A friend of mine has decided his new year’s resolution is to read more and, more specifically, to read more widely. To accomplish his aim, he has asked various people – myself included – to recommend a book for him to read. The one that immediately sprang to my mind was Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. I’m going to give it some more thought, but I suspect that this is the one that I will suggest. It is a long-time favourite of mine and a book that I seem to tell everyone I know to read. Those who have take up my suggestion have returned mixed reviews, but it will always occupy a fond place in my heart. I first read it an impressionable age, about fourteen or so. I had come across two references to the novel within a week of each other and took that as a sign that I should read it. I did, and have read and re-read and re-read it countless time over the years since.
Many commentators discuss Fear of Flying’s rather raunchy nature and while I would not deny that it contains a lot of sexual content, I feel that this focus obscures Jong’s much bigger exploration of identity, freedom and independence. The book follows the protagonist, Isadora, on a voyage of self-discovery and her wrestling with her metaphorical – and literal – fear of flying. At fourteen, Isadora’s journey spoke deeply to me and it continues to do so right through to today. At this very moment, I am sitting in bed facing my own fear of flying – in this case, flying into my new job. I start tomorrow and I am terrified. I don’t know why I am so horrendously nervous. I am sure I am more than capable of doing the job. I think I will get on well with my boss. I’m actually looking forward to getting stuck into the tasks themselves. If I’m honest, I think my nerves are simply down to fear of the unknown. It’s all new: a new role; a new employer; a new place. The safety net of having done the job before or even knowing other people around me isn’t there. I’m scared of being in free fall. For the first time in years, I’m not working alongside doing my PhD, and even that feels unnerving – it makes the job seem so big, so all-consuming. It’s like coming to write something new – an ominous blank sheet of paper in front of me. The knotted feeling in my stomach is the same as when I get writer’s block. Having said that, I know full well that when I get writer’s block, the best thing I can do is simply sit at my desk and write. And I will apply that lesson to tomorrow. I will sit at my desk and work. As they say with regards to aviation, take off and landing are the trickiest and most dangerous parts. Once you get past the first bit, you can soar – right up into the air, the magical place of freedom.