There are few things as frustrating in this life as an idea that just won’t come. You sit there as if frozen in time, pen hovering over that blank page that refuses to be blotted out. The Muse is on holiday, if it ever existed. The inspiration’s gone. It’s just you and that page, locked into battle.
I counted each blue line on the blank page, tapped my pen to each intersection of the margin’s red and line’s blue. I drew careful circles around each of the notebook’s three holes, studied the perforation on the page. I was stuck, ladies and gentlemen.
It didn’t help that I was crammed sardinially into the hell that is the American subway train. I was losing feeling in my writing hand, a consequence of my arm being squished against the questionable, faux-wood paneling of the thing. There were loud conversations punctuated with the staccato of exaggerated laughter, a homeless man was sprawled out across several seats, loudly singing the Star-Spangled Banner to no one in particular.
It was pretty hard for me to find a single thing that interested me in the positive sense about the majority of the people I was riding with. The ones whose eyes weren’t robotically glued to shining screens were loudly listening to music, having phone conversations for all to hear, or speaking in the kind of false, superficial tone that made my skin crawl.
And try as I might, not a single idea would come to rescue me from it all. I started counting my breaths. I felt my heart as it beat steadily against my rib cage. I allowed myself to be conscious of the fact that I was sitting in a large piece of metal that was moving through space. I closed my eyes.
When I came back to, I felt like I was ten miles away from myself. My skull had the distinct feeling of limitless space, of being filled to the brim but still going on and on. A million miles in every direction.
There were sixty-seven cents in the right back pocket of the man seated in front of me. Two quarters, one dime, a nickel, and two pennies. The oldest of the coins was the dime, minted in 1972. It had once been in the possession of its current owner’s grandfather, but neither of them did, or ever would, know that. So why did I? It was all weird.
The man sleeping next to me was born in a poverty-stricken rural village in Mexico. He was currently battling a kidney infection, which infection his wife had no clue existed yet. He didn’t want to worry her.
The woman talking loudly on her phone a few seats up suffered from tinnitus, her loud speaking voice the result of her desperate attempts at hearing her own voice over the persistent ringing in her ears. It all dated back to when she was six, when some idiot kid in the neighborhood tossed an M80 at her on the 4th of July, said M80 exploding dangerously close to her ears.
The young woman speaking in the cringe-worthy, false tone was dealing with crippling anxiety, coupled with her severely low self-esteem. She was just considering that today might be the day that she finally ends it all when a classmate came onto the train and struck up a conversation with her. The tone was nothing more than an attempt to feign happiness. If the classmate thought she was happy, maybe she’d be her friend. Maybe the young woman wouldn’t have to end it all today. Maybe not ever.
The homeless man sprawled out on the seats across from me used to be a tenor in a prominent a capella group. After being foreclosed on during the recession and losing his wife to her fight with cancer, what started out as self-medicating with pills turned into a full-blown addiction. In his head, he was out on the field at the ball game all those years ago, harmonizing with his group as they sang the Star-Spangled Banner.
There were two people in this very train car that would one day get married and have a wonderful life together. A marriage that would last more than sixty years and produce four kids. Those two people didn’t know each other at this moment, and they wouldn’t for another five years.
I knew the birth dates, blood types, favorite foods, hopes and dreams of every last person in that train car. I knew their entire genealogic histories, (one among them was a living relative of George Washington) how many children they would have, what they ate for every breakfast of every day of their lives up until this point and beyond.
I blinked rapidly, taking it all in. How or why any of this happened to me, I hadn’t the slightest clue. I looked down at that empty page, at the blankness of it. And then I looked back at the people. At each and every individual one of them. I put my pen to the page and I wrote. Line after line, page after page. I just wrote.