I nervously tapped on my armrest as we landed at the Dallas Airport. What was to be a chill 4-hour layover became a stressful race against the clock due to a series of delays. The plane door opened, and I snatched our bags from the overhead compartment, rushing through the airport, dodging people, and dashing up and down escalators. Hannah and I reached the gate 5 minutes past boarding, but seeing that there were still people at the gate, I felt relief. We sat down to catch our breath, while over the intercom, a flight attendant announced that our flight had been pushed to the following day.
It was 11 p.m., and we had seven hours to wait before boarding our next flight. Frustrated, I felt like slinging my bag across the terminal like an Olympic hammer throw. Nothing was going to plan, and it felt like our luck was only worsening. We searched for the comfiest chairs for our short-term beds and found two bright red faux leather seats in a quiet corner of the terminal. Despite the cushions’ permanent impression of a butt, they beat the stiff plastic row chairs. I sat down and tried to find a comfy position but slid right off the seat like it was made of Crisco. The material of my pants and the faux leather made it so that the chair became a bonafide slip-n-slide.
After several more attempts, I gave up on the slick red seat. Irritated and tired, I removed my jacket and positioned my bag to create a makeshift bed on the floor. Sleep became my only focus and despite the thought of the airport floor germs, I laid down and closed my eyes. I imagined being in bed at home; I imagined lounging on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, watching Seinfeld re-runs. Yet, these fantasies were quickly blotted out by the various chimes, notifications, and announcements that echoed through the terminal, each bringing me back to face my present situation.
I sat up and looked out the windows at the dark sky and star-like runway lights. I had the feeling of being in a fishbowl. Outside was a world where time carried on normally, and I was stuck inside, a reality where time didn’t budge and the scenery never changed. I glanced at my watch, hoping for good news. Only 60 minutes had passed.
I looked over at Hannah, who managed to curl up on the other seat. From her look, I could tell she was equally as miserable. I decided to fetch us some food and drinks, thinking that a walk would get my mind off waiting. It was eerie to be in such a big space with no one around — the only signs of life were the occasional custodian. It was then I thought about a quote by Jorge Luis Borges, having recently read some of his work:
“A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”
— Jorge Luis Borges, from Twenty-Four Conversations with Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981–1983
Born in Argentina in 1899, Borges dealt with many good and bad circumstances, extracting the essence of each experience and using them as resources for his literary creations. Later in life, he became blind due to a congenital condition, but that did little to inhibit his inventiveness. He later expressed his condition, “Blindness has not been for me total misfortune; it should not be seen in a pathetic way. It should be seen as a way of life: one of the styles of living”.
Borges explored the seemingly mundane — extracting significance from the tiniest of places. In his story, ‘The Aleph,’ he describes a dark dinghy basement where there lies an iridescent sphere containing the entirety of the universe, all from a single point. He challenges the limitations of language with his fantastical stories, stretching your imagination and leaving you with a childlike sense of wonder.
Something flipped in my brain and soon, my mind raced with ideas. At the time, I was taking a brief break from book writing and was working on a short story about a man stuck on a subway train. In the story, the man notices time stretch and shift in strange ways. I thought about him and the parallels to my current scenario, the feelings of uncertainty and stress, and how time can be utterly disorienting.
Eventually, I found an open 7-Eleven and bought some snacks, drinks, and a coffee. I returned eager to begin recording my thoughts. It was 2 a.m., but I had newfound energy from the mix of caffeine and ideas. Time began to move faster, and before I knew it, I saw the deep red streak of light on the horizon.
The time that I never thought would come had arrived. We packed our things and made our way to the gate, relieved that this traveling fiasco was ending. At least, that’s what I thought…
It turns out our airline booked us on a different flight, and we had to wait an additional hour before boarding our last plane. I once again had the urge to chuck my bag across the terminal, but the exhaustion and lack of sleep turned my emotions into an incomprehensible mush.
The trip from Montana to North Carolina was pulled and stretched to a hellish length, but after 25 hours, we finally made it home.
This traveling fiasco was an important lesson for me. Thanks to Borges, I recognized that there’s power in observing the present and using it as a resource. By extracting the feelings, things, and surrounding senses, I could gather inspiration for my creative work. I’m certain there will be plenty more traveling headaches to come, but it’s reassuring to know that even during the worst of times, inspiration can still be found.