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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Something Isn't Right

Something isn't right. Well, that's for damn sure. When I said—at some weak moment in the past—that I wanted to chronicle the stages (i.e., the innumerable moments) of aging, I pretended to be serious but I truly thought there wouldn't be all that much to say. Huh.


In the space of 48 hours I encountered more examples than I want to admit of a less-than-sharp brain. There were no two ways about it, no "other perspective" to make it all bearable.


Here is the collection of recent idiocies. Oh, I shouldn't be pejorative (shouldn't say "shouldn't", either). All right. Not current idiocies but lapses. (As if I am expecting to bounce back to normal some day soon. Ha.)


Left the oven on again. I'd only turned it on to thaw and warm my last piece of homemade GF pita bread. Took the flatbread out when it was warm and never thought about turning off the 400 degree oven. Eventually DinoVino discovered it. Well, it made the kitchen toasty warm.


I start with that one because anyone can leave an oven on, right? Well, try this one. I earned a living for a long time (but a long time ago) as a copy editor and proof reader. Admittedly my skills haven't been put to a lot of use lately, but still . . . I sent out a poem to 150 people—a pretty little poem but a very short one. It had a typo ("you" instead of "your"). In a six-line poem I couldn't see a typo. Now, I didn't apply my true proof- reading eye, which I still know how to do—and if I had I would have caught it. But I didn't and I didn't. It took DinoVino WineScribe, an hour after I hit Send, to say, "Did you know you had a typo in line 3?" (Well, of course I didn't freakin' know. If I'd known I would have corrected it! But that's a different direction—something along the lines of marital communication.)


In response to that mailing of a poem, I got a reply from a friend I hadn't heard from in a long time, saying she liked the poem. (So far, no one but my husband has mentioned the typo; what tolerant friends I have.) Anyway, I answered this email saying that I miss hearing her voice in our writing group and miss hearing the next stages of the novel she's working on. And I sent it off. And three seconds later I looked at the name again. It was not Shelley my novel-writing friend but the other Shelly, my beading and artist friend, who had written me. I fired off an apology immediately (what must she have thought?) and she answered right back with a funny note. No harm done, except to my ego, and it's about time I stopped feeding it anyway, right?


We gave a party for twelve on Saturday evening. At the end I took orders for coffee and tea. There were four abstentions, four decafs, and four herbal teas. I went to the tea cabinet and took down my newest product from Say Tea: ginger and lemon oolong. Did you catch that? It was an oolong, not an herbal tea. One little part of my mind knew that, but it was overpowered by its twin on the other side of my mind. Oh, I thought, it's just oolong, not black tea, and it has herbals in it (real ginger, real lemon) so it will be all right. In the light of day the next morning I couldn't believe I had so lightly dismissed my friends' requests for herbal tea.


And the most recent one: For Monday night supper I was doing a quick stir-fry to use up the fresh vegetables that needed to be eaten. I would serve it on a quinoa and red-rice mixture that I'd cooked the day before and that would only need to be reheated.


Picture me at the stove. Quinoa mixture on one burner, skillet for stir-fry right beside it. I covered the stir-fry for three or four minutes to cook the harder vegetables (the sweet potato, for example). And then I smelled burning, so I turned the heat down under the stir-fry, lifted the lid and stirred it, and added a couple tablespoons of water.


Lid back on. A few minutes later I smelled burning, so I did the same thing again. By now the stir-fry is ready. So I get the plates and take the lid off the pan of grains which are, as you've surely guessed, burned black on the bottom.


Can you believe it? The entire brain is crumbling, crumb by bloomin' crumb. A little piece falls off in the check-the-right-pan area and you gradually learn to adjust to that, becoming increasingly alert to burning smells. Because you can't repair the crumbled bits, you begin to adjust. But even as that area is under control, crumbs fall from other brain areas (tiny crumbs, to be sure, but each crumb is of great importance to the proper functioning of what used to be your mind). So the written skills diminish just as you are remembering to check the oven. And just as you remember to proofread even tiny poems, the grains heating right beside you turn black on the bottom.


This chronicle is no longer amusing.


Copyright © 2017 Ann Tudor
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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Grammar in These Changing Times

I was thinking recently of how much I've let go of in the field of grammar. I can count on my fingers (no toes needed) the grammar mistakes that can still get me going. Partly this is because my own failing memory (we'll call it memory in order to avoid calling it something else) has made me forget what I once knew. And partly it's because I no longer care the way I used to.


So what do I still care about? I care about its and it's.

Lie and lay. In a recent Toronto Star crossword (a poor excuse for a crossword, I admit, but there it is in my lap, so I solve it), the clue was "recline", the answer had three letters. To recline = to lie, right? So I wrote in l-i-e. But for the first time in my experience, the crossword developer made an egregious error, since the word that fit was "lay", not "lie". ReclineD, he could have clued us. Then it would have been correct to use "lay." But no. When the crossword puzzle maker sets ungrammatical clues, the end (of something, anyway) must be near.


Homonyms, particularly led. L-e-d, past tense of to lead. (All roads lead to Rome, but mine led me down the garden path.) The confusion here is with the metal "lead", a noun, which is spelled l-e-a-d but pronounced like l-e-d. Oh, I know English is difficult. And I know—lordy, do I know—the children aren't being taught grammar—nor were their teachers during their own school days 30 years ago, so the very possibility of a universal return to teaching grammar in the curriculum has disappeared. It is only the elite private schools that now teach these basics, and this will further and forever distinguish these kids from the hoi polloi.


I recently saw a comment about the decline in educational standards. These changes, deliberately implemented some 50 years ago, have led (l-e-d) to an ignorant electorate, helping to ensure the rise of such politicians as Donald Drumph. To be generous, I'll attribute it to the law of unforeseen, unintended consequences.


It's a depressing scenario. And I'm obviously contributing to it by dropping my own standards. On the weekend I heard both my grandsons (19 and 12, respectively), say "me and him went out" or "me and Paul set up a new screen." I didn't say a word.

On another occasion a granddaughter said something was "one of the only" somethings. Would you listen to yourself, I wanted to say? But again, I didn't say a word.


Do I really want to interrupt one of those rare conversations in order to point out mistakes? Since grammar is not being taught in schools, whole concepts (for example, the idea of subject and object) are foreign to the children. It is only through family conversation that they will learn to speak well, as their parents and grandparents speak. Maybe I should have interrupted those conversations after all.



Copyright © 2017 Ann Tudor
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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Ways to Find a Way

One time I saw the damp grass spring upright again after I had walked on it. One time I watched the continuous ant caravans, travelling in both directions, as they walked the phone-wire leading from the maple tree to our house. (I didn't like to speculate on where exactly they were headed in or near the house.)


I cite these events as examples of who I am now, because all of this is recent. So much of life passed without my seeing. I know it must be possible to foster awareness in children (how else did Annie Dillard, for example, evolve at such a young age?). But it was not fostered in me, nor did I foster it—being still totally unaware myself—in my own young children. And thus do we lose our connection with Nature. Those who will forge it must do so later, through will and determination. Oops. Those are not the right words, for all it really takes is that moment of awakening, and that short sharp shift in attention that leads to worlds previously unimaginable.


Here's what I want to do with the rest of my life, now that you ask: I want to be aware of the grass springing up after I walk on it, the leaves swirling in ecstatic wind-powered dances, the ants on safari along my wire.


What will I be able to see from my window once the cold weather makes it unlikely that I will sit on a flat, lawn-surrounded rock and watch the grass spring to life? Well, even within the confines of the house, I will be able to notice: I will see the coiling steam rise from the coffeepot. Thrill to dancing dust motes. Be conscious of all the smells of my life. Hear the silence as well as the gentle sounds of our old house.


When I hear the leaf blower or the siren or the jackhammer, although what I want to hear is anything less raucous, I will not rail and denounce. For I know (but had forgotten for a time) that it is possible to change those noises we term earsplitting and offensive—to change them by adding my own voice to the mix, toning along with the grumble of the idling truck. Thus are annoyances changed to harmony. And we all know the world needs fewer of the former and more of the latter. I used to do this regularly, but at some point I stopped making harmony and reverted to ranting. It's time to go back to what I once knew.


On one of the 24 floors of the condo behind our house lives a musician. During the summer s/he practices with the sliding doors open to the outside, and the glissandos of the flute ripple through the quadrangle of the condo courtyard. I say flute, but like many woodwind players s/he play both flute and clarinet, and sometimes I have to listen closely, as the sound shift and distort with the wind.


Here is my favourite summer moment: it is 3 p.m. and the sun is just about to leave our back deck for the day and emerge at the front of the house. I am in the backyard removing laundry from the line I string in a triangle around our little space. And the flute player is practicing. Sometimes s/he works on technical skills, playing scales and arpeggios (flutes are big on arpeggios). Other times I hear the flute part of a symphonic opus. It is never not interesting. I stand in the warm sun, smelling my air-dried sheets, and I listen to the sweet notes of a well-played transverse flute. Bliss.

Copyright © 2017 Ann Tudor
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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Miles to Go . . .

When there's still some undefinable


but absolutely non-negotiable

distance to go,

you can't lose heart.


Not true.

Of course you can.

You can drop out, give up the race.

But for the sake of argument

(and joy, and grandchildren,

children, friends, and life itself)

for all those sakes,

let's assume I was right the first time:

you cannot lose heart.


Take courage any way you can:

Bake a pie with the fruit of the day.

Read a book,

preferably one recommended

by a trusted friend,

or one you've read before,

with no mean surprises to make you change your mind

about keeping on.


Find the music you love and listen to it,


or in the company of a similarly-minded audience.


Simplest of all,

seek out a tree

whose rough bark reminds you

of the pattern in everything.


Copyright © 2017 Ann Tudor
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