Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The next Lesson

And after being at 3000 feet and spinning and looping and rolling in the sky, I climbed in the car with Kerry for the average, earthbound, boring 2.5 hour drive home.

At least, that’s what we thought…until the collision.

The unexpected comes so quickly…it’s always in a rush.

Fifteen minutes after my lesson, stopped for the bottleneck of traffic on 405, the Blazer came up behind us way too fast...And didn't stop in time.

Bang (Whoa, ouch my head), BANG (WHOA, ouch my HEAD)! Then the sound of shattered glass and metal pieces hitting the road.

And in that moment, my beloved open-cockpit car was destroyed, both ends crushed.

The back of my head felt hot and my first thought was “What was THAT?”

Wait a minute, I had just been up in the air, triple-belted in and parachute-safe, dancing with the Decathalon alone in the sky, with my instructor guiding me every step of the way. I’d been suspended above all this earth-heavy traffic, where I was diving and spinning and upside down for goodness sake. It was all smooth and free and thousands of feet between me and the next hard object.

Still shaky with disbelief, I saw my husband ask if I was okay, get a nod from me, and steer what remained of our car, creaking and groaning, to the shoulder. Adrenaline-fueled, he had to shove the door to get it to open, and went immediately to the other cars to see if everyone was okay. Meanwhile there was something warm and wet on my face, and my touching it showed red-orange on my hand….am I bleeding already?

Funny color though….and the taste confirmed it:

It was ketchup.

Ketchup, not blood, ketchup from the hamburger I had to have after my lesson because I was starving, and I laughed. What a funny little movie this was, that used ketchup for blood, which was smeared now all over the right side of my face.

Kerry was feeling sore, but still in action talking with the other drivers, looking at the remains of our car, and the damage to the others. Not much to the tank of a pickup in front of us, just a scratch really. But our whole front was mushed, lights smashed, and the bumper pointed strangely down to the pavement. To the car behind us, well, his front did not fare well either, and it dripped radiator fluid yellow green on the ground. The driver was hugely apologetic and I felt so sorry for the despair in his voice. “This has never happened to me before…I can’t believe it. I’m so sorry.” My heart went out to him. Poor guy.

Being in the middle of all this, literally, is not a good place to be for a car, and the image of an accordion is an accurate one, all crumpled at each end. Our rear doors wouldn't even open anymore. Suddenly uncomfortable with being in the middle of that crushed metal, I got out and tried to do something useful, while Kerry thoughtfully took photographs of the damage.

Kerry came back to check on me…was I sure I was all right? I said I thought I was, but he dabbed at a little red spot near my eye. “It’s ketchup,” I said, smiling. “No, it won’t go away,” he said. “I think you’ve got a cut.”

In moments it seemed, a fire truck arrived, blocking the following traffic from running over us and the shattered debris we’d left behind. Strong men with too much equipment on came over to ask if we were feeling dizzy, could we breathe all right, and did we feel we needed any hospital attention.

I said the back of my head hurt, and so did my neck. Kerry said the same, and that he had a bruise and tightness where the shoulder belt went across his chest. He’d seen it all developing in his rear view mirror in that split second, had his foot hard on the brake, and had been bracing for the impact so he got it worse than I did, me being oblivious to what was coming, and not hearing him say “brace yourself”. I was actually fairly relaxed during impact, and that might have helped.

Since no one needed the EMT’s expert help right then, after a short cleanup they moved on, leaving behind a jovial police officer who was happy to have a case like this: no one drunk, no one yelling, no one seriously hurt.

Next on the list: How do we get home? We’re over 100 miles away at this point, and the Seattle rush hour is just beginning!

We decide to barnstorm it. Limp ourselves home. The tune “On a Wing and a Prayer” started playing in both our heads, and I could imagine that WWII B-17 coming in all shot up, but still bringing her boys safe home anyway. I sang the chorus:

Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer

Look below, there’s a Field over there.

With a full crew aboard,

And our Trust in the Lord,

Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer.

