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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Walking the Streets

I grew up walking on small-town streets. That was years ago. Cars did exist by then, in case you're wondering, and our town even had a stoplight. I walked most places because we had only the one car and our father drove it to work (five blocks) so he could use it to go to Lafayette or Logansport during the day to pick up photo cuts and other newspaper-related items.


I do not miss those days. Now I walk on big-city streets, with a surprise around every corner. Recently I walked to and from my ophthalmologist's office on Dundas Street West, just north of the intersection where Dundas heads off to the east and Roncesvalles continues south.


My 25-minute walk to the office was uneventful. While I was in the office, I installed my hearing aids so as to be able to follow instructions ("look at the blue spot on the wall"), and in the course of the examination two different sets of drops were dropped into my eyes. I had, of course, failed to bring my sunglasses from home. When I left the office, the sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky. (Pardon me if I insert here one of my three Russian sentences: Na nebye ni oblaka, which means "In the sky, no cloud.") As I hit the street for the walk home, I was assaulted by the bright-white sidewalk. My hat shields me from the actual sun, but the sidewalk brilliantly reflected the light straight into my wide-open pupils. I was under stress.


Crossing the street at the lights made me appreciate anew the difficulties that older people (older than I, that is) experience. When you can't see where to put your foot (the streets are uneven) you must walk more slowly—and the pedestrian signal begins flashing its countdown before you are halfway across the street. Here's hoping the Buddhist influence widens and more and more motorists develop the patience to wait, serene, while we totter through the crosswalks.


The sound! Not as great as in some cities, I know—the cities where car horns announce the aggressive drivers who will run you down at the drop of a hat. Nonetheless, Toronto's streets are noisy if you navigate them with your hearing aids in position.


So there I am, assaulted through at least two of my senses, feeling my way down the hill and then up the hill. As I pass the northeastern edge of High Park, I encounter a family on the move: baby boy in stroller, pushed by granddad, with grandma by his side. Grandad is going a fast clip. Grandma almost jogging beside him. And Baby Boy is in heaven. As the stroller whizzes down the hill (I, poor thing, am headed up), his face is alight with the joy of the wind, the sun, and speed. With the widest possible grin he faces whatever the day will bring.


Not thirty feet later I pass a mother with her under-three-year-old daughter. Holding the little girl's hand, the mother fairly flies down the hill, and the poor baby is running on tippy-toes as fast as she can. But still she is an anchor on her mother's arm, slowing her down like a jet plane's parachute deployed on landing. Poor stressed baby. Poor rushed mommy.


Dr. Seuss was right. There's always something to see on Mulberry . . . er, Bloor . . . Street.

Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Morning on My Street

I am folded into the uncomfortable loveseat with its view from our front windows. I will have a back-ache later. But I stay there to watch the morning unfold on my street. No need to have a life of my own when I can take part in the ever-changing life that unreels in front of me. Neighbours go off to the daily grind, having already had their hour-long run in the park, having come home to shower and dress and feed their families.


And with amazement I watch the children who have morphed overnight from the infants I remember into hulking young adults bowed by backpacks bigger than a breadbox and heavy as life's burdens. The teams of teens depart.


A moving truck manoeuvres past the parked cars, then returns moments later, rumbling in the other direction.


The newest neighbour races past, pushing her daughter's stroller ahead of her as she covers the first lap of her daily marathon of shepherding children to and from school

without a car.


Now a friend leaves his driveway, suited and helmeted, his bicycle picking up speed as he heads for the corner.


A couple younger than we are stroll by hand in hand. Is he walking her to work? Or are they both playing hookey and going off for breakfast in the park?


Strolling is rare at this time of day. Racing and running are more routine. The mommy and her daughter slow down to wave at me and I respond, as I do every day, by leaping to my feet from the uncomfortable loveseat and performing a pantomime of joy at seeing this six-year-old. I salute, blow kisses, and semaphore huge waves of recognition. Sometimes she keeps looking and laughing as she passes the corner of our house. Sometimes she forgets me and my antics as soon as I am out of her sight.


And then I sink back into the non-ergonomic loveseat, pen in hand, to knock off one more Sudoku before I begin the day.

Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Arms, Upper and Under

Here's the deal, as I remember it. For a teenager in the '50s, one of the worst social sins was to reveal hairy armpits (hairy legs as well, but this is an arm story). I can remember how unpleasant it was to scrape that razor over sensitive skin. How shaving would often lead to a rash, which you ignored and covered over with a nice, strong deodorant. All day your armpits itched, but scratching them was another social sin.


Clothing choices were based on whether the armpits were freshly shaved. Obviously if they weren't, you couldn't wear a sleeveless blouse, because Someone Might See. So even if that blouse was the perfect color to go with your pedal pushers, you had to choose a different one, one with sleeves, or else start all over, finagle your way into the bathroom between siblings' visits ("Will you GET OUT! I have things to do!"), and take the time to shave so that you could wear that blouse.


I was a most conforming teenager when it came to social rules. I lived on the margins of The Group—on sufferance, I always knew, at the best of times. A rebellion in the form of hair where none was allowed—well, that would have put me far beyond the pale, and the heart of the pale was where I most wanted to be in those days. I certainly lacked the courage of my private, rebellious convictions.


Luckily, I grew older and gradually wiser. I learned that one doesn't have to present oneself as a pre-pubescent girl. Still, under certain circumstances, I was careful to present myself as yet another hairless conformer.


And then menopause came and went (makes it sound quick and easy, when you say it that way), and with the hormonal changes came a change in hair follicles.


Over the course of many years not only did my head hair diminish, to my consternation, but I noticed that I was shaving my legs and armpits for no purpose. The hair was gone.


Ah, freedom! No more worries. Sleeveless dresses here I come.


But before I got around to shopping for the perfect LBD with no sleeves, I noticed the downside of post-menopausal arms: unless you're into regular weight-training (and is it a surprise that I am not?), your upper arms become undulating waves of uncontrolled flesh.


I watch young women cellists and violinists with awe. They can bare their upper arms and do all kinds of arm swings with impunity. Nothing jiggles. They are still all muscle.


On the subway with my grandson Sam when he was five, I was wearing a tight-fitting long-sleeved t-shirt the colour of my eyes and feeling pretty snazzy. Not too bad for an old broad, I was thinking. Then I pointed to something distant for Sam's benefit, and the position of my arm was such that he noticed for the first time that a sleeve-ful of jelly was swinging from my upper arm.


"Nana, look!" he shouted. "Look what I can do!"


And he began gently flipping the flesh back and forth, back and forth, delighted.


I've heard there's something called Flab-U-Less. Spandex cylinders that you slide onto your upper arms to firm them up. A girdle for the upper arms. I'm ready for it.

Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Still Trying to Learn; Scenes from the Journey, vol. 10, no. 11

Still Trying to Learn


I used to think that it was really affected, the way the self-help books tell us not to "try" but to do. I've been saying "I'll try" all my life, but where did all that trying get me? (Well, I must point out that it got me this far.)


I see the wisdom, though, of eliminating "try" from my list of goals. Just as I recognize the benefits of having banished "should", I know how much more I accomplish when I stop "trying" and just do it.


There are a couple of fallacies in that last sentence, the first of which is "accomplished," which represents the old desire to present myself as a human doing rather than a human being. The bumper sticker that says, "She who dies with the most fabric wins" is as wrong-headed as the equally prevalent idea that it's all about production and accomplishment.


It isn't a race, folks. Try (!) ambling through this journey.


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Turtle's 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 that 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, March 3, 2013


A picture of a little sandal-footed angel reminded me of gate-keepers everywhere, protecting our backs (and fronts too, for that matter) from the rigors and threats and temptations of our day. An angel looks like—well, we don't know, do we? We like to imagine them as majestic and powerful, ungendered, beautiful—just the way the Renaissance painters presented them to us.


Or little baby angels, putti, smiling enigmatically, cheek resting on hand, blond curls topping sweet faces.


What an angel looks like is totally beside the point. They may not even have an "appearance," a physical manifestation. Perhaps they are no more—and no less—than a felt sense in our bodies, our awareness that we are supported and surrounded by universal love.


But that doesn't prevent us from doing what we humans like to do: imagining the look of something, and drawing that image. So in the picture I saw the angel wore a shapeless long red gown. Its feet were in clunky sandals, its wings were feathered, and it had a dear little happy face drawn with an impossibly fine pen. Topping it all was the halo, the artistic convention representing the aura, the energy field of the body. Because enlightened/holy people (though angels aren't "people") supposedly have richer, more visible auras, they are often depicted with haloes. It might be helpful to remember that a halo is within the grasp of each of us.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor