December 6th, 2006


Goodbye to the Boston Subway Token

As the Boston Globe and other media outlets are reporting, sometime today the last MBTA subway token will be sold at one of the 68 T stations. Tokens will still remain in circulation for some time, but with the new turnstile machines, everyone will have to start using the CharlieTicket or the CharlieCard.

I will miss the token. I grew up in New York City, not in Boston, but I remember the look and feel of the various subway tokens that the MTA issued as I was growing up. I loved looking at older tokens, ones that were no longer usable, as it was like looking at a piece of history. Somewhere, I've kept a collection of older tokens, both from New York City and Boston, and it saddens me to think that we'll no longer see new designs.

But the token wasn't just aesthetic. It was also useful. Instead of having to gather together a bunch of coins or bills to enter a subway system, tokens allowed for simple, efficient entry. New York City has already moved away from the token, to the Metrocard, and when I've been back there I've often found that the cards don't work properly. People have to swipe more than once to get the turnstiles to accept them, and sometimes they get charged more than once by an overzealous machine.

I do have my spiffy new CharlieCard, which I'll begin to use next year, and I am looking forward to the ease of having turnstiles and fare boxes that can read the RFID tag. But I am worried about some possible bugs in the system. We have to "charge" the card once a month for the monthly pass to be registered to the card, and I can see the system going wrong. The old passes had the month printed on them, so even if the magnetic strip didn't work, the Green Line T drivers or the token booth attendants could wave you by. But all the new CharlieCards look the same, forever, no matter what amount of fare is placed upon them. What if something goes wrong and the reader doesn't register that my Card is holding my monthly pass? I suspect I'll have to get into the habit of carrying my receipt with me too, just in case.

But I digress. Farewell, simple but elegant subway token. You will be missed.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein

Robert's Rules of Writing #62: Go Inside

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

One of the most difficult things for any human being to do is to get inside the mind of another human being. We all live our lives from one perspective, our own. We all experience the world from within our fragile shells, and with our own personal biases. Entire professions exist to try to delve inside other people's minds, a task which sometimes seems impossible for the average person.

But writers have to try to get into other people's minds. And not just into the minds of friendly, good, and wholesome people like yourself. To create complete, complex, and well-rounded characters, writers need to get inside the heads of some of the most vile people imaginable.

I am in complete agreement with Masello's rule #62, and in fact I've seen it mentioned in other forms by many other writers before. For example, Orson Scott Card, in his book Character and Viewpoint, discusses the way Michael Bishop managed to get into the mind of a character who was dying of AIDS. Another book I read, whose title I can't recall at the moment, advised writers to get into the minds of murderers by asking ourselves what might cause us to feel murderous rage. Just because we're not such people ourselves doesn't mean we can't figure out what makes them tick, at least well enough to write a story about them.

But although I agree with this rule, I also often find it the hardest one to follow. Many writers will say that all their characters are extensions of themselves, and I'm afraid that I am no exception. Often I will find my characters reacting the way I would, even if I'm trying to write someone who is worlds apart from myself. So I've used a few tricks to stop myself, tricks that many others have used. Those tricks include creating characters with belief systems totally anathema to my own, and having characters do the opposite of what I would do in any given situation.

I welcome other suggestions.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein

The Year In LiveJournal

I just saw that saxikath did this, and I'm not sure if it's a meme, but it looked amusing. So here's the first line of every public post of mine that started each month of the year. For those of you who want to recall what each line was about, click on the name of the month.

I have to admit that I find my first line of December to be most ironic.

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