After more than 16,000 applications, the much-talked about Amtrak Residency program announced today it had picked 24 writers to take long-distance routes across the country and get a chance to work on their projects on the rails.
The residents, ranging from a former clandestine agent for the CIA to a recent Broadway star, get a sleeper car, some scenery, a power outlet, and uninterrupted time to work on whatever piece of writing they choose.
We talked over email with Jen Carlson, deputy editor at Gothamist and one of the 24 selected to climb aboard.
The Wire: So, where are you headed?
Jen Carlson: I'm not quite sure yet, but my top choice is the Seattle to Los Angeles route, on the Coast Starline. At the moment, I'm just not sure how the logistics work, say, if I choose a route that is nowhere near where I live, which is Brooklyn. My second choice is New Orleans to Los Angeles, on the Sunset Limited, but that train appears not to have WiFi.
Now, I'm not worried about being without Internet in theory, but what if Train Me can't handle it? That said, having been connected to it every day for the past howeverlong, it might be nice to see what happens to me without it. Or possibly terrifying? I'm not really sure what my brain without Internet looks like anymore. But, basically, I'm ready to roll with whatever happens on that front. You know, as long as I can still Instagram.
How long are you going to be aboard?
This depends on the route, but it seems most routes are two to five days. The Coast Starline is 36 hours.
Do you already have an idea of what you'll spend the time working on? Or will you wait for inspiration to strike once you hit the rails?
I have an idea of what I want to work on, yes... but I have a feeling the novelty of being on the train will make it difficult to concentrate at first. It will be nice to mix in the writing with some quality "staring out the window" time — see new things for a bit, not have a screen in front of me. There is no pressure to write on the train as part of the program, it can just be about inspiring you to write or allowing yourself this time to focus on your thoughts and ideas, which is kind of a luxury for anyone working on constant deadlines. So I plan to do a little bit of all of that!
Before you applied for the Amtrak residency, what was the longest train ride you'd been on?
I take Amtrak up to Vermont sometimes (FYI: The Vermonter has very good WiFI), and that's about a six-hour trip. And when I was little we drove down to Virginia (I think?) and put our car on an Amtrak, and went to Disney World that way. That was probably my longest train trip.
You'll obviously be bringing something to write with and some clothes. Anything else you plan to bring for the ride?
I'm a very light packer, so I think it'll be: laptop, phone, chargers, notebook, a book to read, and a couple of outfits. There might be something in an elastic waist there, but I do plan on dressing up for my solo dinners in the dining car, since I have a very romantic, old school notion of train travel.
Your day job is working at Gothamist, where the cycle is probably pretty up-tempo. How do you think you'll adjust to having nothing but time and scenery to look at?
I think my goal will have to be to not check Gothamist emails and work constantly, so I can actually use this train time as intended, to focus on other things. I have never successfully been able to unplug like that... maybe I should pick a no WiFi route.
I haven't heard anything about using the material from the trip. I don't think they plan to. And there's no pressure to write about the trip, or even Tweet or Instagram about it, but I think most involved will do the latter if social media is a normal part of their online life anyway — so I'm sure they'll be RT'ing and all that. [Ed note: Per Julia Quinn, Director of Social Media at Amtrak: "We’re not claiming any rights to the works the residents produce while traveling, nor are there any content creation requirement. There may be opportunities to promote their content and the experiences they had, but that will be conversations we have with the residents."]
Final question: what spot are you most looking forward to you on your trip?
I think I'm most looking forward to the little roomettes we get, which I THINK include a desk and window. So, no specific geographic location, but specifically that part of the train, since I'd probably never be able to afford something like that otherwise.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
An etiquette update: Brevity is the highest virtue.
I recently cut the amount of time I spent on email by almost half, and I think a lot of people could do the same.
I’m sure my approach has made some people hate me, because I come off curt. But if everyone thought about email in the same way, what I’m suggesting wouldn’t be rude. Here are the basic guidelines that are working for me and, so, I propose for all of the world to adopt immediately:
Best? Cheers? Thanks?
None of the above. You can write your name if it feels too naked or abrupt not to have something down there. But it shouldn’t, and it wouldn’t if it were the norm.
Don’t waste time considering if “Dear,” or “Hey” or “[name]!” is appropriate. Just get right into it. Write the recipient’s name if you must. But most people already know their names. Like they already know your name.
With the death of Shimon Peres, Israel has lost its chief optimist. And the prime minister remains paralyzed by pessimism.
The Book of Proverbs teaches us that where there is no vision, the people perish. The people of Israel, now bereft of Shimon Peres, will not perish, because survival—or, at least, muddling through—is a Jewish specialty. But the death of Israel’s greatest visionary, a man who understood that it would never be morally or spiritually sufficient for the Jews to build for themselves the perfect ghetto and then wash their hands of the often-merciless world, means that Israel has lost its chief optimist.
Peres was, for so many years, a prophet without honor in his own country, but he was someone who, late in life, came to symbolize Israel’s big-hearted, free-thinking, inventive, and democratic promise. Peres came to this role in part because he had prescience, verbal acuity, a feel for poetry, and a restless curiosity, but also because, gradually but steadily, he became surrounded by small men. One of the distressing realities of Israel today is that, in so many fields—technology, medicine, agriculture, literature, music, cinema—the country is excelling. But to Israeli politics go the mediocrities.
The Commission on Presidential Debates issued a cryptic statement acknowledging some audio issues Monday night.
After critics savaged his performance at Monday’s first presidential debate, Republican nominee Donald Trump alighted on several culprits: Hillary Clinton, the moderator, and especially his microphone.
The claim was met with some skepticism, but on Friday afternoon, the Commission on Presidential Debates seemed to confirm his claim, at least in part. The commission, which controls the debates, released a cryptic statement that reads in full:
Statement about first debate
Sep 30, 2016
Regarding the first debate, there were issues regarding Donald Trump's audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall.
We’ve called the commission to ask what that means, but have not heard back yet. Presumably, they are receiving dozens of such queries.
Lawmakers overrode an Obama veto for the first time on Wednesday. A day later, they already had regrets.
The enactment on Wednesday of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act should have been a triumphant moment for Republican leaders in Congress. They had succeeded, after years of trying, in overriding a presidential veto for the first time and forcing a bill into law over the strenuous objections of Barack Obama.
But the morning after brought no such celebration for HouseSpeaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell—only pangs of regret.
“It appears as if there may be some unintended ramifications,” McConnell lamented at a press conference barely 24 hours after all but one senator voted to reject the president’s veto of the legislation, which would allow victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. court. On the other side of the Capitol, Ryan said that he hoped there could be a “fix” to the very law he allowed to pass through the House—one that would protect U.S. soldiers abroad from legal retribution that the Obama administration had warned for months would follow as a result of the law.
The Trump Foundation mostly takes in other people’s money, but it appears it doesn’t have legal permission to solicit donations.
The problem with telling people to follow the money is they just might take you up on it. Donald Trump’s campaign has adopted that mantra in reference to the Clinton Foundation, but it applies to him in uncomfortable ways, too.
First, there’s the fact that he won’t release his tax returns, making it hard to follow the money and raising questions about what might be hidden there. Second, there are his forays into Cuba, apparently in violation of the embargo. Third, there’s the latest scoop from The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, who finds that the Donald J. Trump Foundation was operating without a required license.
As Fahrenthold previously reported, the Trump Foundation is peculiar: Unlike many other similar charities, it’s stocked with other people’s money. Trump himself has given barely any money to it since the mid-2000s, although he did direct income from places like Comedy Central to the charity, possibly without paying taxes on it. Instead, he has raised money from other donors, which he has used to, among other things, settle legal cases against him, all while basking in the glow of his apparent charity.
After Andrea Wulf won the Royal Society’s highest honor for her book The Invention of Nature, a writer at The Guardian attributed it to a new fondness for “female-friendly” biographies among prize juries.
Last week, the Royal Society held its ceremony to honor the best popular-science book of the year. I was there, having had the good fortune to be one of the finalists for my recent book, The Hunt for Vulcan. I didn’t expect to win—partly because of my baseline pessimism, partly because of the strength of the competition, and partly because I had set out to write a kind of miniature, a brief book on a quirky topic. Whatever the reason, I was right: I didn’t.
The event itself was good fun. Each of the authors read a passage from their work; the head judge for the prize, author Bill Bryson, led us in a brief question-and-answer session, in which we compared notes on what moved us to write about science. Then came the moment of truth. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, the president of the Royal Society, approached the podium, opened the envelope, and announced that Andrea Wulf had won for The Invention of Nature.
It's natural for humans to pay attention to all their romantic options, and new research shows Facebook helps them do that.
One episode in season five of How I Met Your Mother, called “Hooked,” revolves around people being kept “on the hook,” romantically speaking, by members of the show’s central gang of friends. “I can’t be with you … right now” is the phrase the pals keep using to string these people along, the “right now” leaving the door cracked open just enough that apparently some poor guy is willing to continue to do Robin’s laundry and rub her feet for the vague possibility of a someday relationship.
This does not make the friends look very good, obviously, but keeping track of and keeping in touch with alternative romantic prospects is a common thing for humans to do, even if it is rarely in such an exaggerated, sitcommy way. A recent study published in Computers in Human Behavior dubs these interactions “backburner relationships." A backburner, as defined by the study, is “a person to whom one is not presently committed, and with whom one maintains some degree of communication, in order to keep or establish the possibility of future romantic and/or sexual involvement.”
Terry Spraitz Ciszek, a homemaker in Fayetteville, North Carolina, talks about changing perceptions of women in the traditional economy and those who choose to leave their careers to raise a family.
For many women, the decision of whether or not to go back to work after having a child remains a fraught one. After all, returning to a job after maternity leave often means facing significant workplace challenges and even a decrease in earnings. On the other hand, there is also frequently a stigma attached to women who leave the workforce temporarily to raise their children or become long-term homemakers. Oftentimes, the decision for new mothers to rejoin the workforce can be seen as a reflection of the state of the economy. The number of stay-at-home mothers fell consistently for decades—from 49 percent in 1967 to a low of 23 percent in 1999—before bouncing back to 29 percent in 2012.
The ability for one parent to stay home, for kids or otherwise, is often viewed as a luxury of upper-middle class life. But even for the households that can afford it, the financial implications can extend beyond the loss of one steady income: A hypothetical 26-year-old female worker with a salary of $44,000 a year could lose about $707,000 in lifetime income ($220,000 in income, $265,000 in lifetime wage growth, and $222,000 in retirement benefits) from taking just five years off to care for a child.
Typhoon Megi in China, a fuel tanker afire off the coast of Mexico, the Surf Dog Competition in California, a mass skinny-dip in England, and much more.
Typhoon Megi in China, a vintage motorcycle race in Chile, a fuel tanker afire off the coast of Mexico, a commuter train crash in New Jersey, the Surf Dog Competition in California, continued fighting in Syria, a mass skinny-dip in England, and much more.