Let me tell you a story about a weekend adventure I put together for some friends of mine.
I know, I know, you want the secret.
Just trust me for a minute; it will be worth it, okay?
A group of my friends had planned to go hiking and peach picking on a certain summer weekend last year. But the friend who wanted to go peach picking called the orchard and found out we were too late; peach season was over.
We were planning on staying in Rhinebeck, so I turned to my trusty old friend Trip Advisor to find out what else there was to do in the area …
and lo and behold …
An aerodrome is like a little airport.
This one was full of, ahem, historic planes. Better yet, some of those planes actually fly.
At this aerodrome,
YOU CAN TAKE A FLIGHT IN A BIPLANE.
I bounced up and down in my seat. I wanted to fly in a biplane. I REALLY wanted to fly in a biplane. What could be COOLER than flying in a biplane?
Will anyone ELSE want to fly in a biplane? Will anyone ELSE care about old planes? Probably not. This is a very geeky thing to care about.
But I wanted to do it SO much, and it worked so perfectly with the rest of our trip, that I sucked up my fear that they would hate the idea and suggested it.
My friends agreed. I don’t think they knew exactly what they were getting into. I think their agreement came from a place of trust. I am eternally grateful for that trust.
(Or maybe they did know, better than I did.)
The night before the flight, I made them listen to me read a passage from Beryl Markham’s book West with the Night.
Markham worked as an aviatrix in the early 1930s delivering mail throughout barely developed Africa.
In 1936, she became the first woman to fly the Atlantic the “hard” way — against the wind and through the night, from England to Newfoundland.
She is a great hero of mine and one of the deepest reasons for my attachment to early flight stories. She is also one of my favorite writers.
The whole book is graceful, elegant, and compelling.
No one seemed particularly impressed. I worried.
That was Friday.
On Sunday, we went to the aerodrome.
Taking flight …
There were five of us. As it turned out, everyone wanted to fly in a biplane. We split up into a group of two and a group of three (only room for four in the plane). We donned leather aviator hats and dorky-looking goggles given to us by the aerodrome. We took photos and laughed with a nervous buzz.
We waited our turn.
The two girls flew first. I waited in the second group with the two guys. When the girls came back, smiling and laughing, we traded spots.
I climbed into that plane with trepidation, excitement, joy. My hands shook.
The guys took pictures and video. I just hung on — I couldn’t do anything else.
One of the aerodrome employees, clad in ‘30s garb, spun the propeller (the propeller! Seriously!).
The noise drowned out everything. My heart raced.
We taxied up the grassy runway, bumping along. Everything rattled. We turned around. The propeller spun faster.
We gained speed rapidly.
I clutched the side of the plane, my knuckles white.
We soared over the majestic Hudson River Valley, trying to keep our faces on as the wind tried to tear them off.
I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be Beryl.
Flying a plane like that, everything rattling, face being blown off by the wind, for 21 hours? Alone? At night. Over the ocean. Relying solely on her own navigational abilities to get her to her destination — knowing that one misstep might mean disappearing into the Atlantic forever, never to be heard from again.
It seemed impossibly frightening.
But when I think about it, I remember that Beryl knew what she was doing. The biographies that tell her life story describe how well she knew the ins and outs of the planes she flew (she was often her own mechanic) and how skilled she was at navigating.
Flying high above the Hudson River, the wind whipping my face, I didn’t know if I could do what she did. But I knew I could do what I know best — tell stories.
We landed without incident, our whole bodies buzzing from the rattle of the plane and the high of the experience.
Recently, both of the two guys who were on that trip mentioned it to me in casual conversation. Both of them had a dreamy, magical tone to their voices like the memories were overlaid with fairy dust.
In retrospect, it is easy to say, well OF COURSE it was an amazing experience; we FLEW IN A BIPLANE.
But when I suggested it, I had no idea how anybody else would feel about it or whether it would be wonderful or terrible. I only knew that I really, really wanted to do it.
And that, my friends, is the real secret: I let my enthusiasm show.
You are the ambassador of your art
It’s so easy to doubt ourselves.
Out of everyone I know, I am the most critical of myself. After all, I know all my flaws and insecurities. You, too, right?
That’s compounded when we’re making art. We’re pouring ourselves into it, everything we have and are, and then trying to share our souls with others.
It’s tempting to hide. To bury our heads in the sand, to run from connection, to push people away. To do our work in isolation and feel like we’re thriving on that.
But at the end of the day, art is communication.
At the end of the day, we need to share it.
And at the end of the day, I am also the one who knows how awesome I am. I know what I have to offer. I know how much fun and how exciting the thing I am making is — that’s why I’m making it!
Nobody else is going to be excited about your work if you’re not. You know it best. You know why it’s cool. You know how much love you’re putting into it.
Enthusiasm is contagious. Let it show
When you’re excited, people get excited for you. When you’re wrapped in something that MOVES you, and you let it show, people are moved along with you.
YOU are an irreplaceable part of your art.
This might stress you out. It might scare you. It does me, for sure.
We live in a culture in which enthusiasm is frowned upon. We’re supposed to be quiet, professional, cool. Don’t feel too deeply or you’ll get hurt.
But doesn’t it hurt just as much — if not more — to stuff our true self away and not honor her?
Learn to talk about your art. Talk about it with the same enthusiasm and joy you have in creating it.
It has whazzits and whiz bangs and bowler hats and blue lipstick and circus tricks and sideshow freaks! Adventure galore! Weird girls! Runaway dwarves! Cigarette-smoking, thin-legged, leaning, top-hatted villains … or love interests; who can tell?
Now I’m just making stuff up. But that’s the fun of it — being excited. Let your enthusiasm shine, and let people respond to that shine.
Even we introverts can do that, don’t you think?
What are you working on now that you’re excited about?