The Simple Art of Learning to Fly

“Flying is learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” -Douglas Adams

One of my favorite authors of all time happens to be the prolific personality behind The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. Adams exists as a superstate in a lot of ways as far as genre goes, a statement that I believe he would be content with hearing at the very least. Combining the futile cosmicism of Lovecraft and the surrealist, no-punches-pulled comedy of Monty Python, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a uncomfortably enjoyable romp through the convoluted mess that is the universe in Adams’s mind. That being said, this is not a book review. I just need you to understand that the beginning quote is pretty par for the course for this guy, and it is a quote that I have been thinking about a lot here recently.

Now, Adams didn’t intend for any layer of metaphor in that quote as far as I know. It’s a joke. It’s funny. It’s funny because he’s not wrong, and it makes you feel stupid because it feels wrong. That playful dissonance is fun to explore when there is very little at stake.

It is less fun when people’s livelihoods seem to be in the balance. I’ve taken it upon myself recently to make more connections with people, mainly because I feel like I am floundering to really comprehend how “normal” people get on with this life thing. It just seems like everyone else has figured out some latent tidbit to just going with the flow of their day. Obviously, I know that isn’t true, but damn, it sure does seem like while everyone is neatly lining up their ducklings, I’m stuck gawking at the unruly mob of various waterfowl that have chosen to imprint on me.

For a long time after the divorce, I tried to live my life purged of wanting anything other than the bare necessities, and while I definitely still subscribe to a lot of zen mentalities, I now see how easy it is to use as a system to justify denial. Instead of assessing the mess of birds that needed to be queued, I just stood in the middle of the riot of feathers and said, “There are no ducks to be put in a line because what are ducks in the end?” Between my therapist and I, I call this transcendental masking.

A more concrete example of this is the fact that I kept telling myself that I didn’t want any new emotional interactions right now because I didn’t need them. Then, I would float through my day in a fog of loneliness, asking myself why I felt so isolated.

“Well it couldn’t be because I want companionship,” I said to my brain, “Remember? I don’t need a relationship. Why should I worry about wanting something I don’t need? In case you have forgotten, I’m super zen. I probably could survive on meals of sunlight and positive vibes at this point.”

I woke up to my denial eventually and accepted that I actually am open to something new as long as things could go slow. That is where Adams’s theory on flying comes in. I keep asking myself how to I stay open to a new opportunities without breeding discontentment in myself.

I don’t want to be the guy who is constantly on the hunt for a new piece, but I’d being lying if I said that I didn’t frequently daydream about being able to snuggle with someone over a glass of wine. When I address this with anyone, I either get something akin to “If you keep your eyes open, something will come along, but don’t keep your eyes too open because you don’t want to get obsessed. Maybe keep one eye open and one eye shut; then alternate eyes every other weekend.”

I literally had a stranger online advise me to, “Make it let it happen.”

The fuq? The more I delve into how I am going to interact with the world of singldom, the more it feels like everyone else is just telling me that it is as easy as flying a la Douglas Adams. Then there is the added layer of frustration of where the advice comes from. Most of the people who are in relationships seem to have forgotten the intricacies of their single days, and most singles are just as confused as I am.

Regardless, I keep throwing myself forward and trying to distract myself as to avoid remembering to hit the ground. I started writing this post in a coffee shop and had strategically placed myself within talking distance of an attractive young lady who appeared to be about my age. I asked to plug in my laptop beside her. I made really pathetic small talk. Then I left.

Afterwards, I headed for a local bar to talk with a bartender friend of mine, wanting to see a familiar face, but I soon found out that he wasn’t scheduled to work that day. It felt like an exhausting day of awkward encounters and failed plans. I was just about to leave when a woman sat down three seats from me and started asking about porters. The bartender whom she was talking too seemed a bit clueless, and I threw out my two cents.

She smiled, took my recommendation, and a conversation sparked up. She was only recently married to a distiller in town who worked odd hours, leaving her with a lot of free time to read and explore the city. It was an effortless exchange, the kind that only crops up once in a blue moon.

The two of us discussed depression, marriage, our thoughts on having children one day, gate keeping, Dungeons and Dragons, and a few other odds and ends. I’m not even remotely the type to try to move in on a married woman, as I understand the pain that comes with a broken marriage, and in hindsight, that was just the kind of interaction that I needed: forcibly platonic but deeply engaging.

The sexual tension of several short-lived recent explorations and my ruminations on The Girl Who Bit Her Lip has left me more than a little burnt out without even knowing it. I was so bruised up and sore from tripping in my attempts to fly. Outside of those in my friend group, I hadn’t spoken to a woman strictly platonically in weeks. I had been siphoning out every bit of my energy on some pretty shoe-horned attempts at real connection that unsurprisingly failed.

I left the bar feeling deeply recharged though, remembering my love for striking up conversations with strangers. I love intersecting with unfamiliar personalities, and I laughed to myself as I drove home to the tunes of “Everybody Wants to be Famous” by Superorganism.

Somehow, some way, I had fallen and forgot to hit the ground. Mind you, it wasn’t in a way that I would have anticipated at all, but it counts damn it!

This post was supposed to be published as I sat in that coffee shop. It was going to end with something like: “So Douglas, how the hell are you supposed to fall and forget to hit the ground?” Remarkably, I think I know now… just don’t worry about if you are falling or not in the first place. If you wind up flying, it will probably be in a moment when you weren’t even trying.

I don’t now how much wisdom there is to glean from this particular post, but I do want to offer a bit of advice pieced from a bit of self-reflection on this matter. Stop trying so hard all the time. Stop trying to be what you think other people will want. Believe it or not, sometimes good things just happen without any regard to something you have or have not done. I’m not saying that you should never try to fly, but when you do make another attempt at flight, don’t forget the joy of being terrestrial.

For me, I think that will mean taking a break from actively participating in the dating sphere. Bye-bye, Tinder. I have some ground stuff to do.

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