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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Was Blind But Now I See

For many years I prided myself on not having wrinkles on my face. (In my defense I have to say that the lack of wrinkles barely compensated for years of red-nosed rosacea.) I never minded the well-earned crows' feet and laugh lines, because one has lived and laughed, after all. But I seemed to have escaped the crumpled mosaic that hits women (men, too, but who notices?) when they are no longer "women of a certain age" but actually "older women."


I attributed this smooth face to vigilance. To small-batch moisturizers from alchemists in out-of-the-way studios. And yes, to good genes (although my mother died when she was six years younger than I am now, so I hardly have a reference point).


Several months ago I had cataracts removed from both eyes, three weeks apart. The clarity with which I saw the world after that was astounding, and I wrote about the experience. In response to that essay, a friend wrote me saying she had had her cataracts removed as well, and the most notable result was that she could now see her wrinkles. I chuckled at this—but saw no parallel.

And then one morning I looked in the mirror and saw a ruined face. I saw the map of tiny surface lines that say nothing about me except "old, old, old!" and I realized that I had gone from wrinkle-free to Holy Cow! virtually overnight. What had I done wrong? Was I using a new moisturizer that promoted wrinkles rather than plumping them up into smooth, dewy skin? I was at a loss. What should my next step be, to keep this sudden phenomenon from spreading and deepening?


About two weeks after I received the note from my friend about how her cataracts revealed her wrinkles, I made the connection. It's quite embarrassing to tell you that it took me that long to connect the dots.


My wrinkles were not new. Before the cataract removal, I never examined my face with my glasses on, since any examination occurred at the sink where I washed and lubricated the skin, without glasses. I had never seen the wrinkles. The newly replaced lenses in my eyes simply showed me what had been there all along, even as I was taking pride in my smooth skin and, ungenerously, compared mine favourably to the skin of my contemporaries, whom, of course, I always saw with the aid of my sharp-seeing glasses.


Let me humbly admit it now to one and all: I am human. I am normal. I am mortal. And I am aging, the same way we all have aged, do age, and will age.


Copyright 2014 Ann Tudor

Sunday, July 20, 2014

At That Precise Moment

At the sound of the tone—at that precise moment—it will be one o'clock. In the afternoon, of course, which is actually thirteen o'clock. We civilians call it one o'clock because in our minds there is no confusion between the two; at the other one o'clock we are sound asleep in our beds.


Fiction: this could be the start of a political dystopia, with Big Brother monitoring the sleep habits of the citizenry, along with every other element of their existence. Do I want to start writing a dystopia? No.


Memoir: this could be a story of arriving in Canada and discovering the CBC, which at one o'clock every single day afforded me (and still does) the opportunity to re-set my watch to the national standard. How accommodating. How civilized. No wonder I cottoned so quickly to CBC Radio. This was 34 years ago, of course, before the death by a thousand cuts that have reduced it to a bare-bones mockery of a public service. As far as I'm concerned, you can consign CBC-TV to whatever broadcasting hell exists. But keep your cotton-pickin' paws off my CBC Radio.


What's the title of this piece? "At That Precise Moment." Oh, I remember. I tried and discarded fiction. Then I tried the rubric "memoir," which turned into a present-day rant. Let's see if I can summon up a more appropriate memoir item: "At that precise

moment . . ." No, nothing there. I'll try again: "At that precise moment . . ." Nope.


What else do I know how to write? Kitchen episodes. At the precise moment when the recipe and the timer agree that I should remove the cookies from the oven, they have just turned black on the bottom. Or: . . . the cookies have only just begun to firm up and removing them at that precise moment will be a disaster. Well, a small-scale disaster. Nothing on the order of an earthquake or total climate change or the mega-quarry. (Get away from those rant-worthy disasters quickly and return to your cookies!)


Yes, a small kitchen disaster, in our house, is not even really a disaster because 1) I can usually find a way to turn Disaster into Delicious and 2) if I fail in that attempt, my husband will eat it anyway because he hates to see food wasted. (So do I, but I have my limits; he has none. He won't eat an apple voluntarily unless I quarter it and serve it with a nice full-fat cheese, as dessert. Unless, that is, the apple in question is wrinkled and on the verge of being too old for human consumption, in which case he will voluntarily eat it for lunch and repeat, enthusiastically, "Delicious!" What a guy.)


Where was I? If, for me, writing is predicated on digression, then I must continually re-orient myself. Perhaps I lead my life the same way? Those cookies, for example. Did they burn while I was digressing my attention toward a Sudoku, or while I was indulging in my new obsession with learning how to play the blues scale on the piano? If my whole life is a digression, how will I ever find the main thread?


My embroidered digressions disguise the actual theme of my life. The theme of my life? Is there one, or is it all embroidery?



Copyright 2014 Ann Tudor

Sunday, July 13, 2014

And the Answer Is . . .

I made a card once that said, on the front, "The answer is love." The inside said, "the question is irrelevant." I really liked that card. Unfortunately, my skills as calligrapher are not nearly as advanced as my skills as philosopher, so the clumsy (but true) card remains unsent. Perhaps one day I will re-design it to be worthy of its sentiment.


My sister Sari and I used to send each other failed examples of our respective card-making. Sari was an excellent calligrapher. She sent me a card whose front read, in a beautiful hand, something like: "My prayers enter me and swirl through my soul and come out as laughter." This was so representative of Sari, for whom laughter was the source of all good, and the message was reinforced when you tried to open the card and realized that she had mistakenly written the quotation upside down on the card, with the fold of the card at the bottom and the opening at the top. I kept this botched card for a long time in her memory—until I recently sent it to a mutual friend who needed some cheering up.


But this Sari card is not what I wanted to talk about—namely, that I had it right years ago: the answer is always love, and the question is indeed irrelevant.


I've been thinking lately about death. As a society, we approach death with foreboding, terror, and a negative, why-does-this-have-to-happen-to-me frame of mind. Well, what I've been thinking is that I want to see my Leaving of Life as an exciting event. Not a celebration, necessarily (after all, I do expect at least a few people to be sad that they will no longer see my smiling face). But exciting, folks! This is the only time in this life of mine (the life when I am this "me" and not some other me, as yet unrevealed)—as I say, the only time in my life when I will experience this particular adventure. Is this not amazing? I, who never go anywhere. I, who fight for my right to sit in my own backyard and rest between bouts of watering the garden. I, the most homebound of earthly beings, will be taking a journey, heading off into the unknown.


I can barely imagine the excitement.


In order to be convincing, I need to surround this concept with a few conditions: first, that I am old enough to die without a feeling of a too-early departure, and second, that the event will be relatively pain-free (lingering illnesses carry their own emotions, none of which, perhaps, is excitement).


Writing this takes me back to an essay I wrote a long time ago about my death: lying in state surrounded by family, no tears, flannel nightgown if it's winter.


A short digression here: I realized the other day that the best funeral clothing for me (were there to be a funeral, which there won't) would be a new flannel nightgown. One of those thick ones, full-length, long sleeves (none of that three-quarter sleeve nonsense; who wants a flannel nightie with sleeves that don't cover the fore-arm?) Perhaps I should go out and buy one now, to be sure I have some choice in the matter. But if I did that, I'd be tempted to wear it on the first chilly night--and surely the nightie for my final trip should be brand-new.


Let me return to the idea of celebration. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, we celebrate the birth of a new baby. What bigger milestone is there than death? Each of us gets to die, and only once, so I see it as possibly the biggest event of a lifetime. No matter what one's view is of the after-life (Something and Nothing are the options), the fact remains that I want the end of this life to be filled with a sense of occasion. Spare me the late-life birthdays (oh, are you still here?). Just join me at the end, with a flute of good Champagne and perhaps a little well-sung Mozart, and give three cheers: Here's to you! Well done and safe journey! Hip-hip-hurray!



Copyright 2014 Ann Tudor

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Excessive Honesty

Just because you see it, know it, recognize it

doesn't mean you have to say it.

Let's hear the cheers

for reticence

and the kindness of not saying.


Let's strive to live and let live,

if that's not too old-fashioned.

Let's keep out of trouble

by keeping our mouths shut.


Just because we can reveal

our home truths (or someone else's)

doesn't mean we should.

May we practice an economy of words

and recognize silence as a force for good.

May we on occasion contemplate, not communicate.


"I think, therefore I am" is what Descartes said.

Not "I reveal, therefore I am."

Excessive honesty, freely expressed,

will lead to tears.

Be chary.

Hold back.

Tie your tongue now and then.




Copyright 2014 Ann Tudor