However, I’m applying for a new kind of writer’s residency, and this describes it to the letter! In case you aren’t familiar with writing residency programs, they mostly require a couple of things: a product, staying put for a week or more, and some kind of interview/ reading/ public event. This one? Not so much.
It’s courtesy of Amtrak. Yup: that Amtrak, the one with rails. I saw the article first on The Wire, in a piece by Ben Cosman about two writers who were offered writing residences…on Amtrak trips! How coooool is that?
Please understand: I have adored trains since I was a small child, listening to the trains calling outside the window of my grandmother’s north Tulsa guest bedroom. I would lay awake in the small twin bed where I ‘slept over,’ and imagine myself on a train, going almost anywhere.
Later, I would read any book I could get that was set on a train. And when, at the age of 16, my father decided our family would travel, via train, over Thanksgiving break from Bangkok (where we lived) to Singapore, I was about as thankful as I can remember being on any Thanksgiving ever. It was glorious.
After I met my husband, we traveled through Europe, caught trains for the day to have lunch in another country, took trains whenever and wherever we could. And when my sons were small, we took trains from LA to San Diego to see the whales. And from Vancouver, B.C. north, just because.
I’ve ridden Amtrak from San Diego to Seattle, and written the whole way. Something there is, to misquote Frost, that loves a train. Writers certainly do. My husband and I have taken the train from LA to Portland, and I sat in our sleeper car just writing. For an entire day, hardly stopping to eat.
A few years ago, my younger son & I took the Amtrak Starlight Coast route the other way, from Portland — where he lives — down to LA, where his aunt lives. For hours I sat in the observation lounge, looking out over the landscape as it shape-shifted through the window. Noah read a graphic novel on his computer, and I wrote tanka, a blog post, poetry, and just jotted notes in my journal.
I’m as happy for writers as I’ve been in years, knowing that some of them will have the opportunity to make the visceral connection between smooth sway of rails and flow of words on page or screen. The enforced quiet, the overheard conversations of strangers, even the regional food & wine served in the first-class dining car… All are food for the writer’s imagination, freeing us from everyday routine.
Denise Levertov once said that in certain ways writing is a form of prayer. For someone trying, always, to teach her beginner’s heart not to leap to conclusions, not to rant, but to encourage and affirm, writing is certainly a spiritual practice. At least for me. Even the lists I bullet-point in my journal — what to pack, the weather forecast, what to see & do — for my trip tomorrow to VA to see my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson are freighted with my anticipation, my gratitude that I’m able to make this trip.
Unfortunately, it won’t be by train, since Amtrak doesn’t come in to Tulsa (yet!). But I’m hopeful that another train trip is in my future. And I guarantee that I’ll be writing for most of it, whenever that is.