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Folding paper cranes is a very peaceful hobby. Lately when I am feeling bored or stressed I like to make a pot of tea and sit down at my desk. I bring out a ruler, my cutting mat, and a utility blade and I cut a perfect square from a sheet of paper. Sometimes I will play some shakuhachi music. Japanese paper is so beautiful. I love the way it looks and feels and yields to my fingers. Slowly and carefully a flat square transforms into an elegant bird. I am not the first to fold cranes. I like that.
Today I made a special trip to the Japanese paper shop on the other side of the island. It is owned by a married couple, both very talented artists. Today the husband was working and as I had never met him before, I shook his hand. What a beautiful shop, I said as he cut a few yards of waxed thread for me. I also bought four sheets of chiyogami paper, each a different pattern. I am looking forward to seeing whether or not these patterns will complement the crane form. But for now I will take a short nap.
I remember when I was a child one of my teachers read to the class a book called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Over the years the story had become so vague in my memory. I cannot even remember the particular teacher's name or face, although she was certainly a woman. Today I decided I would go to the library to see if they might have a copy of it, and I was lucky: Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. It's a well-preserved 80-page hardback, a twenty-five year anniversary edition, text copyright 1977.
The book tells the true story of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who was a toddler at the time of the WWII nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. Nine years after the bombing, she develops leukemia, a common disease in Japan at the time caused by residual nuclear radiation from the explosion. She falls very ill but draws hope and courage from a Japanese legend suggesting that anyone who folds one thousand origami cranes within one year will be granted a wish. Eleven year old Sadako begins folding the birds in earnest, wishing that one thousand cranes will restore her to health.
Tragically, the disease is too powerful and Sadako dies before she can finish her project. In the epilogue we learn that she made over six hundred cranes before her death in 1955 and her classmates folded the remaining birds in order to reach the goal of one thousand. The flock was buried with her. Not long after, in 1958, her friends work to erect a monument in her honour at the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park. And according to Wikipedia, there is now also a statue of Sadako-chan in Seattle, USA. I find myself so very moved by her story.
I am learning other things on the Internet as well. Apparently a crane is called tsuru in Japanese, an origami (meaning: folded paper) crane is called orizuru and one thousand orizuru has the special name of senbazuru. I had no intention to make a senbazuru when I began making orizuru or writing this diary, but after refining Sadako's tale in my mind and heart, I think I might as well go for it. I really do feel so pleasant and peaceful while I make them. I am not sure I can afford to make them all from exquisite chiyogami, however.
Luckily the world is full of all kinds of paper. I've been thinking that maybe I can use the pages of newspapers, maybe squares cut from old flower magazines. And last night as I lay in bed, right before sleep embraced my quieting mind, I imagined myself creating patterns of my own before turning them into orizuru. I'm so glad to have this little project going to occupy the lonely hours, and to witness it build on itself as I keep my heart open and curious. I guess I will need more string and something to hold the strands. Hmm.
In certain ways, writing one hundred words can be likened to folding paper cranes. There is a set form to follow, and the quality of each bird or entry depends upon one's current physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Am I sitting comfortably? Am I distracted? Happy? Woeful? Distressed? Do I take time to proof read my entry and do I take care to tuck in a corner that has been carelessly pressed over the edge? I might try my very hardest and still make mistakes. In the end everything I produce has worth. These long chains so perfectly imperfect!
I watched a TED Talk delivered by a young American girl. Her speech was called 1000 Paper Cranes. The talk was about carving our own paths to success and not letting that success be defined by societal expectations, but what I especially took from her words was the idea of leaving orizuru in random places for people to discover. The thought of leaving these tiny treasures on busses and trains and then sneaking away delights my inner child. Maybe I could even tuck a nice quote or a haiku poem under a wing before leaving it behind. 1000 little messengers.
I was supposed to begin a new job on Monday but my first day was postponed for a few more weeks. I was disappointed but I have to keep reminding myself that there is no real rush. Today I woke late and my body felt old and sluggish. I ate too much last night. But I try to take comfort from these projects, from daily trips to the library, from my fellows at the evening meetings. It works very well for the most part. Everything I need is already right here. I am grateful for this simple time of life.
I have started listening to podcasts, something I was reluctant to try for years. There was a long, painful stretch when I could not stand the sound of another human voice besides my own. I am glad this time has passed. These podcasts make this work a less solitary affair. My favourites so far are those of Thich Nhat Hanh's Dharma Talks. He has a calming, musical voice like a bamboo windchime in a gentle breeze. Today after dinner I will try his techniques for walking meditation and staying present: Left foot, I have arrived, right foot, I am home.
I am enjoying the challenge of sustaining my interest in this project. I am sure there are some who could fold 10,000 orizuru without any distraction, only to break their silences to boast of the profound clarity of mind the task brought them, but for myself, I need constant entertainment and variety it seems. Yes, there is the flute, the podcasts, the Kim's Convenience on Netflix (so funny!), and there is this kind of paper and then that kind, little birds and bigger birds, and lately I have taken to mechanically cutting squares only, leaving the pleating for later.
By now the Internet knows what I am up to and without solicitation I am offered viewings all kinds of videos about paper cranes. Last night I watched one in which a young woman hands out her senbazuru one by one to strangers, along with a message of goodwill and love. Everyone who receives one looks somewhat pleased and confused. It is a darling thing. I have been trying hard to decide on my wish so that I might press it intently into each remaining crease. Maybe I could use a maid to help collect all of these fallen ribbons!
Haha. In truth, I enjoy picking up and marvelling at these scraps that fall from my knife, for there is beauty in them too. I am not exactly sure what weavings and collage might come from them someday, but it brings me joy to see another example of this project potentially branching out into yet another realm of inspiration. And as for a serious wish, lately, as I have been handling these delicate birds, I have been thinking quite a bit about what it means to be masculine in today's world. My wish will relate to ideas of healthy masculinity.
When I was tutoring English a few years ago, I noticed that many of the Mandarin speakers had trouble with the English she/he differentiation. I did some research and learned that Mandarin does not use such gendered pronouns. How gender is treated in that language I do not know, but I must look into it. Anyhow, I tried to help the students make the distinction in English by looking at the forms of the 'S' and the 'H'. An 'S' is curved like the body of a woman, I told them. An 'H' is more angular, like a man's.
They were delighted by this, especially since I traced an hourglass shape in the air with my hands, and then assumed a rigid Kung Fu(-like) stance to illustrate. It is a happy memory, and it surfaces sometimes when I hold a freshly folded chiyogami orizuru in my palm. I admire the sharp, mathematical geometry of the shape, and then how that severity is balanced by the soft, rounded elegance of the flower-fan patterns on the paper. Not too far one way or the other, spirited and energetic, unburdened, peaceful and at ease. This is my wish for everyone.
I have written myself into a corner, as the 'H' and 'S' body analogy is a generalization that risks oppressing rotund gentlemen and lean, muscular ladies, two perfectly valid groups on the human physical spectrum. The essential point that I am trying to express is concerned with attitude and behaviour in terms of masculinity and femininity and not body shapes, although it could be argued that there are some who strive for hypermasculine and hyperfeminine body shapes and it is to their detriment. I could continue, but I feel some mental tension. Maybe that is enough to digest for today.
I must try to be more clear. Recently there was a school shooting in Florida, an unfortunate, destructive event whose roots I would argue lie in a kind of unhealthy masculinity. Here is a person who has not been taught the inward, feminine art of expressing emotions, and so he explodes outward in a storm of gunfire. He is too Yang, one might say, and he suffers for it. We all must suffer for it. The sublime peace of life is disturbed. And Yin for Yang, we see a massive response to counter the preventable act as the students protest.
Today was my first day at my wonderful ew job and it went well, although a tightness has arisen in my chest that is making some movement uncomfortable. I think it is a sternum issue with origins in spinal stress, hunching over to make origami and type things into my phone. Haha! Too much contraction. I must try to stretch and expand a little more a little bit every day. Maybe I ought not rush this project as I have been. After all, a person can complete 1000 cranes within a year by folding only two or three per day.
Suddenly my life is much busier and I have had to put self care before everything so that I can perform at my new job. What once was folding cranes late into the night is now sleeping. What once was writing my daily 100 Words entry is now sleeping. Haha. I even have had to step back from the support group meetings in the evenings what for this wonderful sleeping. Thankfully this rest, better posture, and anti-inflammatory pineapple snacking has eased my chest discomfort. I feel so fortunate to be working again and making deeper connections with my body.
I have been trying to be mindful throughout the day nevertheless and I find it easiest to be mindful while I am commuting. I am constantly amazed by the incredible variety of people in the world, everyone with different eyes and noses and cheeks and mouths. Different hair, different clothes, and moods, and voices. Different ways of passing the time in the bus or the train. I feel so full of love for everyone I see, my hand close to theirs on the pole, breathing the same air, our sleeves and shoes sometimes touching. We are all in this together.
I live life a long way from home, much like my father has lived his life a long way from his. But whereas I am still in contact with my mother and sister and have no children estranged or orherwise, he has abandoned everyone. I think perhaps he is a main reason I concern myself with the subject of healthy masculinity as I cannot recall a time when I witnessed him openly expressing sadness. It was always anger. My mother could not help him and so over time he drew away from the family, turning to substances and other women.
There exists an old photo where my father at twelve years old or so stands with a bunch of other boys his age in three rows. They stand together helmetless in hockey uniform, a coach on either side of the team. Just below his long, red Scottish curls, on the shoulder of my father's jersey there is a C, for he was evidently skilled enough to be team captain. And rather fatefully in my opinion, somewhere in the front row there is a little blonde boy named Wayne Gretzky, no letter on his shoulder. I would brag to my schoolmates.
I have often wondered whether or not Gretzky's success is a root of my father's emotional failures. Perhaps he dreamed of NHL stardom also, but he was never afforded the opportunity to reach such heights, and so his unusual levels of anger began early on as he watched his peer grow into into a professional sports career? Or maybe the source is more common than that, and the Gretzky connection is a red herring in this psychoanalysis. I have heard stories that his own father was not a very kind person either. And perhaps most importantly, coaches often perpetuate chauvinism.
Because to move slower than one's full potential to become a lady and the subtext is that this is undesirable. To throw like a girl is cause for ridicule. But to speak up against any of this nonsense one risks having those who have been indoctrinated from birth repeat one's reason in a high pitched, mocking voice and it will be met with laughter from the others within earshot. Someone might suggest that you have daddy issues or that you're on your period and win the argument. Don't cry, don't be a pussy. This is how we condition our boys.
I am not expressing this as elegantly as I would like, but I forgive myself as it is a difficult subject. It is absurd to point the finger at sports coaches and fathers alone. It is rampant in film and television , and sometimes even women participate in suppressing a man's feminine side. And while it has been no doubt useful in the course of human history to rear ruthless, unfeeling fighters in order to protect the herd, we have now reached a point where we require a more sensitive masculine ideal. We need not sacrifice strength, only the emotional strangulation.
In my early years my father was growing deaf all of us would laugh at his nonsequiturs when he misheard our words. "I don't like math" might have been met with "Well, then take showers." Our sense of humour about it outlasted his, though. We'd laugh and tease and I remember witnessing a quick flash of hurt on his face before it changed to a look of stifled rage. Soon everyone was angry. I wish we could have talked it out like gentlemen. I wish I could have apologized and given him a hug as his lonely, silent tears fell.
I did some Google searching to get a sense of whether or not men tend to feel comfortable crying in front of one another. I found a thread on Reddit in which the most upvoted comment states that the author does not cry because he thinks it does not achieve anything. Other posters admitted to crying, but only in private. Others wrote that it is impossible for them to cry. I find comments like these alarming. Another Google search will give the science of its benefits. At the very least it will let another know the depth of one's distress.
Oh, Father, a true red-blooded Scot, wouldn't the expression of sadness have been better than what has been the alternative? The loss of your mother and siblings' respect? The loss of your education? The loss of job after job? The loss of wife and children? Friendship? Another chance at romance? An address? Your dignity? Your health? Your mind? I do not resent not having a father figure to inspire and support me, because you come from this old paradigm, and there are millions upon millions who suffer the same. Is it too late for you? I really hope not.
I am my father's son. Everything he has lost in his life I have lost in my own if I count a lover as a wife and a dog as a child. I sit here self righteously folding cranes and picking him apart, when I, too, have kept so much festering inside for so long. I spend a few months going to a support group and now I know what's best for half of the human population! Oh, dear. Sigh. I just want peace. I want greater authenticity. I want health and caring, strength and success. Beauty and harmony. Love.
I have made about 150 orizuru so far. Eight hundred and fifty more to go for the men in my support group who are learning to honour their sorrow. Eight hundred and fifty for the dream of a future full of men at peace with themselves and the world. Projections of less conflict, less competition. Kinship built upon true joy and not complicit oppression of others. I see so many happy families. I envision more education and less poverty. I imagine healthier bodies, minds, and spirits, and a healthier environment. I believe in the magic of the cranes! I do!
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