Thoughts From the Window Seat

Thoughts From the Window Seat

It’s finally springtime in London.

Joggers and dog walkers are multiplying; people walk down the pavement with sunglasses and smiling faces.

This morning I am sitting at a desk in the new house I recently moved to, with the green spines of my flatmate’s aloe vera plant snaking towards my laptop screen. I am writing – more than I ever have in such a short space of time. Coffee mugs are cluttering the table corners; there are open notebooks, a huge white binder, highlighters, pens and scraps of scribble-covered paper all over the place. An empty banana skin beside some orange peel. An ache between my shoulder blades.

My days are beginning to all look the same.

Most afternoons I’m forced by a pre-paid yoga subscription to change into gym clothes and walk across the park, blinking in the natural light. I spend an hour obediently stretching and twisting my body through scrunched knots of muscle in a warmly lit room beneath skylight windows, and then I’m back in my new home again. When my fingers aren’t typing my mind is always set to whirr.

Spoiler alert: I’m writing a book

For the last two years I’ve been engrossed in my masters in Non-Fiction Writing – but ‘engrossed’ has, for the most part, actually meant a great deal of playing with different ideas and themes, with no real commitment to any one of them.  A couple of months ago I finally understood that the deadline for submitting a 60,000 word manuscript was approaching ever closer, and I’ve had to adjust my life accordingly.

Writing a memoir about processing the grief of losing my mum throughout the last seven years of my travels has eclipsed virtually everything else in my routine. I’ve taken something of a backseat from my offline world as well as my online life. Partly due to time constraints and the desire to focus all my attention on the task at hand, but also because I’ve never felt so vulnerable and self-doubting about a piece of writing before. Acutely cathartic and pretty emotionally exhausting to create, this manuscript is quickly becoming everything to me. What if it’s no good?

Thoughts From the Window Seat

Spotify has proved to be an unlikely ally. Musicians and bands I’d never heard of are now my support networks, chiming chords and strumming strings in constant rhythms that keep me in check and help to feel out the edges of chapters when I can’t see them on the screen. A cup of tea at 4pm is an unconscious tradition, the warmth spreading through my chest like liquid creativity.

And when I’ve started to lose my intention – when the caffeine rush has begun to dissipate and a slower song comes through the speakers – I look out of the window. My new desk affords me a view straight across the wide green expanse of an East London park. I’d forgotten how much I value having open space beside me, complete with slowly moving trees and the occasional flutter of a bird’s swooping wing.

Life beside the window is a luxury.

The only downside is a lack of travel 

The first writing I ever published online was through a Tumblr account, on a blog I christened ‘The Passenger Side’. Clearly I saw myself predominantly as an observer: sitting slightly offstage and out of focus. It’s a trope that’s followed me throughout my life, but somehow my current online persona refused to acquiesce. Flora the Explorer has absolutely taken her place in the spotlight.

Yet after more than four years of blogging about travel on this site, the masters has seriously curbed my travelling. It’s seen me refusing press trips and work opportunities, and even meant cancelling travel with friends. So a few weeks ago when an invitation to the Tuscany region of Italy sparked my interest, I threw writing-caution to the winds and flew out for three days.

Thoughts From the Window Seat

A renewed love for the window seat

I’ve been uncomfortable with flying for a few years now, and it’s a fear that seems only to be increasing as I get older and overthink more. Apart from the obvious terrorism aspect, I also dealt with a few bad flights – a shattered windscreen resulting in a grounded plane when leaving Cuba, and three hours of incessant turbulence on the way to Morocco – and now every bump and jolt feels like the beginning of a crash.

So when I found out that my Tuscany trip involved connecting flights both outward to Rome and back into London, my stomach lay heavy in my mouth. During take off I panicked quietly: clutching the charms on my necklace, muttering under my breath and expelling air as slowly as I could whenever I felt a shift in the plane.

But then I spotted the little boy in the seat in front of me, who kept speaking excited Russian to his platinum blonde mum with his nose squished against the window in total fascination. And when I looked out of my own window, I could see why: clear sunshine streaming in, glistening rivers, fluffy clouds, and eventually the wide stretch of the English channel – a strip of water that so many hundreds of refugees want to cross.

Thoughts From the Window Seat

Bizarrely enough I realised that many of the flights I’ve taken recently involved a nonchalant disregard for the window seat: something which was second nature to ask for when I was younger. For some reason, staring out of the window pulled me straight back to childhood.

I counted rooftops and gazed at farmland: as we rose higher, I wondered for the hundredth time about how those cloud formations really form. When the plane began to rock from a buffet of air,  I remembered something a yoga teacher said recently in class: that the essence of yoga is to find calm and and stillness in moments of activity.

Instead of panicking, I gazed out at the sliver-sharp mountains and the full, round, perfect-circle moon above them.

Thoughts From the Window Seat

I looked behind me through the narrow crack between window and seat, at a line of faces pressed against their small oval panes of double glass. A row of eager, grown up children.

Thoughts From the Window Seat

All I could think was how I’m so incredibly grateful for this. For being able to look down on ribbons of cloud topped by soft blue tinged strips of light.

For being able to fly, even if it scares me.

Flights, fear and freedom

The day I flew to Italy there were bombs and deaths in Brussels, and it made me nervous – but we can’t let the fear that stems from events like this rule our lives and stop us from doing what we love.

Travel makes me inordinately happy. I love it because it shakes me up, carves out new edges in my life, makes me wonder and re-wonder at how many infinite types of people and places and things there are which I still have no concept of, and can barely even fathom. All these different lives I have never lived, which I catch glimpses of purely from boarding a plane – or from stepping off one.

It’s the same with writing. Even when the very action of it seems daunting and insurmountable, I know I’ll understand my thoughts and myself better as a result.

Thoughts From the Window Seat

Time moves fast when you stay in one place. Sometimes that feels right, when you’re tired and need to feel confident in your own space: but there’s a vulnerability which comes almost unbidden from the buzz and rush of the unknown, and from the intriguingly different.

Doing what scares me is important. More than that: it’s integral. It’s part of the fibre that I’m proud to be created from. I don’t think anyone can survive purely on mundanity.

Not when there’s views like this to be had at thirty thousand feet, or anywhere else really. Just as long as you remember to look out of the window.

Thoughts From the Window Seat
Are you scared of flying (or committing to something huge)? Do you have any tricks to combat it? And most crucially, what’s the best view you’ve ever seen from a plane window?!

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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21 Responses to Thoughts From the Window Seat

  1. Kim April 14, 2016 at 12:39 pm #

    I understand this on so many levels. First, the writing. It has also kept me grounded for a year and it ALSO makes me feel so vulnerable and worried that my book is, maybe, the worst book ever written in the history of books. I’ve turned it in to my editor and I’d be lying if there weren’t moments when I check my email afraid that she’ll have written to say it’s terrible and she’s changed her mind, she doesn’t want it anymore. So, maybe that fear is normal? I kind of hope it is. Second of all, I too have a fear of flying. And it’s funny because, since I haven’t been on a plane in a year (wow, how is this possible?) that fear has grown a lot bigger. I realize that traveling keeps fear at bay for me, because when you’re traveling you don’t have much time to worry.

    • Flora April 19, 2016 at 12:04 pm #

      I like to assume that many first time book writers have the same fear, Kim! Hopefully it’s more to do with unfurling so much personal work all at once than because it’s terrible. Or that’s the mentality I keep trying to force myself into 🙂 I completely empathise with how the flying fear has grown through not travelling as much though – I really hope for both our sakes that it dissipates!

  2. Emma April 14, 2016 at 12:42 pm #

    I love this post. I am scared of flying. After taking part in a fear of flying course I am better, but still scared. I do prefer to have a window seat as I feel better being able to see out! The first time I flew alone it was to Moscow. A wonderful clear, blue sky meant we could see all the sites as we came in to land. I loved it. Feel the fear and do it anyway. 🙂 And good luck with your book.

    • Flora April 19, 2016 at 12:05 pm #

      Thanks so much for the positivity, Emma! I’ve often thought about taking a similar course – clearly you found it helpful then?

      • Emma April 20, 2016 at 9:55 pm #

        Yes! It’s expensive, but I’d totally recommend it. It changed my life. Sounds over the top, but I found it hard to even look at a plane before doing it! And now I can fly in one 🙂

  3. Kate April 14, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

    Such a beautiful post!

    • Flora April 19, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed it, Kate 🙂

  4. Jolene April 14, 2016 at 3:54 pm #

    The rocky mountains were by far the best thing I’ve ever seen from a plane window. But every time I can’t help but stare at the clouds like I did when I was 5 on my first flight.

    • Flora April 19, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

      I’d love to fly over the Rockies! I also wish I’d sat on the correct side to see Everest when I flew into Nepal.. :p

  5. Andy April 14, 2016 at 11:34 pm #

    Nice reflection Flora. I can relate to this as I’m scared of flying too. Like you’ve mentioned, it helps me when I look around the plane at young, happy-looking people. It somehow seems wrong for them to die on that plane, therefore I won’t either.

    • Flora April 19, 2016 at 12:08 pm #

      Yep, it’s a strangely supportive thought (even if it has no real significance) – but whatever helps in my opinion!

  6. leigh423 April 15, 2016 at 12:14 am #

    I’m also a nervous flyer, which started about 8 years ago and was quite bad. For several years, I had to take aisle seats so I could hit the restroom frequently (Sorry, TMI…) I’ve always taken Xanax with me to fly as well. The last year or so has actually gotten better, to the point where I can take a window seat again (yay!) and don’t always take Xanax for every flight…I’m not 100% cured, but just recently took a 16 hour flight to Hong Kong by myself, which felt like a big accomplishment! I think, as with anything, the more you do it, the better it gets.

    • Flora April 19, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

      Congrats on facing the fear for a 16 hour long haul flight – that must’ve taken some serious guts! Ultimately I have to imagine what unforgettable elements of that new destination I’d be missing out on if I didn’t board the plane. FOMO tends to force me forward! :p

  7. Lauren Fitzpatrick April 15, 2016 at 12:20 am #

    I really loved this post – I think often about how important it is to do things that scare you, because it’s the best way to prove to yourself that you can overcome that fear. Good luck on the book writing 🙂

    • Flora November 25, 2016 at 2:43 pm #

      Thanks so much Lauren! 🙂

  8. czyla44 April 15, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

    Beautiful post! I love the part about how travel makes you vulnerable, it’s so true. I think that’s part of what makes it so easy to interact with other travellers is the fact that everyone is vulnerable. No one has their guard up like we do in our every day lives. I’m not scared of flying but I can definitely see why you would be, but it’s great that you aren’t letting your fear stop you. Keep on flying!

    • Flora April 19, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

      That’s very true – there’s an intense vulnerability when a group of strangers travels – or flies – together. You can’t help but show your true self if something out of the ordinary happens.

  9. Alberto Costa April 27, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    Great post……I think it’s a brilliant experience for traveling window seat

    • Flora May 11, 2016 at 11:24 am #

      Thanks Alberto – glad you enjoyed the piece 🙂

  10. The Lost Boy May 4, 2016 at 4:29 am #

    Your focus and dedication to the memoir astounds me. I’ve started mine 3 times now and even tried NanoWriMo for November as encouragement, but all other things get in the way. Plus, the topic you write about and what I would be are quite heavy and take their toll. But seems like you’ve made huge progress though!

    And about flying…I’m terrified of it and always pray to random gods about being safe. But I love sitting by the window as well. Take off and landing freak me out, but I can usually sleep through a flight. But window seat is that feeling of childlike wonder always =)

  11. Kristine Li May 26, 2016 at 5:49 pm #

    Beautifully written, Flora! I choose the window seat each time without fail, just so I can look out of it. Sometimes it’s the expanse of the ocean, sometimes it’s the majestic sight of alps underneath. No matter how many times I fly, the experience never gets old. And just like how you wrote, I’ll feel insanely grateful for the views and the opportunities to fly and so much more!

    Ps: Good luck in writing your book!

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