high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A long flight will inevitably also involve some drive(l) time

You may as well pack it with krill
In just under one week now I'll be taking flight to cross the Atlantic en route to visiting Jen in Paris and getting into other mischief in the land of sheep and harps.  Much more on this later, to be sure, but for now the business at hand is packing and making other final preparations for the trip (or more accurately, blogging about packing and making final preparations for the trip).  When packing for such a venture, it is important to pack light.  The weight of your luggage is not important because it is difficult to carry around heavy luggage on your person, but rather because you want your stuff to have the best chance at being retained when they jettison luggage midway over the Atlantic to reduce weight in the aircraft and thus save on fuel.  Airlines have to be profitable like any other business, and cost-saving measures such as this are regarded as commonplace.  What, you thought there was just a "mix-up" with your luggage and that it's sitting at some other airport now?  Silly traveler!

The luggage-jettison idea was submitted via a standard corporate "idea drop box" in 1979 by a gal named Rosalind Grenbodine, and was so quickly adopted by all major airlines that nobody could actually remember which company implemented it first.  Rosalind would have obviously been able to speak to this question, but she was a rather unpopular employee within her organization (nobody likes the coworker who always has the good ideas), and company administration either purposefully or inadvertently approved a suggestion, also submitted via the idea drop box, to award Rosalind a guest seat on the first flight that would practice the luggage jettison, with the underlying intent (and outcome) of also jettisoning Rosalind.

One item that cannot be neglected when packing a bag for a long flight is a good book or three.  Nothing will pass the time more easily than an engaging read, and the best part is that when you finally tire of reading after a few hours, you're likely to just fall asleep, which also passes the time.  The difficulty is in choosing the right book, and this is a question with which I struggle.  On the one hand, I know that a fantasy novel or thriller will be thoroughly engaging and will make the trip pass in rather pleasing fashion.  Halfway through a long flight over the ocean?  No problem, because that cliffhanger at the end of chapter 14 left you wanting more.  Need to kill a few hours during a layover?  Perfect, that's just enough time to make some progress on the brilliantly developing plot.  With a working imagination, the trip can actually be enjoyable and not just something to be endured.

Dragons!  Swords!  Magic!  Guilt!
But here's the thing: reading a novel is easy.  I know that plowing through A Song of Ice and Fire will make the time slide by, but shouldn't I be using that time in a more productive fashion?  Think about it - in the time that it takes to make the journey, you could either read a fictitious story that will certainly entertain you, or you could read a history book or a science journal that will better you.  It is this comparison that causes me extreme angst.  Part of me wants to be the kind of person who relentlessly pushes themselves to learn and constantly adds knowledge and skills to their repertoire, but at the same time I know that if I take a science journal along for the ride that it will be slow and slogging.  The journey will be true work time, and while some people are fueled by work, I am not one of them, however much I might admire them and want to be one of them.  I tell myself "If that's who you want to be, truly, then you just have to do it.  Stop wishing it was you, and make it so."  But my attempts from the past tell me that I will fail, and that I should just take the fantasy novel and enjoy it.

When choosing a book, the question I end up asking is "WWJBD?"  That is, "What would Jason Bourne do?"  Would Jason Bourne pick out a fantasy novel for the flight?  Please, that is laughable.  Jason Bourne, on his flight from Switzerland to Germany, would learn the German language and the complete layout of downtown Berlin, just in case it would come in handy.  We watch movies that involve Jason Bourne, and we come out wanting to be Jason Bourne, so the question, naturally, should be "WWJBD?".  You want to be like him, so okay, get yourself a book on beginner's German and start reading.  Sure, this isn't a movie, so you aren't going to learn the language in a few hours, but nothing is stopping you from at least getting started.  Seriously, if you learned a language - even one - by teaching yourself while flying, riding a bus, or even just sitting at home, people would think it was extremely cool and you would probably have a great amount of personal satisfaction.  In contrast, nobody cares if you read the latest fantasy novel.

Pesky self-actualization.  Always making me doubt my choice to sit back and enjoy reading about House Greyjoy battling it out with House Targaryen.

Reading Robert Ludlum books is a complete waste of time
Are novels so bad though?  Is there truly no value in them aside from entertainment?  Well, there can be some historical content in a series like A Song of Ice and Fire, and I will steadfastly argue that people can learn about human nature from reading a good mystery just as well as they can learn from the latest book put out by an HR professor that contains nothing but bullet-point lists and endless charts.  But what about real, practical knowledge?  It doesn't seem to be there in the pages of a fantasy novel, so you're left with a choice between the easy route of entertainment, which will no doubt pass the time, and the hard route of study, which may pass the time but will be pure work.  This is really a choice between the guilt of choosing the fantasy novel and being disgusted with yourself for not taking the challenging route, and the strong possibility of falling prey to boredom with a science journal and being disgusted with yourself for leaving the fantasy novel at home and thinking you could ever be something you know that you're not.  If your goal is simply to pass the time, and you're content with that, then by all means take that fantasy novel off the shelf.  But if you know there will be some lingering thoughts of "How could I have spent this time better," then what's to be done?

WWJBD?  Looking in the mirror, the answer is not the same as WJPWD.  It ain't me, babe.

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