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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