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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Crows and Other Springtime Manifestations . . .

Here's what happened to me this morning. I heard, then saw, a crow—the first one I've seen or heard in months. Crows still exist!


I have before me a picture of two crows. They are silhouetted against a golden sky as they perch on the twisted branch of a twisted tree. They are crows from ages past, and they are entertaining each other with crow-speak, commenting on us as we walk under the gnarled leafless branches.


But not completely leafless! The spring-time burgeoning has begun, and each branch and twig sprouts incipient leaves, at this point just vaguely elliptical bumps against the gold. The leaflets are almost too perfect. The artist must have added them for effect. Can there be a real tree this well-proportioned, this well-suited to being perched on by a pair of curious crows?


I saw a lot more during this morning's outing. I was awake today, for at least part of the trip, and a lot was there to be seen by an awake person.


The usual wind-tunnel between my house and the subway was more like a hurricane highway this morning. The cold damp wind, reflecting the mood of the white overcast sky, picked up speed, ripped my beret off my head, and nearly flung me into the air. I pictured myself flying, wondering where (and how) I would land. In my mind's eye I looked like a character in a Chagall painting. It felt freeing, but the vision of flying distracted me from the reality of the situation: this wind was almost dangerous. "Old woman killed walking to subway" is the probable headline, though I might prefer "Seeking woman carried off on new quest."


What else did I see? I turned a corner and came face to face with a boxer dog, whose owner, attached by a leash, lagged behind. The owner acknowledged me with a glance. The dog did not.


I saw a house where work is being done on two parts of the upper story. Both sections were covered with blue tarps, and the tarps were whipping violently away from the open areas they were supposed to cover. I was glad it wasn't my house being worked on.


I saw a nanny, not dressed warmly enough for the windy cold, pushing a toddler in his stroller. He leaned away from the wind and looked at me as if to say, "Who the hell decided to bring me out in this weather?"


Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I saw a picture postcard showing Glastonbury at dawn, and I wanted to be there. Actually, I'd settle for being anyplace at dawn, to watch the rosy fingers of Aurora, daughter of the dawn, spreading over the entire sky, tinting the valley peachy-pink, misting the whole scene in apricot.


If we all lived in a place where we could see such a dawn every morning, would we be better for it? Or would we not even bother to get up to see it? Would it become old hat, stale, such an accustomed view that we wouldn't make the effort?


I want to see the dawn. Not the puny, smog-enhanced sunrise, muffled by an overcast sky, that I see now. Not the sun coming up somewhere behind that condo standing between me and the eastern horizon. I want to see dawn whole. I want to see the light begin to spread, from the faintest lightening of the darkness (because in this treasured spot that I am imagining there will be darkness, not the glow of mercury vapor streetlights that keep the dark away). I want to see the dawn spread slowly—and yet happen so quickly that if you look away you miss the crucial moment.


For they are all crucial moments, those moments of watching, watching for, the dawn, and I'm sick of missing them. When I come to account for my time on earth, how feeble it will sound to have to say, "Well, I must admit it was never really convenient for me to take in the birth of the sun as seen from planet Earth. I'd like to have seen it every day, of course, but it just didn't fit my lifestyle."


Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, November 16, 2008


I've been thinking about spirals lately. It all started when at a weekend workshop I met a woman who wore her thick hair in long, fat ringlets, like the ones that obsessive mothers used to create for their little girls, using rags for curlers. Or the kind that an Austen or a Bronte heroine might have sported in clusters beside each ear. The woman I saw at the workshop had a score of soft, fat ringlets falling around her face and down the back of her head. It was an interesting statement, but it seemed like a pretty labor-intensive way to make that statement.


But seeing those ringlets made me think of curls, whether pincurls (which was how you created curls before the days of rollers and hand-held hair dryers) or naturally occurring curls like Shirley Temple's. Curls that soften the face. Curls that look cute or, when pulled back from the forehead in just the right way, look Hellenic and classic.


And from those thoughts it was only a short slide to similar curly, springy items: springs, for example. Slinkies, boing-y things that cushion our modern lives: shock absorbers, comfortable mattresses and sofas. Where would we be without springs?


And what is a spring but a spiral? That ancient spiral is still with us, a symbol of the goddess, of abundance, of change and motion. A spiral moves in both directions: from the inside out and from the outside in. The first leads to openness and the cornucopia image of allowing and offering, abundance and possibility. The spiral from the inside to the outside is full of movement and potential.


But what happens when you spiral inward, to those inner, hidden parts? Our culture encourages us to live on the outside and show the world only our superficial nature. If we spiral from the outside in, we discover, in the cave of our nautilus shell, a quiet world that we don't have to show to anyone. We begin to discover our true selves.


The spiral represents healing and discovering. Think of not only a physical spiraling of limbs and bones, muscle and fascia, but also a spiraling of energy through the body.


Spirals: shells, pinwheels (both the wind-blown kind and the ones made of pie crust), tornadoes and hurricanes, the stems of clematis leaves and the spiraled tendrils of grape vines, the spider's webs that spiral inward from her anchors. Everywhere we look in nature we see spirals.


So let's run right now to the playground and watch the curly-haired boys and girls on the spiraling slides.


Copyright 2008  Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Brown recluse. Black widow. Wolf spider. Every city I've lived in has had its urban legends of the local spider population. While we lived in Lawrence, Kansas, the brown recluse was said to be invading the state. These unprepossessing little guys would hide in dark places and when they bit you you would be really sorry and probably die. I never saw one, but I did spend a lot of energy worrying about what I would do if I did see one.


In Denver it was the wolf spider. They were huge and very hairy, larger than a tarantula. And they jumped. They weren't poisonous, particularly (not more than any insect bite), but they would give you a heart attack by jumping in front of you (or—imagine!—on to you). They were the size of a newborn kitten, but with a lot more legs than a kitten and a fearsome mien, unlike the kitten's innocuous cuteness. Wolf spider, oh lordy. But I never saw one and never met anyone who had seen one.


I have a friend whose house is "arachnid-friendly," which I think is an admirable goal. I sweep away webs when I notice them (about once a year), but I don't harm the spider. But a wolf spider would send me scurrying up the stairs. And a brown recluse would bite me as I tried to do the glass-and-cardboard thing to take it outside. And do I really want a brown recluse hiding in my garden? I'd have to give up deadheading.


Whether you are an arachnophobe or an arachnophile, you will want to see the Larry Sanders show about spiders, with Carol Burnett as a guest. If I ever need to make myself laugh regularly in order to cure a disease (a la Norman Cousins), I'm going to watch this show twice a day.


Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Goddess at Green Turtle Cay

On my last night in that place, the goddess came.

She came in standard guise—a snake—

I should have known her right away.

But didn't.


Fear intervened.

Too close, she was, too close and too intense,

locked tight around the slats of the blind

above my head.

And I was blinded by the sight,

By her nearness, by the surprise.


How could I know she'd show herself so close,

so close?

I saw her skin—how new it was—

and still I saw just snake,

invading, threatening.

"Uninvited!" I cried. "Uninvited!

Just go. I'll help you go.

And don't disturb my sleep."


Others came to help, bringing tongs, a bucket—

And lots of indignation at the nerve!

And without ceremony, reverence,

or even rudimentary courtesy,

we turfed her out.

We tossed her out the door.

That's that!

Now we're safe once more.


It wasn't until light of day—

the light that brought back courage--

only at that time of second thought

did it come to me.

Only then did I know the gift I'd had,

know the offer made to me,

know what I'd rejected

yet again.


And now I wait.

Again I wait

determined next time to remember

and to acknowledge

and to take into myself the gift,

the goddess gift.

If ever she comes

(in whatever guise)

if ever she comes to me again.


Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Caring for Plants



The plants that languish inside all winter are out on the deck now, feeling the sun, absorbing every raindrop, experiencing weather. But whether they are in the house or outside, they are always bounded by the size of their respective pots.


Would they rather be put into the ground? Does my big jade plant long to feel the chill soil of spring on her tender roots? During the summer, those roots would lengthen and grow straight down, no longer boundaried by clay pots' sides. What would happen to her if I didn't watch over her? What would happen to my Spanish lavender if I put her directly into the soil and let her wiggle her little toes? What would happen to any of them if I just plopped put them into the ground one spring and let them stay?


Well, during the glorious heat of summer they'd be so happy to be free. Leaves and fronds would dance with joy and roots expand with abandon. They would grow and grow and grow.


In autumn, however, abandon would change to abandonment. That first deep frost would shock the life out of them. Leaves, stems, and blossoms would be the first to suffer, their cells dying from the cold, their cell structure collapsing, the perky leaves of summer becoming slimy ribbons. We've all seen it happen.


Perhaps they'd still have hope. They'd think that their deep summer-freed roots would carry them through the cold so that they could flourish again in the spring. Oh yes, the leaves are gone, they'd think, but roots are sturdy and can survive. Hope springs eternal, apparently, even among houseplants.


They don't know our winters, do they? They've seen our winters only from the safety of sunny windows. What do they know of this cold that freezes the earth and turns the life-giving water to ice, ending growth? They know only safe warm pots.


So I guess it's up to me, again, to play God, play mother. I tell them I know best. I keep them in their pots for their own good. They'll thank me, won't they, when they're sitting in my sunny alcove next winter, safely potted and completely protected from the winter's death-blows.


