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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Random Thoughts on the Season

J., our neighbour for twenty years, kept a house that was a daunting example of cleanliness and thoughtful good taste. J. and I got along well, despite the fact that we were exact opposites. When she and her husband moved from the street, I bought at their yard sale three boxes of apricot-colored glass Christmas balls, a total of 18 ornaments. Every year I think of her as I hang these pretty things around the house. This year half of them decorate our dining-room chandelier, while the others are strung as a little garland under the mantle. When I look at them I remember J. with fondness, but this inevitably leads to my next J. thought: without fail, J. cleaned her house from top to bottom before Christmas.


This is a beautiful idea, in theory—to face the holidays with a fresh, clean living space. But theory and practice don't always meet harmoniously in my psyche. I know I will never have a pre-Christmas window-washing session, or clean out any closets or drawers in honor of the holidays. But seeing all of J.'s apricot-colored balls this year has inspired me to make a tiny little stab at cleanliness and order. Today, as soon as I finish writing this, I will vacuum the whole house, top to bottom. I promise. But no windows.


There are two types of people in my world—those who delight in Christmas and those who cannot bear it. As usual, unable to make a lasting emotional decision, I manage to embody both of these views, though usually not at the same moment.

We all know the Christmas Enthusiast. This is the person who overfills an already loaded calendar, unable to resist taking on yet another burden as long as it is in the name of Christmas. Host the Christmas dinner? YES! Make the entire dinner, rather than parceling some of it out to willing relatives? YES! All obligations are warmly welcomed, as long as they bear the name of Christmas. That's enthusiasm.


I also know people who fervently hope that the whole season will just disappear. The tinsel and glitter and canned Christmas music (subtext: Buy more! Buy more!) are just too much for them. Sometimes these people can slip under the radar of Christmas and just spend a quiet day contentedly alone. Or perhaps they find happiness by cultivating their Jewish friends and going out for Chinese food and a movie instead of sitting in a family gathering simmering with decades-old tensions.


With all of this in mind, my hope for Christmas, every year, is, "A little balance, please!" I'm not sure how to achieve it, nor can I necessarily visualize just what it looks like. But I'll know it when I find it. It will involve genuine love, a continual re-grounding the moment we find ourselves spinning out of control, and the required amount of deep breathing needed to avoid insulting Aunt Tillie.


At the age of five, my grandson, Sam, came over to play. In his backpack he had a large, solid plastic wolf of ferocious mien, with a snout that opened threateningly and a hunched-over posture (this was an upright, bi-pedal wolf). Its arms dangled to the ground, ending in fully formed fingers with sharp talons. All in all, not a friendly looking wolf. But as he presented him to me, Sam pointed out that the wolf's mouth opened only so that he could drink hot chocolate. And his role in life (all Sam's toys are either good guys or bad guys) was benign. The wolf's long arms reached out not to grab and snatch, but to dispense, from his cupped hands, hot chocolate to all.


May the wolf at your door be the bearer of unlimited hot chocolate.

Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Making a Little List

Maybe making a list will light my way. A list different from the one I have with me right now (three oranges, one red onion, watercress, good black pants) and the one sitting on the counter at home (thank-you note to Mary, mail package, call Helen re lunch, water plants, etc.).


These are do-able tasks, which is why I like them. Sometimes I even pad them with notes like "file nails" just because it is so satisfying to cross off completed efforts. And, as satisfactions go, "file nails" is pretty easily achieved.


But a life list? Isn't it a little late to begin itemizing what it is I want out of life? ("Ask not what you want from life; ask rather what you are willing to put into it." But I paraphrase.) Many people make life lists of things they want to see or do. But nothing comes to my mind for such a list, except perhaps "see Aurora Borealis" and the closest I'm going to come to that is a video of it.


Okay. Make a durned list. Perhaps some good will come of this.


1.         Rediscover joy. (Yeah. And next, how about "hang on to it this time"?)


2.         Well. That was it. That's all I could come up with.  Too many phone calls yesterday. Talking to too many people discombobulated me. A relative described her current life as a "trailer park soap opera," which is close to the truth, if a bit dramatic. And then last night I learned that my oldest granddaughter has just been told she can go on point in her ballet class. Congratulations, my dear. But I didn't really want this to happen. I wanted her to become enamoured of modern dance or jazz dance before she got sucked in to the romantic, painful life of a ballerina. And then, by a strange coincidence, two of my brothers called.


3.         Really, this time. I'm determined to make this list, difficult as it seems to be. Okay. Figure out whether it's better to dwell on the current state of mind, with the goal of understanding it and being able to write about it for the elucidation of others, or to work like mad to get away from it, since it seems to be poisoning the well.


4.         This is utterly pointless. Okay. Here it is: Know why everything has shifted. Is that vague enough?


I hoped that listing things would clarify what's going on, what I need. But it's not working. Nothing's working.


I spent the last two days making four dozen gift bags, using up remnants of precious fabric I've saved for twenty years. I guess that was my admission that I'm not going to be sewing anything important in the future. My crafting days are over.


But it was fun to whip out bag after bag and throw each one on the floor beside the sewing machine. And then when I had run through all the fabric, I ironed each bag, ending up with a neat, crisp pile of gift bags of all sizes, ready to be sent out into the wider world.


That's the kind of thing I need to put on my list. Something concrete: make more gift bags!


Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Colour of December

In early December I rounded the corner into a paved laneway and saw a smashed pumpkin, still freshly bright orange inside. Its thick pumpkin flesh was open to the world, and its different shades of orange depended on the light and the planes of the smashed pumpkin.


How it got there remains a mystery, but the thought skimmed through my brain that this pumpkin was the only bit of color in the whole area. Everything else was dark: grey, black, brown, dark blue, and colorless dead grass. It reminded me of a trendy store window I passed once. The entire stock was displayed in minimalist fashion, and every item—pants, jackets, tops, bottoms—was either black or dark brown. I tried to imagine who would be drawn to enter such a shop. Could anyone really say, "Oh, this looks like fun"?


Ideas flit, flit, flit through my head. Just like my hair, they're here today, gone tomorrow. Or, more precisely, here now, gone the next second. (Which reminds me. Have you heard this one? "Every moment is a gift. That's why they call it the present.")


Now where was I? When I was imagining how many thoughts pass through my grey matter, I was reminded of my writing group. Surely everyone has as many thoughts as I do. Surely we are all little idea-factories. Imagine the ideating atoms flying through the room when we meet to write. Fly, fly, flit, here, there, captured, not captured, gone, back again, ideas flying faster than the eye can see or the hand can record.


This fanciful idea echoed a recent newspaper item reporting that some scientific endeavor determined that each of us thinks 70,000 thoughts an hour. Of those 70,000 flitting ideas, only a small percentage make it to conscious thought. But—and here's the strange part—even those that don't make it to conscious thought become part of our memory, according to the scientists. Even your unconscious thoughts are stored in your memory, my dear. It's no wonder you don't have room to remember where you put your car keys!


Some 70,000 unthought thoughts settle into our memories without our even knowing it, taking up space. Can these thoughts ever be used?  How can you retrieve the memory of an unthought thought? How can you find it if you don't even know it's there?


Now I'm back to the flit-flit-flit phenomenon. I can't even remember or control the ideas I actually know about. And I haven't touched on the strangest part of all. How do scientists know that I have 70,000 ideas per whatever, and that these ideas go into my memory without my even having known that I was generating them? I certainly wasn't thinking those thoughts.


It's all too much for me. Just don't ever tell me that you've run out of ideas!


Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Think red. Or green. Or green and red. There you have December.


Think one or two brilliant blue skies. Think 29 or 30 milky overcast days. (Add Vitamin D to diet.) And there you have December.


We used to visit Santa Fe often, when one of our daughters lived in New Mexico. That's where we first learned to order "Christmas". In local restaurants, your enchiladas or tamales are topped with a chile sauce, and you are asked, "Red or green?" The red one will be made from deep dark anchos or guajillos or some combination of half a dozen red chiles. The green one (actually more a dull, light-greenie/brown in color) is made from fresh green chiles. Those who have trouble deciding between the two can order "Christmas"—red on half of your order, green on the other half. My December includes both red and green.


And silver. I mustn't forget the silver. Tinsel, for example, or those little spiraling icicles made from old tin cans. Or my bright silver earrings shaped like miniature Christmas tree lights, a seasonal body decoration that once belonged to my sister Sari. (If I have enough Christmas parties to go to, I can alternate the silver tree lights with my own miniature, bright-red Christmas balls.) 


Anyone who has synaesthesia will morph instantly from color (silver) to sound ("Silver Bells"). Last year I managed to avoid all malls, department stores, and large public gatherings through the month of December, so I didn't hear a single recording of "Silver Bells," which is a song I actually like when it's sung in harmony by pretty women's voices. And while I was thinking about "Silver Bells," I realized that several Christmases have gone by without my encountering a single rendition of Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride." You remember that one, surely, from your high school chorus: "Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling 'Yoo-hoo'. . . something weather . . .something . . .for a sleigh ride together with you." I used to know all the words, and I revisited it almost every year for over fifty years. If I haven't heard it by December 23 this year, I'll have to download it onto my iPod—or I would if I had one, or wanted one.


And speaking of knowing all the words, shall we all now recite (or better yet, sing, in the Fred Waring arrangement) " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas"? That's the one that will keep me company if I'm ever thrown into solitary confinement and have to amuse myself with the contents of my own mind. I have to admit that this year I invited a nonet of friends to learn the SATB arrangement, and last night we sang it for a group of thirty or so neighbours, with me at the piano. It went very well. The guests enjoyed the moosemeat chili that we served as their reward for coming out in the cold to hear a little amateur singing group.


The exigencies of song-writing, I'm sorry to say, led to the removal of the best words of the poem: "As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle mount to the sky, so up to the housetop his coursers they flew, with a sleigh full of toys and Saint Nicholas, too!" What's not to like here?


With no further ado and no deep, hidden meaning—but with oodles of perhaps premature good will, I exclaim, ere I drive out of sight, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all: Good Night!"

Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor