My trip home from residency usually takes anywhere from 5 to 8 hours, depending on connection times. Over the years, I’ve come to look forward to my plane rides as important transition time, allowing me several hours of limbo to catch up on email, get reacquainted with my calendar, read, write, or just space out, letting all the events and exchanges of the previous ten days drift through my mind, settling into their resting places in my memory.
This time, on my way home, I spent much of my flight from Omaha to Chicago writing in my journal. I started writing as the plane was still boarding, and only looked up for a polite moment when a woman sat down beside me. We rode together in silence for the first half of the flight; she read a magazine, I wrote, each in our own carefully-observed space. Until I hit a lull in my sentence-making and lifted my head.
“Are you a journaler or a writer?” she asked.
“Both,” I replied. And her face lit up. She went on to tell me about a book she’d started writing years earlier about her adopted daughter, but hadn’t yet been able to finish. I told her about our MFA program, and she glowed still brighter. The very idea that people took time out of their lives to pursue this particular passion—even that someone would use a plane ride to write—was inspiring news for her.
If you’ve been prioritizing writing in your life for a long time, her reaction might seem overblown. It felt that way to me at first. I was just blathering on in my journal, after all, writing nothing of consequence. But I realized later that her reaction was a demonstration of how vital the act of writing can be. Very few people get the time to prioritize it, to make it part of their daily working lives. Those of us who do are lucky.
Once again, doing the writing reminded me of why I do it. The sheer act of translating experience into words, in public, shattered a wall of politeness and built a bridge instead. We learned each other’s names (hers was Shelli). I gave her my card, and we promised to keep in touch. Connection via language. Isn’t this what writing is?