To be kept spellbound

As soon as we started to climb the hill, I knew I had made a mistake.

Hours into my second visit to Cedar Point, I decided it was time for me to ride my first roller coaster. Living in nearby Michigan, trips to Sandusky, Ohio and its well-known amusement park were a summer ritual. My family fully embraced the various thrills the park offered, while I spent my time revisiting the House of Mirrors. Though my parents and sisters didn’t seem to think less of me for my steadfast desire to remain on solid ground, I had a nagging sense that I was missing out on a right of passage. The books and movies for kids tell the reliable tale of a protagonist summoning the courage to overcome a fear. I was convinced that my own story was working toward this particular act of bravery.

So, I wandered the park intensely observing the possibilities, eventually choosing Gemini. The decision made no sense; Gemini was then known as the tallest and fastest roller coaster anywhere. From a distance, though, I convinced myself that it was a smooth, even tranquil ride compared to the twisting alternatives. Plus, by starting at the top, I would avoid a series of escalating challenges.

I convinced my dad of my sound mind and the attendant of my just-tall-enough body and we settled into our seats. I was nervous, but optimistic, as was my dad. That lasted as long as it took the coaster to turn and began its slow ascent to the 125-foot peak.

With each click of the tracks I became more terrified. I turned to my dad and said, “I don’t want to do this.” I meant it with my entire being. “I don’t want to do this! I want to get off!”

I’ll never forget the look on his face. My nightmare was his nightmare. I was trapped, but so was he. As a parent now, I feel his anguish nearly as much as mine. What is harder that having someone you love plead for your help and not be able to do anything for them?

“Make it stop!” I don’t remember if he said anything. Stunned by this unexpected turn, he was both exceedingly sympathetic and helpless.

In an interview, author Jenny Offill spoke about the struggle to develop a trajectory in a story about someone or something coming apart.

I remember with my first book, I was talking to a friend of mine, and I said, “The problem is, I don’t think it has any plot at all.” And he said, “Well, descent is a plot.”

In my case, the descent was 118 feet at 60mph. I remember gripping the bar in front me, consumed by the plummeting sensation. I kept my eyes closed through the second hill and the many turns. Resigned to my fate, I didn’t scream in fear or protest. This wasn't the hero's journey I had imagined; I felt defeated.

Then, 2:20 minutes later, the ride was over. I opened my eyes. My dad’s were full of relief. “You made it!”

“Yeah,” I mumbled, unconvinced.

“You had me scared back there. I thought you were going to try to climb out.”

I laughed. He smiled, but he wasn’t joking.

We walked away, slowly feeling better about our accomplishment. That was the only time we road a roller coaster together, though. Some things need only be experienced once.

I’ve thought about those 140 seconds often. I'm grateful he was there, next to me in that moment, even if there was nothing to be done. I only realized later that it was a small expression of love in its most selfless form.

I would do anything in the world to fix this, but I can’t.

So, I’m going to stay right here next to you, and we’ll ride this out together.

Hold on.


The latest dispatch asked, Who is the best storyteller you know?

Pat wrote:

My two absolute favourites - for picking one is just too hard - are Daniel Kitson and Neil Gaiman. They are both masters of the English language, are wonderfully creative, and are great at not only crafting stories but reading them aloud (and in Daniel’s case, performing them). Often, the stories are filled with heart and humour, and they’re my favourite. I’ve been lucky enough to be kept spellbound on several occasions by each of them, and I cherish those moments deeply.
Daniel has very little of his work available online - he rarely records his shows, but the audio of one of his collaborations with musician Gavin Osborn is for sale cheap and highly recommended: The Ballad of Roger and Grace. Neil’s work, as an established author, is found in almost any bookshop - American Gods, Anansi Boys, and Stardust are my picks.

Radhika wrote:

The best storyteller I know is my dad. He's thoughtful, smart, witty and has an incredible sense of humor. He's traveled widely, met plenty of interesting people over the years, and done some adventurous things, all of which gives him lots of material. He's also great at the craft - he knows how to set the story up, to pace it and to deliver the punchline. Things I wish I could do! He has this sparkly personality and is very charming too, which make him great to listen to, but it also helps him to get away with more than he ought to sometimes! I'm lucky to have him.

Ryan wrote:

“Best” is a pretty high title to award, but at the very least one of the best storytellers I know is my pastor and friend, Scott. He seems to have a story for everything. In part, that’s because he’s led an interesting life and made interesting choices, but I’ve noticed that people who always have a story ready are often just people who can turn a mundane incident into an anecdote. Scott has that gift—and he’d be even better at it if I wasn’t always interrupting with questions.

Uncommon reads

Is Technology Making People Less Sociable?

Yes, writes Dr. Larry Rosen:

We tap out brief missives and believe that we are being sociable, but as psychologist Sherry Turkle has so aptly said, we are only getting “sips” of connection, not real communication.

No, writes Dr. Keith N. Hampton:

In studies with my students and collaborators, we have found that Internet and cellphone users, and especially those who use social media, tend to have more diverse and a larger number of close relationships. What has changed is that communication technologies have made many of our relationships more persistent and pervasive.

Your turn

What's your favorite amusement park ride?