Fear of Flying

I am in winding-down mode. In two weeks we leave for England.

I do not enjoy this travel. If I were given a choice I would take myself back to Varuna for a writers retreat, me and my computer, meals prepared by someone else, occasional conversations in the evening about the process of writing and none of the responsibilities of home and work. This is my ideal holiday.

As it is I am traveling to England for a conference. Conferences are fun, at least the conferences to which I take myself, the English literary conferences where the focus is on autobiography and biography, on story telling and memory. This will be my third such conference, run by the International Autobiography and Biography Association, the first in Germany, six years ago, the second in Hawaii two years ago and now in Sussex, England.

Already I anticipate meeting some of the people I have met before. There will be the usual array of ‘footnotes’ running around – Philippe Le Jeune, Paul John Eakin, Sidonie Smith, perhaps, Julia Watson, a definite. Michael Holroyd is one of the keynote speakers.

I enjoy the process whereby these literary dignitaries take on ordinary human form at conferences. They are approachable, accessible. When I first read their papers they seem aloof, ethereal. When I meet them face to face they present a mix of personalities. Leigh Gilmore, the godfather of non-fiction will be there. Blake Morrison, writer and memoirist, also. I met him at another conference. A lovely man, every bit as affable as his alter ego Colin Firth in the film of Morrison’s memoir, And When Did You Last See Your Father?

I look forward to reconnection with some of these people. At the same time, I am aware of how brittle these connections are. During the conference itself we talk. We compare notes. We make good friends. We promise to email after we get home. We promise to keep in touch, but rarely do we do so. I am as bad as the next.

When we meet in the heat and excitement of new ideas – old ideas more likely but often dressed up as new, at least they might be new to my ears – we make good friends. It is like going on a cruise when people travel to distant places with a group of strangers; only at this conference we share a common task, exploring ideas on autobiography and biography. Once over, the camaraderie dies down quickly.

My first such conference was the best. I had no expectations then. I now have expectations and as Gillian Bouras writes: I can already hear the echo of goodbye in our first hellos. I do not like making connections that will end so quickly.

But worse than this, my journey will be sealed in a sandwich of airplane trips. Once we leave the tarmac and Melbourne airport and sit down on the plane, even before it takes off I will find myself settling into a sort of torpor, a surreal state where the only thing that matters to me is that I get to the end of the journey alive.

I have all manner of strategies to help. For long trips to Europe I plug into the movie channel and make a glutton of myself watching as many movies as possible. I try to lose my mind in celluloid.

I travel this time with my husband. I can see him in my mind’s eye. He too goes into a sort of torpor but his is different from mine. He covers his eyes with an eye patch, squeezes in earplugs, pulls up a blanket and goes off to sleep as often and whenever he can.

We have been married for over thirty years but when we travel on these long journeys we become almost strangers to one another. We sit side by side, but we rarely talk to one another during the journey, except towards the end when we are preparing to land. Then and only then do we start to make contact with one another. It is as if we have entered a timeless zone where our normal friendly connections are unwarranted. We enter the zone of survival.

I can and should only speak for myself. I have not discussed this strange state with my husband.

My friend and correspondent, Gerald Murnane refuses to travel in planes. I understand this. One day when I am older, when I do not feel the obligations I feel these days to make physical connections with countries, people and places further a field, then I too might dig in my heels and say, no.

I will not go back inside one of those silver steel monsters, the metal birds of the sky. I will not expose myself to the hours of anxiety, my breath held every time there is a bump, a jump or a skip mid flight. I will not subject myself to the strange airlessness I feel when entombed in the cabin of a plane surrounded by equally fearful people – though most manage in their own different ways to cope with that fear – the fear of dropping out from the sky and crashing down onto the earth, shattered and in fragments.

I have frequent falling dreams, dreams in which I travel on an elevator up to one of the topmost floors in a building only to recognise that the cables that hold the elevator in place, have come apart somehow and the elevator is plunging through the air. In seconds, and what in my dreams feels like minutes, it will crash into the basement.

The sensation of falling, readying myself for the end, stays with me long after the dream is over. Every time we hit an air pocket mid flight I expect the same. The cables that hold the plane firm in the sky have come adrift and we are about to plunge to our deaths.

I can remind myself that statistically we are safer in a plane than in a car on the road. I look around the airport and consider the number of flights scheduled throughout the world. They reach their destination. The ones we imagine are the ones that do not make it.

When I prepare to travel, I leap frog across time in my imagination and settle into thoughts about what it will be like once I am home and all of this is past me. Only then will I be content, when this latest trip is over and I can once again settle into the comfort of home.

Fear of flying, Erica Jong called it – notwithstanding her obvious reference here to sex. For me it is the fear of being off the ground, in the air pulled from my moorings, untethered, falling, falling, falling, with nothing to hold me together but my will to survive.

61 thoughts on “Fear of Flying”

  1. I've written a lot about flying – the none aeroplane kind so far – travelling by plane isn't something i enjoy. My rational mind departs in the departure lounge, aptly, and I become very tense and generally do not enjoy or feel well during the journey.

    I think there are many situations in life daily which give others the same detached feeling, a kind of helplessness, and it is only then that we realise how much we like to be in control.

    A thought provoking piece – as usual – thank you, Elisabeth.

  2. You're mates with Gerald Murnane. Interesting. I was introduced to his work last year, by an ex-student of his. I read a corker of an essay by Murnane on writing.

  3. I went to a conference last week. In Melbourne. Not as exciting as England. And it was an accounting conference. Not as exciting as a literary conference.

    And I didn't plan on keeping in touch with any of the people I met there.

    Anyway, have fun in England. I hope you get plenty of ideas and make plenty of new contacts.. whether you keep in touch with them post conference or not.

  4. I was going to start by saying that I’ve only flown twice. Actually those two occasions, a trip to America and a flight to Dublin, involved six take-offs and six landings, all, thankfully, at the prescribed times and at the stipulated locations. I did not enjoy them either. I wasn’t afraid but I was uncomfortable. And my ears hurt for says after each flight. And I have no plans to set foot in a plane again if I can avoid it. That said Carrie and I jabbered the whole way there and back. I took books to read but never opened one.

    Carrie’s returned home to California several times since we married. I felt obliged to show my face – just to reassure them that she hadn’t married a weirdo – but, suitably reassured, I don’t hear them clamouring for a repeat encounter. Carrie’s just back from her last visit. It flew by for me. I just ploughed into work (although not much novel writing which had been my plan).

    I’ve been to a few conferences in my time. I’ve never seen the point of them, sitting there scribbling down notes you can’t make sense of later or alternatively trying to look interested and stay conscious as you discover new lows in boredom. I have never understood why they don’t publish the damn thing in book form and be done with it. But then I’m not much into networking. Perhaps they could have an optional networking ‘party’ that has nothing to do with the actual conference because, as you say, we so rarely follow up on any promises to keep in touch.

    I’ve never been to Sussex but then I’ve not been to most of England. Newcastle’s about the furthest down I’ve gone or the Lake District on the other side. I’ve never been to London even. Even Carrie’s been to London. She’s been to Canterbury too which is in the next county to Sussex.

  5. elisabeth – i am right there with you in your anxiety! word-for-word. i avoid it through whatever means are possible but there are times when expediency dictates the mode of travel and so i am stuck in that glutinous miasma of fear and knowledge and rationalizing the irrational. yuck. steven

  6. the great anxiety of flying for me is waiting for my luggage, hoping my stuff comes around the bend to me.
    i've never been to england, so i do envy you there. yes…the connections from conferences can be "brittle," a very apt word choice.

  7. I have a dear friend who says that GPS devices – knowing exactly where you are are always having directions to where you are going – is the best invention of the last fifty years. I have a neighbor who has not left our town in the past ten years or so. My wife used to work for Trans World Airlines as a designer – and we'd wake up on a Friday morning and drive to the airport to see where we might be able to go for the weekend. . . Paris, New Orleans, Amsterdam or just back home again. These days our children are not interested in travel and (at 11 and 13) they are too young to leave and too big to carry. Mostly we do 'stuff' and 'things' but we try not to 'stuff things.'

    I've never been to a writer's conference – I've been to many business seminars on the publishing business having worked for Reader's Digest and Time Magazine over my almost 30 year career. I've never made a new friend at a conference – on the other hand – I don't think I've lost any old friends either.

    I've come to the point where I refuse to do business travel and I miss personal travel. I've been to the UK so many times that I am not even allowed to donate blood in the US for fear of the mad cow disease I am likely harboring. I've traveled to Australia and your posting – so thoughtful and a pleasure to read – has reminded me of that trip from NY to Sydney and reminded me of what a truly giant planet this is or reminded me for all of our steel and fuel and artful movies. . . getting there is much less than half the fun.

    I hope you have a great time in the UK and get everything possible from the conference.

  8. Elisabeth, how is it that you're going to this conference? Were you invited? Is it open to the general public? Could I go if I wanted? (I can't afford a trip to England, so it's purely a hypothetical question)

    I'd enjoy traveling a lot more if it didn't involve actual traveling. I just hate all the free time it eats up. Even the fastest way to travel, by plane, eats up most of the day because you have to get to the airport on time, then wait at the airport, etc. I'd probably travel a lot more if, like Samantha Stevens (US TV witch), I could just wrinkle my nose, and POOF, I'm at the Eiffel Tower.

  9. Sussex is lovely, one of my dearest friends lives there, and we used to go for day trips to Brighton when I was a child so I know it fairly well. I do hope you find the trip enjoyable once your back on the earth.

    I love flying. I thought I might be afraid the first time but I found it utterly thrilling and that feeling has never been replaced by boredom, torpor or anxiety. I hardly ever get to do it these days sadly. I rather like conferences too, all those people with something to say! I've always been the sit quiet, watch and listen sort.

    I do wish I could come down to Sussex and meet you for tea and crumpets but it's a bit far.

  10. I've never been to a writers' conference. In my public relations/feature writer life I was able to travel…it was the dawn of jumbo jets…and I used to love flying. Reading your post,it feels as though I've awakened to a new world…conferences of memoirists and autobiographers, this comes as news. That aside, the question arises of how uncomfortable are we willing to be in pursuit of our dreams or the strengthening of our place in a particular field? So much, it seems, comes back to a matter of balance. I haven't flown in 15 or 16 years and may have grown too fond of access to open windows and room to stretch. I have trouble picturing a destination that would lure me onto a plane again.

  11. It sounds like a conference you are thoroughly going to enjoy, unlike the flying. Personally, I love flying. Someday I hope to be able to do it without a plane. Erica Jong was a blast from the past!

  12. I detest flying as well. Someday the airlines will learn that it is to theirs, as well as the passenger's, benefit to put us under anesthetic. We end up with a flight in less than an hour and they don't have to spring for food and booze and flight attendants. Heck, we wouldn't even need seats, just stack us up like cord wood. And if for some reason the plane went down, we'd sleep right through it. I need to patent this idea ASAP.

  13. Thanks, Rachel. I'm inclined to agree with you about our generalised wish to be in control.

    I watch the pilots in their glossy war like uniforms as they enter or exit the departure lounge and wonder that I have put my life into their hands.

    We all do it. We have no choice if we want to fly,but it is disconcerting when you let yourself dwell on it.

    I think I would much rather the writing fear of loss of control to the real one. But some people invite it. They climb mountains, the bungee jump, they sail yachts sole around the world.

    To each their own, I suppose, but not for me.

  14. It's an odd – but lovely – friendship I have with Gerald Murnane, Damon.

    We've been corresponding for several years. I started by writing a fan letter after I'd read his series of essays, 'Invisible Yet enduring Lilacs'.

    We write at length about the most personal of matters and yet I've only spoken to him face to face a few times.

    We agree that we prefer to have an epistolary connection, to the real one. I suppose it's a bit like blogging. I'm glad of this it forces me to write in the traditional way, by letter. I love writing letters.

    Gerald Murnane dislikes computers and all things technical. In his most recent letter to me after I had sent him a copy of my post 'Why I write autobiography' with all the comments added, he wrote back:

    'I have absolutely no need of ipods or blogs or wikipedias. I'm serenely content in this quiet room, surrounded by the profound silence of the Wimmera.

    'I became agitated the other day when I was reading the pages of electronic conversation that you sent me with your latest letter. I shuddered to think how it would feel if I was sent all that stuff and had to answer it. I'm busy enough answering the snail-mail from my few regular correspondents. I'd implode or explode if yet more people besieged me electronically.'

    Here's a man who will not be 'distracted', Damon and it shows in his writing, I think.


  15. An accounting conference in Melbourne sounds pretty bleak to me, Scoman, but I suppose it all depends on whatever tickles your fancy. Thanks for the good wishes.

  16. I rarely have ear trouble while flying, Jim, though I dislike the uncomfortable popping sensation as we ascend and descend.

    It's good that you don't have to visit the Californian in-laws regularly. My in laws are dead now but for years and years we had to drive down to Croydon, some twenty five or more kilometers away for every birthday party and Christmas. At least it didn't require a plane trip.

    I scribble notes at conferences, but I tend to use my notes again and again.

    As I said earlier in my post I mostly only go to conferences that appeal to me, and that includes the psychological/psychoanalytic ones. These psych conferences tend to be local or interstate and I therefore know most of the people and have known many for over thirty years. It's a small community.

    One day I might write a post on the experience of attending a psychoanalytic conference.

    Now there's something to endure. Worse than flying. The speakers can be and often are fantastic but the audience…

    It's like sitting in a large room with family multiplied by ten. The anxiety inevitably hits the roof for everyone, but no one talks about it, except perhaps in whispers at morning and afternoon tea. Discussion times are often begun with long long silences until someone finally gets the courage to speak. The sense of oppression is awful.

    Literary conferences are positively blissful by comparison.

    Thanks, Jim.

  17. This is a great description, Steven, 'that glutinous miasma of fear and knowledge and rationalizing the irrational'. I'm glad I'm not the only one who avoids it. Thanks, Steven.

    Luggage loss is also a hazard, Nancy aw you suggest, and here in Australia ever since a woman named Schapelle Corby was found with heroin stowed inside her surf board bag in Indonesia, people are paranoid about finding stuff they didn't bargain on hidden with their luggage.

    Travel on planes is paranoia-inducing in more ways than one. Thanks, Nancy.

  18. I wonder about those GPS devices, 'Half Life of Linoleum', will they be like computers and everyone complain that people can no longer read maps just as they complain that people can no longer hand write.

    One of my brothers travels for business so regularly I suspect he has overcome most of his fear of flying.

    Perhaps those of us who travel infrequently are the ones who fear the most, but statistically speaking you might think the more you travel the more likely you are to suffer the dreaded mishap.

    This same brother lived in England for sometime during the mad cow crisis and he too can't give blood in America, where he spends much of his time today.

    This makes me think of the poor aborigines who were infected with European diseases when the First Fleet arrived on Australian shores.

    Travel can be dangerous in more ways than simply through the method of travel.

    Thanks Half Life of L.

  19. Kirk, the conference is open to anyone and everyone who's interested I imagine but most people who know of it would tend to be people associated with universities or maybe even with the newly formed, BIO, Biographers international Organisation that began online via James McGrath. See: http://www.biographersinternational.org

    Time is another draw back in the business of travel. But who are we to complain? It took my mother several weeks to reach Australia in the 1950s.

    She traveled by ship then, as most people did. Still 24 hours in the air is a daunting prospect and it certainly seems like lost time.

    Like you, I'd love to be able to wish myself to England, and thereby avoid all the hardship, emotional and physical.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  20. I gather that Brighton is lovely. My husband's ancestors come from a place called Shillington near Cambridge and we will travel there after we arrive at Heathrow only for a day to visit the graves of the dear departed.

    I love to visit grave yards, especially those that bear some ancestral relevance to me and mine. Thereafter we travel to Brighton. It should be great fun once we get there.

    Crumpets and tea would be lovely, too. Maybe next time or if and when you come to Australia. Thanks, Eryl.

  21. Writer's conferences are fun, Marilynn, at least the ones I've attended.

    I am traveling purely for the sake of the conference. My husband on the other hand loves to travel to see places. We must make conferences in this regard. He has started to take himself places without me. It's not ideal because he'd prefer to travel in my company and traveling with friends is not quite the same.

    So I'll go the conferee while he explores the landscape and cites. Later we'll travel together to Ireland for a few days as tourists.

    I do not enjoy being a tourist one bit, but what can you do? I can understand your desire to stay put now.

    Thanks, Marilynn.

  22. Errk Flying!! One has to do it to get there, at least if one is in Oz so far away from anywhere in Europe. I discovered the Singapore Airlines Motel last time. One can book in for several hours, have a shower and sleep before taking the next leg. It breaks the journey. And psychoanalytic conferences! Some are pure theatre. Years ago I was at a lecture where an international guest was speaking. Proceedings were interrupted by a professional comedian and his busload of audience members. They created mayhem or 5 minutes and then went away. Nobody laughed. History/English is much more fun.

  23. Erica Jong seems like a blast from the past, Ronda, but she's still presenting her work, books and ideas as far as I know. She's quite the fictional autobiographer I gather. More of a high flier than me. Thanks, Ronda.

    That's an interesting idea, Robert, to fly anesthetized. I like the sound of it as long as the pilot does not get to sleep on the job, too. I'm not sure about getting out that patent. Something tells me it would not work.

    Thanks for your good wishes, Maggie May. I suspect most people, maybe even including pilots are appropriately if not secretly fearful of flying.

    The best is when I fly in my dreams. It never bothers me then.

  24. I agree Christine, psychoanalytic conferences are far too serious. Laughter is forbidden, I'd say, at least most of the time unless you get an iconoclast who can break through the formalities and group defensiveness.

    Anything out of the ordinary is too frightening, including I'm sure the concept and practice of blogging – far too public.

    Thanks, Christine

  25. I wish you a very good flight to England! I also enjoy being at a conference; the last one I attended was in 1987 in Moscow. It was a women's peace conference.
    My Australian family enjoyed the various sceneries in the Netherlands.My daughter was brought up here, but her partner and children are not familiar with this flat country with so much water everywhere.

  26. First, thank you for coming to my blog and posting some comments. I read your last post and will come back to read more but, as you, we are preparing for a flight very soon, to California. I would rather travel by ship. My first trip abroad, when I was 5 or so, was from Marseille to Istanbul by ship and I loved it. Then I went many times to England, from France, and by ship again. I like cruises but I really like the plain ship – my dream would be to take a freighter around the world. I don’t mind traveling by air as I know how safe aircraft are – I worked for 26 years in an aircraft factory, but I know about the weather factor or human error. Actually I have quite a few friends who died in car accidents but none in an aircraft. I don’t recall my first flight as I recall my first ship travel. I think it could have been going to England again. There were some cheap ways to go there. First there would be a bus from Paris to Beauvais, then a tiny aircraft to cross the channel, then another bus from the landing site to London. That would have been in the 50s. Since then I have traveled by air so much that I could never count the times. I used to fly to visit my mother in France at least twice a year for 25 years or so, from wherever I lived in the US. My longest flight was to Bali I think or maybe to Singapore. I love to travel so I am always looking for cheap flights and as soon as I find one, I take it. I just come back from Baltimore, am going to California, and have reservations to go to Oslo, Norway and to New York City. I am so thankful that there are flights available to go to so many parts of the world.
    My daughter gave me a GPS thingy for my birthday but it’s still in the box as I don’t like to drive all that much, I’d rather fly.

  27. Writer's conferences sound fun. I am a former copywriter for an advertising agency but have had no formal training. I have a tendency to just let it flow. Flying…meh…no big deal except the noise and occassional wearer of heavy perfume.

  28. Survival mode – this is familiar territory for me as well. I used to think nothing of flying and spending hours travelling, but this is changing as I get older and I find I am stressed weeks (or months sometimes) in advance. Just being in the plane for 9 hours (the length of the flight back to Canada) seems to press on me like door closing all around. I used magazines to ease the pressure – the short little stories that don't take much mental effort.

    I hope you are able to make some genuine connections during your conference. Sometimes you can meet a dozen people and with only one with there be the spark of shared understanding. But what a perfect spark that can be.

  29. Perfect description of the connectus interruptus encountered at conferences. I have a little collection of memos and cards with intention written all over them.

    I have the same feelings and thoughts when flying. The only think that keeps me grounded is the thought of the absorption of flatulence in the seat cushions.

  30. Hey, Elisabeth, you're not the only one who has a fear of being up in the air.

    I had my first airplane flight just a year ago when I went to visit Armenia for a class field trip. I was scared to death and grasping my pillow tightly. All the darkest and craziest possibilities came to mind as soon as the giant, metal bird took flight. Though, I'm finally used to it, there is still that fear in the back of my mind, all the time.

    Cool post, also. I really enjoyed some of your images placed in the article, because it gave it an almost fantasy-type of vibe along with the reality of your life. Very creative, I must say.

    Write on, Elisabeth!

  31. Thanks for your good wishes, Reader Will. A woman's conference on peace in Moscow in the late eighties sounds exotic to me. Do you remember much of it, Reader?

    Perhaps not so much the presentations as the people and the ambiance. These are the things about conferences I tend to remember.

  32. You have led an itinerant life by the sound of things, Vagabonde. Hence you blog title no doubt.

    I can imagine that ocean voyages are more fun than ones in airplanes, though I'm not so sure about motion sickness and the like.

    I think then of the Titanic, the ship that was meant not to be capable of sinking. Weather and human error as you say get in the way of our best laid plans.

    Speaking of water travel, I spent a week in a house boat on the Murray River in South Australia with my then young family. now that was fun, and seemingly safe. You could hardly drown in so little water. In drought times this country's rivers can run dry too soon.

    And as for GPS, well it seems a wonderful invention, as long as we maintain some capacity to read maps for the times when technology lets us down.

    Thanks, Vagabonde.

  33. Perfume wearing on planes should be prohibited, Monkey Man, along with all the other things that produce smells, like after shave and deodorant but then how would we cope with the Body odour and halitosis. I should get off this subject, it's too unpleasant to imagine. Thanks for visiting, Monkey Man.

  34. What is it about the process of aging that makes us more sensitive to adventures that we would once brush off as sheer fun when we were young, Purest green?

    A nine hour journey seems almost slight compared with the Australia to England run which uses up an entire day, 24 hours. But at the same time, nine hours is a big hunk out of your time to be stuck in space.

    Thanks for your good wishes for the conference, Purest Green.

  35. Those good conference intentions, Kass, how memorable they are and yet how easily forgotten.

    I think it's the sheer volume of response that's called for at a conference that can take you by storm. I wish there was a way of keeping it alive longer but there's only so much a person can keep alive in life.

    It's one of the things I like about blogging – the continuity. Thanks, Kass.

  36. Thanks, Vachte. A field trip to Armenia sounds brilliant. A pity you could only get there by plane.

    That's the way it is with most travel these days. Time constraints determine our method of transport so we take the fastest possible, despite our terror.

    I'm glad you sensed the fantastical in my post. I don't want to be too earth bound in my writing despite my fear of literal flying.

  37. I never had a fear of flying until recently. I have never had any bad experiences but the older I get the more it worries me… I seem to spend the entire journey feeling that it is my will power and that alone that keeps that chunk of metal from falling from the sky!

    Good luck in England – it's a fabulous place 😉

  38. You've covered all the thoughts I've had on flying very well. I liked the relationship with your husband while in the air. My wife and I have talked about having the same experience. Thanks

  39. I know what you mean in your rather wistful thoughts on the span of the friendships formed at writers conferences. They're very like the bonds formed at summer camp when we were kids. The intensity of the experience lends itself to impassioned bonds, which seem to loosen very quickly when the experience is over. I wonder if the whole thing is similar to what happens when we watch a good film or read a good book: Is it the suspension of disbelief and the willingness to throw ourselves into what we know is an unreal situation?
    Anyway, something has happened to me as I've got older. I'm less outgoing at the conferences. I spend my free time with myself. Off I go in August to a writing workshop, and I'm even leary of the sharing of rooms in the hotel. Ha.
    You and your hubby sound like me and mine while in a plane. I've nothing to say, unless it would be: I'm scared shitless!
    I believe you'll have a wonderful trip despite airline travel. I trust those statistis. Nevertheless, I'd rather travel under the influence of opium, if I could. A shame they don't hand that out at airports.

  40. Elizabeth:

    You get it exactly: the strangeness of feeling one's husband's becoming a stranger on these long airplane trips.

    Out in space, for sure!

    Safe return.

  41. I gather from your blog that you're off on an adventure soon, Eternally distracted, in a plane no doubt. yours sounds warmer than mine, your destination that is. Enjoy it. And thanks for your thoughts here.

    Thanks too, Anthony. It's good to know that we're not the only odd couple to suffer this odd sense of fragmentation while in transit.

  42. It's a interesting comparison, Enchanted Oak, the comparison between conferences and summer camps.

    Those impassioned bonds that develop quickly and die away equally fast are something to experience.

    I wonder whether and when I'll start to shy away at conferences. Maybe one day, but I'm still something of a novice here, having come late to literary academic conferences late in life and I can never hide away at psychology conferences, at least not the ones I go to locally because I know too many of the people.

    I like your idea of passengers traveling under the influence of opium during flights. It's rather like Robert the Sceptic's idea that we should all be anesthetized for the journey. Thanks.

  43. Beautiful post! I am nodding in recognition of so much that you reflect over here.
    From agreeing completely on what a perfect vacation is to the fear of planes and dreaming of falling elevators (my reoccurring dream by the way).
    I love to travel but I will avoid planes at any cost. My fear is illogical and intellectually I know I am in grater danger driving to the airport. To me it has to do with loosing control; I dislike that very much – in a train or a car, the illusion of control is there. In a plane it is completely removed.

    Your trip sounds exciting though, I am sure it will be an experience to last a life time.;)


  44. A pilot once told me that most peoples' fear of flying was really fear of loss of control. Let's face it, there isn't much that can be done in huge metal carriers thousands of miles above the earth if something goes wrong.

    I hope you travel safe and well. I know what it means to be a stranger to the ones you love once you take flight – it is because of the waiting to experience something that will bring the two of you together again, an anecdote, a story, an experience – but flying is so surgical and stringent these days there is not much to do but wait, alone.

    Hugs to you.

  45. Your description of your husband's and your separateness during a long haul flight is similar to the 'parallel play' that two year olds engage in.

    …and adults – must be something about protecting what very small space we're given on board the silver bird.

  46. I'm not sure about Valium, Melissa. I like to keep my wits about me – just in case I need them. Thanks for the good wishes.

    Thanks, Zuzanna. We share common fears in relation to traveling on planes, however illogical and clearly from other comments here we are not alone.

    Such as your comment, Phoenix. I agree with your pilot, it is essentially our fear of loss of control. Once we enter that plane and it takes off, we are pretty well helpless to affect its course. Maybe it's similar to the experience of institutionalization,however temporary, the sort of thing that happens when we go into hospital as patients.

    When we take off our ordinary clothes and don hospital gowns or pyjamas, we instantly lose some of our autonomy. It's a powerful regression and one most of us dislike.

    Thanks, Phoenix.

  47. That's an interesting comparison, Kath – my husband and I like two year olds in parallel play, another type of regression, here on the basis of limited space and limited autonomy I'd say.

    I hadn't thought about it that way before. Thanks Kath.

  48. It's not the falling that scares me, or even the death. It's the terror and the screams in the eyes of the people sharing the experience… and the prospect that I might survive only to live a twisted, scarred remainder of my life.

    My wife's family lives 2000 miles away, and she knows that I am committed to not flying anytime we visit.

  49. Flying: I have flown only in Europe in my life, two hours or just a little bit more, to England, Ireland or the South of Italy.
    BUT: I perfectly understand that feeling you express to be IN-BETWEEN, actually just out of life, suspended in this nowhere, so when you land you are actually reborn, or you have survived, passed through a death without, for the moment, really dying.

    Flying is maybe one the strongest reminders of how precarious we are. In any moment. Surviving is maybe not so different from simply living…

  50. You must do a fair whack of driving Mike, to visit your wife's family 2000 miles away, without flying. And as for your fears about the look on the faces and in the eyes of your fellow terror stricken
    passengers , I share them too, though I suspect I'd try to keep my eyes closed as we descend.

    And on the other hand survival guilt is awful as you suggest, that 'twisted, scarred remainder' of your life. May it never happen to any of us.

  51. Thanks, Davide. You are a novice then to flying, but now you've done it at least once, it never leaves you, that sense of being in – between suspended.

    I look forward to reporting on the conference after the event. It will mean in the first instance that I have survived the trip. Thanks Sherry.

    Thanks, too, Ocean Girl. So the conference life is behind you. You know what I'm talking about them, the joys and sorrows of it all.

    Presentation after presentation and all these choices to make for parallel presentations sandwiched between the keynote speakers. After a couple pf days we are exhausted, stimulus overload, but still it's fun, at least at this stage of my life it is.

    Thanks Ocean Girl.

  52. Going to do some flying soon myself so I appreciated your observations here. So true about flying with one's mate. We do the same thing. I will be gone 12 days–and will be SO glad to get home when I do. (I haven't even left yet and I want to get home!)

  53. Thanks Sherry. I am aware of these brittle connections everywhere at the moment. In the blogosphere, too, not just at conferences. we live this illusion that we are connected deeply.

    We are certainly connected through the internet and our common humanity and interest but how easily these fleeting connections can be lost.

    I'm not trying to sound too gloomy, but it's a matter very much on my mind at the moment. Thanks again, Sherry.

  54. That's what I mean, Betty. We haven't even gone and yet already we want to be home again. How primitive is that?

    On the other hand, I once went camping with a friend at a time when he was in a job he hated. As we packed up at the end of our trip I remember my surprise when he talked about how much he would have given anything to stay. I on the other hand, in typical fashion, was ready to go home.

    It's a good sign in many ways. I love my job and I'm a homebody. I love my home, not just the bricks and mortar of it, more the sense of familiarity, the sense of belonging in my own space and place. For me, nothing can compare.

    Thanks Betty.

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