NaBloPoMo 2016 – Day 16 (Tired, yet good)

Off and on during parts of the day, I would ask myself, “what do I want to write about when I get home?” In the auditorium after being talked at and shown PowerPoint slides with long blocks of text. When I felt fatigued and my irritation growing with the pain in my feet on the way back from lunch. At 4:30 when I literally had nothing else to say because I’m not an expert like the people I was with in the room.

Afterwards, I got back to Union Station and sat down in my seat, I thought, “when you get off, ask the conductor if they use Kawasaki trainsets on the Camden Line.” Then, I wondered what I’d write about.

I never decided what I felt like saying.

I did, however, pose my question to the conductor. After I climbed down the steps, I stood near him and waited, the other passengers filing around me to cross the tracks towards the parking lot.

The answer, once everyone else had disembarked: only sometimes, he said, readying to command the train towards Camden Station. The Kawasaki trainsets are used almost exclusively on the Penn Line. The Camden and Brunswick lines use the newer MARC IV Bombardier sets. I wish I had more reason to be on the train and ask railfan questions to the conductors. I wonder why I never did it more often in New Jersey.

This morning, I finally got a ride on a Kawasaki 7000-series Metro train. Much cleaner. Video screens showed news, like PATH trains. Digital message signs displayed the next and future stops like newer cars on the NYC Subway. Everything a subway car should be in 2016, even if they’re lacking the charm of 70’s chic, which some folks still like.

I didn’t get home until 8. And I have to be in bed already for tomorrow. But I got to write about trains before I went to sleep. It was a good day.

Tomorrow, I’ll be on the Penn Line. Maybe I’ll get a Kawasaki set. Tomorrow will be a good day, too.

NaBloPoMo 2016 – Day 15 (The Old, the New, the Familiar)

I was back in D.C. For my job. The details of that aren’t of the greatest importance. Conference at a government building. Lots of exuberant participants. Surrounded by them in an auditorium, classroom style meeting space, a meeting space that looks more like a foyer. Somewhere you could stage skits, but not a play. Horrible acoustics. Then again, it wasn’t built like that.

My aunt reminded me, in response to the unexpected amount of fatigue I felt when I got home, that the last time I’d run around, commuting to D.C. and worked a full day there, I was 24. Fifteen years ago. No wonder I was bone tired.

It did all come back to me.

Passing Ivy City Shops, where Amtrak stores and repairs their trains. The station a little up the line at Laurel Race Course, the one place I remembered from my first time on the Camden Line. I was coming home from my first day at work at my very first internship in D.C. One of my high school friends had invited me to an O’s game and I hopped on the train after work. A freight train passed us at high speed and shook the train so much I thought it might tip over onto the platform.

The hard right after you walk down the platform at Union Station. It takes you straight into Metro. It can get clogged with commuters, so you instead make the right at Sbarro and the left at what’s now a clothing store, but used to be a bookstore, and down the escalator. Fewer people take that way. Easier to get down to the mezzanine and buy a Metrocard. Or reload your SmartTrip.

Red Line trains still oppressively crowded. The surprise at being able to get into the first train that comes. Having to usher someone into the train before me because I was only going one stop and I needed to be right near the door.

Masters of the Universe types eating lunch on Pennsylvania Avenue, the wonder at what they might be doing in their offices or in their cars. Maybe they’re like Raymond Reddington, running a worldwide operation, seemingly always from a moving vehicle. Sleeping in their suits or pants suits.

Protests. This time, school kids marching down Pennsylvania Ave, to register their own disdain for its soon-to-become landlord.

Still, there was room for surprise, discovery.

NoMa/Galludet Station really close to Union Station, closer than I thought. It’s almost like you could walk it, just like the short tunnel between Gallery Place and Metro Center. You can stand in one and look down the tunnel into the other. If not for the connections to other lines, they shouldn’t be spaced that way, I figure.

The new parking garage at Savage. It didn’t look like a bus stop this time. Perhaps a bus stop with a large parking garage, but still an improvement.

And yet, the thing that grabs and holds is this: Bombardier multilevel rail cars.

When I climbed aboard, it was like Jersey. I’ve lost track of the number of miles I’ve logged going to New York, Secaucus Junction, the occasional disembarking in Newark for the PATH. That equipment had become as familiar to me in some ways as the seat of my car. And more welcoming as I could sleep in them.

It was like a small reminder of one of the things I’ve missed. An echo from the part of me that feels as home there as the place where I grew up. From that space inside that misses the feeling of connection and awe from going into New York for an acting class, a writing workshop. To the burrito shop in the Village. Watching trains race by Hamilton.

The train back was Bombardier. The Penn Line train on the next track over was made up of the old Kawasaki bilevel cars that were being rolled out when I was commuting daily into the District.

I slept, as I had so many times on New Jersey Transit and MARC before then.

I’ve thought so much about home lately and what and where it is. I haven’t concluded anything yet. And maybe the whole point is to always be learning and creating and growing it. These glimpses of the joy up the line tell me I haven’t lost what I was trying to build there. Those dreams are still alive, waiting for me to get my ticket and come back. That’s comforting.

NaBloPoMo 2016 – Day 2 (Blunt Force Politics)

I get it. The media is selling us an election as much as they’re covering one. It’s not as much that they’re putting time and energy into covering something in the public interest as they’re engaged in a race and a fight themselves for eyeballs and advertisers. That’s the news game and between the uncertainty of print and online, I get the push to make the most money, the quality of the information being disseminated — not always the most important consideration. It’s feed for the growing fetishization of politics in America.

Perhaps if the majority of information I see coming at me were about policy as much as pussy and who’s saying it and who’s grabbing it; if it were as much about ideas as ideology and not the same staid politics and talking points, it might not be as loathsome. It might not feel like I’m being constantly beaten over the head with the same talking points over and over.

My mentor emailed me the other day talking about the election and his thought that Trump might win. I replied because I’ve always enjoyed talking about a wide range of subjects with him, including politics, but a wave of gladness and gratitude washed over me when, after a while, it came to me he probably wasn’t going to reply about it. I’m just tired of it all. I was tired months ago when he’d come to my desk to offer his latest prognostication.

Next Tuesday can’t come soon enough. At least then, the commercials will be gone, even if the fallout from the election will be just starting, whatever form it takes. My mentor and I can get back to mostly discussing ideas, which are far more satisfying.

I’m looking forward to local elections, specifically the mayoral election in Baltimore. Sheila Dixon, still convinced she does or will have a mandate, regardless of the outcome of the Democratic primary, is mounting a write-in campaign against Catherine Pugh (D), Joshua Harris (G), and Alan Walden (R). (I saw a huge setup for her over at Northern Parkway and Park Heights).

The next Mayor will be the first to deal with the long-term ramifications of Freddie Gray, the loss of the Red Line, and the acceptance of the Port Covington TIF, among many other issues facing the City. I know personality will enter into the election, but ultimately, the choices that we have aren’t being tainted and tarred by scandals and soundbites, but solely about which direction the City should move in. But here at the local level, there’s no large scale advertising to be sold, no race to the bottom for TV ratings. It’s truly a relief.

NaBloPoMo 2016 – Day 1 (Hopefully, this will be different)

Doing NaNoWriMo again. Taking the rebel path, writing essays instead of a novel or memoir other long-form narrative. Some folks are writing poems just like the PAD contest over at Writers Digest. I think I even saw some folks planning on writing plays this month. I should do that, but I’m committed to this idea of writing a book. Perhaps next month.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve started, but I’ve completed the novel once. That year, I “blogged” the novel by posting it piece by piece on my then-website. Since I didn’t give much thought about whether I was participating until about 9:30 last night, I haven’t thought about whether I’d post the book-in-progress here.

Doing NaBloPoMo, too, which is why this post is showing up when I also need to be average 1,666 words per day to finish the “main” project. I figured, if anything, that I owed a blog post per day, I’d have to sit down and make sure I wrote enough words to reach 50,000 by the end of the month for the “main” project.

This year, I have a huge advantage that I didn’t have in previous years — I have a desk. An honest-to-God desk where I do nothing but writing. In previous years, I’d fire up my laptop at 12:00 A.M. and get to it. But I’d be sitting at the dining room table or on the sofa with my laptop on my lap desk.

I once read there’s some psychological advantage to having a dedicated writing space. That when you’re in your dining room, your mind goes into the space of it being time to eat. That when you’re sitting on your sofa, your mind gets ready to relax. Maybe it’s true and maybe it’s not, but I do know that for me, it was hard to be productive sitting on the sofa. The dining room table wasn’t comfortable aside from writing my morning pages.

Now that I have a dedicated desk and a comfortable office chair, I don’t have environment as an excuse to not make a go of NaNoWriMo and complete. I want to win this year. And even if I don’t finish a complete, more or less, unified work, I’ll have much material to send out to places. Having fewer and fewer excuses is a good thing. And if there’s anything I want to change from my previous attempts, it’s that. I don’t want excuses and other BS to stop me from making what will hopefully be, some big gains this November.

I did start last night, but not at 12:00. I started around 12:25, when I felt like I’d have enough energy to write at least half of the words I needed for the day. And after I got done watching a bunch of YouTube videos.

I got there by 1:45. I’m going to write the last 800 or so, in an essay I’m liking so far, in the next couple of hours after I write this.

One day almost down.

(Update: 2418 words)

NaBloPoMo – Day 26

Day 26

If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving today (or even if you’re not!), tell us about the best cook in your family.

I might be the best cook in my family.  Through folks passing away, my increasing my skills, and my aunt (my mother’s sister) not cooking any these days, I might be.  The same way some team will win the NFC East this season and get to the playoffs, it might be me.

Best thing I make is mac and cheese, which is ironic because I’m lactose intolerant.  I can hardly stand to eat the best thing I cook.  I take Lactaid, but it’s not always effective, so I make the mac and watch it be eaten.

The key to a great mac and cheese is the bechamel. I will not say how I make mine or what I put in it, but when your bechamel is on point, you’re in there.

I’m hoping to one day equal my aunt’s mac and cheese, which is still the best I’ve ever had.  At Thanksgiving, Christmas, any time she made mac and cheese, that was always the main event.  Those holidays were the best.  My mom made turkey or chicken most years.  Some of those earlier years, auntie would make ham steak, which when I ate pork, was a treat.  My aunt would make the mac and cheese, my aunt the mashed potatoes and/or potato salad.

I couldn’t believe it when my aunt told me her mac and cheese secret ingredient.  I’m still tweaking mine to be as good.  My aunt has also shared the potato salad recipe with me, but I haven’t attempted it.  She and my mother made it the exact same way and it was so good, I’ve only had potato salad as good as theirs only once before.  I don’t want to disappoint myself.

My older cousins and my great aunt had their recipe, which was, I’d say about 90% exactly like my mom and aunt’s recipe, but not exactly there.  Unfortunately, one or two times when they made theirs, I did tell them it wasn’t as good as my mother’s and aunt’s, which led to hurt feelings.  I apologize.

One of my younger cousins puts it down in the kitchen, she says.  I’ve already challenged her to a cook off.  We’ll see if she accepts.  If she accepts, we’ll get some impartial judges to try it and see and if she wins, she can be considered the best.

I’ll demand a rematch though.

NaBloPoMo – Day 25

Day 25

Do you think it’s better to be a recognized expert for one thing, or known to be really good at lots of things?

In the regular business world, it’s probably better to be known as an expert with a specific niche: you’re the motivation person, the management person, the software design person, whatever.  You get yourself recognized, people pay you for your expertise, you deliver it, everybody’s happy.  That becomes who you are.  At least until or unless you decide to make that u-turn and go do something else.  Then you start building your next identity.

In the arts, you can get known as an expert at one thing or good at several things.  If you’re going to go the latter route, people say you should first get known for, I guess, your main thing.  Playwriting, painting, collage, acting, singing, whatever.  And then if you have interest, passion, purpose, or talent, or whatever, branch off to the next thing.

The difference between the arts world and the business world is there is usually more leeway for you to jump and play around in the arts world.  In the business world, they’ll pidgeonhole you.  In the arts world, the bottom line is to share the work and make yourself known because you can be known as more than one thing.


NaBloPoMo – Day 24

Day 24

Who is an expert you admire and why?

When you’re into writing, literature, theatre, and acting, there are so many to choose from, if you’re really studying your craft.

Just from people still living, I admire Dinty W. Moore, essayist.  He’s written my favorite books on creative nonfiction.  His way of explaining the genre has resonated with me the most.


On the poetry front, E. Ethelbert Miller and Afaa Michael Weaver are my favorites.  I like Ethelbert’s work because of its accessibility.  It’s not the overly complicated, dense sort of poetry championed more in some circles.  It seems like he’s trying to communicate something and not hide it.  His poem “Nasrin” is my favorite poem, ever.

I might be biased towards Afaa Weaver because he’s from wherE I’m from, but I also love how he blends the sensibilities he grew up with in Baltimore with the wisdom and experience he’s gained in China and from immersing himself in Chinese culture.

For drama, I think Lynn Nottage is the best around right now, specifically because of “Ruined.”  I don’t normally read anything cover to cover in a sitting, but when I read “Ruined,” I couldn’t stop.  Everything about it was amazing: characters, setting, theme, everything.  It has to be one of the top plays last decade and since 2000.

Actors* (I’ll just list a few favorites):

Viola Davis and Meryl Streep: They’re my 1a and 1b.  Actually, they could fill the first several spots by themselves.  They’re achieving transcendence.  They’re that good.  Go watch “Doubt.”  Immediately.

Chiwetel Ejiofor: Go watch “Tsunami: The Aftermath.”  He and Sophie Okonedo won Golden Globes for this.  They will break your heart in this.  When she grabs the child to pass off as the one she lost and he tries to stop her, that is one of the best scenes I’ve ever witnessed in anything.  The pathos is so deep.

Al Pacino: Yeah, “The Godfather” and “Scarface.”  But really, for “Angels in America” and “Dog Day Afternoon.”