On the road or with a long weekend, I usually stop in a bookstore if there is one around. So many books - things that have been part of my life since early childhood. I was lucky to have two parents who exposed us to books and music and the outdoors. Learning and discovery were elemental to them and reading and words became a quiet necessity of my life. Charlotte's Web, The Wind in the Willows, A Child's Garden of Verse, and my all-time favorite, Grimm's Fairy Tales.
Books were my portal to comfort, during those inevitable awkward moments of growing up, a way of immersing myself in the world of an author. As a child, books helped me grow, stretching my mind even further. And through books and written words came friendships. I'd talk about what I read with my classmates, telling snippets of stories and passing around dog eared copies of Asimov and Heinlein and Niven and Herbert. We'd gather over our lunches, laughing about a recent share, Philip Dicks -Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. We'd sit until a teacher made us go back to class, voices raised in excitement for the vast reaches out there, limitless possibilities that, on the cusp of adulthood, we believe existed.
With that, the world opened up to me. I started recording it, in small notebooks of paper, ink drawings, loose photos, added onto their pages, a scrapbook of my life, recorded for eternity with nothing more than an old Mont Blanc pen and a camera.
I remember my first visit as an author to a large Chicago book club where I was asked to join as a guest speaker. I walked in to a room of ladies and gentlemen that acted like I was a celebrity apparently, their library had all of my books. I felt like a kid playing grown up. I'm not famous, I'm just someone that loves words.
Words dazzle and deceive because they are mimed by the face. But black words on a white page are the soul laid bare.— Guy de Maupassant
"Soul laid bare." The sense of vulnerability in those three words is beyond reach. For me writing isn’t just about telling a story, it’s sharing tales of the possibilities of life, my soul laid out for many of you to read. Opening up something within me that made some of you take your own pen and craft your own story. I believe in the magic hidden in people and things, and these notebooks, these words bring them out into the light.
But writing, as in reading, for me is not just intellectual but embracive. I love the way the spine of a book or notebook feels in the crook of my fingers. A book is an aesthetic charm of endless possibilities. The smooth, hard end boards snug on either side of the pages sewn together, their edges flush and perfect. The smell of ink, the texture of a page as my fingers gently turns it. Between 1850 and the late 1980s, books were printed on acidic paper. Conservators can't keep up with the costly restoration. Soon, millions of books in thousands of libraries the world over will be lost as their pages disintegrate into dust. Already I mourn for the loss of something that we have no control over, that of the written word.
I love blank notebooks. To me, it's hard to think of anything that represents the clean slate of opportunities more than a pristine, empty notebook. Smythson’s of Bond Street has bound ones with thin, blue, delicate paper that looks like the air mail paper my parents wrote to one another on during the War. The paper is so thin, the ink bleeds through, yet with the ink comes pleasure. The smell of the ink as well as the as the scent of paper itself, is need as defined as the capturing of a personal experience. These are experiences in danger of being lost in an errant click of a mouse. In today's evolution of the tools of our expression, we've lost the very things we can hold on to. Things that can still gather dust and be passed on, to a child, to a lover, to history. So I particularly like the Smythson's ones, the way my handwriting looks on the thin paper, words scrolled from a fountain pen, dense with weight, meaning something, to me anyway, even if two hundred years from now, the paper, and the one I wrote the words for, are only dust and starlight.
I don't read a lot of "popular" fiction. I tend to read a lot of nonfiction, of history. I like reading about long ago. I know more about my own life when I know more about the past. It's a sense of perspective; of days full of people that killed, tortured, struggled and suffered, agonizing for things that were of the utmost importance to them; working and living for reasons that may be well the same as ours. Now they've been gone some 500 years and all that is left to us is the essence and quintessence of their lives. To me history is more than a story, more than a book, it's the life, the heart and soul of ages long ago. It's the ultimate myth and inevitably ambiguous, but I do believe, like Lord Bolingbroke said, "History is philosophy teaching by example and also by warning." History not read is like ammo not used, someone once said, and without reading, for myself at least, the past is silence and the future is haze.
So for these many reasons, I hate being stuck somewhere with no book, no notebook or a laptop in which to record my thoughts Let the weather play God with my itinerary, let them send me to Elbonia. I've been stuck in places where my luggage did not arrive at the same time I did, and the only written word I could find in English was a ferry schedule for the River Styx. I don't care where I am, I simply need something to read and something to write in. Words in reserve, a buttress against the whims and dubiety of travel, of growing up, of life itself.
I intended to read tonight, but there is a new little notebook on the side table, I removed the film cover, the crackling sound awakened something in me. I stroked the oilskin cover for the first time, my future turning before me as I snapped open the elastic band to flip through the pristine pages, dreams waiting to burst out onto them. The pages were too perfect; it's almost hard to make the first mark upon the clean, fresh landscape. But then, with the thought of a face, of a hand at the small of my back, I began; splaying the words on lasting paper before they are lost in the ether. Words that are bequeathed to the page before they were forgotten, words that though not spoken, will take a corporeal shape in my heart whenever I close my eyes, even as they themselves, slumber between the closed cover that is their hiding place.
Title True Course – Lessons From a Life Aloft
Author Brigid Johnson
Genre Young Adult/Memoir
Publisher Outskirts Press
From award-winning, best-selling author Brigid Johnson comes the tale of how one woman's life in the sky forged an unforgettable destiny.
Raised in a small factory town in the 1960s, when aviation was predominantly a male profession, with parents who didn't support her ambitions, Brigid nevertheless learned to fly.
Hers was a busy life of setting limits and learning philosophies of growth and risk well beyond her years, even as she juggled two jobs, college, and a rescue Siberian husky whose wandering spirit put her own to shame.
From first solo to an airline career, and finally a decision to hang up her wings for another profession when her elderly father needed her care, Brigid captures with understanding, humor, and grace the moments that change the path of our lives.
With lyrical expression of her love for flight, she writes old and new stories of family, adventure, and the thrill of taking to the sky.
True Course is more than a memoir or a story of the lure of aviation--it's a story of learning to let the spirit soar and unfurling the wings of personal freedom, an inspiration to adventurers everywhere.
In earlier years, when flying was not just something I'd signed on to do just for fun, but my paycheck, sitting on the ground was NOT an option short of severe icing, freezing rain, zero visibility at the landing airport and typhoons (and spiders, don't ask about the time the airplane got infested with spiders). No, on those days when the wind was blowing, when it was not unsafe, just uncomfortable, off you'd go. You'd spend a few hours getting bounced around like you were in a paint shaker, sometimes dodging thunderstorms as well, only to land, the back of your shirt wet from sweat, knowing “gee - I get to go out and do that again!” And you would look at the sky on such flights as an adversary; much as the Knights of old did, gauging the aim of your foe and how hard and from what direction the thrust would come.
One night the thunderstorms were bad, not in a long-defined line between point A and point B which usually means a canceled flight, but just popping up quickly around the valleys like whack –a-mole. With them came furious winds that even twenty miles from the nearest thunderstorm cell were buffeting our craft. The rain, the lightning, those were foes that made us work as a team, adjusting cockpit lighting, ensuring the engine ignitions were on, all those subtly complex tasks we did as words flowed as we plotted, and planned, and parried.
But the wind was something else. When the wind broke hard against the windshield like a Molotov cocktail, the cockpit went totally silent and stayed that way. The wind has a way of isolating, it's battle against you—one that is personal, one that separates you from your companion in spirit as it tries to wrest something away from you that you do not wish to give up. Give me a landing in heavy rain any day over one where the airport is overrun by the treachery of shifting winds.
On one night of thunderstorms, we were flying the downwind leg of the last flight of our day, with the airport in sight, when a large transport ahead on final approach went around (aborted the landing at low altitude) and fled south, citing wind shear, those sudden changes in speed and direction which can be deadly. We delayed by extending our flight path south where there was rain but no thunderstorms; our only moral support, the feeble gleam of the starboard navigation light, bobbing in the spray like a buoy. Just as we were ready to call to ask to go to our alternate airport, a couple planes landed safely, that particular cell having moved away from the airport, but I was REALLY happy to get on the ground. We thought we were done for the night when we got orders to do ONE more flight. Fortunately, while I was trying to explain to operations just WHY that wasn't the greatest idea as a fresh line of weather rolled in, lightning hit the control tower, catching it on fire.
No, I don't miss nights like that.
So tonight, as the wind roars, I'm happy to be home, in our house among the trees—to write, my husband safely on the ground, the house warm and snug.
For the wind is not a silent threat any longer, it's a comfort—a familiar sound in a discord of voices. It's the sound that drives me closer to the form that lies beside me, the one that is the rock that shields me from future pain. It's the awareness that I am alive, more alive then all those days I was almost NOT alive. It's the fury and grace of heaven, which doesn't promise us calm skies, but will hold us up, no matter what life throws our way
As I go to sleep tonight, I will snuggle down into the crook of my husband’s arm, our black Labrador snoring from her second bed in the walk-in closet where she hides when the wind roars. Outside the wind is no longer voiceless—on it, I hear the sound of the sea, the hush of the forest, and the muffled whoosh of a jet engine. I hear it like the strong and invulnerable sound that carries on it an infinity of hope and heart, the wind that will pronounce unafraid words of faith on my last days when heavens fall and redemption is at hand.
As I drift off to sleep, the winds from heaven blow unabated as the city sleeps, across the quiet streets, between the mute and remembering dwellings.
Brigid Johnson is a former airline pilot who hung up her professional wings for a mid-life career change and care for an elderly parent. The author of both best-selling non-fiction and Christian fiction, she is a two times winner (silver/gold) of the Reader's Favorite International Book Award. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and two incorrigible rescue dogs.
Follow Brigid on Twitter https://twitter.com/LBJohnson8