Fear and joy of flying

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.

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11 Responses to Fear and joy of flying

  1. I picked it up the other day, thinking it was due for a reread, and couldn’t get past the first page, so clunky was it. I think it was of its time.

    While I love the concept of flying in a helicopter, I would be terrified.

  2. It was clunky 36 years ago, too – a horribly jammed-together lump.

  3. litlove says:

    I’m with Charlotte – the helicopter ride sounds amazing, but I wouldn’t want to be witness to anyone trying misguidedly to put me in one of those things. 😉

    Never read Erica Jong. Rather interested in her relationship with her daughter, though, which is bad. Or at least, the daughter apparently tried to live the kind of life her mother promoted in her novels and found herself damaged by it, and perhaps quite understandably, blamed her mother bitterly. You remind me I must look into that!

  4. that is a great photo! it must have been some ride.

  5. natalian says:

    There is nothing like a sunset in Cape Town! Must have been awesome to see it from a helicopter! The Stadiums are breathtaking, I really enjoyed seeing Durban’s slowly take shape.

  6. Pete says:

    Charlotte – Kudos to you for trying to reread it though! And I was quite pleased with myself that I was able to get over my fear for one flight! Wouldn’t really want to make a habit of it though.

    Ian – Great description. I won’t be reading it then!

    Litlove – I can see how a helicopter ride would be torture for you. “Don’t put me in that can” or words to that effect. And consider yourself reminded to have a look at Erica Jong’s relationship with her daughter. (Incidentally her sister claims that FoF is based on her life.)

    Lilian – Thanks. Definitely worth putting aside my fears for an hour or so.

  7. Pete says:

    Natalian – I know – aren’t they wonderful! I hope the rest of the World Cup is as successful as the stadiums.

  8. Harriet says:

    I was a fearful flyer, and had about 6 or 7 years of therapy to get over it. I think what ultimately did the trick was that I overcame my fear of dying. Because a fear of flying isn’t really a fear of flying is it, it’s a fear of dying.

    As for the book, it doesn’t sound very exciting. Thanks for the synopsis, now I don’t have to read it!

  9. The flight sounds wonderful … personally I have no fear of flying, but I do have a terrible fear of vomiting, and since the two are inextricably linked for me, I remain prosaically earthbound.

  10. doctordi says:

    Helicopters are cool, crazy contraptions, and I quite like looking at them from the ground. I bet they’re fun, though… that really sounds like fun.

    I’ve not read the book – nor am I planning to now!

  11. sandy says:

    To me, one of the most redeeming qualities of FoF was a woman heroine owning her sexuality on the page: the good, the bad, and the ugly. She’s one of my favorite authors. I find her authentic voice and writing style fascinating.

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