But I secretly wonder whether they might prefer that summer of freedom. Perhaps they are willing to pay the price for a summer of unbridled joy. I think about that. And then I let those thoughts go and I make a note on my to-do list to water the plants.



Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Morning in Ipswich

Early in the morning, I climbed to the top of the hill behind their property. It was heavily overgrown, though most of the trees were only as thick as a sturdy thigh. A strangle-vine of some sort had invaded the woods, and the trees were spiraled by these heavy vines, which had already killed many of the trees.


I was a basket-maker at the time, and I itched to pull down those strangling vines and see if I could weave baskets with them, creating something useful from this pernicious invader. But I didn't. Instead, I continued to climb to the top of the hill. No one else was awake yet, but I heard a woodpecker pecking out his breakfast from one of the dying trees.


When I reached the top, I saw before me a broad expanse of meadow, part of a farm owned by a nunnery. I was sure the nuns wouldn't mind if I stood on their land while I sang. Only the birds heard me as I sang a full-throated greeting to the sun, which was rising on the other side of the meadow.


Finally I turned to retrace my steps down the overgrown hill. Halfway down I noticed (it took me this long to notice) that at the tip of each needle on each evergreen was a drop of water. The sun illuminated these drops, making a diamond of each one. As I picked my way carefully down the unclear path, ridged with tree roots, I was surrounded by diamond-studded trees.


No one saw this but me.


I say that with some pride. But let me turn it around. It is not unusual, surely, for dew or a light rain to deposit a drop of water on an evergreen needle. It must happen all the time. And it is not unusual, surely, for the sun to hit those drops and transform them to diamonds. So the question is this: if such a miracle happens all the time, in overgrown woods and in evergreen stands in parks—if this happens on a regular basis—then why had I never seen it before? And why have I never seen it since?


What else am I not noticing? Perhaps it's time to open my eyes.



Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More Crows

Crows again? Yes, crows again.


Walking in High Park on the first day of March, I was contemplating how un-connected I am. How I want a sign, a Sign, from the Universe that I'm in the right place, doing the right thing. I want some signal, please, to keep me on the journey.


Now isn't that always my way? Always I'm looking for the Epiphany. Always I want to be reassured that things are moving as they should be. And what right do I have to expect a sign just for me? None, of course.


Ever since the Toronto outbreak of West Nile disease, a mosquito-borne virus that killed many birds and also affected humans—ever since then, there have been no crows in the High Park area. A big flock of crows used to frequent our neighborhood and would greet me when I left the house, accompany me as I walked through the park. But for the last two years, nothing. My life has been crow-less. I know that they still exist, because friends who live north of Toronto report seeing flocks of them regularly. But they haven't come back to my area, and I miss them.


So as I was walking in High Park on March 1, whinging and complaining as usual about not being able to connect, I was interrupted in my grousing by the sound of crows. I was astonished. Crows in High Park again! At last they were back.


And the next thing I knew, there were two crows just above the trees off to my left. I heard them first, then looked up and couldn't believe my eyes. Two very large crows, calling to each other (to me?) and wheeling, wheeling, playing above the treetops amid the light snow, two crows back-and-forthing until they were sure I had seen them, sure that I got the message. And then poof! They were off to the north, still calling. Still wanting to make sure that I got the message.


Six weeks later I still hadn't seen another crow. But I did get the message.



Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Dance with the Dolly

 Eight homemade paper dolls, holding hands, dressed to the nines, balancing on my table. My favorite of all has a swell to the belly. She wears tights with a different design on each leg, and a little black dress. The dress is unassuming, but its skirt flips out to the other side, already dancing to a rhythm we can't hear. Multicolored hair scraggles down beside her face, as if she forgot to care. But that doesn't matter because her little black dress, swinging with joy and movement, reminds me that that's all we need in life: joy and movement. Plus love, of course.


When I become queen, the children will be taught love, joy, movement, poetry, art, and the music of the soul.


And this dancing dolly will be part of it all: we'll dance to our own beat, our own rhythm, feet on the ground, bare feet on the solid dirt, feeling them extend into the earth, feeling them connect with where we are, where we came from. We'll dance until we can't dance any more. That little black dress isn't essential, but we'll all wear something that swings, because even a three-year-old knows the joy of twirling in a dress that swirls around her legs.

Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Skip to M'Loo

Have you seen anyone skip recently? Does anyone over the age of nine skip? And yet skipping is surely our most joyful form of locomotion.


So why don't people skip these days? Well, I think it's all about the shoes! The best shoes for skipping are leather-soled oxfords. You can't skip for very long in sandals, and certainly not at all in Birkenstocks and their relatives. You can't skip in high heels or wedgiesand it's hard to skip in boots of any sort. The ridged soles of sneakers grip the sidewalk too well for skipping.


