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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sins of the Fathers

My father was a tease. His preferred mode of communication was teasing, which set the tone for our family gatherings around the dining room table. All of us, of course, adopted his manner. The insults were clever and cutting and so thick in the air that you could barely breathe. If you crumbled—if you cried or left the table and ran upstairs and slammed the door to your shared bedroom—then that failure to stand up to the teasing became the topic of the next round: you can dish it out but you can't take it.


We were used to this. This was the family environment.


But my father teased all children, not just his own. His sister, our favourite aunt, lived half a state away with her husband, her two sons, and her daughter, Judy, who was eight years younger than her closest brother.


By the time most of us had left home, my parents had a little more time and money than they had had when we were growing up. They were now able to travel several times a year to visit Daddy's sister, and she and her husband would also drive up the half-length of the state to visit their Carroll County relatives. So our little cousin Judy had the opportunity to spend time with my parents with few other children around.


My father liked to tease. Did I say this already? Here is how he related to his sister's little daughter, at the end of every visit.


When the visit was ending, Daddy would insist to Judy that she was coming with them. "Got your bags packed?" he would ask. "We're almost out the door. Go get your things or you'll have to come without them. Come on. We're leaving. Say goodbye to your folks. Come on. We're ready."


Judy, being the youngest of three and  the only girl of three, was a protected child. A trusting child. Nothing had prepared her for this man who, several times a year, insistently tried to make her leave her parents and go to some other house. She didn't know what to do.


But she was scared to death. She was terrified that one time he would simply grab her up and take her to the car. There seemed to be no other input into this situation. Her mother seems not to have realized how very frightening it was for Judy. With or without her mother's assurance that this man meant no harm, Judy was convinced, over and over again, that the man was either insane or malevolent, and in either case he was definitely Bad News.


This went on, several times a year, for half a dozen years, or until Judy was finally of an age where she realized that this strange uncle had no power over her. From then on she was free to ignore and discount his teasing. But her scary uncle lives on in her memory.


The funny thing about this is that our Grandad, Daddy and our aunt's father, was equally unable to relate to his grandchildren in any normal way. He lived with our  other uncle in the farmhouse where Grandad himself had grown up. We visited the farm several times a month.


Here's what I remember about Grandad. Whenever he saw his grandchildren, he would cut one of us out of the herd, fix the unfortunate child with a scary stare and ask, sternly, "How far is it from here to yonder?" The first few times this happened to you, you simply froze, unable to know how to answer such a strange question, so severely delivered. He would then cackle and say, "Three lengths of a fool; lay down and measure." Now, leaving aside the use of "lay down" instead of "lie down," which didn't escape my own precociously critical ear, what kind of riddle is this to present to a child? We were confused by it, insulted once we understood it, and in the dark as to why Granddad would ask us such a question.


My father, with his incessant and repetitive teasing of Judy, left her with memories that were no more flattering to him than are my own memories of my grandfather, his father. It is obvious that my father learned all he knew about dealing with children from his own father.


Believe me, he might have found a better teacher.



Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Picture six weeks of depression. Picture me knowing that it will eventually pass but knowing also how weary I am of this lifelong cycle of depression, no-depression, depression, no-depression..


Years ago, when I was experiencing an intense personal crisis, a powerful healer said casually, in the midst of a different conversation, "Would you like me to take away that heavy cloud of gloom you carry with you?"


And I, so immersed in the woe-is-me of that moment (and so unaccustomed to the idea that anyone could help me, ever), I said, "Oh, no one can ever take this away. This is too much a part of me. I've had it forever."


It was only later that a wise friend pointed out that this healer was actually offering a specific service—and that I could actually have said, "Yes. Yes, please. Yes, please, and thank you very much!"


I believe we call that a lost opportunity. For years I have looked back on that as an example of my stupidity and my lack of awareness. I was unable to recognize help when it was offered.


Fast forward to last January. Sick with a cold, sick at heart because of . . . because of everything, I found myself contemplating this old experience yet again.


But this time was not the same. This time I suddenly realized that if that healer had offered to remove my depression, then the implication was that it could be removed! It was possible to lift the cloud of gloom. I had never before isolated that part of the experience. So my next thought was: here I am, conscious (on one level, at least) that the guides and spirits and teachers of the whole Universe are available to help me. I have only to ask. Well, if my depression was removable, and if I had access to all this help, then why not ASK for the help I needed?  I had, in my ignorance, failed to accept an earlier offer, but that didn't mean that there would never be another opportunity.


So I did it, right then and there. I asked all my guides and teachers and angels and spirits to take away the cloud of gloom that had been my lifelong companion. And they did it. It was instantaneous. It was miraculous.


Of course, I forgot to ask them to take away my miserable cold at the same time, so I wasn't exactly back to my normal self. But a cold is more bearable, even at its worst, than that gloomy cloud. And I know that things are different now.


But let me think. Did I remember to say "thank you"?


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Dialogue

I'm so stupid! So witless. If I had a dictionary of invective, I'd hurl at myself every synonym for stupid.


Here's the trouble: THEY can do it and I can't. More precisely: they have done it and I haven't. I'm a failure. A lazy dolt. A miserable specimen with no courage, no heart, and no brain. I'm the entire dysfunctional cast of the Wizard of Oz, all rolled into one useless bundle.


Are you finished?


No, but I'm taking a break. I ran out of words for the moment. You can fill the gap in the meantime, if you have something to say.


Where to begin? I've known you from the very start, you know. I was there when you were born and when you were christened. I heard all the invited fairies describe the gifts they gave you. You got as many gifts as we were allowed to give in those days (the number of allowable gifts has been expanded lately, as you can tell by the global rise in talent). You were given at least your share and perhaps a bit more. Of course, when the uninvited fairy came to lay the curse on you, there was not much we could do about it: it was a double-barreled curse: those feelings of inferiority and-–well, you know what the other part of the curse is.


So far you haven't said anything that makes me feel better. Woe is me. I'm stupid, I'm witless. I'm lazy. I'm a failure.


Will you calm down for a minute? I haven't even started. Remember the mantras. Remember the affirmations. Remember all the positive work we've done (well, you've done it, but I was there to help). Remember that you have everything you need.


Stop with the New Age platitudes.


As your official guardian, I can say whatever I like and you have to listen. Of course "they've" done it. Of course they can do it. Everyone can do it. You are just part of the mob we call human beings. You aren't this precious exception that you seem to think you are. You can do whatever you like.


Gee thanks, coach. But I need a bit more encouragement than that.


All right. You started this thing by moaning and groaning about your inadequacies. Did you hear me singing MY part to you? Did you hear my heavenly voice harmonizing with you?


If I may interrupt here, this is not supposed to be about YOU. It's all about ME. You're just supposed to be helping ME.


Of course. Well, did you hear me singing to you? Did you hear how I praised you and told you that you could do anything? And that's just the beginning. Because the truth is that it doesn't really matter whether you DO anything or not. It's all right for you just to BE—though I'd prefer it if you accepted yourself while you were just being. It takes so much energy for me to pull you up out of these minor depressions.




Oh, be quiet. Listen to me. You can do any of the things you want. All you have to do is DO them. And if you don't want to do them, that's also okay. But stop bitching about it. Either do these things, whatever they are, or don't do them. That's the choice. You CAN do it. You MAY do it. But it's up to you whether you want to or not.


Yeah, but…


No "yeah, buts" are allowed here. And one more thing. I'd like to put an end to this either/or stuff in your head. It isn't EITHER depressed OR on top of the world. It's BOTH/AND. You can have both sets of feelings at the same time. You can be devastatingly jealous of someone else's writing talents—AND you can recognize that they are speaking in THEIR voices. And then you must move on to recognize that only you can speak in yours. And if you hold that precarious balance between the positive and the negative (to use the most convenient terms, which aren't necessarily the most accurate)—if you can hold them both in this delicate balance, then you've found the rhythm of the dance. From then on it'll be nothing but jiving, doing the lindy, high-steppin'. You'll be boogie-ing down that path, and I'll be right behind you, clapping my hands. And that's the truth.


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Once More into the Deep

I am thrown onto my own resources for tapping the deeper darker elements of my psyche. Am I up to the task?


Probably not, but let's see. How do I even start? Peer at the navel again. No, all that gets me is an image of a navel . . . orange. I've been thinking about oranges recently, about peeling them and eating slice after slice, hoping I managed to buy the kind with thin, chewable membranes, since I just can't deal with tough, fibrous matter. Perhaps all those past years of bruxism have filed down my teeth (and talk about deep and dark—whatever fed that bruxism was certainly not sweetness and light, was it?) Anyway, oranges. I love the way you can twist a bit of orange peel and actually see the oil spray from it and fall into your Negroni—droplets, droppellini, minuscule bubblets of orange essence.


Oranges. I'm remembering my mother cutting oranges by the dozens to feed the bottomless maws of her six offspring. She always cut them into eighths, skin on. You had to peel the mouthfuls of flesh from the skin with your teeth, and you always ended up with a sharp acid sting right in the corners of your mouth. It was not a pretty sight, watching the six Johnson sprouts wade into a platter of orange eighths. There's no delicate way to eat an eighth of an orange.


My favourite aunt was the first person I ever knew who routinely squeezed fresh orange juice—every morning—for her family. I at first faulted my mother for not doing the same for us. A little older, I realized that it was my aunt's maid who did the squeezing. And the juice was being squeezed to supply a civilized family of three well-behaved children, not a horde of Mongols like our six wild ragamuffins. Still, when I was ten I was pretty impressed by those daily servings of fresh-squeezed juice, no matter who was doing the work. And then frozen orange juice concentrate was invented and everyone could have somewhat fresh orange juice all the time.


This hasn't brought me any closer to deep, dark secrets. On the contrary: don't oranges put a bit of sunshine into life? And speaking of sunshine, let's have a round of applause for the Height of Summer!


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sorting Lentils

So here's a lesson: when you pick over your lentils, do it slowly! I tend to be careless when I do this, trusting the packagers (and since when do I ever trust businesses to do the right thing?) to have sorted the lentils before sending them to me. And yet I know, through hard-biting teeth-truth, that stones slip through.


I resolve to change. I shall bring to lentil-sorting the same single-pointed attention that I bring to making pastry or shelling peas. I shall turn off the radio and just sort with my whole self: lentil, lentil, lentil, stone. And if I find no stones, will I take that as a sign that, from then on, all my boughten lentils are stone-free? Will I relinquish the slow motion of lentil-sorting?


I hope not. I hope I would continue to invest myself in the process, not in the outcome. No stones this time might mean half a dozen stones the next time. Keep at it, lentil by lentil. Be slow. Trust your own process to reveal stones, words, faults, beauties. Sort lentils when you are sorting lentils.


This brings to mind the twelve quarts of sour cherries that I pitted and froze last summer. Such beautiful cherries—and a new cherry-pitter! Yet, when I baked a cherry pie from my newly frozen cherries, I found two pits that had somehow escaped my eye and my fingers. The lesson: I am not infallible when it comes to cherry-pitting nor, quite likely, when it comes to lentil-sorting.


Beware, all you who eat from my table!



Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor