The Perils of Writing on the Train (and How it Made Someone’s Week Better)


By accident, Now I Know had a really great week this week. Here’s a story I’ll probably never forget.

As many of you know, Now I Know is a side project/hobby of mine, not my full-time job. And sometimes, it’s hard to juggle both. While I’d love to devote more time to the newsletter, financially, that’s not going to happen. (This isn’t an appeal for your support, but that said, please consider visiting today’s sponsor 😀). So I have to get creative about when I write.

Pre-pandemic, I did a lot of writing on the train. My train ride is 35-50 minutes, depending on which train I take, and before Covid there were so many trains that I could almost always find a seat on the way into the office, and typically one that allowed me to comfortably pop open my laptop and start writing. Because I wasn’t online during that trip, I had to prep everything — that is, I had to get all of my sources open in various web browser tabs — but beyond that, it wasn’t all that different than how I write when at home. But post-pandemic, it’s tricky: there are fewer trains and they tend to get crowded, making it nearly impossible to write. That’s not been a big issue because I work in a hybrid in-office/remote situation now, so I’m not commuting five-days a week. But having the train time to focus has — or had — been great. And that’s mostly gone.

Mondays are an exception. Very few people commute into the office on Monday but I typically do, and there is plenty of space on the train. This Monday morning, I diligently opened my laptop shortly after getting on the train, wrote for about half an hour, and ended up with a nearly-complete story approaching 800 words.

And then when I got home to put the finishing touches on, I realized one of my sources — the one I relied on the most — was satire, and it was almost all garbage. Had I been online, I would have caught the mistake right away, but the images hadn’t loaded on the page before I got on the train. Oh well. Suffice it to say that I didn’t end up sharing it with you all this week!

That’s the bad news. The good news is that I had to write something quickly Monday night, and I had been sitting on a feel-good story — the one I ultimately shared Tuesday — and had it mostly done. I was waiting for the perfect moment to share that story. I don’t know what that perfect moment is, and that was probably a foolish idea, but whatever, it’s the truth. So I kind of felt like I was “wasting” this story by sending it off on a random Tuesday.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. A lot of you wrote back to share how much you appreciated the good vibes of the story, but one note really stood out. I won’t quote it or go into details, but to summarize: a reader shared that they were having a really tough time with a family-related matter and didn’t think their partner would see things the same way. The story inspired them to share what was going on — if the couple in Tuesday’s email (the link is below if you haven’t read it) could build a family the way they did, certainly, the reader’s family could do the same. Their partner turned out to be wholly receptive to the solution proposed, and life turned bright again.

I don’t write Now I Know to provide relationship advice or anything like that — obviously not! — but if that’s a side effect of this newsletter and my train issues, that’s fantastic.

The Now I Know Week In Review

Monday: The Book That Told On Its Author: A story about the victims of O.J. Simpson getting a little bit of justice, via creative book covers.

Tuesday: The Wife, Husband, and Ex-Husband Nuclear Family?: A feel-good story! I hope you read and share this one.

Wednesday: How FedEx Gambled Its Way to Success: A reader shared an alternative story here which, if I get permission, I’ll share in a week or two. So read this one first!

Thursday: Why Cleveland’s Sky Has a Purple Glow (Sometimes): Purple ran? UFOs? Nope. Basil.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend:

  1. The EPA Has Done Nearly Everything It Can to Clean Up This Town. It Hasn’t Worked.” (ProPublica, 9 minutes, April 2024). I generally don’t share articles that, explicitly or (in this case) implicitly, call for changes to laws or regulations. I almost didn’t share this one as a result. But I read this through the lens of “wow, I didn’t realize how hard it was to clean these up” which, consistent with everything else I do, is about feeding my curiosity. I didn’t want my general rule against sharing overly political things to prevent me from sharing this story, so, here you go.
  2. Masters of the Green: The Black Caddies of Augusta National” (Garden & Gun, 17 minutes, April/May 2024). Augusta, for those not tuned into the golf world, hosts The Masters, one of the four biggest golf tournaments each year. It also has a long history of segregation and discrimination. Here’s the subhead of this article: “For almost fifty years, they carried the bags of golf legends but also masterminded victories from the tees to the holes. Then, with one decision, their lives shifted, and the legacy of their glory days went unheralded. Finally, that’s changing.”
  3. The Dumbphone Boom is Real” (New Yorker, 8 minutes, April 2024). Meet the people who are giving up their smartphones in hopes of finding more time away from their screens. (There’s a paywall here but you get some free articles each month; I hope you have access.)

And a bonus read, with Passover coming early next week and if you have access to a Wall Street Journal subscription: “Who’s Going to Buy All This Matzo?” The subhead: “Supermarkets have been waiting and waiting for someone to buy aisles of kosher-for-Passover food. Blame a complicated ancient calendar that is making this year confusing.” (If you have a lot of matzah, here’s a surprisingly good matzah lasagne recipe — and yes, those are the right ingredients.)

Have a great weekend!