Finding Beauty

I recently arrived home from Norway, and in retrospect it certainly has earned its ranking as the world’s happiest place.   When I was there, I found nearly everything I did to be relatively pleasurable.   Rambling around Bergen, Norway’s second largest city (with a population of about 260,000—about a quarter of that in Bergen County, New Jersey), I had my choice of which coffee shop in which to sit and write unburdened by phone calls, all within walking distances over cobblestone streets set in patterns to channel the soft bursts of cleansing rain away and onto a path toward reunification.   I stood on the bow of a ferry cruising quietly down a fjord, surrounded by mountains on three sides inhabited by wisps of human civilization, perfectly chilled by a light drizzle, the experience vitalized by my own chosen soundtrack from my outmoded but capable iPod.

When the iPod’s charge ran out (neither it nor I are capable of holding much of a charge these days), and therefore left momentarily with my thoughts, I wondered if those few people living on the mountainside overlooking the fjord’s stunning depth and placidity took it for granted.   Beauty, by definition, is fugue-like and ephemeral. It is as though each time it is encountered there is a sense of it being the first time.   When it ceases its fugitive quality beauty transmogrifies into wallpaper and becomes merely part of the décor.

Living in a place for any length of time tends to diminish the attention we pay to its natural beauty, as we get caught up in our meandering thoughts on the drive to and from home.   But it doesn’t necessarily make it disappear, aided sometimes by nature’s reminders. Nature at its most beautiful calls to itself, as seasons change, hay is cut, and poppies pop.   So it is that the few miles’ drive between my home and the closest town to which I live still manages to cause a slight shallowness in my breath and rapidity in my heart rate.   But in that I think I am lucky, and grateful that the slings and arrows of my particular fortune haven’t completely deadened my senses.

Having yet to unpack the resin troll I ashamedly bought in Norway as a souvenir, there is nothing here at home that knows that I have been gone.   I know this place fairly well, having lived here now longer than anywhere else, but other than the clutter and the scarring of the landscape that inhabitation brings, it doesn’t know me at all.   In fact, after I am gone, if left alone to its own devices, it will return to itself, likely outliving me for longer than any amount of time I can begin to comprehend.

Even the people whose lives ordinarily connect with mine won’t know, or barely care, that I have been gone or how, if at all, it has changed me.   I am reminded of the first trip I ever took abroad, after graduating college.   I backpacked around Europe for 7 weeks, and when I returned home my parents didn’t ask a single question about the trip.   I always believed that I mattered to them, my health and general well-being, but whether or not I had been to the arctic circle, seen the northern lights, or was abducted by aliens in the Gobi desert held little interest.   If I had told them I met a nice Jewish girl (I met a shiksa, so I didn’t tell them anything at the time), or was accepted to law school, perhaps that might have rung some bells, but even then I would have had to volunteer the information.

Perhaps they knew, or at least believed, that places don’t change people.   As a teenager, when I told my father that I had a desire to travel, he remarked unforgettably, “Why would you want to do that?   People are the same all over.”

I really didn’t believe my father then, and I don’t now, and I thought that his comment was a way to dismiss or reduce his own shame that at that time he could not afford to send me to college as other middle class families did, let alone support me on a trip anywhere.   I wasn’t asking for a handout, but I knew well that much of his life was consumed with breaking out of poverty, and he likely thought that my wish to travel was an extravagance.

Whether or not we are grateful for where we have come to reside, or if the various textures of our domestic life fit us like a finely tailored suit probably matters considerably less than the landscapes of our human connections.   Whether we are recognized for the hard work we do by our slave masters, worry about our children, or get along with a significant other will likely dictate to a greater extent the degree to which we appreciate the landscape around us.

No, dad, people are not the same everywhere you go.   And, of course, they are.   As was probably always the case when we disagreed, we were likely both right and both wrong—except, perhaps, when you went through your (thankfully brief) Republican phase.   Whether or not people are the same everywhere, places are certainly not, but the degree to which our connection to place changes us is just as disputable.   I suspect it does, which is why some of us seek it, though to a lesser degree than the connections we make of the human variety.   But then, there’s the monastic life to consider….

 

Driving on the Left

Galway, Ireland.   I tried taking my taxi driver’s advice, and booked my rental car through the internet in order to avoid being screwed at the Budget counter. (The cab driver used a more colorful Irish or English word for the act, but although the meaning was clear, his enunciation wasn’t.)   I had to check in through the counter anyway, and the price managed to jump from a reasonable 40 euros for two and a half days to over 250 euros, and when I asked about the difference the thief behind the counter said it was for the fuel that will be returned to me when I bring the car back full.   Over 200 euros to fill up a car no bigger than a giant’s fingernail?   I’ll try to work it out when I bring the car back, probably unsuccessfully, or 3 weeks later when my anger reaches its pitch.

I have been to Ireland several times before, and have driven here, but the last time was about 25 years ago when the kids were little and annoyingly disinterested in castles.   (I guess I should have been more compassionate with the notion that when you have no history of your own it’s difficult to be interested in the history of others, but I wasn’t.) I confess that I took the wheel with more than a little apprehension, given that my own mental state has deteriorated since the cancer treatment, and I feared that with age my coordination and reaction time had as well. Nevertheless, with a touch of the Brooklyn chutzpah that occasionally surfaces when needed and an opportunity to save five euros, I opted for a stick shift, making the challenge of driving on the left just a bit more alluring.

My wife, beside me in the left seat (which made no sense at all), had no control over what was happening to her, so was understandably more terrified than I was as we watched cars incomprehensibly barreling right toward us before vanishing in a whoosh that should by all rights have ended in a collision. She kindly kept repeating, softly but urgently, firmly and gently, the word “left,” which was at once reassuring and annoying.  The word “left” became simultaneously an injunction and a prayer, and while my wife was saying it out loud, I was repeating it subvocally to myself.

The thing I most want to tell you, and the whole reason for this post from abroad, is that it has been thrilling to drive on the left side of the road.   First, entirely unexpectedly, it feels a lot like flying.   I haven’t flown since I grounded myself due to the effects of my cancer treatment, and I have been curious about what my hopefully eventual return to flying will feel like.   Now I suspect it will feel much like driving a 5-speed peppy Ibiza on the “wrong” side of the road.

The first thing that is awkward is the fact that the stick is in your left hand, and not on the right.   For a right-handed person—as most people are, that itself is a bit of a challenge.   But when flying from the left seat, as most pilots do, the stick or yoke that controls both the pitch and the roll (the elevator and the ailerons) are continually operated with the left hand, while the right hand usually hovers somewhat lazily over the throttle, or throughout most of cruise flight, in the lap. Right-handed pilots quickly train their brain to “steer” with their left hands, but it isn’t natural.

Almost immediately after realizing that pushing on the steering wheel doesn’t actually shift gears for you, it is important to remember that the third pedal somewhere down there on the floor isn’t a rudder.   But driving with a clutch requires the use of both feet, refreshingly similar to flying an airplane.   After a few attempts at coordinating a turn in an Ibiza with a clutch pedal, it doesn’t take long to learn that it just won’t work that well, and in a car the human foot has a distinctly different purpose.

But the most important thing about driving on the left side of the road is the most ineffable. It is, I suppose, partly the thrill of mastery—simply doing something different and getting to the place where the awkward becomes mundane. Accomplishment unto itself (“because it is there,” says Mallory) is sweet.   But it is considerably more than that.    I imagine—although I know nothing about it, that it’s like playing the piano. I tried it more than a few times, and I have yet to get to the stage in which the left hand manages to coordinate with the right, but it must be wonderful when it happens.

There is also the feeling that, having successfully returned home after a day driving through the countryside in a mirrored reality, one has gotten away with a minor crime.   Those of us who have spent countless hours in darkrooms know the frustration of accidentally printing a negative that has been flipped to the wrong side, but in Ireland the wrong side is the right side, and as most hormonal adolescents can tell you, that can feel really good.

I should add, simply for the sake of justice, that I no longer have the slightest interest in castles.   Been there, done that, and they’re too damn drafty.   But getting there, now that can be a blast.

 

 

 

Diversions

imagesFlying my Diamond DA40 home from a conference in Las Vegas with two colleagues on board not long ago was uneventful, until I came to the formidable mountains that comprise part of the Transverse Range.    While most of the flight from Las Vegas is over the wide Mojave Desert, my home airport in Santa Paula is tucked in a valley on the other side of those mountains.  The tops of the mountains were obscured completely by a line of clouds that extended as far as I could see in both sideways directions, and the tops of the clouds were higher than my normally-aspirated airplane could climb.

For an instrument-rated pilot this would present no problem, but I have yet to get that rating, so for me it was a challenge.   It wouldn’t have been difficult, mind you, but it would have been entirely illegal, and certainly unsafe for me and the passengers on board given my lack of “actual” (as opposed to virtual) time in the clouds.

After looking in both directions, it became clear that I immediately needed to alter my flight plan and make a diversion.   I disconnected the autopilot, and started a slow, wide turn to the left, with the intention of doing a wide circle while I figured out my next move.   I informed the passengers that there might be a delay getting home, and then called ATC to let them know that I was altering my planned route due to the line of clouds in front of me.    The composed voice came back with the query, “Are you instrument capable and qualified?”

I answered quickly that I was capable but not qualified, which means I have the appropriate instruments on board but was not certified.   The business-like voice simply said, “OK.”

I was considering diverting right or left to see if there was a clearing in the line of clouds that I couldn’t see yet, and what airports lay in wait below or just behind, and what the best place might be to spend the night, when the controller came back on the radio.   “One Romeo Alpha, it looks like there’s an opening in the clouds about 10 miles to the north.”

At about 150 miles an hour, that’s a pretty short diversion, so I thanked the controller and headed north.   Sure enough, there was a nice gap in the clouds that took me over the mountains near Santa Barbara, and I was able to turn south and head down the coast to my home airport with only a short delay.

Most pilots hate diversions.  Diversions make those aboard late, and usually create additional expense in fuel, time and lodging.  But diversions are a necessary part of getting there safely.

I would like to believe that having to divert is one of the more wonderful things about flying.   It forces us down a road that, if not less traveled, is certainly less anticipated.   And it forces us to live in the moment, a skill I have never been very good at, managing to immerse myself in the nostalgia of yesteryears, or the expectations and fantasies of life downstream.

There is a wonderful story that has been circulating the internet for many years now about how being a parent of a child with autism is like expecting to take a trip to Italy and ending up in Holland.  The point of the story is that if you live your life mourning the fact that you aren’t in Italy you’ll end up missing the beauty of Holland.

I do think that people who are good at accepting life’s diversions do so partly because they don’t allow themselves to get too attached to outcomes.   Lao Tzu said it best when he said, “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”

I hate surprises, but I am convinced that surprise is where the adventure begins.  If the original goal, the runway on which you intend to land, is suddenly unsafe, then it’s time to open the throttle and find another one.

When I think of that simple diversion required of me to keep out of the clouds, I think of some small things I might have done differently.   It forced me to think under pressure, and later to review those decisions and therefore rehearse doing it better the next time.   But we all arrived safely, and enjoyed extraordinary scenery along the way that we would not have seen otherwise: wispy clouds teasing the mountain ridges, the beautiful Pacific Ocean and the California Coast, and the rolling foothills accompanying us home.

 

 

 

Autism in Love

d0a08b_dea72ec2e51f45c3b2a5a9e1a948da8a.png_srz_p_346_192_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzI am on a Boeing 757, sitting in the economy section, one of the few times I am grateful for having short legs.   I am returning home from New York where a film I conceived and executive produced just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.   It is truly an honor, given the numbers: 6700 films were submitted and only 120 were selected for the competition.   The film, “Autism in Love,” is in the “world documentary feature” category, competing against 11 others in its category for a coveted award.

One of the films in competition with “Autism in Love” is called “In Transit,” a beautiful and moving documentary interweaving stories told by real passengers (i.e., not actors) on the Empire Builder, an AMTRAK train whose route goes from Seattle to Chicago.   The stories themselves are captivating, but I was equally captivated by the fact that the stories were told as the American landscape unwound behind it, creating a kind of metaphor within a metaphor.   Each person seems to be in some sort of transition in their lives, moving internally as they physically move through the landscape.  But on a train, the sensation is that it is the landscape that is moving, so that one’s internal movement is mirrored by the movement of the landscape.  And of course, all that occurs on a screen projecting a “moving picture,” a medium that is, by definition, about movement.

I am doing the same thing now, traveling at 514 miles per hour, four-fifths the speed of sound, 40,000 feet above the ground.  We humans, through the ingenuity provided by our cerebral cortexes, create and build machines that allow us to use nature in order to defy it.   We build machines that move us from one place to another for many reasons, but ultimately we build machines that move us physically in order to move us emotionally.

The film I produced, expertly directed by Matt Fuller, follows the lives of several people diagnosed with autism as they navigate the waters of romance and love.  Their lives are very different from one another’s, but they each live in the landscape others have called autism.   I have lost any objectivity I might have had about the film, but judging by the reviews I have been reading, it succeeds in a message I was hoping for; that love is love and nearly anyone, despite having a label that others insist prevent them from loving, can teach us about it.

