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Monthly Archives: December 2011

A different view

Sometimes I worry just a tad about my mental capacity. Some things are so obvious, but it may take me years to even see them. It’s a mite disturbing and I hope that I’m not a wee bit “challenged” if you catch my drift. This writing business has caused me to look at things more closely than I ever have. I recently came to understand that I’ve suffered for years from tunnel vision, focused straight ahead.

Case in point: Until very recently, I had not considered how me as a teenaged girl, flying an airplane 38 years my senior, may have seemed to others. Oh I was aware of the sensation the Student Prince invariably caused, and that there was added interest due to my being a young girl pilot. I would bask in the limelight of the Prince; posing for pictures, answering questions, being interviewed by reporters at local fly ins, and taking people for rides. I enjoyed the attention, but I never took it seriously. I attributed it to the airplane. It was fun to show off no doubt, and I had lots of fun being the person affiliated with such an interest provoking machine.

I was given pause for a brief moment a few years back while rooting through a box full of photos. I found a picture of a young me in the rear cockpit of the biplane while ahead of me, a paying passenger smiling blithely beneath their helmet. My God! I was shocked at how young I appeared. The date on the back confirmed that I was just twenty and hopping rides at a local Puget Sound airport. My astonished reaction wasn’t because of my youth per se, it was the passenger who seemed so relaxed, happy and confident despite their baby pilot. And for crying out loud, where did I get the confidence myself? It was a strange moment, and for a few seconds I did wonder what on earth I must have seemed like to others. Touching down at their airport, hanging a sign and commencing the fine art of barnstorming. A very young. Girl. It would have caused my eyebrows to arch if I were them. Apparently, arched eyebrows or not, I recall flying solid weekends of rides at that very airport until dusk each day.

I had forgotten that moment of considering other’s perspectives of my young pilot self until a recent conversation with my mother. We were talking about stories for the book, and she told me, “Yeah Summer, I remember when you were a teenager and you’d come home with your face all wind burned, your hair stringy and knotted. I’d ask where you’d been, you would say you had just flown to the San Juans or Bellingham, or Portland.” I was dumbstruck. I couldn’t believe I had never, ever wondered how it must have been to have a teen daughter who was a pilot that owned and flew an antique biplane. How interesting…..and then I realized that it must have been an equally notable experience for others who knew me. My classmates, my boyfriend, my bosses, my mechanic, my community and my passengers. I am considering adding some of their perspectives to my story. Or at least having some interesting conversations with them.

I comfort myself that perhaps I am not a dull crayon after all. Maybe I was just too busy having fun to consider the view of others.

My mother also told me that she once posed the question of my selling the Student Prince and buying a more practical airplane. She says I responded with, “No way! Out of the question, that airplane is irreplaceable to me. Besides,” I told her, “you have no idea how cool it is to be a girl with a biplane.”

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It’s a gold mine!

I am so grateful to all of you who so generously take time to point your interest into my corner to watch what I’m doing, sometimes even writing such beautiful words of encouragement that I am deeply humbled and touched. So thank you, for providing me with wind for my wings. You honor me.

I have just begun looking back at the seasons of my life and compiling memory lists, and I am astonished and thrilled to find that there are some real riches there. It looks like I’ll have enough material after all! I guess I can scratch that worry off the list. Not having a memory and thus not having a story. I can replace it with the worry of having to trim things down! But seriously, I must be getting a lot of living in because the list is a seemingly unending entity, I just keep adding to it. I am feeling a lot better now and starting to get a sense for some sort of shape the book is going to take. I think it’s going to be fun to write, at least at this moment I do. Giggle. I am enjoying the jots down memory lane.

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A realization

I have just realized that the root of my trepidation about writing The Book is due in large part to having to “go there” and examine, relive, and bring to life some very painful memories. Namely my father’s untimely death and the way in which it affected myself and so many others. It may sound unbelievable, but I am only now beginning to understand that I have avoided fully processing this event. If I write my story the way I intend to, I will have to face it full on for the first time ever. And that is scarier than any other aspect of this project by far. The irony is that I have so successfully buried and skimmed over it, that I have fooled even myself. Until just now, when I couldn’t even make a list about my father’s character and my memories of him without blurry vision from tears and a lump in my throat that felt as if it were holding back a river of grief. Because apparently it is. I’ve been skipping and glossing up until now with all my chipper stories; skimming the surface of a vast ocean of loss, loneliness and pain. It can no longer be denied, I’m diving in all the way. I just hope I can touch the bottom and reach the surface before drowning in the sad poignancy that happens to be part of my experience. And I hope I don’t short out my keyboard from all of the salty tears that are sure to be falling. Nothing is ever as sweet without the bitter.

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Musings on writing

I’m going to write a book, namely a memoir about my life in the sky with my Prince. It’s starting to become somewhat daunting when I consider it from a nuts and bolts perspective. For starters, I am realizing that I am going to have to implement and apply things like structure, theme, organization etc. Things that smack of constraint and “rules” and cause my rebellious constitution to break out in hives. At present, it seems as if this blog is a lot more fun. I dash off a few unedited, free form thoughts, and my generous readers respond with nice comments and no criticism. My blog writing is natural and loose because I am free of the specter of a jaded, critical publisher who looks at my words and wonders only if they will produce money. And that’s only after I’ve convinced an equally jaded agent that I am worthy of their time. I’ve been reading books on writing and publishing, can you tell? And I have been learning a lot in spite of feeling somewhat intimidated.

These feelings and fears are familiar. I became a professional pilot in spite of the seemingly impossible. I had no money and I was afraid of math. I wasn’t alone in my efforts. Others who may not have been blown away by my raw talent in an airplane were nonetheless compelled to offer their encouragement, advice, support and connections on my behalf when they recognized my determination. And even though I am naturally adverse to structure (my sock drawer is a testament to this), I did learn to discipline myself enough to achieve my goals. And all the while, there was the Student Prince, my key to so many things. It held for me the memories of my father’s love, an escape route to the sky when life became overwhelming, my backstage pass to notoriety and pride, an introduction to so many wonderful people, a ticket to adventure, and a patient teacher of the laws of physics. My father always said, “Summer, flying is your inheritance.” and at the time, I would eye rollingly acknowledge his words as only a teenager can, thinking that Dad was so weird. But he was so right, a thousand times over he was right. And what did I inherit? Everything. My sky legacy has given me the world.

So I will persevere and learn the art (and business) of what it is to write and publish a book because I can, I know I can. And yes, even though at times I am scared spitless and it seems murkier than a mud puddle, I will prevail using techniques that have served me in the past. I will take it step by step, relying on advice from mentors and my own instincts. I will not lose my voice and my story no matter what, and I will remain confident in spite of trepidation. It’s been shown that anxiety and performance can be plotted on a bell curve. Too little and too much anxiety equals poor performance, while a bit of anxiousness is necessary for optimum performance. That’s my goal, to be scared brilliant.

And lastly, I can’t even begin to properly express my gratitude to all of you who have taken an interest in my writings. Your interest really is the reason I am taking on a book. So thank you. I will miss the immediate feedback and interaction of blogging that I get from blogging, but I am committed to producing a story that resonates with readers no matter their age or demographic. Perhaps 2012 will see me fulfilling my goal.

Best to each of you in the New Year, and wishing you the bluest of skies and gentle tailwinds.

Summer Martell

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Happiness loves company

The other day I listened with great delight to a message on my phone. The caller identified himself as a local antique airplane owner whom I’d met a couple of years ago. I remembered him clearly, or should I say, I remembered his airplane clearly. Coincidentally (?), on the day I flew the Prince again after several years of being grounded while undergoing a major restoration, Bill happened to be in the air as well. It was more than fitting and poetic that I while I celebrated being reunited in the sky, a black and silver Waco biplane flew an unplanned loose formation with us. It was as if the Waco were saying to the Student Prince, “Welcome back to the sky where you belong old friend.” That flight was more than two years ago, and I hadn’t seen or spoken with Bill since.

I listened to Bill’s message several times as I stood in my kitchen. A smile spread across my face and butterflies did loops in my solar plexus. “Hi Summer, this is Bill. I don’t know if you remember me, but I flew formation with you a couple of years back in my black and silver Waco out of Jefferson County. Say, a few of us are planning on flying our antique airplanes to Blakesburg, Iowa next summer for the antique airplane fly in and wanted to know if you’d like to come too.” That message made my day for several reasons. I had been hearing about Blakesburg and the fantastic antique fly in they have there since I headed east to Ohio. Everyone I spoke to invited me to go, said I absolutely MUST go and that it was amazing. So Blakesburg has been brightly illuminated on my radar. I haven’t been to a full on antique airplane fly in since the Evergreen airport was sold and developed into a shopping mall. Hundreds of hearts were broken wide open when those hallowed grounds were tilled under and the site of decades of flying memories were entombed under asphalt. Evergreen had been the largest antique airplane fly in on the west coast, and every third weekend in August hundreds of pilots would make their way from all points of the compass to share in their love for old airplanes. It was a reunion of kindred spirits, even if they’d never formally met before. When someone mentioned to me that the Blakesburg fly in was the Evergreen of the midwest, I became even more attracted to the possibility of going one day.

I hadn’t made any plans for another long cross country in the Prince. But that doesn’t mean that I am a one trick pony. On the contrary, my sense of adventure and the confidence to actively pursue it have been honed to razor sharpness. When Bill mentioned that a whole gaggle of like minded antique airplane buffs were planning an odyssey to a fabulous antique airplane gathering, and they invited me, I was very excited. After I hung up the phone to ponder the conversation, I couldn’t help but wonder if possibly the article that was featured in the General Aviation News about our trip to Ohio had played any part in inspiring the adventure that is being planned to Blakesburg. And if it did, then it’s doubly thrilling. Inspiring others to pursue their dreams and passions inspires me, and I hoped that the article would inspire others to pursue their dreams. Maybe it worked! For whatever reason, it looks like something is happening. It’s a complete change from last summer when I would invite fellow pilots to fly across the country with us only to be met with a downward look, toes kicking at a dirt clod and, “Gee I don’t know, I don’t think I have time.”

It is wonderful to behold others while they kick the tires and light the fires of their own dreams!~

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Inspiration takes wings

Last summer when I excitedly shared with others that I was intending to fly my old biplane all the way from Port Townsend, Washington to Dayton, Ohio and back I could tell that it was exciting for them too. They would respond with, “Wow! Cool, I have ALWAYS wanted to fly across the country in my plane.” or, “That’s incredible, I wish I could go too..” I would imply that they were welcome to come along and share the adventure and I was amazed at how fast people’s tunes changed in a nanosecond. From enthused inspiration to reasons why not. “Oh I can’t take the time off” or, “It’s too expensive” or, ” I’d love to but……” “Maybe someday…..” It really was disheartening to watch, not unlike watching a hot young fire starting to grow being doused with a bucket of water leaving only a pile of wet ashes and dissipating steam, the fire just a memory. It was almost an automatic for people to shut down when I posed to them that their dream was right there, fully formed, waiting only for them to say yes. But they wouldn’t. Their reasons barreled right over their possibility and crushed it. It was kind of sad to watch, their eyes would change and I would watch the light dim when their reasons marched in. I witnessed several dream deaths, but I was no one to judge.

For over twenty years, I had been spouting about how I was going to fly the Student Prince across the US. But I never put any action behind my words, and I grew more and more reluctant to voice my intention because it felt disingenuous. What I didn’t do was say “Yes, I am going to do this now” and actually start doing it. With each passing year it seemed that it was more unattainable and I let every day life distract me and convince me that I was right, it was too out of reach. As the quote goes, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”. But it chaffed, this dream that I had layered under reasons and distractions, it was still alive, just buried. I knew I was avoiding it and it was a disquieting feeling to be breaking a promise to oneself. And it’s not like I had never practiced the art of fulfilling my word and intentions before. Far from it. Beginning with my father’s unexpected death I made the unequivocal decision to keep his airplane. I was seventeen years old, in high school and with no family support. Somehow I managed to not only maintain the Student Prince, but to slowly achieve my advanced pilot credentials and put myself through college. Quite frankly, I have no idea how I pulled it off, and I had no idea how I was going to do so at the outset. I just did it because I decided to and I moved in the direction of my intentions. I could cite so many more examples of this from my own life; deciding to pursue something in spite of the unknown and seemingly stacked odds. In a nutshell, I really had no excuses. Oh, I could certainly make my reasons completely plausible and solid when I told others about them, but my conscience wasn’t buying it. Not for a second. I could feel it sneering at me, “You’re just chicken and you know it.” And so it went, this dream that wouldn’t ever completely expire. I would lie to myself and others but my conscience wouldn’t let me off the hook. I was making excuses because it was daunting, period. And the longer I procrastinated, the more daunting it became. Until one day, when the opportunity presented itself loud and clear with a question that included the words, “Why not…?” I asked myself, “Why not indeed?” And I had no answer, other than yes.

The weeks leading up to my departure were fraught with opposing and conflicting emotions. My reasons were pissed and they were ramping up. How dare I just take off so frivolously and irresponsibly, didn’t I know that avgas was over six dollars a gallon.? How utterly selfish to waste money like that! And what if the airplane breaks down in the middle of nowhere, thousands of miles from home, what then? And, don’t you know anything about weather Ms. Pilot? That thunderstorms need two things to form: Lift and moist air? Both of which are in overly abundant supply from the Rockies eastward? Do you really want the Prince to look like a block of Swiss cheese when it gets pelted with hail? And for crying out loud, LOOK at the size of those mountains! You’ve never had the airplane up that high, can it even do it? And geez, you didn’t even invite your husband, just leave him behind to man the fort! On and on these thoughts would run accompanied by a dread knot of anxiety in my stomach. But to counter the dread thoughts, my dream was growing and stretching, buoying my spirit and propelling me forward in spite of my worries. It was a battle of the reasons and the dream until I settled into the rear cockpit on August the seventh, waved goodbye to our friends and family and took off to the east. As we were climbing above a scattered layer, the Cascade peaks poking through in all their magnificent, snow capped beauty, I queried Chrissy about her silence as she rode in the front cockpit. She summed it up perfectly, “I just can’t believe we’re actually doing this.” And neither could I. I exhaled deeply, realizing that part of the magic of this trip was that I was finally doing it, and my fears about a future that never existed except in my mind melted, and I was free.

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