Mirrors and planes always play a huge role in lots of my writing. Everything is a self-portrait, and life is always in motion. I had a moment last week looking in the mirror, feverish, coming off of two weeks of fasting for Ramadan with fatigue so intense my eyes bulged out of their sockets and my cheeks began to flatten. Endless minutes went by as I ate a whole cauldron of soup without my body responding-no urge to pee, no bloating, nothing-as if it was getting back everything it lacked the past two weeks. The same thing I sought to accomplish for better focus in my life began to destroy me. Not only did I feel physically like shit, but mentally, like I couldn’t finish anything in my life, even what didn’t require any creative input.
But that was meant to come to a beautiful, more positive close by the end of the week, a group of ideas in hindsight that I could’ve collected on the four-hour flight to Boston. How To Finish Things For People Who Never Finish Anything, a title I often revisit every time I come up with an idea that I never finish, ironically. It was only until my flight-and subsequently my trip-got cancelled that the irony of the situation would have been too much for the title, and readers of the title, to handle. The only thing I could do was turn whatever negative thoughts I had into a precautionary coping mechanism in this four-sheet stapled booklet, for future me next time I’m depressed in my parents’ house missing out on what could’ve been.
This whole booklet thing started when I met this artist, now a friend, who was doing a workshop for an event at my workplace which involved creating these pocket books (she called them “abstract keepers”) out of papers and staples, to be decorated with markers and colored pencils. It was really for kids-it always is-but I did it anyways, parading around my creation for everyone to be proud of me. That shit’s therapeutic, and for someone of my amateur craft level it is a huge achievement. Regardless, it proved useful on my plane ride to Las Vegas the next night.
The mixture of the flight’s time limit and the scant length of paper reminded me of college, writing papers until five in the morning trying to not go over my word limit, and somehow writing it better than I would have with a lot more time on my hands. This small square of paper looked like it was asking to be filled, and I only had so much time to fill it (not to mention a lack of productive options at the moment). So I filled it with thoughts of my surroundings. Like the cute old ladies that were laughing, loudly, about whatever old ladies laugh about, and the many functions of reading lights in planes, though quickly correcting myself on my assertions about their uniqueness.
I guess that headspace during flight isn’t new. That idea was one of my favorites in Vince Staples’s Big Fish Theory, the moments of clarity he reached while in a plane (listen to “Party People,” for reference). I think when you’re suspended thousands of feet above ground you’re forced to observe your surroundings in a productive way.
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And I couldn’t help but be sad now that instead of reaching that headspace, pressured by time and what’s in front of me, I’m sitting in a static environment, on my futon in my solo apartment trying to complete these four pages with unlimited time and no one to benefit from them. It doesn’t help that I’m constantly uncomfortable with my solitude, despite how often I seek it. That I think I can be this successful writer I’ve always wanted to be without touching a pen and paper and instead just speaking things into existence. Or that just writing 4-page memoirs is going to magically transform into a novel. What a life full of paradoxes… Thinking big gets you nowhere, and neither does acting small.
But perhaps that prospect for an impact isn’t always the best thing to look forward to. Instead, it could just be what I’ve learned from this. I wonder, with two pages left, if I could take this brain dump and bestow some lessons upon myself to actually finish something for once, to the benefit of whoever stumbles upon this piece next.
I’d say, first, make sure I’m always moving, if you didn’t get that from my flight analysis. But thinking about it past the context of flight, I reach that headspace every time I’m in motion: long commutes, exercise, always working events. I’d also say you could probably call bullshit on that being an original idea, because now that I’ve written it down it just seems like common sense, but I guess it doesn’t matter all that much if my sudden realization benefits you, even though I wrote earlier that it does.
There’s the second lesson: don’t give a shit.
And the third: it doesn’t hurt to change your mind (sometimes it hurts).
Fourth: irony brings you closer to the truth. Real-life literary scenarios are mind-boggling nuisances but at least they lead to an understanding of life that we can leverage for… clarity. And sometimes money.
Fifth: sell out. If you feel like you can make money off this you’d write more, wouldn’t you?
Sixth: asking yourself a leading question like that means you already know the answer you’re looking for.
Seventh: but don’t end with that. I know the answer, but I don’t know them all. I always have something else to answer, and more room to grow. For me to complete whatever How To Finish Things For People Who Never Finish Anything is supposed to be, I have to accept the irony that nothing is ever truly finished.
Originally published at http://alihaider.org on May 21, 2019.