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Friday, May 24, 2013

Accumulating Stuff

Waste not, want not. What piles of rubbish have accumulated under this imperative. The pencil stub in the catch-all drawer still has a few good sentences left in it—or at the very least could manage a grocery list. And perhaps the day will arrive when that stub will be the only pencil in the house. Better keep it!


Ah, those basement shelves, piled so high with items deemed usable or re-giftable that removing one is a fifteen-minute project, lest they all fall into and between and around the collection of cardboard boxes waiting to be needed.


Two newspapers a day are delivered to our front door. Each rolled-up paper is secured with a rubber band, and sometimes two. Do you have any idea how quickly the house supply of rubber bands surpasses the demand? I hang them on two S-hooks in the kitchen, where they are handy for affixing labels to jars—very important in our house. But it doesn't take long before the rubber bands are spilling off the hooks, at which point I remove all but a few from each hook and give them to my husband. I don't want to know where he puts them. There is probably a box in the basement  chock-full of deteriorating rubber bands.


I don't know what today's rubber bands are made of. I suspect it isn't rubber. Nor do I know what they were made of when I was a girl—still probably not rubber, since rubber was a military priority during WWII and civilians were denied rubber products in order that jeeps could have tires.


At any rate, whatever they are made of now, rubber bands don't last very long. They deteriorate quickly in the heat of my kitchen. The ones that wrap around a Mason jar and hold a card saying "millet flour" or "baking powder, homemade"—these mutate in mere weeks from springy rubber bands to crumbly pebbly strings that snap, letting the cards fall onto the floor or among the other bottles and jars arrayed on the shelves. If I am lucky, the card stays near its jar and I can re-attach it with a fresh rubber band. If I'm not lucky, I end up with an unlabeled jar with a sticky, unresilient rubber band hanging from the side like an expiring worm—and me with no idea what is in the jar.


What's the answer? We have to save the rubber bands, of course. We are Mr. and Mrs. Thrifty. And having saved them, we are obligated to use them.


Another aspect of the rubber band problem is land-fill. I have read that animals (sea gulls, for example) are attracted to the bright colours of rubber bands and eat them, leading to terrible problems when the rubber band twists around their intestinal parts and kill the bird. So when I throw away a rubber band I cut it into several pieces; at least it is no longer a circle, but I don't know whether that alleviates the effect it has on a bird's stomach. I'm not even sure that land-fills openly display rubber bands these days.


Rubber bands are small. Fabric and yarn take up a lot more space. I stopped buying fabric fifteen years ago, and I have sorted and purged several times, sending some very nice lengths to the annual fabric sale held by the Museum for Textiles. But I still have fabric. Of the ten drawers in my white-vinyl-coated steel mesh storage unit, seven hold fabric. One length, a jade green wool flannel, I bought to make a long, unstructured jacket for my sister Sari. She died five years ago, and I had had the fabric for at least five years before that—and never made the jacket. This year I was imagining making a skirt for myself. Perhaps I will. Some day.


But that jade wool is only one piece. In addition to the numerous three-yard lengths in the drawers, which are at least usable for a prospective (imagined) garment, I have scores of one-yard pieces, and additional scores of pieces smaller than that. These would be usable only if joined with something else—for example, if I were to make a patchwork or appliqu├ęd quilt. I suppose I could make a series of tote bags, but I already have too many of those, or I could make every scrap of fabric into gift bags.


That will probably be the fate of most of them. Yes, there is a limit to the number of gift bags I need to have on hand (and the basement wrapping area is already overflowing with gift bags from the past—because the whole point of them is that they are re-usable). The trick to getting rid of fabric through gift bags is to make up a collection of bags in various sizes and coordinating colours. You then package them, neatly ironed and folded, into their own gift bag and give them away. Each recipient then gets not just one but half a dozen gift bags as the actual gift. What they do with them becomes their problem, not yours.


Did I mention the yarn? The two toy-chest-sized plastic tubs of yarn? Do I knit any longer? No. Each fall the urge will take me to knit scarves, and I usually manage to finish three or four before I am totally bored. At that rate of usage, I have enough yarn to last until 2050, and it's pretty doubtful that I will be around at that time, with or without knitting needles in my hands.


I'm trying to imagine what else is causing the walls of our house to bulge. So many items, so much stuff. I'd like to say that this year, for sure, I'll start working on it seriously. But then I think of a different project that would be a lot more fun than sorting junk. So maybe next year.


Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Right Place

Now here's the dilemma: once you get there, how do you know it's the right place? Even if there are signs (and sometimes they are lacking), they may be wrong, or misleading, or just misinterpreted. If you can't trust the signs, how do you know when you've reached the right place?


Are the fruit trees in flower? Does crystal ice coat bare branches? Is the cardinal staking his claim to all that he can see?


Does a mossy knoll beckon you to sit beside a creek bed lined with water-smoothed stones? Does light dapple through trees just the way you want it to? Do cows stand together facing you, grazing, brown eyes gazing?


Listen! Can you hear the corn grow? The call of coyote, the yip of fox? Do the massed pebbles at the edge of the water chitter as a wave recedes?


If any of these pertain, it is time to trust. These clues announce that you have arrived at the right place.

Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Making Mistakes

I've been re-reading Pema Chodron. Someplace she talks about impermanence—the impermanence of everything in life—situations, emotions, states of mind—and how we can be "up" one minute and down the next. She said that this impermanence, being an indisputable fact of human existence, is within each of us. So the depression that you feel is not yours alone. The elation that you feel is not yours alone. All emotions rise and fall, come and go in everyone. It turns out that your instability is not YOUR pathology but the pathology of the human condition.


I've heard this all before, as have you. But this time it seemed to have an impact beyond the usual. Maybe I actually took it in this time.


I have spent many hours of my life reflecting on mistakes I have made. Pema Chodron's words neutralize the blaming and help me realize that my stupid mistakes are simply one of the ways I learn; they are no more stupid than your stupid mistakes. Now I need to figure out how this knowledge will change my approach to living.


While I'm thinking about that, I will also be pondering a different idea. "Eternity" is not some time in the future, something that starts when you're dead, which is the impression I got in catechism class. Eternity is now, and we experience it most immediately when we are in the moment. When I am absorbed in watching pancakes breathe, then I am in eternity. When I actually notice the artful beauty of shifting shadows as I ride the escalator north of Finch and Yonge, I am in eternity. Perhaps "eternal beauty" means not that beauty goes on forever—although maybe it does—but that paying attention to the beauty of the moment puts us into eternity. Something else to think about.


"Hesitating at the gate" is beginning to turn into "pounding at the door." Does that work as a juxtaposition of metaphors? Let's see. While I'm hesitating at the gate of age (although I seem to be losing the option of "hesitating"), who is pounding at the door? Certainly not me. Is it fate? Life? Death? Oh, it's so easy to talk in abstracts. Let's get up close and personal.


Eyes. Finally the optometrist explained to me why I can no longer move freely from light to dark and vice versa. I used to could, as they say in the South. But now when I move from bright sunlight into the dark of a subway station, I must stop for ten seconds to allow my eyes to adjust; otherwise I can see nothing, and I'm afraid of tripping or running into someone. I didn't used to be this way, and I shouldn't ought to be this way now. But the optometrist said it's because our muscle reactions slow down with age. What was once an instantaneous adjustment now takes countable seconds. Embarrassing seconds, until you stop being self-conscious about aging and just accept this new development as yet another aspect of your reality.


"You're only as old as you feel" doesn't cut it as a motto, since my eyes "feel" fine. My legs are ready to move right on into that subway station. But if I don't step aside and give my eyes the time they need to adjust from light to dark, then I'll definitely be sorry.


I keep coming back to the same thing: change. I imply often that I'm handling it fairly well. I know change is coming. I accept it willingly. Well, delete "willingly." I accept it with as much good grace as I can muster at the moment. And yet a lot of that acceptance is purely theoretical. Do I really accept thinning hair? No comment.


Do I really accept sagging skin? If so, why am I running down to Body One for another jar of Marie's small-batch face-cream-for-aging-skin? Surely I could just slap on some Vaseline or olive oil and be done with it? I'm cherry-picking just which age-related changes I'll accept and which I want to fight. I choose my battles.


I'm fine with the big-ticket ones (like dying) and the less visible ones (like that memory thing). But these external markers—mobility, hair, skin, body shape—bring back my never-quite-relinquished need to control.


Not all truths about aging are painful. Here's a truth: my husband and I are enjoying each other's company more than we ever have before. Is this a manifestation of our joint Intimations of Mortality? Is it finally a realization that our idyllic life will not last forever and we'd better enjoy it while we have it?


Another truth that I must reveal: it isn't easy. Well, I thought I had more to add to that sentence— as in "it isn't easy to . . . whatever." But it turns out that those are my final words on the subject: it isn't easy.

Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Spring Walk on a Street Not My Own

Shooting through barely ice-free soil

scarlet banners wave,

or brilliant yellow.

Some gardeners

reject the primary

and let themselves be seduced

by frilled petals.

No shouts of spare, glad red

for the romantics

who want their tulips girly:

apricot and peach

with centers of cream,

ruffled leaves,

petals open wide to all pollinators.


How lucky are the walkers on this street.

They see gardens exuberant with spring

and nowhere

do I see a herd of hungry squirrels

out to eat the tulip heads.

Or not even to eat:

squirrels on my street

nip off the heads and,

surfeited from spring's bounty,

leave the nipped-off tulips on the ground,

a splash of color on black earth

that would have been,

without the wicked squirrels,

upright among their sisters

flying their raucous flags

of spring.


How fortunate, this squirrel-free street.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor