My housemate Robert had just returned from a weekend trip to Rome with his girlfriend. Before their holiday, he rather ceremoniously announced in a Facebook status his companion’s chosen form of entertainment on the plane:
“She’s bought girl’s colouring books to take on the flight to Rome next week.”
As I conspired with my head to tease her – gently, anyway – about her crayons and cartoon outlines, I was reminded about my quirks: I too have recurring habits that keeps me occupied on planes. And, now that my head has turned against me and mocked me instead, they do string together to form an itinerary of sorts, played out like a laughably-patterned druidic ritual.
And the binding agent, common in all thirty-odd flights I’ve flown on this year and many more in prior years: I don’t seem to stop fidgeting and refusing to grow up.
Quit deprecating me, I fought back against my inner voice. Just prove it.
The internal projector began replaying. It did have a point. In fact, the entire duration spells out like a recipe dictating how I cook up my inflight behaviour:
1) Inch down the aisle towards your seat; sprinkle tuts as you wonder why fellow passengers can’t place their belongings in the overhead lockers more efficiently.
2) Extract laptop and means of non-electrical note-keeping, i.e. what you can use during takeoff and landing; so this is how you clog up the boarding process by taking your sweet time.
3) Settle down on your seat, and notice how constricted your 6’3″ gangling mass is in the seatbelted entrapment; optional: person in front of you likely fidgety and knocking your boney knees with the back of his/her chair – console yourself with the remaining gram of optimism, because Step 4-6 should take your mind off the petty discomfort.
4) Take out your phone, embellish every second of dawdling on social media during the safety briefing – though do take note of the locations of nearest emergency exit and life jackets – then slyly switch off just before the inspecting flight attendant approaches.
5) Rummage the seat pocket for the inflight magazine to enthuse yourself during takeoff; flip through the pages, pay closer attention to anything of fleeting interest, but barely digest its literary context; track down the magazine’s contact details, pledge to self to pitch articles to said publication – and always never fulfil your own promise.
Side quest: trickle another drop into the imaginary jar – eventually it’ll be brimming with enough remorse you’ll start complying with your writer’s life goals.
6) Anticipate permission to turn on electronics; retrieve laptop, stir up a pretence that you can ever write in motion on planes – before abandoning the wordless futility and switch to Lightroom; envision spending remainder of flight indulging in photo editing, your inflight activity of choice, your ‘grownup’ equivalent of shading in a colouring book that isn’t really for the blogs or photography assignments, but for personal amusement. But strictly grownup, keep telling yourself.
7) Deplete laptop battery within half an hour by leaving the backlight on full; curse; optional: be envious of neighbouring toddlers with power-independent, actual colouring books.
8) Stare into blankness, for as long as you can bear idleness.
9) Seesaw between drifting to sleep – why did you have that double espresso before boarding? – and scribbling down ideas for articles you’ll probably never pen.
10) Become aware of the seat in front nudging and irking your knees; vilify such individual in your imagination and fabricate your impassioned confrontation speech upon his/her reclining the seat, as part of your plotting a revenge scheme; realise the ‘villain’ sits edgily because of how uncomfortable he/she too feels, and render yourself a stern scolding – you’re such a shit person sometimes, for even harbouring ill will towards someone you barely know.
11) Rejoice privily at the landing announcement; retreat into the mind palace until the plane almost touches ground; count down the seconds before the wheels hit tarmac – get the estimate wrong.
12) Flick off airplane mode on phone and tap away, as though you had squandered a decade in connectionless isolation; unbuckle and stand up to stretch your stiffened legs, only to have to stoop under the overhead lockers; commit hypocrisy yet again by wishing fellow passengers will collect their bags more competently.
13) Freedom – hang on, the customs queue is looking pretty long.
14) Freedom, if only the baggage reclaim carousel will move any faster.
15) FREEDOM! Wait, where do I go from the arrival halls?