The One on the Train

I moved there to grow as a writer. But New York City isn’t any sort of place worth staying too long. In my three years of being there I was never quite myself yet also never quite a New Yorker. Queens, however, where I lived with my partner, is a mostly kind and forgiving place. So home felt like it well enough, however oddly shaped and unnecessarily expensive. 

As there were no jobs for me in Queens, living there meant spending a lot of time on the train, where the strangeness of humanity and its simultaneously distant and hostile relation to itself shows up more times than not. The compulsion to ignore the whole of it, engrossed in headphone music or a book, is mostly the feeling in the air. As most any confrontation witnessed on public transportation is rarely a good thing, the journey from here to there relies heavily on what you’re listening to or reading. Anyone who was not passively staring at their phone, I could immediately see were my people. The graceful antiquity of the written word combined with the lush 21st Century reality of collections of nearly infinite digital material, presented a freedom that collided with the overarching appreciation for it all. These were people who loved their art out loud. And they were somehow everywhere.

It was with this spirit that, within the first couple months of my living in the city, I got a job at Strand Bookstore, an iconic bastion of popular culture, art and literature. I would soon learn that the lives of those who have been granted a chance to work there, surrounded by the past and present of literary creation (along with what sometimes seems like every sort of person on the planet), exist to serve those numerous patrons of what they professionally appreciate. Among these coworkers, my lifelong obsession with reading, watching, and listening to anything and everything was finally reinforced. Yet they, like me, were also makers, writers who drew upon the entire history of literature, music, and film to fuel their work. A history that was surely then combining with the startling reality of the world in 2017, at once a simpler time than now, while still a fresh and open wound of Trump’s america poised to destroy itself, warbling on the edge of total insanity, the threat of the Bomb and camps at the borders all a stark scene for people who mostly can’t do much about it. 

I found, oddly, that after a year at Strand I was barely reading anymore. Writing even less. So I decided that I could no longer waste time stagnating, working retail. Not when there was so much to be said. So I began saying it more, writing it down, and singing with a bit more intent. Yet I could sense that I needed structure. I needed practice. I needed guidance. I needed school. And what was more, I wanted it.

By the time I would attend Laguardia Community College in the spring semester of 2019, a much shorter train ride from our apartment took me to finally study literature seriously and hone a raw ability to put words to paper. As I came to spend time not just professionally appreciating, but with a newfound consideration for what and how to create, my words began to morph into something I could better understand. Writing under direction, guided by different, older, more professional professional appreciators, gave me confidence and my work began to strengthen and crystalize.

I understood early in life that art in its popular form can be a formal revolt, a long-sighted look to the histories of authorship and how ideas can be formed to describe universalities with wisdom and wit as guiding hands. I have watched and studied many of the great ones in many forms of entertainment with as much care as I have read for classes, and produced opinions and arguments about them with just as much dedication as I have devised my academic rhetoric. At Laguardia, I began to harness this ragged interest in form and beauty and began to practice writing–not just producing a piece, but editing it and finalizing a product deserving of a mind or minds to ponder and decide it was worth the effort.

After graduation and with my partner’s acceptance into an MFA program in Rhode Island, we moved to Worcester, Massachusetts at the height of the pandemic, Summer 2020. I was to attend UMass online that year to finish a Bachelor’s and lived like all of us through another kind of odd reality: the beginning of the end of Trump, but a life consolidated and confused. In all the complexities of a life further lived, I was no longer thinking of a college degree and a job in the future, but a present of productivity, of pruning my words and music and making work that spoke beyond my internal struggle, using it to show myself and whoever would listen that there are things to be known if you try your best to know them. Professional appreciators stocking shelves and selling books, immersed in a culture that is dependent on each one of us looking around the train and then back to whatever we’re using to pass the time, can be enough for a while…I think, on some level, it is the underlying purpose of a life of learning. To gather worlds and think through them while keeping in mind the complexities of a conscious existence. I have always wanted in equal doses to be the one on the dance floor and the one playing the music; the one reading on the train and the one being read.

So though there hasn’t been one thing or another to tip my hat to in thanks, there have been a thousand small occurrences which have led me to a presumptive graduation at the end of this term and a growing body of work still maturing. From finding someone a book whose title I only sometimes recognized, to reading authors who would remind me of greatness, to lectures and discourse in the spirit of a divine intellectual pursuit, I have begun to make the work that will one day define me. What I have learned being back at school is to further expand the possibilities of what is taken in, what should influence a voice still being formed. That the work most warranting appreciation lies within lived histories and that even to think about and to analyze a piece of writing isn’t quite enough. One must revere and covet the innermost workings of the great ones, their ability to create something vast and eternal. One must mind the eyes around the train and use all that pulsing life to perceive a reason for it all and craft something important to at least yourself; to know what you already know, get reminded of something you may have wondered about, or be introduced to something else entirely. In the end I mostly try to do just that. And want nothing more than to add my voice to the canon. To be that element for someone somewhere, perhaps on a train, reading or listening closely.