Friday, February 27, 2009

Tapestries

Life is probably not complete (or at least not as rich as it could be) without some quotations from Ranier Maria Rilke. I find that in the shadowy moments of life where the world lacks clarity I dust off Rilke and discover poetry that provides wisdom and comfort. In case anyone else requires some beautifully crafted insight on living here is my current favourite section of Rilke's "Sonnets to Orpheus":

Shun the error of thinking you've missed something,
because a resolve, once taken, means: to be!
Silk thread--you went into the weaving.


Someone else, whose opinion I deeply value, told me very much the same thing recently, but perhaps not with as much elegance. It is strange how these deep and fundamental truths are so quickly identified but so difficult to enact. How much happier we might all be if we could stop revisiting the decisions we have already made, worrying their scratchy surfaces with our fingers, pulling at them ceaselessly, wondering again and again if we could have done something different. These decisions are over--already incorporated into the growing tapestry of our lives, already an integral part of the unfolding pattern of our existence. To pull out the thread of one decision might cause all the rest to unravel, leaving gaping holes and damage in its wake. So even if the thread is unsightly or twisted, it might just be best to leave it be--let it become a symbol of the homemade quality of your living, a symbol of your own human imperfection.

It's like knitting--the value of a hand knit object is tied to its minor imperfections. If it were indistinguishable from a machine knit piece, there would be very little sense in producing it. There is beauty in the slightly uneven edges, the protruding strands of yarn woven into the back of the work, the imperfection of the seams, the fact that the right sleeve of your sweater is just a tiny bit longer than the left. These things give a knitted object character. They speak to the hours of labour and love that went into the project, and recall the painstaking process of creation which is subject to human fallibility.

In knitting it is possible to fix a mistake a number of rows back, but you have to rip out everything that came after the imperfect stitch. In life, as in knitting, it is often better to leave the mistakes be. Even if we were capable of ripping our lives back to the point of a bad or questionable decision, we would perhaps not desire to sacrifice every stitch that followed. And so, as Rilke (and his less poetic counterpart) so wisely suggests--we should look at the overall tapestry of our lives, and if we find it beautiful not regret or worry about the imperfections, or the things that didn't quite work out. We might change the direction of our weaving, add new colours, or develop new patterns, but these must build on the already existing stitches, ultimately forming a cohesive and unique whole.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Worm Day 2009

Forget Groundhog Day, Worm Day is a much more accurate predictor of Spring. Those of you who have read my Facebook notes in the past may be familiar with Worm Day. For everyone else, the essential premise is that on the day of the first heavy rain after the ground has sufficiently thawed, the worms are flooded from their subterranean homes and end up stranded on the sidewalk. The worm carnage that follows is a sign that spring has officially taken hold on the land. My Facebook notes suggest that last year Worm Day occurred on Monday March 3. Therefore, spring is about a week earlier this year, though there seems to be a Monday trend emerging. I'll have to collect data for a few more years to see if that is statistically significant.

Worm Day is both a joyful symbol of life emerging from the sodden earth, and a vaguely sad reminder of that life's fleeting nature. The worms rise to the surface like messengers of the awakening world, but though they bear good news they are bound to die when they cannot return to the ground. Inevitably they drown in puddles or dry out in the sun. As I walked to work this morning I was forced to bear witness to hundreds of dead and dying worms--some mangled by unsuspecting boots, others twisting in their death throes. There's a certain amount of terror inherent in seeing the ground wriggling at your feet and I make every attempt possible not to step on any soft bodies. But I don't attempt to save them either. One reason is simply because they're pretty disgusting. I still have a six-year-old girl dwelling within me who squirms at the thought of having to touch the slimy, stretchy, invertebrate bodies spread out at my feet. The other reason may have something to do with the emergence of some ancient pagan superstition--a vestigial impulse from the days when people organized their lives by the seasons and believed in the necessity of appeasing Mother Nature. I find that there's something sacrificial about the worms. They have the glorious task of announcing the spring but they pay with their own deaths, finally returning to the earth that they left as a part of the soil itself. Their bodies, in death, become incorporate with the dirt and remind us all of the never-ending cycle of life.
And so I don't try to save them. I leave them to their natural fate, as gruesome as it might be if you think about it too hard, and go about my day mindful of the burgeoning spring.

