Portrait of a Writer in a Plane

(Inspired by Portrait of the Artist in his Private Plane by John A. Fosco)

I think it was a piece of a propeller- if not, that's what it was meant to be. It was hung up on the wall, vertically, and the top of it was a sort of weather-beaten greenish gold. This was not from the sort of museum-piece plane preserved in a hanger somewhere; this plane was used to flying.

It was the bottom half of the propeller that caught my attention- two-thirds of the way down, the colors of metal exposed to the elements gave way to a beautiful blue sky, and flying through the clouds was a plane, the same color as the painted metal above it.

My great-uncle has a plane. I don't remember the first time he took me flying in it- I was only ten, I think. The last two summers I've gotten to fly with him twice, once each summer, and I can tell you that while how much he loves flying is obvious as soon as you get him talking about it, if you just happened to be sitting next to him while you're four thousand feet in the air over Lake Jocassee, you wouldn't necessarily figure it out right away. He makes it look like a lot of work- constantly eyeing his charts, adjusting the prop pitch, checking anything and everything that might have changed since he last checked it. As my dad puts it, Uncle John's a fiddler.

I'm also a fiddler. I can stare at a document for ages on end, taking out this word, changing it to that word, taking that word out and changing it to another, thinking a moment, changing back to the word I used originally. I'll tap my fingers on the edge of my computer for fifteen minutes trying to think of the word that should go here, it starts with a k, no, not that k word, something else, maybe it's a c... long past the point where anyone else would have given up. The majority of people in the world, who are not English majors, probably don't even understand why I would do this, let alone why I would enjoy it.

It takes knowing the gritty mechanics to make anything, whether it's a seventy-five-thousand word novel or a pretty little 1961 Cessna, fly right. You can appreciate the flight itself- the blue sky, the scene far below, the smooth plotline and witty dialogue- without any knowledge of the background. If you're the pilot or the author, though, your focus is on the little details. Even when all someone else can see is the rusting paint, the myriad gauges and controls, or the fifty scribbled notes in the margins of a messy paper... No, it's not that you don't see the mess. It's just that you see it as a mess that makes you happy.