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Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Full Life

We sit frequently in our front alcove, whose windows overlook the neighbourhood. When summer arrives we abandon that station for the backyard table and there is no more news of neighbours. Summer news concerns the local cardinal couple, the jays, the free-roaming cats, and the raccoon family.


How does one define a full life? I was made to examine this question recently. Is your life full if you are so busy that you cannot see what goes on around you? Or is your life full if you see what goes on around you and proceed to create elaborate stories about what you see? You be the judge.


As we enjoyed a pre-dinner glass of wine in the alcove recently, we noticed several women arriving at the house of our across-the-street neighbour, whom I'll call Carol. The women wore business attire--suits and high heels—and carried briefcases in addition to their purses. We commented on the possible significance of these arrivals. It was unusual for Carol to put on a week-night party, if this was indeed a party.


Eating crackers and cheese with our wine, we watched other women arrive, singly or in pairs or small groups. Some obviously came from the subway, others by car. They ranged in age from thirty-ish to early fifties, so the common denominator was hard to ascertain. Not, of course, that it was any of our business.


But we did wonder what was happening. A meeting? A baby shower? A birthday? Carol had celebrated her own Big Birthday half a year ago, so it wasn't a birthday party for her. And we wondered where her husband, let's call him Peter, was spending the evening. Had he been gently evicted for the occasion, with a request to stay away until after 10:15?


More women arrived. Louie, the blond six-month-old cockapoo that is one of the lights of Carol's life, was ecstatic, obviously racing to the door at each new knock. Oh, no! As we watched, someone flung the door too wide and Louie escaped onto the porch. He greeted the newest arrival, a tall woman in heels, who fussed over him as one does with a friend's dog, and then he darted down the steps and ran loose around the front yard. Carol was nowhere in sight; one of the party-goers had opened the door allowing Louie to run out. So there was no one available who knew how to control Louie. The tall woman made the ineffectual restraining movements that one makes when one is not a dog-lover or dog-owner and one is wearing high heels. Louie took her dashes at him to be a new game, and he responded enthusiastically, rushing toward her then slipping away easily when she tried to corral him. The tall woman still thought she had a chance to gather him in without calling for the cavalry. Louie was in heaven, leading her farther and farther away from the porch, the yard, the house.


When she realized she had been outfoxed by a fluffy ball of lightning, she ran (as best one can run in high heels) to the house and called for help. Four women rushed out the door, one of them Carol, who called Louie in her best puppy-schooling voice. He came. Everyone went inside, but first Carol drew the baby-gate across the top of the steps so that Louie could greet the new arrivals but could not escape into the yard.


Women were still arriving. We hadn't been counting, but there must have been two dozen or more by now. Several arrived by cab. And then an SUV pulled up and seemed to park in the middle of the street. After a longish wait, a woman opened the passenger-side door. Apparently she was attending the party/meeting but the driver was not. As she disembarked, Peter came in view, walking toward the house from the subway, dressed in suit and tie. Was he going to attend the party? Peter and thirty women? But no. He leaned over to talk to the driver of the SUV. They chatted for a few minutes, while her passenger went up the walkway toward the house. And then Peter walked around the front of the car and got in. The SUV quietly disappeared. A mystery. Well, a mystery to us, because we didn't know anything at all. Nor, as I have pointed out, was it any of our business.


Finally we left the alcove and went about our own lives.


The next morning, as we settled ourselves in that same alcove to read the morning papers, my husband wondered if Carol's guests had perhaps spent the night. We imagined the briefcases as overnight cases and pictured the women in night clothes sleeping on Carol's living room floor, their suits neatly hanging from doorknobs. We eventually had to abandon this line of thought, for, unless we had arrived too late to see a mass exodus, no one left the house but the family that lived there: Carol, Peter, and their two children.


You can see the urgency of my question: Do we need to get a life, since we obviously have way too much time on our hands? Or are we filling our lives deliciously with imaginings based on what we see around us?


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Winter Morning with My Eyes Wide Open

My eyes wide open

(for they are not always open, I assure you)

I approach my local subway entrance.


Today, instead of railing in my mind

about the cars illegally stopped

(not parked, officer; just stopped

for a few minutes)

in front of the subway entrance and its neighbour,

the day-care center,

instead of railing, I say,

I simply note, eyes open.


The mother leaves the driver's seat

and opens the back door of the car,

to extract a colourful round ball:

her winter-dressed toddler.


She places him/her on the icy ground

then stretches to reach the giant backpack

that accompanies all of today's children.


As I pass the car

the mother and bundled toddler

hand in hand

wrestle themselves

over the rough and icy

windrow of snow that lines the curb,

a gift from our road-clearing snow plows.

And as they struggle

and as I pass,

I hear the mother's soft voice reassuring

her puffy ball of humanity:

"and now you put your other foot right there . . .

and then we'll be inside and you can play with . . ."


And then they are behind me and I vow,

in light of such rewards,

to aim for eyes wide open all my days.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Sound of Winter


When you walk in the woods in winter,

hold your arms away from you sides,

lest the swish

of your sleeves


the silence of snow.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A New Stage of Incompetence

I have officially joined the ranks of the incompetent. I managed for a long time to maintain the fiction that I could handle things, but no more. On August 6 I happened to look at the calendar I carry in my wallet. That was when I saw it: on August 3, I had had an appointment with Oona for a haircut, and I had completely missed it.


In my defense, let me remind you that this was the summer of the open-heart surgery in May, and that our summer activities were consequently and deliberately curtailed to the point of non-existence—which is to say, we did nothing all summer long. And when you are doing nothing and going nowhere, there's not much need to consult the walk-around calendar.


Ideally, whenever I make an appointment while away from the house, using my little wallet calendar, I make it a point to record the appointment immediately at home on the big family calendar. But I had forgotten. And (see above reasons) I didn't open my walk-around calendar once between May and August.


I could accept an isolated mistake: I goofed. But this is the third time in two years that I have missed an appointment with Oona. Perhaps it's just that the appointments become less and less important as I have less and less hair, but we won't make that part of today's discussion. Besides, if I don't see Oona regularly I will soon look like a tonsured monk whose back hair has grown to a straggly un-holy mess.


So now I have had to ask Oona to put me on the call list to remind me of my next appointment. This, to me, is the height of irresponsibility. It means I can no longer keep on top of my events of life, and I see it as a very real downgrade.


However, when I asked Oona to put me on the "to call" list—thinking, oh, what a come-down--she told me that 95 percent of her customers ask that she remind them.


I guess, in addition to thinking of myself as officially incompetent, I must also acknowledge that I have finally joined the mainstream.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Human Pace

I feel didactic today, so I will give a lesson. "Slowing down" is the topic. Oh, you've already heard that lecture? And it doesn't apply to you? You are the exception, are you? The one person in North America who doesn't need to slow down? Or is it that you can't afford to stop spinning because you might fall over. Whatever it is, just listen.


I myself have listened for years to wiser people telling me to slow down. Either directly (as in "Slow, down, fer pete's sake; I can't walk that fast") or indirectly (as in, "When I walked in the park the other day I saw three new trees I hadn't noticed before, and glimpsed two foxes and one coyote, and I heard the migrating song sparrows. What did YOU see in the park?") I ignored both approaches, the direct and the indirect, until the day came when everything changed. And on that day I began to drop extraneous activities and to relish doing less.


But I still took off like a bat out of hell when my feet hit the pavement. I walk fast. I've always walked fast. So last week, as I hastened toward the Village for shopping, I caught myself walking fast; I thought "Wow! I'm really pushing. I wonder what it would feel like to slow down." And so I did. I consciously reduced my speed. (Of course, I moved off to the slow-lane edge of the sidewalk so as not to impede all those speed demons in the impromptu marathon I'd been part of.)


I slowed down and I actually felt my whole body, my whole self—go "ka-chunk." It felt as if I had come together for the first time, as if I had finally found myself after steaming along ahead of myself for all those years. It was beautiful, feeling at one with myself.


Now, I know how busy you are. I look at the lives of my children and my neighbours, and I can sense the urgency, the "I'm-running-out-of-time" feeling you project. So I won't suggest that you stop racing. But I do offer you a suggestion. The next time you find yourself walking as if the devil himself were nipping at your heels, take a moment and consciously slow down. From one step to the next, change speed. And notice what happens to your body. Can you feel the difference? Make note of it.


