[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
“Do you often think about death and the meaning of life?” The answers were on a scale, from strongly agree to strongly disagree. “Strongly agree,” I answered, clicking on the bright green circle to the far left of the screen. I was taking a personality test; one of those abridged Myers-Briggs. Every time I take the Myers Briggs, my score is the same (Protagonist-ENFJ). But here I was, taking a test to learn more about me, which is a bit redundant in my humbly unimportant opinion. I was taking the test in a hotel conference room that was partitioned in two for the sake of productivity. I was at a sales meeting talking about selling more things and gaining more customers and meeting quota and getting paid. In sales, our world revolves around productivity, which is both invigorating and exhausting.
Later that same day, I sat on a Delta flight from Richmond, VA to Atlanta, Georgia. Then I sat in the Atlanta airport, nibbling on a $5.00 package of grapes and a $2.50 banana. Airports are wild that way-overcharging for everything because they can. A travel-sized package of toothpaste, I noticed, was $4.49. Stale turkey sandwiches were $14. It was loud and sticky and my butt ached from sitting. A woman in the bathroom was coughing up a lung and spitting into the sink. A baby was crying on a changing table and I was more than a little dehydrated.
Once we boarded the full flight from Atlanta to LAX, we sat on the tarmac for an hour because a passenger was having problems with their paperwork. Maybe a white collar criminal was trying to get on board, I thought. Maybe a money launderer. Maybe someone famous enough to hold up a plane, but not quite famous enough to have their own. Once the stray passenger finally boarded, the flight crew outside had disappeared, seeking shelter from torrential rain. We waited some more, and I thought about death a little bit.
If Hell is real, I thought, it would be a full flight stuck on the tarmac in 100-degree weather. I wanted to cry and scream all at once. If anything makes me hate my fellow humans, it is a crowded airport and a full, stuffy airplane. Once we finally started taxiing for take-off, Delta blasted advertisements in our faces, a loud voice proclaiming the necessity of a Delta-branded credit card. "We care about you," Delta told us, as they slowly siphoned away fresh air and played the federally-required safety video.
The man in the safety video wore a mask, and it made him seem less human than he already seemed. I wondered what an alien would think if it found itself on my flight. Alarmed, maybe. Disgusted. Intrigued? Bored, probably, I thought, as I scrolled through my movie options. I settled on a movie called Licorice Pizza because I liked the name. It was good, but I wouldn’t bother seeing it if I were you. I ate some very salty almonds and day-dreamed about ripping my eyes out with a monogramed letter opener. I fidgeted and sat on my hands until they grew numb. I had a staring contest with the tiny screen in front of me. Eventually, I got up to pee, even though I didn’t really need to pee. I wondered what is worse: an airplane bathroom or a tour bus bathroom. Probably the tour bus, I decided.
I checked the flight status and there was still two hours left. The pilot interrupted Licorice Pizza to tell us about turbulence, “We don’t really know why it’s so bumpy, folks” he said, “but we should be out of it soon, our radars are showing clear skies.” If the skies were clear, then maybe the turbulence had less to do with the sky and more to do with the plane. I wondered how death via airplane would be, how long the anticipation, if I could call someone before we crashed.
An hour and 33 minutes to go. Probably, if I were to die via plane crash, I’d want to leave something for someone to find, so I wrote this down for perpetuity. Tonight, I would be safely at home with my cat. I’d take a shower and brush my teeth and suck on some ice. Tomorrow, I’d go back to my life of manic productivity. I’d go for a run, make some strong coffee, do some laundry. I’d be back on the coast of southern California, where I pay a lot of money for the privilege of breathing salty air, sleeping in a twin sized bed, and staring at the ocean every time I need to run to the grocery store. I love the coast; love living near water, love the madness of Los Angeles and the comparative calm of Orange County. I love going places, but I hate getting there. And despite my hatred for flying metal tubes, I love disconnecting in flight. I love that nobody can reach me. I love shunning my manic productivity for hours of book reading or poetry writing or mindful nothingness.
I was seventeen the first time I flew anywhere, and “anywhere” was Nashville Tennessee. I was travelling to Nashville to visit a college, but the city had captured my imagination for years. I went by myself and I was afraid of flying, afraid of getting lost in the airport, afraid that I would be terrified. I wasn’t though, I was elated. I was thrilled to land somewhere new and sink my teeth into a place I’d never been. Traveling is like a drug-you don’t always start on purpose, but you’ll find it’s incredibly difficult to stop. And after a couple years of relative lockdown, I am relieved to go anywhere. I’m thrilled again, like I was the very first time, only now, I’m not scared, I’m just really fucking annoyed.
There is a girl next to me who has been very anxious for most of this flight. She can’t be more than 12, and her mother keeps squeezing her hand and giving her snacks. She’s drawing on an iPad and she’s remarkably talented. I tell her so. “That’s incredible,” I tell her, remarking on a wolf she’s drawn. I show her my wolf tattoo and she smiles. Her vulnerability made me want to hug her. Sometimes I really hate people, and sometimes, people just break my goddamned heart.
I made it back to LAX, and eventually, back home to my cat. Home is never as cozy as it is after you’ve left. My Myer’s Briggs results told me I’m outgoing and charismatic and an idealist. It told me I’m condescending and overly optimistic about how the world should work. It told me that Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey share my personality type, and it told me that, if I paid a few dollars, I could learn even more about me. I didn’t, but I appreciated the gesture.