I’ve been visited by thoughts of flight lately. Something is taking shape in my mind that I would like to express through movement. Flight represents a whole range of themes, emotions, and experiences. It means different things to different people. To me it represents exhilaration and fear– the absence of control. Here are a few assorted thoughts I have about flight:

  • A recurring dream as a child: I, on my bed, am falling downwards into a bottomless abyss. The bed twists and turns but I stay on the bed. It is dark. It is quiet. I am afraid but I am calm.
  • An inevitable end to flight is landing or falling. I associate the two. This is why fear and exhilaration are connected. Rather than being polar opposites they are on opposite sides of the same circle.
  • Someone I am close to is afraid of flying in an airplane. It is an all-consuming, obsessive fear that is entwined with a fear of death. It creates emotional havoc for days before and during the experience.
  • A family member is a pilot. He was a flight instructor and writes about piloting private plains. Once he took me on a trip in a small plane. Seated in the co-pilot’s seat, he let me fly for a few moments. It was scary. I felt the weight of my responsibility even though I knew he could take over at a moment’s notice.
  • I travel a lot in airplanes. There are many rituals we go through nowadays to fly– what we can pack, what we have to take off and put back on, when we can stand up, use electronic devices, the fears we feel associated to terrorism. How much of it is real and how much is invented? There was a NYT Jet Lagged blog post about this recently.
  • When there is turbulence on an airplane I play a mind manipulation game with myself. I imagine I am on a roller coaster. The idea that I am tethered to a track that is rigidly controlling the hills and valleys puts my mind at ease. I also consciously give up my desire to control things to the heavens. My fate is literally in the hands of other people, machines, and atmospheres. There is nothing I can do. I have no say in what will happen to me. I give up control. I offer myself to the mercy of the moment. It calms me.
  • Many say they would like to be reincarnated as a bird so that they can fly. As humans we do not possess the ability to fly on our own. We are enamoured with the exhilarating idea of taking to the skies. Me, I think I’d like to be reincarnated as a housecat, though I read once that it’s the lowliest thing to be reincarnated as, according to Hindu belief. Cats can’t fly but they have agility, the ability to jump high and low, and a seeming immunity to falling from great heights. They also do as they please, sleep all day, get petted a lot, and eat when they feel like it. They also catch birds sometimes.
  • Dance is often likened to flying in poetry, prose, and song. The experience of floating across the floor in a waltz, or flying to a quickstep comes from the exhilaration of giving up control to the music and one’s dance partner. Ballet dancers seem to fly, suspended in air when they leap across the floor. Some dancers seem to achieve impossibly long periods of aerial suspension on their own power.
  • Flight and falling often appear in our lexicon as a metaphor. A high-flying executive. High-flying, adored. Fly me to the moon. Flying too close to the sun. Take flight on the wings of freedom. Fall from grace. Fear of falling. Fear of flying. Empty nest. God is my co-pilot.
  • I saw The Bridge, a documentary about people who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge, to commit suicide. The filmmakers filmed the bridge from dawn to dust, every day for a year. They chronicled the jumps of 24 people. Some fell like a stone. Some flew through the air, long hair trailing out behind.

I have to think about how to make sense of these themes and associations. I have to think about how to express them through movement, since I lack the physical ability to fly or fall from the floor. I have little desire to use props or harnesses. How do I express it from within and in the event of one, to an audience?

I’m going to be giving myself regular homework assignments to figure this out. Hopefully I’ll come up with some process worth sharing in the coming weeks and months.

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