Up, up and away

OK, if I don’t get this out of my skull and into words my spine will snap…

What does it feel like to fly? No, I mean, really fly. Not “what does it feel like to be strapped into an upholstered toothpaste tube hurtling at 500 miles per hour through the cold air at 37,000 feet.” But rather, when Superman flies, or when Rayek or Aroree “float,” just what do they feel? Inside, in their skins, in their nerves, behind their eyes.

I found myself wondering this a few days ago. I am one of those for whom flying (more like floating) is a recurring dream. Occasionally those dreams are vivid, lucid. Almost always they involve me…what’s a good word for it? “Lifting” off the ground and then sailing rather placidly from here to there. In these dreams, while they can be visually clear, I’m not very aware of what I’m feeling in a physical way. I may be floating, say, a couple hundred feet off the ground, and gliding along, and up comes a precipice, a cliff-face dropping away to a valley far below. In such an instance, I can recall feeling a fear of falling, as if I’m pegged to an altitude of two hundred feet above ground – and if the ground drops a thousand feet, so will I! (Although, in my most recent flying dream, I overcame that fear, and just kept on going at the same level in the air. Score one for me!) In another dream, I recall floating in a cross-legged sitting position (which in real life my knees would not be happy to let me do) and drifting – but with directed purpose – above a city.

But I don’t remember feeling as if there were an invisible chair under me. Nor do I remember feeling weightless. So what does it feel like to fly? When I sit, when I walk, I feel my weight on my butt or on my feet. Gravity works, and it’s one of the constants in life, a sensation of weight pressing down. This got me to wondering: In just about every comic book, every movie, every TV presentation that shows someone flying, StratoMan is horizontal, parallel to the ground, arms out, legs back (or one leg tucked up, foot wedged into arse), zooming along just like a bullet, headwind fluttering his spitcurl and cape. (Doesn’t he know? NO CAPES!) We imagine we can feel the wind in our face, hear it howl in our ears…but what does it feel like to fly? Does StratoMan feel as if he’s floating in the air as if it were water, with something pushing him from behind? Does he feel some sort of push all over his body? When he makes a sharp left turn, does he feel the inertia tugging him toward the right, the same way we feel it when we’re in a car making the same turn? Or is there no feeling at all, so that the only way StratoMan knows he’s turning is by looking at the scenery changing? For that matter, when he wants to make a turn, does he push against something, or does he simply think “left turn” and it happens? What does that feel like? For a planet-bound creature such as myself, who is completely used to the cues that gravity and my muscles and nerves and balance centers in my ears give me, that guide my every move…to be without those cues would incapacitate me, I think.

So I think that somehow, StratoMan must have some sort of internal feedback, to keep him on some sort of personal center. He must feel at least some of the same effects as he zooms along, that we feel in our vehicles. But what, and how much? What does flying feel like, in the pit of his stomach?

There’s a glorious scene in an episode of the recent (1996) animated Superman cartoon show, of a teenaged Clark Kent discovering he can fly. He’s running, he comes to a deep, wide gully, he jumps…and just keeps going up. He doesn’t do the “Up, up and away” thing at all; he soars on momentum, body upright as if he’s standing in the air, feet dangling down… It’s unique. It’s a joy to watch. He whoops with delighted laughter, so it’s clear he feels joy and elation. But what does his body feel? The cartoon gives not a clue. Argh!

This spilled over recently into Elfquest, because several of the EQ characters either float (levitate themselves) or can levitate external objects. I wondered out loud to Wendy, “What did Rayek feel when he tried lifting the boulder in the troll caverns, when he met Ekuar? He acted as if he’d strained a muscle, but he was only using his mind, right?” That led me to ponder whether or not Rayek, in trying to lift the stone, actually felt the pressure in his muscles? Did his telekinesis, in reaching out to the boulder, also reach inward in a sort of action/reaction way, to cause Rayek to perceive that he was actually using his arms…at a distance? I think he had to be feeling some sort of feedback, because he’s also levitated Leetah and Cutter and Ekuar at different times, and he had to control their movement and position somehow, so that he didn’t slam them hither and yon by accident (or by stray thought).

When Rayek flies, what does it feel like on his body? Does he feel the gravity of Abode pulling him downward, and does he feel the exertion of an opposite, self-created tug upward? Does that cause his body to feel weightless? (And prone to nausea, as astronaut trainees experience?) Or does he feel as if he’s “riding” in some invisible cocoon – much as we feel when we’re flying in an airplane? I am so used to feeling my own weight, I have difficulty imagining an activity that doesn’t involve the feedback cues of action/reaction – which in turn seems to imply some necessary connection to the world of matter and mass.

And yet, in my dreams, I fly completely free of such concerns, and it is the most wonderful experience I can imagine. Now, if I could only remember what the bleep it feels like!