I think I should set up an office in a train.
I can have a seemingly perfect setup at home: a desk, a bottomless cup of hot coffee, headphones, a blanket… and I’ll still sit in front of the screen, the cursor blinking at me, taunting me. So I distract myself with something else–one of my myriad of freelance jobs or a webcomic or messing around in the kitchen for awhile–and my characters stay in suspended animation in their unsaved wod document, waiting, waiting, waiting for me to get back to them.
But be it a half-empty subway car, the New Jersey transit train that takes me from Penn Station to Princeton, the LIRR that I ride home from the Hamptons, the RER C that I used to take out to Breuillet on the weekends, or the five-hour train ride that I so love—the one that takes me from north to south, from my beloved Paris to my beloved Cannes–the second I set foot on a train—any train—I’m scrambling for a pen and a notebook or the inside cover of a paperback or a crumpled receipt (or even my arm, as some of you may remember all too well) to jot down sentences and half-baked thoughts that I’ll come back to later, when I have time to think. When my hand has time to catch up to my racing brain.
I notice when I reread what I’ve written that the ideas I was sure about–the ones I had already been chewing in the back of my mind–are clear and sure. The things I don’t know about yet, the word vomit that spills so fast that I can hardly get my hand to write fast enough before the words are gone, that writing is riddled with errors, barely legible. I hope I can read it, when I finally sit down at sunrise and decode purple scribbles on the lined pages, crawling from within, their prison like vines on an iron gate. This is what I write when I’m on the train.
It’s not just stories–it actually hardly ever is. Most of the thoughts I write on the train are detached from any other reality. Sometimes they’re phrases, descriptions of things I never realized I’d thought of before. Sometimes they’re characters–someone who doesn’t yet have a place in any of the worlds I’ve created, but who, someday, may integrate themselves somewhere. Whatever it is, it’s not until I bring it home that I realize what I intended.
Trains are also where I do some of my best thinking: this cake, for example, was envisioned on board a train, when I was trying to decide what to make for a lactose intolerant friend. I scribbled a bunch of things in the margins of the recipe I’d printed, and by the time I’d arrived home, it was easy as pie. Or cake, as the case may be.
Lime-Raspberry Quickbread (adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 1/4 cup plain soy yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs
2 tsp grated key lime zest
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup raspberry jam, heated with a bit of water until pourable
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium sized bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lime zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold the vegetable oil into the batter.
Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Spread raspberry jam evenly over the batter. Add the remaining batter on top of the raspberry jam.
Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lime juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.
When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in.