Air and Opportunity: World Domination Summit 2014

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A lesson from the very first WDS. It’s only just now sinking in.

Back in grade school, whenever there was static between any of the kids, one of the favorite refrains spouted by the mouthier of the two was, “ain’t nothing between us but air and opportunity.” Of course, this was said as a stalling tactic, as neither of the kids wanted to be the first to throw a punch. But the concept still resonates with me to this day:

There is nothing in front of me but air and opportunity.

I actually vocalized a version of that phrase this past weekend at the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. Despite the snarkily ominous name, this annual two-day conference, organized by unconventional non-conformist Chris Guillebeau, is all about out-of-the-box thinking, positive energy, personal (and professional) connections, and do-gooding. I had the absolute good fortune to be at the first WDS in 2010, a moment of  dare I say  magic, where a few hundred current and would-be world changers got together, with no expectations, to reaffirm that it is indeed okay to forge one’s own path, and to see what kind of impactful projects can come from allying with like-minded individuals.

Let me be clear: at almost $500, the ticket price isn’t cheap. I’ve heard people say that it’s cheaper than other conferences, but many of those people seem unable to relate to those of us with finite financial resources and who rarely attend conferences. But the fellowshipping and inspiration that happen at this event makes WDS a downright steal; it’s an investment in self. And this event allows volunteers to attend sessions and associated events for free, so there are ways to access the magic without going broke.

But the magic, nay power, of possibility is what it’s all about. At that first conference, all of us were attracted to or intrigued by Chris’ mastery of travel hacking and his quest to visit every country in the world by his 35th birthday. The speakers inspired the attendees in unexpected ways, and I ended up meeting gracious and engaging long-term travelers Jo and Marvin of Intrepid Motion, gregarious Rog Law, freshmaker Abe Cajudo, fly sista Nailah Hayward, and humble heartthrob Mike Hrostoski, just as the seeds of his new career as a life coach were being planted. I also encountered a trifecta of powerful, electric ladies  Karen Walrond, Desiree Adaway, Pam Slim  who have subsequently been incredibly inspirational and instrumental in my personal and professional development, and who I love talking to any chance I get. The major takeaway was that I already had everything I need for greatness. I am believed in, even when my own confidence in self flounders.

This year, I was able to reconnect with some of the incredible people I met first go round, but I also had the double pleasure of meeting a slew of interesting folks (including three fans of Fly Brother), as well as connecting with good friends from other places and times in my life who happened to be attending WDS as well. Some of the speakers were better than others, but I didn’t go for them; I went to meet, and meet up with, people.

But what does all this connecting mean? It means gleaning wisdom from free-thinkers and people desirous of seeing others succeed. It means thinking about my own career as a writer, educator, speaker, and traveler in ways that I had never considered before. It means knowing that I already have everything I need for greatness. It means there is nothing in front of me but air and opportunity.

One of the young ladies I met the first day of the conference, a fly sister and reader of the blog, mentioned to me that she’d just quit her office job and, when I asked her what she planned to do next, she said “there’s nothing in front of me.”

I said, “No…there’s air in front of you. You’re flying.”

Air and opportunity.

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I Am Afraid

Doubt and Fear

I am afraid.
I’m afraid of choosing the wrong path.
I’m afraid of getting lost.
I’m afraid of regret.
I’m afraid of missing out.
I’m afraid I’m not smart enough.
I’m afraid of being inarticulate.
I’m afraid of being ridiculous.
I’m afraid of being mediocre.
I’m afraid of never being a published author.
I’m afraid of being a published author, but a commercial (or worse, critical) failure.
I’m afraid I won’t ever realize my full potential.
I’m afraid of always being broke.
I’m afraid of fucking up.
I’m afraid my people – black people – will always be marginalized, forever, and that people – non-black people – really just don’t give a shit.
I’m afraid of people – guys, mostly – acting “funny” because I’m gay.
I’m afraid of losing my looks.
I’m afraid there’s not enough time.
I’m afraid of getting fat again.
I’m afraid I have ADD (seriously, I can’t focus for shit).
I’m afraid of getting physically or mentally ill.
I’m afraid of Alzheimer’s and strokes and shitting on myself.
I’m afraid of getting old.
I’m afraid of the 21st Century (WTFITCS?!).
I’m afraid of losing loved ones before I’m ready to let them go.
I’m afraid of disappointing my parents.
I’m afraid of cheating on my partner.
I’m afraid of catching something when people don’t cover their mouths when they cough.
I’m afraid of becoming bitter.
I’m afraid of not living my best life.

I am afraid every single fucking day of my life. Because all of these risks, dangers, challenges, troubles, and eventualities are real, possible, probable. And so what? Am I supposed to stay in bed until time to go to work at a dead-end job, eating store-brand ice cream and masturbating, afraid to step outside my door? Hardly.

It’s not even a question of fighting fear, really. It’s walking right past that fear as if it didn’t exist. Not that fear doesn’t cause me anxiety, trepidation, or stress. But it’s useless anxiety, trepidation, and stress, so there’s nothing left but to walk past it. And I do it every day. Because for every one of those fears, there’s an unfear – an unfear of flying, an unfear of going someplace where I don’t know the language, an unfear of asking strangers for help, an unfear of engaging in passionate discussions about life, an unfear of escaping my comfort zone, an unfear of trying – I am just as unafraid as I am afraid. More unafraid, even. It’s true; sometimes, the forces of fear win a battle or two. But it’s unfear that has the nuclear bomb in its arsenal.

I repeat: I am unafraid.

You repeat: I am unafraid.

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Special, heartfelt thanks to Mike Hrostoski, men’s coach and powerlifting yogi, who openly discusses his fears as he prepares for his first ever Conference for Men, and to soul brother and secret superhero Rogue Priest, whose spiritual and worldly musings regularly inspire in me reflection and awe.

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From the AV Room: Time Lapse Airport Ops

8 Hrs at LAX. Image by Mike Kelley

8 Hrs at LAX. Image composed by Mike Kelley.

By now, it should be no secret that Fly Brother is an aviation geek, particularly when it comes to airports and airlines. Even as a kid, I collected Wooster snap-fit model airplanes, memorized airport codes, read the OAG, designed my own mega-airport in the mold of Hartsfield-Jackson (only with more runways, more concourses, and serviced by every major airline on the planet), and created my own version of Monopoly in which players snapped up hub airports in lieu of streets.

Now that I actually work out on the ramp, stacking bags and voguing with glowsticks and whatnot, I can’t help but watch these videos and pay attention to the littlest details, like the baggage carts whirling around the planes and the tiny but powerful tractors that push the planes back from the gates. Here are a few of my favorite time lapse airport operations videos (and a stunning computer-generated map of air traffic flow over northwestern Europe). The music on the Paris vid is particularly fly. Enjoy!





Europe 24 from NATS on Vimeo.

 

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The Not-So-Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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On a plane over the Atlantic Ocean, I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the modern film adaptation of a Depression-era short story about an unremarkable everyman stricken by sporadic daydreams of heroism. In the story, mundane tasks inspire epic flights of fancy in the mind of the protagonist, who appears zoned out to the rest of the world. The film, however, takes a mild-mannered photo developer for Life magazine out of his fantasies and sends him on a dizzying adventure to Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan. Actually, the film takes us along for the ride.

To be certain, seeing Walter Mitty, mousy and unsure, morph into a ruggedly handsome philosopher-hero is to witness Hollywood cliché. And it’s easy to dismiss as corny the abridged Life magazine mantra displayed throughout the film (see image above). But on that airplane, I drank in every panoramic mountain vista, swam in every lush measure of the soundtrack, and swallowed whole each word of that mantra, because I am a true believer. I know first-hand the power of travel, of conquering fear, of exploring the unknown, of accomplishing the extraordinary. But more, I’ve been blessed to interact with, to be drawn closer to other people who also know this power intimately. Extraordinary people who give little girls the world in the form of a small, blue, 32-page book with an eagle on the front. People who coach men on becoming better men, who kayak down the coast of Texas in search of solace and solitude, who supply menstrual pads to school-aged girls in developing countries, who move to New York then Buenos Aires then Boston when the mood strikes, or whose hobby is slowly but steadily becoming a profession. People raising their biracial daughters or autistic sons as single mothers in foreign countries or foreign cultures, who unexpectedly fall in love with a certain city and then make that place home, who connect compatriots worldwide, who capture the essence of life for posterity. People who do oh so many more extraordinary, epic things.

The examples are all around us; it’s really no secret at all. An epic life, an extraordinary life isn’t just for the movies. And it isn’t just for people who throw off the yoke of conventionality to go live in Bali and trade stocks over the Internet. It’s about recognizing epic moments that already happen in your life – running on the beach, hugging a loved one, laughing with friends – and embracing them, then devising a way to maximize the frequency and duration of epic-ness in your life. It’s not always easy, and right now, it may only be five minutes a week. But in a few weeks, months, years, extraordinary could be your new ordinary. Walter Mitty reminded me that, despite my own fears, inadequacies, conflicts, or difficulties, extraordinary is already my ordinary. I plan on keeping it that way.

So, who’s down for a trip to Greenland?

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It’s 2014. Create. Inspire. Travel. Live.

Fly Brother 2014 - Be Authentic.It’s a new year. Now’s the time to embrace your goals, your desires, your dreams and passions and make them reality. For me, 2014 is all about authenticity. This means that my actions and activities will involve engaging my own interests and talents – not ignoring my responsibilities as a son, partner, and friend, of course – but building a life with maximum fulfillment and minimal regret, on my own terms. It won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth the effort.

In 2014, make magic in your own life.

Create.

Inspire.

Travel.

Live.

“Unite rhythm with words, and they will unlock to empower you.”
-Ms. Tebbit, Were the World Mine

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Fly Favorites: July 2013

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Ella Fitzgerald passport

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Happy 85th Birthday, Pan Am!

On October 19, 1927, a tiny seaplane flew mail for the U.S. Postal Service a quick 90 miles, from Key West to Havana, in a little over an hour. Within the next few decades, the company that sent that air mail to Cuba would be the first to launch commercial airline service across the Pacific Ocean, the first American carrier to fly jet aircraft, the first airline to use a custom-built computerized reservation system, and the first airline to fly the Boeing 747. This company founded the internationally renowned InterContinental hotel chain, built the world’s largest commercial office building when it opened in 1963, and connected 86 countries on 6 continents by 1968. This company transported Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor and Sean Connery and The Beatles. Towards the end of its life, this company facilitated economical air travel for the common man. But for the first half of its life, this company—Pan American World Airways—ushered in the Jet Age, created the Jet Set, and epitomized the glamour, sophistication, and absolute magic of intercontinental air travel.

Pan Am, sadly, ceased operations in 1991, after 64 years. And like a screen legend from the Golden Age of Hollywood, all we have left to remember her by are a few well-preserved artifacts, fading memories from previous generations who experienced her at her most vivacious, and flickering images that captured her at her peak—bittersweet reminders that the Golden Age of Travel, or at least the one we choose to imagine, is an era long passed.

For more colorful history, read about Pan Am’s first black pilot, Marvin Jones, and one of Pan Am’s “Black Birds,” Dr. Sheila Nutt, both part of a select group of black flight crew members hired after 1965. And if you’ve got an hour, take a gander at this phenomenal BBC documentary about Pan Am, which tells the story of the company’s rise and fall, the stringent physical standards for stewardesses, salacious tales of flight crew sex lives, and includes commentary by the pilot impostor who wrote Catch Me If You Can:

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Life on the Road

Since July, I’ve been to nine countries on five continents, and I don’t think I’ve spent more than five nights in any one location, with the exception of a 7-day cruise with my family where my movement was essentially limited to the Lido Deck.

During these past two months, I’ve had immovable work deadlines and perilously-late paychecks, last-minute press trips and schmooze-soaked travel conferences, a sobering near-breakup and a sobering death in the family. I’ve juggled professional, personal, and social spheres, seeing friends and family whenever I could and taking on writing assignments as frequently as possible. I have pressures to maintain a positive cash flow, maintain a long-distance relationship, maintain personal relationships, maintain professional growth, maintain a blog and a social media presence, maintain my physical health, maintain my sanity. My fingernails are bitten down to the bloody cuticle. ‘Taint no vacation we’re talking about here.

Life on the road is still life—uncut and unadulterated life, with bills, headaches, disappointments, and unrealized goals. At the end of the day, uncompleted items remain on each to-do list, and at the end of the month, a few days on the bank statement inevitably glow red (for now). But it’s the hope for a fulfilling life that keeps me advancing through air and uncertainty instead of coasting on autopilot through a manufactured existence in service to someone who isn’t me but who profits from my talents and resources. It’s the hope that I’ll eventually get as close to “figuring it all out” as I can, that the effort and striving and leaps of faith will turn into something materially-tangible, yes, but more than that—something soul-calming. Something fulfilling. With as few regrets as possible.

Because there’s nowhere any of us can go to escape uncut and unadulterated life, no country or continent where real life won’t intrude suddenly and without warning. The key to hope—and fulfillment—is to embrace, then face the challenges, tackling each one like a wave on the ocean of adventure.

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