I’m too tired to start this post. Really. Not sure I’ll make it. Why am I pooped? Been typing and uploading and answering and thinking and creating my ridiculously un-me profiles on a handful of dating sites – the ones that specialize in hooking up single parents with each other. Now I’m on the verge of regret. Oh just why did I? It can’t hurt, I know. And not a thing will change if I don’t want it to. I would simply like to go out on just one fucking date with a guy who has the ‘oomph’ to match mine. Ya know? There are many things about Fareed that are straight-out fucked up, but there’s one thing he’s got going for him – and it still works with me – is that he’s fully loaded. He’s got oompf. Yeah, he’s full of some other crap too. Mostly bullshit, but even so, it’s entertaining bullshit. He’s ever the charmer. And he’s always fully convinced about whatever it is he’s preaching at the time. And I like a man with conviction. But just maybe not as much conviction as my ex. The kind of conviction that tells his lover that his wife’s “not the jealous type” as he prepares to plant his seed in her garden. That’s a bit too much oomph. Ya think?
So while I don’t necessarily want a super-oomphie mate for a date, I’d still like a fellow who meets me energy-wise. Someone who can be comfortably irreverent. Someone who verges slightly on the edge of asshole (girls, there’s no way around it, assholes are attractive), but who is too insecure or too kind deep-down to ever be truly mean. Just a bit of edge is all I’d like. Sarcasm works well. Just not too much. Not the mean kind – but the playful stuff. You know. So that’s the profile in a nutshell. And if the guy is handy – woo! And if he knows the birds by their songs… mmm. And… if he puts his hand on the small of my back as he ushers me through a door…. well. Nuff said.
Who am I fooling, I wonder. I’m the largest I’ve ever been in a non-pregnant state. I don’t feel good about the way I look these days. Certainly don’t feel very sexy. But at the same time, I don’t feel horrible. Just not the way I remember feeling about my body for the past two decades. And I suppose if I put my back into it and committed to riding up and down these ghastly difficult hills out here on my bike (as I did last week and thought I would simply die on the way back) I might be able to fight my way back to that body. But since I still can’t get my fight back on, I don’t see it happening, and I need to just settle into some sort of comfort with the fleshy package I got right now. Guess that’s in part why I sought out the single parent sites. Those men gotta be a little too busy helping with homework and shuttling the kids to soccer to be wrestling their middle-aged bodies back into thirty-something submission. I figure it’s gotta be somewhat of a level playing field. Kind of.
I’ve done what I can. I’ve dropped a lone glove on the ground behind me. The clever and driven suitor will find his way back to me with my lost article, and I’ll tell by the twinkle in his eye that this whole dating thing just might be worth another try…
Have an informal audition of sorts tomorrow at Elihu’s school. They need another accompanist for the Eurythmy classes. It actually sounds right up my alley. Music, kids, some improvisation, a sense of play about the task at hand… but I need to remember it is a job, and I have to nail some things just so. Gotta listen, gotta be flexible and need to wait on instruction. Lots of stops and starts to the job. It’s tricky to get twenty little bodies all to move in a certain way. And the music keeps it all goin. Never done anything quite like this with little ones, and truthfully I’m just a bit nervous that I won’t be a fit. But I’m turning out to be a bit more excited about it than I realized at first. It sounds like fun. Is that ok that a job appeals primarily because it sounds like ‘fun‘? Yes, I think so. At least here, at Waldorf, it’s certainly an environment that would welcome that kind of thinking.
Then of course, I might be just a little jacked about it because I just threw a rather impromtu resume together and I got a kick out of seeing it all on paper. Well then. Seems I’d forgotten how impressive my life can appear in list form. We all know the resume game – and yes, somehow it always reads better and sounds more impressive than it usually was in real life, but as I read my list of jobs through the years and think back on them, I can say with some pride that they’re represented truthfully. And they were all fun, challenging, and each one in its own way helped to create the person I’ve become today. Maybe I pushed the envelope a bit when I added some of my interests, including flying, homesteading and being a good mother. Does anyone really care? Maybe it sounds a little pretentious. But it’s the truth. And these days, that’s how I want to represent myself. The days of super-slick strategizing are behind me.
