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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Being Alone

Being alone. Wasn't that the movie about the gardener named Chance? And it starred – not Alec Guinness but that chameleon actor whose name escapes me.


I can picture his name. I see fuzzy related words whizzing around it like satellites—ah, Peter Sellers (the actor, not the opera and stage director, who is an –ars Sellars, I think). Still, I picture that name escaping me, all those names and words escaping me. That gives it a very personal feel. "Escaping me" as if I were the villain to be fled. I see the front door of a grade school at 3:30, the children running out into the world like molecules rushing from . . . and what do molecules rush from? Got myself stuck here. I'd have to go into nano-sizes and nano-figures to get an answer to that.


So I'm back to being alone which in my mind, even though I now have the name of the actor, conflates with that other movie, the one where a simpleton becomes POTUS. And what was the name of that? I don't remember, but I did just remember that the Peter Sellers movie I'm thinking of was Being There, not Being Alone. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to memory.


Luckily, I don't much care about any of this, so I'm not going to fret over it. There are so many other things to fret over in this troubled world.


Being alone. Is that what Mama Cass sang in Gypsy? No, I'm thinking of "Being Alive" and that's not from Gypsy, I think. Maybe Applause. Or Mame. And it surely wasn't Mama Cass but Angela Lansbury? Or Ethel Merman?


Being alone. A little avoidance here? A hesitation to tackle the topic? I love being alone. A perfect week, for me, is a week when I have no appointments (good-bye writing group, good-bye qi-gung) for the whole five days, but my husband does have outside appointments so that he is gone from 9 to 5 every day. He will come home in the evening (I'm not ready to forego our lovely times together, but I do think back fondly to the days Before Retirement).


So how will I be spending this precious time alone? To my shame, I have to confess that I will probably waste it. My justification is already forming in my mind. It will take me that full week to decompress and get used to the pleasures of being alone. I won't start any projects. I won't do anything but sit and be happy. Can I say that I will read unceasingly? That I will eat homemade GF flatbreads with my almond butter? That I will top my bruschetta with chopped kale cooked with olive oil and garlic and currants and pine nuts? That I will wander through the house randomly swiping at this or that horizontal surface with a dust cloth?


It is obvious that I will need not one but two weeks of being alone. The first one will be like the first waffle: I will throw it away. But during that week I will be making my lists for the second week, when I will . . .


H'm-m. What sort of purgatory of production am I creating for myself? Must I make lists and DO things? What if I don't want to DO? Don't want to make a quilt or clean out a closet or write a poem or edit a book. What if I want to practice qi-gung all day instead. That's a flat-out lie. I know I won't be spending entire days in any form of meditation, no matter how much I like qi-gung.


Is there an ending to these thoughts? I believe I started with a paragraph on losing words, and yet I have managed to call up enough of them to fill four pages. Some day I will analyze my current writing and discover, to my chagrin, how frequently I use the same words. Over and over I "realize," "remember," "decide." And there are hundreds more that are repeated endlessly through my pages. What's the name of that lit-crit tool—oh yes: a concordance. A concordance of my writings over the past ten years would be a graphic revelation of how inexorably words are escaping me, with the result that I am left bereft, forlorn, and, indeed, alone.



Copyright 2014 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Words, Words, Words

A friend I've known since high school wrote me an email about reading and she said, "You taught me that reading is 'words, words, words'." Well, where did that come from? How? When? Why? Could I have said such a thing?


She wrote back: we were in high school working on the yearbook (I barely remember even this) and I asked you about reading and you quoted Hamlet, who said reading was just "words, words, words."


There is so much in this exchange that surprises me (that is, if I want to make a drama of it; otherwise I could just let it go). First, it turns out my friend has used that phrase all her life to tease and to make light of her own constant reading. And then there's the indisputable fact that I once knew something. How did I know this line from Hamlet and then I didn't know it at all? Memory is fickle, yes, but this particular memory seems to have left me as soon as I cited it to my friend at the age of 16. Apparently I gave it to her to keep track of. It's certainly true that I never spoke this (apt) line ever to anyone through the sixty years since I showed off to her.


I was obviously once a know-it-all. One blessed result of the memory loss, even the most recent, super-sized version of it, is that I have been forced to recognize how very little is left for me to be a know-it-all about. "Well, shut my mouth!" is pretty much where I am now.


You have nothing to fear. I no longer participate in  oneupmanship. There's too little left in the brain to do that sort of one-upping, and what IS left is not necessarily accessible on demand. It's more like the wait-for-it moment that defines the conversation of (horrible word) seniors. What a dumb term. But what is better? Old fogies? Fossils? Wrinklies? How about, quite simply, us.


Copyright 2014 Ann Tudor

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tending One's Garden

Does anyone have a garden I can tend

instead of my own?

Mine is dry and lacks juice.

It's barely alive by now

and I am SO tired of

1)        tending it

2)        and pretending that it's thriving when it isn't

3)        and intending to make it better when we all know the futility of that little ploy

4)        and mending the holes chewed by the moths and mice of the attic of my mind

5)        and wending my way through the remainder of my days in the maze.


So I ask again: can anyone lend me a garden

with vigorous soil and vibrant sun and water galore?

Probably that's not allowed.

Probably it's up to me to muddle through,

to make do,

to keep up the sham

as long as I am.

To paraphrase the Victorians,

You can think whatever you like—just don't say it aloud and frighten the youngsters.

The end.

Just what I've been talking about / waiting for.


Copyright 2014 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 5, 2014


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 recognize anger 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 jay, 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 2014 Ann Tudor