Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Air Dreams and Written Dreams

By the happy accident of making a wrong turn in your favorite bookstore this morning, you came across a display that took you first aback, then back--as in back in time.

The display had a number of the objects you were writing about in this venue not a week ago, the toys and premiums associated with cereal boxes and snack treats when you were quite a bit younger.  Before you were yo-yos, jacks (and ball), a submarine that would rise and sink several times in a tub or bowl or pond, its fuel being baking soda.  There was a small gyroscope and what for you became the main thrust of the display, the thing that took you back to your past.

A small stack of balsa wood airplanes, requiring minimal assembly, powered by a rubber band.  You almost bought one from the strength of nostalgia evoked.  From about age seven until fourteen or fifteen, your hands often had what appeared to be blisters but which were really dried bits of Testor's model cement, an essential to your adventures in aeronautics, which meant gliders and models of popular civilian and wartime aircraft.  The models that were not gliders were powered by rubber bands.

You came to your aeronautical years through the ranks of the paper dart, folded on the ubiquitous sheets of foolscap paper common to most elementary schools.  The word "origami" would scarcely have been in your vocabulary at the time, but your folded paper darts grew in complexity as you began to understand the principal of the paper plane, which was the length and complexity of its flight.

At one time, you could fold five different types of glider, each having a particular type of flight, as suited your fancy.  If asked, you were to sure to respond that your intended career was an aeronautical engineer.  How else would you have access to designing airplanes?

Soon, the paper gliders were replaced with balsa wood gliders, those too chosen for your estimate of what kept them aloft longest.  Girls and horses, your sister once teased, boys and their model airplanes.  No, no, you insisted, you were with airplanes to stay.  This was your choice of career.  You'd somehow managed to secure a catalogue from the California Institute of Technology, where you would learn all you needed to know to produce your own airplanes.  You drew endless variations on themes of one- two-, and three-winged aircraft, tracing some of them onto sheets of balsa, then gluing, fitting, and pinning approximations of wings, rudders, tails.  Your favorite word was fuselage.

As your motor skills increased, you graduated to construction kits where a sturdier balsa frame became a skeleton over which tissue was glued and shrunk into tautness, thanks to a fine spray of water from one of your mother's sprayers used for ironing.

Some of your models were elegant, others remarkable disasters that resisted attempts to render them airborne.  At one point, you discovered a type of model propelled by the co2 cartridge used to produce sparkling water.  Seeing one or two of these achieve the kinds of altitude and dramatic arc of which you'd only dreamed, you were ready to move on to models propelled by miniature engines that ran on a liquid fuel.

Such activities and dreams got you through a year or so of high school, where a combination of hormones, girls, poetry, and romantic adventures came to the Yogi Berra crossroad, as in, "When you come to a crossroad, take it."

You were well aware before seeing the stack of gliders and model airplanes today about the shift from wanting to launch missiles and aircraft of varying designs to the wish to launch ideas and feelings.  Standing before the display and later, on the drive home, you conflated some of the models that had trouble getting off the ground and some of the stories you wrote that did not seem to achieve takeoff velocity or dramatic lift.

Experience is, in a real sense, a parade of vehicles you've designed or had to settle for out of some necessity, then added to in your fantasy.  Experience is a litany of crashes among the chorus of successful flights.  Experience is being able to see those attempts, those dreams, those abject failures as a device with which you were quite familiar as a young person--locking your hands together, then offering them to a friend as a foothold, a boost over a fence or up some side of some slope.  Experience is accepting the boost from a friend.  Experience is the accepting of a boost from an idea or a dream and fantasy, helping it get over some temporary barrier.

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