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Jami Attenberg

Curing My Flight Anxiety, One Book Tour at a Time

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad (Airplane photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

Jami Attenberg | Longreads | June 2017 | 9 minutes (2,138 words)


There was a definitive start date to my flight anxiety. I know this because I was on an early morning flight back from a Midwestern city. I had been in town for an appearance. There was average attendance at the event; I had collected my check. Later, I had one of the hosts drop me off not at my hotel but an old lover’s house in the city. I’m sure she thought I was being sketchy. I wasn’t explaining the whole story. An old friend, I said. We were having dinner. But I took my luggage with me. She kept offering to buy me dinner, this nudgy, but kind woman. I didn’t feel like explaining anything. She was a stranger. It was my personal life.

These are not extraordinary circumstances, necessarily, although they are specific ones. You may not have to stand in front of an audience talking about a book you wrote, but you might have had to make a sales presentation to a regional office. You may not have a prying local escort, but you might have, say, a mother, or a friend, who doesn’t know when to drop it. And at some point in your life I bet you’ve made choices that other people might find questionable, even if you didn’t question them one bit.

The next morning I boarded this tiny plane, two seats on either side of the aisle, except for the very last seat, which was a single. That was where I was miserably stuck, directly across from the bathroom. I’d had about two hours of rest the night before and was hungover on arrival. I fell asleep almost immediately on the plane, a hazy, buzzed sleep. I woke as the beverage cart rolled over my foot, with a gasp and a start and a solid pounding in my chest. It was an almost instantaneous anxiety attack.

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