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Working on Planes

I’ve had several conversations with folks over the course of the week, conversations that were mostly about my stress level and general bad attitude, that resulted in my confessing my dread of the conference trip I’m taking this weekend. I’m going to the conference to do interviews, and not for either of my primary programs, but for a tertiary program that I’ve been somewhat loosely affiliated with for several years but that has come in the last two-plus years to take up increasing amounts of my mental and calendrical energy with astonishingly little in the way of payoff.

The one part of this trip that I’ve really been looking forward to is, perversely, the travel itself — the airports and airplanes and hotel. Each time I told someone this, this week, I’d get that slightly squinty “that’s weird but I’m too polite to say so” look, so I’d trot out my usual aphorisms about how well I work on airplanes. Which only resulted in more strange looks.

Oh, but I do: I work like a fiend on airplanes. I’m in mid-journey right now (yes, IAH; yes, President’s Club) and on my first flight I was able to crank through commenting on an entire batch of student papers. Granted, the papers were pretty brief, but they’re done. And the reason why is so simple it’s almost embarrassing: no distractions. The movie, as usual, was not worth watching; more importantly, though, there was no phone or internet access. No one could contact me to ask me a question or, god forbid, to do something. I was stuck in my seat in that little metal cigar tube, miles above the earth, surrounded by strangers, with nothing but that stack of papers on my lap to distract me. I cranked up the iPod, got out a pen, and just got to work, totally focused and clear-headed.

A colleague of mine told me yesterday about the amazing work she accomplished while yo-yoing, Benny Profane-style, through the Bay Area’s train system; an inexpensive day pass would result in real increases in productivity. Alas, plane tickets are too expensive for such yo-yoing, but the effect, when I get to travel like this, remains — something that will always make me look forward to the trip, if not necessarily the destination.


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