The air today, on this first Worm Day of spring, is surprisingly warm. The sky is full of moisture and as I breathe I feel as if I am consuming a healing rain. The day smells like moss and green things, sweet and grassy. The sun is making an attempt to shine on the world. If you look closely you can see the first tentative crocus blossoms emerging from the ground. I am experiencing an inexplicable urge to sing and dance and run. As the winter melts into spring I look forward to life, and love, and happiness.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I Want To Believe


I don't usually go in for celebrity. I don't really know anything about Angelina Jolie and I don't think I've ever read an issue of People magazine. I don't know who in Hollywood has recently had plastic surgery, who managed to get their pre-pregnancy body back in just three months, or who is dating who. But at one point in my life, not so long ago, I was completely obsessed with the X-Files. I watched it religiously and had an indescribable crush on Mulder. I'm talking about the type of 16-year-old crush that resulted in a Mulder binder that was filled with pictures and news clips and a page on which I had practised my signature as "Andrea Duchovney." After the X-Files ended I was in withdrawal for awhile, and then eventually the obsession faded away. I rarely gave any thought to the show and didn't even watch re-runs. I even packed up my beloved X-Files poster. When the most recent X-Files movie came out I avoided watching it because I assumed I would be disappointed. But on Sunday my movie guy at the Blockbuster, who has become the guiding principal of movie renting in my life and has not yet steered me wrong, suggested that it was actually not too bad. Turns out he's a huge X-Files fan. M. stood in stunned silence as the movie guy and I started raving about X-Files things. I don't think M. had ever seen this horrifically nerdy side of me emerge in real life. I could feel him rolling his eyes as Movie Guy and I talked about the forever frustrating tension between Mulder and Scully, and how neither of us had liked it when Mulder disappeared and the new agent arrived on the scene. It was then that Movie Guy dropped the bomb:

"Did you know that The Smoking Man is a regular at this Blockbuster?" he said.

"No way!" I squealed in an embarrassingly teenaged way.

"Yup. He's a really nice guy," reported Movie Guy.

I'm not sure why I was excited about this. My life is not really enhanced in any way by the fact that The Smoking Man rents movies from the same Blockbuster as me and, therefore, likely lives in the same area. But there was something cool (in a here's-me-at-a-sci-fi-convention kind of way) about thinking that I might just run into the Smoking Man when I was browsing the shelves at Blockbuster trying to get M. to agree to rent Mama Mia. It was fun to think that I could be walking down the street to pick up sushi and suddenly see the smoking man standing in a dark corner stamping out his cigarette on the sidewalk. (Does the Smoking Man smoke in real life I wondered, or did he quit after the show to avoid a painful death by lung cancer?).

And so that was my brush with celebrity for the weekend. I still don't care a tiny bit about the whereabouts of Tom Cruise, but I'm going to tell everyone who cares to listen that I live in the same neighbourhood as the Smoking Man!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ultimate Ouch

On Sunday I played my first game of Ultimate Frisbee. When I arrived at the field it was in much better condition than last week--muddy, but at least not covered in a layer of frost and snow. I showed up full of energy and confident that even if I knew very little about the subtleties of the game, my newly developed fitness level would leave me able to keep up with the rest of the players. Oh how very wrong I was.

My first hint that I was in trouble came in warm ups when our team captain was showing about four newbies how to play the game. Clearly an integral part of play is throwing a Frisbee with a certain degree of force and accuracy. Damn. Why didn't I think of that beforehand. My brother, as I mentioned in my previous Ultimate post, had commented on the need to catch things, but no one pointed out the need to throw things as well. The last time I threw a Frisbee was probably on the beach at the age of 12. Apparently there's some very specific technique to doing this that I was completely oblivious to. Another team member very kindly showed me the proper way to hold a Frisbee and the theoretical basis of throwing it in both a forehand and backhand manner. Backhand is similar to the intuitive way I have been tossing Frisbees over the course of my life and I at least managed to throw it an acceptable distance (slight wobbling aside), but the forehand throw is completely alien to me and resulted in extreme awkwardness. My first attempt at a forehand throw launched the Frisbee a humiliating three feet, where it clunked to the ground like a rock. Oh dear, I'm thinking to myself. I'm screwed.

So when I ventured onto the field for my first attempt at the game it was with the knowledge that I could neither throw nor catch a Frisbee with anything amounting to skill. No worries, I said to myself, at least I'll have the running part down. If I can be a good check on the other players I might still be useful to this team. Well, I clearly overestimated my fitness level. It seems that Ultimate players are a strange breed of superhuman fitness freaks who can run for hours on end without stopping with the addition of bizarre bursts of speed that left me panting and feeling like it might be a good idea to just lay down on the muddy grass and admit defeat. After only a couple points of play my chest felt like it was ready to explode and the muscles in my legs were screaming at me to stop the torture. I played almost an entire game without a Frisbee even coming in my general direction, which meant basically I just ran aimlessly around the field, trailed closely by my check, wondering what it was exactly that I was supposed to be doing. I figured there must be a pattern to the action, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what it was.


Thankfully Ultimate is an extremely forgiving game that actually includes a rule about Spirit--the cultivation of honesty and sportsmanlike play. This being the case, members of the opposite team actually offered up advice to our new players in the middle of the game. Very kind of them I thought.

In the second game I caught a Frisbee. As it turns out my main problem isn't with catching, regardless of what my brother might think. I caught that Frisbee without even a fumble and my team cheered for the very first useful thing I had done in an hour and a half. But catching the Frisbee resulted in a bit of a conundrum. Now that I was in possession of this strange plastic disc it became obvious that I had no idea what to do with it. My check was blocking me with vigour and counting out the ten second stall that is allowed. I had ten seconds to throw this damn thing, and I admit I panicked a bit. I threw the Frisbee like it was on fire, my only thought being to get it out of my possession and into the possession of someone who knew what they were doing. It was, in short, a really lame throw. My team didn't have a chance. The Frisbee hit the ground untouched and the other team gained possession. I guess in a weird way my wish was granted, because the members of the other team definitely knew what they were doing. They seemed to have a stash of lightning fast Asian girls who made me feel a lot like a sloth pumped full of sedatives. I did catch a few more throws over the course of the three hour marathon of play, but I never did succeed in getting anyone else to catch something I tossed.

However, despite my objective failure on my first day of Ultimate Frisbee, it was a fairly good experience. I discovered that no one was particularly put out by my ineptitude. In fact, the team captain sent out a congratulatory email praising the energy and efforts of the new players. We were described as "young and eager talent" which seemed a very kind alternative to "inexperienced players in over their heads" which is probably how I would have described myself. Furthermore, no one actually seemed to know what the score of the game was after it was over. It was obvious that we had lost, but it was anyone's guess by how much. All the players were endlessly optimistic, supportive, and completely disinterested in whether we won the game. I began to think that the world would be a much better place if people took this attitude in everyday life. I had inadvertently stumbled upon a social system that was non-competitive, mutually supportive, and still managed to push its members to test their limits and achieve at the highest level possible. Inspired by this environment I went out with M. Sunday afternoon to attempt to learn to throw a Frisbee. After an short amount of practise I could throw a disc forehand without it careening completely out of control. Sunday night I was exhausted to the core, was having a bit of trouble walking due to sore muscles, and had actually developed a bruise on the inside of my middle finger from throwing the Frisbee so many times. But I didn't sustain any major injuries, the pain will only be temporary, and I made some progress in throwing ability. There might be hope for me yet.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mitten Overboard

I'm not really afraid of heights, but I definitely find the chairlifts at Cypress a little unnerving. The ground below me seems like a menacing magnetic force and, since beginning to ski this season, I have been sure that gravity would wrench something away from me--a ski, a pole, but hopefully not my entire body. This fear was not unfounded. When riding the chairlift you can see the personal belonging carnage on the ground below you--a trail of dropped mittens, hats, and ski poles that will never make it back to their grief-stricken owners. There they lie, discarded in the snow and left to the mercy of the elements.

So on Saturday, when I pulled off my mittens to cool off my hands I wasn't actually that shocked when I found that one had tumbled over the safety bar and was softly falling to earth. I think I said "oops" with an air of inevitability. My mitten had met its demise at the third tower from the base of the lift. I made note of this on the off chance that it could be retrieved. But based on how many other mittens were strewn about below me I didn't hold out much hope.

But it seems that M. has run out of noises to save us from and has turned his attention to Mitten Rescue Missions. After skiing back down to the lift (a very cold journey with only one mitten I must say!) we were informed that the only way I could get my mitten back is if we hiked up and got it ourselves. M. set off up the side of the mountain with great tenacity. I didn't bother following. It really didn't seem like a two person job. Instead I stayed at the bottom and listened to the laughter that M. was inciting from the people on the lifts, who must have been quite amused by the sight of him leaping up the slippery terrain like a wounded mountain goat. He made it though, and successfully found my mitten. And then, not being one to waste time or energy, slid back down the mountain on his ass.

I apologized for the inconvenience I had caused and thanked him for retrieving my mitten, which I had given up for dead. He didn't seem too upset. He actually claimed to have found the entire thing rather fun. I'm hoping that cheating the mountain of my mitten doesn't mean that it will attempt to claim something larger next time. In any event I intend to keep my mittens securely on my hands while on the lift from now on.

****

In other ski excitement, M. and I were able to watch a bit of the World Ski Championships at Cypress on Saturday night. We figure that we probably saved ourselves hundreds of dollars in Olympic tickets and we got to see some pretty incredible jumps and back flips. I maintain that some of my early falls while learning to ski were equally spectacular, but somehow I don't think I'll be competing in the Olympics for accidental 360 degree flips.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cleaning Compulsion

When I was living at home I could never understand my mother's house cleaning compulsion. Every Saturday morning, without fail, she would whip herself into a cleaning frenzy, vacuuming, dusting, washing floors, and getting annoyed that I had once again left a bunch of crap on the dining room table. (That last part might sound familiar to M. who is frequently annoyed that I have once again left a bunch of crap on our dining room table!). I would watch this cleaning extravaganza with amazement and despise my occasional forced participation. Cleaning the house once a week seemed a bit excessive. I mean, it wasn't even DIRTY yet. Surely it didn't need to be cleaned again.

I lived with my complete lack of understanding until I moved into my own apartment. I then discovered that this cleaning compulsion had been passed on to me secretly and had been lying dormant, just waiting for me to have a place of my own before it reared up with sparkling vehemence. Now it's me who has to insist that it's time to clean the apartment (grumbles from M. follow), me who pulls out the buckets of soapy water and Vim, me who is incensed by the amount of grime that has built up in all the corners and attacks the floor on hands and knees with a soggy sponge in hand, me who has to explain that it IS time to clean the apartment again, even though it seems like we just did it.

The first time this happened I was startled. It began like an itch. As I looked around my apartment and took in the dusty surfaces and the pasta sauce that had sneakily made it onto our kitchen wall I was suddenly overtaken with a deep urge to clean. It wasn't just an objective observation that cleanliness had been compromised and should be improved, but a primal drive to make my space free of offensive dirt. Once I take up my scrub brushes and rags I clean as if in an altered state of consciousness. A great sense of satisfaction and release is gained by seeing my apartment orderly and clean at the end of the sanitary assault. I breathe easier, I work better, I feel a haze of contentedness wash over me. It just feels better.

So Mom, I understand. I finally get it. But it seems unlikely that I will stop leaving my crap on the kitchen table. Sorry.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ultimate What?

I joined an Ultimate Frisbee league. I know. I know. It seems wildly out of character. My brother probably said it best when he asked if I knew that Ultimate would require catching moving objects. I DID have a vague awareness of this fact before signing up, but my reasons for joining had very little to do with athletic prowess and everything to do with trying desperately to cultivate a social life. M. suggested that my "old person" hobbies (knitting, photography, crafts, fiddle) just weren't allowing me to meet people my own age. He wasn't being cruel. It's true--basically every club I have joined has involved meeting a whole bunch of people hovering around the age of 50. Somehow people my age just aren't interested in camera clubs or Scottish Country dancing. I can't imagine why, but it's true. In a moment of deep despair when I was lamenting my existence as an 80-year-old trapped in a 25-year-old body, M. said that my best bet for meeting people a bit further away from death's door would be to join a sports team. I balked at this suggestion. Me, playing sports? The thought was anxiety producing. I am not an athlete. The last time I played a team sport was in grade seven when I was not allowed to play in the volleyball championships because they didn't want the team to lose. But eventually I caved to his logic and suddenly found myself on an Ultimate Frisbee team.

My first game was on Sunday. I woke to cold and precipitation that kept shifting between snow and rain. Staring out the window while eating my toast in the morning I was kicking myself for thinking an outdoor sport in February was a good idea. But there was no backing out. The organizer had kindly allowed me to join a team after the registration deadline and I had already paid the registration fee. M. dropped me off at a very soggy looking field. The only other person there was a girl with a huge yellow umbrella looking a bit lost and damp. I waited in the car for awhile hoping some other people would show up.

"She looks pretty lonely out there," said M. "You'd might as well wait with her. Maybe she'll be your new best friend." This was clearly meant as a joke, but it had a kernal of truth. I had joined this team to meet people and here was my chance to commiserate with another cold teammate wondering what had possessed her to join a winter league. I got out of the car, probably looking pretty dorky in my blue rain coat and rain pants, and trekked over the field, with wet snow settling all over me, to meet the girl with the umbrella.

As it turned out she was on my team. She had joined the league because her major hobby was ballet and she "wasn't meeting the right people." Hmmm...that sounded awfully familiar!

"I'm here because all my hobbies attract senior citizens. Knitting for instance,"I said with the air of someone making a dark and painful confession about drug addiction.

"You knit," she said, "So do I!" We had a while to chat about knitting because our game was cancelled. Bad field conditions apparently. So we wandered up to 41st to catch a bus, all the while talking about strange knitting projects we had seen on the internet. Maybe next week I'll actually have to throw a frisbee, but for now I'm sort of liking this Ultimate thing!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Not So Fair Isle


The picture you see above is my very first fair isle knitting project. I must admit that I was rather proud of how well the whole thing was going. I had chosen a different colour scheme from the original pattern (which was blue and grey) and I was completely thrilled with my more autumnal colour palette. My stranding in the back was neat and tidy, and all was going well until I discovered a fatal flaw. I had sized the sweater to fit fairly snugly, but a bit of experimentation on the piece I had knit so far revealed that any horizontal stretching distorted the pattern and allowed the strands behind the coloured band to show through. In short, the sweater would have to fall loosely, without any stretching, for it to look even remotely decent when worn. The bottom line: my fair isle sweater, which I have been working on for months, is too small. I experienced a moment of knitterly devastation. I couldn't bear to rip it out and start over since I had already put so much time into it. Furthermore, making it bigger would likely require more yarn than I have for the project and it was quite expensive cashmere and silk yarn. So my solution is to turn the rectangle I already have into a wall hanging. I think it's pretty enough to make passable abstract art, and I had already been thinking that some knit artwork would be fitting for my home. M., when confronted with my dismay and determination to make the best of a failed project, was quick to say that he had no problems with fair isle artwork. My knitting friends all agree that this was a good answer and that M. should be given brownie points for accepting the presence of knitted decorations. My next step is to buy a canvas to stretch it over and then put the whole thing up as if it was exactly what I intended in the first place. The only problem now is figuring out what to do with the leftover yarn.