Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Square 14: Daniel

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This square is for my friend, Daniel, with the emphasis on the last syllable because he is French-Canadian. I say this to distinguish him from Danny. There has been a series of important Dans in my life, but Daniel was the first.

It was fall 1996. I had come out of my marriage the previous winter, and recently ended my first unfortunate romance with a man. From the beginning I was scrupulous about meeting dates first in a public place. I had once met Daniel briefly on his way from a business meeting dressed in a suit, obviously uncomfortable.

At home I found him in his element. It was fragrant with essential oils from a diffuser, a mixture with a hint of tangerine. For dinner he served a delicious stir-fry with marinated tofu. My previous dining habits had been conservative so it was my first taste of tofu, and Daniel's preparation impressed me favourably.

One of the things I admired most was his wanderlust. He loved traveling, but not the usual places. He had visited the back country of an unsettled Central American country to find a specific kind of carpet. At a roadside checkpoint a guard put a gun to his head. Daniel stared the fellow down and survived to tell the tale. Later in our friendship he would visit the Serengeti Desert and nearly drown in a whitewater incident in southern Africa.

Our romance lasted only a few weeks, but was important in both our lives. Daniel had not come out of the closet yet, but when he heard my alarming tale about the ex-gay movement and church ostracism, he realized he had little to lose by comparison. Here are a few lines from a poem I wrote for him:

Come, set the candles all aflame
to shine away your cryptic shame,
expose the good.
Within a few days of our meeting he came out to his friends and family; all responded positively.

I was affected by Daniel's perspicuity, integrity and literacy. Although the relationship did not last, it gave me hope that the world contained men of quality. A few months later I introduced him to another friend of mine, Martin, and they mark their 12th anniversary this month.

One chilly day in front of the fireplace at Pimbletts pub, Daniel introduced me to Strongbow cider, which is now my favourite drink.

When Daniel heard about this blanket of stories I am making, he went to The Purple Purl and bought me some yarn for a square. To my great disappointment, it has gone missing in the mail. So today I made a square from five different yarns I had on hand. He loves deep blues and purples. Several of the yarns are remnants of favourites from Wellington Fibres. Another is Berroco Jasper, a shade named Mochica Blue after an ancient civilization in Peru. The burgundy border is one of the Cascade yarns I'm using to thread unity through the blanket.

The autumn-coloured yarn from Wellington Fibres presents contrast as tribute to our long friendship. Daniel knows my favourite complimentary colours are blue-purple and orange-yellow. This morning while picking yarns for the square I opened a bottle of sandalwood oil, and the scent immediately drew my eyes to this yarn. Daniel sometimes wore sandalwood.

Square 13: Great Blue Heron

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One bright day in August 2001 I took my daughters, Marian and Brenna, out from Tobermory on board the Great Blue Heron for a glass bottom boat cruise around Fathom Five National Marine Park.

There the Niagara Escarpment dips into Lake Huron. Where the underwater terrain drops steeply below dolostone cliffs, Georgian Bay's cold waters are an impossible coral sea blue. The boat toured that drop-off and showed us the sites of several shipwrecks.

But what I chiefly remember is standing on the deck with my daughters, letting the spray wash over us. It was a warm, windy day and the lake was so rough that the boat could not go all the way to see the strange formations on Flowerpot Island. Most of the passengers wanted to huddle inside the cabin, but Brenna in particular wanted to stand on deck near the bow and feel the fullest possible impact of that ride. She was only seven. I stood right beside her for safety, but didn't want to discourage her sense of adventure. Every time the boat hit a wave, a veil of diamond spray washed over us.

It is a day resplendent in memory. Through my child's eyes I am a child again, innocent of danger, knowing only the keen blade of excitment: the sunlight, the water like liquid azurite, the rush. Now I live that day again.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Square 12: Pacific Rim cedars

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In April 1987 I had just turned 23 and had two weeks between completing my degree and beginning a diploma program in journalism. With the time available I realized a lifelong dream, flew to Vancouver, rented a car, drove to the west coast of Vancouver Island and camped on Long Beach, facing the open ocean. It was my first big adventure alone. I spent a few days wandering the beach, getting dive-bombed by rufous hummingbirds, poking around tide pools, photographing sea anemones and starfish, and tasting the richness of a temperate rainforest. The entire experience impressed me, and few experiences from my youth have remained with me so clearly, but it was the forest that affected me most deeply.

For a boy from the east, everything there was out of scale. Giant trees sheltered giant ferns and giant slugs. The park trails consisted of boardwalks that wound through an understory so tangled you would not be able to move if you ventured into it. The ground was strewn with corpses of ancient trees, their fallen trunks thicker than my height. Their rotting flesh nursed all kinds of life, especially saplings that had sprung up and matured. I saw giant western redcedars standing on their predecessors, which must have lain there for centuries.

At the time I was appalled at the evidence of so much death and rot. Nature to me had always been splendid and lovely; there I saw a rank and morbid shadow underneath.

I was a devout Christian, and the forest reminded me of a passage from the Book of Romans:

For the creation was subject to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

For the first time I was struck by the direct realization (as I believed then) that man's fall had brought evil into the garden, nature itself was tainted and plagued by death, and it would not be relieved until the Earth was destroyed and remade. It grieved me so much, I wept.

In this square I used four different yarns to describe the look of the cedars and their bark. Reddish-brown is the wood under the bark, but it still looks that way after rotting for hundreds of years. Several of these yarns came from a stash at knit night, run by my friend Anne at Studio 490.

I hindsight I realize what people believe is too often guided by fear of death. Death is the great unknown, and we do our best to make the prospect more palatable. As a Christian I looked forward to singing eternally before the throne of God.

I don't believe that anymore. Consciousness is a function of our brains, and will dissipate when our bodies die. Maybe that's a bleak outlook, but we better deal with it.

I would like to go back and see the western redcedars again, not as fallen compatriots of humanity's brokenness, but as glories of the earth. Their life is grand and beautiful; so is their death. Their mouldering bodies are fertile and spectacular, giving rise to more life and diversity. I want to celebrate that and see myself, too, as part of a cycle. When I die, I hope my life will count for something here on earth. That is the true challenge.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Square 11: Ged's shadow

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My favourite novel since childhood has been A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin, but it took me years to realize its central theme.

The wizard Ged, in a youthful display of prowess, unwittingly releases a shadow from the realm of the dead into his own world. The creature nearly kills Ged and scars his face before being driven off. Eventually Ged must go in search and undo the evil he has unleashed. His long quest in a small sailing vessel is, for me, one of the most potent images in fiction, an allegory of life’s journey. In the end Ged realizes the shadow is an aspect of himself.

In my youth I, too, was a zealot and tried to prove my worth by an act of wizardry: I repressed my true sexuality and other aspects of myself that accompanied it. I got involved in the ex-gay movement and learned how to go through the motions of being someone I was not. Supposedly living the straight life would bring me closer to God.

Why do people believe it is healthy, moral, spiritual and useful to glorify misery? Unbridled desire can lead to selfishness, greed and abuse, but to deny our natural inclinations altogether only puts us in conflict with ourselves. Evil is not the dark side of the self, but the harm it inflicts when we lack inner harmony. Ged’s shadow itself was not harmful, but once separate from him it waged a war of suffering.

Everyone has a shadow self. It works behind the scenes but often rises to the surface when we experience stress, grief or pain. When you say, “He was beside himself,” you mean he seemed to be acting out of character, but it is really a deep part of the person, vulnerable and alienated, that behaves strangely.

Rejecting my gayness did not make me a better person. It split me into two parts, and both became weaker. At my worst I was compulsive, angry, judgmental and full of despair. Fear of my own shadow led me to a life or death decision. To choose life, I had to accept the shadow as a vital part. Doing so set me on a path of genuine healing.

To depict Ged’s voyage I chose sea-green handspun yarn from The Black Lamb in Port Hope, Ontario. The black and white threads depict the dark and light that must be united within him.

Most of us are afraid of our shadows. What parts of you do you try to hide or push away?