I wrote this onboard a Delta flight with tattered seats and no per-person screens from Venice to Atlanta after about 150 pages of Hemingway and some 50 pages of Susan Cain's Quiet. My brain just couldn't take it anymore, so it turned to writing.
Right now I'm sitting on a Delta airlines flight to Atlanta. With some three movies behind us and about six hours in the air we are four hours away from landing. This is the part where flights become extremely long and cumbersome. When you can no longer really satisfy yourself with reading and start craving other sort of entertainment. When what you really need is some new stimuli.
The unchanging cabin feels stifling and despite being surrounded by people you are nonetheless lonely in your own little universe of your seat, the tiny tray table with a half consumed coke zero, and red blanket over your lap.
You've had the same set of headphones in your ears for the past several hours and you can barely feel them anymore. They are a natural part of your ear and yet you can't help but feel that they are insulting the ear canals by now, you repeatedly take them off to find some reprieve from he constant pressure in you rears only to find it's not the headphones, but the incessant noise of the airplane. It oppresses your nerves and your head will be buzzing for hours to come. Possibly days.
You might feel a little bit lightheaded when you land, it's the strangest feeling in the world - when your ears just can't accept the idea that a constant sound is no longer there. The silence is painful.
In this tiny universe, less than half a square meter large, you exist. Content with yourself, thinking about venturing outside, about interacting with the two people that comprise the larger conglomerate of universes - the middle row of seats.
On the left, a Slovenian girl - your first clue was that she put her glasses in a Optika Clarus box, something that only exists in Ljubljana. The more definitive clue came a few hours later when she was reading some Slovenian text on her android tablet.
You wonder if she's even noticed that you've spoken to her in Slovenian before, or does the constant noise oppress her ears so much gesticulation is your sole means of communicating. She certainly hasn't responded to any passing remark you've made while gesturing to be let out of your seat ...
On the right, an elderly woman. She's reading a book in English, only a few pages at a time. She seems more interested in the overhead screens that make up the flight's entertainment system. Yes, no screens in the seats in front of you, this is one of those budget transatlantic flights.
The lady doesn't seem to do much, every now and then she lets you out of your seat and smiles. She hasn't said a word, or maybe you've just not heard her. The oppressing noise is everywhere.
She seemed a little nervous about flying when we first started moving. You can always tell when somebody is afraid of flying, they put on an expressionless face, sometimes trying to focus the fear away. The old lady's hands were trembling a little.
Perhaps she's just old though, she seems generally relaxed and her hands seem to shake a little bit every time she does something fiddly like opening a bag of peanuts. But so do mine, opening those things is tricky without elbowing someone in the eye.
The girl on my left is definitely from Ljubljana, her android dashboard showed Ljubljana weather a few moments ago when she got tired of watching Crazy, Stupid, Love without sound.
She does that. I don't know why she hasn't put any headphones in. How can she live without music for so many hours in a row? I don't understand.
I wonder why she's flying to Atlanta?
Of course I could ask, but what's the fun in that. Guessing about people and inferring their histories is much more fun when you never have to confirm what you've guessed. That way you are always correct.
The noise makes conversation difficult anyway, so a deep discussion of what we're both up to would never be possible I don't think. The stewardess could hardly hear me when I ordered some Coke.
Seems she's a medical student. She just opened a textbook titled Interna Medicina. Sounds fairly general, I wonder if she's an undergrad.
After a few more hours I did finally start talking to the girl on the left. It was the only way to maintain my sanity. She seemed genuinely surprised that I'm Slovenian when I unabashedly asked "In kako to da letiš v Atlanto?" (so how come you're flying to Atlanta)
We chatted for a good half hour and only got separated at the US border in Atlanta. She's going to Monterey, Mexico, to do a month of practice at a hospital there. Before that she's spending three days in Mexico City and afterwards she's going on vacation to Nicaragua for a month. Pretty cool if you ask me.
Her life philosophy is to visit strange countries while she's still young and has the patience, she'll do US and Europe later when dingy hostels are just to dingy.
I slept through most of my flight from Atlanta to San Francisco, but I did have a long discussion about Tito and Yugoslavia with an older - about 50 - gentleman from Florida whose parents immigrated from India. He seemed genuinely impressed with what Tito's achieved and I feel sorry I didn't really know as much about Tito as he seemed to.
They don't teach us all that stuff anymore. If I had gone to school some 10 years earlier I could have talked his ear off.
Learned something new?
Read more Software Engineering Lessons from Production
I write articles with real insight into the career and skills of a modern software engineer. "Raw and honest from the heart!" as one reader described them. Fueled by lessons learned over 20 years of building production code for side-projects, small businesses, and hyper growth startups. Both successful and not.
Subscribe below 👇
Software Engineering Lessons from Production
Join Swizec's Newsletter and get insightful emails 💌 on mindsets, tactics, and technical skills for your career. Real lessons from building production software. No bullshit.
"Man, love your simple writing! Yours is the only newsletter I open and only blog that I give a fuck to read & scroll till the end. And wow always take away lessons with me. Inspiring! And very relatable. 👌"
Senior Mindset Book
Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companiesLearn more
Have a burning question that you think I can answer? Hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.
Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.
Want to become a true senior engineer? Take ownership, have autonomy, and be a force multiplier on your team. The Senior Engineer Mindset ebook can help 👉 swizec.com/senior-mindset. These are the shifts in mindset that unlocked my career.
Curious about Serverless and the modern backend? Check out Serverless Handbook, for frontend engineers 👉 ServerlessHandbook.dev
Want to Stop copy pasting D3 examples and create data visualizations of your own? Learn how to build scalable dataviz React components your whole team can understand with React for Data Visualization
Did someone amazing share this letter with you? Wonderful! You can sign up for my weekly letters for software engineers on their path to greatness, here: swizec.com/blog
By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❤️