Airplanes are weird. A lot of existential stuff happens on airplanes. People sit down in reclining chairs, leave the ground in the absolute miracle of human flight, and immediately have to come to terms with the fragility and impermanence of their own lives, accepting that these next few hours could and realistically may be the last few hours they get.
Or maybe that’s just me. I’ve always been a nervous flier.
For me, at least, airplanes have always been a place of high stress and a place where I am forced to figure out — really quickly — how I feel about my life. Especially since, more frequently now that I travel alone to and from school, I spend all this time stressing and self-discovering in the obligatory company of an absolute stranger.
Here is how it usually goes: sit next to person, usually older, frequently male. He is reading paper or typing on iPad. Brief uncomfortable silence. You simultaneously try to smile personably while avoiding conversation-evoking eye contact. Ear buds sneak out of pockets, but you both know you can’t get comfortable with your electronics until the pilot decides you are at the best technology-appropriate altitude, which could take up to fifteen minutes of taxiing on the tarmac before takeoff and ascent. You realize you can’t put conversation off any longer just as the man next to you asks if you are heading home.
This is probably the place where it becomes a different story for you and me, Reader. You probably open your mouth to tell the mundane tale of your travels. Why wouldn’t you? Like me, you have no reason to lie. Unlike me, you don’t necessarily see this as an opportunity for deception and exploration of the possibilities for your existence.
I am a sophomore majoring in journalism, but within the last year, to various aerial neighbors, I have been an art major, a computer science major, an intern at a fashion company, an aspiring author, and an American government junkie. I never came out and directly said these things, but misinterpretations went uncorrected and misleading phrases went unavoided. If they assumed from the fact that I said I liked painting that I was studying to be an artist, I went with it. “Yes, the world needs art, I’m a huge advocate of that philosophy, it’s really affected the direction of my life, I’ve known what I wanted to do for a long time.” None of which are direct lies.
It’s hard for me to say exactly why I do this. At first I thought it was because I was too shy to correct them. Then, when it became obvious that wasn’t the case, I thought it was just a lighthearted form of self-amusement. But now I think it is actually a way of seeing what my life could be from another person’s eyes. How do I feel about government-obsessed Lily? Is she more assertive? Does she pay more attention to the world around her? Does she have qualities that Real Lily should strive for?
I could be missing out on great networking opportunities by behaving this way. That’s what one friend keeps telling me. But something I have trouble explaining to that friend, what I feel like I am having trouble explaining now, is that I am learning too much from these exercises to give them up. I’m discovering too much about what I want my life to be.