March 25, 2013

Wingtips and wingspan

I spent five hours watching planes take off on Saturday.


I found a spot among the B-twenties gates, directly in front of one of the runways, and stared at machines taking flight like a bug-eyed goldfish from an aquarium. The week’s adrenalin had worn off and my body was giving in to the flu. I sipped my coffee, tapped my foot to the beat of the mp3 shuffle and waited for the aspirin to kick in. It never did.


I discovered my absolute favorite part of the take-off. It wasn’t the acceleration, even though it feels awesome to be glued against the seat when you’re a passenger. It wasn’t after the landing gear is remarsupialized, wing flaps adjusting, axes finding balance. It was that one perfect moment after parting with the ground. They differed in size, weight and trajectory, yet in that one second they were complete, immediate, power. Absolute vector. Durée pure.


I spent five hours watching them. It never gets old. Except the Dulles-bound United at five o’clock made me cry. It took all I had not to change my ticket and forfeit my savings, just to feel my baby’s arms around me again. I was one flight away from home, and desperately jealous of all the faces behind the windows that would fly over Greenland and Cape Cod and a shitload of blue water, pick up their suitcases and their lives where they left off, while mine was still in a state of suspension. Or so it feels sometimes.


Frankfurt Airport knows more about me than it should. I think of it as that casual acquaintance who just happens to be there on the Friday night when you get absurdly drunk, share more than is appropriate, and end up puking all over yourself. They don’t hold it against you, but you still wish that it would have been a closer friend that held your hair and took you home. You don’t really want to make eye-contact, but you work together or some such so you're fucked.


Frankfurt Airport is ridiculously huge and always under construction. If anyone ever tells you Germans are organized, kick them in the shin and tell them to go visit this place. Signs point in wrong directions, transfer counters tend to open and close randomly, and sometimes you are made to go through security twice. They are just as messed-up as anyone else. And that’s fine, they should be allowed.


Yes, I have been in Heidelberg before. These cobbled stones are not new acquaintances. Yes, I was up at the Castle, too. Yes, I have a picture of myself in front of the library, from another life. Thank you for your presentation, I will send you those book titles I promised asap. My year in the States? Um. It was awesome. This project would not have happened without it. Thank you again.


I never saw so many cuticle-biters in the same room.


I was reminded of how much I love my work.


I would like to think I am a compassionate person, yet some people’s life stories put me to shame. I have a long way to go.


I learned that people still find me as abrasively fascinating and ambivalently intimidating at 33 as they did when I was 3, 13, and 23. They don’t know what it is, but they want a piece of it as much as they want to run away. It is as unsurprising as it is annoying. I am an acquired taste. Or is it basically the archetype of human experience, and I am just babbling? Either way, there were a few who did not mind. Bless their souls.


I took my fever into the cabin and my claustragoraphobia out the window. The blinking red wingtip light might have been the pulse of my own heart, a private navigation device between continents that I madly wished to graft onto one another.


Airports are the happiest and saddest of places. Departures, arrivals, transits, intersections, cancellations, stopovers, delays. I love them because they are messy. They are not mechanisms of clockwork precision, not at all. They are always-already adjusting to chaos, trying to put the puzzle together even though pieces fall off the board every second. Their flaws betray their human origin. They don’t even try to make sense of the situation. They just try to make it work.


  1. Welcome back Chris. Was this the trip to Germany you were returning from? I can't keep up with you. Hell, I can't even keep up with myself. You sound so reflective, as though you were looking through an old photo album as you wrote.

    You have rebuilt some major parts of your life. The grit required was no small feat. You're a mighty force packed into a delicate package. I love how you always get back up—each time reaching higher. Never stop reaching Chris.

    I am safe at port, although all that swimming has left me exhausted. What an adventure. I believe it was the most intense of my adult life. I'm just glad that I made it back, although I have changed. But that's a good thing. Anyway, I'm beginning to emerge from my self-absorbed neurosis where I can finally be present again. Please forgive my absence.

    Big hugs,

    1. Hi Leah! It's great to see you again, I've missed you.

      Yes, this was the trip to Germany. It's funny that the reflexiveness came through, because that's exactly what it was. 'Just' an academic conference, but in reality no less than the next phase of rewriting my personal topography. My therapist said "that's a great way to describe it!" and I responded with "it's my job. I make up stuff to describe other stuff" :)

      I have been elated and melancholy, the happiest and strongest I have ever been and yet somewhat pissed off at the universe over certain issues of time and timeliness (have you read my former blog? LOL). I will make it work, but it still won't be fair...

      Your adventure sounds amazing, especially the "I have changed" part. I just spent last week observing people and thinking how easy it must have been for all of us to read each other for neuroses and complexes and strengths, but remained a mystery to ourselves. Someday, if you wish, I would love to hear about it. I'm glad to have you back.

  2. "they want a piece of it as much as they want to run away..."

    It's funny. I have the feeling that everyone wants a piece of this crazy square peg in a round world...they just don't know enough to run away, and at this point, they should. Someday, I suppose the end result will belong to me, as much as to those who stuck around. I've painted my own portrait just so, for years, and now life is all about the turpentine. It's raw under there, not pretty at all, but it's real.

    1. I felt incredibly self-important, almost to the point of fakery, as I wrote those words. And yet that's the story of my life. I guess I was just trying to see if it might not be everyone's experience and I was just exaggerating.

      But I like your saying "the end result will belong to me, as much to those who stuck around." I have met many who, when they knew enough, ran away. It left me baffled, and distrustful, and it took awhile for me to get comfortable with the fact that I just take time. Those who stuck around have proven me right.

    2. Didn't come off as self important, just true. And I like that saying..."I just take time." An acquired taste, not to be rushed, or assumed as one of many the same.

    3. I'm just glad that there are enough patient people in this world to match my acquiredness :P I learn from their example.

  3. I've always loved airports. And airplanes. And flying. It's strange. I haven't ever felt exasperated going through security. Or irritated waiting in line. All I think of is ADVENTURE. When I'm in an airport, that just means something awesome is about to happen! Hell, even if the destination isn't the adventure, the flying part sure is. Well, then there was that one time... or two times... that I didn't bother waiting for the landing part. I just jumped out. That was a pretty wicked adventure. But airports. The only thing I see that strikes me as sad are the people who are obviously in airports so often that the excitement has worn off. They have that human-bot look on their faces. Going through the motions. Rolling their eyes. Maybe a collection of tags from other airports hanging from their carry-ons. They know exactly where they are going and exactly where they have been. They don't look down at their boarding passes for anything because they already know what gate they are supposed to be at and at what time. Those are the sad people.

    1. Yes, I call those people "a fucking waste of a window seat." How on earth does one sleep through a take-off or landing???

      But anyways... I'm right there with you. It is an adventure, and I don't see myself as ever becoming one of the bots. Even a stupid 2-day business meeting in Brussels teaches you something about yourself. I love the sense of direction, the me-time, and the anticipation of telling the adventure to loved ones upon return. That just might be my favorite part.

    2. P.S. Note to self: get drunk with Aimee before I die.


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