A society that doesn't skip is a sober society indeed. In the first place, think what a good exercise it is. Run 20 paces. Now skip 20 paces. Which one gets your heart going? And skipping adds that jouncy little bounce-to-the-bones that encourages the bones to be strong.


But leave aside our fitness obsession. Just remember the joy of skipping. You can't skip without smiling. Laughing, even. Skipping takes you back to your best, most innocent self. Skipping fosters joy for its own sake.


Lauren Bacall said, "You know how to whistle, don't you? Just pucker up your lips and blow." It's hard to condense skipping to such concise instructions. "You know how to skip, don't you? Just stand on one foot and give a little hop and skid and land on the other foot and then hop-and-skid with that one and so on." It definitely doesn't have the punch of "pucker up your lips and blow"—but don't let that stop you! Go out there and teach someone to skip!


Who needs rollerblades or a Segway? If you can skip, you're only a hop, skip, and jump away from happiness.



Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nonsense, nonsense

The bowl ran away with the spoon, which sounds a bit flighty, unless you knew the bowl.


Holy cow! What came after couldn't have been forestalled, given the filthy kitchen floor that was at the bottom of it. From the moment she saw that floor, she wanted to attack it with mop and sudsy water. But stone the crows! It wouldn't have sufficed to use a mop. This floor needed a brush or two, and it definitely needed the old hands-and-knees treatment.


But the bowl had had enough of that sort of thing. And the spoon remembered being on the floor once, having been thrown from the highchair tray by a charming but "I'm-2-and-don't-you-forget-it" toddler.


Even without the floor, it seemed like a good house to get away from: screaming toddlers, haggard mothers—the whole ball of wax.


But jeepers creepers! Where were they to go, this bowl and this spoon? Tom Robbins had already written the book about the traveling quartet (what? a red stick? a can of beans? a spoon? what else?) and he hadn't invited these two. Okay. They'll create their own story.


The bowl and the spoon,

on the way to the moon,

looked back at the kitchen floor.

How filthy it was.

It needed some Duz.

So the two of them walked out the door.


Copyright 2008  Ann Tudor

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Aging: What We Take with Us

First, let's make a list of what we might take with us:

--our experience

--our memories

--our hopes

--one CD (and what one would THAT be?)

--a sandwich in case we get hungry (if you're off wheat, take a slice of grilled polenta, or just tuna salad in a bowl)

--lots of water (in a non-leaching container, of course)

--some fear. (Don't forget your fears. Sometimes it's your fears that actually keep you safe. But don't overdo it. Take only a few.)

--a capacity for learning

--a capacity for opening

--a capacity for compassion

--curiosity (if that's a hard one for you, then fake it till you make it)

--as many books as you can carry

--as many poems as will fit


And where are we going? To the Land of Old, of course. You remember, don't you? That's always the final destination. (Some people drop out before reaching the Land, but it's still the goal. Depending on how well you do in the Land of Old, you might be able to stave off the inevitable for a while.)


I've been thinking lately about the Land of Old. It's a sly place with porous borders. For years you go in and out of it almost at will. You experience one bit of the Land of Old and then you cross the border back to what you think of as your Real Life and everything is fine again. In and out. In and out. Nothing to it, you say. I can handle this. What's the big deal?


And then the border closes. I don't know what the mechanism is or how they know when to close it completely. But at some point, as you jauntily go into the Land of Old for a little visit, the border ceases to be porous. You can not return to the other side.


Well, of course you panic. You had thought to visit here, not to remain here. It's like being caught in a very large Hav-a-Heart trap. You can see out. You can see others still living their "real life," the life you thought was yours forever. But you can't join them. The borders to the Land of Old have trapped you. Forever. Well, not forever. But for the rest of YOUR life.


And, just a sidenote here, you had better enjoy it quickly. For the moment the Land of Old is relatively uncrowded. There's room to move around in. There are still people willing to help you. But appreciate this space now, because within a few years all those baby boomers are going to be trapped in there with you. And boy! Are they numerous. And boy! Will they ever be angry at their fate! They'll be all over the place. The Land of Old will be a madhouse. The boomers will be whinging and moaning and demanding their due. "Let us OUT" they'll say. "WE are eternal youth and we do NOT belong here!" So that's just a word of warning. Enjoy the spaciousness of the Land of Old while you can.


Be sure to take with you all the things on your list. This means you must carry them with you at all times, for you won't know in advance just when those borders will close. You'll think you're out for a picnic and you'll discover that your freedom is gone. So take with you your memories. Your books. Your poetry. Your compassion. Your openness. Take your curiosity with you wherever you go.


You definitely don't want to live in the Land of Old without the items on your list.



Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor   

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Growing Old: The Future as I See It

Given the alternative, as many have said before me, growing old is not so bad.


What a choice, eh? But I want to look at that alternative for a moment—the one we don't mention in polite society. That is, death.


I'm not ready for it. I want to be clear that I'm not talking here about fear of death. It's simply that I am not ready yet. I will be, at some unspecified time in the future. I know I will be. And you'll be one of the first to know when I am ready. But my goal is to use up every piece of fabric, even the tiniest scraps, about a week (or less, if possible) before I die. And to use up all the Japanese paper, the handmade paper, the watercolor paper, the same way. To use up every skein of yarn. Every spool of machine embroidery thread. Every bead. You can see that it'll be a while yet before I'm ready. And I know—and you know (I'm telling the truth here as I see it)—that I won't die until I'm ready.


And when I die it will be at home, in my bed, which has been my reading table, my desk, my nap-friend. I'll be in my bed and all my children will be there, and I'll be present, so aware, not frighteningly disfigured or wasted, just me. Just me there saying, look, see how easy it is. It happens to everyone. Nothing to fear. Let me show you how to do it. I'll be wearing a flannel nightgown. Unless it's summer. Summer is a problem. What will I wear then? I sleep nude when it's hot, and I can't quite see Naked Mom bravely sitting up in bed saying goodbye. I'll have to give that some thought.


I have a lot to do before I'm ready, and I guess that's good, since, as I said, I'm sure I won't die till I'm ready. Many years down the line. Oh, many, many years.


But when I do finally die, the world will say, "Oh really? I'm so sorry." And life will go on without me. Because that's what life does. It goes on.


Death must be hardest for those who most need to be in control. I say that as if those control freaks had nothing to do with me, and yet here I am thinking I can dictate the terms of my own demise. I might as well be King Canute commanding the waves to stop. Can't you just see me telling Death to come, not come, come this way and not that, come at this time or not until that time? Once you think about it, Death is a pretty serious control freak himself. He always has to be in control, doesn't he? He always has to have (to BE!) the last word. And have you noticed? When it comes to a battle of wills, Death wins, every time.

Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Aging: Is This the End of the Party?

Some equate the Land of Old

with the end of the party.


(doesn't it?)

on the definition of party.


If your idea of a party

is to be what you've always been

(or perhaps a little more so)

then, yes, you win:

the Land of Old


the end of the party.


But there's more to our lives

(of this I'm pretty sure)

than being secure.

There's jumping off the cliff.

There's hang-gliding.

There's floating on the updrafts

until you get the big picture.

And there's letting go.


Which, in fact, is more attractive?

Clutching (with eight fingers,

two thumbs,

and ten toes,

with two clenched knees and two canted elbows)

to keep from letting go—

or just not clutching any longer?


And what will happen then?

I'm not talking about letting go

so that you can move into

what you think "next" will be.


I'm talking about letting go

when who knows what will happen?


Unclench your little toes-ies, tootsie.

Unclench your little tootsies, dear.

Pry your frozen fingers from the railing

of that safety platform.

One finger.

Two fingers.

One hand off.

With that free hand,

drum on your knee

that, with its mate,

still twines around the pole.



Pry away the fingers of the other hand.

Clap those two hands together

And feel the beat.


Are you still perched?

What's holding you there?

Tootsies, tootsie?

Well, wiggle your toes.

Spread those toes apart.

See the broad plane of your foot as it lets loose,

Toes spread and alive.

Can it fly, this foot?

Can it glide through water like a manta ray?


The other foot now.

Oh, free at last! Free at last!


So now what's holding you?

It's your long legs crossed and twined

As if you were shinnying up to heaven.


Let go! Let go!

It's time to let go and fly!


I'm talking--

and you are listening, I hope--

about the end of the party.


Whatever your idea of a party is,

would you consider, instead,

the party of letting go?


I won't tell you that you'll fly.

You might not.

I don't know what will happen.

And neither do you.


And that, dear tootsie, is the party.



Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Music: Arpeggios "R" Us


I don't remember how I found the job. It was probably just a classified ad in the Lawrence, Kansas, paper: "Church looking for pianist. Sunday service, Wed. evening rehearsal."


Well, I thought, I can do that. I'd done it in other places we'd lived. I played a little electric organ at the Lutheran church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, while the congregation sang their solidly Lutheran hymns. Church jobs are a reliable source of pin money for impoverished pianists and organists.


So I called about the ad. Well, this was something different. It was an AME Zion church. A black church. After my phone call I figured I wouldn't get the gig. Some much more appropriate black musician would want it.


But no one else called them. I was it. I was the new pianist/accompanist at the AME Zion church in Lawrence, Kansas, with its completely black congregation.


