there was something new to see every time I looked up. I got peeks into backyards and industrial compounds. The train follows a different route than the freeway, which meant seeing landmarks from a different perspective. We even traveled through a small canyon that I’d had no idea existed at the base of Point of the Mountain. The freeway is up on the benches while passing through there. The scenery outside my window alternated between beauty and junkyards, each interesting in its own way.

A person from the conference was shuttling people from the train stop, so in-town transport was simple. Then I was at the conference. Writing for Charity is a smaller event than many I attend, but I like it for that. All of the proceeds go to charity, which is also a lovely thing. Utah has an abundant supply of authors, so my schedule was not too busy. This left me with many pleasant hours to visit with people I knew and to become better acquainted with people who were only somewhat familiar. I even spent some time working.

It was nice to be at a conference where I was neither promoting nor selling anything. I had no table to run, no money to manage. I didn’t even bring copies of my books with me, which I probably should have done. There was a moment on my self publishing panel where being able to hold up one of my book covers would have been a useful example of how to get covers wrong and then hire a designer to get it right. But it was okay that I didn’t have it. Instead I had a dozen conversations, some short, some long. My mind pulls them out and considers them as I write this. They are each like a little treasure to be appreciated, a moment when I connected with someone else and they helped me or I helped them. Or sometimes we just laughed together, and that was good too.

The sun had begun to set when I sat on the platform to catch a train home. I wasn’t alone this time. A fellow conference attendee was also riding southward, though her exit was before mine. We talked together as we waited. I learned of her projects and, since she was an experienced commuter-by-train, I was able to ask her questions. I sat on the opposite side of the train for the trip home. There were more people out and about, and my mind began to wonder about the stories of the people I saw. What brought that disheveled man walking under and overpass? Why was there young man standing in the courtyard of an obviously abandoned building? Why were the buildings abandoned anyway? When had they been built? How long had they been slowly falling apart? The world is full of stories I’ll never be able to know. I didn’t need to know them, but it was pleasant to let my thoughts wander across them as the train carried me home.

My train friend and I had both lived in Utah for a very long time, so we talked about the quirks of what we saw. We speculated on the history of things and how they are shaped by local culture. She had written several historical non-fiction books and it was fascinating to hear about them. One thing did make me sad. Along the tracks where many lots which had obviously become dumping grounds for things that were no longer of use. It forced me to think how wasteful humans are, and how we need to do a better job of cleaning up after ourselves even when it takes extra effort and expense. Surely we can thing of something more useful to do with old cars than leave them parked in a field to rust.

It was dark when I exited the train. Howard was waiting for me, which might have been the best part of the day. On the short drive to our house, he told me about his day and I told him about mine. It was so good for me to get out of my house and see new things, think new thoughts, meet new people. I spend so much time contained by my usual locations and habits. Next week is Salt Lake Comic Con, where Howard and I will both participate. I may take the train to get there for at least some of the days.

1 comment to Taking the Train to the Writing for Charity conference

  • I love FrontRunner SO much. I’ve thought the same things you’ve posted here: there’s something much more peaceful about riding the train than driving. I’ve gotten very used to being the person who is driving whenever I go somewhere. Occasionally, I’ll ride in my roommate’s car, but for some reason, whenever I do that, I get carsick. (Not a problem when I’m the one driving.) On the train, I have the ability to relax that doesn’t come when I drive myself, but I don’t get motion sickness on the train. The more open environment of the train car, plus the ability to stand up and walk around, should the need arise (I don’t need to ACTUALLY stand up—just having the option suffices) helps to mitigate the problem. Not having to pay attention to the road and get stressed out by other drivers makes for a much more peaceful trip, and I’m allowed a lot of time for introspection.

    I’ve said for a while now that I would love to take a cross-country trip on a train, lasting several days, where I do nothing but enjoy the trip and write. 🙂