Fly Away With Me

I don’t often fly with my kids. When I travel, I’m most frequently boarding an airplane for work so that I can visit a client in another city.

But there’s something about being at the airport and watching those exhausted, stressed and strung-out parents with one or more freaking out children in tow that makes me—somehow—wish that I were experiencing my currently uneventful and comparatively stress-free travel with my own two sons.

Typically, any travel experiences with my kids culminates in the convincing decision that I will never, ever, travel with my boys again.

Then, when I’m back to again traveling solo, I find myself looking at these wrecked parent-child units and yearning for the chaotic, sometimes frustrating presence of my own offspring.

There’s probably a broader observation to make about parenting here. How before kids my mood could be altered by some (admittedly) trivial inconvenience whereas now the energy available for self-flagellation is no longer accessible because I’ve already spent that energy parenting.

Having children is a constant pull and push that singes the emotional receptors of your being every day until you collapse in bed at night exhausted, fulfilled and regretful. It’s the regret that is, for me, the most pervasive of parenting-hangover emotions. Regret that I didn’t get more time with them, regret that I didn’t appreciate their attention while I had it, regret that I didn’t do better.

A Year in the Sky

For reasons that are now lost to the blur of childhood, the character of Peter Pan (the Walt Disney version) resonated on a profound level with my five-year-old self. Certainly part of the attraction was the never-grow-up attitude. And the fact that he wore a dagger. And that he fought pirates.

More than all of those touch-points, however, I was drawn to Peter Pan because he could fly.

In the mid-1970s, unless you had access to 8mm movies or what was then nascent home-video technology (I did not have access to either), you could only watch—and re-watch—movies as they were released in theaters. The classic Disney animated movies were on a re-release cycle of multiple years, so kids from my generation (Gen Xers represent!) could say that they saw ‘Sleeping Beauty’ when they were six or ‘Pinocchio’ when they were nine.

I was five when ‘Peter Pan,’ originally released in 1953, was re-released. And I was ready. I had had the album version of the movie (it was a combination of narrative and soundtrack) from before I could remember, and I had dressed as Peter Pan for as long as I could walk, and to this day I can’t hear ‘You Can Fly’ without zooming around the room, my arms cast wide. Seeing the film back then cemented the character’s importance in my genetic make-up, and it’s been one of the tragedies my life that Peter Pan didn’t try to recruit me to be a Lost Boy. Or that I can’t literally fly.

And yet.

For more than a year—thanks to my taking a consulting job where I now regularly travel across the United States—I have lived in the sky. The toughest parts of being a traveling consultant are what you’d expect – being away from my wife and children, spending inordinate amounts of time in airports, dealing with other people (folks, reclining your seat is akin to committing all Seven Deadly Sins at once, and the Universe will find a way to punish you for doing this, and the Universe is just in doing so), and the physical reality of sitting for hours in Medieval airplane seats.

However, there’s part of living up here that never gets old. The miracle of flight.

We are creatures of gravity. We are earthbound. To trick or escape this, whether for a moment or for the length of a transcontinental trip, is wondrous. It is our opportunity to thumb our nose at the way things are. It’s our moment to simultaneously be closer to God and to openly defy Him.

Airlines do much to obfuscate and separate us from this miracle, because to acknowledge the blessed nature of being able to live part of one’s life in the sky is to acknowledge that gravity always wins and that our lives are more obviously at risk. This obfuscation isn’t always unfortunate (there are times, during severe turbulence, say, or in the midst of a magnificent thunderstorm) that I appreciate not being reminded that I’m in an all too fragile aircraft amidst a much vaster, elemental force.

Sometimes ignorance is necessary for mental survival.

That said, I find—and perhaps you do, as well—that as I get older, I become more integrated with my previous selves. Passions and interests and pre-occupations return and re-surface, and there’s a settling into who we are that synchs up to the person we have always been. It feels natural that a component of my existence has brought flying back as an integral aspect of my life because I’ve always wanted it to be so. It’s different than I’d envisioned it, certainly, and yet it’s present.

