Why I Like Writing in Airports… by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

This is the second installment in our series about inspiration. Do you have something that always works? Tell us about it in the Comments.

Inspiration Series: #2
by PQ Contributing Editor Elizabeth Kate Switaj

We give up a lot to fly: our privacy at security, personal space on the plane, unchapped lips, and sometimes our health. In return we get frequent flyer miles and a quicker trip to places we may or may not want to go, but I find something else while waiting for my inevitably delayed flights: inspiration.

Even when if I’ve just arrived on a transatlantic flight and haven’t managed to sleep, even if I’ve been misconnected and have twenty-four hours to wait, I take out my laptop or notebook and write. If a coffee shop is open, I use their tables, but I have also sprawled out on the floor beside an open outlet with a cup of black coffee from the only outlet open (Dunkin’ Donuts at Newark, Burger King at LAX) or made my writing tools share space with a margarita at Chili’s Too. Even if I would rather sleep, even if I could sleep, I always have to write.

Wherever I sit or stretch, I see people moving past—hundreds at least at the larger airports, nearly that at the smaller ones (like the two in Belfast, the city I recently left). Each one of them is starting or ending a story, or moving from one chapter to another. That everyone is in the beginning, middle, or conclusion of a story is not exclusive to airports; everyone is always starting, ending, or continuing a tale (and sometimes all three happen at the same time), but the motion of the airport emphasizes this reality.

The physical movement from one place to another echoes the movement from one story or storyline to another. The arrival and departure screens serve as banks of settings and reminders of just how many different stories the airport is involved in. Hordes of main characters, who are also supporting figures, in other tales, press into each plane taking off or landing. Speech flows to different rhythms suggesting different meters; strides go at different paces, suggesting different lengths for lines.
The energy of all these stories and all these changes demands being made into words. Movement wants language. Change wants to be communicated, and in an airport I can feel all of these desires. An airport can be a miserable place, but no matter the delays, inspiration lives—or, rather, moves—there.
Elizabeth Kate Switaj’s first collection of poetry, Magdalene & the Mermaids, was published in 2009 by Paper Kite Press. Her pamphlet, Warburg’s Tincture of Sonnets, is forthcoming from Like This Press in 2013. She recently completed a PhD on James Joyce the teacher. For more information, visit www.elizabethkateswitaj.net