And so, here is another element for my sudden passion in pursuit of this project. It is not only a significant element – but also a spiritual one if you would.
There is a change in one’s mind, body, and soul when reaching the altitude of 30 thousand feet…. Yes, I understand completely what Vera said to George, that she seemed to be a different person living in a different world leading a different life when traveling on the road and flying an insane amount of miles. I feel that way too but what I am implying here is more. There is a mental and spiritual reckoning of sorts at 30 thousand feet…. It is real and not psychological, as floating above the earth at that height, one can die any time at the drop of a hat….
That surely sounds very morbid but true. Once that plane is two feet above the ground, one’s life is no longer in one’s control – bladder included…. Everyone, who flies frequently or not, recognizes this singular unique aspect of flying; and yet, people still choose to fly and to gladly give up that control in exchange of what – a faster arrival – a meagerly few hours of time saved?
Couldn't that be considered as a spiritual reckoning of sorts?
It is true for me every time the front wheels lifted. The immediate thought would be – uh well whatever – I guess…. No, that is not a casual or thoughtless response, but rather a spiritual one – giving away the control and letting one’s fate be in the hands of a higher being – any being. What is more thought provoking is that when looking out that prisoner’s window, one could not help but accept how tiny we all are living in a humongous world; and how insignificant we are as a dust particle or less on this planet let alone in this universe….
One can lose all sense of self and be drowned in the velvety clouds dancing past you. At times, that deep ultra violet color is just as hypnotizing and mesmerizing as fire…. What is this ancient and mystical connection between fire and the human eyes? I bet the blue sky was equally mesmerizing and mystical ten thousand years ago.
As I continue to formulate the concept of this project, I have come to realize the fortune and the privilege of flying. As opportunities to fly (for work) begin to disappear, my focus while sitting in a plane has changed. Other aspects of life have entered my peripheral visions, and some have become more important than holding a Platinum plastic, although like George and Vera, it is still a process with some real struggles – as being "Up in the Air" is addictive just like being driven with the thrill of leading a double life. Nevertheless, when you do spot me with my fingers tap dancing away these days, it would be mostly like because I am trying to complete and/or edit this article; or they are clicking away on the 2009 Smart Phone. I do regret that I had not thought of doing this earlier, like when I "landed on the moon" for the second time a while back.
However, as I have indicated above, to even think of doing this, an “evolution” of the self, or a transformation of kind, is needed going from a highly driven being with no seconds to waste to someone who actually looks out the window and tries to smell the thin air….
Actually, somewhere between the second moon landing and returning for the third time, my sense of self indeed has begun to disappear. For one, I don't twirl any more rollers. I only have a standard Swiss backpack, even for a trip of three weeks or longer – so much easier to maneuver in a crowded airport. With a backpack, one can readily use the stairs whenever one can for much needed exercise, and the two-by-two in front of my two feet is all the space I need on a plane. So, no more expensive suits, heavily starched dress shirts, ties, or multiple shoes; just one pair of heavy-duty jeans and one all occasion-purpose loafer - god created loafers – and so use it!
Most transcendentally, I discovered how to do laundry in the hotel room on a daily basis (just use the hair shampoo), even if I am drunk coming back from some events or dinner parties.
On one trip, I was so drunk after a dinner (and some late night bar hopping) that when I came around to it the next day, my room looked more like a dry-cleaning service place – shirts, socks, jeans, underwear were hung everywhere in the room. Oh my god, I had washed everything last night at 3 AM, even the clean ones!
But I am proud to say the few socks I bring are sweat and odor free and the underwear remains white; and that is also why I love traveling in Japan – with that self-cleansing toilet or bidet toilet (Or washlet: ウォシュレット <Woshuretto>) everywhere one goes – what an invention, and with those fragrant laden shampoo and rinse in every hotel room.
I recall another time an immigration patrol officer shouted at me, even though I had already past him and ready to exit to the US side, “Wait, you have no luggage?”
“No,” I turned around and replied, and he quickly added, “How long were you gone?” “Oh, just three weeks,” I shouted back. As my fellow travelers peeked out from behind their well-stacked suitcases, my face suddenly turned red, realizing the potential implication.
“Oh, okay,” he replied and signaled that I could proceed. Turning around, I could not help but sniffed my shoulder area a bit, thinking, “Was I stinking up the place? It was hot on this long flight.”
So, late is not just better than never – late is perfectly fine on its own, as one is usually more determined when being late. Ever since the fourth trip to the moon became imminent, I have been determined to remember charging my batteries, emptying my bladder, and grabbing a window seat when I am confident I only have to say one “excuse me.”
I concede I am not sure where this project is headed to, and what really is the end point. I am willing to let this project go wherever it may. It is an ever-evolving one – like the clouds outside the window….
After all, even in its infancy, I have already changed my own ground rules many times except one: There can be no more than 6 panels for each theme with 4 being the most optimal, and there must be a sense of motion. On the other hand, I now do include land, although at one point I thought I would only snap the sky and her cloud formations. Sure, cornucopia of colors from dawn to dusk, thousand shapes of moving clouds, and million reflections of the sun are surely sufficient to bring in countless pictures.
However, part of being high in the sky during the daytime (a limitation here, night photos are much harder to get – at least with my old cell) is the connection between the distant horizon, the lake, the land, and the sea all in a perfect harmony….
Well, that is all I can think of – for now anyway – Zone-3 is boarding….
Benjamin R. K. Sun (孫賁)
August 10, 2016
Inspirations for "Up In the Air" – Cont'
I am positive just about everyone with a phone – not to mention most would be holding one that is minimally five times more advanced than mine – has snapped a picture or more of views outside their tiny windows, and has posted these photos on their beloved personal sites.
Just last week on a flight, as I snapped away with my old 2009-Smart Phone, the woman sitting next to me in the prisoner’s seat (the middle seat) said, “Wait, that’s a good idea, may I take a few….”
I said, “sure.”
And she proceeded to reach over with this gigantic paper-thin cell phone, a gadget resembling some thing out of a sci-fi film, or may be it was from an alien planet….
After she was done, I then sheepishly reached back from my pocket and took out my brick size old cell clicking away for my “photography project,” as if I were some one of importance….
Thus, unlike many other ideas, there is no real need to check the originality or precedence of this one because none is needed. Anyone can do this with a cell phone, if he or she cares to – and I also think most everyone has more experiences posting and/or taking photos than I do. However what deviates a bit from “anyone who wishes to do this” is that there are certain elements that have to be aligned properly for this to be a sustainable endeavor.
Foremost, just flying a lot will not do it. Why? Well, just look at George when he is on the plane. He is either in deep thoughts pondering away his pending conversations with his next client, whom he needs to help firing, or he is drowning in the lights projecting from his laptop screen, while dancing away with his fingers on the keyboard, or he is chatting up a beauty next to him while holding a cocktail.
He did a great job of acting – so real. I see all of these related events all the time – taking place all around me, and I was definitely one of them at one point.
So with your fingers dancing away on the keyboard, when would you ever bother to take a photo of the outside through a tiny 12-by-9 window? Right, why would anyone actually stop and smell the roses – or the thin air – at 30 thousand feet, when charging forward on a career super highway?
In fact, the opposite is true. One time when I saw a woman looking out her window, and snapping rapidly left and then right soon after we took off. I said to myself, “Huh, never flown before, I guess…. what is there to see – aren’t those clouds all the same. The sky was blue last time I checked.”
Ah, the arrogance of a frequent flier….
Then of course, it is true that there are still many more of those who do not fly very often, even if they are “elite buyers/fliers” in today’s airline programs (okay, enough of that and stay focused). Even when they snap away at a rapid clip because of the novelty of seeing outside with a recognition that opportunities to fly are few and far in between, it is difficulty to accumulate enough photos for this project to work. I am not saying they can’t – I am just saying it is harder when not flying enough. On the other side of same coin, no one is crazy enough to make up reasons to fly just to snap a few photos and posting some panels because flying is not cheap, especially when fares are not reimbursed by the employer – just ask George and Vera. After all, this is not that important of a project….
So flying too much often implies one doesn’t give a damn for whatever reasons including job demands; flying too few does not provide enough continuity.
There has be just the right balance between these two scenarios, and on top of all of that, one’s bladder must be empty. While this is clearly a personal challenge, it may resonate with many.
