by Alice Winston Carney
Writing is like being in the pilot’s seat of my single engine airplane, trying to recover from a stall, the ground rushing faster and faster towards me.
The flying lesson starts well. I am in the pilot’s seat; Eric, my instructor, beside me. I taxi onto the runway, call the tower, “8330X-ray, ready for take off”, loving the sound of my confident, female voice.
I give the engine full power, pull back on the controls when the speed reaches 70 knots. The little plane rises off the runway into the clear California sky. I level the plane, execute a smooth turn, reporting to the tower, “8330X-ray at 1500 feet, turning right, heading towards Tahoe.”
Below us the green and yellow agricultural fields checker their way across the great San Joaquin Valley, bisected by the American and Sacramento Rivers. All the world is blue, gold, and deep green as we head towards the foothills, Folsom Lake a sparkling dot below us.
Then Eric says, “Reduce power to engine, pull back on the controls,” two acts that go against logic when you are 2000 feet above the ground in a small tin can.
“Time to practice stalls.”
My pounding heart overpowers all sound, color drains from around me. “No!” I want out of this airplane.
But I am training as a pilot. I must learn to fly in all situations. I cut power to the engine. We float through the sky in an eerie quiet. My hands sweating, I pull back on the controls, raising the nose of the airplane until all I can see is sky. The nose goes up, up, then gives a dip down. A warning buzzer goes off. I have put us into a stall.
“Push the controls in, fast,” commands Eric. This is the third, most illogical step. Pushing the controls in, away from me, aims us towards the ground, causes the airplane to gather speed, dive, straight at the tree tops and rocks.
“Push, push,” Eric, yells. “Keep the wings level.”
As I write this, many years later, my fingers quiver on the keyboard, my breathing is shallow, and my stomach lurches. I remember the fear as I pushed the controls fully forward, forcing the plane faster and faster towards the earth. All I wanted to do was let go, to have Eric take over, to be out of there.
But I stayed with the airplane. As our speed increased, Eric said, “Pull back, nose up. Watch the wings. Give it full power.” I did. And there we were, flying level, the engine purring, the wings lifted by a cushion of air and motion, Folsom Lake blinking its blue eye up at us. Only then did I feel the dampness on the back of my shirt, the sweat flowing down my sides. Only then did I breathe.
This is how I feel about writing some days: that I can’t write; that I don’t know how to write; that if I do write, the words will fly out of control and I will be hurtling towards the earth; that I want out of the desire to write.
I have learned that if I hold on, keep writing through that fear, I will level out again, I will go to a place that teaches me lessons about myself and fear. Writing is the lift under my wings, navigates me through the huge blue sky to where I want to go. Writing can make me as proud as I was when I became a pilot.
Alice Winston Carney is director of Hermit’s Peak Press, which publishes original voices of Northern New Mexico. In 2010, she published A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse, a memoir of growing up in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Along with the authors Gerald and Loretta Hausman, Alice runs the annual Green River Writers Workshop in Las Vegas. You can visit Alice at greenriverwritersworkshop.com and on her Facebook page: greenriverwritersworkshop.
This article was originally published in the August 2013 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.