The Last StopPosted: May 21, 2014
The things you learn when writing your first novel:
- Novel-writing is a lonely process.
- Your first novel relies heavily on a blend of things you’ve actually experienced, people you’ve actually known, and your wild imagination.
- God help you, you have no idea what a second novel looks like once you’ve run out of experiences to mine.
- Having imaginary conversations with yourself and with people you know helps with plot breakthroughs.
- Having imaginary conversations with yourself and with people you know will make you look like a crazy person.
- The right triggers will elicit the right memories so vividly, it’s like being in Sherlock Holmes’ Mind Palace.
- Sometimes you will spend hours down a rabbit hole of researching types of farmhouses for sale in Connecticut and their realistic distance to Manhattan in order to get the details right in a scene.
- Sometimes you will spend days on one chapter and it will be complete and utter crap.
- Sometimes, you will spend fifteen minutes on a chapter and it will feel as Minerva emerging fully formed from the head of Jupiter: brilliant and beautiful and powerful.
There’s a scene in my second chapter about the idea of love, as viewed through the narrator’s observation of a couple on a train. This scene is more heavily based in reality than in imagination, one of those unforgettable moments from my life in Germany. So unforgettable that even ten years on, this moment plays vividly before my eyes when I wander through my Mind Palace. It is the most shareable part of a deeply personal writing experience:
“One bright day, as the season changes from spring to summer, I’m returning from class in the early afternoon. The sun is bright and high in the sky, shining insistently through the large floor-to-ceiling windows of the sleek, modern yellow tram. In my car is an assortment of people, including an elderly couple, man and woman, their equally snow-white heads arching towards each other in conversation. They eat mini baguettes filled with butter, cheese, and tomato, and every once in a while, I hear the crinkle of the paper bakery envelope that holds their afternoon snacks.
All of this remains in the background until we reach the train’s final destination, which is also our final destination. There is something inherently languid about a tram’s last stop. It is the definitive end of the line, and as a passenger waiting for this particular stop, you sit more relaxed, disembark more unhurried, avoiding the scuffle of incoming and outgoing bodies. By the time we arrive, the elderly couple and I are the only ones left in the car.
‘Letzte Haltestelle,’ says the automated female voice over the intercom. Last stop.
The couple makes their way to the doors as I make my way from the other end. The woman is faster than the man, and she lightly skips out the open sliding doors, but by the time he reaches the same doors, they have closed with a typically German precision: a quietly efficient swooshing noise, just a brief, elegant hiss of air and glass.
For a brief moment, they are suspended this way, as if time has stopped. The woman reaches out a tentative hand to the glass on the outside, while the man gazes at her forlornly from the inside. Time stops and I sense that the universe around them has suddenly gone quiet. They neither see nor hear anything or anyone around them, and there’s a stillness, as if the very air particles are suspended between their simultaneous intake of breath. The man reaches back to touch her hand on his side of the glass, and they stare sadly at one another, two people who’ve lived their whole lives together and now find themselves trapped, apart. Something about this moment is electric.
For years to come, the idea of love brings this couple to my mind. I have seen the end point, the proverbial last station, and this is what I strive for now. I’ve stopped chasing after happiness and wondering at my future, content because I know what I want in the end. I’ve seen my future played out before me, and I know that I have no need to settle for anything less. I am a passenger, just waiting to reach the end of the line, languid, unhurried.
A second later, I come up behind the elderly man and push the big yellow button to the side of the door, releasing him from his temporary prison. He does not turn around to acknowledge me, or even to express his thanks; he simply steps out of the tram like a man in a trance. His transgression however is not offensive. Because I see him silently grasp his partner’s hand, the two of them looking into each other’s eyes, their gaze never wavering, and they walk off together that way, two people entranced. The quiet, slow motion of their electricity burns still and steady, and the molecules between their skin are sacrosanct, immobile even as the rest of the world turns about them.
This quiet certainty, this magical melting away of the rest of the world, this passion still bubbling below the surface twenty, thirty, and forty years later? This is love. The rest of it is just a map of how to get there.”
Zainab Chaudary works in politics by day and as a writer by night. Her blog, The Memorist, ruminates upon travel, religion, science, relationships, and the past, present, and future experiences that make up a life. She tweets @TheMemorist