As we count down the days of summer on our hands and feet and we prepare for yet another tour around the academic merry-go-round, some of us are squeezing in leisure activities that become increasingly harder to do amidst trigonometry tests, English exams, soccer practices and musical rehearsals.
Some summer revelers go to amusement parks, where their bodies travel in directions that defy the typical linear motion from our beds to our cars to our offices.
What is it about those moments when we fly around the corner of a roller coaster, or when we tilt back and forth in a machine that moves incredibly quickly that people find so thrilling? Is it the feeling of our stomachs moving inside our bodies, the moment when we experience something completely new and more akin to that which another animal, like a bird, might feel — or is it something more basic?
The answers depend on who you are and what you consider fun. I think, however, at the base of these wild rides is something we share in different degrees and circumstances. We enjoy the moment between when we exercise what we feel is the usual level of control over our lives, and that instant which balances between thrill and terror when we give up control.
Yes, I know there are people who crave control to such a degree that almost all the decisions they make seem rooted in the power to influence each element or variable in their lives. To return to a scene from childhood, they are holding a crayon in their hand and carefully staying within the lines of life’s coloring book.
Maybe I wasn’t enough of an artist, or maybe I just enjoyed the entropy that comes from my universe which always seems to be moving toward a greater state of disorder, but those undirected marks outside the lines always seemed so liberating. The lines were the equivalent of someone instructing me to, “Do this, stay here, do that.” My squiggly and nonrepresentational lines were enshrined in my response: “No, thanks.”
Recently, my son, brother and I went sailing in a strong wind. My brother, who captained the small boat, delighted at the sudden surge of speed as we flew across Port Jefferson Harbor. We were flying through the water at speeds that rivaled nearby motorboats, leaving behind a bubbly, foamy water trail. After several trips back and forth, the wind picked up enough strength that it submerged half of the boat. We heeled so far that my brother and son were heading toward the water. Still planted on the higher side of the boat, I reached for my son’s life jacket and held on, trying to use our combined weight to keep us from capsizing.
Seconds before we reached that tipping point, however, my brother let the sails out, dumping the wind and righting the ship just in time. While the outing was enjoyable up to that point, it reached a whole new level of excitement, especially for my son, who couldn’t wait to tell his cousins about how we started to tip. Naturally, their reaction was to put on their bathing suits, grab their life jackets and head for the boat.
So, what is it about those out-of-control moments that are so enjoyable, particularly in the retelling? Maybe, it’s just that — for the precise instant when gravity seems optional, when our routine experiences aren’t enough to allow us to predict the future with certainty the way we can with so many other things — anything is possible. And our minds, like our bodies, jump into the excitement of the unknown.