You’ve probably heard enough about pandemic stuff to make your brains leak out of your ears. I’m with you. Whenever my well-meaning neighbor gets on the subject, I can feel imminent cerebral leakage occurring. Please don’t think that I’m not concerned–I have no intention of making little the pain this is causing too many people–but we have to push on. We need to help each other to stay positive, get through it, perhaps even thrive!

In that vein, I would like to offer a little comfort to those of us who are “sheltering in place” to prevent it from getting worse.

The Problem

For those of us stuck indoors without our jobs, afraid to go out and get breathed on, there are many ready distractions to keep us from thinking about the outside world or our own growing cabin fever. These include:

  • Watching too much CNN or other news channels, where horror is the name of the game, because they believe good news won’t keep you watching
  • Bingeing Netflix and cable streams to keep your brain from thinking anything at all for long spells at a time
  • Gaming and other virtual realities (my favorite is Second Life) where we can mentally escape this planet altogether

Distracting ourselves in these ways isn’t a bad way to keep the troubles of the world from overwhelming us (well, except for the first one), but from personal experience it’s not a very fulfilling life at the end of the day. Is it?

A Solution

Here’s a question you might not have asked yourself lately, with all this other stuff going on:

Do (or did) you have a dream?

Something you’ve always wanted to accomplish with your life, but never seemed to have the time, because you were too busy trying to make ends meet. While you’re thinking fondly on that, here’s another question:

Wouldn’t this be a great time to pursue that dream?

Thanks to the Internet and all kinds of tools, schools, and pools of people online looking for collaborators to do the same thing, perhaps this is the time to:

  • Retool, to make yourself better, faster, stronger
  • Refocus on what you really want to do with your life
  • Explore the many ways others have succeeded where you want to go
  • Brainstorm the steps you might take to progress toward your dream

If you’re stuck at home without work, like me, isn’t this exactly what some of us were wishing for–a break from all that mandatory mundane life, to make something of our own? Well, here you are…

This is your time.

(Something new for me: a 50-word submission for, featuring one of my idols, who I wrote a poem about here.)

“Being an aerospace engineer wasn’t enough: he had wings in his garage. Doped fabric tightening across spars on sawhorses. But a heart flutter snatched his license away. Family pictures reflected his torment, fettered to the ground. I cried when he left us, but happy he got his wings back.”

I was perhaps 6 or 7 when I first visited the garage. The wings were suspended at about eye level for me then and smelled of something worse than turpentine. But they fascinated me more than anything in my young, turbulent life and set the stage for my learning to fly a couple of decades later.

This is not about the window I sleep beneath now. That would be too easy. And a little strange, since it opens out onto a courtyard formed when my apartment building grew to wrap the space in a smokers alcove, where voices emanate–sometimes dully, sometimes with great energy. Luckily I can sleep, or not sleep, through the best of it. I can sleep through a brass band tuning up–once I lay my head down.

No, this is about a window overlooking the urban sprawl of one corner of Baltimore City, the scariest place on earth … at least for a shy, skinny 6th to 7th grade kid. For me, life during the day was all about survival. Not so much survival of the fittest … in that town it was more survival of the meanest. If you’ve caught an episode of The Wire on TV you’ll know what I mean. That was my town. No, no … you can keep it.

But then there’s the night. At night even mean people sleep. The city that frightened me became calm for a time, almost beautiful. It’s no wonder I wanted to spend so much of that time awake, appreciating it. Whenever I was caught by my parents sitting up at some odd hour of the night, I could always blame it on my little brother’s monumental snoring and get an apologetic shrug. But he was slightly duller than a brass band tuning up. I knew it was the night calling to me.

Our bedroom was on the second floor–third floor from the rear–of our ancient brick row house, with a window facing out the back. High enough off the ground the oak tree striving to escape the dark alley beneath had yet managed to block the view.

If you’re new to the concept of “row house”, it’s basically a solid block of 100-year old brick structures sandwiched thinly against the sides of other row houses. The 3-story row house we lived in–4 from the back–would have looked precariously thin and have toppled in a light breeze if it ever stood alone, but like a shelf of books it was tightly packed together on a block-wide shelf. The only separation between them was a thick firewall from the foundation to its flat sloping roofline–back when a firewall was a thick layer of fire-resistant cinderblock rather than a paranoid computer program.

Our block sat atop a natural ripple in the geology of the city, a shelf of homes higher than the rest, the row backing up to the other side of the alley, fronts facing away from us, sat several floors below. The forgotten land then rippling up again a few blocks beyond. Atop that next ripple sat a single-story shopping mall, basically a huge parking lot with the edge of a mall to one side, as far as I could see from my little window.

This was my world at night. Expanses of well-lit asphalt in the distance, over rows of invisible black tarpaper roofs and silent shadowy streets. It might easily have been a jungle at night, or a valley between cliffs, if not for the parking lot in the distance, lit like the outfield at a baseball game, waiting for the next home run.

No game ever played there, but I was probably its most avid spectator most nights: the tiniest of things that happened out there becoming small adventures. Cars would randomly traverse the parking lot, for their own reasons. Often these cars would approach from diverse angles and meet someplace in the middle. The occupants would get out and I would revel in my ability to hear the sounds of their voices echoing over the rooftops, uttered by the ant-sized people so far away.

Only now do I realize I was probably witnessing drug deals in the night. I wonder why the police didn’t sit in windows in the middle of the night, they would catch all kinds of perps that way. I could have had a job at that.

Not all of my attention would be taken up by the non-doings of the mall lot. That was more a meditation of sorts.
Often I would spend the time also listening to the AM stations bouncing off the ionosphere from odd distant places, with the sun charging the air in weird angles out past the horizon. Late Saturday nights I would listen to the wacky tunes of the Dr. Demento Show, still a cult favorite on the internet today, decades later. In a few years this would become a hobby, listening to radio waves bouncing from points on the opposite side of the globe, using a shortwave radio I built from a kit; but for now the AM bands on my tiny transistor radio were exciting enough. Radio propagation was a magical thing to me back then.

I have been a companion of the night ever since. We moved from the city of roaming bullies to the rolling countryside of Pennsylvania, barely rescuing me from my first year in high school … a massive building that resembled a penitentiary in my mind. Again I had a third story window to gaze out from, but the view here was a moon-lit field of grass, or my mother’s sleeping vegetable garden, and the shadows playing across shades from the neighbor’s duplex. I had a silly crush on one of the tenants there for a few months, a tiny married woman who playfully joked or played Parcheesi with us on her front porch, with the popping dice in the middle. I learned from her that I would always love women who nurtured their child-like (not childish) spirit throughout their life, and to never quite grow up myself.

My hormones soon pointed me more appropriately toward the pretty girls in high school, also mostly unrequited. But my nights were much the same here, minus the fear of the city ebbing away. A quieter town nestled in the dark valley to the right, tall trees rustling quietly in the night breezes atop the hill to the left, the stars swirling with hopeful abandon above. The quiet of the night needing at least one soul to stay up to appreciate it.

I wonder now if my night vigils today were an acquired habit, or a simply part of my spirit. Was it nature or self-nurture? I imagine I’ll never know, but I can almost feel the air grow quiet in the night, as more people fall off to dreamland. The crosstalk grows silent, my mind becomes clearer, the night more full of possibilities.

I still have my excuses for being up at that time, even without a parent to randomly look in to wonder: I tell people I can’t sleep normally on my own–I don’t want to lay in the dark alone, since I can easily sleep like a “normal” person when I’m in a relationship. There is some truth to this, too. But I know, deep down, if it wasn’t for the cuddles and kisses, I’d be up at night, exploring the magic of the universe, watching life on the planet slowly ebb and flow. I am a friend of the night. I think I shall always be.

I’ve mentioned my weird happiness around heights before, but have I told you how high I’ve gotten so far? Oh, stop giggling, silly. I didn’t mean that way. I meant physically . . . though the euphoria of doing it was pretty mind-blowing.

I’m talking about flying. Not the unassisted flying I do so much in my dreams, but when you climb into a plane–in the front seat, with the wheel thingie and pedals–and fly yourself into the sky like a deranged penguin with an engine strapped to its back. Sure, I enjoy getting on a commercial flight and taking off to heights that made my little two-seat Cessna jealous, but to sit behind that windshield with your hands on the controls flying yourself into the sky . . . That’s the biggest self-inflicted wonder of all.

But this post isn’t really about me . . . it’s about my grandfather, a quietly amazing man I never really got to know. My grandfather was an engineer . . . an aerospace engineer. He was one of the many who helped create the very first space shuttle, or parts of it, working for Martin Marietta out in the desserts beyond the suburbs of Denver, Colorado.image

Perhaps it was no fluke that his engineering talents were directed toward that particular project. I wonder if he too was inflicted with this odd desire for altitude. Perhaps he even yearned to be one of the engineers aboard the shuttle when it finally left earth’s hold. I like to think he had. I kind of wish I’d had that opportunity myself.

I never knew my grandfather in his heyday. I hope one day my mother will regale me with her memories of him then. All I truly know about him was that he was happy off of the ground. And he loved to build things. Those two desires came together in his garage, where a cloth-winged airplane was taking shape by his hands. Perhaps this is where the seed was planted for me, seeing this project at such a young age.

A couple of decades later, I would embark on an adventure in flying that sadly began when his ended. It was such a poignant irony I found myself writing a little piece about it in my poetry class. It’s about the weird day I officially earned my wings after months of practicing to fly, first with an instructor and then on my own. It goes something like this:

               Last Flight
My grandfather’s home was the sky
His heart aloft from the ground
An imagination that helped
Launch our first shuttle to space

I remember purple-doped wings at eye level
Drying on sawhorses in his garage
But a fluttering heart stole their air
His license floating away in the wind

Unsmiling pictures of him, fettered to the ground
I ached to see him take wing again
Taking lessons as soon as I left the nest
But the ground took him too soon

The morning I earned my wings
I alit from my perch so early
Wing’ed faeries still flit about
Setting diamonds to the leaves

A stern stranger sat right seat with clipboard
Ready to catch any falling mistakes
Checklists and run-ups, then “Clear!”
Pointed questions as we taxied

Cessna’s were not designed for the ground
An empty coke can rattling on asphalt
But once the Earth drops beneath
An aluminum bird returns home

The climb brought my grandfather’s eyes
To unruffle my sputtering nerves
The clipboard man slipped behind a cloud
My purpose became clear blue sky

I’m a bird, climbing, rolling, stalling, diving
Seeing the airport reminded me of rented wings
Runways shaped like a crooked cross
The shorter piece tree-hemmed and disused

I faltered here when clipboard pulled a lever
My engine mock-failing before approach
I saw a sloppy circle to runway’s end
The shorter far too close beneath

My confidence veered, I froze in midairimage
Then … I imagined a hand touch my shoulder
I heard “Whoa!” from the right seat
As I banked, left wing pointed at the ground

Right pedal down, flying sideways
We side-slipped straight down,
Righting, flaring, touching like a feather
Before my hands were my own again

I felt my grandfather’s proud grin
In place of clipboard’s shocked stare
I taxi back to undeserved praise
Happy he got his last flight

One day I hope to take to the skies again. I know I’ll be thinking of my grandfather when I do. And thank him for helping to make it happen. Happy flying Pop-pop.

My awesome university, the one that is helping me to reinvent my life–to finally follow my passion as a writer–is hosting a contest to celebrate fearlessness on campus. It’s a lovely campaign to instill pride in our strive, to recognize in ourselves that we can follow our dreams and succeed, that we can be the best possible version of ourselves if we but believe in ourselves.

For my part, going back to college is the keystone of a lifelong passion to write, a dream that once sat on a shelf to make room for a career that seemed more “successful,” but was not my dream. Thanks to another hiccup in my life (which I don’t want to talk about . . . yet), all kinds of wondrous things spilled out of my heart to be collected, rediscovered and placed back in the focus where they belong.

Writing is my passion, my dream. It is who I am. I am fearlessly, doggedly reaching for that dream again. There is no more motivating place to do this than on a campus surrounded by thousands of people following their dreams. It is here where my mentors and teachers and peers come to goad and teach and learn their craft. It is here where my dream will take shape.

Help us celebrate our fearlessness. Visit and click like for those of us who are making our dreams come true. (And here is mine). =)

Perhaps we can inspire you to find the life you’ve always wanted, too. Join us on a campus near you!

There’s room for everyone’s dreams.