Thursday, August 4, 2011


Elizabeth Zelvin

Who hasn’t dreamed of flying? To oversimplify the classic interpretations of flying dreams, Freud saw them as symbolic of sexuality, while for Jung, they signified freedom and transcendence. We live in an era in which sexuality is out in the open, while freedom and transcendence are still hard to come by. Although I’m a shrink as well as a writer, what interests me most about dreams is how they feel: gloriously exhilarating and utterly convincing, so that I wake thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could fly in waking life.

My favorite fictional descriptions of flying appear in Sharon Shinn’s Samaria series, which appears in the first book to be fantasy but is revealed over the course of the series as science fiction, albeit brilliantly character driven and superbly plotted. The beings who share the planet Samaria with humans are known as angels. They have powerful wings that allow them to fly to great heights from which they use their glorious singing voices to intercede with the god on behalf of the people.

He ascended effortlessly into the opalescent whiteness of the cloudless morning sky. Higher and higher, aiming straight for the zenith of the heavens, so high that even to his superheated blood the air seemed cool; so high that beyond the blank blueness of the sky he could sense an eternal, waiting night….Aloft in the icy air…Gabriel flung his arms wide and began to sing. He could hear every sound, this high up: the rhythmic stroking of his great wings, the brief catch and intake of his own breath, the faint sluicing of blood through the canals of his ears. – Sharon Shinn, Archangel

Because of the rain, she had flown in low, and now she spiraled upward over the broken mountain. The air was treacly, clinging to her wings with actual malice; she had to fight her way higher to get as far above the storm as possible. Even after she cleared the worst of the rain, the air about her felt dense and unforgiving…. Usually, this far above the earth, the air currents felt alive; even before she started singing, she would hear the echoes of her wingbeats batted from star to star
. – Sharon Shinn, Jovah’s Angel

She flung herself aloft…and beat her wings against the sullen air….It felt good to fly, to unfurl her clenched wings and feel the thick, viscous ocean air lay its cushions under her feathers
. – Sharon Shinn, The Alleluia Files

She…drove her wings in short hard sweeps against the air…She was aware of the steady, rhythmic beating of her wings, the tensing and relaxing of the sinews across her back, but nonetheless she felt like she was floating through the air. She…drifted peacefully across the broken terrain, silent and light as milkweed, circled once over the rocky margin of the shore, and settled easily a few yards from the sea. – Sharon Shinn, The Alleluia Files

I’d be happy to tell you that in my dreams, I soar high into the sky like Samaria’s angels. But I don’t. In my most consistent recurring dream about flying, I hover about three feet from the ground and have to push at the air with my hands in a kind of dog-paddle to stay up. When I try to remember more, the image that springs to my mind is the sidewalk in front of my parents’ house in Queens. My interpretation: I started having this dream when I was so young that I wasn’t allowed to cross the street. But you know what? It still gives me an enormous sense of freedom—the phrase “ability to escape” floats into my mind as I write this, and you’re welcome to interpret that however you like—and I’d be thrilled if I could really do it. I wake from this dream thinking, “How hard could it be? If I just push against the air....”

What are your dreams of flying like?


Edith Maxwell said...

Flying! The only dream I have had of actually flying unassisted was flying low over the Japanese town I lived in over 30 years ago. I've never been back to visit and would like to. That's a nice dream.

But the recurring flying bad dreams, despite my being a very frequent traveler in the airspace, have to do usually with me piloting the plane, usually to China. And it's always terrifying because I know in the dream I am completely unqualified! Sometimes it's just the late-for-the-flight-forgot-the-passport-at-home type. Sometimes it's landing in China. The worst, though, are Edith in the pilot's seat, from which I am SO glad to wake up and realize it is not true. ;^)

Edith Maxwell

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I actually have flown a small plane, Edith, though luckily I never had to solo. I have good memories of taking off and bad memories of landing. ;)

LynnZ said...

I never had a dream of flying, just a persistent ache to be able to fly, not in a plane, but bird-like without a shell or engine. I cannot remember when I didn't feel it - in the way people describe the feeling of being in the wrong gendered body, I felt grounded, like the wings should be there. When I went to Kitty Hawk hang gliding camp about fifteen years ago, at the end of a week of practicing take-offs and landings on the Nags Head dunes, we got to do a high altitude flight in a tandem glider with an instructor. The glider was pulled to almost 3,000 feet by an ultra-light plane and then detached and we flew down. What I remember most about that flight was how right it felt - the experience of the actual presence of the volume of the air, holding us up, and thinking how the birds must puzzle over us, how silly it must seem that we crawl around on the ground. I'd been afraid that if I got a taste of it, I'd end up spending my life trying to earn enough money to support a hang gliding habit, but, even though I did a little after that, that first flight seemed to settle something in me, the ache was gone, and I'm pretty ok with life on the ground.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Thanks for sharing that, Lynn. Your hang gliding experience is awesome in the true sense of the word. :)