With phoned-in advice from our Subaru expert friend Chuck, our eyes on the temperature gauge, and our ears tuned to hearing any new grinding sounds, we watched for the best “emergency landing” shoulders all the way back. Hours later, we made it, just as it got dark. Chuck had left a key in one of his dealer cars, so that we could land on his car lot and have a way home too. (What a blessing good friends are!)

It was only when we pulled into our own driveway that we took some deep breaths….and were so very, VERY thankful that we weren’t killed, hospitalized, or stranded on the side of the road.

Today's lesson was an unexpected one:

Aerobatic flying is safer than driving a car!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lesson One

To begin, I must say thanks to so many of you who sent me personal notes of support and enthusiasm for my first aerobatics lesson. Your just being there helped me more than you’ll ever know, and seeing your emails was just terrific.

Best of all was a little note from Patty Wagstaff. For those of you who do NOT know aviation and aerobatics, Patty is pure Royalty in that arena, and has been forever, in my book, Queen of Aerobatics. (I read an interview where she once said that she was more comfortable in the air than on the ground!)

Patty, I don’t know if that’s really true, but I was so touched by your little note inquiring if I’d yet had my lesson, THANK YOU! And I decided to bring out my “Inner Patty Wagstaff” today. I told myself,

“I am fearless. I love the sky more than the ground. I make this airplane an extension of myself, right here and now. I don’t “just do it”, I am naturally good at it. This airplane loves to fly, loves to do aerobatics, and loves me too, just as I love it. This is going to be AWESOME!”

Here I am pretending to be Patty, but with Will's lovely Decathalon:

And, yes, okay, I had to dress the part too. Flightsuit, aerobatic shoes (yes the right ones are important…and yes, mine happen to have tiny sparkles on them) and everything.

Hey, I figured if I was going for it, I needed to go all the way! But look, Will's shoes are the same kind as mine...I'm not crazy for getting these...he just doesn't have the sparkles.

(Huge thanks to my patient husband, Kerry, who took all these pictures and dozens more, especially of my sparkly shoes...)

By the way, I couldn’t have dreamed of a better instructor! Will Allen was PERFECT for me. Being a musician himself, he knew how key my dance background was, so he let me make my dance analogies everywhere, just so I could “get it” in a way that worked for me. He gave me an extensive briefing before we even rolled the plane out of the hangar, showing me the different attitudes of the plane through the various maneuvers, and I followed his movements, using my dance training to help my body learn it quickly.

Here's Will explaining the movements of the airplane to me, and me following along with the control movements needed to make it happen that way. He's describing first a Roll, then a Hammerhead:

You see, in learning a new piece, dancers just follow the choreographers movements at first, just so their bodies will remember it. Next, they take it apart piece by piece so they understand it, and then they practice each piece so that they get all the fine details of it. Finally they set it to music, to bind the count and the movements together….and then they practice it all over and over and over and over until their minds let go of the technicalities and focus on the finer nuances of character and emotion, leaving the body to remember the rest.

I have a feeling that’s a very similar process to what aerobatic pilots do (Will, Patty, Steve, feel free to weigh in here) except maybe they don’t focus as much on the physical movements so quickly. Perhaps they think about it in aviation terms more….but I didn’t have that background, so I used what I had. And Will said that I caught on a little better than some of his pilot students, perhaps because I wasn’t thinking too much about it. I was just feeling the motion of it all.

But I'm getting ahead of's Will showing me the controls and what I'll be doing with them. I was ready to just jump in the airplane and go, but this turned out to be extremely valuable since I was going to be doing a LOT of important stuff with mixture, prop rpm, trim and more:

Me starting the Decathalon...woo-hoo, let's get flying!

So here’s what I did:

First of all I flew the plane to the aerobatics airspace, about 10 minutes away. (Did you catch that….I FLEW it there, not Will, ME!!! Me the Passenger was really thrilled, as you can tell, but Me the Pilot was like, “and you’re making this a big deal because….? Sister, the Decathalon is doing the work of flying, you’re just asking her to do stuff! Get over yourself!”)

I did some turns just to get the feel of the airplane and did lots of adjusting the controls from the front, which Will instructing behind me couldn’t reach. I climbed to gain altitude and dove a bit to lose it when I was too high.

And then he uttered those famous words, “Let’s begin with Level Flight.”

Once I got that down, he demonstrated the maneuvers we talked about in the hangar, and I followed lightly on the controls while he did them.

Then I did:

2 Aileron Rolls (all by myself, the second one without any coaching from him)—imagine the airplane rolling to one side, all the way through being upside down, to righting itself at the end. Let’s see if I remember: Gain airspeed, level it briskly, pull to 30 degrees up, take a breath, stick quickly/firmly over left and hold until you’re upright again and stick smoothly back to neutral…Ta-Da! Aileron Roll.

2 Loops (all by myself, and on the last one I caught my own wake turbulence…which is a good thing, meaning I was lined up with my previous starting point. It’s not really an accurate way of telling that you’ve done it right, says Will, but for us beginners, it’s something to brag about, so I’ll take it!)

1 Hammerhead (which he helped me through…man that’s more complicated than it looks!)—that’s pulling the airplane straight up until it can’t go up anymore, then kicking the rudder to turn it into a dive straight down, then pulling up smoothly to recover.

And then he did a 2-rotation spin at the end, just for fun.

Will said we pulled 4 G’s during our session. And oh, it was so lovely…..flying around with the little grey clouds scuttling by, which opened politely in time to create a little box in the sky for us to play in.

I flew back all the way to the airport, just following Will’s instructions until he took over and landed.

TA-DA! I did it!

And for the very first time in my life, I can really imagine me flying an airplane of my own. Going up by myself, and just deciding “a roll would feel really good right now”, and doing one….or two. And hey, a roll just isn’t a roll without a loop to pair it with (like a fine wine with a fine cheese, they just go together).

Will signed my log book, gave me a final hug, and was off to his next lesson.

And after being at 3000 feet and spinning and looping and rolling in the sky, I climbed in the car with Kerry for the average, earthbound, boring 2.5 hour drive home.

At least, that’s what we thought…

Until the collision.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Passion and Practicality

With the last entry I wrote, I find I’m now on a totally different Road.

The sign for this road glows neon-orange in my headlights:

Junction of Passion and Practicality

(Watch out for Rocks)

Ignoring the sign, I keep going: what would my life be like, totally immersed in a Passion? Something for which I was uniquely suited, trained since childhood, good at, no…great at! Something few others could do, were currently doing, or had ever done. Something that nourished me on purpose and inspired others by accident.

Enter the images of comparison…friends who are already living Large. Living their dreams, their loves…their unique skills, talents, experience, and history combining to give them all they need to live every day in joyful demonstration of who they are.

--Sound like a fairy tale? It isn’t. I know these people. Some are well known to many, like my dear friend, author Alan Cohen. He is one of the most passionate men I’ve ever known, and I love being around him. He is magnificently present to his feelings, his expressions, and his connection with everything and everyone. He does things for the Joy of it in the moment. Is he ever distracted? Sure. Ever wrestle with a problem? Of course. But his life seems to be…enchanted.--

And I know other enchanted lives, too: Teachers, pilots, writers, dancers, foundation directors, and mechanics. People who transform with their gentle instruction, awe with their flying skill, move with their words on the page, captivate with their movements on the stage, feed with their generosity, and breathe new life with their reconstructions.

Setting aside my aching jealousy for the lives they lead (you know who you are, my friends), I ask myself: How did they DO that?

A tiny voice says: One step, one decision, one opportunity at a time, that's how.

Well, that’s fine for them…not for me…I need to be Practical. (Aw, man, I forgot about the sign. Now the battle begins.)

“You can’t go gallivanting (is that how you spell that?) off and do loops and spins in the sky…You’ve got to pay the bills, you’ve got to earn money/be responsible/have health insurance/buy bonds/clean the bathroom.”

