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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Good Hoping*

The cape of good hoping

I don most days.


Some days it doesn't fit me,

an odd thing in a cape,

which is a one-size-fits-all

kind of garment.

So on the days it doesn't fit

I feel myself a misfit.

No cape.

No good hoping.


Let's focus on those other days,

the ones when my cape envelops me in hope.

Good hoping is a form of prayer,

I think.

I send full-hearted good hopes

to those who are bewildered or bereft or ill

or simply overwhelmed by realizing

that it all will end—joy and grief alike--

and not at an hour of their choosing.

It will end, willy-nilly,

and that thought,

which inspires some to great deeds

or lofty ambition,

gives to others the shock of the real

from which they recover only in part.


So for them—and for us all—

I try on my Cape of Good Hoping

every day,

hoping for a good fit.

And if it fits—well, then I hope.


I hope it fits.




*Inspired by a line from James Loughton's "The Country of Hope"



Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Are we talking about true joy here or some ersatz version of joy based on false premises and manufactured dreams?


Take your joy when it happens. Celebrate the joy right then and there, because it is rare, fleeting, ephemeral, evanescent, and transitory.


When I think of joyful celebration, I think of my daughter Mary Bin at age six, when she used to say, every morning at breakfast, "Yippie hooray, sour juice today!!" She was sunny and joyful almost always, although why she took to celebrating the orange juice in that way I'll never know.


Each spring I joyfully celebrate the re-awakening of the bulbs in my front garden. Even in Toronto's cold days of late April, the crocuses, the early tulips, and the big lovage plant begin responding to the nudges of spring. They push through the barely thawed earth, through the dusting of snow that frosts the garden, through the mulch-y covering of last summer's leaves. The bulbs poke through, sometimes green leafy tips first, sometimes the flower heads themselves. They're just doing what nature programmed them to do, but they save the day for us. They are a single note of optimism in this increasingly fractious world. (Tulips came originally from Afghanistan, did you know that? Even today, the species tulips I can't resist in the catalogues are sourced from Afghanistan.)


"The force that through the green fuse drives the flower . . ." Who said it better than Dylan Thomas?


Walking past those bright harbingers—those doughty little blooms that greet us even as we remain smothered in heavy wools and high boots—elicits a joyful celebration in our hearts. No leaping in the air, perhaps, but certainly joy.


Actually, I used to leap in the air a lot. I remember, while in college, coming back to my dormitory room and greeting my roommates joyfully, leaping onto a bed and laughing. I remember the joy I felt at being accepted by women I admired and liked. The whole experience was so liberating after the desolate years of high school, where my bookish ways brought me little admiration or acceptance.

Or shall I turn that around: high school, where the lack of acceptance drove me to the escapism of books.

A celebration of joy. It's actually the best way to view life, isn't it? Prayerful joy. Joyful prayer. But it isn't easy to remember this, and it isn't always easy to do it even if you do remember. Ah, well. As they say, losing this awareness of joy just gives us another opportunity to remember it again. To come back to it yet again. To invite joy, once again, into our lives.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Random and Incomplete List


I believe the moon is beautiful, in all her phases.


I don't believe in organized religions and their canons.


I believe in the power and necessity of love.


I don't believe I can define "love," even now. I think it has to do with an open heart. I'm working on it.


I believe in food:  nourishing, tasty food that comes from the earth; meat that comes from animals raised with respect and slaughtered with reverence and thanks; agriculture that respects the earth that feeds us; and eaters who are aware of and grateful for the gifts of the earth.


I don't believe in MacDonalds. But I do reserve the right to eat a Tim Horton's doughnut once a year.


I believe in music. I believe in the music that comes from within each of us, the sound we make when we groan or grunt or allow our bodies to speak what they are feeling. I believe in personal sound. And beyond that I

believe in the power of music to bring mankind together.


However, I don't believe in Britney Spears.


I believe that it is possible, though not easy, to learn to expand our view of family so that it includes everyone we meet. And beyond that, everyone we don't meet. Our family is, ultimately, everyone who shares this earth with us.


I believe in reincarnation. At least I did the last time around.


I don't believe in hell.


I believe in nurturing and caring for every person in my life. And that includes me.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Things to be glad about

I have so many things to be glad about that I wander through my days in a state of gratitude. Gladitude. No, I'm more than "glad" about things. I marvel at the new me who is present right now. When I choose an essay to release to the world, I find that many of the essays written in the past no longer suit. I can't send out a gloomy, depressed, self-deprecating write that was true at the time but that is so very far from the way I feel now.


Sam's mother, Julia, told me recently that she was doing the usual morning rush to get herself and Sam off to school on time. As they left the house and went to the car, she said, in a young mother's urge to get moving, "C'mon, Sam, let's run!" Sam said, "I'm too tired to run!" So they walked to the car, and Julia said, "Your energy will come back. It just isn't here yet this morning."


So during the ride to big-boy school Sam would pipe up, "My energy isn't here yet!" or ask, "When will I get my energy, Mommy?" He was giving it serious consideration.


They parked at big-boy school and Julia escorted Sam to his room and helped him with his coat and hat. As Sam headed toward his friends who were running around the room, he turned to Julia and said, "It's here, Mommy! It's here! I got my energy!"


Later, when he was at our house, I suggested that we go outside and run for a while. As we went out the door, Sam said, "I have lots of energies today, Nana! I think I have fifteen energies!" I told him I only had five or six, so he'd probably be able to win all the races. And he did.


Watching Sam is something to be glad about.


But as I think about other things I'm grateful for (grandchildren in general, good food, my dear husband, the seasons), I realize that I don't want to list them because they sound so trite.


What I'm really glad about, grateful for, is being here. Is having been here long enough to get it through my hard head, finally, that whatever it is, it is not permanent. That because of the transient nature of our existence I would do well to relax and savor every moment of whatever is. All I have to do is remember (not always the easiest thing): to remember that life is not just to be lived, as is often said, but to be en-joyed. Life is to be filled with and surrounded by joy. Our reason for being on this earth, in this physical existence, is to learn to en-joy our lives—and through that, to en-joy the lives of everyone we meet.


I can just hear you muttering, "Pollyanna, meet Deepak Chopra." Well, so be it.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Mind Museum

My mind is a pretty weird place to hang out. In the laneway this morning I kicked a pebble, which I love to do. Don't you? Don't you like to see how long you can follow a stone—or an acorn—that way? First you kick (hoping it will go straight). Then you walk (not breaking stride, of course) to where the stone landed (and to play with the strictest of rules, you have to keep walking straight along your path; no deviations to chase the pebble). Then you kick it again. And again.


As I kicked this morning, I got a vision of kicking a river stone—say, about as big as a tennis ball. It made my toes hurt just to think about it. And then I began to imagine the maximum size you could kick without breaking a toe. I thought that if you wore steel-toed work boots you could increase the size of the stone until you could kick a stone the size of a softball. Could you kick a stone the size of a soccer ball? No, not even with steel-toed boots. Could you do a stone-kick wearing sandals or open-toed pumps? That would be courting disaster. I could make a spread-sheet, maybe, outlining shoe types and optimal and maximum stone sizes. Maybe this is what I'll do. This will be a novel way to waste the rest of my life!


When I offer tours of the inner workings of my mind, I'll play docent. Keep your eyes peeled for the brochure. I'll send it out just as soon as I get organized . . .


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor

Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Learning distance at my mother's knee"*

How do mothers . . .

No. Start again.

WHY do mothers have to teach us distance?

Picture the knee,

skirt-covered or

(more likely now) blue-jeaned.

The mother sits on straight-backed chair,

erect, precise.

Yes, that's the mother.

And standing before her is the toddler,

            hand on that skirt,

            that denim.


Oh. Am I being too literal?

Well, that's just my schtick.

Ignore it.

Imagine, if you prefer,

any mother,

anywhere (not in a chair).

Imagine the child of any age—

older than, younger than—

it really makes no difference

to the outcome,

which will almost always be the same:



Distance willed by mother alone, I think.

Distance as pathology.

Distance as the only path to mother's health.

Put question marks after those sentences,

            for they are not declarative

            but interrogative.




What happens if she doesn't teach the distance?

This is the real question.

Are you sure you want to look into this?

The opposite of distance is closeness,

            proximity, nearness, bonding,




We learn distance at our mother's knee,

and then we pass it on.


What's right? What's wrong?

I seem to be seesawing here,

Or swinging. The pendulum arcs

            from one polar point

            through a middle ground

            and to the other polar point.


Avoid the Poles (write a Czech instead).

Oh, don't be silly.

Avoid the poles.

Is the answer in the midde?


Mothers: teach middle distance at your knee.

Enough distance to create the boundaries.

Avoid no-distance.

Avoid great distance.

Teach the middle distance.


And how many angels can dance on the head of this pin?


Here's the way to do it:

Mothers: hold your babies as close as you can

for as long as you can.

Give good-bye kisses until they are faster than you

and move off before you can catch them.


Mothers: don't distance that lamb from its ewe

            (who is you).

The distance will come in its own time,

when it is fit and proper, meet and just.


Until then, hang on to every baby.

Baby at your knee? Play with her.

Baby at your knee? Pick him up and hug him.

Baby at your knee? Talk to her with your words

            and your hands and your arms and your whole being.

Show that baby you will not relinquish him willingly.

They'll have to pry her (metaphorically speaking)

from your cold, dead arms.


On the other hand, don't forget:

It is the duty of the parent

to inflict the sacred wound.

Maybe the wound this time is


*This line is from Louise Gluck's "Scraps" in her "First Four Books of Poems"
Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Early Miracles

Just getting out of the bed is an early miracle—some days more miraculous than others. Thank goodness for the discipline of routine. Without it, the pull of gravity (pulling downward toward the grave?), both actual and metaphorical—might be irresistible. Yes, I can imagine that without routine, the pull to pillow could conquer the otherwise sensible self and I might wrap myself in the shroud of my sheet for the rest of the day.


Or until hunger (blessed hunger) would lure me out of the bed and straight to the stove.


Early and late we are besieged—flooded, overwhelmed—by miracles of all degrees: big ones, small ones, some as big as your 'ead—no, no, that's not miracles; that's a loverly bunch of coconuts, and they have no place in this piece of writing, which seems to range from dismal to despondent (some range!) with a note or two of hope thrown in to rally the troops.


The miracle actually seems to be that we have not all annihilated each other by now. Though not for lack of trying.

Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Only Gesture Required

The only gesture required is an open hand. Open arms. The only gesture required is a welcoming one. The only gesture? A smile. A real smile, of course, that reaches up to and includes the eyes. Is it Thich Nhat Hanh who counsels us to "be the smile"? That's a paraphrase, but it is the idea: carry the smile as part of you. Just keep the corners of the mouth turned up a little (funny term, that; does the mouth really have corners?)


Recently on the subway, as we slowed to pull into a station, an empty pop can rolled loose from under a seat. Because the train jolted as it came to a stop, the can rolled toward a seated passenger's feet, then circled the feet, all the way around, then made it to the center of the aisle, where it began a fast trip to the other end of the car. I lost sight of it after that, but seeing it swing around the passenger's feet reminded me of the Tilt-a-Whirl. It moved with just that same feeling of centrifugal force—I hope a mouse or an insect was riding in the can to enjoy that Tilt-a-Whirl whirl.


In August, I can go down to the Canadian National Exposition (like a giant state fair) and buy myself a couple of rides on the Tilt-a-Whirl to last me through next year's hard winter, or next year's tornadoes, or next year's unseasonably warm winter—whatever it is that we're bringing upon ourselves this time.


Stop thinking about the weather and go back to the Tilt-a-Whirl. Or even better, back to the rolling pop can in the subway car. And smile.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Saturday, October 17, 2009


These are no ordinary umbrellas. These are yellow-slicker umbrellas, the apotheosis of umbrella sun, umbrella light, umbrella brilliance. These umbrellas promise that there will come a day when the rain, having watered us, will slack off, move on to some other province, then spend itself over the salty ocean. And once the rain has moved on, these bright babies will be laid open on living room carpets to dry, filling the rooms with sunny circles.


In the meantime, though, the golden umbrellas, soaking wet, will drip over the feet of people on the subway. No one will mind because the umbrellas are so joyously yellow. Passengers will start to sing, softly at first, perhaps "Singin' in the Rain," or "Rain, Rain Go Away." Soon the whole subway car will join in, harmonizing where appropriate.


Trashy tabloids will lie unopened on the riders' laps. Books will stay tucked into knapsacks or attaché cases. Those who thought they wanted to sleep on the subway ride to work will find themselves joining in, first humming, then opening their hearts and their throats and bellowing forth. The crowded subway cars will pulse with the swell of voices. The riders will be oblivious to the sheep smell of wet wool overcoats. They will sing.


Yellow umbrellas can bring this about, if there are enough of them. We need to create a critical mass of yellow umbrellas. From now on, only yellow umbrellas! Get one! Get two or more! Tell your neighbors.


Yellow umbrellas!


 Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor

Monday, October 12, 2009

Miraculous and Wild

Here's my new project. You might remember that when I play the piano, I don't improvise at all. I play classical music only. Well, Cindy, my new piano teacher, is doing her best to move me beyond my self-imposed limits. (And at the same time she says that working with me on the Bach and Brahms has inspired her to practice her classical playing next year. She'll have more time, she thinks, because her first baby is due any day now and she won't be touring with her jazz group. So she'll sit upstairs in her studio, baby sleeping in a basket beside her, and practice her Bach. Let's not disturb her dream.)


Now that I'm seeing a teacher once a month, I'm actually practicing my Bach Partita instead of just running through it over and over. The old joke is true: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.


Cindy has shown me a miraculous chord progression that is actually just two chords, alternating in different inversions as you go up the scale: the tonic chord with an added sixth, and the diminished second. Together, these two chords cover every note in the scale. So for my summer homework, I'm going to learn to play "Don't Get Around Much Any More" with this chord progression. It sounds very George-Shearing-y, with a bluesy close harmony, and it gives the impression that I know what I'm doing, which of course I don't, yet. But I will.


That's the miraculous part.


The wild part? I don't do "wild" on the piano, since you really have to think fast—which I don't do much any more (don't get around much, either). Is "wild" anyplace in my life? Here's how we started a recent week: Ball game at the Christie Pits on Sunday. Husband's birthday on Monday (lovely lunch at the Gallery Grill, where they comped us each a glass of bubbly in honor of the birthday boy; then to Kensington Market where we bought a case of the pretty golden yellow curly-tipped mangoes; then chips and guacamole at home with a bottle of French champagne, followed by crème brulee--Dino's birthday had a food theme). Tuesday was busy all day but nothing wild. Wednesday, busy all day but nothing wild.


I seem to be lacking in "wild." Perhaps I need to re-define the term, civilize it just a bit until I can find evidence of it in my life. Wild. Not tame? Okay so far. Uninhibited? Ferocious? Uncivilized? Natural? Oh, natural works for me. I'm the original Nature Girl ("There was a girl, a very sad and lonely girl . . ." Are you too young for that song? How about "They tried to sell us egg fu young . . ."?)


I'm so natural I can't do a thing with my hair. Product is your friend, say the salonistas, but I'm not convinced that it is. So I keep on washing my hair with castile soap and conditioning it with diluted apple cider vinegar.


You can't get much wilder than that!


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Quilt the drowsy night song"

"Quilt the drowsy night song," a line from poet Jane Hirschfeld's "Sleep," brings to my mind "Puff the Magic, etc.", whose meter it matches. This is a facetious comparison. And yet, our uninvited musical memories are important. I read a book whose message was to heed and study the songs and musical phrases that pop into our minds. (The ones that remain, sometimes far longer than we want, are called "ear worms.")


If you wake, said the author, with a song fragment in your head, study it with the same attention you would apply to your dreams, for the songs carry a message from your unconscious.


"Puff," above, was called into my mind because it matched the meter of the "quilt…" line. I understand this. But what am I to make of the fact that for the last two days I have been unable to stop humming "The Darktown Strutters' Ball". Which of the lines of its lyrics am I to take as the message?


"I'll be down to get ya in a taxi, honey" (Message: I should give up on public transit and spend my money on cabs.)


"Better be ready 'bout half-past eight" (Message: Pay particular attention to 8:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.; something important might happen.)


"Now, honey, don't be late" (Message: clear as it stands.)


"I want to be there when the band starts playin'" (Message: Leave in plenty of time so you don't miss the curtain.)


And so forth.


Maybe the key point to remember is that although some of the music that rises uninvited from our depths deserves close attention, the remainder, as in this case, is just annoying.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Riffin' in the Kitchen

I like to riff in the kitchen. It is true that when I'm giving a dinner party I plan and schedule and shop, I pore through the recipes in our forty linear feet of cookbooks, plus my dozen large binders of collected recipes. I allot two days to the preparation of a company meal, and I enjoy every minute of it.


But what I really like to do is to riff in the kitchen. Mealtime comes. I pull out every leftover in the refrigerator, I inventory what's on hand, and then I play with my food until it becomes a meal. I must acknowledge here that cooking became a lot more fun once the three children had left home. My dear husband will eat anything, even my mistakes.


Recently I was on my own for dinner. My husband was at some gala tasting that would overfeed him with too much protein, too much fat, and too much wine. What would I fix for myself? Well, my supper was nothing fancy--but it was more to my taste than a banquet.


Here's what I had on hand: some unbaked pastry dough; a little egg-and-milk mixture left from that morning's French toast (I never throw anything away); half a cup of liquid from a creamy onion soup; a large handful of uncooked spinach; five tablespoons of heavy cream left from the weekend's party; and about two inches of a goat cheese cylinder.


And here's what I made. I rolled out half the dough and laid it in a small pie pan. I heated the cream and wilted the spinach in it, then roughly chopped the spinach while it was still in the pan. I mixed together the egg and milk, the milky soup liquid, the goat cheese, an extra egg, and the spinach and cream mixture and poured them into the pie pan. This was a quiche-like creation that can never be repeated.


Now, because you can never have too much pie, I lined another pie pan with the remaining dough and spread it with apple butter. I sliced an unpeeled apple and laid the slices in concentric circles on top of the apple butter, then topped the apples with a mixture of ground almonds, a tablespoon of sugar, and a little melted butter.


Nothing fancy. While everything baked I sat on my chaise in the living room, reading, while the gas fireplace hummed. And when the meal was ready I ate it, still sitting on the chaise, still reading.


My favorite way to eat: warm, comfortable, with a book in one hand (and we wonder why I spill so much food on my clothes). But nothing fancy.



Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Feast on Your Life

feast on your life

make a meal of it

gorge yourself on half-remembered hurts

stuff your mouth with half-forgotten shames

eat until your body is fully filled

            with your self


feel your hunger

when you approach the table

to feast on your life


look before you eat

eat first with the eyes

see the scars

see the encroaching, familiar, inevitable

(who would have believed?)


even as you compensate for them 

with (and thanks for this)

your glasses and your hearing aids


but look beyond these surface signs

search for trauma and joy

seek out the highlights of your life


and after you revel or cringe

or wallow in sorrow

begin to uncover the parts

hidden in shallow shadows

forgotten until this day

when you seek them

for the feast of your life


the sunny day in May when you were 12

the slippy slide of a newly nylon nightie

(oh, the novelty of nylon!)

when you were four


look deeper and you might

remember bird chorus in the park

just after dawn


feast on the sight of snow

the rambunctiousness of arms and legs

making snow angels


make an hors d'oeuvre platter of summer evenings:

those darkening warm outdoor nights

alone or with friends

and mosquitoes


add spice to your feast

with the joy of hand-making:

think of fabrics spilling over the worktable

and scrambles of paper on the desk

that shift color as you riffle them 



now enrich your meal  

with the music of the feast

and know that, however great its beauty,

what you hear is but a pale imitation of

the music of the spheres


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mr and Ms. Communication: Miscommunication

Our first argument, some 28 years ago, was about the Niagara Escarpment. We were driving into Ontario (I was driving, my  husband was navigating). I saw the Escarpment for the first time and asked him what it was. I couldn't understand what his answer meant, so I kept asking questions trying to clarify it. He couldn't understand what I didn't understand. We argued for a lot of miles. And that argument was prophetic. From then until now, our disagreements have always stemmed from a failure to communicate.


Now, this is pretty ironic, given that we have both worked in fields that require good communication skills. But I complain that he can't talk right and lacks nuance. He thinks I'm so nuanced that my real point gets lost.


Over the years we've learned to deal with this. Something that in the early years of the marriage escalated to a three-day silent treatment, with its concomitant tension in the gut, is now resolved within the half-hour. One of us will cool down, make an approach, and the other accepts it. We talk about what happened and we reach a resolution. This is a definite improvement. In fact, I think we both deserve a Great Achievement Award.


A defining characteristic of each of us has always been not just the need to be right but the need to be acknowledged as right. We both want it to be clear that "I" am right and "you" are wrong. No wimpy win-win situations for US. But that too is in the past. We both still feel the urge to be right, but we know it isn't worth the emotional pain of demanding our due. Each of us has learned to say, with relative good grace, "You're right." Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard. No, I'm lying. It's never easy.


Over the years my husband's bad hearing (too many rock concerts in his youth) has become worse, and mine has become bad enough for me to notice how very bad it is. Neither of us wears a hearing aid around the house, so those tricky falling-off ends of sentences get lost.


He says, "I'm going to go check the flamdoodle."


Now, do I say, "What did you say?" Or do I pretend I know what it is he's going to check?


If I pretend, then I may get into trouble later when he asks what I think of the whatever and I don't realize that the whatever was actually the flamdoodle under its real name.


But how many times a day can one ask to have a sentence repeated (or even more confusingly, the end of a sentence, or the beginning of a sentence, which gets you into explaining "I heard the subject and the verb of the sentence, but what was the objective complement?" All these complicated maneuvers, just because both of us are pretending we don't need to wear our hearing aids around the house.


It isn't vanity. So what is it? Well, if we knew what it was, we could begin changing the situation. Laziness? The expense of the hearing-aid batteries?  It's hard to talk on the phone when you've got that thing in your ear. So that's one valid excuse. Also, if I play the cello while wearing my hearing aid, it whistles (the device, not the cello). But there's really no valid reason not to wear the hearing aids. Last year we both included in our goals-for-the-year an intention to wear our hearing aids around the house. When we reviewed the goals this year, we realized we had failed completely on that item. So it's on the list again.


And yet here I sit at the computer, bare-eared, and he sits at his computer, also bare-eared. Maybe we'll change tomorrow. It's definitely time to bite the bullet, admit that we're both deaf as posts, and do our bit to overcome the Communication Deficit of the household.


As we tell the children, marriage is a terrific vehicle for encouraging self-knowledge and the knowledge of human relations. You just have to be prepared to work at it forever.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It's Embarrassing

Embarrassing. As I write that very long word, half a dozen embarrassing scenarios run through my mind. Shall I pick one? Shall I embarrass myself by revealing my embarrassment to a wide audience?


It's embarrassing to admit that I used to watch soap operas. In fact, I've lived through two separate addictions to soap operas. The first was in Alabama, when I had three children under four. I remember watching "The Secret Storm" and "The Edge of Night." I would iron my husband's shirts and my daughters' little puffed-sleeve cotton dresses. (There was a right way and a wrong way to do those tiny sleeves, both ways led to burned fingers.)


In the living room of that rented house on Buena Vista (pronounced "beeyuna vista"), while the TV fed me its dramatic stories, I stood at the ironing board making my family smooth and cared-for. The three children were scattered around the room in various occupations, depending on their ages. I can picture the scene, but I can't remember any of the characters or stories from those soaps.


After we left Alabama, I stopped ironing and stopped watching the soaps. But the early years after I moved to Toronto were very lonely. It took me a long time to begin to make friends, and in the interim I rediscovered soap operas.


Our house is the perfect size for two people, the two of us who live here now now. But when we moved into it there were the two of us plus three large teenagers. The only space I could find for sewing was a tiny corner of the almost-unheated, almost-unfinished basement. I spent most afternoons alone, sewing, perfecting my skills by making the same Vogue pattern over and over in different fabrics until I was perfectly familiar with it.


As I sewed, I kept the TV on in the one little finished room on the other side of the basement. I couldn't see the TV, but I could hear it. For two years I listened, several afternoons a week, to those stories, without ever knowing what the characters looked like: "All My Children," "One Life to Live," "General Hospital," and "The Young and the Restless." For two winters my hands and feet froze in the unheated basement as I sewed, listening to the disembodied and overwrought voices of soap opera stars.


And then I found myself drawn to the basement soaps even when I wasn't sewing. No longer at the sewing maching, now I sat in the room with the TV and was finally able to see the characters whose voices I'd been hearing for two years. To ease my conscience as the soaps eased my loneliness, I knitted.  


