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The acclaimed author of Fire in the Belly presents an exhilarating memoir of his late-blooming love affair with the flying trapeze--and a provocative look at the potential it offers for growth, transformation, and overcoming deeply rooted fears.
An unprecedented adventure of the soul and psyche, Learning to Fly teaches us to soar on the wings of possibility as we watch Sam Keen and his students progress through breathtaking exercises on the trapeze which they use as a vehicle for exploring the challenges and dilemmas of life. As he describes takeoffs, knee hangs, and thrilling midair catches, Keen imparts moving revelations about risk-taking, trust, bravado, living more passionately, true strength, falling, and letting go. Guiding us on a remarkable inner journey through the "circus of the mind," Learning to Fly reveals the grace of ascending in body and spirit--and living with levity.
|Publisher:||Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.19(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.65(d)|
About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
Prologue: A Philosopher in Midair
I didn't begin practicing the flying trapeze until two months before my sixty-second birthday.
But I always dreamed of flying.
The world I inhabited as a boy living in Boaz, Alabama; Maryville, Tennessee; and Wilmington, Delaware, was divided into quadrants--home, school, church, and woods.
Our home was rich in love, filled with music and biblical religion of a Calvinistic nature that made us more concerned with church and righteousness than with secular learning or success. Bible and prayer were daily bread, and on Sunday we sat together in the oak pew and listened to the preacher talking about the second coming of Jesus and the ascension of the chosen of the Lord. Ours was a three-story universe in which Heaven and Hell were more familiar than New York City. We lived in expectation of the apocalypse, had faith in the mercy of God, but worked diligently at being both orthodox in our beliefs and scrupulous in our morality.
School, I knew, was necessary but was not an arena in which I experienced either excellence or joy. It was only when I could escape to the woods that my spirit soared and I was free.
Trees, as every boy knows, are for climbing and getting high, and my brother, Lawrence, and I made every effort to break the bonds of earth and live aloft. Even before we saw Tarzan or Kipling's Jungle Book, we knew that we were meant to be airborne. We searched out the trees along the creek that were hung with grapevines and learned to swing from tree to tree, finally falling into a thick mass of what we called pig-vines. When we tired of vines, we climbed to the top of nubile pines and rode the crests to the ground, hoping our weight would not snap the bowed trunks. I spent spellbound hours looking for indigo buntings and lying on my back watching changing cloud pictures. When it was time to go home we checked in and out as quickly as possible, took a supply of peanut-butter sandwiches, and adjourned to our tree houses in the far reaches of the backyard. When the rival neighborhood gang--the Long boys--began to threaten our castles in the trees, we spent our scarce dollars for hemp rope that we could climb, pull up, and be secure from attack. Once we found a large warehouse that was filled with cottonseeds, and before we were discovered and thrown out by the watchman, we climbed onto the highest rafters, jumped and fell into the gentle sea of seeds so many times that we began to feel at home in midair.
One mythic day in a time before I was counting my years, my father took us to the circus. I would like to tell you that I remember the big top, the peanuts, the balloons, the parade of elephants, the lion tamer, and the pratfalling clowns--I know they must have been there, but the truth is, I retain only one memory from that day, a single image so vivid that it has cast all others into an obscure background. I can see it still--I am sitting slightly to the left of the center ring, at an angle where I am looking up through the net. My hands are sweating as I watch the trapeze artists warming up. Then a flyer swings out over the crowd, reaches the high point of his arc, releases the trapeze, and . . . remains poised in midair. Logic tells me he must have been airborne for only a fragment of a second before he reached the hands of the catcher, but in my memory all action stopped and he was freeze-framed--a winged creature, a man in flight, free from the bondage of time and gravity.
The flying man soared into the center of my imagination and remained there. At the time, he seemed to be the furthest extension of everything I loved--trees for climbing, soaring birds, freedom from restraint--and I began to fantasize that someday I would be a trapeze artist. The day after the circus my brother and I went to the hardware store, bought a length of pipe and some rope, and rigged up our first trapeze from a tree in the front yard. Before the day was out we had swung so long that we developed mysterious pains in our stomachs, which Dr. Ellis assured our parents were nothing more than an occupational hazard of budding trapeze performers.
My first childhood ended in 1943 when the rope swings, the trapeze, and the life in the woods all disappeared, and we moved from Tennessee to Wilmington, Delaware, a city dominated by DuPont's promise of better things, for better living, through chemistry. My heart sank when I saw block after block of neat suburban houses and the mammoth high school in which I was to be incarcerated for six years, with its endless halls and rows of anonymous, olive-drab lockers. Even today I dream that I can neither find my locker nor remember the combination of the lock.