Bad thoughts precede bad thoughts: flying, drinking, writing, landing

Flying, sipping brandy out of a cup, 5 in the morning. Leaning back in our blankets, in our seats, reclining. We raise our hands to the displays and tap the screens and look as dull and robotic as the figures on the pre-flight safety video, dummies reaching out for masks, Tap Here, lean back.

The display reports our position over the earth and it’s like a video game, us in a small white plane, inching over the sea. Our elevation in German, in English. Local Time At Destination, Distance To Destination, Ground Speed. There’s nothing else to do but watch.

I’m sitting next to a Danish girl in her teens. She orders in English; I order in German. She asks for a cola. I match her dad in wines, raise you a Red, thank you very much, bitte schön. I think about hanky-panky and writing a story about it, our accidental brushes, hands beneath the blankets, sideways glances, where to take it, how far. Ground Speed, Distance To Destination, Local Time, Temperature.

On the displays are a hundred different movies everyone’s watching at different times, scenes from the beginning, scenes from the end. I can watch them all like spinning a prism, scenes without sound, pieces of plot, people hitting each other, beautiful women, music videos, cartoons, the news. There’s nothing else to do but watch.

When the stewardesses come they speak the same language, the same tones they did in the 1930s and 40s, and the words could be dipped in violence, the same language they used then, it hasn’t changed, the language can kill you if you don’t use it right.

I watch the plane cross the earth and the earth wears a parabola of light and dark representing night and day like a neck-line, we dip in and out of the light, skirt the dark, cut across the earth, go back in time.

We’re over the north pole but it’s too bright to have the shades up so we sit in the dark with the displays on and our plastic cups touching the screens, the nature of things now. It doesn’t make sense to reuse our cups so I keep putting them inside one another to form a sleeve, under my seat.

I finish a book about 911, they say America lost a part of its identity then and it’s true, to find yourself you need to lose yourself, to let it go when it’s not real and doesn’t make sense anymore. You need to let parts of yourself go that aren’t real so you can see who you really are, underneath.

I write about writing to convince myself to write, which is better than not writing and better than just thinking about it, but still not enough I say to the screen and the white plane, to the displays and the stewardesses, the Danish girl, the guy who could be a terrorist who’s gesturing at someone in the back of the plane who’s either not there or noticing or just in his mind, maybe drunk, pretending I’m not watching him but he’s on to me now, and I go back to my pen to scribble the days and try to remember, to write my own story and play with time, to slow things down and make it last even though I know I can’t, to pretend to remember is better, not bad, to do what I can to make the people around me real and myself, the story, a small white plane inching over the sea, Distance to Destination, Ground Speed, Temperature, to sit back and watch and know that’s me up there, on the display.

Categories: travel, writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. it is such an odd sensation to be sitting up there, like watching a live puppet show in slow motion. you’ve captured it very well.


  2. This is one of my favourites. I feel claustrophobic.
    Nadine Gordimer died last week. I’ve only read two of her books, the first being The Conservationist. There’s a scene in which the protagonist is on a plane and ends up fingering the woman beside him, a stranger. It’s an exercise in detachment, powerful and uncomfortable enough that it’s stayed with me all these years. Also uncomfortable: discussing the passage in class.


    • Hey Ross! How refreshing to hear from a real person. It seems I only get robo-comments…perhaps we should write a robo-post in the same voice. I’m glad this made you feel claustrophobic, and I need to get with you off-line to hear more about what you’re discussing in class – sounds interesting, if not awkward. Love the references to other writers so keep them coming, please.



  1. Reading Material, Vol. II | Writing Through the Fog

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