Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An Epiphany On the Subway, Staring For 20 Minutes... So What If It's Rude

Don't we learn as members of polite society that it's rude to stare?

I did.

But as a writer, a long stare is part of the job. Working as a journalist for more than a dozen years, you think I'd be used to sticking my nose in other people's business - as long as it's for the story.

Now that I'm not writing for a daily newspaper I can get uncomfortable with nosy. Today wasn't one of the uncomfortable days. I spent about 20 minutes or so staring at a commuter sitting a few seats away from me on my Metro ride home.

I've been working on a short story where the protagonist, a woman, goes through a serious moral crisis that (for the moment) will lead to her death. I've had her sitting in traffic (not too hard to imagine during the commute home here in the DC Metro area) during this crisis. Today, as I saw this commuter, I thought for the first time that maybe my protagonist should experience her crisis while on a subway train.

It was a glorious epiphany filled with that furiously intoxicating energy that gets writers scrambling for pen and paper and a firm writing surface. OK, I guess the firm writing surface is optional. I had a couple of folded sheets of copy paper in my coat pocket. In no time at all, I filled it with my observations.

The story just had not felt right before. I'd stagnated. This subway trip was exactly what I needed. My protagonist was sitting there. I recognized her as soon as I got on the train.

It was a beautiful moment.

COMING NEXT: The family plays a round of Madlibs and pokes fun of the Democrats and Republicans.

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