Into the desert, heartbreak at the halfway hostel

Train Wheels

Train Wheels (Photo credit: i am indisposed)

I’m on the train in the Nevada desert. The sky is a shimmering blue through polaroid on my glasses and the window like the sky from an aeroplane. The plain is everywhere the same brown-green, everything: the grass that looks bitten down though there are no cattle, the bushes. Parallel to the tracks is a highway with miniature trucks. On each side is a low mountain range touched with white snow. My sister and I left San Fransisco in the morning. First the landscape was the bay, coffee-coloured, mud silted waves; then conifers in the mountains, and snowbanks.

We stayed in a kind of halfway hostel which smelt very particularly and had a high proportion of single, male residents. One nipped out for a joint in the laneway pretty regularly (we were sitting in the front stair well on account of the lounge being closed past 11pm for staff sleeping quarters). A toothless European worked there, changing the faux satin sheets. It was kind of cozy after all, the beds were good and our room was quite warm for some reason, and there were other backpackers to laugh with. We switched to a former luxury hotel for the last two nights though and the vibe was more congenial. We stayed in the Tenderloin quarter, famous for its local flavours. The second hostel had a brochure advising to ‘use street smarts’ when walking around: ‘the TL is not so much dangerous as it can be ugly sometimes’.

A lady wearing leather pants walked along Market St and sternly called to her little dog ‘Lesterrrr, Lesterrr, C’mon, Let’s roll’, before she strode off.

I went for a walk along the lonely piney shore to look out at the Golden Gate Bridge, and surfers at the base of the cliff. The air near the bus stop smelt like blue gum.

I found a book in the Goodwill: The Creativity Book; a year’s worth of inspiration and guidance by Eric Maisel. The first exercise was to write an autobiography. I wrote it on the train. Eric said it transformed his college students: Writing a 2500 word autobiography is its own kind of creative act and looking back at one’s life is a revelatory experience. It can be hard work, intellectually taxing and emotionally draining, but it’s invaluable work and exactly the right kind of work to inaugurate our religion [of creativity]. I did find it taxing. I focused on my most shameful experiences in the hope of catharsis, and afterwards I felt, bad. But it’s done. If I was reading it and it was someone else’s story I would think, Alright, it’s a story, it’s someone’s life. I wonder if I told the truth.

My sister told me she thinks I’m more withdrawn than before; that from the time we quit our share house in 2010 I haven’t wanted to talk as much, my sense of silliness has gone, my strong will ‘evaporated’. I can account for this time, but it’s a long time to have turned away from the world, and I’m sorry for it. It’s made my head ache.

The railway line is complete, and must be good all the way along. Even in the night, that’s where we are, still going on the track, nothing visible out the black window in Nevada. Just our reflections in the lounge car. And when I put my face up to the glass, one little white light away off in the distance.

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