Art and Literature

Story Time Sunday, 09/21/14 — at true story about kites (appropriate for all ages)

When I was 12, my dad took me to the fancy screening room at Seven Arts and the dads and kids watched the Walt Disney Mary Poppins movie. I was a bit too old to do this, and there I was in my plaid miniskirt and kneesocks and Carnaby Street hair trying to look cool and bored and ready to date (which I wasn’t). But I soon forgot about being too old for the movie, because — really — Mary Poppins was and is one of my favorites.

Of course I didn’t realize that my father closely resembled that soon to be out of work banker. He was about to lose his job, and we were about to go broke. I was about to spend high school in a kind of genteel downward slide, as I went to my extremely expensive private girls high school, came home, and ate canned spaghetti for dinner. We were going to do our best to keep up appearances. Sort of like that family. A nice gloss on the dysfunction within.

Perhaps because it’s what should have happened to my family and didn’t, or perhaps it’s for some other reason, but I have always loved the end of that movie. Everyone taking a literal bank holiday and going outside and flying kites. The family united (the mother having sacrificed her VOTES FOR WOMEN ribbon [a {somewhat reactionary} reference to contemporary feminism that I didn’t understand at the time] to make the kite’s tail. And up the kite goes. Big song. THE END.

But you know what? It’s a crazy activity, kite flying is. It’s not a game. Unless you build your own kite, you haven’t created anything. It’s totally ephemeral. Without value and meaning.

It’s just pretty. It’s just fun.

I have flown a kite twice.

Once when I was 40 when we gave our daughter a Teen Age Mutant Ninja Turtle kite for Easter (I had not yet converted). In Anaheim Hills. Leonardo (or was it Michelangelo?) up in the air over the playground near the library.  I can still see it going up.

And yesterday. Shortly after turning 60.

My husband and I went to the Whidbey Island Kite Festival. It was a small time affair. It was local. And we ate hot dogs that were so salty and so fatty, we couldn’t eat anything for the rest of the day. Well, my husband couldn’t. I’m used to that kind of food so of course I had cocktails and a regular dinner afterwards.

But back to kites…

There were demonstrations and t-shirts and teddybears dropping from parachutes for little kids at the the festival.

Whidbey Kite Festival 09/20/14

Whidbey Kite Festival 09/20/14

There were alot of ex-military guys flying incredibly complex contraptions they made themselves. There were women flying kites with 4 strings, 2 for each hand, and those kites were like marionettes, dancing on the wind. There were kids flying kites and one elderly lady who sat in her portable camp chair and flew a huge box kite. The announcer seemed to know everybody.

This being America, of course there were various competition events. But the thing that everybody on the island practically came out for was something called a mass ascension.  This means that if you brought your kite with you and registered, you got to send it up there on the field of Camp Casey with everybody else — mindful not to cross the strings of someone else’s kites.

It looked like a bit like this:

Whidbey Kite Festival /09/2014

Whidbey Kite Festival /09/2014

“Don’t you just want to DO this?” my husband said to me as he attempted to digest that salty hotdog.

So we bought a kite. We drove to the bluff where I scattered my dad’s ashes 19 years ago.

And we flew it.

Flying a kite is pretty easy. Contrary to what the instructions say, you don’t need an assistant if the wind is right. You just put your back to the wind, let the kite string out as the wind catches it and then, the wind sends it up as you let out the string gradually.

There are a couple of crazy things about kite flying. First off, the kite string pulls on you hard, and you have to really hold on. The kite wants to go high and it wants to fly. You pull on the line when the wind dies down, and you let it out, when the wind picks up. Sort of like fishing. In the sky.

Finally when it’s time to bring your kite down, it fights you. It acts and it feels completely and utterly alive. And right before it falls into your hands, it looks at you, like some sort of pretend bird. Or some magical creature. You control it. But just barely. Really it’s a creature of plastic and air and string. It has a life that you just gave it.

Of course it’s true that you just had an experience that is without any utility or value or staying power.

I think sometimes — and now is certainly one of those times — that the word-art I make is without value. I don’t make money at it, it’s hard to get anyone to look at it, let alone help me put it out there, and I wonder sometimes if I’m even any good at it really. Consequently, what I do could really be considered a kind of dopey activity.

But then I think about that kite string pulling on me yesterday. How that kite went up — all 75 feet into the air and wanted to go higher. How the experiences we pursue for the love of them, do indeed elevate us, if only for a moment. And then there’s the joy of the thing that we love to do when we’re doing it.

That joy doesn’t stay. However it is waiting for you in that kite bundle. Or that word bundle. Or that dance bundle. Or that bake-a-cake bundle. Ready to be unfurled and tossed upward.

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