But hopefully, more working days lay yet ahead and may resume again soon…
The husband of an old friend died last night. It had been years maybe since we’d talked in person, but she’d showed her love and support often on Facebook in response to my blog posts. I didn’t usually respond with much more than a thumbs up – a virtual nod of the head, an invisible wink of recognition across the vast space in between us. I knew she was going through a truly difficult time, and because of it I often felt guilty when I’d complain about my own situation in my posts. My life these days was so much easier than hers. She had a deep and frightening heartbreak looming on her horizon; her husband had been battling cancer for the past year. He was now in hospice. In spite of her upbeat demeanor, she knew what was coming next. I don’t know how they dealt with it – head on or voices hushed – but she was being stronger and more publicly stoic than I myself could have been. And in spite of all this, she was still witnessing the joy in the little things around her; only days ago she paid tribute to a spider web made in her bicycle wheel! Every time I’d see her name I’d say a small prayer for the family. I watched from afar. Nothing I could do. I couldn’t read what was going on inside; her mood seemed much the same as it had been the past year – hopeful, grateful, cautious. She’d done so much to cheer me through this nightmarish tour of divorce, I really felt I wanted to offer my friendship now. I didn’t want to email – I wanted to call. The old fashioned way. Her number was unlisted, so as I made my way through old boxes of date books and ancient to-do lists in my office, I was on the lookout for her number. I knew it was there somewhere, but I couldn’t find it.
Until tonight. Better late than never. The number looked familiar, and I dailed it. I got a recording. It told me the number no longer existed. Damn it. That was it. Nothing more to do. I just can’t email her right now, that just seems lame. And anyway, I really have no idea what kind of a place she’s in. Does she want to talk? Or just stay with family? Or take a pill and sleep a deep, forgetting slumber? God, I don’t know. I’m going to let it be. And just send her and the girls my love. Her husband? I myself believe he’s just fine. In fact, I’m relieved for him. It’s just the ones left behind I hurt for. What a heartbreaking planet this is.
It doesn’t matter how damned prepared you are – how well you know it intellectually that your dear one is dying – when that moment actually comes, it has got to turn your world upside down. I once experienced the death of a good friend, and it was like the breath had been sucked out of me. I walked around like a zombie for months. And he was a friend – he was not a partner, a spouse. I don’t know how that feels. I can’t imagine.
I pray that the girls can all find sleep tonight. I pray that the love they shared as a family helps sustain them during the difficult months to come. And dear Dennis, I’m so glad you don’t hurt anymore. Wish I’d known you better, but what I did know of you was kind and loving. You’ve been loved by friends and family – and that includes, of course, all of your beloved animals. I’ll bet that right now there are a whole bunch of furry creatures who are really happy to see you again!
A thousand miles away tonight, but my heart is there on the south side of Chicago as Von’s friends and family gather to say goodbye. My son and his father were there too, which made me very glad. My heart’s a little heavy as I turn in tonight. It is truly the end of an era. Oh dearest Von, we’ll miss you so.
Hookay. Calmed down a bit since the last post. Which, by the way, was widely read and responded to quite enthusiastically. (Why should readership have peaked so dramatically? I always notice a direct correlation between the generous use of expletives and increased readership. But since folks don’t know the juicy words will be there until they’re actually reading it – I don’t see how that could factor in. But it seems to. Maybe y’all are just forwarding the ‘good stuff’ to your friends. ?) And thanks, for all the help and ideas. All of it is under consideration and is being thoroughly studied by my R&D department. It’s taking quite a bit of time to review it all, as naturally there’s a lot of material to read and digest. Once again I’m reminded of how big a world this is. Depending on my mood that’s either really bad news (it’s too intimidating) or it’s good news (there’s always room for one more success!). I’m kinda walking the line in between today. I’ll feel a surge of hope, but then doubt hits me and I feel like lying down for a really long time.
For example, here’s something that I just experienced a few minutes ago: I was checking in with one of my favorite writers, columnist for USA Today Craig Wilson (and former resident of Saratoga Springs, New York where I myself now live), catching up on a few of his past articles, and then decided to Google the stats for his daily audience. Daily planet-wide readership for the rag is a little better than 3 million copies a day. ! Seriously?! That’s crazy. And I got all excited the other day because my hits had grown from 1000 to 12,000 in just a few months, and my world map now had over 40 countries. What-ever. ! I must also remind myself that that number reflects only visits – not actual readers. Also, as someone pointed out this summer much to my chagrin, many of those hits – including those from abroad that get my heart beating faster – may well be accidental. Folks who may be searching for one thing and finding me instead. Oh well.
Undaunted, I carry on and make a plan. I will write to those folks whose writing I enjoy, and I will enclose a bit of mine. Maybe even throw in a CD. Or a rock. Something that might make my correspondence stand out. My first thought was to write Craig. His writing is gentle, easy – just cynical enough. No wonder he’s the choice for USA Today. His writing doesn’t offend, and it usually makes you feel good. I read his only book, a collection of essays entitled “It’s the Little Things” and, like many readers do, by the time I’d finished the book I felt like I knew him. It’s so easy to feel like that with the author of a memoir. I remember shortly after discovering Michael Perry last year (he has a new just-released book called “Visiting Tom” – check YouTube for the lovely promo video) I was fairly in love with the poor fellow. He’s a farmer, a writer, a musician, a parent. Hey! So am I!! I laughed out loud more than a few times as I read through his stories – and I guess I can attribute much of my warmth towards him to a deep gratitude for stirring me out of my laughter-free solitude. I’d felt so damn lonely these past few years out here in the country, and Mike made me feel so much less alone. I immediately got online and began to check out his site. His videos, his music, interviews. All of it. I got excited – it seemed like he might be able to offer me some help, some direction, some… something. I don’t know what. But I discovered that even this guy, who really isn’t that well-known, and for whom paying the bills is still a source of stress, he had far too many fans to deal with personally. Crap. My heart sank down to my toes when I saw his pleas: there were too many folks for him to respond to personally, that he felt bad about it, but thanked his readers for their support… That was the general gist of it. So I’m not sure about bugging him anymore. And after seeing that Craig has over three million pairs of eyes reading his daily column, I have doubts about writing him too.
Then I think again. Ok. Mike might be busy right now with his book tour and his new release, but he’ll be back in his little Wisconsin farmhouse by winter, and by then he might just have a little bit of time to consider a letter from me. Hm. And Craig, come on – that guy’s got a comfy day job. He’s got his routine, his nice house in a Virginia suburb… why he might even be getting a tad bored these days with all that routine. Who knows? Maybe he’s got the time to help me out. Maybe he might be happy to read some of my stuff. Give me some ideas, write a letter or two of recommendation…
In the ’90s I worked as an accompanist for a handful of comedy groups in Chicago. After so much time watching the actors doing their thing, I got to thinking that it might be something I could do too. Playing in the band in “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding” I enjoyed acting in a couple of improvised scenes, and from that I got the idea that I might do more. I’d played keyboards and sung on a handful of commercials and thought that on-camera work wouldn’t be much different. But for me, it was. I was just never good with cameras rolling. And it seemed the more auditions I went on, the more nervous and the worse I got. Looking back on it now I realize that if I’d just done more – rode it out, so to speak – I would have improved. I might have caught on. But I didn’t… and well, I didn’t. I really sucked. And my sucking, combined with my need for everyone to like me, that sucked even more.
This writing thing – the idea of writing other writers for help and guidance – it’s bringing up those queasy feelings I had at commercial auditions all those years ago. It makes me ill, and I just don’t like it. I know it’s different. I’m older, I have nothing to lose, and no matter how things turn out I still have my family, my chickens and my view of the mountains. So I’ll continue. I’ll get a plan, identify some goals, write some letters. But what material to include?
I’ve been going through the 200+ posts of the past year and a half trying to pull out a few favorites. But so far, I just can’t seem to choose. Friends, do you have any favorite posts? Even if you don’t remember the title of it, might you remember the gist of it? Was there a post or two you remember liking more than the others? I could really use some input. As usual, I’m easy to find; my email address is on the ‘about’ page here as many have already discovered, and of course, there’s always Facebook.
So please, if you have any ideas for me – send em! I can’t thank you enough for your help, for your company and your friendship. I really value your opinions, so please be forthcoming with them. I can take it. ! (I think.)
Damn it. I’m just not cynical enough, I know it. I should be more ironic too. And slick. Yes, I should be hipper, slicker. Not sure, but I think so. And I’m not really funny. Endearing, yeah, sometimes, and probably amusing too, for a second maybe, but not laugh-out-loud funny. And I haven’t introduced my readers to any quirky, ornery curmudgeons from my rural neighborhood, no insane girlfriends have moved in and talked me into starting a cupcake business for the racing market of Saratoga, I haven’t confessed any radical sexcapades from my years as a rock goddess on the road, I don’t have an exotic pet that I carry around with me (although I did once have a parrot whom I carried to the market in a poodle bag until he chewed up all the woodwork in my kitchen and ended up back with the breeder) and I’m not recovering from an addiction. Well, kind of. I do still kinda want a cigarette every now and then. But naw. No one cares. That’s not a real jones. So. What do I got?
Well, I got a goose named Maximus who tries to hump me when I let him share the kiddie pool with me. He gets pretty excited sometimes, and I have to grab him by the neck and talk him down. So, well, there’s that. It’s funny I guess, but I haven’t been clever enough to weave it into a narrative yet. So it’s a missed opportunity, I suppose. I begin to wonder, are there any opportunities here at all? I mean, real gems, keepers? Is there any one thing in my entire blog worthy of an editorial staff – or more accurately an unpaid intern – anything that shows promise in its infant form? Perhaps I’m too dark; perhaps the gems are simply strewn everywhere and I’m tromping on them, unaware of the beautiful works they may yet come to be…
Here, in the mass of posts I’ve made over the past year and a half – here, amongst the some two hundred and forty thousand or so words I’ve assembled – at the very least, I must have created something useable. Something printable. Something worth a professional binding. Maybe? Oh fuck it. I don’t even know where or how to begin. It’s a self-help, educate-yourself-through-YouTube world and I still don’t know how to do it… Get an agent, I gotta get an agent. I know this. I’ve heard this. But seriously, what, am I high? It’s a flippin huge world with big expectations and lots of rules. Just getting a friggin agent seems as unattainable as my getting into my beloved 1963 Avanti with the Studebaker engine and driving off. Seriously, even if I might have the gumption, I have no fucking clue how to start. Really.
In isolated moments of inspiration and hope I think ‘it can’t be that hard…‘ Then… Fuck it! I’m not gonna get into this mess. Yeah, just fuck it all. What a stupid idea. I’m not a writer. I have no street cred, no history or experience. Geez. I can’t do this. Really. I’m being naive here. Shit, I don’t know. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe I can do this… I gotta calm down here. This is no good. I’ve lost perspective. I go upstairs, distract myself with a snack, some mindless tv. Gotta checkout for a minute. Go back downstairs to my desk. Sit there. Breathe in, breathe out. Now. Ok. Where was I? Publishing. Yeah. Just how is that supposed to work? I still have no inspiration.
Man, I’m tired tonight. But it is my window to work. Gotta make hay… Without my son here I’m free to think on it for another week yet, to even begin to consider a plan…. but then I realize there’s a huge process and a sophisticated industry that I know nothing about behind it all – and I feel stopped. And that’s frustrating. And exhausting. So for now I’m just gonna put it all down for the night, turn off the lights.
And for the next eight hours at least, things really are gonna get dark.
I think I figured it out. I came up with a word that explains what I do. I would like to call myself a thinkwright. A builder and an expresser of thoughts. First I create them in my mind, then I put them in tangible form. I mull, I muse and I consider things as I go about my day – and in my solitude here there’s plenty of time for that – the ideas percolate to the surface, then I sit in my chair at the end of the day, and I write. (I might also be called a writewright I suppose, but I don’t think it sounds as good. And of course, it might make sense to use thinkwrite as well; it implies the word ‘wright’, yet it represents literally what it is that I do. Hmm. Still mulling this over. A quick google search comes up with very few thinkwrights, so maybe I’m onto something.) Maybe you haven’t felt any reservations about calling me a writer, or a blogger, but I have. I still don’t quite feel like either. Recently, something happened that had me thinking more closely about what it is that I hope to do with my writing. In this world people expect growth, change, progress. So what am I growing towards? What might I hope to do, be or achieve in the process? Never really thought about it before, but these days I’m wondering.
Recently I’ve been toying with the idea of joining an online blogging support community in order to get a better idea of how I might expand my readership or maybe even tweak the look of my blog a bit. It doesn’t cost too too much ($20 a month), but in my world that’s an expense that I really need to justify before I commit to it. So when I get those super-upbeat emails from the director of the program, telling me that she has “seven proven steps to make my blog go viral” I experience some mixed feelings. The first one is from my ego. I think, wow, that might feel pretty good. The fourteen year old girl inside me who still wants validation from everyone really likes that. But then the second, less needy voice appears, and it says wow, think of all that connection going on. Think of all those people sharing the same stories, the same take on things. Think of all that connection – with old friends, with new ones. Maybe even readers connecting with each other. Not sure, but seems possible. I have nothing to sell. I don’t want my readership in the hundreds of thousands for any other reason than to build a sense of friendship and community, of mutual support. When my stories resonate with someone, that means they share some sense of agreement with me. They get what it is I’m expressing, and in so doing, we all share an understanding of sorts. And that’s a good thing.
So when this very peppy blogging guru told me I could go viral – I simply had to be the annoying kid in the room with my arm up. I just couldn’t imagine my blog going viral. Why would it? What would drive this crazy upsurge of activity? I asked her, embedding a challenge in my question, a prideful dare. I was being a bit arrogant, ignorant too maybe, but it seemed like she could take it. And I was pretty sure she could dish it out. Indeed, she was very professional – and kind – and responded. She’d read a post of mine in the past and had commended me on the writing. Yeah, that’s nice, and I’d appreciated it, but what of this viral thing? Might that magic work on me too? She told me that I had too many “I”s, “me”s and “mine”s and that I needed to turn it around and offer my audience some concern for them, using instead “you”s and “yours”. I had to offer my readership a solution for a problem, and I had to make it about them, not me. Hm. Didn’t sound like it applied to me. Decided to let the idea sit for a while. So I went out to work in the garden. And I thought about it. And I came to a conclusion which suits me for now: I’m not a blogger who writes, I’m a writer who blogs. I’m not offering solutions here, just perspectives. Perhaps I’m a memoirist without a publisher. Yeah, that feels more like it.
I don’t have anything to offer except my life and my own take on it all. That’s it. And I apologize if there really are too many “I”s and “me”s in my writing – but hey, that’s kinda what this experiment has been about thus far. And if you weren’t kinda curious or interested, you wouldn’t be reading. And I’m sure you don’t read when it doesn’t appeal. You’re all busy, just stopping by takes time. For that gift of your time alone I’m so very pleased. I really do hope reading these posts gives you some joy, maybe even some sense of connection. That’s why I started this whole thing to begin with – to feel some connection with the outside world. I needed to throw out a lifeline because I felt so very alone. I just needed to get it all out. And for me, it’s worked pretty well. So if the circle grows, great. If not, that’s just fine too.
So I guess that kinda gives away my true colors. I’m no blogger. I’m just one person trying to understand my world. Just one person hoping to connect with fellow residents of this difficult planet. A gal just trying to express herself. A writer of thoughts, a thinkwright.
My ex always used to say that I spent much of my energy in life looking back, while he spent much of his looking forward. I wouldn’t argue with that. I am, fundamentally, a sentimental person. And with the recent death of dear Von Freeman, something deep within my melancholic nature has been stirred. I’m made keenly aware of time’s passing. Elihu is no longer a very young boy, my father is now a very old man, and my hair is run through with silver. I’ve been here in New York now four years to this month. Time enough to have graduated from high school or from college. I’ve completed a four year term of life, and now, before I embark on the post-graduate study of life to come, I need to assess and file away what I’ve learned and accumulated thus far.
Over the past year I’ve been working at sorting through all of my household stuff, so that I might know the contents of my house – of my life – down to every last one of my mementos, recordings, art, writing and possessions (and the same of my son’s). Now I have reached the final – and most challenging – phase of the project: my office. Going through this archive of my life is an emotionally charged job. In some way it seems I’m bearing witness to all I’ve done and created thus far that I might now lay it to rest and begin the next chapter of my life’s work with renewed enthusiasm. When this room is finished, when the evidence has been considered and put away, it will create a good, clean emotional place from which to go forward into the adventure. But with all the retrospection going on today and all the poignant discoveries, for the moment I’m feeling a little sad, a little hesitant to say goodbye. A little stuck.
In this room is the fountainhead of all the things I’ve ever created and saved: work from grade school, papers from college, art, recordings, photos, writing, old programs from early in my dad’s career, ticket stubs, backstage passes, bits and pieces from every corner of my forty-nine years on the planet. What to do with it all? My goal, as I sit right now in the midst of a room full of paper, is to create systems. Binders will house the finest pieces of art, file boxes for the rest. Much has already been burned, much more is yet to be. Items – things – the stuff I really have no room for, it will be thinned to a manageable amount – put into a clear plastic box (for if it can’t be seen, it can easily be forgotten) and then onto a shelf. When will they lose their meaning? Will I end up tossing them or will that fall to Elihu after I’m dead? I am stopped by the quandary of stuff. What have my peers, my friends, my readers done with the sentimental things from their lives? I wish I knew. I’ve culled the best I can, I must simply store the rest that I can’t say goodbye to. I’m not good at taking my own advice. These things are not the person, not their love, not the memory, I know, I know… Yet I can’t throw out the postcards from my grandmother, nor the clay figure I made in second grade… I’m in a sentimental fog, and I’m trying to clear my head.
My load has lightened, it has, yet there’s still so much crap. Driving down the road today, I saw an open garage whose wall was covered in boxes. Likely the boxes that never got unpacked after that last move. I personally know plenty of folks with that story. So what then? And what, exactly, is actually in those boxes? Me, I’m finding mostly art in my boxes, some letters and lots of musical programs. I find a box of tax docs from our old Cafe and realize I can toss em now. That helps. Physically it gives me some room. Psychologically it frees me up. Ok. Progress is slow, but it’s there. One box down is one box down.
Then I come upon some photos of my last recording session. It was with Von. Wow. I look so much younger. And thinner. I remember – I was newly pregnant then. What a good time that was. It reminds me, and I’m happy to find these. I’d forgotten all about that session, I’m so grateful to have these pictures. I remember Von had said he thought he sounded like Ben Webster on the ballad… yeah, I remember that. I still have that recording. It gets me thinking. Maybe I should release it. Don’t know, but it’s something to think about. It’s a possibility.
Everything is a possibility right now. In a way it feels like I’m about to emerge – in earnest – from my old life. While reading my old letters to Fareed still brings tears, and while it’s still not easy to understand that Elihu has two brothers and a sister I don’t even know, things are better these days than they were in the beginning. Things are settling into their own new pattern. No longer is my story new and fresh. The hurt is there, but truly, it has dulled with time. I’ve come to realize that I love living alone, that Elihu and I have great adventures together, and that yes, two people can constitute a family. I’ve examined my life, and now I’m examining my possessions; taking a full-life inventory. I’ve moved through a phase of aging, of growing, of learning these past four years. I’m ready to move into my future.
Ever onward, yet ever mindful of the past. Nostalgic yes, but eager to create new memories. I think I still have a little space for a few more boxes….
“Spress yo’self!” Those were the words of encouragement that tenor saxophonist Von Freeman would offer the young musicians on the bandstand. Words that pushed you forward, lifted you up, words that made you feel that yeah, you had it in you. You could do this. And you’d do it – in part, for him. Although you knew that these words came from a living legend of a man, you didn’t feel like you shared the space with a legend, but rather a coach, a tender supporter, even a loving parent. Of the many accomplishments of this man’s life, to me, I think his greatest was the nurturing support he gave to so many young musicians throughout the years.
In the past few months I’d been thinking about Von. Wondering how he was doing, how long he was going to live. I didn’t think he’d played in a while now, how did he live without music? Was he merely lingering? What did he do all day? Did he relive old memories in his mind, or were his thoughts quiet? Was he ok? I’d made up my mind to write him a letter. I’d wanted to thank him for the love he’d given me, for the way he’d helped so many of us. I’d wanted to give him a little light in his long days. I also guess I’d felt a little guilty perhaps that here, in my new life, I was using very little of my musical gifts, but in spite of that, Von’s support all those years ago had nonetheless been a very important part of my life, of my growing and learning. Selfishly, as a means of receiving either his forgiveness or permission – or even both, perhaps, I felt I needed to tell him this. I wanted to tell Von that I had chickens. I imagined him smiling to himself at the thought. I wanted to thank him, to cheer him, to give him my love before it was too late. Any thanks or love I’d ever expressed to him in the past would have been diluted by a noisy bar, or kept to myself in polite silence as he offered me his arm and like a gentleman, walked me back to my car at the end of the night.
My house well in hand, my guests all gone, this week I’d had on my to-do list to write to Von. But, last night, Fareed called to tell me that Von had died. We cried together for a moment, and then I admitted that I was actually happy for him. If anyone had earned death and relief from this earthly world, Von sure had. We laughed through our tears, and on this, we both agreed.
A year ago Elihu and I had visited Chicago, and we’d made a pilgrimage to the New Apartment Lounge on Chicago’s south side to attend one of Von’s famous Tuesday night jam sessions. I’d known the place had recently been closed, shut down for renovations, maybe even in part shut down because Von had had some minor health problems. I don’t remember exactly now. But I knew well that Von hadn’t missed a Tuesday night in decades running, and somehow, I felt he had to be there. I’d heard the place was due to be up and running by July, and it was late in the month. I was ready, excited, expectant. As we drove there, in my head I began running through the tunes I might sing that night (knowing full well that in the end I would choose a favorite of mine and Von’s, the ballad, ‘My Old Flame’, complete with its lovely verse.)
When Elihu and I arrived the club was dark. I even passed it once, although I’d been there dozens of times through the years. It was closed. I was in shock; a cold wave of reality washed over me: it was over. The era had ended. I dismissed this thought quickly, because I wasn’t ready to accept it. I parked (in a bus stop as it turned out, and I received a $125 ticket after telling the cops I’d ‘move in a second’) and Elihu and I got out. I cupped my hands over my eyes and looked in the window. It still looked the same. The goofy curved, light blue bar, the mirrors on the wall, the tiny stage and its rickety banister. But the neon lights of the sign were out, the place absolutely empty. My heart hurt. I asked a couple of people on the street what was up with the place, and they assured me it was opening again very soon. What could I do? I was there at least, and Elihu would at least see the place with his own eyes. I had him stand in front, and I snapped a picture (as the cops wrote me a ticket). We were there less than three minutes. We got back into our car, and I drove away, a deep sadness settling into my core.
I wish that I could be there in Chicago this week, to share his remembrance with friends. I want to feel that love, that camaraderie of folks who knew Von, and who wish to be in his presence one last time. I feel a need to share in some ceremony of closure, but being so far away, I simply can’t be there. My closure will come instead through a sharing of my remembrances, through my writing of a post. I begin to think of so many of Von’s peers who have gone before, and I realize how this historic era in American music is coming to a close. I’m conflicted; should I feel supreme sorrow or should I feel supreme gratitude? We live now in a world that has been made richer by these people. They, and Von, gave us their love and their music. In the end, they’ve lived as few of us do. They’ve left a legacy, and they’ve departed this planet loved by many. I realize now that I feel a bittersweet mixture of both sorrow and gratitude.
Thank you so, our dearest Vonski, we’ll love you and miss you always.
Following is a post I’d made nearly a year ago and have never published; it was to be part of a longer retrospective on the many disparate and varied experiences I’d had in my ‘last life’. In this post I was recalling my first experience with Von Freeman on stage. Through the years to follow, I would come to sing and record with Von and marvel at his unending strength, good humor and belovedly familiar and unique sound.
I’m at the Bop Shop and it must be the late eighties sometime. Von Freeman, Chicago’s legendary tenor sax player is here tonight. He’s known for helping the young musicians. He’s known for hosting jam sessions in which he invites the newbies up to play or sing, and then supports them with shouts of ‘express yourself!’ throughout their solos. I’m rather new to singing this night, and very new to joining jam sessions. A singing gig, with its planned out, rehearsed songs and familiar arrangements is only just now within my comfort zone. Getting up on stage with real jazz musicians, calling tunes, keys and tempos, talking down the form – that’s all a little beyond me right now. But Von’s gonna help change that. Right now. He calls my name, and invites me to join the band onstage. “Miss Liz” he says, holding a hand in front of his eyes to see past the lights and out into the audience, “are you out there?”. There is no escaping this. I am nervous. I’ve played lots of gigs, but as a keyboard player in pop and rock bands. I feel like I’m just pretending to be an actual singer. I haven’t done it for that long. Oh shit. I wish I could just leave. But I can’t.
When I get to the stage I’m faced with a racing heart and an empty head. “What would you like to do?” Von asks. Good question. What would I like to do? I knew this might happen and so wasn’t entirely unprepared, yet I didn’t quite have it together. I probably called “There’s A Small Hotel”, because the old guys seemed to like it, or at least they usually expressed some kind of enthusiasm when I mentioned it. Von leaned in, helping me every step of the way. “What key?”. Yeah, what key? I think. It’s a flat key, that I know – but was it Eb or Bb? Man, they’re a fourth apart, I’d better know otherwise I’ll be screwed. At least the range isn’t so big in this tune, if I choose the wrong one, I can probably still make it through. “Bb” I said. He knew better than to expect me to count it off, so he swung his fist to give the tempo to the band. Off and running.
It went well, I guess. I remember feeling that the first tune felt good once we were underway. When he hit me for another tune, I had one ready to go; I was over the hump and I’d pulled it together. I’ve always felt good on a mic; talking to a crowd is something I enjoy. Although at that time in my life I was years away from hosting a radio show or MCing events, it was still a skill that thankfully, I had been comfortable with on that night. But knowing my tunes, the keys and tempos and being right there with em – that I definitely did not have down. I called an up tempo tune, because I had to (a medium tune and a ballad had gone before) and it started ok. But then it kinda waggled off track into a world I’ve never felt too at home in. Scatting. I’d finished the tune, but here was Vonski telling me to ‘espress myself’. Huh? I’m done, pal, it’s the piano player’s turn for a solo. But nope, it was my turn. That’s the down side of up tunes. If you’re a singer, and you’re playing with jazz musicians, they often expect that. Never mind that the model you have in your head is Doris Day and your main goals are just to have great intonation and sing a swingin, understated little ditty. Scatting has seldom felt ‘understated’ to me. But that was so long ago, so early on in my singing career that I didn’t yet know what my thing was exactly. And trying my hand at this stuff was part of the program, dig it or not. So scat I did, with Von standing there, in his dark glasses, sax resting in front of him, shouting an enthusiastic “Espress yoself! Espress yoself!” while I made it through. I got to the other side of the chorus and felt ok. Scatting might not turn out to be my thing, but it was kinda fun, actually. Kinda fun to express myself.
Almost there. Hoo boy – I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Spent a good ten hours yesterday in my office, filing and tossing reams of paper. The recycling boxes fill up and the inbox goes down. Finally. After months and months of piling up. The going isn’t so easy at first; I find it hard to stay focused, hard to work for more than fifteen minutes in a row. The piles, the boxes, it all looks like way too much. I reward myself with snacks, with little trips outside to check for eggs or other domestic details that could use attention. I file for ten minutes, then I fill the bird feeder. I file some more, then I go upstairs and wash the dishes. Finally, my house – the upstairs, that is – is as put together as a model home. There are no more distractions. I need to get down to it now. Sigh.
In the end, it was the Turner Classics channel that got me through; a James Mason marathon, from ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ to ‘Lolita’ kept me entertained as I slogged through the monotonous project . It’s a mind-numbing, exhausting job to file a year’s worth of life on paper. Divorce, bankruptcy, health issues, governmental assistance, the life of a low-vision advocate – it’s all represented here in papers I must keep somewhere. Papers I must be able to locate easily. Somehow I’ve managed to navigate through the past four years without much of a permanent filing system; my life exists in two boxes: one marked ‘current, to-do’ and one marked ‘archive, done’. Not the most efficient system, but in the eye of the storm, in the midst of a full and busy life, it’s easy to let it go. So far I’ve made it work, but every time I sit down at my desk there’s a knot in my stomach. Am I sure where my auto insurance policy is? My income and expense sheet from last semester? My masters for teaching handouts? Kind of, but not really. I admit it, I’ve had a problem with paper for years. It was even a source of stress between me and my husband. I always contended that I needed time to set up a system, and that I felt life moved too fast for me to catch up. In some ways I still agree with that – there’s always been so much going on that it always took a back seat. But no more. Finally, I have the time and space to deal with it. I’m catching up. Getting my system in place. And man, it feels great.
A big part of my current paper-related challenge is the volume of Elihu’s artwork. I know many moms probably share this struggle; what to keep and what to toss. I once asked friends of mine who have four children how they decided what to keep and what to get rid of. They told me that they saved much of it, and at some point had each child go through it and save what was meaningful to them. I liked that, and have used that technique myself, but in of itself it’s not enough. My son is an artist. Prolific, yes, but honestly, he is good. I mean really good. So I can’t just toss his work. I have to go through it. Elihu’s got a thing, and in going through the past fours year’s of his artwork, I find myself fascinated with his evolution. In the end, I managed to negotiate my way through the huge catalog by dividing his art by not only years but by the quality or the ‘importance’ of the work. I found dozens of incomplete drawings in which I can see him working on ideas, a wing or body shape, perspective and such, and so I keep a few of these in a file to be tucked away, but I reserve only the very best and final drawings to be inserted into a large book. I put all the art into plastic sleeves and in turn put them into three ring binders. Two large binders end up representing his work so far – along with a letter from David Attenborough and one from Senator Farley commending him on his art – and they are now tucked neatly into his bookshelves in an exceedingly tidy and organized bedroom.
As for the garage – the ultimate vortex of crap – I have managed to heap all the trash outside and have cleaned and set aside useful items for their new owners to come and pick up. The breadmaker and lamps left today, more toys will go tonight, and tomorrow I’ll deliver a few things on my round of errands. The rest will go to the Salvation Army, and the garbage will be picked up by Frank, my favorite junkman. (Not without cost to me; it always takes a good $75 to rid myself of the final dregs. I just hope this is the last time I’ll need to call him in for help.!) I stand so very close to completion of this project that I find myself in a constant state of low-grade anxiety about it. I look at the piles waiting in the driveway and tell myself ‘just a few more days…’
My office isn’t quite finished, however. I have piled boxes of all sizes on a wall of bookshelves which I have covered in a sheer film of deep orange curtains. Just sheer enough so that I don’t forget the task ahead of me, but just pretty enough to allow myself some peace when I sit down at my desk. CDs from old bands of mine, master DATs, probably now degraded beyond usefulness, unsorted photographs, schoolwork of Elihu’s kindergarten and first grade years, tax docs from my married years, paperwork from the Cafe I used to run back in Dekalb, pens, pencils, office supplies and every manner of long-forgotten but hard-to-let-go-of mementos from years of travel… all this and more await my attention. Yesterday tackling the wall seemed insurmountable, today it seems vaguely possible. I stare at it, taking it all in, and I wonder, how do other people deal with all of their life’s crap? Years ago I had a woman help me organize my files. She and her husband were able to keep their possessions to a mere couple of file drawers. They moved frequently, and were able to pick up and pack up in short order. How? I grilled her – where were the postcards from old friends, the letters, the key chains and tchotchkes? Apparently they had none. I still didn’t really come to understand how they came to live a life so free of physical stuff. Apparently she approached life in a far different way than I. So often I’ve encouraged friends to get rid of stuff by reminding them that the stuff is not the love they shared with a person, nor is it the person, nor does the loss of the stuff remove the memory or the experience from their lives. I tell myself the same things. In fact, I have to coach myself hard and heavy when it comes to letting things go. Throwing things away. Jesus warned us not to ