Learning to Fly

on learning..to fly..and everything else.

May 8
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Apr 16

You don’t get Twitter?

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If you style yourself a social commentator and you start a phrase with “I don’t get Twitter,” and you follow it up with “people posting what they ate for lunch” … stop right there. You’re right: you don’t.

If you go on, and profess something about “vapidity” or “mono-dimensionality”… then I understand that you don’t get it, and you are wasting my time.

You don’t get it, in the same way I don’t get string theory. But I don’t opine on string theory.

I once heard an author malign the net from his podium at a reading. His gist: you can find so much drivel on the net, no one should spend time there. I wished I had asked him: the white pages contained no beautiful prose, should we forgo works like yours?

In 1985 I wrote an article about how someday, the net would make us all publishers and all editors. In my wildest fancy, I didn’t image how broad and how deep. I had no idea the beauty I’d get to see, and to share, on 500px.com. Or that I’d get to watch TED from my living room. Or that goodreads.com would crush the New York Times Book Review.

I certainly didn’t imagine that daily, for me, 552 people would curate humor, and pathos, and scholarly works, and news. And pictures of lunch.

I’m glad I was right. It was one of the few things I’ve nailed in my own attempts at punditry.

And for what it’s worth, I don’t get Pinterest. 

I’ll be quiet now.


Apr 6

Saw a Bald Eagle!

Saw a bald eagle while flying yesterday…first time I’ve seen one while soaring.

He did not want to play, so I reluctantly let him go on his way.

No picture. (Drats! He was striking!!)


Mar 31

How I mark Spring

My spring starts based on the clouds, not the sun’s crossing of the equator. Warmer temperatures, combined with still-moist air, means cumulus at nice altitudes. 

Friday was it. Day one of the 2013 season. Everyone has been jonesing since fall; conditions like this means appointments are rescheduled, gliders are freshly-waxed, and there is a waiting line for the towplane.

Tail Dollies from all the gliders aloft

Conditions were wonderful. We spent most of the time between 7,000 and 9,000 feet, and made it about 160 nautical miles round trip.

Cloud surfing, aerobatics, all the good stuff.

Highlight of the flight: we happened on 4 golden eagles at about 7,000 feet. They were playing the same game…darting around the clouds, climbing, diving, twisting, and rolling. 

One of them was 800 feet above. When she saw us, she folded her wings and bombed for us. Breathtaking! Beak pointed nearly straight down, she fell like an aerodynamic rock, then extended her wings, flared, and streaked 15 feet off my left wing. I swung hard round, and we chased each other for a while. She is more maneuverable, but I’m faster. A fun matchup.

One of my new soaring friends

The eagles are masters of this space…they have no enemies here, and no fear. On this first day of spring, they had no purpose except stretching their wings and making the sky their playground. In that last point, a lot like me.


Mar 22

Contrail

the immense, contained violence of kerosine ignited in crucible 

6 miles away,

that where I stand, I see evidence, diffusing,

of the unrisen sun.

   -

6 miles away,

that someone weary, or anxious, or anticipating, 

is on the way

somewhere new, somewhere else,

somewhere new.

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Happy Birthday, Billy Collins


Aug 25

The Eagle has Departed

News of Neil Armstrong’s passing stopped me. Couldn’t help but. For my entire life, Armstrong represented the ultimate hero: someone who was quietly-dedicated to a cause of immense importance to all of humankind. 

As we celebrate the individual who took one giant leap for mankind, I’m also in reverie for the tens of thousands of women and men who worked on—and dedicated their own lives to—the space program of that era. Many of them are already gone, but Armstrong’s passing should let us honor of their dedication too. Their accomplishment staggers my mind, always will. 

I was five years old when Armstrong took one small step for a man. I was watching it with my sister and my parents on the television, downstairs in the den of our home. Even being a wee one, mom and dad were able to make me comprehend this: we were watching something that would be in our consciousness forever. The slowness and deliberateness of the long sequence of events that lead to those steps—narrated by Walter Cronkite—still rings in my ears.

I sometimes wish I had been born a generation earlier, and been an engineer or test pilot working in aviation or space travel in those several incredible decades where the very definition of pushing the envelope happened. 

God Speed.

Neil Armstrong


Aug 15

Mr. Good, meet your enemy. His name is Mr. Great.

I have an adult-style problem. I am afraid to be seen (or heard) making mistakes. 

I wasn’t always like this. 

When I was a kid, I could hit sour notes on the piano over, and over, and over. And over. Much dismay, I’m sure, for those listening. But much satisfaction when-at long last-the sweet note was struck.

My last blog post wasn’t done. It was a bit difficult for me to hit publish

I closed my eyes and imagined I was four. Click.

When you are a kid, you have a license to make mistakes. Mistakes are ok. When you are a rank-beginner, you have that license. Somewhere along the line, we take that license away from ourselves.

That I grew up to write software for a living…no surprise. Software is maleable. If you make a mistake, the delete key is almost as close as the enter key. The newer lesson in my life is the same is true of things in the real world. A wall falls to a sledgehammer and a new wall can be constructed.

Word to myself: I would rather see your starting point than see nothing at all, and I will not judge you the less for it.

Now keep in mind that, there are fr


Jun 7
This expression of gratitude is decades overdue.

E,

You changed my life. 

I was a thousand feet away. I was eleven. You were doing what you do.

But oh, you were doing it with luminance as touched by God, grasping the white-hot rails of the Universe, and beaming it to the 19-year-old boy next to me (upper deck, 3rd-base side). And the 35-year old dancing in the aisle just down from me. And fifty thousand others. And to me. 

I was wide-eyed. This was entirely new. This was the first time I was inspired. 

The first time in my life.

My soul was light, and oh, inspiration is so beautiful. It is a gift that can not be surpassed. For those who have given it, I am ever grateful.

I was eleven. I was Just a Kid. My mother took me to the show, navigating the endless sea of humanity to let me experience something grand. Could she have known this would not just re-kindle a failing interest in music, but light it on fire? Or was she just doing something nice for her son? Does it even matter?

You changed my life. I had stopped making music. I had stopped because I had done all that this kid knew, in his limited view, to be musical. I was playing an instrument. But on this day I learned, this was not the same as making music. 

The next day, I sat back down at a piano and played. With passion. With joy. With a smile. And played again. The Monday following, I sought a teacher…one who was wiling to help me learn to make music, not to operate an instrument.

What unfolded has been a lifetime with new songs, and old songs. Your Song, and my songs.

E, from the End of the World, thank you.

This expression of gratitude is decades overdue.

E,

You changed my life. 

I was a thousand feet away. I was eleven. You were doing what you do.

But oh, you were doing it with luminance as touched by God, grasping the white-hot rails of the Universe, and beaming it to the 19-year-old boy next to me (upper deck, 3rd-base side). And the 35-year old dancing in the aisle just down from me. And fifty thousand others. And to me. 

I was wide-eyed. This was entirely new. This was the first time I was inspired

The first time in my life.

My soul was light, and oh, inspiration is so beautiful. It is a gift that can not be surpassed. For those who have given it, I am ever grateful.

I was eleven. I was Just a Kid. My mother took me to the show, navigating the endless sea of humanity to let me experience something grand. Could she have known this would not just re-kindle a failing interest in music, but light it on fire? Or was she just doing something nice for her son? Does it even matter?

You changed my life. I had stopped making music. I had stopped because I had done all that this kid knew, in his limited view, to be musical. I was playing an instrument. But on this day I learned, this was not the same as making music. 

The next day, I sat back down at a piano and played. With passion. With joy. With a smile. And played again. The Monday following, I sought a teacher…one who was wiling to help me learn to make music, not to operate an instrument.

What unfolded has been a lifetime with new songs, and old songs. Your Song, and my songs.

E, from the End of the World, thank you.


May 28

Belief, on Memorial Day

This weekend, Memorial Day, I have spent a lot of time in contemplation.

I have looked at haunting images of war dead. I wanted to witness a shadow of the pain of those who have died, and the grief of those who knew them and cared about them. My life and my liberty is in debt. 

Beyond keeping their memory, I have thought about what role I can play, that their loss continues to have purpose. Democracy may, or may not, be fragile. In the scheme of human history, it is thus far a short experiment. Fragile or not, it is precious. I believe it should be treated with care.

So this day of remembrance,

I promise to use my imagination to catalyze, as best I can, an interest in civics and history in my daughter. And with any young person that is willing to talk.

I will take my daughter with me to the voting booth. 

I will treat that sacred act as an adventure. Easy to do, because it is an adventure.

I am just one voice. But together, we are 311,591,917 voices. Every one matters.

Ever grateful.

American Flag, Memorial Day, 2012


May 17

Black in the Blue

Yesterday’s flight… 5 1/2 hours in the blue. Well, “almost blue.” I need an artist’s help to paint the colors of the hazy sky I was flying. 

No clouds. No birds. No gliders. No Spree.

Well, there were gliders, somewhere, down at Avenal. They were practicing for the contest that starts today, so they were radio silent; no-one shares their intel.

Made it within fingernails to Black Mountain, but I ran out of altitude and lift; (only 2 miles more would have put me over the peak; 600 more feet of altitude would have safely done it). Shucks. Last several flights in the blue there, the peak has eluded me. (I feel a blog post coming on that).

Exhausting fun. Some goals attained, some almost attained.

And ah, well, there was one cloud. 25 miles away when it first materialized. So of course, turned a bee-line. Had to climb up to it to say “Hi.” Once I got there, I lingered. I love clouds.

10,000 feet over Wright Mountain

10,000 feet above Wright Mountain. One cloud.

Bugs on the leading edge

What happens to your leading edges when you get low in the Central Valley. Not good to be a bug.

Postscript: No one at the airport when I landed, so I de-rigged the glider solo, in too much wind. Dropped the wing on the pavement. Ouchy. Scraped up, but nothing structural.


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