“You can’t have fun writing this blog forever….You’ve got to pay the bills, you’ve got to earn money/be responsible/have health insurance/buy bonds/clean the bathroom.”

“You can’t help start a historic air museum on a purely volunteer basis….You’ve got to pay the bills, you’ve got to earn money/be responsible/have health insurance/buy bonds/clean the bathroom.”

Ugh…Practicality is so BORING; it says the same thing every time. But the voice has great power in the FEAR it instills in me…the fear of what would happen if I couldn’t pay those bills.

It is a huge trap, with spikes for teeth, and I get caught in it just about every single time.

Except this once. Because I am now moving towards something that takes my breath away.

And Practicality (in the most limited definition of the word) can’t just sit around and whine in such a rarefied atmosphere; there's simply not enough oxygen for it in my breathless state…I have forced it out of the plane, sans parachute.

“One step, one decision, one opportunity at a time.” But am I patient enough for that?? Can I possibly hold my breath that long?

Well, I guess we’ll see…come Monday, on the occasion of my first aerobatics lesson, the weather is supposed to be gorgeous, and Will Allen will be waiting for me at noon. After dancing a bit in the sky, we’ll see just how hooked I am, and just what kind of Passion awaits.

You’ll be the first to know.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Before and After (Part Two)

Yep, that’s how I left you last time. (My very first cliff-hanger!)

But it’s true….Like Amy, I’ve been buried in “stuff” too. Old, moldy, dusty stuff with huge expectations and heavy-as-concrete images of who I am in the world.

Clearing out Amy’s items was a no-brainer—hey, I wasn’t attached to any of her things, so it was easy for me to say “throw it out” if it didn’t align with who she was.

And working with her, and talking with a few others this week, who are passionate about what they do, and experts in it, an old image came back. An image of myself that has haunted me my entire life…and that is:

Despite the deep and famous connection with flying held by my father, mother, brothers, sister, husband, and long-time friends, I am a not a pilot…I’m only a passenger.

Now, I love flying, I love aerobatics especially, and I am the “best passenger in all the world”, but I am not a pilot.

Until now…

Here’s BEFORE:

This woman is a Passenger.

She is bright and enthusiastic, but prone to doubt and despair at her untested qualities as a pilot. She can’t stand the thought of making a mistake, of doing something that other pilots consider “stupid”, of being judged for her landings, and of being expected to find her way around confusing countryside, scary control zones, and safely back to the airfield.

Sadly, many years of this image had etched itself into being The Truth for her.

Then…something began to shift. Will Allen (air show performer, award-winner, instructor) performed at the Arlington Fly-in (he combines his love for music and flight as he sings the National Anthem while doing aerobatics). It was such a unique combination; I’d never seen anything like it, and it stirred me somehow. The announcer said something about aerobatics lessons, and my husband gently said, “You should do that.” (Me? Do that?)

Next…my sister Erika weighed in with lovely stories of little flights she did in Mom’s Champ when she was only 17. She just flew solo to her summer job every day. No big deal. “It’s all about muscle memory,” she says. “You’re a dancer; you know what that feels like.” (Hmmmm…I do know that. Is it really that easy? But hello, dance is on the ground.)

Next…A flight in a Hatz biplane with Bob Weeks and his voice in my headset “Let’s just have her dance a little bit here” as he pulled the plane nose up, 3000 feet high, onto the edge of stall and just sat there, wavering from side to side, him knowing the exact feel of his airplane’s limits. “She wants to spin,” he said. “Then let’s let her!” came my reply, and we fell out of it into a quick little turn and a half. (This time, it wasn’t the spin that was exhilarating…it was the thought: I wonder what that would feel like, to have an airplane in my own hands, playing with the edge like that?)

Once again…the idea returns. What would it be like to take an aerobatics lesson??? (The little voices scream inside, “Are you INSANE??? You are terrified of making a simple landing and now you say you want to make an airplane loop, spin, and hammerhead? What is wrong with you—it can’t be done that way.”)

More pilots weigh in…and a disconcerting number of conversations end with, “you’re thinking too much”. (I know….but….)

