When I was twenty, I worked in customer service at a Connecticut trucking company. Days passed in a blur of phone calls from irate customers wondering why their vitally important ball bearing shipment hadn’t arrived yet or when (insert stream of expletives) their 50 tons of artificial sweetener from Georgia would finally roll in. It was a job with very few highlights, other than chitchatting with the long-haul truckers about the sights they’d seen on the road: houses made of corn, giant balls of twine, the occasional UFO.
When one of those truckers—a kindly, fatherly type—told me about his weekends flying around in his WWII-era plane, my eyes must have lit up. “Want to come?” he asked. He pulled out a picture of a maroon plane that looked more like a remote controlled toy than an actual means of transportation.
“Yes,” I said. I’m not sure he’d even finished uttering the question.
Fly around in an ancient tiny tin can? With a burly stranger who claimed to be a licensed pilot, but who heretofore I’d only witnessed driving 18-wheelers?
“I’d love to,” I added. (Did I mention I was twenty?)
And fly we did. All summer, in fact. I’d eventually learn how to take off myself, pressing the rudder pedals to keep the plane straight as we taxied down the runway. We’d head to Martha’s Vineyard for lunch. We’d cruise to Manhattan at night, where we had to fly low to avoid commercial traffic. The Twin Towers glinted in the moonlight behind us as we circled close around the Statue of Liberty to get a good photo.
“Want to go to Philadelphia today?”
“I always wanted to see the Liberty Bell.”
“How about Portland?”
I never turned down an adventure.
Flash forward to a year later: a U.S. Air 737 drops out of the sky on a beautiful clear day outside of Pittsburgh, killing everyone aboard. Investigators have no idea why—and they won’t for four more years. The next flight I take finds me dripping sweat and gripping the seat rests. 15 years of flight fears follow. Hours spent watching flight attendants for signs of trouble. Jumping at every captain announcement. Counting the chimes over the intercom, wondering if it’s Morse code for “We’re going down!” I believe if I relax for one minute, that plane is going to plummet to earth. It’s my job to keep us all aloft. I just need to keep looking at that wing…
I’m exhausted after every flight. Fear sure is hard work. It’s hard work I’ll let go of, eventually. I’ll finally surrender to the overwhelming evidence that millions of flights successfully take off and land without Kristen Kittscher there to micromanage the process with her mind.
When I’m having a terrible writing day (or week…or month?), I think of that terrified flyer—and the senseless of all that hypervigilance. Sure, a little self-consciousness comes in handy during revision. But when drafting? You can’t worry about the fact that you’re in a tin can thousands of feet up. Or that your pilot is a little more used to driving eighteen-wheelers than navigating the skies. Or that a plane can drop out of the sky for no good reason.
“Want to come?” your story asks you.
“Yes,” you must say. “I’d love to.”
And then your breath catches as you bank away from the Statue of Liberty and take in the brilliant Manhattan skyline stretched out before you…
Watch the fabulous The Wig in the Window book trailer here. Follow Kristen on Twitter: @kkittscher