I could live on a train. The constant swaying and creaking and vibrating and ta-tam-ta-tam staccato of the wheels have gotten under my skin. At one stop, when I got out, I missed it and started swinging involuntarily. I'm not kidding.
The first night I slept in fits, waking up at 4 a.m., then at 5:30 a.m., and at 6 a.m. Finally at 7 a.m. I gave up and started staring out the window. Snow. Miles of snow. Flat expanses of ground and rocky screes and then knolls and hills and mountains and flats again. It looked white. It looked dusty. It looked like the middle of nowhere. I learned later that we were passing Montana.
Breakfast livened me up a bit, and I spent it chatting with familiar friends Sylvia and Victor who are getting off tonight at 2 a.m. in Fargo. I don't know how I moved around until I had enough coffee to wake myself up. And then I holed up in my roomette, and opened up my laptop, and got scared.
I always get scared before starting to write a new book. And I always overcome it. But this was different. This wasn't home. This was on the move. This was constant interruptions. The voice over the intercome announcing stations. The lovely train attendant asking what I would like for lunch. The neighbors stopping by to chat. In the end I succumbed to closing the curtains and wearing headphones, blasting Tchaikovsky and staring at the screen.
"Okay, this is it," I thought. And I started writing. It was surprisingly easy. The monotone flatness and austerity of the landscape almost put me into a sort of a trance, together with the soothing lull and the music. It was moody, precisely the way I wanted to feel. You see, I'm writing a novel about a train eating ballerinas, so that requires a certain mood, wouldn't you say?
Someone asked me on Twitter if writing on the train is inspiring or distracting. And I answered, both. I wrote as if I was there, on the train, and I WAS there. I am. It was like describing an immediate sensation. Everywhere I looked, I saw (imagined) clues to future scenes. The perspiration dripping from the metal doors. The face looking in through the window, upside down (brrr, this made my skin erupt in goose pimples), the incoherent static of the intercom while it was supposed to be off but kept transmuting unsettling noises. The gloom of a machine that could be carnivorous was palpable. It might be only specifically applicable to me and to the subject of my book, but I felt it. I FELT IT. And I wrote 2K words in maybe a couple hours or so together with the interruptions and the stops and the lunch and everything in between.
And then I read. You know what pleasure it is to read on the train? It's like trains were made for reading. I swallowed half a book, I think. And I saw sights and elk and burning gas and cabins so remote, I wondered what would happen if the inhabitants contracted cabin fever, and outlandish dales and valleys that seemed to come from some other reality, and you're like a tourist behind the thick glass walls, passing though, gawking.
And even now, typing this, I feel as if I'm in a moving tomb that is alive and rushing me through darkness. The sense of speed permeates my bones. It's different from that in a car. It makes you trace the irregularities of the ground. You're passing through places where there are no roads, no lights, no other signs of life, and at times it appears as though it's not of this planet.
I think I just got a new idea for a new book, writing this. You see what this trip does to me? Yeah. Delirious delicious insomnia.