GPOYW: the faces of my skydiving trip. Before we took off, I mentioned to my instructor that I anticipated being paralyzed by fear, unable to move or think; he assured me that he was willing to force us from the plane without my participation, which made me happy. Indeed, it’s this that you pay for: someone to ensure that despite your cowardice you acquire this astonishing and indescribable experience, this radical compression and then expansion of perception, this freedom in the sky, this hideous confrontation with fear, this triumph of simple science.
When we reached the jump zone, my mind began to dissolve; as we slid down the bench towards the door of the plane —a short trip I don’t remember— I closed my eyes and ceased existing; it was a matter of fear, of course, but not of the painful struggle with fear one undertakes from time to time; I didn’t struggle at all; I didn’t even mind; this was at once fear’s brief and utter victory —a temporary obliteration of my perceptual-processing and reflective psychological systems— and its sorry irrelevance. I turned into howling viscera, but I was strapped to someone with a brain.
In the moments after I felt us start to fall, I completely came apart; I wasn’t even afraid; I was unable to perceive, process, analyze, and store the information I was gathering, and for several seconds I felt as though I were coming into and out of existence again and again: sky, sun, plane, blackness; mountains, wind, move my legs, blackness; blackness, screaming, wind, blackness.
Perhaps five seconds after we’d left the plane, the instructor tapped my shoulder to direct my attention to another skydiver filming us, and I was amazed to discover an elementary fact of my consciousness: the camera as synecdoche for society will awaken my performativity in the most incomprehensible of circumstances. As soon as I realized there were other humans there with me, waving and photographing me, I began to behave as a man photographed: I waved back, I made silly hand gestures, I sought to reassure the others that I was thrilled to be 10,000 feet in the air, and because I wanted them to know it, it became true.
The camera took over the entire sky; I had to force myself not to look at it. But its presence recomposed me, reintegrated my psyche; I began to think normally, although I rode recurrent waves of terror before settling into joy and awe. I felt created by expectations, rescued from the infinitude of fear and boundless organismic dissociation by the representative of your eyes, my eyes, all eyes.
"The way the camera watches us in slow-mo, the way we look to us all."