This column explores the myriad ways we can — and maybe should — engage with our creative process beyond actively writing.
I’m not great at flying. By which I mean the idea of stepping foot on an airplane fills me with dread and panic, and is the only real reason I have a primary care physician anymore (so he can prescribe me Xanax).
But it hadn’t always been this way.
I grew up flying, privileged to spend winter breaks down in Florida with my dad’s parents or fly into New York City to visit my grandmother. The only thing I ever had to worry about, for the most part, was getting sick from the turbulence and throwing up on my Hello Kitty backpack (which did happen, once).
Things changed as I got older. There was a return flight from a Paris trip with my high school that left a few of us stuck in New Jersey trying to get back home after the eight hours airborne that were marred with stomach lurching drops in pressure. Where I popped anti-nausea pills like they were candy. And there was just the loss of innocence and naivety that came with growing up, and growing in neurosis. My fearlessness from adolescence—that deep belief that nothing could hurt or harm me—had long waned into nonexistence. Flying became an easy vessel to funnel so much of that into.
But this trip was different somehow. I was almost excited about it? Fall semester is nearing its finality and I’m feeling it. My extracurriculars—taking my own graduate-level course towards an education certificate, all the freelance work I do with the Rochester CITY Magazine, my own writing and publishing, this column—were taking a toll on me. All I wanted to do was rest.
For my mother, planes are where she rests. She doesn’t have to worry about anything. Everything is being handled for her. That was appealing to me. A couple hours unreachable in the air. My only activity listening to music or podcasts and sleeping. It was heavenly. Enough to make me salivate at the mouth. Could the anxiety be washed away if the reward was so good?
In the last few days (I’m writing this on Dec. 2, so the first of this month and the last of November) have been a sort of whirlwind. I found out that my Longreads essay, “The Teacher Crush,” made their Best of 2023 list for most read on the site. My second Electric Literature essay, “Twisting My Life Into a Story Sacrificed My Ability to Live It,” came out and although Susan Orlean has not yet asked to be my best friend, I do think she’d like it. And I had two feature articles about two incredible ladies named Mackenzie drop with CITY. It’s been a strange time in which I’ve been forced to confront the fact that I might indeed know a bit of what I’m doing. That I might even be, to the shock of myself but maybe not others, good at this writing thing.
So there’s been an increase in trust. I sort of sat with myself after the Longreads news and came to terms with the fact that I can trust myself, my process. Recently, on Twitter (or X, whatever) people in the writing community have been sharing what they’re most proud of from 2023. There’s been a lot of agent news, book announcements or deals. Even just a week ago, it was enough to make me feel like a failure. To shut my laptop in a quick haste and bite down the bile rising in my throat. People are publishing at twenty-five and what am I even doing now? I’m wasting away. Wasting time. Those are the kind of things I’d think to myself.
And then, it stopped. The plane beckoned. Things weren’t so bad.
Whenever we talk about my fear of flying, my therapist brings it back to this truth: You get on the plane. Every single trip, no matter how much I cry or throw up in fear beforehand or come to terms with my inevitable death, I get on the plane. Step foot over that threshold—right palm caressing the cold metal as I internally whisper keep us safe every time—and take my seat.
I think the connection I’m trying to make is it’s okay to be scared. To have moments in which none of this seems right. Even T Kira Madden recently posted about the bouts of insecurity she’s gone through with her novel manuscript, the impulses to throw it out and turning to her wife for reasons why she shouldn’t. I think it’s also about remembering you’re doing the best that you can, and that none of this is a race unless you make it so. That I’m in charge of how I view my progress, and right now it feels a bit like success.