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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cussing, Some Personal Notes

Cussing, Some Personal Notes*



Georgia and Nana, sittin' in a tree, C-U-S-S-I-N-G.


Well, we weren't, actually. But I had just discovered that seven-year-old Georgia has strong views on the topic. As we spent an afternoon together recently I experienced some mild frustration or exasperation and I said, "Rats!" Georgia looked at me very disapprovingly and said, "Nana!"




You shouldn't say that!


Shouldn't say "rats"? There's nothing bad about "rats." I can say that.




Well, what about "shoot!" Can I say "shoot"?




This was getting me nowhere. I don't know who has been shaping her mind about expletives. I'm pretty sure it isn't her parents. I even asked her brother, Sam, about it later: "Do you consider 'rats!' to be a bad word?" He said no.


I ended the Georgia stalemate by heading upstairs to pee, but as I climbed the steps I said, "Grumph, Georgia! Grumphy-do!" She made no comment. But I was pretty sure "grumph" was okay because it was the word I coined forty years ago to express myself in front of my own children.


So what was going on with "rats" and "shoot"? Several answers occur to me. The most obvious is that it was not the words but the tone of voice, the actual expression of frustration that she thought of as "bad". "Rats", after all is not a euphemism for some blasphemous or vulgar phrase. It isn't like "gee whiz" or "golly gee" or "crikey!", which are related to Jesus Christ. It isn't like frickin' or freakin'—or my favourite of all time: Gulley Jimson's "For cough! For cough!" It's just "rats"!


I couldn't persuade her. But we'll revisit the conversation when she's a little older. Her views may change.


During my own childhood, cussing was so far from being allowed that I didn't hear certain words until I was in my 20s and I didn't use them until I was in my 30s. When I was 32, for example, my sister Sari, then 28, said "sh*t" in front of me. I was mildly amazed that she was not immediately struck by lightning. But that was the beginning of my allowing myself to say "sh*t" when it was appropriate (fairly often at the time, as I remember).


Then I read a more-or-less Buddhist story about someone who realized that if he had the habit of saying "sh*t" and if he were in an accident and exclaimed "Sh*t!" in response to the accident, then that might be his last earthly word—and the word that would resonate with him as he entered eternity, or his new life, or his face-to-face with a creator. Deciding that shit was an unseemly word for the circumstances, he trained himself not to use it.


That impressed me. So over the years I tailored my expletives to less vulgar ones—though I can still use "f*ck" to great effect, even greater because I use it so seldom.


My mother's expletives reflected the innocent Catholic girl she had once been—and pretty much stayed, in many ways. Under extreme provocation (six kids, remember?) she would shout "Damn-damn-double-damn, the devil's out of hell!" That was as bad as it got.


"I don't give a tinker's dam" was also one of her expressions. Apparently tinkers, as they repaired pans, made use of a d—a-m to keep the molten tin from spilling. So a tinker's dam was an actual implement.


Sometimes she would say, "For the love of Pete!", altered, of course from "for the love of God." "Mike" was occasionally invoked instead of Pete.


We, her sassy tribe, would invariably call her on it. "Who's Pete?" "Do you mean Pete the Tramp?" (Pete the Tramp was a comic strip figure of the time.) More likely, Pete was St. Peter and Mike was St.Michael the Archangel.


"Fer cryin' out loud!" took the place of the unutterable "For Christ's sake" in nice households like ours.


So limited was my experience in cussing that when in my 20s I still wasn't sure of the meaning of "sh*t." Was it #1 or #2? Sometimes children need to know official definitions.


For the time being, I will be monitoring myself in front of Georgia. Not only shall I avoid sh*t, f*ck, c*nt, pr*ck, d*ck, and all modified references to deities, but I also will have to find a substitute for "rats!" Maybe "Oh, mice!" Not very satisfying to say, but perhaps Georgia will accept it.


*Note that in this essay, asterisks are used not just to signal a footnote, as here, but as vowel substitutes so as to protect the innocent. This bowdlerizing was recommended by my business manager, DinoVino WineScribe. If you object, take it up with him.

Copyright © 2016 Ann Tudor

Monday, August 22, 2016

Bright Yellow

Over several days last summer (2015, that is) we cleaned the basement. I helped, but we did it together. Part of it. And then I quit, leaving my poor husband to deal with the endless bounty of empty boxes. They multiply faster than cockroaches—and are considerably bigger.


During the cleaning I came across a square basket of yarn. Now, finding a cache of yarn anyplace in this house is not too surprising. Even though I "got rid of" the yarn fifteen years ago, I couldn't let go of certain beautiful skeins. But what I found was not my good knitting yarn. This square basket (12x12x12") was full to the brim with needlepoint yarn, given to me by a long-ago friend. The yarns are in tiny hanks, about four inches long and half an inch in diameter, each secured with a printed paper wrapper. Their palette is soft colours of olive and dark olive, light blue, mint green, seafoam green, dozens of shades of tan, and various dark blues. Nary a red or an orange in the bunch, though there are three little skeins of bright yellow!


For years I have switched this basket from one room to another. After I found it in the basement I gave it a final move upstairs to the sewing room, where it sat for several months. But then came either the ultimate or the penultimate game of the 2015 World Series, depending on the outcome, and I really wanted to see it.


Often I let the whole Series slip by—I'm too busy, too tired, whatever—in the totally delusional belief that the Series will go on forever and I can watch it later.


I knew from experience that I couldn't watch that game without something in my hands to work on. I also knew from experience that I have no interest in a big or complicated knitting project. Whatever it is, these days it has to be dead simple.


And then I remembered the basket of needlepoint yarns. So I started a scarf. Some 40-odd stitches on a favourite circular needle (not joined—i.e., not a circle; the circular needle is just for comfort). Garter stitch, so I can knit every row—and so the scarf edges won't curl. And the name of the game is this: one after another I would use up the little packaged hanks of needlepoint yarn. But probably not the bright yellow.


As I watched the Royals cream the Giants (a 30-minute bottom of the second, with the Royals playing my favourite kind of baseball: base hits and smart running rather than the long ball), I knitted. Each skein gave me about two inches of garter stitch scarf. And as I neared the end of a hank, I began to muse about the colour of the next stripe.  There is no "design" to this scarf. It's just one colour after another.


Imagine my surprise when I found that after a run of the soft bluish-green, the colour that best suited was the bright yellow. And through the whole length of the scarf (the knitting of which lasted well beyond that World Series and into a number of episodes of "In Treatment") I discovered the delight of punctuating those muted and somber colours with a couple of bright yellow rows.


The most exciting thing of all is that I rediscovered my love of knitting and have since made three garter stitch scarves and used up every inch of that needlepoint yarn.


Copyright © 2016 Ann Tudor

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Panic Bird

Oh panic bird, do come to me.

Convulse me into feeling.

Flap into my bones

and ignite me to life.

Galvanize my soul to awareness

with your glare,

for you are what I need

to jump-start the heart of me.


Others see you as a bad thing,

but in my perversity I welcome you.

Drop right down, you panic bird.

From the sky descend to tree or pole

and thence to me.

The sparks will fly.

The blood will boil.

I will feel your claws

and smell your brimstone

and accept it all as a means to the end:

a transformation from the depths.

I will be born again.


Copyright © 2016 Ann Tudor