Friday, July 11, 2014

I went to see one of my friends in a show a while ago. He didn't want to spoil anything for me, but he did warn me that his solo number would be kind of intense.

Intense how? I asked.

You'll see, he said.

He started out on his knees. His character had just seen his entire world end, literally and figuratively, around him, leaving him with the now-useless remnants of everything he'd spent his life working for.

He hit himself. He clawed at his precious papers and flung them into the audience. He threw himself at the stage like he was angry at the floor. He peeled away his clothes like he was peeling away his skin, and when that wasn't enough, he took his tie and wrapped it around his neck and twisted--

It's only a show, I reminded myself. But that was my friend up there. A friend I almost didn't get to meet, because something not too far removed from that had happened, once.

He looked my way a couple of times. I couldn't tell if he was seeing me. I couldn't tell if he was seeing anything. I don't know what expression I was wearing at the time, but it probably wouldn't have been what he was expecting.

The audience whooped and hollered, because that's what you do at a burlesque show when someone starts taking off their pants. One of the other dancers commented that it was probably the sexiest number he'd ever done, and if I pull up the eidetic clips and look at them from a stranger's point of view, I get it. Having his self-consciousness stripped away made all of his movements raw and wanton. But all I could think at the time was: They don't know what they're seeing.

They thought they were watching a melodrama with striptease. The entire show was B-movie bizarre; the frantic jumping and auto da fé fit in neatly with the aesthetic. I knew the story that ran beneath it, and all I could see was thinly-fictionalized self-destruction, a complete and utter decompensation re-enacted for an unsuspecting audience. Catharsis, disguised as entertainment.

It was extraordinary, and extraordinary difficult to watch.

I don't normally share these thoughts. I assume they're some sort of overly-romanticized twaddle. I also assume it doesn't matter if I indulge the overly-romanticized twaddle so long as I don't bother anyone else with it. So I go, and I watch, and I leave in silence. If anyone else wonders why, they can fill in their own reasons.

I did tell him about it. It took a lot of guts for him to tell me what was behind it in the first place. It would be a poor way to pay him back, not telling him the things that sparked off in my head because I'd listened.

He told me later that he prepares for that number by sitting in a corner backstage and pushing himself into a genuine breakdown. Someone always comes to check on him to make sure it isn't real. It isn't. Or it is. Somewhere in between the two.

I wasn't alarmed, quite. I already knew he did things like that when deeply frustrated and upset, if somewhat less over-the-top in real life. Hitting walls -- or, to be more accurate, using large unmovable things like walls to hit himself. I don't think I could stop it from the outside, and I'm not even sure I should try. It's a semi-controlled release. A boxer's fracture is a small thing, compared to what he could be doing to himself. It keeps him sane.

But it was very hard not to reach out and try to touch him, as his co-stars were half-towing, half-dragging him away at the end. He was not quite entirely back.

He takes a lot of physical and emotional risks when doing this. I find I am okay with that. Not that my opinion would stop him if I weren't; just that the part where he gets knocked about on stage isn't the part that makes it difficult to watch. He's not doing that for the pain. It's self-induced, it's goal-directed, and it does actually accomplish what he's setting out to do. He takes his art very seriously, and if he gets a few hefty bruises while giving a performance he's proud of, well, he'll heal.

He also takes a lot of other risks by default. He doesn't take care of himself while working on something like this, not because it's a necessary part of the process, but because he can't -- getting into the frame of mind he wants involves letting go of your sense of self-preservation. He abdicates responsibility for the boring mundane things because he's not capable of handling them himself, and he would rather gnaw his own ears off than dump the task on someone else. It doesn't help his performance; if anything, it hinders him, because by the time show night rolls around, he's spent so much on rehearsals that he has no reserves left to draw on.

I pointed out that he's tangling with altered states quite dangerously close to what the BDSMers call 'subspace' -- hard to pin down in a brief description, but the gist of it is, subspace is the state of mind that some submissives slip into where they give up all control in order to also give up their own internal constraints. It's a form of dissociation, albeit intentional. The dominant partner is not in command so much as they're handed responsibility for making sure the scene goes as planned, that all boundaries are respected, and for halting things immediately if the sub suddenly finds they're not okay. He's handing himself over to the producer/director and the other performers on the stage with him, when he's like that -- only they don't necessarily know that's what he's doing, because I don't think he's really explained it to them. I'm told the producer/director is kinky and has probably figured this out, but as for the rest of them, who knows? The ones he's working with right now are all friends and genuinely care about him, but one of these days he's going to try that with strangers, and it may not go so well.

I told him he needed a tripsitter when he does this, and he needs to pick someone he's comfortable with and charge them with his aftercare. I expected an argument -- he is independent to the point of self-destructive sometimes -- but he seemed to think the idea made sense. He has a girlfriend, who is the obvious choice, but since he has managed to find a version of subspace for his burlesque that is ironically not sexual in nature, he could honestly pick anyone he trusts.

I nominated myself. I've watched over other people, and been the one in need of watching. I'm not easy to scare. I've guessed a lot of the terrible things he wanted-didn't want to tell me already. And I can really only vouch for me. He has trouble accepting help from other people, but I've gotten him to do it before, and his art may be the one thing that manages to outweigh the combination of guilt and stubborn pride.

I suppose I won't know until he tries it again.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Hello, tumblr. I have no idea who found the fleebwanger story or how, but thank you for passing it around? You did give me a small heart attack when I noticed that my visitor count shot up fourfold over the course of about 24 hours. I thought the Blogger stats page was broken. I also don't know who's been tweeting or re-tweeting things, because the t.co links aren't searchable and don't trackback properly to your posted statuses.

I haven't been posting much lately, because I'm potted in work, involved in some theater productions, and sorting a few things out. Sorry! I'll fix it sooner or later. In the meantime, you can also find me on Facebook and Twitter. I think I technically have a tumblr and a Pinterest and a bunch of other things that I've signed up for, poked at for a week, an then totally lost interest in. I only regularly follow the newsfeeds of people I know IRL (or have known online for a long time), but I do peek in on the wider world from time to time, and if you message me directly with something that is not a misspelled pickup line, I'll probably respond to you sooner or later.

You can also email me at miss.arabella.flynn on Gmail, and it will get answered when it gets answered. I do cover reader questions from time to time. Asking about weird social things is not only acceptable, but encouraged. I'm a sociologist -- my diploma even says so! -- and I get into other people's heads for fun. I try to refrain from doing it too much to people I talk to face to face a lot, but a celebrity with a public body of work is fair game.

I also have a Patreon page, but am so far not all that impressed with their market penetration. It took them a while to iron out some of their PayPal troubles, but they seem to have it all working now. You're not required to give me money, of course, but if people do that I can spend more time writing and less time gnawing my fingernails off over paying bills. Also, this method is a lot less messy than sending tributes of food directly to my adorable pet rats.

Cheers, and enjoy the archives.

Friday, July 4, 2014

When I was a kid, I used to think that sitting by the bedside of someone who was sick or suffering was something people only did in movies. Like in The Princess Bride, where the frame story is a grandfather reading an adventure novel to his grandson, who is home sick from school. Or maybe something that people used to do in Good Middle Class Homes, where Mother's "only" job was to keep the house and tend to the kids, but which had slowly died out under the pressures of modern life.

Certainly, no one did it for me. I learned early on that it wasn't much good to ask my parents for comfort. I remember my mother running herself ragged when I had the chicken pox, but it stands out to me, because I can't remember her ever doing that before or since. The main result of pestering either parent for help was that they'd stand around being crabby, especially if I tried it in the middle of the night. When I was ten or so, I decided that I could just hold my own hair back if I had to throw up at 3am, and tell them I was too sick for school when they came to wake me in the morning. Sitting at my bedside, keeping me company in an effort to make me feel better, was right out.

And yet, I found myself doing just that a couple of weeks ago, for someone who wasn't actually dying but probably half wished he was. There's a long and in hindsight kind of funny story about how I got there, but the gist of it is, I have a friend whose brain likes to give him elaborately sadistic migraines. I don't function when I have a migraine because I get holes in my vision, I can't concentrate, and I'm a terrible human being when I'm in pain; he doesn't function when he has his because his entire brain goes into kernel panic and starts shutting down processes at random until it accidentally hits a stable state from which to reboot. If I'm free when it happens, I offer to come take proper care of him. Occasionally he says 'yes', and this kind of alarms me, because he's the sort of guy who would respond to a major limb dropping off by asking around for some duct tape while assuring everyone in earshot that he's FINE! JUST FINE! REALLY! and that he can totally finish his basketball game. If he accepts help, that basically means that he can feel his brain starting to drip out through his ears, and it hurts so much he can no longer muster an argument for why I would be wasting my time.

This one left him temporarily aphasic, ataxic, visually-impaired, and it also mucked around with his cognition. He apparently thought he was covering for it well enough to go to a rehearsal. (Protip: When you have a migraine this bad, you look like you have a migraine this bad.) He called one of our other friends to give him a lift to the theater, and freaked her right the fuck out. I gave him my studied professional opinion of, "No you are fucking NOT running a slapstick routine like that, go back upstairs and lie down," and enforced that by standing in the middle of his front stairway until he gave up and did what I told him. It turns out it's really hard to argue with me when you can't operate words, although I am the one who once stole a roommate's shoes after she had passed out cold on the bathroom floor, then called her manager while she was still coming around to prevent her from going to work like that, so he was unlikely to win that one anyway.

(This also resulted in another entry in my list of Things The Burlesquers Make Me Say, the stunning triumph of logic: "If you can't feel your hands, how are you going to get your pants off?" I still think this argument holds water.)

Migraines are not dangerous per se. They just suck with the unrestrained gusto of a nuclear-powered shop vac. He had a long history of all the horrible symptoms, so I wasn't particularly concerned that this was the one time he was secretly all sneaky having a stroke. Worry-wise, my main one was that he'd hurt himself trying to do something physical while he was lurching around like a broken marionette. So mainly what I did was fetched him an ice pack, settled myself on the edge of the bed, and sat there, hand on his shoulder, while he buried his face in a pillow and stubbornly continued to exist long enough to outlive the excruciating head pain.

It seems to have been what he wanted, although I doubt I could have gotten him to say so even if he could have strung together a sentence. Any time he thought I might be getting up to leave, he started trying to interact with me; since he was still largely offline, it was mostly halting, agrammatic garble, with a lot of "I'm sorry" and "why do you worry about me so much?" mixed in.

This is usually the point in the proceedings where I realize I have no idea how I got myself where I am. I'm pretty good at knowing my own motivations, but why other people let me do the things I do is largely a mystery to me. People inform me of decisions, not the reasoning behind them. But this time, I do think I know why I'm sometimes allowed to take care of him, when other people are not: I know what this costs him.

He comes from a family background that is, in some ways, a lot like mine. It's a system where you're praised for not needing anything, and viciously ridiculed if you do. Wanting things is not allowed. Needing things is outright banned. Proper humans are entirely self-sufficient. Or else.

Asking for help is failure. It means you can't do something. It doesn't matter if the reason you can't do it is your fault or not -- asking for help because you fucked something up and can't fix it alone, and asking for help because a medical condition is preventing you from functioning normally are both a black mark on your record. How many times can you ask for allowances before people start thinking you just can't do your damn job? You need to control the uncontrollable, and if you can't (why can't you? what's the matter with you?), the only way to cope is to make sure that no one ever finds out you're not 100%. If you're not up to par, you have to make a choice between letting everyone think you're normally this incompetent, or letting everyone think you're so weak you can't deal with "just" a little stress.

How many black marks are you allowed before someone takes you gently aside and suggests that maybe you're not qualified to be a part of human society? A million? A thousand? One? If you were in school, they could bust you down a grade, but where do you go when you fail life? There isn't anywhere. Normal people -- people who have social support, and know they're encouraged to use it -- might be kind of vaguely afraid that if they crack they'll get teased for being the weenie who threw up on his date and had to go home. But if you were trained into self-sufficiency über alles, any admission of weakness risks annihilation. You can't know if the last time you knuckled under was the last of your allotment. It's not 'do I want to be tough or do I want to maybe annoy a few people by not finishing my work today?' It's 'if I tough it out alone, maybe no one will find out I don't belong here.'

This is not something you can unlearn in a day. Even if you've had it explained to you in little tiny words that you're not in that situation anymore, and you are in fact supposed to tell people when you need a hand, you don't stop being afraid. If you can make yourself ask, the anxiety of awaiting the punishment you instinctively think is coming is unbearable. If the punishment doesn't come, the guilt is crushing. You feel lost. You have no idea what to do with that -- kindness isn't a thing you deserve and you're not allowed to have it, so why bother learning how to cope with it? Even the positive parts are overwhelming. The gratitude comes in waves so big it hurts, and you can't tell anyone about it, because you're sure this is a massive overreaction and they won't have any idea how to respond. Even feeling thankful means you're fucking something up.

On the surface, that was a simple interaction: One of my friends felt like hell, so I came over and nursed him a bit and hung out until he felt less like hell, which turns out to be a thing that people actually do, or at least a thing that I actually do. But admitting that that's what he wants is like flinging himself off a cliff and trusting someone else will have put a net out to catch him, and it will be for a long time yet. Even when it works, you come out of it bruised.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Two of the Sirlesque boys are twins, a fact which is brought to our attention by a minimum of one randy drunk woman per show, when she finally realizes why Jack and Danny look so much alike.

People for some reason seem to think that being twins basically makes you the same person with two separate corpora. I've no idea why, other than possibly cognitive laziness. I've known a few other sets of twins in my time, most of them in college. One was a set of fraternal twins who were no more alike than any other pair of siblings very close in age, and as I recall, the sister spent a great deal of time wanting to smack her brother across the back of the head to make him shut up. Another pair were identical girls, although you'd be hard-pressed to notice that unless you got up close and stared a lot. They made a lot of disparate sartorial choices. One of them went blonde and wore a lot of neckties, and the other one was a borderline-anorexic weeaboo who was terrified of getting any older than twelve. You know, the usual.

Jack and Danny are so similar in their broad movements that from stage-distance I am eternally grateful that they've decided on different tattoos. Jack cut his hair short like Danny's at one point and I just gave up until it grew back out. At interpersonal distances, they wear very different expressions a lot of the time, and make rather different conversation. The two of them do not actually think alike so much as they are stuffed with a similar (very large) amount of IQ -- which is largely heritable -- and have spent so much time together that each one knows perfectly well how the other one thinks. It results in the two of them doing this thing where they give each other significant glances and look like they're having the entire conversation telepathically except for the parts they disagree on, which they debate aloud as a series of apparent non sequiturs. If they do have a secret twin language, it consists mainly of bickering over details.

Danny decided to introduce himself to me months ago at a party, where he rolled up when we were both three or four or nine sheets to the wind, and picked a fight over English grammar. Which I won, because I was marginally less drunk. Also I was right, but mainly just less drunk. I thought it was funny then, and I thought it was even funnier when I found out he was a philosophy major in college, because starting arguments about the inherent ambiguities of esoteric logical systems is basically philosopher-ese for "hello".

(He was also wearing a Captain Mal costume at the time, if that makes it any better. Which he had lying around because of a number they do called "O Captain, My Captain". It's Captain Mal vs Captain Hammer -- in other words, Nathan Fillion vs Nathan Fillion -- which explains why it gets some of the loudest screams of anything they've ever done, even though nobody takes any clothes off.)

Danny ran hot and cold with me for a while. Sometimes I'd be greeted as a friend, sometimes he seemed unaware that I was even in the room. I tried to work out the pattern, but came to the inevitable conclusion that the dip switches for those settings were entirely inside his head, and I wasn't around enough to have any idea what flipped them. He's pretty consistently warm now -- in his own way; neither of the twins are terribly touchy-feely, and I make a point of respecting their personal space -- but it took a while to settle in.

I am lazy about handwriting things, especially names, so most people I'm around a lot eventually get kanji. Danny's is 静, shizuka, which means 'quiet'. This has gotten steadily more and more ironic over time, as he's now familiar enough with me that I often get to hear his entire thought process in meticulous detail, especially after he's had a couple of beers. (Which is sometimes at unexpected times. I keep a list of the odd things the burlesquers have prompted me to say, and he's the reason one of the entries is, "Why are you drunk at the gym?" Apparently their dodgeball league involves a lot of booze.) He's still low in volume, at least, and I find the strangely precise ramble rather charming.

Jack's, on the other hand is 羽, hane, 'feathers'. Like you find on pretty things that are up in the air all the time. His bio on the Sirlesque site at one point claimed he only did 'pirate-based burlesque', but this is inaccurate snark; both brothers are acrobats, and Jack is the one who does aerials. He talks to me less than Danny does, but I don't think it's intentional -- I think he just lives in his own head a lot, and isn't aware that it's noticeable. He used to start quite obviously every time I spoke to him, like I'd just reminded him that he was visible to other humans; now he's down to doing that only about half the time.

I told Jack once that one of the reasons I liked watching him work was that during his performances was the only time I could really read what he was thinking. Both eyebrows shot up and he went 'oh', but I still have no idea which part of that he hadn't realized before: that he wasn't policing his expression when he was up on the silks, or that he was policing it so well otherwise that nobody had any idea what was going through his head. I also told him once that he was interesting, and he thought I was giving him too much credit. How you can maintain that notion while hanging upside down by your ankles fifteen feet above the theater floor and stripping off your clothing on stage on a regular basis, I don't know, but the discrepancy probably explains why he thinks nobody's paying attention to him.

I've taken to entertaining myself lately by just walking up to Jack and delivering all the random observations and compliments that cross my mind, then wandering off again when he has no answer. He'll eventually quit being confused by this, but I have no idea what'll follow.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I am stuck. I want to write things, but I'm not sure I can. The stuff that goes into this blog goes around and around the inside of my head in a sort of a queue; the monologues have a priority, and right now there's a bunch of harmless fluff all jammed up behind some important things. The important things have to come out first, before the harmless fluff can run free, but I'm not sure I can get the important things out, because a large proportion of the ones currently standing at the front of the line are technically not mine.

People tell me things. A lot. They pretty much never remember to explain why they decide to tell me things, but I have the nagging feeling that one of the reasons is because things that are told to me in private conversations also stop with me. There are a few mandated-reporter-type things that I'll pass on to your loved ones and/or the authorities no matter what I've promised you -- I am totally okay with you being pissed at me for thwarting your suicide attempt or dragging you to the ER when you're passing out and seizing, thanks. But beyond that, I try not to tell tales, on the grounds that I feel they are not mine to tell. I'm okay painting pictures of people based on a generalization of my interactions with them -- sort of, sometimes -- but getting any more specific than that takes me into uncomfortable territory.

It's a policy that has generally served me well, although I can no longer say my track record is 100% positive. Someone once asked me both to keep a secret, and to help him take care of something if it ever came up; neither thing on its own would have been harmful, but the combination ended up getting me stuck in a corner, with no way out that didn't involve betraying someone who needed very badly to not feel like he was having the rug yanked out from under him. The debacle ended with me moving to Boston, so overall it probably worked out for the best, but it was one of the worst periods of my life while I was in it, and if I had it to do over again I'd probably opt to tell him point-blank that I couldn't do both things and he was going to have to pick just one.

The interesting thing is that this time the person I'm tempted to tell tales about has told me to do it. He's a journo, or was; I don't think he's active anymore, but it's how he sees himself, and he still has enough of the mindset that I'm not going to argue. He says that if I still feel terrible about it, I should do it anonymously. Although, frankly, I'd have to use enough detail that anyone who knew him IRL would know exactly who I was talking about anyway.