In college days I was taught that humans, by nature and physiology, are novelty seeking animals.   That is undoubtedly what makes solitary confinement so punishing.  But without the contrast of stability there could be no novelty, just as a figure disappears when the ground around it disappears.

So whether we find ourselves riding the rails of AMTRAK, sitting on a bus, or flying on a Boeing 757, we ultimately remain figures embedded in the world around us.  We are moving, or being moved.

For more information on “Autism in Love,” see www.autisminlove.com, or better yet, see “Autism in Love” on Facebook.

Flying Sdrawkcab

UnknownThe first time I saw it happen, I was taking my boat out of the harbor, and about 50 yards away I saw a seagull flying backwards.  It was one of those quirks of nature, one of those things that shouldn’t be possible but happens anyway.  It was a beautiful sight, his wings outstretched, his nose pointed one direction and his body moving backwards against the landscape of the island behind him and the water below.

Recently, on a particularly windy day, I told my instrument instructor that I always wanted to fly backwards, and as is typical of him he said, “let’s do it.”   We had other plans for that day, and I wasn’t in the mood to change them, so I opted for another time. Apparently, it’s an easy thing to do, especially in a small, low-powered airplane such as a Piper Cub or a Cessna 150.   The wings of a J3 Cub stall at about 33 knots, or about 38 miles an hour, so all you need to do to fly backwards is to point your nose into a 45 mile an hour wind, fly just over stall speed, and you can find yourself flying backwards over the ground.  Find a stiff 60 mile an hour wind or more and you can fly backwards at 20 miles an hour.

Although I have never flown backwards, I have done many other things backwards.   The Pimsleur language wizards somehow figured out that it’s easier to learn difficult foreign words by rehearsing the syllables backwards, which is how I learned how to say thank you in Armenian (shnorhakalutyun).

Reading backwards is tricky at first, but after a while it gets easier, because, just like reading forwards, one begins to notice patterns.  When I first moved to California, the moment I looked at the sign for the street named “Moorpark” I cracked up laughing.   Reading it backwards, I thought that it was a joke, but none of the locals seemed to know it.

In Northern California, where I wrote the first draft of this post, there is a town called Ukiah.  I never looked it up to see if it was intentional that it was named for the 17-syllable poem we all had to write as kids in school.  Maybe someone else who values his or her precious time even less than I do will look it up for me.

A friend was visiting me from New York, and when somehow the conversation came to reading or speaking backwards, he immediately mentioned the Long Island town of Lynbrook, which is not really backwards, just a swapping of the syllables of Brooklyn, but still, I think, clever enough to be mildly entertaining.

There is a natural food store in LA that is called “Erewhon.”  It is actually one letter off, but it is more difficult to read “Erehwon,” and as far as I’m concerned they can be forgiven.

I had always assumed Oprah’s parents were Marx Brothers’ fans, until I read that her birth name was actually Orpah, after a biblical character.  Apparently, people mispronounced it as “Oprah” frequently enough for it to stick.   Oprah calls her production company Harpo Productions, so at least she gets it.

There is also a coffee shop called Amocat in Washington (guess what city it’s in?) and one in Tokyo called Alucard, which as far as I know does not serve doolb.  And my old buddy Francis Albert used to sign his oil paintings as Artanis.

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  So, by illogical extension, perhaps if I get up in the air on a particularly windy day, rent an old Cessna, point my nose directly into the wind, and slow down, I will begin to understand life as I find myself flying backwards.   But I doubt it.

The Value of Getting Lost

imagesWhenever I set foot in a new place, my favorite thing to do is to set out walking.  Day or night, the objective is clear; walk just far enough that I feel lost, turn around and try to find my way back.   It is, after all, in the midst of feeling lost that discovery is possible.    Humans seek the comfort of familiarity, but are also novelty-seeking organisms, which is why solitary confinement is so punishing.  Traveling familiar routes, by definition, reduces the novelty in our lives.   It will certainly help us get to where we are aiming to go, but as Lao Tzu said, “If you don’t change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

In a beautiful piece in a recent aviation magazine, Peter Garrison wrote about “The Importance of Being Lost.”   In it, he details some of the history of navigating at night and the navigation systems, or lack thereof, that attempted to prevent pilots flying at night from getting lost.

Back in the early 1920’s, when the postal service attempted to deliver mail via airplane at night, rural towns had no electricity to light them up and “airways” consisted of either bonfires set by farmers and eventually a series of electric beacons.   A lot of pilots got lost, and many of them crashed as they were often flying in near total darkness.

With the recent advent of GPS, it is nearly impossible to get lost even if you tried.  Garrison wrote beautifully that GPS “makes us at once infants and gods.  Observers and observed, we watch from on high as our icon, a digital metaphor of self-awareness, creeps across the map.  With GPS, there is no longer such a thing as ‘lost.’  Navigation, a great and noble art whose traditions stretch back into prehistory, has been replaced by a computer game… We are much better off, but we have also forfeited something: an adventurous life in which anxiety and relief alternated like the beating of a heart.”

He cites Beryl Markham, who wrote in 1942 about her fear of what the future may hold for pilots:   By then men will have forgotten how to fly; they will be passengers on machines whose conductors are carefully promoted to a familiarity with labeled buttons, and in whose minds the knowledge of the sky and the wind and the way of the weather will be as extraneous as passing fiction.

Back in the seventies, an American Airlines training pilot coined the term “children of the magenta” to refer to pilots trained in the new avionics of the time.  Computerized flight management systems, autopilots and now GPS paint a magenta line on a screen, guiding pilots to their destination, so all pilots need do to get where they want to go is simply follow the magenta line.  (By the way, you can see that prescient training session on Vimeo if you have 25 minutes to spare; just look up “children of the magenta.”)  The trainer warned that the more dependent pilots become on their sophisticated avionics, the more they are going to lose their basic “stick and rudder” skills.   This was decades before the Air France 447 flight, the Colgan crash, and possibly the Asiana crash in SFO were implicated in pilots’ degraded “hand-flying” skills.

Perhaps we are all “children of the magenta.”  We live in worlds in which the technology we use throughout the day is comprised of systems we may at best theoretically understand but could never begin to produce, even if given the materials to do so.  We have become dependent on our smart phones, our ATM machines, our computers, our cars, and even the electricity that powers nearly all of our gadgets.  I am certainly not a Luddite, and tend to be the first person on my block to play with whatever new gadget becomes available, but I do agree that sometimes there really is value in getting lost and testing our basic skills, knowledge, and imagination to find our way home. Our hearts are muscles, after all, and it is the fear that accompanies getting lost that gives them the jolt needed to kick into gear, the jolt of fear that ends in relief as we hopefully find our way home.

In the Java Sea

As I write this, there is a gentle rain falling outside the window of the Ojai Coffee Roasting Co., and halfway around the world bodies are being plucked out of the Java Sea.   It is too soon to know, but the odds are that those on the doomed Air Asia flight experienced the violent throes of a thunderstorm, with up and downdrafts moving as fast as 100 miles an hour.

Somehow, the violence of mother nature was more than the pilots or their steed could handle. Pilots are taught to avoid thunderstorms, but they often don’t. There were, in fact, at least six jets in the same vicinity as the Air Asia flight that made it home intact.   Undoubtedly, pilots who fly along routes such as the one over the Java Sea fly among storms often, and each time they get through safely reinforces their belief that they can do it again.

I had a client once who was a rock musician, and although his father was an aviation engineer, and the client himself had an encyclopedic knowledge of nearly every human-made object that traversed the sky, he never flew on them himself.  When I asked him why, he just looked at me and said, “I’m a rock musician.”  I understood that he felt jinxed, and preferred not to die the way so many musicians have died. We could, just as my client did, decide to stay closer to the ground, spending our time reading and writing in coffee shops or imagining that somehow we are safer in cars than in airplanes.

We could, but we probably won’t. We know that the chances of being injured or killed in an airplane are still relatively minuscule, that getting out of the house at all is dangerous, and that staying cocooned and perhaps watching TV will assure that our adventures will all be vicarious.

The traditional Irish blessing begins with “May the road rise up to greet you, may the wind always be at your back…”  Pilots have their version, which is simply a wish for “clear skies and tailwinds.”

The unfortunate Air Asia flight had neither, and we all grieve the loss of fellow travelers whose lives were untimely taken from those who loved them.  And, as the Irish blessing concludes, “…And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

Happy Holidays

Just a quick note to wish you all a happy holiday season, and to thank those of you who subscribe to this humble blog.  I returned from a productive back to back outing to Mexico and Vietnam, jet-lagged and now flu-ridden.   Grateful for a body that (hopefully) heals itself, grateful for the kind words of encouragement many of you have written me over the last year of this blog.  I hope to entertain you more in the coming year… May you have many healthy, fulfilling years to come.

