Since moving to New Haven, I have become one of the faceless masses on the public transport system. For those of you who have only ever commuted by car (or vice versa), let me describe the differences to you (at least, for introverted me).
In the Car
I come from a long line of mechanics, racers, and car enthusiasts. As much as I love to say I’m helping the environment by taking the train, the truth is: I’m saving the mileage on my 16-year-old baby. (But two birds, right?)
In the car, it’s you and the machine versus the other anonymous automobiles. While you have to jostle for position on the interstate, you get to enjoy your isolated, little bubble, filled with your music or audiobooks, or delicious silence. No one sits next to you uninvited. No one’s obnoxious phone conversations intrude. No strange bodily odors invade (and if they do, that’s on you).
On the Train
Your hands are free and the stress of traffic is but a distant memory. If you can snag a seat or a pole to hang on to, the ride is relatively smooth. When listening to music, daydreaming out the window, or reading, the time flies. But…you have to deal with the people. The flirty train conductor. The fast-talking business man. The snoring college student.
While prolonged, close contact with strangers isn’t my favorite experience, I’ve learned to deal. But there’s one aspect of ‘train culture’ that continues to get under my skin. It’s an attitude most Americans (and I daresay, most people) share, but I’ve never felt it quite as strongly as when I am immersed in a crowd of disgruntled souls.
It’s like ‘the Mondays,’ only everyday.
People on the train are freaking miserable. While talking on their phones, they complain to their loved ones about their jobs. While waiting for the doors to open, they grumble with fellow commuters. While getting their tickets stamp, they bemoan another day at the office.
And I sit there, with my computer on my lap, and I grow smug. After all, I’m going to escape the day job grind – one day – and until then, I actually enjoy my job. But the smugness never lasts. It is quickly replaced by empathy. Not everyone has the shiny dream of entrepreneurship to keep them going. Some people have failed in their goals and given up. Others never dare to imagine a more fulfilling career for themselves. I had those days, too.
The happiest people on the train? From their wide, absorbed eyes and the faint smiles playing on their lips, my guess is the readers. And I know, I’m one. Books make the commute fly by. They provide temporary relief from stress (seriously – science backs this up), and offer an escape from our reality.
As women’s fiction author Fia Essen said in her review of The Cogsmith’s Daughter:
“Fiction, at its best, should take you away from your own reality. It should make you forget about your daily grind. It should keep you thinking about it, making you want to go back for more, as you stand in line at the supermarket, bank, or the post office.”
Or on the train. Knowing that I could offer Fia a temporary retreat, even for a few hours, is one of my proudest accomplishments as an author. And I hope I can do that with my life.
But it’s selfish, too.
My books don’t just provide my readers with escape. They allow me to escape, too. How can I possibly worry about the catalog spreads I have to crank out when I’ve got to help Aya avoid King Archon’s clutches? Or Dellwyn chase down a mysterious stalker?
Whether writing or reading, books are magic. In a single page, they allow us to fall in love, solve a murder, or swim in the ocean. They are movies playing out in our minds, and while the words we read are all the same, the images and emotions they conjure are completely our own.
If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.
The catch? As wonderful as books are, they are only ever a temporary escape. I’ll say to you what my introverted personality would never let me say to the strangers on the train – reading is great, happiness is better, and together they are sublime.
Figure out your passion. Write down goals that will fulfill you. Then work your ass off until you meet them.
It may take days. It may take years. It may never happen. But take it from someone who is there every morning…
Working for your dreams is a thousand times more fulfilling than giving up on them.
And achieving them? Well, I’ll let you know.
What books have rescued you from the daily grind? What dreams are you working toward? Share below!