Monthly Archives: April 2011

"I Believe I Can Fly"


Are you familiar with R.Kelly’s 1993 Grammy-winning R&B song? If you flew Northwest in the 90s, you heard it as part of their pre-flight informational video, apparently designed to spare the cabin crew the Therbligs it takes to perform the safety spiel, which [up until last week] bored everyone but rookie passengers. On several flights I was on, the song caused nervous laughter and wisecracks: “Oh they believe they can fly? How strangely not reassuring!”

My fellow travelers were engaging in Poetic speech, as was a youth [at the foster care agency in Detroit where I consulted], in response to a certain card on Murray’s Thematic Apperception Test. The decidedly literal-minded and unhip lady who had administered his psychological test battery wrote in her report, “The subject began to sing a song, to the effect that he believed he could fly.” She thought he was delusional. I [her supervisor] thought he was quick-witted, creative and funny. After a brief lecture on psycholinguistics (and particularly, Pragmatics), my opinion prevailed.

Funny old phrase, though, innit? TAT creator Murray, himself, spoke of the “Icarus Complex,” defined in The Dictionary of Psychology [ed. Ray Corsini, 2002] as “a desire to be important and gain fame and fortune, but paired with a tendency to not succeed, in part because of refusing to try or giving up too quickly.” Okay, Test Lady and Murray, which would you have us do? Take a leap of faith into the wild blue yonder, and hope our feathers don’t melt in the sun’s heat, or shut up and obey the laws of gravity?

My father had at least two things in common with singer/songwriter Robert Kelly. He was born on the South Side of Chicago, and he believed he could fly. For high school credit, he and some classmates got to go over to nearby Midway Airport and learn to repair and fly the Sopwith Camel of a WWI flying Ace. Rosie [known more prosaically as Red in his pre-Naval Academy days] was the most promising pupil; and the Ace hatched a plan for him to become the youngest American to fly solo over an ocean. Therefore, on Easter Break of 1936 [after the 16-year-old had earned his pilot’s license] the two of them flew the biplane down [in fuel-limited hops] to Florida, and waited for good enough weather for a flight to Cuba. Time ran out before the skies cleared; and they despondently “puddle jumped” their way back to Midway, not having succeeded in their quest. [As NASA has learned to its cost, you can control alot of things, but not Florida weather.]

“Nevermind,” thought he, “I’ll go to the Naval Academy and become a Marine Aviator.” But on Service Selection night in December of 1941, the flight school quota for the top 10th of the Class had already been filled by the time his number came up; and he was consigned to the “Black Shoe Navy” [as Surface Warfare was called, then and now]. So, on his 61st birthday [geddit?], he renewed his private pilot’s license, bought a Cessna, and once more took to the skies.

The next post will consider the case of a private pilot with 20 years’ experience, who suddenly experienced an in-flight Panic Attack, and no longer “believed he could fly.”

This is a picture of Lili (who turns 7 next week), taken several years ago, when she joyfully “flew” over obstacles with the greatest of ease. Now, she has to be asked to do so; and sometimes she “dogs it” by leaping beside [not over] the barrel. C’mon, Lili! Even in dog years, you’re not 61 yet.

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Filed under locus of control, magical thinking, pragmatics, therbligs

Just in case…


The ramshackle buildings of the school my sister & I attended in the 60s, in Bushy Park, Greater London [in transit to which, we passed by Hampton Court Palace], had served as Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force during World War II, where Ike & the Yanks hammered Gen. Sir Frederick E. Morgan’s plan, “Operation Overlord,” into a viable strategy for the invasion of Europe. The Kindergarten classroom had been the erstwhile “Eisenhower Room.”

By March 1961, JFK had succeeded Ike as President, and inherited from him the never-viable plan, “Operation Pluto,” for a CIA-caper [the invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro counter-revolutionaries], known since its spectacular failure as “The Bay of Pigs.” Two days before the debacle, Radio Moscow, in an English language broadcast aimed at listeners in the UK, had predicted such an “adventure” [and its failure]. So too, it turns out, had the British Ambassador to the US, warning that UK intelligence sources advised that the Cuban populace were overwhelmingly pro-Castro; and they were likely to meet an intrusion onto their soil with hostility, not joy & gratitude. Nobody @ the CIA passed his message along to JFK, though.

We & our Bushy Park classmates [most of whose parents worked in or for the US military in London] were humiliated at our nation’s fiasco, and terrified by Moscow’s predicted anti-NATO ballistic retaliation [since the UK was likely to be their proxy whipping-boy]. Almost to a child, we became Nihilists, refusing to do our homework, since “What’s the point? We’re all going to be blown to smithereens by the Russians, anyway.”

So our beloved teachers, most of whom had been through the London Blitz about 20 years earlier, gathered us together and shared their experiences of Back in the Day, when actual bombs were actually falling [not just maybe, mind], every night, sometimes on friends & family, before the Yanks condescended to become Allies. “Of course we all thought about giving up,” they said. “How trivial & pointless homework seemed, when London was burning every night. But, if we hadn’t just kept on doing it, we wouldn’t have been able to go on to University and become your teachers, now would we? And where would you be then, eh?”

Concrete, but compelling role-modelling, is what they offered us. Not any of your “Not to worry. Everything is going to turn out fine.” Just the Existential question, “What if we don’t all get blown to smithereens? Maybe it would be best to have done your homework, JUST IN CASE (of survival).

So we pulled ourselves together and did our homework.

Zanzibar is sitting in a Flight Bag [also known as a Chart Case], which pilots always carry with them, even to this day, so that if their more sophisticated methods of navigation “go down,” they can still figure out where to land safely. Just in case.

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