Giving Thanks

images-5I didn’t get to fly this Thanksgiving weekend, but being with my family was even more precious.  I have certainly been blessed to make it this far, to have an extraordinary family, and to have the ability to occasionally take to the sky.

I will most likely not have an opportunity to climb into my DA40 and continue my IFR training for at least a few weeks, because business travel will put me in the “back seat” of some heavy metal.   Nevertheless, I do look forward to planned trips to Mexico and Vietnam, hopefully garnering window seats if I can.

On my last commercial trip back from Mexico, I witnessed the most spectacular thunderstorms I had ever seen.  At 30,000 feet, the lightning show was occurring directly across from us.   The pilots of the Embraer 140 clearly chose not to divert, as the ailerons outside my window refused to budge the entire way.   Although it was difficult to judge distances at 30,000 feet, the airline either did not have a 20-mile safety margin from thunderstorms or the pilots decided to ignore it, as we skated along what appeared to be just a mile or two to the side of the massive string of cumulonimbus clouds that itself appeared to stretch outward infinitely.

The magnitude of nature’s constructions was thrilling, but I was also afraid that our relatively little airplane would become incapacitated.   Holding the sadness that sitting in the cabin 20 rows behind the front office meant there was no way I could have any control over the decisions being made there, I settled in for the show.

I love to fly, and although I much prefer sitting up front, I am also happy to be chauffeured, where I can relax, read some (usually flying-related) magazines, and look out the window.    Although it is by far not my favorite airline, I look forward to flights on United so I can tune in channel 9 and listen to air traffic controllers.   This time I will be on American to Mexico and Asiana to Vietnam, so there will be no ATC for me to cuddle up to.

While flying breaks no laws of physics, from the flesh and bones perspective of mere humans it feels as though we are at least bending those laws.   Like speaking Hungarian, it shouldn’t be possible, but somehow people manage to do it.

There is so much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, and although I hope to be flying for many years to come, I am certainly grateful for all the time I have been blessed to be able to stretch the law of gravity, whether in the cockpit or in the cabin, and have such an amazing family to come home to.

To Part the Air

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 3.00.38 PMThere is a scene in the recent movie, “The Way, Way Back” in which the 14-year-old lead character discovers a bicycle in the garage of his mother’s new boyfriend’s summer cottage where he has been trapped for what promises to be a torturous summer.   With a spectacular blast of background music he breaks out of the garage on the diminutive bike and rides away with a new sense of freedom.

The scene struck a deep chord for me, because it brought back memories of my childhood, when, each day after school in order to escape the constant shouting and threatening in my family, I would ride as far away as I could on my bike until I became just a bit lost, and then eventually find my way home.   I remember never really wanting to go home, and trying to calculate ways to run away, but as a young child I of course didn’t have the wherewithal.

I remember the sense of freedom I had when riding my bike, the sense of movement and the rush of air over my face, and even a more acute sense of smell.  When I left Queens at age 10 my family moved to Framingham, Massachusetts, where we lived on a suburban street on a small hill.  At that age the hill wasn’t so small, and I distinctly remember getting on my bike at the top of the hill, raising both hands in the air, and closing my eyes as the bike picked up speed on the way down.  I could even turn the corner at the bottom of the hill with no hands and no sight, just the sensation of the bike beneath me and the air blowing over my chest and face.

That thrill ended when one day I took the turn at the bottom of the hill and hit a parked car.  I was thrown first into the handles, which knocked the wind out of me, then tossed onto the trunk of the car to be stopped by the rear window.  The car was dented, and I was bruised, but nothing else broke.  That was probably my first memory of flying, albeit without wings.

In high school in California I learned to drive, and that became the E-ticket to freedom.  Driving up the winding Pacific Coast Highway on a chilly night, windows open, music blaring, the heater throwing warm air at my feet; this was the closest thing to ecstasy a 16-year-old virgin could experience.  I worked odd jobs during high school just to pay for gas and I would drive my ‘65 Barracuda as far as I could in any direction until the gas was half gone, then turn around and see if I could make it home before I ran out.

Whenever I am stopped on the street by a stranger and asked what my favorite poem is, I tell them it is this one by Mark Strand:

In a field

I am the absence

of field.

This is

always the case.

Wherever I am

I am what is missing.

 

When I walk

I part the air

and always

the air moves in

to fill the spaces

where my body’s been.

 

We all have reasons

for moving.

I move

to keep things whole.