When I fly, my expectations for what I’ll do along the ride are set at absolute zero. I plan on sleeping and eating a few cookies. Anything I do on top of that registers as an accomplishment. Watch a movie? Excellent job. Use the bathroom? Way to go, man! Take a quick walk up the aisle for exercise? Look at you go

Over the holidays I took a plane for the first time since the pandemic started. I’d forgotten how much I love the in-between space of an airplane. Not fully on Earth but not anywhere else, you’re suspended in air, perpetually falling but moving sideways and upward fast enough that you end up somewhere new. At 30,000 feet up, you’re temporarily unreachable by the Earthlings below, with all their zoom meetings, to-do lists, perpetual internet access, and general hullabaloo. 

Our flight boarded at the ungodly hour of six in the morning, which meant we woke up at the torturous hour of 3:30 in the morning. Yet, by some twisted paradox, my lack of sleep made me restless on the flight. Instead of snoozing for the next four hours I stayed up and watched two movies back to back. First I watched Knives Out. I may have been a few years late to the party but I still found it hilarious, though I’ll never be able to un-hear Daniel Craig’s horrendous southern gentleman accent. Then I watched Soul and in true Pixar fashion, it made me laugh and cry and reconnect with my inner child. 

What surprises me about plane rides is not how much I enjoy them but how starkly they contrast the downtime I have when I’m back home. The time in between work and chores and scheduled events in my life—my downtime—could easily have the same perspective I bring to flights, that of expectations set at absolute zero. Rather, I often find myself dissatisfied with what I didn’t get done during my time off. 

I’m convinced that a big part of why I feel the need to be constantly busy is connected to my use of smartphones and social media. With a smartphone I can look up anything at any time, including instructions on how to do just about anything. This kind of knowledge access has never existed before, and it’s certainly a privilege to have it at my fingertips. And yet, this access makes it hard to have any sort of excuse for doing nothing. 

I’m trying to give myself some distance from the mindset of constant business. To help foster some disconnection in my life, I deleted Facebook and Instagram, which was not surprisingly incredibly difficult to do. Mentally it was easy—I just decided it was time. But logistically it was a nightmare. First I had to locate the actual delete button, which was buried behind layers and layers of settings. Then, in order to follow through on the deletion I had to fill out a questionnaire about why I wanted to delete my accounts. Then, after all that, I had to wait a month before my account would no longer be accessible. A month! If I order in the next two hours and thirty-eight minutes I can have a cast-iron skillet delivered to my door by tomorrow, and Instagram can’t officially delete my account until a month later? That’s absurd and annoyingly desperate.

I lasted that month. Instagram, I’m sorry, you did not win me back in that month-long please-don’t-break-up-with-me-yet period. I still feel urges to check the old news feed, and I feel like Bilbo wanting to hold his old ring again. Slowly, though, I’m rebuilding the mental muscles necessary to set boundaries for myself and be satisfied with doing nothing. Someday those social media urges will fade, and someday, perhaps, I won’t have to be 30,000 feet up to accept that for a few hours I’d like to have no expectations at all.

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