Writing on the train

There has been a minor stooshie this week relating to the musical Hamilton, which is currently playing on the Broadway in New York. One performance saw the Vice President-elect of the United States, Mike Pence, turn up and be booed by the audience. He was also, wonderfully, addressed from the stage during the curtain call about the threats to diversity and, well, pretty much everyone and everything by a Trump presidency.

Hamilton was created by someone called Lin-Manuel Miranda. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of him until quite recently though I gather he had performed up a storm at either the Grammys or the Tonys ceremony earlier in the year. He was interviewed in the Observer this past weekend and the end of the article focused on how his life has not changed greatly because of his fame and good fortune.

‘Of the financial windfall, Miranda downplays it. “I bought myself time to write,” he says. Miranda still lives near his old neighbourhood, he still hangs out with the same high school and college crew, he still takes the subway. “I’ve written too much good shit on the train to not be able to take it,” he says.’

Now, that’s my kind of writer. I have filled just shy of 200 posts on this blog with tales of travelling up and down this great land and a fair whack of them were written on the hoof, either from my phone or scribbled into a notebook. My short-term memory isn’t wonderful so I prefer to get as many of my impressions down as quickly as I can before I forget. I do try to make what I write as good as it can be, amazingly, and details are key to making that happen. I have memories of at least two day trips this year when I sat on the train coasting northwards writing the accompanying blog post. The words often just flow and I get quite a buzz from reliving the day like that as I put it all down on paper.

I find it hard to force myself to sit on my arse and work, either to write or study. Over the years, however, I have found that I concentrate quite well on the move and therefore a lot of my OU career progress has happened on buses and trains, with a tablet in one hand and the fingers of the other scrolling from page to page. The OU publishes most of its course materials in PDF format so they are exceedingly portable and I can combine travelling, which I love, with studying, which is very important to my future plans and self-worth.

The 200th post on this blog will appear soon – this is post 196. It features a quote I saw on a wall in Leith earlier this year, which reads ‘The things I love are not at home’. I can concentrate to write at home but not so much to study or to write in a more creative way. It’s almost as if I need distractions to get the job done, to have the added layers of what’s passing by and the fellow passengers and their foibles to go along with whatever I am trying to do. Lin-Manuel Miranda said that he had ‘written too much good shit on the train to not be able to take it’. Apparently to concentrate properly, to adequately function and meet my obligations, to do what I love and enjoy, I need to sit on trains and buses.

It’s always been more than just going to the place for me. I like travelling because of the journey, sometimes more than reaching the destination. I wrote before about bus philosophy, the wider, wilder thoughts some folks have sitting staring out of the window on buses. I think best with some distance, either looking far off as by the sea or with physical separation from my life’s normal happenings. Of course I can’t spend all day, every day on buses: I have to earn the money to do that and it doesn’t come from sitting writing and thinking grand thoughts, not right now anyway. But it gives me perspective and luckily, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, quite a few good ideas have come while I have been travelling and even while it isn’t quite orthodox as a working model, it works for me.

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