Finally, one memorable conversation got my attention, “You cannot fly in fear. You have to fly from WANTING it.” (Whoa. New concept here. I’ve been able to get rides with wonderful pilots and aircraft ever since childhood. It came so easily, I’ve never needed to want it. It was always just…there.)

A few days later, I’m alone, driving along in my “open-cockpit car” (our Subaru with the extraordinarily large sunroof, open as usual). The music is turned up loud to Kenny Loggins, and all of a sudden, I am transformed…..

I am an aerobatic pilot.

I see everything. I judge distance and speed and timing. I glide in and out of formations with other cars. I apply power when I need it, and sometimes just for the feel of being pressed into the seat. I am precise, but relaxed. I am happy. I am powerful. I WANT this feeling…and all of Creation seems to smile back at me as I zoom past it.

I finally IS dancing….but in the SKY!!! And suddenly, I get it: My love for dance and flying can connect!

And guess who is the only instructor in this entire area for that….Will Allen, the singing aerobatic pilot. (Yes, I’ve left him a message, but he’s flying an airshow this weekend, so my lesson will have to wait.)

Waiting or not, it doesn’t matter. I am a duckling no more. And here’s my AFTER photo to prove it.

This woman is a Pilot.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Before and After (Part One)

Well, I’m back from my travels!

With every adventure I come back changed, and this was no exception.

This time, I flew from Birch Bay to LA to help Amy get her life back from the clutter that had overtaken her apartment (Amy is a friend, coaching client, and part of my Shaklee business organization). I don’t normally do this, but there was an urgency about it that just made it feel right.

I took with me the inspiration of my sister’s re-energizing of my own home (see previous postings), and couldn’t wait to re-create the experience with Amy too. Now there are plenty of places who will come in to clean your house, or organize your files, or re-do your interior design. But I wanted to do something more….I wanted to transform Amy’s place into an orderly oasis of peace and spaciousness, so that she could BE who she truly wanted to BE in the world.

But the sheer amount of “stuff” choking Amy’s apartment was truly daunting, and it took 2 separate trips to make a dent in it. But Amy was courageous…she pushed on with me, even when it was obvious she wanted to quit.

Afterwards, she wrote me about her experience:

Once upon a time, there was a gal who let her living space get so full of stuff that it got out of control. It seemed to reach a point of no return. Friends and relatives tried to help. Each would make a dent, but in the end, the task was too much. One day, along you came, with the patience of a saint and a positive attitude that would not quit.

In spite of my feelings of failure, you were able to inspire me by pointing out my strengths. Every time I completed a task, you reinforced me and taught me to appreciate myself for what I did.

Where others might cave in and give up, you made it into a fun game, fitting puzzle pieces together one by one. Like the Rubik’s Cube, where certain color blocks are moved out of the way so that others can return to their matching color line, you helped me find space where there seemed to be none, categorize obstacles, move them out of the way and strategically put them back where they belong.

I loved how you put “Whistle While You Work” into practice, by encouraging me to put on my favorite CD’s, making the work so much more enjoyable. To finally be able to unbury my piano from years of clutter and play it again is such a gift. Thank you for helping me to welcome the music back to my living space.

Words can only begin to describe my gratitude for your help to organize my life. Now it’s up to me to put this start to good use. If I begin to feel discouraged, I will always remember the way you encouraged me, and the good feeling that I got from our work together will return.

Thank you! -- Amy

What was the secret that kept me going? Visualizing the “After” photo, even when we were still mired in the swamp of “Before”.

And isn’t that what any great effort does…takes such a clear shot of “What Can Be” that it pulls us forward into it, despite “What Seems to Be Now”?

Perhaps she’ll let me post Before and After photos sometime, and the fun of that would be in the celebration of transformation…the hurrah for change…the recognition of the freedom that she always knew was within her. This is how Life should be Lived!

Yet, for all my enthusiasm for her triumph, I was shocked by what was to come straight at me…and was completely unprepared for my OWN transformation.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Before and After (Part Two)