I went up to Saldanha on Monday to give a presentation on the Psychology of Survival. Then back for a night-flight in a helicopter that evening. Wow, what a thrill.
Leaving aside the long wait, some anxiety about flying with a trainee pilot, sitting around while he practises landing from different heights (800m, 600m, 400m, 200m) and so on, the flight itself was exhilirating. We had breathtaking views of the city at sunset and then there was the sheer thrill of being up in the air and looking down on everything.
It was scary and exciting at the same time and I’m sure the anxiety adds to the enjoyment since all that fear of crashing in a ball of flame on the ground gets transformed into the joy of apparent weightlessness as you drift over the city in the magic light of sunset.
We got to see the new Cape Town Stadium which is hosting the World Cup Draw next Saturday and it’s beautiful. Unfortunately I had my camera on the wrong setting and so my stadium shots were blurry. But at least the mountain was looking good.
Thinking about my fear of flying led me to realise that I’ve never actually read Erica Jong’s 1973 novel, which is “a comic, picaresque novel of sex and psychiatry that challenged conventional views of women”.
Before rushing off to get the book I thought I’d read a couple of reviews to see how this feminist classic has weathered the intervening 36 years. Joanne Barkan does a very good re-reading in the Fall 2009 issue of Dissent.
Here she summarises the plot:
Twenty-nine-year-old Isadora Wing (who’s recently been on the reading circuit with her first book, a volume of erotic poetry) is travelling with her Chinese American psychiatrist husband to a convention of psychoanalysts in Vienna. Emotionally frustrated and sexually bored in her marriage, Isadora is tormented, on the one hand, by her yearning for adventure, sexual rapture, freedom, and creativity, and on the other hand, by her need for the security and protection of a husband. She opts, at least temporarily, for adventure by taking off on a frenzied, buzzed-on-beer road trip through Western Europe in a sporty convertible with a “swinging” Jungian analyst whom she’s met at the convention. Two and a half weeks later, he dumps her in Paris in order to join his children and his current girlfriend for a long-planned vacation in Brittany. Completely unprepared for this, Isadora falls apart for a day but emerges from her panic with some of the confidence and strength she’s craved. She heads to London and the hotel where she and her husband had planned to meet before flying back to New York. He’s out, but she gets the key to his room. The book closes with her soaking in the bathtub, feeling contented, when her husband walks in. Will she stay with him or leave? She doesn’t know, but in either case, she’s convinced that she’ll be fine. (Joanne Barkan, Dissent, Fall 2009)
The novel seems to have been equally shocking and liberating at the time and while not very well written, Fear of Flying helped to break the mould of women’s identities. As Barkan says, it “encouraged so many of us to get our stories straight”.
If you’re interested, also check out this article by Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker.