Monday, July 18, 2016

The Kid on the Plane

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

Have you flown lately?
Not a lot of fun. I’m an average-sized guy, and there isn’t enough room in that seat for me; I can’t imagine what it’s like for any plus-sized person to sit on a plane, whether they be taller or wider than the norm. I always like to have my computer bag handy, so I can read or write, and that necessitates sliding it into the storage space under the seat in front of me. Since the seat in front of me is only about one molecule-width away from touching my knees, this is always an exercise in grunting and straining and reaching blindly—picture someone going for something in the back row of the salad bar at Wendy’s, face turned sideways, cheek pressed to the slightly sticky sneeze guard, and making hopeful sounds as their tongs snap-snap-snap a half inch away from that delicious-looking cherry tomato. It’s like that, but with complimentary peanuts.
Little folks have it all over us on a plane. I once sat next to a woman (I was in the center seat, she had the window) who, after watching me grunt, strain, and reach blindly for a while, bent down to remove the boots she was wearing (it was wintertime), slide into some sort of slipperlike shoes, pull a mat out from beneath the seat in front of her, and run through her whole yoga routine shortly after takeoff. Meanwhile I was trying to type with my Chromebook pressed tight against my belly (the man in front of me had reclined his seat) and even with my elbows pressing back into my own seat my fingers were out beyond the keyboard. I was reduced to pecking at the keys with my thumbs, while beside me the tiny woman cheerfully shifted from pose to pose.
Extended triangle.
Twisting triangle.
Balancing stick.
I quit, grunted and strained to put the Chromebook away, then turned as far from the woman as I could manage in my ridiculously close seat and actively tried (with moderate success, I might add) to fart for the rest of the flight.
But I digress. My point is that flying isn’t usually a lot of fun—and that brings me to my last flight out of Logan International, on my way to Colorado last month.
There were only center seats left as I walked hopefully down the aisle, and I was looking for two smaller-than-average people to wedge myself between. I spotted a promising-looking spot with a woman in the window seat (is it misogynistic to point out that y’all are, on average, smaller than us? Too bad.) and a fairly skinny youth of around seventeen or eighteen sitting on the aisle.
“Is this seat taken?” I said.
“Oh, no. Here you go,” said the boy, and he promptly pulled his bag from beneath the seat in front of him and slid over into the center seat, giving me the aisle.
Holy shit, I thought in dismay. I’ve gotten so old polite kids are giving up seats for me!
Quickly following that thought was the delightful realization that I would have elbow room on this flight, which is almost as good as having elbows room, which we all of us have until we sit on a plane. I thanked him—to the point of embarrassing myself, I think—and sat, and as soon as we were through takeoff I pulled out the Chromebook and got to work. The Chromebook was somewhat sideways on the tray, and I was twisted a bit awkwardly in my seat, but it was gloriously manageable, and I banged away. I had edited one short piece and moved on to writing another when the conversation going on beside me began to penetrate my focus.
“So I’ve been working a lot on world building,” said the boy. “I have maps and charts and lists and stuff, and I know, like, all about the political systems and laws and stuff like that. My problem is I can’t figure out how to put any characters in there in any kind of situation people would care about.”
“Have you tried taking a class?” said the woman. “I mean, I’ve never worked with fiction, all my editing has been for the university press—all academic works—but I know they have classes where . . .”
My typing fingers slowed to a halt. Okay, that’s not exactly accurate—I don’t type so much as I hunt-and-peck like a starving chicken: it’s somewhat frantic and I miss a lot. Chickens may swallow a little gravel, I write things like Rhe qwuic; brownm fox jum[ed ober the laxy dogd. But whatever I was doing, it came to a halt. Was I sitting beside a budding writer and a working editor?
Those of you who don’t write might not understand. We writers like to talk about writing. We like to, as much as sports fans like to talk about the recent game or TV buffs want to discuss the plots of their favorite shows. We like to . . . but no one else does. People who know me have learned not to ask about any current projects, or how the writing is going, because they don’t really want to know that much, and to them it sounds a lot like school. I’ve learned not to start one of those conversations, afraid it’ll degenerate into them running from me like I’m the slasher in a horror movie, casting furniture in my path and slamming doors between us as I follow along, an unstoppable force saying things like but it turns out there’s no way that character would do that, and all that is in support of the twist—wait ’til I tell you the twist!
I slowly—tentatively— raised a hand.
“Did you want to say something?” said the woman.
“Ah,” I said, “I couldn’t help but overhear.” I looked at the boy. “You want to be a writer?”
“Well, I’m a writer.”
“We can see that,” said the woman, indicating my Horror Writers Association t-shirt.
“Could you give me some advice?” said the boy. “I’m having trouble writing characters.”
I looked around the plane, taking in the fact that not only was there a complete lack of furnishings to topple, he literally had nowhere to run, and hoped he really wanted to talk about writing.
He did.
What followed was, hands down, the best flight I’ve had in the past twenty years. The three of us talked about writing—the boy asking questions, the woman and I answering—until it was time to get off the plane. We talked about both the craft and the business, she from the academic editor’s perspective, me from the fiction writer/editor’s. We got to know a little about the world the kid was building for his fiction, and he walked off the plane with a copy of my book—my copy, incidentally. It wasn’t like I was handing them out or anything.
“It must have been fate,” he said, grinning as he tucked the book into his carry on. “Here I am, wanting to be a writer, and I just happen to sit between the two of you on the plane. What are the odds?”
You have no idea, kid, I thought, remembering my trepidation at even breaking into their conversation. You have no idea.

—Talk to you later!

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