I moved to the countryside for a couple of months thinking there I’d be able to work. My work, mind you, is telling jokes to myself, so I can basically do that anywhere. But I thought the countryside with its fresh air, lack of distraction, natural fecundity, and overall dacha allure would be the perfect place for me to finally buckle down and produce. That didn’t happen of course. To work one needs air, yes, but we also need comfort. We need stuff NOT TO DO, and the country is rife with shit you have to do. Cutting grass, cutting wood, cutting your finger cutting grass and wood, installing wifi, locking the doors to keep the maniacs out. There’s a tyranny of options one doesn’t really anticipate having to choose from, and for someone like me who’d rather eat glass than work, moving to the country is entering a candy store of counter-productivity.
But going into and coming from the countryside, alors la! I found a place where I could finally work. Yes on the train.
The train has something for everyone wanting to work. It has forward movement, which helps with blocked inspiration and gives you the impression you’re doing something new when in fact it’s that same article you haven’t finished. There’s an assortment of faces to draw on, especially of people you’re happy not to be, which ultimately builds confidence. Usually, there’s a rolling landscape which for me serves as a sort of nostalgic rabbit hole, taking me back to the time of Frescas and speedos, wooden skateboards and tooth retainers. (I’m only talking about this because I’m writing on a train right now and this is the shit that comes to mind.) Most trains are quiet, but not too quiet, always with that pleasant ambient click clack that gets you in a rhythm to work. Most trains have a bar, and I like bars, especially the ones where I can feel I’m at the company cafeteria, hanging out with the other router salesmen heading to Chartres. Most importantly, though, trains have a terminus, (the expression “light at the end of the tunnel,” doesn’t come from anywhere) which means an end, a deadline, a goal, which you can’t reproduce in the fucking countryside with its unending temptations and obligations.
Before finding my work zone on the train, I’d searched in vain for a good place to work.
The plane? Fuck that. I’m busy just trying to survive a plane. Work is the last thing you’re trying to accomplish unless it’s writing a letter to loved ones saying goodbye. For me asking someone to work on a plane is like asking someone sitting in a dentist chair to work.
The metro sucks as well. The trips are too short. There’s too much standing, and writing in the subway makes you look not like an urbane intellectual, but some conspiracy theorist/homeless person predicting the rapture.
The cafe, one would think, would be an ideal place to work, but I always have to pee it seems, and there’s nothing less chic than an American carrying his MacBook pro like a pizza to the bathroom.
“Do you think he reads it when he’s on the toilet” one person I heard ask as I passed by.
“Not only that, I think he skypes,” said the other.
Also, I always find myself rudely moved to make room for lunch time. That or I become too interested in the couple fighting next to me, fascinated mostly by how they argue so silently in French. In the end, I usually have to change cafes, and at the end, I’m too wired on caffeine to work anyway.
The car I actually tried once, with that dictation software for the iPhone, where you speak into the phone what you should NOT have written down. It wasn’t as embarrassing as I’d thought it would be, though, probably because in traffic, people who saw me just assumed I was on the phone. Yet as the kilometers piled up, I couldn’t bear listening to myself anymore. It was like a horrible book on tape. So pretentious and so deluded, something akin to a Chairman Mobuto radio address or worse, some bad business entrepreneur, coming up with bad promotional ideas for growing his car wash business.
Working on a train gives one purpose (I’m going somewhere (even if it’s nowhere) and more importantly, it gives people the impression you actually do something. I love acting the roles out for the others to see. Some trips I’m a hotshot social media guy, other trips I’m a fashion designer or sports agent., anything to make it seem what I’m doing is important, anything to take attention away from the crap I’m really writing.
Lately, I’ve started to notice the same faces on different train routes. The same guy I saw working behind me on his laptop on the Paris-Arras trip was the same guy I saw on the Paris-Nogent le Rotrou voyage. Could there possibly be others like me? And if so, are we all part of some kind of obsessional group, addicted to working on trains, like some new form of trainspotting?
All I know is that the conductor just announced the Paris-Montparnasse terminus, and the adrenaline is pumping like the train’s cylinders below me. I need to finish now because once it stops, I’ll be back to the facebook/email/twitter vortex which kills anyone’s productivity. (BTW, I’d like to see how prolific Victor Hugo, Dickens, Proust, or Joyce would have been in the age of twitter. (@chezswann: still on volume 1, can’t decide between madeleines or macaroons lmao!!) Perhaps I’ll just buy another ticket, for somewhere else, anywhere, just as long as the train leaves now, but please don’t have it go to the countryside, I want to be able to work for once.