Looking back, the effectiveness of the martial-style training alarms me. In half a day they’d cauterised our instinct to ask why or how. We couldn’t change our minds, they’d stripped us of minds to change. When my number was called I crawled obediently to the front of the aircraft and crouched in position. There was no door, just a square hole between me and open sky. The wind muscled in as though trying to push me back inside the plane. There was comfort in that. Then the engine cut out. The air was still. The plane was still. I wondered how it didn’t drop like a stone. A red-moustached fireman barked at me to loosen my grip on the doorframe but my bones and muscles felt like they were retracting inside me. I was inhuman, unreal. There was nothing left of me but fear.
The instructor swore later than he hadn’t helped me along, but when he yelled for me to go I sensed something light, like a fingertip at the base of my spine, tilting it forward, and suddenly I was out there in the immense, clear blue. I looked up at the plane racing away from me, then it was obscured as the chute opened with a roar of coloured silk. The harness yanked as the parachute took my weight and the world around cleared and stilled. A woodpigeon flew past, so close it felt like a companion. And the ground below grew larger and more distinct.
Please forgive the evangelical preacher tone of this post (ain’t Faith jes like that parachute jump!) but right now each time I sit down to write the sensations of that jump return. Paralysis at the enormity of the task, physical terror at writing to what feels like an impossible deadline.
A publisher wants to see the whole book by the end of August. Some of it is so ragged it may as well have been written in tongues, and my kids are waging a guilt war against the computer, standing outside the study during my allotted hour of writing time which they feel is rightfully theirs, to stage whisper to each other, ‘She won’t play tickle tournaments. She only wants to write her book.’ Each day I sit terrorised for what feels like hours but may only be minutes or seconds, staring at the black insects of words on the screen or page, unable to decipher them, and then suddenly I’m airborne, senses restored, able to appreciate a bit-part character or recognise how a scene must be re-pitched. But it’s that moment of sheer terror before beginning, that white-out of the mind that comes from pressure to perform which I need to overcome. Walking out onto the page is like stepping into thin air. And sometime a self-imposed martial command is necessary to tilt us into it, so we don’t scuttle, defeated, back to the safety of family and Facebook. But once there, the sensations are exquisite. It’s worth the risk.