In looking around for the fancy “-phobia” word signifying a fear of kites, I ran across three things that this entry is not about: an episode of “Malcolm in the Middle” in which Dewey apparently puts to rest his dad’s fear of kites; the title of an episode of what appears to be an anime cartoon entitled “Marsupilami”; and a song by one Selma Booking entitled “A Cloud’s Fear of Kites.” I was unable to find the fancy word I wanted on the Web or in any of my books about strange words. Some “fear” words I did find that are of interest if not particular relevance include the following:
- sophophobia. the fear of learning, which I don’t have
- myrmecophobia. the fear of ants
- maledictaphobia. the fear of bad words
- phalacrophobia. the fear of going bald
- pogonophobia. the fear of beards, which I’m inclined to say I don’t have, as I have a beard, though it may simply be the case that I’m too frightened of it to shave it off
- taphephobia. the fear of being buried alive
- bromidrosiphobia. the fear of body odor, which I keep at bay by using lots and lots and lots of deodorant
- lepidophobia. the fear of butterflies
- nephophobia. the fear of clouds
- hypophobia. the fear of a lack of fear
- arachibutyrophobia. the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth
- bathysiderodromophobia. the fear of subways or underground trains
When I mention a fear of kites, I don’t mean that I have a fear of any of the following things listed in the American Heritage Dictionary under the entry for kite:
- Any of the light sails of a ship used in a light wind.
- Any of various predatory birds of the hawk family Accipitridae, having a long, often forked tail and long pointed wings (ok, if I saw one of these up close with its talons going for my eyes, I’d probably be afraid of it, but I’m not generally speaking afraid of these birds).
- A piece of negotiable paper representing a fictitious financial transaction and used temporarily to sustain credit or raise money.
- A bank check drawn on insufficient funds to take advantage of the time interval required for collection
- A bank check altered to show a larger amount
- (Ok, these last three freak me out a bit too, but they’re still not what I’m ultimately talking about.)
It’s the standard definition I’m thinking of: The diamond of paper held rigid by two sticks and followed by a tail of bows; or the standard arrow-shaped kite you can get at your neighborhood drug store in April. Or, in my case, a big multi-colored parrot kite complete with fluttering tail feathers. It is this kite that I flew today, the first time I ever remember successfully flying a kite.
I do remember going out to the practice football field of the high school I lived near when I was a kid and flying kites with my family. On one such outing, I was stung by a bee and found myself treated to a poultice of saliva and tobacco. I was too young to manage a kite during these outings. And I don’t remember ever getting a kite very far up in the sky on later outings when I had my own kite (gray and black like a jet with discongruous eyespots on the wings that in retrospect I imagine would have made such a real jet a pretty easy target).
Today, we were entertaining the almost-four-year-old child of a couple friend who just had another baby. It had been windy last night, and we had the kite (an out-of-the-blue (figuratively speaking, though it could be taken literally) birthday present from a couple of years ago) in the car, so we decided to hit a park today and try to fly it. M flew it for a few minutes before landing it in a power line. Enter fear number one. I was sufficiently indoctrinated by the power company’s crudely-drawn cartoon commercials when I was a child to know that if you screw with power lines by doing such things as flying kites into them or attempting to get kites out of them, you’re looking for a cooking. This power line was thin and bent at the slightest provocation, so I wasn’t keen on tugging at it with the kite string lest it snap and fall down on me snakelike. So I cut the string. Luckily, the kite fluttered down a few minutes later thanks to a gust, and we retied the string and had another go, this time at a substantially greater distance from the power lines. It was my turn.
And I made a pretty good go of it. I got the kite pretty far up there, getting string burn on my hand as I paid out the line and guided the kite to prevent it from taking nose dives (of which it did several with what would surely have been catastrophic, beak-altering results for a real parrot). Now when I say I got it pretty far up there, I don’t mean that I got it way way up there. It was maybe 100 or 200 feet high, and I hear tell of people who get their kites so high that they’re unrecognizeable dots in the sky. The kite was high for me, but not high by a kite’s standards.
And the higher the kite went, the more apprehensive I became. I wasn’t afraid of kite as object. I wasn’t even afraid so much as increasingly uncomfortable about something I couldn’t and still can’t confidently put a label on.
I’m partially inclined to think my apprehension had to do with a perceived diminution of control: The higher the kite goes, the more influence smaller movements have on it; and the harder it becomes to steer; and the less attached it seems to the string, while at the same time it feels as if it must (or perish the world) stay on that string and in my sight and under my control. But I’m not sure that’s my issue. It may also have partially to do with my long-held notion that the reeling in of a kite is a Sisyphean task, that we tend to be reluctant to bring in the line when there’s a good wind, but as surely as we begin to bring it in, the wind picks up, the result being a kite in flux, never quite high enough and never home but always needing to be reeled in. Essentially, by flying a kite, you’re setting yourself up either to have to reel in a whole bunch of slack line once the string breaks at a point six miles from your spool or to keep up an Old-Man-And-The-Sea scale epic battle with the kite.
I suppose it’s uncertainty that gets my goat. That seems to be the unifying gotcha of both of my primary theories about this little neurosis. The closest thing to this in my phobia book is “kakorrhaphiophobia” — the fear of failure.