The Baby on the Train

One of the hardest aspects of writing, for me at least, is cutting things out that don’t really belong, that don’t truly advance the story, or that simply interrupt the flow. However, as William Zinsser noted in his classic book On Writing Well, “Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there.” And “Clutter is the enemy.”

While working on my book, I found it difficult at times to eliminate little vignettes that seemed to underscore for me how charming the people were that I met as I traveled through Australia or bits of trivia that I found interesting but that didn’t contribute to the narrative. But I couldn’t include everything—at least not and have the book be fewer than 2,000 pages!

So I spent a lot of time uncluttering my book. It flows much more smoothly now, and I think it’s a much better work for the discipline. But perhaps this blog is a place to salvage a few of those edited bits—kind of like the “bonus tracks” on a DVD of a carefully edited movie.

The following little vignette is from Queensland. I was taking the scenic (though once utilitarian) train from Kuranda to Cairns, a trip that zig-zags down cliff faces, past waterfalls and rainforest and through numerous tunnels. It is a gorgeous ride, and the time passed all the more pleasantly because of a charming couple from Sydney.

On the train, the seats are set up facing each other, all on one side of the car. I sat by a window and was soon joined by a young couple with their two children. The younger of the children, around one year old, was in a stroller, which they turned to face the window. As we approached a tunnel, the father snapped his fingers, and everything went dark. “All gone,” he said to the delighted infant, who obviously had no doubt that his daddy was capable of such magic. The older boy, aged four or five, was overjoyed to assist in the game, and leaned just far enough out the window to let daddy know when daylight was coming—which of course reappeared with another snap of the fingers. The baby was wild with excitement, gurgling, laughing, clapping his hands, and pawing daddy’s leg. This happened at each of the 15 tunnels, which kept baby very happy for the whole trip (much to mother’s relief, as the milk bottle was empty). Between tunnels, we admired the scenery, and chatted.

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