Living the high life

I hate flying.

That’s a lie. The up-in-the-air part I can handle; it’s the take-off and landing that turn my stomach into a cesspit of anxiety.

Earlier this year, I experienced the worst landing of my life. As Emirates flight EK 306 approached the landing strip at the Beijing International Airport it descended down as unpleasantly as possible. When I was younger during thunder storms, I was quite the wuss. My aunt Maggie would calm me down by telling me that the big bangs were simply God rolling potatoes down the stairs. “Why would God be doing that?” I would ask. She didn’t have an answer but it soothed me none the less. During that landing it felt exactly as if the plane was one of those potatoes bouncing its way down through the smog-ridden Chinese sky.

That flight made me even more of a nervous flyer (Well, take off and land-er).

My ambition in life is to be a travel writer and travel usually involves flying (unless I’m resigned to travelling by foot, car, camel and/or boat— actually don’t even get me started on boats. That’s a whole other post). So, you may ask, how the heck do I plan on making the ‘travel’ aspect of my ‘travel writer’ plan work?

I have three weapons in my plane survival kit. The first is downing ten drops of Rescue Remedy, the second is memorizing the plane safety guide and the third is reading whatever airplane magazine I find aboard.  The three have become a mini ritual I perform every time I fly.

It all started in grade 11 on a trip to Scotland when, during a particularly turbulent flight, I reached into the elasticated seat pocket in front of me while desperately seeking a distraction from the spine shuddering, cranium rattling, jolting of the plane. My searching hands found the British Airways Highlife magazine. I actually read it rather than scanning the pictures and came across a column by journalist John Simpson. It was one of his Letters From… pieces. At the time, it was a deeply appreciated distraction. Looking back now it was one of the most important moments in my life as both a reader and a writer.

John writes with a gentle admiration for the places he visits and the people he encounters. His Meeting Mandelaarticle is my go-to goosebump giver.

Right from that moment I understood what it was about Nelson Mandela that made people worship him. It wasn’t just the humility, it wasn’t even that extraordinary forgiveness and lack of bitterness. It was the way he looked you straight in the eyes and spoke just to you – to the person you wanted to be, perhaps, rather than the one you actually were.

-John Simpson on meeting Nelson Mandela

His columns make me weirdly nostalgic for places that I have never been and people I have never met. They have created a pull inside my chest which was gentle at first just like a fish when you first hook it (I went fishing once in the Drakensburg so I’m quite knowledgeable in the field) but which grows steadily stronger as the poor critter tries to swim away.

I’m still a nervous flyer but magazines like Highlife are my comfort. Who knows…one day my work could be in a magazine like that— helping a pale lipped, white faced future travel-journalist-in-training survive an unsavoury flight.

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