Typing on a laptop

Typing on a laptop Credit: PHOTOS.COM

Perhaps there are a lot of unkind things to say about the Long Island Rail Road -- and over a decade of commuting, I've probably said them all -- but I have to admit that for me, the railroad has also been among the most productive work spaces I've ever known.

I'm a writer with a day job, so I commute into the city every weekday from Long Beach. My journey often starts before dawn, waiting for the local bus to pick me up at the entrance to the beach, which is across the street from where I live.

Overhead, the constellation Orion and the stars that form his hunting dogs are still in the sky. Sometimes, for company, I also have the discarded exoskeleton of some sea creature that a gull or fisherman has dropped on the ground nearby.

Since Long Beach is the beginning and the end of that particular railroad line, I'm always able to settle myself into the same seat in the back of the car and turn on my laptop. By then, the night sky is usually breaking up into dark blue clouds that drift apart like puzzle pieces. The moon leaves the stage and soon the sun pops into place.

The dramatic sky, the breaking dawn, the rhythm of the train: These are wonderful elements that put me in the mindset to write. I don't believe in waiting for "inspiration," because if you do, you're more likely to procrastinate than to work (at least I am, though I will admit that I sometimes give myself a jump-start by referring to what I think of as "found words" or interesting phrases that I've heard or read somewhere and jotted down in a notebook).

Over the years, I've learned to put myself to work at the same time every day, in the same place -- on my 55-minute train ride into the city. There's something both spiritual and satisfying about doing that work at the intersection of night and morning, on a commuter train.

I've written three books on the Long Island Rail Road: two volumes of poetry and now a novel. The latter, "Janet Planet," is based on the life of the late Carlos Castaneda, a psychedelic-era guru.

Castaneda seemed to think he was a sorcerer, and while I was working on the book, I often had the feeling that he might have engineered a little magic from wherever he's hanging around now and taken a seat a few rows down from me so he could peek at what I was writing.


I know I'm not the only secret writer on the train. I've peeked, too, and seen people writing poetry and fiction on their laptops. You can tell when people are working on fiction, as opposed to something like a report about how many widgets their company sold, if you see a lot of indented sentences with quote marks around them. That's dialogue, and someone is writing a story or a play.

I've also seen people designing fabric patterns and creating art on their laptops. But mostly -- because I'm looking at fellow commuters to see who else is using the railroad as a literary workshop -- I see writers.

So this short essay is a way of waving to them all, of saying hello, hello, and keep up the good work. Delays and all, as long as the LIRR keeps chugging along, we've got a great place to write.

Reader Eleanor Lerman lives in Long Beach. Her website is eleanorlerman.com