As if I’ve been practicing the act of living in the sky all along.

Here’s a nice bit from Louis CK that acknowledges the realities of airline travel vis-a-vis the awe that flight _should_ still summon in all of us. 

New York Like a Christmas Tree*

As someone born, raised and still living on the West Coast, New York City has always been a mythical and out-of-reach place

As a kid, New York was the mega-city with attitude, much different than the sleepy surfer town of my youth. It was where my favorite childhood superheroes patrolled. Later, as a budding writer and musician, New York was the mecca where the writers and musicians I loved struggled and created and performed. And as an adult, it was where 9/11 made each of us defacto New Yorkers.

But the place was still somehow far away.

I’ve never felt, as many do, the need to challenge myself by living there. I was content that New York was over there should I ever want to visit, and up until my early 40s, that was the status quo – one of the many places I intended to see before I die.

That changed when I took my new job in late 2014.

I had to travel to the city extensively on behalf of a client, and I was able to experience the place in a unique, and admittedly privileged, even spoiled way. My airfare and hotel and food costs were covered as a job expense. I didn’t have to struggle to find (or afford) housing; I didn’t have to scramble for employment.

I was able to be a part of the place as more than a tourist and not quite a resident. There but not there. An outsider insider. (But not quite this bad, I hope.)

Even so, I like to believe that I get it now. New York works and wears on you, and when you’re not there, the city makes you crave it, makes you want to be there and nowhere else.

A colleague (and resident) described New York as a city with an old soul. To be part of it—even as that outsider—was to be welcomed into the center, that ancient epicenter, around which the rest of the world has always orbited.

It’s a messy place. Not dirty, per se, (although there are of course grimy elements) but messy. Rangy. There’s no reason that so many people with so many different personal trajectories should somehow make the city work and yet the city does work; it emanates a palpable, synergistic cultural force that’s as infectious as it is addicting. It’s magical. Truly.

Tonight this city belongs to me.* And you.

(*Apologies for lifting another quote from U2 – this one obviously ‘Angel of Harlem.’)

Check Your Baggage

You can feel the anxiety, a palpable clench around your windpipe, actual pressure indenting the bones and cartilage of your chest.

Must. Get. In. Line.

As soon as anyone passably resembling an airline gate agent arrives at the gate’s desk, the eager elbow themselves into a semi-chaotic line. The First Class passengers, mind you. The ones who have the best seats and guaranteed overhead storage. They generate a fear tsunami—that palpable gush of anxiety that soaks everyone in the terminal—and soon the entire gate is swarmed by folks trying to angle a better position on the plane.

As a regular business traveler, I have worked hard to understand why on earth a person would want to spend more time on an airplane than necessary. We who are about to embark on a multi-hour flight already have our seats. What’s the rush to plant ourselves into those overpriced back-and-butt torture devices?

Over-head storage. And good ol’ American competition.

That’s it. The rabid anxiety, the 40-plus minutes to board and the 25-plus minutes to deplane, the obnoxious line-blocking behavior. All caused by your fellow traveler who wants to get there before you and who wants to steal your precious overhead storage space.

This annoys me. This annoys me a lot.

I hope that airlines have conducted a cost analysis of the inefficiencies caused by carry-on luggage (we know there’s no cure for the jackass competition). If airlines provided free checked luggage, couldn’t we board faster? Couldn’t we deplane so much more quickly? Couldn’t the airline then offer more flights in a given day and make even more money?

I’ve tried to apply my nascent mindfulness skills to this situation. I try to acknowledge how annoyed I am by this, sit with my annoyance, and wait for it to pass while my running mental commentary does not stop - the airlines are stupid for causing this; people are stupid for feeding this.

Everything and everyone is stupid, stupid, stupid.

Alas, there is no solution. This is the reality of air travel. This inefficient and degrading situation is what it is. I can choose to struggle against it, or I can choose to accept what ultimately isn’t going to change.

Or…I can take part in the competition and push to get to my seat before you do.