Eventually, my own life became more interesting and I let go of my soap operas, one after another. It hardly hurt at all, because they were being replaced by the odd sensation of living my own life.


But there was one exception. I stayed hooked on "The Young and the Restless," with rich and handsome Victor, pig-faced Nikki, the grande dame Mrs. Chancellor, and Ashley (played at the time by an actress who was rumored to be a man in drag).


I watched the Y&R two or three times a week. Because of the glacial speed of soap-opera action, you could miss three days in a row and not feel the slightest confusion the next time you tuned in. Then one day, for no reason, I asked myself why I was watching this junk, and I didn't have an answer. So I stopped, cold turkey.


I had always watched the soaps avidly but with a derisive and critical eye, so my quitting wasn't because I suddenly became aware of the vacuous story or the random changes of behaviour designed to fit a new plot (the formerly good guy becomes evil, the sweet teenager turns into a slut). I had tolerated this all along. But one day I just said, "Enough." What a relief that was!!


I think that no one can tell just by looking at me now that I was once addicted to soap operas. How embarrassing it is to admit it!



Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Inventions in My Lifetime

You want me to name some of the inventions during my lifetime? My life has already been so long that I could name 300, if I only had a memory.


Let's see. The bicycle?  No, that was already around, though it was, of course, new to me when I began riding one. I remember the feeling of freedom occasioned by my first bicycle? Suddenly I was faster than my parents. Suddenly no one knew where I was. I could be anyplace. One hot summer day my older brother and a friend rode to Kokomo, but they overestimated their stamina and the power of the sun and found themselves exhausted and beet red at 8 in the evening, unable to pedal the remaining ten miles to home. Ready to forego their independence and freedom, they hoped someone would come hunting for them in a car. It all ended well, of course. But a bike is like that: it leads to adventure.


What other inventions? Radio? Oh, the days of radio.Bob & Ray. Arbogast. Fibber McGee and Molly. Fred Allen. They fill a big part of me even today. "Oh no, McGee!" Molly would exclaim. "Not the closet! Don't open the closet!" And yet he did, every week. And when McGee opened the door, out tumbled everything that had been stuffed in there. The sound-effects man played a one-minute riff on all his instruments to simulate for us the sounds of McGee's belongings hitting the floor. And as we listened we could see the whole thing in our minds. And then we imagined that someone would have to pick it all up and put it away again so they could do it all over again the next week, as they surely would.


No, bicycles and radio weren't invented in my lifetime. What about TV? I remember how proud I was that my family did not own a TV. Even in those days, through high school and college, I was a raving snob, and I knew that no good could come of TV, that it would lead to tears. It might make you laugh now, but soon it would have you laughing on the other side of your face.


So imagine my chagrin when I came home from college for spring break one year, probably around 1956, and found the new piece of furniture solidly settled in front of my father's reclining chair. That was the end. We were no longer elite. There was no longer any hope of converting my family into intellectuals who read only the New Yorker. Atlantic Monthly, and Harpers. Now we were just like every other family in town.


If I brought my thoughts all the way up to the present, I'd have to list the inventions of computers and cell phones and all their kin. They have indeed revolutionized the world in many ways. But I stick to my stubborn mantra: change is not necessarily progress. And progress is not necessarily change for the better. We're throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But you really don't want me on my soapbox again.


A kitchen invention in my lifetime that I like is the food processor. An invention that I love is my KitchenAid mixer, with its meat grinder attachment for making sausage and my grain-grinding attachment for making my own flour. Now these are things worth the inventor's time and energy!


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Flirt

The flirt wears eye make-up; her long lashes are lengthened and filled out and blackened by mascara. The flirt has lips puffed by injections of toxic substances; she has no wrinkles, for the same reason. The flirt has very big hair. Over the years, the flirt's clothing has become more and more revealing, using less and less fabric.


The flirt wears Manolos or, if she's a low-rent flirt, Manolo knock-offs. Whichever they are, she can't walk in them any longer than it takes to get from her front door to the waiting taxicab. She can, however, when she wants, dance in them all night long.


The flirt smiles a lot, especially when she is surrounded by men. Where did she learn to do this? As a four-year-old winding daddy around her little finger? As a pre-teen giggling with her buddies during a sleepover? As a teenager watching music videos that glorify the flirt? However she learned it, her kittenish mannerisms are natural to her now, not second-nature but first-nature. Her kittenish ways are what she thinks of (were she to think this way) as her true self.


Does the flirt have long-term goals? A short-term goal might be to attract all the men at the party, or to go home with one of them. But long-term? Does she want my husband? Yours? Any? If she were to marry, would her husband insist that she stop her flirting ways and avoid parties? Can a leopard change its spots? Well, if the leopard is actually wearing a skin-tight leopard-skin print, she certainly can change it. She can wear sweatpants and stay home and cook bacon and eggs for her hubby.


What an ignominious end for a flirt!


I am not a flirt. When I am among my husband's business associates, I am invisible. Three or four of them, after several years of opportunity, have learned to acknowledge my existence. But only one actually talks to me at length. He is not a flirt, but compared to the lack of attention afforded me by the others, his attentions feel as good as if he were. He responds to what I say. He smiles at me. If this be flirting, I say, let's have more of it.


At a party, wives keep their eyes peeled for flirts. Tightly knotted around the mantel, the chatting wives seem to be engrossed in their conversation. But, like the ant-guards posted around an ant-hill, certain of the women are on the alert for flirts. They know where their men are and what they are doing. And if they see a predator (sorry, a flirt) approach the hockey-talking, weather-reporting men, they warn the other women in the knot without a word, and action is taken. The knot untangles and the women drift slowly throughout the room, throwing blocking maneuvers or distractions at danger points. A flirt doesn't stand a chance against this determined and aware spousal sideswipe.  Wives 1, Flirt 0. Men: still without a clue.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

These Johnson Bones

Some people have bones that float, bones that are filled with air. These people can swim easily. Buoyed by their bones, they stay afloat with little effort and they devote their swimming energy to the business of propelling themselves forward.


My bones are heavy. Oh, I know, that's the goal established by today's medical gurus. And I don't know whether the lifelong density of my bone structure is the same kind of density that the doctors are exhorting us to achieve.


Let me get to the point here: I am a terrible swimmer. The history of my body in water is not a pretty one. I like to attribute this failure to my extraordinarily heavy bones, though my reluctance to put my face in the water probably also has something to do with it.


We had no swimming pool (or Old Swimming Hole, either) where I grew up. But one summer when I was 13, the high school organized swimming classes at a pool in the big city down the road. The classes were to be taught by our own Coach Miller, who led all our local high school sports teams.


Coach Miller was over six feet tall, young, and handsome by anyone's standards. He was the kind of teacher who inspires high school boys to great loyalty and high school girls to ardent crushes.


Here's what I remember about that first swimming class. We beginners were in the water, hanging on to the edge of the pool in a tuck position with our feet on the pool wall. At a signal from Coach Miller, we were to push off with our legs and float on our backs. Coach Miller described what this would be like, this floating. We would be able, he said, to extend our arms, relax our legs and torsos, and just float, breathing naturally.


On the signal, all ten of us little fledgling fish pushed off and floated. I relaxed. I kept my eyes closed so as to concentrate better on what I was doing, or to keep the chlorine out. But I was floating. I was relieved to know that I had passed the first test of the class. Look, ma! I'm floating on my back!


The next thing I knew Coach Miller had jumped into the water and was lifting me up. It seems I was doing everything exactly right. I was indeed floating. Unfortunately, I was floating a foot below the surface and thus in danger of drowning should I try to take a breath.


My body does not float.


This was the start of my confrontational relationship with water.


A one-term swimming class was compulsory for freshmen girls at my university. The teacher was Miss Somebody (her name is gone, but I can see her as clearly as if I'd seen her yesterday). She assigned us positions in the lanes. My position was right next to the pool wall. And as I swam, pluckily attempting all the strokes she was teaching us, Miss Somebody walked along the edge of the pool. Right beside me.


I thought nothing of this. Someone had to be in that lane, after all.


It was only years later that I learned that my sister Sari, who entered that same university four years after me, also had Miss Somebody as her swimming teacher. And she also was assigned to the lane beside the wall. And Miss Somebody walked alongside her through every exercise.


These family bones: long and lanky, and apparently as dense as bricks.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor