Archive for September, 2008

Lovely colours, but too big.

Lovely colours, but too big.

I am not the most accomplished knitter. I am, at best, a fair-weather knitter. Or rather a poor-weather knitter: I prefer to knit during the long, cold, dark winters in Canada, and spend my summers outdoors.

But this summer I bucked the trend and undertook some major projects (at least for me) all at once. One of the last to be cast on was the Jaywalker sock. I bought some colourful yarn from KnitPicks (Felici in Provence, to be exact) whose stripes I thought would show off the zig-zag pattern beautifully.

Now, as I said, I’m not a very accomplished knitter, but if there’s one thing I can knit, it’s socks. Toe-up or top-down, I can churn out plain old socks like nobody’s business. But this pattern looked a little tricker. And from what my fellow Ravelers had to say about the pattern’s lack of elasticity, I thought I’d better do the test swatch. (I have since paid for this. When I told the story to my far more accomplished knitting friend Tam, she looked at me incredulously, then laughed and said, “What a nerd! Who does a test swatch for socks?”)

The test swatch told me to knit these suckers on 3 mm needles in the large size, while the pattern itself (as well as the yarn, really) calls for 2.25 mm needles. Contrary to every natural instinct I had, and despite the fact I rarely knit socks on anything larger than 2.5 mm, I did as the test swatch bid. And here I am, two inches down the leg with a sock that would fit a small elephant’s leg. 

While I know test swatches can be crucial to a successful project, there is also something to be said for trusting your inner knitting instincts.

This from the woman who knit two other failed projects this summer: a tank top that is so big around it would fit two of me, and a Stefanie Japel pattern (Split-neckline cap-sleeve tee) whose neckline simply will not lie flat no matter how many times I start over . . . from scratch . . . Which looks like what I’ll have to do with the Jaywalkers. Good thing the winters are long up here.


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I’ve been wanting to weigh in on the election here for some time, and it looks like I’ve got my opening with the kerfuffle over Stephen Harper’s comments regarding the arts this week. His party’s cuts to various arts programs earlier this month were bad enough. Now he’s showing his true colours (and ignorance) with his comments about artists being gala-going types who wine and dine on the taxpayers’ dime and then whine about the size of their grants. (Margaret Atwood wrote a brilliant retort here.)

It was the last straw. I realized that my vote wasn’t enough to counter this megalomaniac. I decided to put my money where my mouth is and, for the first time ever, I made a financial donation to a political party. I have to say, I feel pretty good about it. I feel like I’m making a contribution to the democratic process beyond casting my vote, which just doesn’t feel sufficient against people like Harper. I’ll have to think of more ways in the next few weeks before election day to spread the word. 

For now, this will have to do. My plea to Canadians:


  • If you love anyone who is gay, or care about the LGBT community, do not vote Conservative.
  • If you enjoy the CBC (think of The Hour, DNTO, Vinyl Café, etc) do not vote Conservative.
  • If you enjoy the arts, particularly smaller-scale, local artists and performers, do not vote Conservative.
  • If you believe in a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices, do not vote Conservative.
  • If you believe church and state should be separate, do not vote Conservative.

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Intimidated by ignorance

I remembered something strange today. Ten years ago this month (possibly even this week — I don’t remember the exact date) I moved to China to begin teaching ESL. I had finished my BA that April, and was off to see China for the first time. I had been fascinated with China for some time, though I can’t now remember why. When I got the job teaching English at a private school in the south, just outside the Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen, I was thrilled. In my innocence and naïveté, I thought I would never come back to Canada. I flew into Hong Kong, at what was then the brand new Chek Lap Kok airport. (I was deeply disappointed not to be flying into the old airport, which was apparently right downtown. The planes landed amid skyscrapers!)

Anyway, I remember taking a shuttle bus from the airport into the city, so I could catch the train to Shenzhen. I cried tears of joy as the bus drove through Hong Kong. I admired the buildings that looked piled on top of one another, was fascinated by the bamboo scaffolding, and entranced by the lush green hills. 

In Shenzhen, I was met by an American couple who had helped arrange the contract for me online. The administration at the school did not speak English. So they picked me up at the train station, where I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people constantly passing through the doors there. They picked me up and we took a cab the 40 minutes or so, outside the SEZ and to the town where the wealthy Shenzhen families sent their children to boarding school.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out I wasn’t going to become fast friends with this couple. They were both born again Christians from Arizona, and made use of every opportunity to broadcast it. They made it abundantly clear that they didn’t like the Chinese, disapproved of their “Godlessness,” their table manners, the way they raised their children. They sat me down one night in their apartment and told me it wasn’t enough just to be a kind person — you have to PRAY, and ACCEPT JESUS CHRIST as your SAVIOUR.

But the one thing I remembered today, out of nowhere, was a brief exchange I had with Mrs. Born-Again. I was trying to learn Mandarin — at least enough to do simple things like barter for vegetables at the market, tell the motorcycle-taxi where I was going, explaining to people where I was from. (Wo shi jia-na-da ren.) That kind of thing.

So I bought a book in Hong Kong, but Mrs. Born-Again kindly offered me her pinyin workbook designed for Chinese children. It even came with a tape to hear the different tones of the language. (There are four. Ouch.) So she asked me, “Do you know what pinyin is?”

“Sure,” I said. “It’s the phonetic transcription of Mandarin into the Roman alphabet.”

She stared at me blankly. “No, it’s Chinese in English letters.”

(sigh) I didn’t even know where to begin. I shrugged and let it go. Their ignorance was so overwhelming, I was actually intimidated by it. And it’s not just the “English letters” comment. It’s the whole blind, self-absorbed, intolerant package. I don’t know what made me think of it, unless it’s an inner clock that reminded me I embarked on this grand adventure exactly 10 years ago.

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After staying closeted to my family for nearly 20 years, I finally came out to them in July. I knew my parents wouldn’t take it well. Whose parents do, really? But mine are devout Catholics, both well past retirement age. The question was not if they would react badly — it was a question of how bad, and what sort of relationship we’d have afterwards.

I’d known since high school that I was bisexual. (As an aside, I maintain that bisexuality is its own orientation, and not “a stopover on the way to gay-town,” as some would have it.) Not being that close to my family, I rarely shared with them when I was dating anyone at all, regardless of gender. In my late 20s, I had a committed relationship with a woman for four years. All my friends were aware of it; only my family remained (and remains) in the dark.

Now in my mid-30s, I am once again in a committed same-sex relationship. And I probably would have kept this one a secret from my family as well, were it not for two things: 1. More than I ever have in the past, I feel quite certain that I have met my life partner; and 2. My parents told me they were coming for a visit in early July and that they expected to stay with me. I had no choice — we had been living together for months already. I couldn’t hide it. And I realized it was stupid to try. I called my mother and told her.

She didn’t yell or cry. She said she was disappointed, that she didn’t approve of my entire lifestyle, and that she was worried about my soul. I told her that was for me to worry about. I also said I would understand if they didn’t feel comfortable coming for a visit, but that they should take some time to think about it and let me know. After two weeks with no word, I finally called my older brother who was supposed to come with them on this fated visit to find out what was going on.

He said they told him my news, and that he tried to convince them to come for a visit anyway, but they outright refused. And they couldn’t bring themselves to call and let me know. In fact, even now, more than two months later, they still haven’t called me once. I did see my parents on Labour Day weekend at my brother’s annual family BBQ. At my brother’s invitation, I also brought my partner. My parents were glad to see me, and were very awkward with my partner, but at least they showed up and were polite.

They’re making an effort, but they’re clearly upset by the whole thing. I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier coming out to them in high school. Coming out in your mid-30s means you’re flying in the face of years and years of your family thinking of you a certain way. Coming out in your teens, when you’re discovering who you are, would perhaps be less of a shock. At the same time, I imagine it’s harder to be taken seriously. Adults usually think teenagers don’t have enough life experience to make decisions of that magnitude. But there are some things you just know, regardless of age or experience.

At least my brother has been supportive. He welcomed both me and my fabulous partner into his home. Because I’ve never been very close with my parents, this isn’t a devastating situation. My mother was 35 when I was born, my father 40. We are from entirely different eras, and have never understood each other. My style, my sense of humour, my choice of friends, my career choices were always met with disapproval. So I gave up trying. I stopped telling them about things I knew would upset them, and stuck to safe topics like the weather. Now is their chance to get to know the real me, if they’re interested.

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I used to journal religiously. Not every day but often weekly, depending on what was going on in my life. Relationships, friends, family, work, reading, news — whatever was on my mind would end up in the pages of my journal. I now have more than 12 years of handwritten journal entries. The notebooks of various sizes and quality, from spiral-bound school notebooks to hardcover sewn journals with elegant design and gorgeous paper, are stored in a box, tucked away in a closet.

But lately I’ve been finding it more and more tedious to write in my journal. I love the feeling of the pen gliding along the paper, but I get frustrated with how long it takes. Likely because I spend more and more of my time on a computer, both at work and at home. I’ve become accustomed to my thought spilling out as quickly as I can type (which is pretty fast).

As a result, I’ve decided to try out the blog thing. I’ve been thinking about it for years, really. I couldn’t decide on a single topic to focus on, so I won’t try. The topic of the blog will be whatever is on my mind on that particular day, much like my beloved journal. I’m not giving up on pen and paper yet; I’m just looking to try an alternative.

We’ll see how it goes.

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