April Fool's Day is sort of fun, until you have children. Then it becomes a day when you don't answer the phone. Ring... ring... Hello? Mom! Mom! I broke my leg! I'm pregnant! I got pulled over with an open half-gallon of Jack Daniels and a smoky bong! I quit college and I'm moving back in with you! In my family, one tends to believe statements like these.
However, April 1 is special to me because a year ago today, my memoir Dead End Gene Pool was published. Enough promotion; the timing of guest-anything is fairly obvious, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity this week to do the dog and pony show through the courtesy of Powell's, which, by the way, has been far more enjoyable than I imagined — and WAY more work! (Are you supposed to do 12 rewrites on a blog entry?) So, enough about my book and my writing; I'm so tired of me I could melt, and I'm sure many others are, too. I want to blog about flying. No, not metaphorically: the physical flying of airplanes.
I was always a white-knuckle flier.Seriously, how many people do you know who have attended Fear of Flying School? Well, I did, though I cheated on the final exam, a round-trip flight from La Guardia to Logan, by taking 10 milligrams of Valium on the outbound and taking the train back. It was snowing, for God's sake.
Twenty years later I fell in love with a pilot. This is what unparalleled love is about: faith. Despite my Goliath-sized phobia, when I flew with him, commercially or in this bucket of bolts Cessna, I felt safe. Neurosis is different from phobia, however, so I decided to take one flying lesson — one — so that if my husband had a heart attack at the yoke, I could save the day and land the plane.
First of all, I can't believe I thought a single hour and a half of instruction would teach me how to land a plane, and survive. More perplexing is the idea that I would be able to stop after one lesson.
Sitting in the left seat and taking over the controls was like tasting snow for the first time. And when you finally solo — well, it's better than the best sex you've ever had, or will even go on to have. The flight instructors know this, because they always take a picture of their students after the first solo.
Do I look satiated or what.
When I passed my private pilot exam, my husband, prouder than a prize tomato, presented me with a martini shaker inscribed with the laudatory title: Aviatrix.
The irony is that my grandfather, who was an aviation consultant to the government all of his life, and responsible for talking Nixon into funding the National Air and Space Museum, couldn't get any of his progeny to take up flying. What's left of him must have been vaporizing in his casket, pissed as hell that it wasn't one of my brothers waving a martini in one hand and a government-sanctioned "okay to fly" in the other. Nasty old misogynist that he was, I toasted him anyway. Genes and all that.
More awful, awful irony: after my husband and his sons were killed in a plane crash, I didn't fly planes for a very long time. It wasn't because I thought the same would happen to me; I couldn't do it to my own children, especially after the nightmare they'd gone through losing their new family. Last summer, dreading their reaction, I admitted to my daughters that I'd started flying again. Instead of wailing in protest, they were like, "Great! What took you so long?"
Flying exposes you to such unexpected things, from the mystery of clouds, to the functional morphology of birds. On a more fundamental level, it challenges me, personally, to examine my fears and to conquer them. Plus, most of the time it's still more fun than sex.
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The great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Wendy Burden is a former illustrator, zoo keeper, taxidermist, owner and chef of the bistro Chez Wendy, and served as the art director of a pornographic magazine — from which she was fired for being too tasteful.
Books mentioned in this post
Wendy Burden is the author of Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir