Writing is telepathy, Stephen King wrote. The author sends a message; we receive it. Preferably, in our favorite reading spot, where the signal is strong and the transmission from author to reader unimpeded. It might be a sofa, a park bench, the john, whatever.
For me, it’s airplanes.
There’s something about the pressurized cabin, the altitude, the journey. Planes are not only where I do my best reading, they’re also the place where – as a direct consequence of the reading – I do my best thinking.
I’m a journalist, so while I love fiction, I devote my plane-time to nonfiction, mostly magazines, especially American ones. Let me explain. Romanian magazines, save one or two, are awful. The approach is superficial, the writing is sloppy and the editing is nonexistent. Magazines are a special breed and I wish we’d treat them better.
The purpose of a good magazine is to give you a snapshot of the world, show you what people are thinking, liking, dreaming, and buying. They should be windows into communities of thought and interest, carefully put together by people who want to cultivate these communities and give readers the promise of a better life. That’s not a lie, and it’s not PR blah blah. We live to become better. Good magazines know that. The main reason you are reading this online magazine is its promise to inspire you. Others want to help you fix your home, reach your fitness goals or decrypt intricate government policies. The best ones do it sincerely. Those are the mags I take on a plane.
Here’s how it happens. Flying is an eternal human aspiration – the once impossible journey, now a crammed aisle seat reality. Because we’re unable to control the journey, we let go of the reigns. We relax. Me, I become susceptible to stories and get an empathy-high. (There are endless discussions online about emotional overload on airplanes, where a dumb romantic comedy suddenly becomes deep drama; even 300 is a more profound flick at that altitude.)
So I binge on stories. Short bits on polishing your shoes or matching plaid with stripes. Essays on memory enhancement, race, or the effect of Wagner on war-movies. Agonizingly long features on poverty in India or the business of self-actualization. I binge on Wired, Esquire, The Atlantic, Intelligent Life, Pop, GQ, Harper’s, The New Yorker, newspapers’ Sunday magazines, The Economist, Vanity Fair, Mental Floss, Monocle, whatever the newsstand is selling.
On a plane, suspended in time and space, I’m fueling up for the next few months. I’m spotting trends, digesting storylines, picking up references, polishing ideas, and making connections. On a plane, with my mags, I’m being inspired. A gluttonous orgiastic binge, but inspiration nonetheless.
As the plane begins its descent and real-life looms, I go over the things I’ve learned: Dan Brown is going to make masons a hot trend, New Moon will keep vampires in the headlines, double-breasted suits are back, placebos are cutting into the pharmaceutical business, women freedivers are battling to surpass the 100 meter mark.
Not to mention the various editorial takes on happiness: France wants to be a second Bhutan and start taking a measure of national happiness; positive psychology is turning 10; Alain De Botton wrote a book on the pleasures and sorrows of work; the recession is making us re-evaluate the meaning of a fulfilling life. I could pull those threads together, find a good local angle and do a magazine story that says something about the way we live now.
All because of the mags I brought onto the plane.
Cristian Lupsa lives in Bucharest, Romania. A graduate of the master’s program at the Missouri School of Journalism, he is currently a contributing writer to Esquire Romania, an editor, and a trainer at the Center for Independent Journalism. You can read some of his stories – in Romanian – on his blog. He also tweets about journalism, magazines and storytelling at @cristianlupsa
aisle image copyrighted by CodenameShaider