In order to understand my apprehension, you have to know that I approach the piano with a straight back, playing from music that sits firmly in front of me on the music stand. I read the music as it is written, and that's what I play. I knew, at some level, that more would be called for at the AME Zion church. And I was right.


The first rehearsal was wary on both sides. I was very conscious of being a blue-eyed dishwater blonde, with all the lack of soul that might imply. The choir members were reluctant to greet me. After all, they hadn't hired me. The minister and the choir director had.


We came to an edgy truce. With my ingrained desire to please and to be liked, I was determined to do whatever it took to succeed at this job.


The hymns were standard southern Protestant hymns. The two I remember best were "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood" (and isn't THAT a cheery thought?) and "Precious Lord."


When we first worked on "Precious Lord," the director asked me to play through it once before they sang. I played the music in front of me, at a standard hymn tempo, a walking tempo, andante.


There was silence when I finished. The director then said, "We sing it a little slower than that." She gave me a sample.


Yes, quite a bit slower. Quite a bit of rubato. A free-style version of "Precious Lord" that allowed for solo melisma at the ends of the phrases, long drawn-out personal vocal statements about the hymn. It bore very little resemblance to the version I had presented.


Okay. I got it. They take it very very slowly. I can follow the director's lead.


But no. There's more. She asked if I could fancy it up a bit. Fancy it up? Does she not know that I read the music and that's all I do? Apparently not. Fancy it up.


I'm the one who can't improvise, remember? But it was clear that they expected more flourishes than the written music provided, and it was up to me to figure out how to produce those flourishes.


Overcoming my acute embarrassment, faute de mieux I came up with arpeggios. Even I could do that, thanks to years of classical piano exercises. At the end of each phrase (and even in the middle, if there was time—and there usually was, given the ambling tempo), I would run my hands up the keys in three-octave arpeggios of whatever chord we were on. It certainly fancied up the piece. It seemed to make them happy. It was quite a stretch for me, but it was manageable.


So whenever a hymn called for fancying-up, that's what I did. E-flat major arpeggios. F major arpeggios. I floated those two-handed arpeggios up the keyboard just like a pro.


Other pianists might have used such a job as an opportunity to expand their style, to find a gospel-sounding beat and to begin a really appropriate use of the whole piano, the entire eighty-eight.


But I didn't. I gussied it up when I had to, and otherwise, I played the hymns as written. Apparently, I wasn't yet ready to change my approach to anything.


I'm sure there were times when the choir would have loved to hear a real key-thumping rendition of one hymn or another, but they had to settle for me. I played what was written, and not a note more, except for those rolling arpeggios.


You get what you pay for, they say. The AME Zion church in Lawrence was paying $5 a week, and they got me.


Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Music: The Best Things in Life Are Free

When I was in high school, a budding pianist who could sightread like the wind, I was embarrassed by my inability to improvise.


Hazel Wood, who played for Marilyn Smith's dance classes in town, played "by ear." She could hear any song and reproduce it on the piano, harmonies and all. She couldn't read music, and it's true that she didn't play with much nuance or sensitivity. But she could play absolutely anything after she'd heard it once.


I, on the other hand, could play anything printed on a page of music. But I wanted HER skill. I really wanted it. My parents heard of a woman in town who gave lessons in improvisation and otherwise playing without written music. They set up a series of lessons with her, in addition to my usual piano lessons.


The piece we worked on, for eight weeks, was "The Best Things in Life are Free." She pointed out to me the harmonies of the piece, the building blocks underpinning it. She showed me where to use the tonic and the fifth or the fourth or a diminished 7th. I listened carefully to everything she told me, then went home and practiced the piece from the sheet music, as I always had.


The next week she showed me harmonies again, showed me the stride bass, showed me little tricks. I went home and practiced from the sheet music, as I always had.


I quit after four lessons.


To me, my inability to improvise reflects rigidity, a trait that occasionally rears its ugly head in my life. I'm less rigid than I once was. Less rigid than some people I know. And yet. And yet.


Half a dozen years ago, a very smart person suggested, as I was bemoaning my inability to improvise—that I simply put my hands on the keys—anyplace—and play. It took a month of her urging before I was actually able to sit at the piano, take a deep breath, and put my hands just anyplace on the keyboard. I had never done this before, during some 50 years of piano playing.


But I did it.

Playing any old notes at all, I played loud. I played soft.


And I liked it.


I played single notes, little melodies that were beautiful but that were never to be repeated. I used my other hand to play block chords wherever I wanted to on the keyboard. I crossed my left hand over my right and played. I crossed my right hand over my left and played.


I made ugly sounds. I made beautiful sounds. For about six months I sat at the piano several times a day and just amused myself. And the result was that one rigid layer simply shattered.


I still can't play "The Best Things in Life Are Free" without the music in front of me, but I no longer care. Whenever I want the feeling of flying or of surfing the waves, I simply let my hands do whatever they want to do on the keyboard. It may be ephemeral, but it sure is fun.  



Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Domesticity: Flutters of Fear (Clutter Division)


fearful clutter

frightening mess

fills my house

that I would bless


but bless it I can't

it is too fraught

with what I've kept

and what I've bought


throw it away

throw away part

clear up some space

at least make a start


the old yellow desk

(spouse's, aged nine)

sits buried in paper,

all of it mine



Doggerel may make it seem more amusing, less frightening. But look a little deeper and what do you find?

Does this overgrown mess represent my mind?


The stacks on my dresser are at toppling height. The stacks beside the bed (my side only) DO topple once a week, sliding out onto the floor space and threatening to topple me as well. One mis-step and I'll be down, my own fault for having ignored one of the prime rules of the Bone Clinic: keep floor spaces clear so you won't trip and fall. 'Cause if you fall you'll break your hip and THEN where will you be? Are they trying to induce fear? A flutter of fear to keep me in line?


There's a reason for the clutter. There are several, in fact. The one I like to trot out is this one: we don't have enough storage space. There aren't enough cupboards, file cabinets, shelves, wardrobes, etc., so material objects just have to float slowly from one horizontal surface to the next, drifting in a papery dream through the half-light of our bedroom at night.


That's spurious, I know, even as I give it forth as a logical reason for clutter. Let's go at it from the other direction. If I had more storage space, would it make a difference? Well?  Well, no.


Here's what is true. I don't make full use of the storage I already have because of my belief system: out of sight, out of mind.


This has two parts (if I can just hang onto both ideas long enough to put them on paper).


Part one: once I have put something away, I forget that it exists. If it is not in my face, I live without it, as if it never existed. Then, three or five or seven years later, I'll be going through a box/cabinet/file/pile and I'll find it and be dismayed, because there was a time when it (whatever it is) would have been useful to me, had I only remembered that it existed.


The second aspect of "out of sight, out of mind" presents a different problem. I don't know how to file things so that I can retrieve them. In a fit of de-cluttering I can tuck everything away in what seems to be an appropriate place. But the logic of that moment is not immutable. Six months down the line, I'll want to find the item. But the reasoning process that led me to "file" it has been superseded by some other quirk of mind. I have no idea where it might be. 


At the moment, I have two master CDs sitting on one of the bottom steps of the stairway, a signal, in our house, that an item is to be taken upstairs the next time someone is upward bound. But if I take these CD masters upstairs, where will I put them? Since I don't ever take the time to put something away properly and immediately (see one of those points above, about not being able to find it or even remember it), I'll hedge my bets and put it on a current pile. If I take them upstairs, then, those two master CDs might spend the next two months on my movable computer table, which rolls from room to room as needed, or on top of my dresser, or on top of the little yellow desk under the window (where it would share space with the Selectric, a prized possession from 20 years past, now past its prime and due to be passed on; the Selectric is another story).


The master CDs belong someplace, obviously. They deserve a home. Maybe they deserve two homes—should they both go in the same place? I don't know. Should I put them with the written material that relates to them? Okay, I'll put them there. Then what do I call that folder?


Shall we talk about file folders here? My two little wooden two-drawer file cabinets are full, full, full. Periodically I ransack them for things I can safely throw away in order to create more space. But my attempts are too puny. So an additional stack of file folders lies on top of an under-the-ceiling shelf in my little all-purpose room. I try to label them on the spine (though I often turn them sideways and the spine is then out of sight!). But how do I label them? What title do I give this proposed folder of written material and master CD so that I will know how to find the CD—should I ever need it?


No fearful symmetry in my home. Just  clutter, clutter, clutter. . And lots of muttering.



Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Nature: Crows

I saw an anonymous black bird on a postcard, and it brought to my mind the death of the crows. Several years ago a plague took away my crows, who always greeted me as I left the house. Always a caw or two, or a full raucous greeting, and I'd say, "Hi, guys!"


They'd perch, three or four at a time, in the tree across the street until I was safely on my way, then return to their own crow business: hunting food, doing some group-think activity, or practicing their shape-shifting.


In Deepak Chopra's novel MERLIN, the crows play a huge role, and Chopra makes it so clear how they think as one, how it is impossible (or nearly so, for on this hinges part of the story) to be a crow and to be an individual thinker. The group is all.


Well, that doesn't appeal much to me, though our modern, individualist societies aren't giving us a lot to be proud of these days. But the biggest stumbling block for me is the business of being one with everything ("Make me one with everything," as the Buddhist said to the hotdog vendor). Because where am I in all this? Where am I, this hard-won I? This I who lives and feels and cries and laughs. Who will know me, who will appreciate me—me!—when I am one with everything?


The crows disappeared for a while, and I could only hope that the plague that destroyed them would be short-lived. And indeed the virus died out, and those noisy, intelligent, pesky birds were back again, protecting, warning, entertaining us from the tops of trees. They have never returned to my neighborhood, however, and I miss them.


On a friend's island, years ago, I was sitting alone by the little lagoon, singing. And as I started my last song (for I was tired and ready to rejoin company) I saw three crows fly to the tip of a tall, half-dead pine tree on the far side of the lagoon. They perched there, silent and unmoving, until I finished my song. And then, as one (make me one with everything), they flew—swiftly, swiftly—into the distant blue sky over Georgian Bay. They disappeared so quickly I wondered if I had even seen them at all. But I had.


Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Babies and Children: Joy

When I was visiting my daughter and her family in Nova Scotia several years ago, we walked to a nearby park on a Sunday evening, for a "Music in the Park" series. It hadn't been well promoted, so very few people were there. The whole grassy park, which overlooks the low-tide mud flats, was home to maybe 20 people sitting in scattered groups. The music consisted of a local four-piece cover band.


Olivia, then four and a half, had brought with her a silk organza ribbon that I'd used to wrap her father's birthday gift the day before. It was pink, which suited her down to the ground. Her favorite color is "pinkandpurple." The ribbon was obviously meant for her.


When the music played, Olivia began running. She was barefoot. She held the ribbon in her right hand, her arm raised above her head. She ran so that she could make the ribbon stream behind her. She ran barefoot. She ran like the wind. She didn't stop. As she ran, she lifted and turned her head to watch the ribbon stream. She never stopped running.


Soon everyone in the park was watching her, but Olivia was just running, totally un-self-conscious. She was no longer Olivia, she was Child Running. She was a fairy sprite, blond curls bouncing behind her like the ribbon. She had become the verb "to run."


Olivia's feet didn't touch the ground. She looked like Snoopy doing that Dance of Joy that he performed when his supper dish was delivered. Olivia darted, always about three inches above the grass. She ran. Her ribbon flew behind her. She was Flying Child with Ribbon.


And when she finished, she somersaulted from where we were sitting to the farthest lamppost, which took 152 somersaults.


And then she came back to her ribbon and she flew again all over the park.


The band was forgettable. Olivia running with a ribbon is not.



Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Babies and Children: Spare the Rod, Pt. 3

When my daughter Mary Bin was in kindergarten, we lived in Lawrence, Kansas. Her kindergarten teacher, let's call her  Mrs. Porter, was burned out. She should probably never have been teaching children at all, ever, but certainly, by the time she entered our lives, she was tired of teaching and tired of children.


The story came out through other parents, mostly the parents of boys, and mostly parents who had open channels of communication with their children. And when I asked Mary Bin much later why she never mentioned any of this, she said, "Mrs. Porter told us not to tell our parents or we'd get in trouble."


"In trouble" was a serious thing in Mrs. Porter's class. It meant that you would be put into a dark closet with the door locked. And you would stay there until Mrs. Porter was ready to let you out. After you've seen a couple of your classmates treated that way, you'd do pretty much whatever it took to avoid being "in trouble" with Mrs. Porter.


Mrs. Porter loved to have the children draw. Kindergartens are big on drawing, which teaches small-motor skills and helps little fingers to learn to hold crayons and pencils. Mrs. Porter would tape to the blackboard a banal printed picture that she herself had colored in advance. She then gave each child a copy of the picture and told them to color it just as she had: red sweater for the boy, blue sky, green grass, black and white cow. Whatever. But when she said she wanted it to be exactly like hers, she really meant it.


As the children colored, Mrs. Porter prowled the room, watching them. And if a child deviated from her color scheme, she swooped down on that child, whipped the crayon out of his hand (for it was usually a boy that she attacked), and bent his fingers back, one at a time. Just enough to be painful and scary. Not enough to break a finger, of course.


Mrs. Porter was firmly entrenched in the local "education" system, despite being unsuited to the task. She had the full support of her principal. But this was the late '60s, and many of her pupils' parents that year were politically active graduate students. They were too smart and too aware of the rights of their children to stand for this. So the parents of Mrs. Porter's kindergarten class revolted, demanded a meeting of the school board (after the principal had been no help at all), and succeeded in getting Mrs. Porter transferred. At first she was transferred to a desk job with the Board. But after several months we heard that she had been sent to teach kindergarten at another school.


And for the rest of that year Mary Bin's kindergarten class was subjected to an endless string of substitute teachers who had no interest in the children. When I mentioned this lack of continuity to the principal one day, he said that it wasn't his fault. It was the fault of those shortsighted parents who had insisted on removing Mrs. Porter, a fine teacher, from the classroom.


Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor