Or: Get me drunk at a party and I will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about plane crashes.
I’ve run out of plane crash documentaries to watch on all of the streaming apps I have. That includes all 13 seasons of Air Disasters, which I burned through in less than a year. The obsession started after the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019. I had been flying a lot for work, most of it overseas, and the brutal nature of this particular crash shook me. When it was quickly linked to the Lion Air Flight 610 crash six months earlier and all Boeing 737 Max planes were grounded, I wanted an answer to the same question everyone else was asking. Exactly how the fuck does something like this happen?
When something scares the shit out of me, my reaction is to learn everything I can about it. It’s my way of bringing the monsters out of the dark scary closet and into the light. It doesn’t necessarily make them less scary, but it makes my fears more manageable. It can perhaps be best summed up by H.P. Lovecraft’s take on fear. He may have been a racist piece of shit and a terrible writer, but his understanding of what truly scares people is worth noting.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
―H.P. Love Craft
Not to toot my own horn, but I am really good at imaging worst-case scenarios. If you’re ever feeling really good about something you’re doing, and you can’t see how things could possibly go wrong, feel free to hit me up! I will send you a quote for my killjoy consultancy services. I assure you that my anxiety is very thorough and my scenarios will be rooted in plausible outcomes. I suppose this is why I write horror. Or rather, why whatever work fiction I try to write ends up being horror on some level whether I intend it or not. But for better or for worse, it’s a part of who I am at this point and I’m mostly OK with it.
When it comes to my fear of plane crashes, my deep-diving into air disaster investigations has actually left me encouraged. Unlike most objectively terrifying things beyond my control, plane crashes are thoroughly investigated. The vast majority of crashes are survivable, we just tend to hear the most about the ones that aren’t. Whenever I fly now, I always read the safety cards and take note of where the exits are (a good habit in any public space). I always wear sneakers and bring layers. I know to never inflate the life jacket while on the plane because that’s how people get trapped. As scared as I am of crashes, I’m even more terrified of closed spaces and drowning.
“Monsters are real. Ghosts are real too. They live inside us. And sometimes, they win.”
The common trait among my fears is a lack of control. As soon as the plane rockets down the runway, my life is in the hands of the flight crew and maintenance technicians. I can wear the right shoes and memorize the exits, but what the fuck am I going to do if the engine malfunctions? I think the most unnerving thing I unearthed was the alarming number of crashes have been the result of cost-cutting measures taken by airlines and manufacturers. People I’ve never met may have already made decisions that could lead to my death. It’s a less than comforting thought.
The same goes for my fears of addiction, closed spaces, and being buried alive. The inability to move or take control of the situation is what drives my heart rate up. It’s all of the things that my worst-case scenario planning can’t account for. It’s also why I hate horror movies that rely on characters making really dumb decisions in order to have a plot. Sure, there are plenty of people who do stupid things in the face of danger. Just look at all of the people who won’t even take the basic step of wearing a mask during a global pandemic. But for me, there’s nothing more terrifying than being trapped and out of options.
“Find out what you’re afraid of and go live there.”
I’m not alone in leaning into my fears as a means of putting them at ease. Take the phenomenon of True Crime, for example. It’s an entire genre of books, podcasts, documentaries, and conventions there are dedicated to some of the most horrific acts perpetrated by humans. Is it just a morbid fascination with other people’s tragedies? Or is it driven by a deep-seated fear of our own mortality? I would argue that one begets the other; our fears drive the fascination. It’s the same base instinct that renders us unable to look away from a car wreck. It’s the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach saying “that could be me; that could be someone I love.”
One of the best examples of the genre is Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. For me, the most compelling and relatable aspect of the book (and subsequent HBO docuseries) is the writer’s obsession. Not only did she coin the name Golden State Killer and lay the groundwork for them eventually catching the guy, but her obsession became a tragedy of its own. For the record, I’m not psychoanalyzing true crime fans as though I’m above it. I binge-watched all of the new Unsolved Mysteries the day they came out. I tend to like the weirder stuff that verges on paranormal, but that’s because the unexplainable shit scares me the most. That’s what drives my need to find out everything I can.
In a way, I’ve always been like this. I’m either completely disinterested in learning something, or I become obsessed and need to know every detail. Just look at what I’m doing with the Goosebumps books. I couldn’t just re-read a few of my childhood favorites. No, I had to track down original printings of every book, commit to reading all of them in numerical order, and then write 62 elaborate reviews. I only deal in extremes, apparently. My best hope that this process of leaning into the things that scare me the most will make me a better writer. That by picking them apart and putting them back together, I will get at the core of that which is truly terrifying. I have a few writing projects in the works that will aim to do just that. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for telling anyone who will listen to every detail they never wanted to know about plane crashes.