I don't know if I can. I end up knowing a lot about people. I understand that this gives me a kind of power: The power to expose, to peel back someone's skin, to take away their public façade, whether they consent or not. That's not why I want to know, but I can't have one without the other -- knowing what's hurt people in the past also means knowing what can hurt them very badly, right now. I know enough to know that I can do it inadvertently if I don't watch my mouth, and that scares me. Even if someone says 'go ahead, tell my story', I have no idea if they realize what story I'm going to tell, and with a lot of them I'm not sure they'd feel able to tell me not to publish it even if I let them read it first and lodge their objections.

I told him I'd think about it -- and I am -- but that this is the kind of thing that may be impervious to logic. I don't know if I'm that brave.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I ended up at a post-show meeting with one of the burlesque troupes after the last event I worked. I'm sure the actual contents of the meeting are ©®TM Sirlesque GmbH LLC and not to be shared, but it doesn't matter -- I don't even know why I was there. I'd just asked what was going on after the show, on the theory that if someone else knew who would serve me a cheeseburger at midnight on a Thursday I probably ought to follow them, and Ricky didn't so much ask me as tell me that I was coming back to HQ with the rest of them.

Ricky is intensely and intentionally very sharp about a third of the time. The other two-thirds, he is a mass of random impulses, which he tends to follow just in case they're one of the sharp ones and he hasn't noticed yet. He is too smart to stuff me into his hatchback and drive me anywhere he doesn't want me to be, but why he made that decision is a mystery. Ricky does not explain these things, even on the odd occasion where he can.

This sort of thing always makes me very anxious. I'm perfectly good at being part of a group. I'm loyal, I pay attention, I'm protective, and I can work in concert with others for the good of something larger than myself. I'm just not very good at belonging. I have no idea how it's supposed to come about. Most people have the experience of belonging to their family as a basis for comparison, but I don't; I never felt like I fit, and in my twenties I got to the point of outright telling my parents that I had no interest in being a part of that clusterfuck, and I meant it. I hated the place where I grew up, I have never had any school spirit, and I am totally uninterested in any form of team sports. I joined the the French Club in high school, but it was mainly an excuse for us to sell croissants pretend it was impressive enough to put on a résumé. I had an even briefer stint in the Drama Club, where I discovered I was not nearly as melodramatic, troubled, obsessed with fame, or good at nepotism as I would have needed to be to truly fit in.

It took me entirely by surprise when the Marathon Bombings prompted me to think that nobody could do that to my city, but that isn't quite the same thing. I don't belong personally to the other denizens of Boston. I just like the way they run things here, with the ancient subway trolleys and caterwampus roads and all the green space, and would be very upset if anyone made me give it up.

The usual suggestion is 'go take a beginner class in something' doesn't really work. I don't cope well with the standard style of low-level pedagogy. The frustration of trying to learn something from an instructor working at cross-purposes to my own brain overrides any fun I might have otherwise had. I can learn it all right, but I do it locked in a room by myself. I'm not one of the spinners or circus hoopers; I'm just someone who goes and plays with hoops and props in the studio a couple times a week.

I'm not one of the dancers, either. I just hand out programs and run their merchandise table.

I am forever wary of letting my brain assign too much meaning to the random things that happen in life, so the answer is probably somewhere around the intersection of best intentions and least significance. I expect Ricky thought pouring a few drinks into me would be a nice thank you for working their show, and there weren't any objections. I'm sure nobody noticed I was vaguely confused, because not knowing what's going on or what I'm meant to be doing has never, ever stopped me from talking, and this time was no exception.

I also expect that if any of the Sirs are reading this, they're facepalming hard enough to leave marks and wondering how something so clear on their end -- whatever it was -- got so muddled by my screwball brain. Sorry, guys.

Friday, June 13, 2014

I see from Wikipedia that Malaysia Airlines 370 is still considered missing. I also see from Wikipedia that a thousand conspiracy theories have already sprung up to account for that. Apparently some people do not deal well with loose ends, or just aren't aware that there are quite a number of aircraft that have crashed and were never found.

I realize that it is de regueur to blame terrorists for everything up to and including the late night pizza joint getting your toppings wrong, but there are several previous losses that fit the same profile as MH370 -- that is, an aircraft that flies silently on in an unexpected direction long after all radio contact with the humans on board have been lost, and then stops pinging after a length of time consistent with running out of fuel and nosing into terrain. (Well, in this case, ocean.) All the ones I know of have been decompression incidents. If the cabin loses pressure in an explosive fashion, generally the oxygen masks drop down from the ceiling and everyone knows what's going on, but if the leak is slower, it's entirely possible for the crew to have several minutes of disorientation in which to take some scrambled, semi-random action to try to fix the problem, before everyone on board dies of hypoxia, and the aircraft streaks onward unattended.

Probably the most famous one was Helios Airways 522, mainly because that one took place right off the coast of the Mediterranean, in controlled airspace, and ultimately crashed on land. The flight crew mistook a cabin pressure warning for a different alarm (that couldn't have sounded in flight, and was therefore doubly confusing) and dicked around trying to fix it as they ascended to cruising altitude, where the low oxygen content of the air is incompatible with life. It was first noticed that the problem was deadly rather than annoying when the flight passed into Athens ATC airspace without talking to the controller; the Greeks, rather concerned about a large and uncommunicative jet wandering over their country, sent up some F-16s to give them a wing-waggle, and the fighter pilots reported that everyone visible through the cockpit windows was slumped unconscious or dead over the console. A flight attendant with a license to fly much, much smaller airplanes gave a good go at flying the Boeing with an oxygen mask on, but ultimately lost to hypoxia and gravity.

If anyone ever worries about the autopilot on these things, incidentally, don't. Helios 522 made it all the way from Cyprus to Greece and slotted itself quite happily into the standard holding pattern at the Athens airport without any human assistance whatsoever. The equipment type was a 737, which are bears of very little brain by current standards. I wouldn't be surprised if a newer Boeing or Airbus could land itself the same way, at an airport with sufficiently sophisticated nav beacons. The main effect the flight attendant's attempts had, intentionally or not, was to make sure the thing went nose-first into a hill instead of a chunk of city.

Lesser-known but entirely over land was the 1999 crash of a chartered Learjet in South Dakota. This was somewhat unexpected, as it was supposed to be flying from Orlando to Dallas. The cabin depressurized before they could make a left turn over the Florida panhandle, and the jet kept going over the Midwest until it ran out of fuel. The flight headed northeastish into largely uncontrolled airspace -- there is a lot of uncontrolled airspace in the US, believe it or not, although virtually all of it is painted on military radar somewhere -- and was intercepted for visual inspection several times by USAF and National Guard jets, all of which reported that the plane looked fine on the outside but was dark and showed no signs of life on the inside. Nobody seemed to know what what to do about this, so they mainly kept an eye on it until it ran out of fuel, the resulting loss of thrust confused the autopilot, and the craft rolled over and went down in a cornfield.

(The Learjet is also notable because on its way to South Dakota, the plane made it to almost 49,000 feet, which is quite a bit above the official operational ceiling of its engines. Also probably above the official operational ceiling of its fuselage, which may have lost pressure before getting there, if it hadn't been leaking before.)

The conspiracy theories about MH370 seem largely to be based on the fact that it headed in an unexpected direction before vanishing, to which I say: You try not breathing for two or three minutes and see how well you navigate. The delay in figuring out which way it turned was mainly due to the fact that that region is full of small countries with limited defense budgets who are all deeply suspicious of one another, and united mainly by the fact that they all have historical reason to hate the British. I am also not particularly impressed by the Malaysian minister of whatzit who apparently decided the best way to deal with this was to blurt out whatever came into his head whenever the media approached him. China was strangely cooperative, but I'd think they would be if they really weren't responsible for the loss of the aircraft -- they've shot at/threatened to shoot at stuff in their territory before, and were not shy about saying so.

There are quite a lot of very large objects that have headed off into or over the ocean and never been heard from again. The list of aerial disappearances on Wikipedia is staggering. It took them years to find most of the chunks of Air France 447, and it went down pretty much in one piece, not far from where they started looking.