And then, because I know you are busybusybusy, you can resume your usual speed, if you have to, in order to get the shopping done, the walk over with, whatever it is that pushes you at that moment. Go ahead. Revert to your "normal" setting. But carry in your body the feeling you had when you consciously slowed down. Remember how it felt to approach life at a moderate, natural pace—i.e., one that is in step with Nature. And know that you can return to that feeling any time you want, and you can grow it in gradually so that one day a measured pace will be your default setting, and you will use the racing demon speed only in exceptional circumstances.


If you already know all this, then please just turn the page.


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Old Folks at Home Celebrate the Weekend

As early as Thursday afternoon one of us will say, when we meet in the hallway between our respective home offices, "It's the weekend!" This works only if the Friday that follows is a free day for both of us. Otherwise, we have to wait until Friday afternoon to say it.


So what is a weekend for a pair of retired writer-people? Surely every day is the same when there is no Monday-to-Friday job? Well, in our house you'd be hard-pressed to notice the absence of the 9-5 routine. My wine-writer husband often has back-to-back, two-or-three-a-day tastings. During the worst (best?) months, he might have dinner at home only four or five times through the whole month.


My own schedule often sees me leaving the house before 9 every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and not returning until 3 or 4 or later.


So the weekend IS different for us. Let me count the ways: 1) We don't leave the house if we can avoid it (I'm not mentioning here the H-D Met performances or the COC Sunday matinee). 2) We linger at breakfast in the alcove, reading not just the morning paper but some of the magazines that have piled up during the week. 3) I cook a dinner from new food! That is to say, no leftovers leave the fridge (I've probably already used them up by Friday anyway). It's a time for lamb chops, say, or a small roast of some sort. Or a soup to stick to the ribs. It's a time to experiment with real recipes, something I've tucked into my files in an optimistic moment. 4) I indulge in a Negroni before dinner or else we open a bottle of Champagne or an old bottle of red wine. (We have just one final 1978 wine—our anniversary wine—left in the basement. The end of an era. What dish will be worthy of it?)


The weekend is our favourite time of the week. As we live it we say, often, every day should be like this. Now, can you tell me why we don't arrange our lives so that every day IS like the weekend? What keeps us from spending our days exactly the way we want? On the other hand, if all days were like the weekend, we wouldn't appreciate it. Perhaps we maintain our hectic weekly schedule in order to highlight the glories of the weekend.


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 17, 2013


We call it forever, but someone else might call it the blink of an eye in the life of the Universe. Universes. Our forever is puny in the face of the real forever. Not fifty years of marriage to one person (though that might sometimes feel like forever) but unimaginable eons that only a cosmologist could begin to grasp. Or do I mean a cosmetologist?


So deep this is. See me now casually catch my breath and wish I could continue with my investigation of what came before, what is now, and what will be. But surely only the middle of these exists: the past is gone, the future does not yet exist (indeed, may never come), leaving us with the gift of our precious, interminable present to do with as we will.


Let us be profligate with our present. Be present in our present, for it is all we have. It is so simple: beyond space, beyond time, we observe these moments of no-time.


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Celebrating in a Lower Key

I don't know yet what our Christmas Day will look like, but last year the Christmas pie didn't materialize. There was no need for it, no dinner for it to be topping off. Last year was my heart's desire of a Christmas: two loving people.


Oh, we had a family gathering on the Thursday evening before Xmas, with a lonely great—uncle, two grandmothers, one grandfather, and the Little Family of daddy, mommy, brother, and sister. Candles burned, Christmas lights blazed at the window, and the table featured a gigantic roast chicken, with two pies for dessert. Not the feast of yesteryears but more elaborate than, say, mac and cheese—though that has its place.


But on the day, the birthday that I share with the world's Christians, that day my husband and I were alone. There was much Skyping with distant relatives and a few phone calls to field, but we were alone in the house.


How did we celebrate? I slept in until 7:30. Then I got up, dressed, and performed a few rituals, including lighting my day-long birthday candle, a ceremony suggested by a friend a few years ago. Then I took from the fridge two whitefish fillets and two smoked whitefish fillets, from which I made six fish cakes, chilling them until breakfast time. I made coffee for two, then I woke up my husband so he could wish me a happy birthday.


He dressed. I fried the fishcakes in butter and oil until they were crisp on the outside. He opened the day's Champagne and then (by now it was 10 o'clock) we ate, in solitary splendour (solitary in the dual sense). Sitting at the large dining room table, alone together, we ate our delicious fishcakes and drank our brut Champagne, confident that we were the only couple in Toronto celebrating in just that way at just that time.


Then my most romantic, most practical husband offered me the first of his over-the-top expressions of love. He held out two envelopes, one in each hand, and asked me to choose one. In it was a print-out of an eighteenth century poem, which he read aloud to me. And at the top of the paper he had written "left foot boot." The other envelope held another love poem, which he read, finishing with "right foot boot." So there, in one swell foop, was the essence of my dear husband: the romantic love poems read with a catch in his voice, accompanied by the most practical of additions: a new pair of boots to be shopped for by me. (Little did he know that I'd head straight to John Fluevog for those boots. Next time he might set a limit . . . )


The day continued. Skyped serenades of the birthday song in four-part harmony, distant grandchildren and daughters checking in.


Later in the afternoon our son and his family arrived. After ten minutes or so of happy interchanges, the little  three-year-old succumbed to the pressures of the day and pitched a fit. Her meltdown was finally cured when her father held and cuddled her, away from others, allowing her to calm down in her own time.


Now where was I going with all of this, beyond fishcakes and Champagne for breakfast? I heard many friends and relatives later describe their Christmas Day: one couple had breakfast at an ex-daughter-in-law's house (with small granddaughters), brunch at a daughter's, and then, at 4 p.m., a gigantic family meal that included everyone else. Another family, having hosted an annual Christmas-eve party for the neighbourhood, was preparing (even as we talked) a traditional Christmas dinner for thirteen.


Were we shirking our duty, my husband and I? Should we have been in the kitchen all day preparing for a big family do? Or am I now permitted, after years of being responsible for dinners such as others described, to celebrate in my own fashion—which is to say, in seclusion?


Oh, that's fake. I have never cooked Christmas dinners. Not for forty years, anyway. When I lived in the United States, I did the whole Thanksgiving thing for twenty people or more—chaotic and a bit show-off-y. And because that holiday was only a month from Christmas, doing it all over again would have been anti-climactic. Once I moved to Canada, I no longer had the excuse that the late-November Thanksgiving meal precluded doing one on Christmas (Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated in early October). So my new excuse for not preparing a Christmas dinner is that I don't have to cook on my birthday—an opinion in which I am supported by my indulgent husband. We share the day with whoever is in town, of course, offering sandwich makings instead of a groaning board. Last year was the most reclusive year yet, and it felt absolutely right. December 25, 2013, is still being negotiated.

Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Caffeine and Cleanliness

Balzac liked coffee. I do not say that based on original research or on my reading of primary material—i.e., Balzac's essay on coffee. I base it on an article about caffeine I read years ago. The author cited Balzac as being not just a caffeine addict but a full-fledged slave to the stimulant. Balzac wrote that caffeine marshalled and organized his brain cells, lining them up to attack whatever subject Balzac wished them to attack. He said he was incapable of writing without the brain-energizing stimulus of caffeine. The essay was full of very funny, very military comparisons.


So this morning, with Balzac in mind, I decided to treat my brain to a pre-writing caffeine hit. I had a large cup of full-caffeine café au lait, relying on the milk to protect my stomach. Well, that part worked. But the marshalling of my little brain cells? Not so much. My brain cells, compared to Balzac's, are new, raw, untrained recruits. When I call upon them to come to attention, they scatter and race like a gaggle of kindergartners let loose on the playground. No order is discernible. My brain cells jitter and skitter, trembling the pen in my hand so every other word I write has letters transposed or dropped. Caffeine has not helped pinpoint my thoughts, has not made my images clearer. It has done nothing, in fact, but make me need to pee much more urgently than usual.


So much for my noble experiment. I won't be repeating it any time soon.


Let me talk instead about cleanliness. I recently read, in a work of fiction, a comment by a man returning to his mother's home for tea. He noted that she had outdone herself in preparation: the house was shining, the table laid with starched linens and gleaming tea cups.


That shining house caught my eye. Now that our wonderful cleaner, Lorna, comes for three hours every week to do the work that I pretend I can no longer do (but that in fact I never did do), I have realized the difference between pre- and post-Lorna. It is a subtle change in the way the house looks, and it boils down to this: un-vacuumed floors develop a sheer covering of dust that the eye registers without being aware of it. After vacuuming, our entire (wood-floored) house shines.


I find it difficult to articulate the distinct yet almost unnoticeable difference between the two stages: clean and not-clean. I'll stop trying except to say that I'm so happy to have Lorna in my life. All my previous reluctance to hire someone to do work that I should be doing has disappeared. Have I abandoned my principles? Or is it just that I actually have become too old to do what I once could have done, if I had chosen to spend my time that way?


In either case, I marvel at the joy I experience when I enter my kitchen with the newly shining floor. The layer of guilt I have always carried within me (oh, I should mop the floor, I should mop the floor!) is gone. Someone else is mopping (and waxing!) the floor and I don't even have to watch it being done. My years of feeling that if only my mother had taught me how to clean my house I could deal with it—all of that is gone. Don't want to. Never wanted to. And now I don't have to.


Last week Lorna even helped us turn our oversized mattress, the 14-inch-deep kind deliberately designed to trap and crush unwary seniors.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Disappearing Words

Instead of writing, may I just sit here and dream while I watch the snow falling gently from the grey cloud that is the top edge of the dreaded Storm of the Century that they are predicting? The snow drifts down. It stops. Starts again. Material there for a day's worth of dreaming, as long as you don't ask me to bring it into words.


Am I thinking that words are over-rated? If so, it's because mine are becoming as sparse as my hair. Perhaps there is a hitherto unexplored connection between words and hair. But of course! They both involve the head! I'm on to something here. Remove the head and you may remove both problems at once! Research grant needed! Over here, boy! Bring me one king-sized research grant to investigate this spark of an idea. Now if I can just chase down some volunteers . . .


Where was I? The importance—or lack of same—of words. Here's how mine are disappearing. There's always the embarrassing question of nouns (as in a recent disappearance of "amaryllis" from my vocabulary), but that's as nothing compared to the general attrition of words. I used to say that my mind was a steel sieve (as opposed to my husband's steel trap). It is now more like a wide-mesh strainer through whose gaps most things fall. Some big blobs of words remain, but they are clunky, without subtlety or nuance. And when I reach for common, ordinary words they are no longer where I left them. The other day I was trying to come up with "vernacular" and all I could find was "demotic," which is not the same thing at all—and perhaps not even in the same ballpark.


I was imagining a word cloud of my recent writing, since it is when I write that the problem is most acute. A word cloud, I think, is a computer analysis of a piece of writing that weights each word based on frequency of usage. The more often you use a word, the larger the typeface. It is a humbling experience to see tangible evidence of the paucity of your vocabulary. I'd better move on to something less embarrassing than word clouds.


But that's just a fanciful example of what's going on in my mind. It doesn't frighten me, really, as much as perhaps it should, because I don't think it's all that uncommon. But it is so interesting. And the more I want to write about it, to document it, the fewer words I have at my disposal for the process. It does make me regret all the years when I failed to write, feeling that I had all the time in the world. I didn't realize that the issue is not time but memory.


I wrote a poem once in which I lightheartedly wondered what would happen if word-woman lost her words. I said that they would become more and more precious and would be used sparingly in poems until they were gone. At which point the poet would be left singing, "Tra-la-la, tra-la, tra-la-la." Cute idea, eh?


Well, as radio's Molly McGee used to admonish her husband, Fibber, "'Tain't funny, McGee."


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cows at Dawn

Mist diffuses red-gold morning light

across the land.

Golden cows, their long backs

straight as yardsticks,

wait for milkers to awaken.

Cowbells rattle, hollow music

calling, "Bring the pail.

Stroke our udders. Pull our teats

and take our milk. We're waiting."

In the meantime, they rub their muzzles

in grass wet with dew.


Golden haze obscures the view.

Those may be trees in the distance

near those might-be hills.

We'll wait and see.

Sun will burn off mist

and bring its own bright golden light.

All will become clear:

house unveiled,

trees with sharply separate leaves.


And cows still stand,

cream a-waiting,

future butter yearning to be churned.

There will be milk for all,

milk by the gallon.

But until the farmer comes

with his pail

that milk serves only

to fill up and pull down

ballooning udders.


Strong-backed, patient, russet cows

nibble grass already closely cropped.

Still and silent in the gold

they attend their tardy farmer's wake-up.

Dew on grass moistens muzzles

nuzzling tiny spears of green.

All those stomachs strongly work

turning grass into our milk

in golden light of morning.


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hardly Myself at All

If I am not myself, who am I?

A heron, lifting wide wings

in her take-off to eternity?

A hedgehog, prickling

when necessary to maintain her solitude?


Within me, within you is the history

of the great mystery of life.

We quest.

We seek to answer the unanswerable,

pushed by what perversity?

Do we really want to solve the mystery?

Would we even recognize

the answer presenting itself?

Not that it would, of course,

because the nature of mystery

is not to be solved.


Better to give up the quest and simply live.

It will all be made clear

in the end. Our end.

Count on it.

Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Anger didn't surface much chez nous when I was young. Very few emotions were actually encouraged (I can't think of any approved ones, at the moment) but anger was particularly banished.


This doesn't mean that anger didn't exist in our family. Look at any family—or any family of six noisy children and two clueless adults—and you'll know that anger is always floating around. But overt anger was not allowed. 


Never, in the 18 years I lived at home (plus the remaining 17 years before my parents both died) never did I see or hear my parents fight. (Whooops! "Never" alert! I know this must be an exaggeration.) But my inference was that good people didn't argue, didn't get mad at each other, didn't confront one another.


We children did know anger when we heard it. Here's how my mother, Eileen, showed her anger. When Eileen retired to the kitchen and the kitchen began to shake and rumble with the sounds of slammed cupboard doors, pots banged onto the stove and lids onto pots, bowls and utensils whacked onto the work surface, oven door clanged shut—then we knew to stay out of the kitchen, because Eileen was on the warpath. So you see, right there I've made a liar of myself. Irish Eileen DID get angry. But she just never told anyone about it. As far as I know, she never said to our father, Myron, "You treat me like a workhorse. I'm a workhorse in the poorhouse! I need . . . I need . . . I need . . ." Instead, Eileen just went to the kitchen and banged her pots and pans. And to my knowledge, no husband or child ever said to her, "What's wrong?"


That is all I ever learned about anger during my childhood. It took me a long, long time to discover that anger was not forbidden. A long time to recognize it in myself and (the hardest part of all) to learn what to do with it. I learned to confront when necessary, and to let it go when I could—after acknowledging it in the very first place.


Recently, within the space of five minutes both anger and guilt came leaping over the fence to land on top of me. Well, well, I thought, look at this. What is more surprising? The fact that these two breached the defenses and landed here at the same time, or the fact that you recognized them right away? And what do you do with them now that they're here?


The anger was occasioned by an acquaintance whom I find difficult to talk to. I made a comment, and then she triggered my anger by behaving the way she always behaves. Thus, my anger was brought on by my own actions. (Isn't there a theory that insanity is when you do the same thing over and over and expect to get a different result?) I left myself open to her comments and then expected her to respond differently. Well, insanity or not, it still made me angry. So that was the anger that hit me.


The guilt was a double-guilt. I became aware of loud and lively birdsong nearby and immediately felt guilty that I had failed to educate my children about the natural world. I'm not a great birder at all, but I did know, at one time, a few bird calls beyond the cardinal and the chickadee, and I never took the children birding to teach them even the little that I knew. Guilt. There had recently been a walk-in-High-Park tour on the topic of the passerine birds. It was at 10:30 on a Sunday morning, and I could have gone. I thought about going. But I had a ticket for the opera that afternoon and it all just seemed too complicated and rushed. Also, I have attended a couple of birding walks before and have felt awkward and unwelcome. I didn't go to the High Park bird walk, and I felt guilty about having missed it. Thus I was hit by a double-bird kind of guilt. Two guilts with one bird? Two birds with one guilt?


There I was, feeling my anger and guilt. I gave them both a thought, briefly; I recognized them both. I felt them in my body (isn't that what you're supposed to do?) and then I just said, "Begone!" or words to that effect, and I let go of it all. Anger gone. Guilt gone. The rest of the day was just a walk in the park.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cat and Fat Squirrel

Cat sees Fat Squirrel through the window.


Fat Squirrel: Nyah, nyah, nyah! You can't get me! You're locked in that house!


--Dumb squirrel, why would I want to get you? I'm in a warm house, my food is in my bowl, a lap is only a meow away. And here you are hunting in the middle of winter for acorns that you will then bury and never find again! Scattershot pantries! What a way to live.


--Hey! Don't put me down. I don't have your soft life. No one fills food bowls for me. And it's my tiny brain that tells me to plant the nuts. Unfortunately, it's too tiny to hold the memory of where they are so I must dig randomly. What can I say? I'm a squirrel. But surely you must admire my bushy tail. See me twitch it! See? See?


--Don't be vulgar, you animal. At least make an effort to be refined. If you want to improve your life, I urge you to start watching cats. Use cats as your models. If you succeed at imitating a cat, maybe some misguided soul will take you in and start filling your dish with nuts. Hah! You should be so lucky!


Cat stretches, turns her back on Fat Squirrel, and walks into the kitchen to see what new treasure has been deposited in her bowl.


Fat Squirrel, in his endless digging for previously buried nuts, hits the jackpot and makes off with one of my most expensive tulip bulbs.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Blue Sky, Smilin' at Me

I was walking down our street last May, headed for the subway. As I began to cross to the other side (mid-block, as usual) I twisted my head to check for traffic and here's what I saw: a patch of sky so deep a blue, so smooth and even, that I thought at first it was a painted backdrop. Perhaps I've been seeing too much opera and theater, but I saw it as a painted screen of an unimaginable depth of color. Good sense kicked in immediately and I knew it was indeed the sky, just the plain old sky revealed at the end of our street, framed by trees with emerging leaves.


Several questions arise: Why did I continue on my way instead of stopping to breathe in the sight of that blue sky? Was this an unusual day for skies? Besides the sky being cloudless, was some other meteorological event taking place? Or was it simply the normal sky, and I had never truly seen it before, even though I have crossed that street and turned my head at the same spot for over 31 years?


Tell me, indeed, why the sky is blue.


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Deja Vu But Always New

A lot of what I do is déjà vu (all over again, as Yogi Berra used to say). When I leave the house I go to the subway or walk into High Park or take the down-hill, up-hill sidewalk to Bloor West Village, my neighbourhood shopping area. Whichever of these three paths I take, I've been doing it for almost 33 years. I've seen it all.


Or have I? As I walked to the Village yesterday I resolved to see people and things in a different way. The critical eye, always at the fore, has taken up too much space. It was time to soften its judgment and look with a curious and open eye. It is often said that if you are nervous about, say, speaking before an audience, all you have to do is imagine your audience members naked and your nervousness will disappear. I've never tried this, but yesterday I carried it one step further. Instead of noticing this woman's hat, whether beautiful or ugly, or that man's shabby or natty coat, I focused on seeing beyond the clothes and beyond the body (naked or not). My intention was to see the troubled or peaceful or compassionate or distraught soul within the body. So many sad eyes, so many downturned mouths made me aware of the burdens we hide in our hearts. I saw more sorrow than joy on that walk.


I also discovered that in my head I carry on a continuous dialogue with my surroundings, animate or inanimate. I passed a father pushing year-old twins in a tandem stroller, one seat behind the other. The baby at the back was sound asleep. But the little front-sitting one didn't miss a thing. Just as we came together, something on the side of a building caught his eye and he pulled his head around and then, as the stroller continued past his point of interest, he raised his chin and tilted his head back to keep it in view. I, wearing sheepskin hat covered with a hood and all held together with a large, looped-around muffler, was drawn to the baby's exposed neck as he craned his head. "Baby, baby," I said to him, "get a scarf. Protect your neck. At least put your chin down and don't expose yourself so freely to the wind."


Well, he didn't listen or care, and that was all right. Maybe he's not as sensitive to the cold as I am.


The pigeons accumulated on the sidewalk around a local hamburger joint and I had to pick my way through them, saying, "Shoo, pigeon. Take to the air, pigeon. Move, move—I'm coming through." Like the baby, they paid me no mind, although they did roll out of the way as I walked through the flock.


"Oh, ladies," I said to the two women dressed to the nines for shopping, European-style, "I hope you are happy to be living here in Toronto even though it is not your original home. I hope you don't find it oppressive to live in the midst of another language, another culture. And you do look snazzy. I sometimes wish I had the desire to dress up like that just to run up to the Village for a dozen eggs."


"Don't be impatient," I remind the driver who honked when the car ahead of him hesitated for half a second after the light turned green.


Walking to the Village reminds me of community even though I don't actually speak to anyone. I was going to say, "I don't speak to a soul," but maybe that's what my silent commentary is: speaking to souls.


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Courage is to do it no matter how afraid you are.

And that's all I have to say about courage,

Except to admit that I don't have much.

It must have been in short supply

   the day I was born.

I was scanted. Given not even the bare minimum

   with which to make my way.

And yet I did.

I made my way from there to here

(please don't ask me to do it again).

I held the fort,

steered the creaky, leaky bark through storms.

I crossed the desert,

braved the forests' beasts—

And landed where I am.


Was it courage that carried me through?

Well, if my original definition is true

(and not just the product of a self-justifying mind),

then I can say that courage brought me here.

Stubbornness, necessity, the lack of other options—

all these pushed and pulled me

    through the worst of it.

And now?

Now is the time of looking back,

of giving spades their true  name,

of stripping off the story to reveal the bones

that rattle from the past.


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Get To It!

Okay, get to it. Settle down here. Nose to the grindstone. Wear those fingers to a nub, your pen to a nib. The subject doesn't matter. The topic is irrelevant. Just do it! (That's me with my Nancy Reagan impersonation. No, my Nike impersonation. Nancy said, "Just don't do it." Or rather, "Just say no!")


Too many imperatives. Too many people who know better than anyone else. Isn't that annoying as all get-out? And truth to tell, where do I stand among this hierarchy of know-it-alls? Well, not at the very top, of course, lacking any real authority, but pretty high. I am an advice machine just waiting to be plugged in. (Once upon a time I didn't wait to be asked, but I like to think I've learned one thing at least: there's nothing as unwelcome as unasked-for advice.)


Now I was going to segue here into homemade cosmetic products and how I make them and how a friend recently made my day by asking for advice on how to make her own. But I apparently can tell that entire story in one sentence (see directly above), so it isn't a suitable topic for a long-term bit of writing.


I find myself caught more and more firmly in a personal net woven of old songs, advertising jingles ("you'll wonder where the yellow went . . ."), nursery rhymes, and sayings. And it reminds me of the observation that volunteers who work with Alzheimer's patients often comment that even people who do not speak or who don't recognize their own children join in with great enthusiasm when there is a sing-along of old songs. Words and melodies from the past have worn such deep furrows in the brain that they never disappear.


K-k-k-katy is there when you want her. Playmate keeps calling, "Come out and play with me." Little Sir Echo always answers back.


These and hundreds of others float through my own brain and are coughed up to the surface faster than any more "normal" response to a stimulus. I repress these inappropriate comments as often as I can, yet am still surprised at how often I find myself wanting to blurt out "you belong to me" or "I'd love to get you on a slow boat to China" or "when your heart's on fire, smoke gets in your eyes." There is a distinct possibility that one day these songs will be all that remains of my brain, everything else having been eroded by the daily friction of too many stimuli.  Perhaps that's it: would the wear and tear on my brain be reduced if I stopped submitting myself to my daily barrage of external stimuli, if I just stayed home knitting? Would my brain then last longer, allowing me to maintain functioning neurons beyond the ones that keep bringing me "Mairsie doats and dozy doats and little lamzy divy"?


I had another thought on this topic but it disappeared before I could capture it.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Old Crow

The mind is a driven bird

that rakes forest droppings

to find the necessary

for the nest.

Repository of creation and yet itself

an act of creation,

the nest is both the end product

and the reason-to-be of driven searching

for dead and dying bits of trees.

For my part I offer

my brightly coloured lengths of yarn,

cut long enough to use

and short enough to carry,

for any bird who is making a nest

that will represent and cradle

what is coming next.


Old crone and crow together

make space for what will be,

feathering the nest

with bits of soft sheep's gifts.

Creative nest will hold creation.

Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor