I'm finally reading my magazines. Maybe I should book a flight every month, just for the captured sit-still time that flying affords. I only subscribe to three magazines, four if you count Newsweek, which used to be my favorite until they defected to a digital-only format. Mental Floss is my new favorite. It's witty, whimsical, well-written and wickedly nerd-tastic. While soaring the skies, my eyes scan the lines of text left to right, left to right, left, left, left ... I keep my face pointed toward the magazine pages, but my eyes pull to the left and over the rim of my eyeglasses to steal a look at the woman seated beside me.
She's reading my new book.
When our flight was still grounded, I had to unseat her and her husband in order to wedge myself into my window assignment. She offered to hold my coffee after watching me try and stuff my computer bag beneath the seat in front of me. I fastened my seat belt and thanked her for keeping me from scalding myself before takeoff. We laugh and settle back into our seats. We engage in the where-why-how-long-are-you-traveling exchange after a mutual hesitation. Perhaps she didn't want to divulge too much. Or maybe, like me, she didn't want to inadvertently commit herself to an extended, flight-long banter. I had my magazines waiting, after all.
I described my work as an artist-in-residence. She explained that their vacation club had recently opened a resort in Granada. We mused over the peculiarity of Granada as a vacation destination, as both of us connected the island to a vague and distant war.
She circled back to my writing, asking what-where-how-long. I gave her my elevator pitch about the poems. The columns. The fiction. For two heartbeats, I deliberated whether to give her a copy of Call It Forth. Presumptuous? Off putting? Wasteful? I rationalized that the short stack wouldn't have been in my carry-on bag if hadn't needed the relief for my checked luggage to clear its weight limit. This had to be a sign from the gods of self-promotion.
"Closed mouths don't get fed. Promotion-wary authors won't get read."
She was clearly surprised to receive the gift, maybe because the book is beautiful or, maybe, because I'd turned out to be a tale-spinner who'd been telling the truth. She thanked me and opened to the very last page, my bio. I was oddly relieved for her to begin there, to begin with a footing that this stranger on her plane has proven her words to be worthy.
She flips to the first page and I quickly turn my attention like a school girl who vanishes after delivering a love note to the cutest boy in school. I dig into my bag and dive into my magazine. In my periphery I can see that she's reading the poems first. A good sign, me thinks.
I read an article about microbial fashion; apparently, "vegetable leather" is coming our way. I learn the history of the legendary Body Farm at the University of Tennessee and how its researchers are now developing technology to discover mass burial grounds hidden in war torn nations. A new lineup of wiz kids includes a three-year-old boy with membership into Mensa and an 18-year-old who built a nuclear fusion reactor in his parents' garage.
She's still reading.
I sink into stories about underground hotels, cubicle weaponry made from office supplies, the growing use of dandelion sap as a latex replacement in rubber.
The book is closed, folded across her lap. I'm pleased by the attention she'd given so far.
I chuckle at stories about Bill Murray's odd ball pranks, that Carl Sagan's series The Cosmos will return to the airwaves with Neil deGrasse Tyson as host, and how pineapples are actually a cluster of berries! I didn't even notice when she started reading again. I begin to move through the magazine pages of Poets & Writers.
The pilot announces our descent just I finish consuming my last magazine. My seat mate turns to say, "I enjoy the way you write. It makes me smile."
She agrees to share her email address and I agree to autograph the book. We thanked one another and, once on the tarmac, disconnected as abruptly as we'd been linked: me to a distress phone call from home and her to a connection in another terminal.
Our interaction served as an unplanned beta test for me. As I grow more and more excited about this book project --and my life as a dedicated writer-- I'm fueled by such serendipitous built-it-and-they-will-come endorsements from the universe.
Thank you, Mrs. 17E. I hope you and my book are having a wonderful vacation...