Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why the Amtrak Writers' Residencies Are So Popular and Why a 6'8" Writer Should be Considered for One

Well, it looks like I am not the only one trying to land a writers' residency on Amtrak.  The recent announcement of this program has been taking the blogosphere by storm.  It has caught the attention of Adam Kirsh at The New Republic who just published a short piece entitled "The Real Reason Writers Love the Amtrak Residency: It's Not Just the Free Train Ticket."

Here is a taste:

The fact that Amtrak's writers’ residencies are not actually journeys to get somewhere, but self-contained round-trips—you don't even have to get off the train at its destination—only enhances their appeal. Creative writing involves a deliberate rejection of practicality: To get into the right mood for writing requires short-circuiting our usual calculations of profit and loss, since there is nothing as gratuitous as a poem or story. Waste, as the poet said, is of the essence of the scheme. On a train, time and place are suspended in the name of a long-term goal, getting from one place to another; take away that goal and you have as close to a zone of pure freedom as you are likely to find anywhere in the twenty-first century.
Perhaps there is a certain charm, too, in the fact that the train is an obsolete mode of transportation, much as literature sometimes suspects that it is an obsolete form of communication. To choose to ride the train when you could fly is analogous to choosing to write a book when you could tweet or text. It means refusing the "best" option our technology has to offer, in the name of an ideal other than speed and efficiency. If this means that literary writing, like Amtrak itself, is commercially a losing proposition, in need of subsidy to keep going, perhaps that is a reason for defiant pride rather than bad conscience. To go slow when you could go fast is to declare that the journey, not the arrival, matters; it is to redeem time instead of killing it.  
Again, I think I am an ideal candidate for this program.  Not only am I writer with a reputation for binge writing, but I am also 6'8".  Most people know that those Amtrak cabins are small and tight, and this may deter from them from taking the train on their next vacation. But if I were able to stay in one of these cabins for several days and even manage to write a chapter or two, it could prove a great PR boon for Amtrak.  The pitch could go something like this: "These cabins are not as small as you think. Even a tall guy can be comfortable in one."  This could be an entire campaign, similar to Wilt Chamberlain pitching the Volkswagen Rabbit or Shaquille O'Neal selling the Buick LaSabre.  I could become for Amtrak what Jared Fogle is for Subway.

Come on Amtrak, how many 6'8' writers do you know who are willing to spend several productive days in an Amtrak cabin?  If can do it and be comfortable, anyone can.  Think about it and get back to me ASAP.

John with James Madison