Lesson 4

I’m pretty reluctant to leave my apartment. My apartment is where I get work done, and I like working. It’s also where all my refrigerated food is. And my family. My couch and television. Where the mail arrives. Where I can sit around unshowered. All things considered, I’m a homebody who hates, hates, hates to leave the house. To leave the house, to walk, to find the car again, to figure out where I’m going and how best to get there, to risk getting lost, to risk drifting and dithering and wasting time, to be forced to roll down the window to ask directions of strangers, to feel road-ragey and anxious for miles and miles, to feel the day slipping away and the a distance from home, and to look, finally, in vain for parking that is inconvenient and overpriced—-no, I won’t do it unless absolutely necessary.

So it’s unexpected when, on Wednesday morning, before my fourth flying lesson, I hop out of bed eager to leave, eager to get into the car and make my way out to New Jersey. What’s going on?

Tom had warned me about flying. “It’s addictive,” he said, before my first lesson.

He wasn’t just saying that about his own experience; I gathered that in his many years as an instructor he’s seen a kind of fever take hold of a lot of trainees. I wasn’t sure that would happen to me. After all, I really don’t like leaving my house.

Then my fourth lesson came around. I left the apartment early. I was happy driving out to New Jersey. I was looking forward, in particular, to speeding down the runway during take-off and to the sensation in my hands of pulling the yoke back and feeling the plane gently lift into the air. What a feeling! Then climbing, climbing, as we pass over houses, golf courses, thick green fields of trees.

After the lesson that night, Tom and I were wrapping up.

“It’s getting fun,” I said.

“Getting fun?” When something strikes Tom as obvious, he adopts a kind of “duh” voice that rumbles lower than normal and which he directs your way physically with a hand held to his mouth, as if to say, I have a secret for you alone. “It’s always been fun,” he said.

“But whenever I start things,” I said, “no matter what it is, I’m very serious. That’s just who I am. I approach everything seriously and soberly.”

“That’s a good thing,” he said. “Because I always tell people, ‘It’s a lot of fun, but it’s not a game.’”

“With me,” I said, “you could have said, ‘It’s not a game, but it can also be a lot of fun.’”

“Deliberate first, think later.” That’s always been my unfortunate motto. It’s not exactly an easy way to live, and it might not be worth a damn for flying an airplane, where knowledge is only one part of mastery. Just as important (seems to me) are feel and instinct. And confidence. And respect. Even during today’s lesson, I still felt overwhelmed inside the airplane. I still felt hesitant. The plane still seems chock full of instruments and dials ready to jam, break, malfunction, and generally spin out of control at my inexpert command. And there’s so much to remember and so much to do, and I want it all to be perfect (I’m not only an over-thinker but a perfectionist as well, not a happy combination). You can’t possibly do all that on Lesson 4.

But what you can do is start having fun.