When given the chance, I would argue that the greatest movie about amateur authors and movie vehicles is the 1987 classic Throw Momma From the Train starring Billy Crystal, Danny DeVito, and Anne Ramsey (as Momma). It’s not only hilarious, continuously quotable, but nails the pain that a writer can go through when they can’t write … I mean, is the night hot, is it cold, is it wet or is it dry … or is the Night Sultry.
With that introduction, hello from the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner. As in, I am literally writing this blog while sitting on a train called the Pacific Surfliner northbound from San Diego to Los Angeles (and continuing on to San Luis Obispo). While it is slightly random that I am writing this blog today, the intent isn’t random, and the outcome is what it’s all about.
As mentioned in a previous blog post, I am in the midst of another attempt at NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, an opportunity for thirty days to make writing a priority. Previously, I sued this activity to actually try to write a novel, but this year it is just about the writing process and to reignite the love I have for creative writing in general. The visible goal is to reach fifty thousand words in the month of November. My choice to embrace all things creative this year includes this blog, as well as a mess of short stories and edits. During NaNoWriMo, there are events set up to help encourage the process. Most of which, called write-ins, give writers a place to meet, maybe chat about what they do, but mostly to sit in a quiet place and crank out words.
Today’s Write-in offered up was essentially one in three parts. The second performed in conjunction with a San Diego NaNoWriMo group (who didn’t show up), and it’s bookends happening on the Pacific Surfliner. In other words, I took a train to San Diego to write for a little bit then rode back all on the same day.
Besides the functionality of the idea, it is a pretty cool way to spend a day. For those of us committed to NaNoWriMo, we would need significant time on a late November Saturday to make it happen. In theory, this was a perfect way to set ourselves up a good way to get things done. The train from LA to San Diego takes about three hours, and with about a three-hour layover, it meant that we could be only somewhat productive and kill it in this program.
In all honesty, I wasn’t productive. Our train was late, but that really wasn’t an excuse. The real problem was that it was sensory overload. Of course, I’ve ridden a train before, just not here in Southern California. Heck, much of the route was old news to me too, just not from the train. It was amazing to see things like Angel Stadium in Anaheim, or the towers in downtown Irvine, or the dirigible hangers in Tustin; but from this angle and this direction, it was interesting, all of it.
Then the train hit the coast. To say the train goes along the coast is pretty on the nose. For long stretches, the only thing between the train and the ocean is beach sand and short bits of it. If we weren’t moving at a fast rate, you would see the look of fear on the surfers. Southbound, during the late morning and early afternoon, swimmers and sunbathers were enjoying the seventy-degree weather. Northbound out of San Diego, it was the photographers capturing the sunset just out of San Diego, and then the early indications of folks making a camp on the beach.
We told stories about Throw Momma from the Train today, because of its applicability. Quoting it too. “Owen doesn’t need friends he has his momma.” or “I’m going to kill the B, you want something?” “Could you get me a Chunky.” or just “OWEN”. Yet in my head, the thing that keeps sticking there is the look of Larry (Billy Crystal) and he is crashing near the end of patience close to the end of the movie, hovering over a typewriter frustrated that no amount of craziness is going to let him find that part to be productive. Then it comes.,
Needless to say, I wasn’t productive, but I didn’t care. I sat back and watched the world go by from the top of a double-decker train car. The color of the sky changing, the gentle rock of the path mesmerizing, and the challenges of my life put on hold for a few hours. I am not so rough of shape with NaNoWriMo that I need be frustrated by a less productive day, quite the opposite. I needed this. More than anything, I needed this day.
Besides, I have six days left to go.