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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   

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Babies and Clhildren: Spare the Rod, Pt. 2

When I was 20 and living in the south of France with a stately, dignified widow, I would occasionally run into her son and his family when they came to visit. Her two grandchildren were Bernard and Christine, called Kiki, who was about six during my year there. Kiki viewed me as a slightly addle-brained playmate. I was struggling to understand not just French but French with a Midi accent and then Midi-accented French as spoken by a child. She taught me a funny children's song about a 90-year-old woman who broke a tooth while eating cream. "Well," said the 90-year-old's mother, "what do you expect when you eat cream!" I can still sing it in French, if you'd like to hear it. Kiki must be in her late fifties now.


One day when the family was visiting, Kiki said something that angered her father. Before I knew what was happening, he had clouted her on the side of the head so hard that she staggered. He just swept his arm back and let fly at this 6-year-old. I was shocked beyond speech. A bolder person than I might have remonstrated. But for all I knew this was common French behavior. Maybe all children were subject to sudden attacks upside the head. Madame, my landlady, said nothing. The children's mother said nothing. The father said nothing. And then, after a moment of silence, ordinary conversation resumed.


Is this any way to treat a child?



Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor