Airplane Residency

Debby DeRosa

At the beginning of the year, New York writer Jessica Gross got a free ride to Chicago and back on an Amtrak train because she tweeted she would like an Amtrak residency. Her tweet was in response to a statement by Alexander Chee in PEN magazine: “I wish Amtrak had a residency for writers.”

The idea of riding a train and writing has a romantic appeal: beautiful scenery, a gentle, rocking motion, and a nostalgic feel. Plus, spending forty-four hours doing nothing but writing would be amazing for this mother of two who steals her writing time (and any personal time, for that matter) during naps, around appointments, and between other commitments and obligations.

Apparently, a lot of others agree. Since Gross’s “test run” residency, Amtrak has received 16,100 applications for 24 additional residency spots, so many they stopped taking applications for 2014 in June. They announced the winners on Wednesday. With that opportunity closed for the year, maybe it’s time for an alternative. What about an airplane residency?

Most people associate airlines with long lines, crowded public spaces, and unhelpful ticket agents. They think of inconvenience, flight delays, and bumpy rides. They hate to turn over control of their lives to an airline who oversells seats and changes schedules to make a profit. Some would rather drive a car or stay at home than put up with all of the hassle of a plane trip.

For me, however, flying is an escape. As soon as I hand my luggage over to the agent at check in, I relax. I am no longer in charge of anything except getting myself on the plane. My mind can let go of the dishes in the sink, the dirty clothes in piles all over my house, and what to make for dinner. Plus, I get to spend my entire flight without an Internet connection or a cell phone signal. With so much clear space in my head, I can think about my characters, their problems, and their lives.

Then, when I run out of ideas for my current characters, plenty of new ones surround me. In the Atlanta airport in March, I brushed by a middle aged man guiding a blind teenaged boy by his hand. The man leaned into the boy’s shoulder and whispered in his ear, and the boy smiled in satisfaction about whatever he was saying. The scene struck me as so personal that I spent the next flight scribbling in my notebook, imagining the story behind it.

If I tire of musing about the people who surround me, I read. Nothing inspires me to write like reading others’ work. In fact, a love of reading was what made me want to write in the first place. If I read a particularly poignant short story or a few chapters of a good book, my mind races with new ideas, and the desire to put my own words to paper is renewed.

So, airlines, are you listening? I am ready to take my residency the next time you have a free seat leaving the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport.

I’ll go anywhere, like Valdosta, GA; Bangor, ME; or Sioux Falls, SD. I don’t mind coach class in tiny planes, as long as the bathrooms are working. If seats aren’t available to any small airports, send me to the nearby hubs in Atlanta or Charlotte and back a couple of times. I want the journey, not the destination, as long as you get me home… eventually.


Debby DeRosa holds a BA in English from the University of South Carolina-Columbia and an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College.  In addition to being Editor-in-Chief of South85 Journal, she is the Marketing Manager of Five Star Plumbing Heating Cooling in Greer, SC, and she freelances as a copywriter and content developer.  She and her husband, Joe, live in Greenville, SC, with their two daughters, Aimee and Ruby.