The Books on the Bus

My bus had the absolute longest route in high school. I say this without exaggeration: the beast snaked over every back corner of town, tumbling down long dead-end streets and then crashing back out again. The routes then cut across the rest of town, into the next, passing thick forests and cow pastures until the bust finally rumbled up the hill to the regional high school. We were always late. They never decided to change the route.

I was the first stop in the morning, then the last stop when we finally got out, so I knew the length of the trip better than anyone, over an hour one way. Even my brother didn’t catch the full weight of it — the seventh and eighth grades split into middle schools before he got there, and then he was wise enough to spend his money on his own car his senior year for transportation. For me, I spent every school day from seventh grade until senior year finals week, when I borrowed my parents truck so I could duck out early, scrunched up in those seats for hours.

The downsides to this bus route are obvious. If the driver wasn’t right on time (she was never on time) we arrived at school with only minutes spent in the lunch room, the only time of day guaranteed to group my friends together. If the driver was really late (she was often really, really late) this meant going as a group to get late passes at the office, or else explaining to the unpleasant Spanish teacher that you hadn’t been loitering–you’d been shoving the contents of your locker into your back pack in a deranged panic. For someone riddled with anxiety, consumed with constant (unfounded) fear that she would get in awful trouble and disappoint everyone, this was not the ideal way to start the day.

But it wasn’t all bad.

I’ve discovered that, with a lot of the people I know, finding themselves stuck someplace with nothing to do but wait, they become bored, anxious. They desperately want that time to be over.

Those are the moments I cherish.

I arrive at doctor’s offices early, and hope they don’t call my name right away.

I sit in the back corner seat in the mini van, where I can’t see anyone’s face.

On airplanes, I settle up against the window, drop my tray as soon as is allowed, and close myself down into a tight metal-and-plastic box.

This is not where I get bored.

This is where I do things.

I bring my supplies of course. A paperback novel crammed in a purse; a notebook and a half dozen pens, since I kept forgetting if I forgot one; headphones so I can plug into my podcasts, my music, my books. For that time, I focus on the things I love, without any of the niggling thoughts that I should be doing something else.

The whole thing wasn’t too much different in high school. I had a Discman and a collection of CDs with bad rock music (I was a big fan of Creed) and pirated anime songs (also a big fan of Yu Yu Hakusho) instead of a smartphone, but methods and preferences were all the same. I’d hunch up with my book in the morning, or blast Kurama’s character song in my ears. In the afternoon I completed my homework, so when I got home there was nothing in the way of playing Dreamcast or watching the new episode of Dragonball.

For two hours a day, five days a week, there was no where else for me to go, nothing else for me to do. No chores, no responsibilities. Even the other kids didn’t bother me, usually, preferring to leave alone the quiet girl who sat close to the bus driver. More than any other time in my life, that was my time, a time to do what I wanted with no one to question it. It was worth bouncing down all those old streets, waking up earlier than I’ve ever had to do on a regular basis since.

It might have been nice to get dropped off the late bell more than occasionally–but who knows how many fantasy novels I would have gotten through, or how many Japanese songs I would have memorized otherwise.

What It Is: How Drawing “Helped Me to Stay”


“[Drawing] was a form of transportation. I did it because it helped me to stay by giving me somewhere else to go.” — Lynda Barry, What It Is

In high school my notebooks and paper bag-covered textbooks were a mess of my graffiti. I spent every non note- or test-taking moment drawing my personal doodles of frogs and bees, and creating never-ending, constantly dividing tendrils, using my collection of gel ens to draw them and then fill them with the vibrant, shiny color.

Focusing his never been my strong point; I have a mind that tends towards wandering. If I don’t want to lose track of where I am, something needs to anchor me. Writing I can focus on, but only that. For something like Biology class, I needed something to take up the part of my brain that tried to slip away. Drawing—sketching—doodling—that was perfect.

Sometimes, my reasonings for this were not understood, and I was called out on it. Once, in Math, I set to drawing an Orca on the front cover while some classmates spoke at the front of the room. My mistake was shading; the teacher heard the scuff of my pencil, and chastised me for being so rude and not paying attention. I put my pencil away, and had to focus on my classmates without looking at paper or moving my hands. She never did confirm whether I’d really been not listening.

Then, other times, it didn’t bother the teacher at all. I doodled on my folder while the Health teacher explained alcohol poisoning. Suddenly he turned to me and asked if I was listening. “Yes,” I said, without looking up, and repeated what he’d told us. “All right!” he responded, and continued on.

Recently I read Lynda Barry’s What It Is, part graphic novel, part collage, part memoir, part writing guide. The above quote gut-punched me as so weirdly but completely true. Drawing gives you somewhere to go—letting my mind wander, as it will—and helping me stay, letting me pay attention to everything going on around me. I was taken right back to high school, when I did the most drawing, now having words to describe something I always knew was true. I drew then to keep myself in that fantastic in-between place. I want to draw more now, so that I can find it again.