Monday, January 30, 2012

Pam Houston, Airplane Reader

It was in late 2003 or early 2004 when I first met Pam Houston. We were on an early morning airport run from Davis, CA to the Sacramento airport.

To get from Davis to the airport, you have to hurtle across a spindly causeway that spans the swollen lowlands of the Sacramento river valley; usually you can see night herons and cranes skimming the rice fields on both sides of the elevated highway as you race past. The Sacramento airport also lies (in)conveniently within a major bird migration pathway. Last week a United aircraft experienced a bird strike shortly after takeoff, and had to return to the airport; an engine was damaged, birds most likely died, passengers were rerouted, etc. In my book The Textual Life of Airports, I explore Sacramento's unique and vexed relationship with birds (see chapter 8).

Anyway, Pam and I were being shuttled across the causeway by the eternally gracious Janie Guhin of UC Davis. Pam and I started exchanging various airport myths and airline lore, and very quickly we realized that we shared a common obsession. I told her some of my stories from working at the airport outside of Bozeman; she shared her quirky perspective on simultaneously being a frequent flier and a ranch girl ('girl' here used with full respect and critical scare-quotes).

A few years later, over lunch, Pam told me all about the novel she was working on at the time: she described how the narrative was punctuated by little inter-chapters that would take place in flight; the main character was always flying to or away from some romantic (conceived broadly) connection. I was, of course, excited about the possibilities of such a literary work.

Now that book has just been released: it's called Contents May Have Shifted. Pam wrote a beautiful and brilliant piece for me & Mark Yakich to feature at Airplane Reading; it begins in the Denver airport, and ends in the air—or really, it's a flight that takes the reader right to her novel, like a möbius strip made of words...

I feel really fortunate to have crossed paths with Pam Houston, on the way to the airport.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Grab Bag

Today Continuum featured my book on their Literary Studies blog, and over on his site Roy Christopher wrote an engaging distillation of "terminal philosophy," which includes a discussion of my book.

Then there's this:

It may not look like anything special, but as is the way of so much airport culture, it is an amalgam of stories, myths, and attitudes—all bundled in a mundane object. It's a custom Ziploc baggy handed out at the Philadelphia airport (circa 2006) during the infamous 3-1-1 time period, after the liquid and gel scare.

Remember the scene? Silver trashcans overflowing with Right Guard, Secret, and Gillette sticks... So much aromatic confidence and plastic material discarded in a single TSA mandate. In 1894 Kate Chopin used the marvelous and seemingly innocuous phrase "grip-sack" toward the end of "The Story of an Hour." The airport Ziploc represents another chapter in this American narrative of travel disasters, botched communication, and the freedom that flees.

I think I am going to start posting here all the bits and scraps that didn't make it into my book The Textual Life of Airports. There's some really good stuff, all rife with subtleties & niceties...