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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Singing and Not Singing

I have a song

that's waiting to be sung.

What if I never sing it?

Suppose I try--

don't "try", they say; just do it--

suppose I try and it doesn't sing?

Suppose it hides behind

the shutters of my mind

and will not be sung.

Is that my fault,

just one more count against me

in the course of my existence?


Do songs hibernate?

Mine lies curled inward,

soft fleshy parts protected

by the carapace of my armoured back.

It might emerge with spring—

the green time,

the time of yellow blooms—

or it might not.


My song will hibernate

until it is good and ready

to be sung (and thus heard);

God alone knows when that will be,

and she's not telling.

And me? I hibernate in concert

with the song.

Wait for me to emerge,




Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Still Water

Still Water


With pen in hand

I still my zealously controlling mind

and let come what will.

What stillborn thought arises?

What notion moves my pen?

I still direct my thoughts,

even though committed to stillness,

and my fingers nod up and down

in response to my reflections

because, when all is said and done,

the task remains the same:

Give silent voice to mind's musings,

no matter how lame,

in the name of writing,

which, as we know,

begets writing.


We must remember that,

in writing as in life and love,

we have to kiss a lot of frogs

before we find the prince.

I'll change the tone here:

We get to kiss a lot of frogs

before, etc.


I will set myself the task of

loving the frogs I kiss—

each one different,

each kiss rich with learning.

Today's message: don't judge the frog.


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Christmas Vacation Week

What will I do for my Christmas vacation? I hope to do exactly what I did last year: nothing. Nothing. There were no dates on the calendar. For the entire long week between December 24 and January 2, the calendar was blank. Each day occasioned its own adventure.


On the day after Christmas last year, I began cleaning out, finally, the big walk-in closet where I keep whatever fabric I have left, along with extra towels, beach towels, and (now) clean tablecloths and napkins waiting to be ironed. I went through every drawer of the wire storage unit, discarding and sorting. I salvaged enough medium-sized remnants to make gift bags for the next 25 Christmases. I threw out an entire big black garbage bag of scraps too small to be useful (thereby acknowledging that I will never make a quilt from tiny scraps, never use them to fashion one-of-a-kind greeting cards, never become a creator of tiny dolls from tiny pieces of fabric that I once loved). I filled another big black garbage bag with scraps and oddments just large enough to be useful, and I sent that bag to Goodwill.


I loved doing that work because there were no other demands on my time. Clearing and sorting were the only items on the agenda, and that was exactly what I wanted to be doing.


But man does not live by work alone. On Wednesday of that week we decided to go out, just the two of us. We went to see a first-run movie, which we try to do once a year just to show that we're still part of mainstream culture. In order to get to a movie these days, of course, you have to pass through a food court ("New York Fries"? Whatever does that mean?) and then sit through twenty minutes of ear-piercing ads for nine coming attractions (or, more accurately, non- attractions). But we did all that in the interests of seeing how other folk live, and our reward was "The King's Speech," which was a lovely film. (Even my husband liked it, and he hates historical or biographical films because the facts are always wrong. As soon as we got home, he looked up the REAL story and pointed out all the liberties taken by the script.)


Because this was A Day Out, we then went to lunch and had a miserably mediocre meal at a vegetarian cafeteria downtown (no names, please). Vegetables are so delicious that I am astounded to find such pedestrian food still being served as "vegetarian." This restaurant was terrible five years ago when I first tried it, and if anything it has gone downhill since then. (You ask why we went? Do I really have to tell you that my thrifty husband had a money-saving coupon?)


Fed, if not really satisfied, we continued our outing by shopping in the Land's End section of Sears, dodging our way through the mauling of the mall called the Eaton Centre. We visit malls at least as often as we attend first-run movies, so this fulfilled our mall requirement for the year. There was nothing at the Land's End that I could bear even to look at, let alone try on. Walking back toward the escalator, I was struck by the futility of consumerism: all those ugly clothes waiting to be sold, having been produced in third-world sweatshops by barely-paid women and children. And there were so MANY! So many identical pairs of tan polyester slacks, so many garish blouses and knit tops—all ugly and all the same. No one was buying them. What happens to these clothes at the end of the season? Underpaid garment workers spend their lives slaving away on these clothes that no one wants. Are the unsold clothes sent to landfill? Or stored in a gigantic warehouse in hopes that someone will buy them next year?


Walking past those clothes racks fueled my righteous indignation and gave me the energy to make it to our next destination, a shoe store that sometimes carries shoes in narrow widths. Their on-sale boots were tempting (like many urban women in cold climates, I carry with me always the feeling that I probably need a new pair of boots). I tried on a pair. Deliberated. Tried on another pair. Nothing was what I wanted. Nothing was as comfortable as my current little black boots. I left the store feeling guilty for having wasted the salesman's time. Oh, I know, it's his job—but I still felt guilty.


This Day Out was a good reminder of why I love staying home (as if I needed a reminder). Our supper was vegetarian and much better than the restaurant food we'd eaten at noon.


When I went to bed that night I couldn't sleep. My mind swarmed with visions from the day: the movie; the crowds; the un-usable clothing; the wandering, lost people who seemed to hope that purchasing a new little something at the mall would fill the gaping hole in their hearts.


Thus ended another day of last year's Christmas vacation week. And now I'm looking forward to the new week of nothing that will start on Tuesday, December 25, 2012—assuming that the Mayans meant something different from what the doomsayers are telling us and that Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice, is simply the return of the light—and not the end of the world.


In the meantime, may we be touched by the grace of this season. May our days be merry and bright.

Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 9, 2012


For Christmas last year I put lights in the front windows and hung ornaments around them for a sparkly effect. Because this wasn't necessarily Christmas-y and because we had no actual, shedding tree, I felt I could leave the decorations up until the light came back to us, whenever that might be. At the end of February I decided the days were no longer so short that I needed to plug in my   little white lights at 6:15 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.


As I removed the ornaments—some precious and breakable and with long histories, some precious and not breakable (like the gilded walnut shells that my friend Pohle-Linda made for the children when they were young)--I placed the fragile ones in various boxes, either the boxes in which they arrived or boxes that have accumulated for the purpose over the years.


One of the boxes is blue cardboard in the shape of an old-fashioned Chinese take-out box (before Styrofoam containers). You know the kind I mean: cleverly folded, with a wire handle inserted on each side. Well, it struck me that I could open out that box and use it as a template to make a couple of dozen similar boxes. To decorate my boxes I could watercolour them or rubber-stamp them, draw with oil pastels, paste on punched-out shapes—I could do whatever I wanted. Cutting and folding those dozens of boxes would give me a collection of identically sized containers for my Xmas ornaments, each one decorated as a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. I could, if I wanted to, label each one as to which ornament it contained. Or I could NOT label them and be surprised when I opened boxes at random the next year.


I truly believe there was a time in my life when I would have done this, just because it happened to pop into my mind. But here's what happens to such ideas: someone says,

Oh, I think that's a marvelous idea. Then you could sell them! You could start a little business and hire starving artists to do the decorating and sell them to Holt Renfrew or Lord & Taylor. Oh, this is SO exciting. You could make a fortune.


And if someone says that to me, then I have to say: my dear, I admire your enthusiasm, but I believe you've forgotten who it is you are talking to. I might conceivably, MAYbe, if I got really excited about it, make a few of these boxes—say, a dozen—for my most favourite, breakable ornaments. But to make a business of it? To hire other people to do the fun part? What would be in it for me if I did that? Except, if you are right, some money. But I would be left doing what I DON'T want to do (running a business) while others would be doing what I DO want to do (that's IF I want to do it in this case; I still haven't decided)—namely, the art part.


And then she would say, oh, of course. I forgot who I was talking to.


And that would be the end of that.


For last year, then, the idea of individually decorated Chinese take-out boxes was shelved, along with the ornaments, which I wrapped, more or less carefully, in tissue and layered into one big box labeled: "Ornaments—front windows."


But this is another year. The ornaments have not yet been retrieved from their basement home, but they will be soon. And perhaps this February, when I finally, reluctantly, remove them from public display, I will drop everything else for a week and devote my time to making decorated Chinese take-out boxes to store them in.

Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Travel Report

My husband came up to me and said, "Take a deep breath."


I did, not knowing at all what might be coming. My husband follows his own,  unpredictable path. This day as he was finishing the paper (he's much more thorough about it than I am, so it obviously takes him longer) he had found an ad for a relatively inexpensive airline package to Paris. After I took in my big breath, he asked, "How would you like to go to Paris?"


I can imagine the delight most women would feel at such a question. Squeals of joy, big hugs and kisses, all-round gratitude. My husband mentioned a few possible time periods that were available to us (he had already checked our calendar). I said, I think, "Well, that's an interesting idea. I'm going to need to think about it." But I gave him a hug anyway, even if I was undecided.


The idea percolated for a few hours. How would I like to weather the packing, the pre-boarding security restrictions, the line-ups. And then I would climb into a metal tube, scrunch myself into a tiny space, and spend six hours flying over the ocean. (You do know that airplanes are demonstrably heavier than air, don't you?)


Then we would land, jet-lagged, maneuver our bags and ourselves to the pre-chosen hotel that would be our home for the next week. We would unpack, uncomfortable with each other because we both respond badly to the business of traveling from one place to another.


I ponder all this. I imagine what we will do for our six days in Paris. Walk a lot. Eat at mediocre little restaurants (better than North American "mediocre," but not at all up to the standards of France's little restaurants of 50 years ago). And I noticed that I wasn't yet getting any more enthusiastic about the proposed trip. I really didn't want to rain on my husband's parade. Here he was presenting an opportunity for us to be alone together with no responsibilities other than figuring out how to navigate the Paris subway system. And large in my mind was the thought that other people would love the idea of going to Paris in the spring. What was wrong with me?


Then I imagined walking the streets of Paris. What shoes would I be wearing? They would have to be both comfortable and fashionable. What clothes would I be wearing? I remembered our three months in Menton, all those years ago. Whatever I wore seemed to invite hostile stares from every woman I passed. Was I ready to run the gauntlet of the French fashion police again?


Not everyone cares what others think of them in public. But if I have to go to another place, I want to wear protective camouflage. I want to fit in, to look as if I belong. I do not ever want to be seen as a tourist, even though that's what I am. But I also like the way I am, the way I dress. I don't want to be uncomfortable or to buy a new wardrobe. However would I dress to fit in on Paris streets?


Even that wasn't the clincher. The clincher was my hair. I don't know what older Frenchwomen do when their hair thins alarmingly, but I'll bet my bottom dollar that they don't just let it be what it is. They must invest in—and wear—expensive wigs, human-hair wigs. Or they go into hormone replacement therapy that may keep their hair thick and shiny, but at a cost to their health. The ultimate goal for a Frenchwoman of a certain age is to look beautiful and young. 


I can't do it. I won't do whatever it takes to appear to be beautiful and young. But the thought of being stared at—with condescension or with pity or with hostility is too daunting.


The hair is the deciding factor. I make up my mind to admit that I just can't do it. We meet at the dining room table for lunch. Before I can say a word, he says, "You know, I don't really want to take that trip. I don't know what got into me."


I'm off the hook. I could, if I were mean-spirited, say, "Oh, what a shame. I was really looking forward to going to Paris." But I don't do that. I tell him instead of my own fears—and of my relief at the withdrawn invitation.


Then we began to discuss the attraction of the trip in the first place: he had seen it as a chance to get away together, away from our busy, work-filled, computer-dominated lives.


Over the years I had built up some air-mile points and never used them. The airline had just issued me a "use 'em or lose 'em" warning.


So we have set up a four-night stay at a downtown Toronto hotel. We will eat out every day. We will walk through some of Toronto's famous ravines, which we never seem to have time for, and go to a museum or two. We will arrive at the hotel with a list of restaurants we've been wanting to hit, a list of things we've never (or seldom) done or seen. It will be just the two of us together; no computers allowed. Five days and four nights of wandering our favourite city-with no passports, airplanes, or dress codes. It's a win-win solution.



Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Safe and Sound

We think we're safe now.

What a delusion.

Stop expecting safety.

Those seductive moments when you think

"At last I'm safe"

will tie you fast to the unbending mast.


Regard instead the steam that rises

as you pour boiling water

into the squat green teapot

in early morning.

Illuminated by rays

of just-risen sun that struggle through

the unwashed (sorry!) glass door,

the steam's swirls are gossamer spirals

that shift and curl from the pot

like friendly spirits come for a morning chat.

Pour more.


And thus should our lives be:

As fluid and uncatchable as wisps of steam.

"Safe" stops the flow.

Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Vault of the Heart

This stranger is your doppelganger,

his open hand a reflection

of your heart—

or so you fantasize.


Let's pretend that simply opening

the hand (here, you say, have this,

or some of that)

will unlock the heart's vaults.

Tumblers will twirl and click

until all the numbers

have been notched.

The solid door of the heart's vault

 will glide open

(creak open, more likely,

it's been so long locked),

and out will drift the hurts and hurtings

of a lifetime.

They ease into space

like slow spirals of steam,

and morning light illumines those corkscrewing,

waving tendrils from the past.


Within the now-empty vault of the heart

builds a new spirit

aware of its own connections.

Open hand, open heart.


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Maid Was in the Garden, Hanging Out the Clothes

When I was growing up, we had a long clothesline in the back yard. My mother, Eileen, spent hours pegging out the laundry generated by her six children. For many years she did the washing itself in a wringer washer, with an agitator tub that "scrubbed" the clothes and a wringer of two hard rubber cylinders through which each piece of dripping fabric was fed—one item at a time. My little brother Mike, curious at age three, once poked his pudgy fingers between the wringers and the mechanism gobbled up his arm as far as the elbow before Eileen could turn the thing off. Then she hit the reverse button, thus feeding Mike's arm back out to freedom. No harm was done, and Mike never went near the wringer again.


When I was the mother of three young children in Alabama, the owner of our rented house had strung a wire clothesline between two of our seven backyard pecan trees. During one muggy Alabama afternoon I raced to the yard to gather in the clothes before the threatening storm arrived, and lightning hit one of the pecan trees, transmitting a nice little shock to the metal wire just as I was unpinning a sheet. I didn't let this stop me from hanging out my clothes the next time, but I did have for years the apprehension that I would die due to some application of electricity. (When, many years down the line, I rewired an old lamp, I was sure I had done it right. But I blush to reveal that I was so terrified to plug it in and try it out that I gave that job to my eight-year-old son. It was fine. Luckily.)


Clotheslines. I have long wanted one in our little urban backyard. I would study over the placement (we have no trees of our own in that little space, and I was wary of screwing a hook into brick). But three years ago I bought a retractable line and this year I actually figured out how and where to install it. The post at the edge of the porch is the primary installation. I asked my neighbour if I could (genius alert here!) wrap one of her cedars (right by our fence) with a nylon stocking, to which I would attach the clothesline with an S-hook. Oh, beautiful! No tree has been harmed in the installation of my retractable clothesline.


I did this at the beginning of summer and have been happy ever since. I hang out my clothes and relive my past (minus the lightning). My sheets dry smooth and sweet-smelling. My towels dry rough and coarse so that I no longer need a loofah.


And then. There's always an "and then" moment in my stories. And then, I was careless when I was allowing the cord to retract, and I ended up with the last two feet coiled around the axle of the winding wheel (all encased in a hard plastic cover). I could not pry it loose. For three days I would pick it up, work for fifteen minutes using any implement I could think of that might reach in far enough to unhook the errant cord. No luck. No clothesline.


I considered buying a new one. But $30? And then this perfectly good one (except that the cord was wrapped around the axle and could no longer be pulled out easily)—this otherwise perfectly good one would end up in landfill.


Finally I gave over the task to my husband. In general, mechanical problems in the house are my province, not his, but I was stymied. Okay, I said, conceding defeat. If you can fix it, I'll give you a year's worth of kisses.


How could be resist? He took the device (we were sitting in the front alcove, where the light is good), and messed with it enough to discover that I was right: there was no way to unloop that cord from the axle of the wheel.


Then he looked at the end of the cord, where there was a metal loop that attached to my S-hook. "Why don't you just take the metal thing off, pull the cord through, and then re-attach the metal thing?




I looked at the composition of the metal thing. It was attached to the cord not in a permanent fashion, but by a knot at the very end of the cord, which nestled into the cup of the metal thing. All I had to do was cut the cord just before the metal part, pull the free end through the axle, and re-attach the metal thing to the cord by making the same kind of bulky knot that the manufacturer had used.


I did it (my dextrous fingers are better suited to this than my husband's)—but he got a year's worth of kisses for seeing what I had failed to see. We're a team.


My clothesline is now in use again, and the uneasy itch behind my heart–the one that says "something is wrong, something is wrong"—has eased.



Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Questioning Character Flaws

Can I describe to you a few of my own character flaws? You have time for this, do you? You have enough interest? Shall I report major flaws only or a mix of major and minor (memo to self: remember Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye": how strange the change from major to minor)? Or shall I dwell on the minor ones, the peccadillos? (Would little ones be peccaritos? Or peccarinos? Would big ones be peccarones? And where does pecorino romano fit into this?)


Shall we return to character flaws, subhead "mine"? To begin my list, can I say that I'm very self-centered? Would you say that's a major flaw? In fact, wouldn't you agree that being self-centered might be the ultimate flaw? The mother of all flaws, even?


Do I have others? Are character flaws related to the Seven Deadly Sins? Am I greedy? Am I envious? Do I get angry? Am I slothful? Am I Grumpy? Sleepy? Bashful? Hungry? (Is this a critical breakthrough? Were the Seven Dwarves actually embodiments of the Seven Deadly Sins? And if so, what does that make Snow White?)


And why are we talking about MY character flaws, eh? Do you have none of your own? Shall we just turn the tables here and interrogate you?


Just asking.



Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 21, 2012

On Being Set in Stone

I have spent my life in resistance to being pinned down. Whatever the question—whether it's "what's for dinner?" or "what are your views on life after death?"—I can't give a definitive answer, because whatever I come up with will change. The leftovers I'm combining on the fly might very well morph into a different dish entirely between the time I answer your question and the time I call you to dinner. Similarly, a careful exposition of my view on the afterlife can take a 180 if I read a well-turned sentence presenting a contrary idea. I'm exquisitely sway-able.


So you see why I am reluctant to be pinned down. Whatever I say is liable to be turned into a lie. Better to say nothing.


Which makes it pretty surprising that I agreed to be videotaped for a website called "The Wisdom Speakers." At first I agreed because I was flattered and I'm a sucker for flattery. And then our conversation, held a few weeks before taping, was great fun: two charming young things, Nicole and Gilles, asking me questions and actually hearing my answers! It doesn't get much better than that.


The videotaping itself, during which I answered question after question about aging, seemed like just as much fun as that earlier conversation. A few hours after they had left, however, I began revisiting some of my answers and became aware that there was more to say about this question, or   that I should have put in a few qualifiers to balance some of the definite-sounding answers. I panicked. I had gone on record. I had let myself be pinned down—and I'd gone into it with my eyes open.


When I emailed Gilles and Nicole about my post-taping panic, Gilles assured me that they wouldn't make me look foolish (or, more to the point, they wouldn't let ME make myself look foolish).


But there I am now, pinned like a butterfly to a board, on record for global viewing. I've gone on record. Is this the same person who won't even announce the evening's menu at five o'clock because it may change by six?


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Monday, October 15, 2012

Stirring It Up

Slosh the liquid of life

up to the rim of your cup,

then let it overflow in a riot of shaking.

The singing bowl's vibrations

create agitated waters

that dance to the rhythm of sound.


Water sways from side to side.

First, rippling eddies.

But as vibration continues,

waves climb the sides of the cup,

reach the rim, and slip over the top,

tasting freedom.


Faster! Higher!

Water, uncontrolled, explodes in turmoil,

growing more joyous

and spinning its energy

into the frothy ocean of the Universe.

Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Monday, October 8, 2012

October Already?

It's October. I always say that September, the back-to-school month, is the start of my year, but it's really October, when the garden gets dryer and more straggly, the leaves drift down onto the just and the unjust alike, and the morning air nips at my nose, turning the tip bright red.


In our family, October means the beginning of the birthday season (dark January and February nights lead inevitably to October and November birthdays): six at last count. A friend recently described her family's fall birthday parade as a time to celebrate all these wonderful people. I'd never thought of it that way. To me, this string of birthdays means I have to think of and find gifts, wrap and mail them (and I never do it enough in advance, so my gifts are always late), then remember to make a birthday phone call on The Day. Perhaps if I re-frame all this along the lines of my friend's comment, I can improve my attitude toward birthdays. I'll think of celebrating the presence of all these people in my life. But I'll still have to get the packages in the mail.


This year our son's birthday falls on Canadian Thanksgiving Day, which is on the Monday after the first Tuesday of October. Some Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving with a big meal on Sunday, because it's more convenient, but I can't bear celebrating Thanksgiving on any day but the actual Monday. Last year we had dinner for nine. Because I'm so very bored with the traditional feast, after fifty years of making Thanksgiving dinners, I decided to make a vegetarian Thanksgiving. Lots of trimmings, but no turkey. Any dinner that ends with three kinds of pie is hunky-dory with me: pumpkin, pecan, and an apple-prune tart. I love little mincemeat tarts, but no one else in the family likes them much, and even I, the consummate devourer of pie, can't eat more than one or two mince tarts a season. Maybe three.  


So let's go into the eternal pie question: if you can't use vegetable shortening (and I haven't for 30 years) then how do you make pie crust? Lard is the answer, of course—half-and-half lard and butter, to be precise. I used to buy quarts of homemade lard and quarts of goose fat from Elizabeth's, the Hungarian deli on Bloor near Spadina, until Elizabeth up and left in a huff one night, abandoning the deli. No more goose fat. No more lard. I had to learn to make my own lard.


To make lard, simply dice white pork fat, add a little water, and put it in a low-moderate oven until the fat renders out. Cool it and strain it into sterile pint jars or freezer containers; store it in the refrigerator or freezer. The cracklings that float on top of the rendered fat are the cook's bonus. Skim them off the top of the melted lard, drain them on brown paper, and freeze to chop and add to your next batch of cornbread. (I must confess that whenever I make lard, I treat myself to a sandwich, just one, of cracklings and homemade bread and a little sea salt. Heaven.)


Can you call it a vegetarian Thanksgiving if all the pie crusts are made of lard? Probably not.


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rolling Toward the Edge

Unlimited movement, uncontrolled going.

Is this what I want?


I pray for a curb--

a shrub, a copse, a hedge, a stone wall,

perhaps a rise of mountains

to brake my heedless roll

toward the edge of the earth.

There is nothing between me and the horizon,

and I roll, willy-nilly, 

toward my inevitable fate.


I am a mason.

With strong back and leather-gloved hands

I'll pile stone on stone,

building a wall

as wide as it needs to be.


The horizon lies ahead.

My wall will stand between

me and its implacable beckoning.


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Monday, September 24, 2012

Slowing Down

Like Rumpelstiltskin, I spin

gold out of straw.


The rate at which I move has slowed.

An inner demon compelled the old me—

harried, hurried, impatient—

to work so fast my motions were blurred,

made fuzzy and indeterminate

by my race to finished a task,

to be done with it and on to the next.


The New Me (oh, how I treasure her,

if I may be permitted such a thing)

the New Me is slow as molasses in January,

and a lot more mindful

(though who knows the mysteries of molasses-mind?)


Suffice it to say

that the New Me accomplishes less—

and spends more time doing it.

What a blessing.



Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Fuller Brush Man

When I was young, traveling salesmen crisscrossed the country, just as they do in the opening scene of The Music Man. The most memorable of these was the Fuller Brush man, who traveled from town to town selling brushes. My mother always invited him in, and I find it hard to believe that anyone ever sent him away. He would lug his heavy salesman's suitcase into the middle of the living room and open it to display his treasures. In that era, the Fuller Brush man was seen as performing a welcome service. Not only did he sell scores of purpose-built brushes, but he also provided the housewife with a distraction from her daily duties.


His specialized brushes were irresistible. Yes, he offered hairbrushes of all kinds (boar's bristles, artificial bristles, round, flat-backed, tortoise shell, new-fangled plastic). But beyond the hair brushes were vegetable brushes, fingernail brushes, bathtub brushes, clothes brushes, floor-scrubbing brushes, and skinny bottle brushes.


What I remember, however, are not the brushes but my excitement (and my mother's as well) at the variety of his cornucopia of goods, all of them displayed right there in our living room. Each brush nestled in a special compartment of his cunningly designed suitcase. The order and symmetry of the layout were irresistible--to my mother as well as to me, apparently, for she inevitably ordered many more brushes than we needed.


You didn't buy directly from the Fuller Brush man. You placed an order. So you had two occasions of joy: the first was when you saw the treasures of the suitcase and you made your choices. After you placed your order and paid the man, you might experience buyer's remorse. But regrets were forgotten when the mailman delivered your package and you were able to re-live your initial excitement as you opened the package and took possession of all those new brushes.


During my one semester of night-school Russian years ago, I learned this apt proverb: "novaya skatyert; radost zhenye." New tablecloth; happiness to the wife. The same is true of brushes.


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Surly Face of Time

Well, talk about surly faces! When you get to my age, time's face (not to mention your own) is not just surly but terrifying. Fierce and unfriendly and threatening. Not a face to take to your bosom or cuddle with a big hug. Be wary indeed of Time's surly face.


But wait. How true is this? Perhaps Time's surly face is but a mask that can be whipped off, if you're brave enough, to reveal Time itself. So what is the REAL face of Time? Time's real face is not forbidding but welcoming, like the soft-eyed face of your favourite grandmother. Come with me, it seems to say, and I'll take good care of you. Don't be put off by the mask (and by the way, congratulations on having been brave enough to rip it off; not everyone is). I'm actually just as curious about my progress as you are. I have no idea where we're headed—but we are headed there together.


Hold my hand and let's explore. I'll be your Virgil through these circles of what has been, is, will be. It's much greater, you know, than simply the effect it has on you. I, as Time, affect everything.


Some, of course, argue that I don't exist, that I am simply a construct of man. Bosh. Man may have come up with ways of measuring me with clocks and calendars, but every creature knows the difference between night and day, that there is a time to sleep and a time to hunt for prey and a time to play.


This is how he spoke to me, the unmasked Time, and I almost believed him. He's quite compelling in his arguments. But then I remembered other theories—relativity, for example—that refute the separate existence of time. So I am denying Time's claims. I find him an unreliable narrator. Presenting himself as benign is a good ploy, and he almost sucked me in, almost had me ready to follow him through both history and the present/future.


But I want other ways of exploring. Time-less ways. I want free movement between all realms, and the only way to get that is to be free of Time. I'll think about this.


In the meantime, even if you do believe in Time, at least have the wit and presence to remove his surly mask. Don't let him threaten you, scare you with his consequences, rule your daily existence, regulate your hours (so many for work, so many for sleep, etc.). It's all false. It's all a construct that you can escape by denying the tyranny of Time.


But where, you ask, are my practical examples? What are my concrete suggestions for escaping Time? How is the young working couple with two children to break out of Time's constraints? I could be cavalier about it and say, "First, deny Time, the rest will come to you." Actually, that's what I WILL say.


SLOW DOWN. When I was younger, the phrase that someone was "slowing down" was like a death knell. ("Oh, my dear, she's slowing down!") It meant that that person was no longer herself. Her faculties were diminishing, from mobility to eyesight and hearing. But now I find that slowing down is a choice, and a positive one at that. The world spins faster and faster every year, and the only way to deal with that is to consciously slow down. Don't go along with it. Stop striding as if the fate of the world depended on your arriving someplace. Don't rush through every task risking life and limb as you gallop up and down steps, chop onions faster than the eye can see, do all your correspondence by email and wait impatiently for replies. Slow down. You will find yourself happier once you have made this choice.


SIT after you get dressed in the morning and contemplate your breathing in the weight of your body. Move slowly to the phone when it rings; it's probably only a telemarketer (I had what must have been a wrong number recently when a political canvasser asked me to consider coming on-side with a local Conservative candidate).


Slow down and the surly face of Time will become only a dim memory.


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Memo to a Little Icebreaker in the Antarctic

Did you know what this would look like, this expanse of Antarctica? They told you it was big. They told you it was cold. They told you, over and over, that there is nothing there! Were you expecting neighbors? Someone from the next section over to welcome you with an apple pie?


There's no here here, as Gertrude Stein said of, I think, Portland, Oregon. Or was it Seattle? There's nothing here but ice and wind, and wind doesn't count because it's a force and not a thing. So there's nothing here but ice.


And more ice.


And you, a minuscule ice-breaker carving your way through the "water" part of the ice—though how you distinguish it from the "land" part of the ice is hard to fathom.


Dwarfed by your environment, you are creating a block of man-defined territory, carving out straight lines that are the proof of human interference. Those straight lines are vividly human against the rhythmic, wind-blown, natural surface. Nature's creations flow and spiral; man's creations follow straight lines.


The rigid rectangle that you are creating won't stand long against the constant assaults of the wind and snow. Before too long the rectangle will revert to what nature wants it to be: immense, huge, white, and stretching farther than the eye can even imagine.


Do you think you can win? Why did you ever agree to battle against Nature in this immense white wilderness? Take my advice, little ice breaker, and run along home.


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hail and Farewell

Small schools have small music departments. My high school, with its total enrollment of 350, had a chorus and a band, but no orchestra. Given the rural setting, there probably weren't many prospective violin players around anyway. So stringed instruments remained a mystery to me.


When I turned 65, a little voice in my head said, "If you ever want to learn about stringed instruments, now would be the time. It's later than you think." So I took up the cello.


I rented a student model, found a young and inexpensive teacher, and began. It wasn't easy. It was exciting ("Look, Ma, I'm playing the cello!") and daunting and frustrating. Knowing how to find middle C on a piano doesn't give you an advantage when it's a cello in your arms. The very concept of "middle C" means nothing on the cello fingerboard.


With piano, your two hands are doing more or less the same thing: they may be playing different notes, or even different rhythms, but both hands are resting on piano keys. When you play a cello, the left hand presses down the strings to give you the notes you need, but until the right arm sweeps the bow in a smooth arc across the strings those held-down notes won't sound. The left arm and the right arm are in totally different positions doing totally different things. Pat your head, rub your stomach.


I can remember tears of frustration in those early days. When I learned that my left hand would have to become accustomed to different positions along the finger board in order to play all the available notes, I was sure I would never be able to master it. Remember that, unlike a guitar, the cello has no frets. Playing in tune depends completely on placing your fingers correctly. Every time.


But I learned. Every day I practiced the major and minor scales (both melodic and harmonic minors) and arpeggios, along with the diminished seventh arpeggio.


I was assiduous. Diligent. Serious. I was a keener, and I made excellent progress, or so they said. I could see the progress, but it felt agonizingly slow. My teacher passed me along to a second teacher, I bought a new (non-student-model) cello and a lovely, expensive bow. I worked harder and harder.


I described myself as a student of the cello. When I attended chamber music performances, my eagle eye never left the cellist: is his bow-hold the same as mine? Does she raise her elbow properly? How does he coax such MUSIC from his cello box?


For that was the key: the music. I was making great progress, but the actual music-making eluded me. Each phrase of a piece had its own technical problems to work on. So I worked and worked on the difficulties of that phrase, and then it was on to the next and ITS problems. A piece of music often felt like a long series of problems to be solved rather than a musical experience.


And then came the Christmas when I turned 70. If there were ever a time to rethink one's activities and one's life, moving to the other side of that boundary line is the time. There's pre-70 and then there's post-70, and the latter is where I find myself now.


From this new position in life, I looked at all the things I do and put each one to a pleasure/pain evaluation. Does the joy of an activity equal or surpass its pain? If not, then why am I doing it?


Having taken up the cello five years previously with good will and curiosity, I found, during this re-evaluation, that the joy of the experience had been lacking for some time. I loved my teacher. I loved seeing myself as a "student of the cello." I loved finally learning the lessons of one piece and moving on to the next.


But I no longer loved the tight shoulders that curtailed my practicing. I never loved hearing myself play out of tune. I no longer appreciated the pressure of trying to schedule two practice periods every day, juggling appointments to fit the demands of the cello. I no longer loved carrying the cello on my back to my lesson, striding jauntily along the sidewalk. I found myself instead plodding up hills, mincing across icy patches, and just generally wishing there were some other way to carry my cello.


You get the picture. You see where this was going. Two weeks after my birthday, having spent several months noticing that I wasn't happy and several weeks imagining what it might be like NOT to study the cello, I threw in the towel. It was the end of a noble experiment.


When I woke up the first morning after formally taking leave of my teacher, a huge weight had lifted from my shoulders. I would never have to practice cello again!


I am grateful for all the things I learned about cellos. I am grateful to know now (I never did before) that slow and steady actually does win the race: if you keep practicing and don't attach to the results, you will be amazed at the progress you make. I went from zero to a little Bach in five years. I have no regrets at having spent five years with that big, ungrateful lug of an instrument. But equally, I have no regrets at having ended the experiment when I did.


Five years ago it was "Hello, cello!" And now it's "dear cello, farewell-o!"




Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor