Monday, April 18, 2011

Quotations, photos and ponderings, all. at. once.

    "You can live a lifetime and, at the end of it, know more about other people than you know about yourself. You learn to watch other people, but you never watch yourself because you strive against loneliness. If you read a book, or shuffle a deck of cards, or care for a dog, you are avoiding yourself. The abhorrence of loneliness is as natural as wanting to live at all. If it were otherwise, men would never have bothered to make an alphabet, nor to have fashioned words out of what were only animal sounds, nor to have crossed continents — each man to see what the other looked like. 
     Being alone in an aeroplane for even so short a time as a night and a day, irrevocably alone, with nothing to observe but your instruments and you own hands in semi-darkness, nothing to contemplate but the size of your small courage, nothing to wonder about but the beliefs, the faces and the hopes rooted in your mind — such an experience can be as startling as the first awareness of a stranger walking by your side at night. You are the stranger."
  Beryl Markham, West with the Night.

I already posted a passage from West with the Night, but since that was specifically relevant to the airplane post, here's a little more about the book itself: Generally, West with the Night is a ruminative, verbose, sweeping memoir that covers three notably distinct parts of Markham's life. After writing herself into the narrative, she takes the reader through her childhood, hunting lion with African locals, to leaving home and training race-horses, and finally to her career as a freelance pilot. 

So much of the book draws its strength from descriptions of people and places that the silence felt in the above passage is as startling to the reader as it is to Markham. The change from lengthy, illustrative passages about the African landscape and the characters who occupy it to the breathless and fleeting few paragraphs articulating her personal experience of flight parallels her assertion about loneliness. Most everything we do in our day-to-day lives is engineered to keep us from noticing that we are really very alone in the world, thus we keep self-awareness to a minimum in the interest of maintaining sanity. Even when physically alone, humans go to great lengths to avoid confronting themselves, whether by immersion in external stimuli, abuse of a substance, or simply by locking away their thoughts in a mental prison and living in denial of themselves. 

In conclusion, but not really to conclude this ongoing train of thought, West with the Night was an inspiring memoir not just in terms of tangible accomplishments and admirable writing, but in the additions Markham's personal philosophy made to my own modus operandi. Someday, I hope to meet myself.

Photo is of the Potomac River near Theodore Roosevelt Island, April 15, 2011.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Into forever

There are two categories within the spectrum of the noises of man: primary and secondary. The primary are mostly found during the day, when the sun is out, and children are running and yelling, couples are talking idly over lunch, businessmen are debating over cell phones and conference tables.

The secondary are found at night, in the darkness and calm of the empty air. These are the sounds of what man has made, the hum of cars on the highway, the clatter of a train over the tracks, the hum of the metro cars, lit from within, boxes of light passing through the wastes of the night, the purr of jet engines idling on the runway, the roar of planes braking as they touch their tiny wheels to the ground (their true purpose is obvious in the disproportionality of these wheels).

One can feel part of the world when invisible and flying through the darkness, outside the machines and jets and buildings, the well-lit havens of humanity, isolated from the boundless darkness. The warm spring air is heady, and no matter how deeply each breath is drawn the lungs hunger for more.

The bicycle wheels turn frenetically under me as I soar over roads and paths, through the darkness, dodging cars and dips in the road, the gentle whir of gears the only indication of human presence. My muscles know no bounds in this darkness and in this air, thick with dreams from the somnolent crowds of the Earth, if I close my eyes and lift my arms, I might just become one with the clouds, the few pinpricks of light and the three-quarter moon casting shadows between streetlights. My soul grows in this night, spreading a disproportionate wingspan, fueled by all that I have yet to know, and growing beyond reasonable measure.

airplane, water, washington dc, sunset, lights

EDIT 4/16: I'm leaving this post up as an example of the writing process, but it needs some serious editing and revising before I'd be anything like happy with it. As it stands, it's simply representative of some thoughts from the other night, quickly scribbled and thrown to the masses (who have, thank goodness, largely ignored me). Also, those light blips across the airport sky in the photo are a plane taking off, not a random aberration. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Photo post: What happens when I get bored on Sunday afternoon

  • I weed. I weed books, I weed clothes, I weed my life. The result is usually a bag of little-used odds and ends that winds up in my parents' house until I see fit to sort through it all (sorry about that). More to the point, weeding also results in realising that 75% of my jackets are corduroy.

  • I clean and dust maniacally, including inside things, which leads back to #1, there. This week my small collection of [also little-used] makeup fell victim to my boredom. And then so did my face. Disclaimer: the most makeup I ever wear is mascara, and I have no clue what I'm doing otherwise. 

  • I ponder crafty things. Aside from the long list of half-finished projects and box o' mending I've been avoiding (despite having hauled my sewing machine over here) I recently acquired some little green wool balls. There was a big tub of multi-coloured wool balls at Eastern Market a while back when I went with Wortklauberlein, and I fished out some in my favourite colour. Anyone have ideas as to what I should do with them? I was thinking poms for something scarf-like. There are 10.
wool, balls, beads, craft, diy, pompoms

Saturday, April 2, 2011

...I flew a plane?

Looks like I neglected to post anything for an entire month despite the pile of saved drafts I have going here. eh heh.

A few years back I made a quick list of Life Goals for myself. Being in college at the time, they were pretty basic things: live in one place for more than four months (e.g. not a dorm), learn basic car maintenance, learn to fly an airplane.

Last Friday I made a step the right direction and took the pilot's seat in a Cessna 172 for a 30 minute flight over Gaithersburg, MD. Ok, I didn't entirely fly the plane, but it was pretty gosh darn exciting (and a little terrifying) to be steering a dinky aircraft at 2500 feet. The best part was takeoff. My co-pilot/instructor handled the throttle and details, while I pulled back on the yoke and actually got the plane off the ground. Causing yourself to suddenly become airborne is distinctly thrilling.

Anyway, as exciting as that was, the experience made it very clear how much there is to learn (and how much it would cost to learn it). As accompaniment to this adventure I've also been reading Beryl Markham's memoir, West with the Night. While it is ostensibly and primarily a book about flight, Markham also covers encounters with lions, racing horses and much else about living in Africa in the early 20th century:

Tom taught me in a D.H. Gipsy Moth, at first, and her propeller beat the sunrise silence of the Athi Plains to shreds and scraps. We swung over the hills and over the town and back again, and I saw how a man can be master of a craft, and how a craft can be master of an element. I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world, and all my other life, to grains in a cup. I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know — that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it. These I learned at once. But most things came harder.

For a couple more photos, visit my picasa collection.