The concept came to me one day not long ago when I was unwillingly assigned to the dreaded window seat. Suddenly awaken from thinking deeply about – uh – some thing, I looked out the prison-like tiny window and noticed that the clouds were dancing away outside – silently but gracefully – under the deep violet sky. What a contrast in color. The image reminded me of various oil paintings I did about skies when I was in high school. While I am still trying to locate these old paintings, I thought to myself, "Why not snap a few photos, I am sure I can try repainting them when I get a chance – some day. These sky themes would also surely help reminiscing the days I had flown so frequently."
And so the collection began….
For all those decades of flying, I have chosen an aisle seat because I do not need to suffer through the anxiety of having to say, “Excuse me, may I get out to use the facility?” Or, “excuse me, and pardon me” when seated in a row of three. Or to be fair, for the most part, only a simple gesture of I need to get up and get out is suffice, but what could ensue would be to see my aisle neighbor fumbling away his laptop, coffee mug, cell phone, and a book (people still read books!). There was one time, the aisle woman gestured that she needed to first save what she had been working on, and then proceeded to juggle her cell phone, tablet, – and uh, her chardonnay, which ended up being…. I have stories of two people standing up for me.
While my bladder is not that weak by an average standard, I have to admit that there is a psychological barrier when assigned to a window seat. Of course, when out of options, I prefer the window than being trapped in the “prisoner’s seat.” On those days, including when I am upgraded to the first class cabin but by the window, I must stop drinking coffee or other diuretics like beer or even wine six hours before the flight (no exaggeration), and I must pee three times the hour before I board. Even then, when I sit down at an aisle seat, I would suddenly get this tingling sensation, thinking, “Oh no, maybe I should go again, after all, this is a two-hour flight.”
Yes, for all those years, I would panic even when seated by a window in first class…. even when that “excuse me, may I please get out” needs so much less effort with such a wide gap between the person sitting next to me and the seat ahead. The aisle flier some times doesn’t even have to stand up.
There was one time when I sat by the window (yes first class) and had one of those tingling sensations after just a few sips of wine, I decided to distract my attention by talking to the woman next to me (instead of have to say “excuse me - may I?”). A rare decision I would make – but it turned into a very strange conversation for the next three hours, as we suck down the free wine. She was very articulate and captivating – a great storyteller….
She told me her husband had been the governor of a major province in central part of Mexico, and how they met when she was his English tutor at a small college they both were attending in upper Midwest. She then proceeded to tell me how she had devoted her entire life to children of less fortune. She told me about a major flood years ago near Gulf of Mexico, and that she was involved in one of most arduous rescue efforts, and ultimately recognized for her service.
As the plane landed, and as we both stood up half tipsy, I noticed people in front of and behind us had this strange look. It was then I realized that they all had been forced to listen to this drunken nonsense, as there was no soundproof earphones not even MP3 – back then.
But Internet and search engines were invented, and it turned out that everything she said was true….
In any event, my point is that the word “window” rhymes with “pee” for me, even when a window seat could lead to rare and redemptive moments…. Consequently, I have rarely sat next to a window….
Now there are also other factors.
Assuming my bladder is bone dry, as I have stayed away from all liquids for 24 hours before fling, and assuming that I am assigned to a first class-window seat, I turn on my cell phone after we take off, I would find that dreaded red flash – low in battery…. “Oh damn, I forgot to charge the old cell – I was not thinking I would be upgraded to a window seat….” Well, yes, on some of those first class flights, one can plug in and charge – awesome! After recharging, I would then turn to my left only to realize that the windowpane accessible to me is muddy dirty…. or worse, marred…. It must have been some kid trying to leave his initials there.
Sure, I could reach over to the one I share with the person ahead of me, but then again, uh – isn’t that kind of weird….
There will also be raining days – but it should be okay because we would go above the rain clouds. Uh, nope, a short flight with a cruising altitude of 18 thousand feet. Okay great, so we are just going to swim through the clouds for the next 45 minutes….
In short, this is actually not such an easy project. It requires a right balance of weather, altitude, seating arrangement, battery juice, bladder control, and last but not least, one’s interest level…. The very original intent was to paint some of these photos in the near future, but that is not sufficient.
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