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Amber Paulen


The drive to the airport was nervous exhilaration. I sat in the back seat watching the frozen Michigan tundra of bare branches and brownish-grey dead plants become but a stream of motion, a blur familiar through which I was passing. Though in contrast to all so sharply blurred by motion and crisp rays of sun were the sparks of my imagination gone haywire in preparation for the upcoming and yet unknown journey. There I was, me, little me, going to go up and out and over and over and over one gigantic portion of the world to be set down in a place that was greater than my imagination, because it was real.

As the cars passed and I stared in their windows at the comfortable bodies inside I thought of my own uniqueness given to me by the upcoming journey. I was going somewhere; they were going to the supermarket, to school; I was going to hear languages, see, smell, taste what I had never heard, seen, smelled nor tasted; they were going through their routine, like every day; I was going to fly. The unusualness of flight was an essence of the journey.

In my school, perhaps even greater than my immediate classmates of grade, I was unarguably the most well-travelled. This probably contributed not a little to my identification with the possibilities in flight: the escape of the usual into the sky. The small town of Howard City dropped behind me as we pulled out of the long dirt driveway, the farm, the land, a constant, the air, the bird-view perspective, the ocean far under the wings like a big black seething entity much stronger and more omnipotent than anything seen from land. Even if the plane was full I became unique because of the uniqueness of my visions.

As always, the child sees what the adult can not; the child feels where the adult is grown weary and over-wrought. Not that I am those things really, but plane travel has lost its punch. Well, not completely, after all, stepping into an airport when it is not my turn to travel does a great job on my thoughts so that instantly I am flying anywhere, without luggage, without plans, flight. And the unusualness of “motionless motion” is still enough to keep my face pasted to the window, watching to see what it is actually like to pass through a cloud and wish that I could feel more than see the dissipation, watching the patterns of man the ant spread along the face of the earth, feeling the pressure of force in my gut as my body is pressed against the seat. No, there is surely some punch, but the punch is most definitely not the same.

I blame the rules and regulations, the herding from one terminal to the next, like cows we are forced through the gates, cows with tags in our ears that we must present at the appropriate places for identification. Such is the increasing absurdity of the rules and regulations in the name of fear-inducing terrorism. The guards, the officers, security, their tight-lipped glare of trained doubt, the antipathetic way they ask us to open our bags to “take a look,” the sterile and regulated. Airports make me feel like I have a general role in a sci-fi book depicting the end of the world, its oppressive governments and absurd herd-like, ignorantly-agreeable behavior. Until I am allowed to board the plane I feel sick. It is a sickness come from the abuses of power and it burns at the back of my throat.

Looking down from a height of forty thousand feet upon the activity of this geometer of an ant called man, one is struck by the utter senselessness of sweat and struggle, toil and bubble. For all that he has achieved—merely to sustain life, mind you—he has merely scratched the surface of the planet. Does all this effort constitute an advance? The birds wing their way above the din and hubbub, content to ride the wind. They leave no monuments in space, no writings in the sky. Every creature of the wild is a demonstration of faith and joy. Man alone, the Lord of Creation, suffers. Suffers not from want but from an unnamable deprivation. — HVM, Stand Still Like the Hummingbird

The price of ever advancing convenience is the slow stripping away of individual rights. Why the fuck can’t I bring my water into the aeroplane? That is an absurdity. On any rational or imaginative plane of thought the dangers of water fail to impact me; though on the irrational plane of disposable consumption it makes all the sense in the world. This is the picture of our advancement. It stinks.

Wouldn’t it be best to turn back? Not only to the graceful simplifications of a child but to forget about the wrongs and explosions and to see each new person, each new happening with a clean slate. Our penchant for remembering and holding and grudging is a slow corrosive poison that works its way not only into individuals but into institutions and groups and collectives. Though I believe it is impossible to live each day as if it were new, for we are all a building of memories, I believe it is possible to engage in conscious and willed forgetting. If one by one we are able to do this then maybe, one day, airports will be able to do this too. I think Jesus called this forgiving.

Tomorrow I am going to Michigan, tomorrow evening—by that time—I will be driving through the tundra blanketed in white. This is another strange inconsistency of flying: transition. Though I know that each of my minutes is shared by a billion, billion others, a minute happening at the same time, through every person and place as if it were a different time; though I know the speediness of travel merely picks me up and places me in one other minute out of the billions, the transition is incomplete. It takes time. Now I’m here; now I’m there. Poof! Voila! Buon Viaggio! Yes Michigan! Ciao Italia! I’ll be back in a couple of weeks… (but to these pages I will sooner return.)


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