For most of my life, I have been acrophobic–afraid of heights. Once, when I was about ten years old, I found myself clinging to the wall, as far as I could get from the railing, while standing 12 stories above the ground at the base of the Iron Man statue in Birmingham, Alabama.
I experienced airplane travel starting at six years old, but in spite of decades traveling by air, as an adult I went through a period of white-knuckle flights during any kind of turbulence. Luckily, that only lasted a couple of years–after I learned the statistics on how rare it is to die in a plane crash.
My acrophobia sometimes creeps in during sleep. I find myself in planes without ceilings. Or I step from elevators reaching the highest floor of a building and discover that the walls haven’t been built yet. I keep my head down on the topless plane or cling to the floor of the unfinished structure trying to figure out how to get down.
But in my dream life as a child, I always loved flying. My favorite dreams were of jumping off swings and soaring over backyards in my dreamy neighborhood. Skirting the clouds, approaching the moon, experiences that, for most of us, only happen in our imaginations, or while we sleep.
In spite of my continuing fear of heights, flying often finds its way into my magical realist novels. My children’s book, The Island of Lost Children, a modern take on Peter and Wendy, is naturally full of children flying. In my novel, GEM of the Starry Skies, the main character, Gwen Mora, takes to the skies, fueled by her growing love of astrophysics. And in The Mists of Na Crainn, the main character, Lyric Doherty, experiences signs that she’s developing the ability to ‘soar’—a wind-swept capability that keeps her above ground but close to the treetops.
Me, I only wish I could fly in real life. Part of me is an acrophile, someone who loves (imaginary) heights. But I’m not inclined to slip into a hang glider or wingsuit. I satisfy my craving instead in my writing and occasionally by climbing aboard the Soarin’ ride at Disney.
If wishes were horses…then Pegasus would be real. Or maybe just a character in my dreams.