The conductor is announcing the departure of a venerable train that crosses the continent from Obscurity on one coast (home to the aspiring traveller) to Fame (the destination) on the other. There are luxurious cars for dining and sleeping, even gambling and card-playing. Drawn shades at windows might indicate Torrid Affairs being conducted en route.
There is nothing like a train as a traditional symbol of escape and adventure. When I was young, a train threw its poignant hoot against a layer of volcanic rock at the base of a mountain every evening as the shadows lengthened, and every evening, the echoes reverberated through the valley where I felt trapped in a house on the opposite side. “Woo-oo! Leaving here!” called the train while I dreamed of escape.
And now the train to Fame is leaving without me. I can’t possibly catch up. The wheels are already turning faster and faster as the big vehicle picks up speed. Had I arrived at the station five minutes earlier, I could have boarded. I could have been on my way. But I didn’t, and I’m not.
I missed the deadline.
In a marvellous anthology of steampunk erotic romance that I just finished reading (Steamlust, edited by Kristina Wright of this blog), the heroine of one story uses her auspiciometer (sp?) to determine the perfect moment for doing whatever she wants to do: meet the right gentleman, start or finish the calculations for an experiment, go shopping for a hat or a parasol or a pet snake. Her handy device shows her the perfect moment. This doesn’t necessarily mean she will always be in the right place at the right time. Even with the device, she might miss a deadline.
Pregnancy is the one project with a deadline which can never be missed. Due dates can be missed, of course; first pregnancies, in particular, are often several weeks early or several weeks late (if not induced). But the day of birth is the day of birth. Much as an expectant mother might prefer not to experience third-degree labour soon, today, or at this moment, contractions wait for no one.
Human-made deadlines are more like train departures. Once the train has gone, it’s no longer there.
Please! Wait for me!
I hate to be considered irresponsible and unreliable, so after I’ve made a reckless promise or six, I chase after deadlines like a stranded traveller chasing after the only train due to pass through the mountains all week, or the only ship that has come within sight of the desert island for months.
Where does time go? I should have written at least two more reviews this month (see the above reference to Steamlust, which sits atop Red Velvet and Absinthe, Best Lesbian Erotica 2012, Princes of Air, Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, and a volume of vintage gay-male erotica from the 1970s).
Then well-meaning fellow-writers and polite colleagues ask me what I’m writing now, meaning “Are you writing a short story, a collection of them or a novel, and why not?” Of course, I should have time for that. If I’m a real writer, inspiration should strike me regularly, like a gong (as in a notorious saying about how often women should be beaten).
Students who ask for extensions of deadlines for handing in essays want them to be graded and handed back between one class day and the next. What else could be more important to me?
Sinister characters like uncanny train conductors invade my dreams with signs reading “FRIDAY” or “NOVEMBER 30” or “TOMORROW AT THE LATEST.”
Then there are events like Pride Week in June (mentioned by Kathleen of this blog) which I managed to unload onto a new committee. Ha! Freedom! But it’s not complete. I wonder how well the new committee of twentysomethings will cope, and how responsible I’ll feel (as an elder of the tribe) if they drop the ball, or several.
But here is a strangely reassuring thought: every time I miss a deadline, a new one is coming up behind it. And with luck, I’ll miss the deadline (due date) for the end of my own life. Am I supposed to be on that train at age 96? Sorry, I’ll still have a few things to finish up first.