Socializing flight anxiety

Mount Hood from UAL

Originally uploaded by moyalynne

… and other tales from “Web 2.0 meets the Enterprise”

Last weekend, I flew from San Francisco to Portland (and back again) with Leanne and Lucy for Leanne’s 20th high-school reunion. A pretty normal event (the flight — maybe not the reunion!) for most people. If you know me, you know it was a sheer panic attack for me (the flight — actually the reunion was ok!).

I know I know I know I Know I KNOW: “flying is safer than driving,” “you’ll have less luck crossing Market Street in San Francisco,” “these things can pretty much fly themselves,” and all that bit. I’ve been active on fear-of-flying message boards, gone for hypnosis, worn the rubber band, and done the whole gamut to try to analyze and overcome. In the end, for the present, at least, as little advanced notice as possible coupled with as many pills as I can safely take up until, at, and after the point of embarkation, are what keep me from running off the plane (which I hear they don’t like you to do). That, and trying to stay connected with every single person around me. Oh, and thanks for your hand, Leanne, you can have it back now (if I haven’t mangled it too much).

It was no different on the United flights this last weekend. Sweaty palms the night before turned to downright soggy Moya an hour or before the flight. Pills and my daughter and my wife kept me relatively sane, but of course, the whole thing — both flights — were perfectly beautiful and utterly uneventful (and the flight attendants were supportive) — and the views were nice, as I always find them to be. But one thing was a bit different, and maybe helped me feel a bit more, shall we say, grounded.

The difference this time was that I decided to “crowdsource” my flight anxiety, openly “coming out” about it via Twitter , and asking for help. What should happen but all these people — some I know well, some I don’t know at all — went out of their way to respond with kind words to me: @hambox, @calipidder, @panthea, @finnern, @residentgeek, @jyarmis, and of course @lwaldal. With their generosity, they formed a bridge for me between my isolating anxiety and tolerability.

Some people say that this anxiety reflects a wrestling with a lack of control — but for me, it seems that *being connected* is the key. In the past, I’ve gone up to meet the pilots. I’ve insisted on pre-boarding, and have to identify myself to whatever flight attendant I see when I get on the plane — sometimes they are sympathetic, sometimes they look a little freaked, like they’re wondering if I’m going to be “one of those.” Usually they offer alcohol gratis at one point during the flight. So the connection keeps me going. Perhaps the day I can stay connected online during the flight, it will be all the better.

Whether it’s lack of control or staying connected, it strikes me (of course) that there is a parable for “Web 2.0 and the Enterprise” here. People are saying lately that Web 2.0 for the Enterprise really needs to be about secure internal networks over which we can remain protected, determine permissions, and wield access control. I say the big disruption comes from breaking down, or at least in the attempts to break down, exactly those barriers. Call me crazy (by now you probably are), but once again I find that opening up is the key.

We’ve been playing around with a lot of Enterprise-Internal twitterclones lately and I often find myself confused about whether I should post — or am posting — “publicly” or not. Then there are the several different levels of “public” itself, and “follow” — within your whole company, or a hand-picked group? And the groups themselves: we’ve got people inside our company who don’t want to be talking to other teams much less to the whole company much less publicly. To me as a person, I find these levels of fragmentation confusing.

Of course — there are company-internal and group-internal secrets and plenty of good reason not to be open about everything all the time. And it’s often unwise or illegal to be open — and for good reason — and sometimes it’s just downright hard. But come on: if we’re honest, how much of what we’re closed about is really going to be a competitive secret? Like the good folks at Metaweb say regarding Freebase — is it really a competitive disadvantage if companies share their information about coffees (I think it was Colin Evans who said this at the Web 2.0 Expo)? Some of it is simply about being generous with information — and your person. So time and again I return to just how amazing it is when people *do* cast away these boundaries and access levels (for whatever reason) and truly “come out” in whatever way they want to, without having to think “Oh no — who’s going to see this? I better not say it then.”

That “fear-to-the-wind” moment is what happened to me last weekend, and you can ridicule my anxiety if you want, but I asked for and found a new place for the connection I needed, and furthermore, in the process know a little bit more about those environments in which I thrive best.

Opening up – I don’t care whether it’s to your colleague or to a total stranger or to the passenger next to you – that is the fight-or-flight, and that is the key.



mary donovan and i careened into a laughing fit at the circus in moscow in 1985. way down on the stage, performers were smashing swords together, and every time metal hit metal, cool sparks would fly from the swords. when we saw this, we screamed “sparks” – at the very same time the music and the audience fell silent.

i don’t like to fly much. that is, i don’t like to feel like i will crash during takeoff (or any other time!). this is no secret. but the flight home from cleveland last night went as well as any other, and the turbulence was only as bad as a bad muni ride. the cool part, however, was watching the cloud-to-cloud lightning at 39,000 feet, something like the sparks flying all around at the circus. we were flying towards the glow of the long sunset, navigating through the tops of dark thunderheads, and the sky just kept blinking and sparking, blinking and sparking…

i saw my first fireflies over the weekend. i felt like a city fool. there we were, just after sunset on the back lawn of a big house in the middle of ohio, and suddenly i saw a spark rise up from the lawn. then, there were more. mostly under the trees. everyone around was talking about how there weren’t as many as there have been in previous years. i thought it was just so cool; they kept rising up, like ashes sparking up from flames. sparking and rising, sparking and rising …

appropriate, since leanne and i prepared for the trip last wednesday night (so long ago…) by dining at one of our favorites, firefly.

people fly. they seem to do it all the time. you can actually see some pretty cool things. and cleveland, well it was pretty neat, and the rivers don’t catch on fire any more.

flying by surprise

flying by surprise

swinging at venice beach

when i dare to become powerful, 
it becomes less and less important
whether i am afraid

or something like that, said audre lorde.

perhaps my fear of flight ties into trouble feeling good or doing well or being powerful — or maybe just being recognized as feeling/doing/being as said. this nervousness seems to tie in somewhere to the giddiness about breast surgery, as well as the fears and perhaps even guilt that i have felt.

at any rate, i flew. but i flew by surprise. so i’m not sure whether to feel good or proud about it or not. but therein lies the grain of salt, the bother, perhaps the pearl itself.

here’s how it happened… as quoth from the bbs:

leanne wanted to do something special to celebrate my biopsy and its results, so she blocked last weekend, april 25-27, out on the calendar. i met her after work on friday and she led me to BART. just when we came up out of the tunnel on the oakland side, she broke the news that we had a 7:40 reservation on JetBlue to Long Beach. now… in my mind, i translated this – momentarily – to “we have a 7:40 reservation… for DINNER”, and all was well – but when she then produced a valium from her bag and said we were visiting ted in venice beach, i knew something was seriously up. she thought of everything – the valium (though i thought of flying the trip back without it, watching those planes before takeoff just sent me a bit far), the rubber band (!), the aisle seat, up as far front as possible, the preboarding.

the flight itself — it’s great! all great; i love the banking in the air, the view, and i love jetBlue! the (faux?) leather seats and the tv on every seatback… the wacky crew… the new A320’s. a little hard on the first landing – but leanne says that’s because computers control it — nose down so hard? she even chose the least intimidating airports she could think of — oakland is great, just take BART — and long beach — why, that’s practically like a small train station, and you even walk across the tarmack to get on and off the plane.

in venice, we went to a dinner where ted introduced us to his good friends and they and everyone in town seemed to be in on my trip, looking at me and wanting to know how the flight was. at first, it felt a bit humiliating, but then i realized nobody was saying “it’s so much safer than driving… the fear is silly… you shouldn’t worry… etc” – people were curious and understanding – one even shared his deep fear of dogs. it was really nice that way…
later, when i was talking about some past guilt i have about a relationship, leanne looked at me and said — have you never gotten over this guilt, and you feel like you don’t deserve to live through beautiful plane flights, instead doomed to crash and die? a thought that had occurred in the past…
but in the meantime, there’s valium – and – this time – total lack of anticipation.

of course the problem is this is not really practicable for that wedding in august i said i can’t go to, and i’m not running to purposefully fly anytime soon… but i did have a good time flying this last weekend… and would like to learn how to fly helicopters or something, since i seem to like it so much.

some doubtless will not understand this particular fear and babble, perhaps even dismissively. but everyone’s, for sure, got their own little spiders, dogs, and dark places — this i am sure of … as also of the freedom — and okay, the power — of overcoming them.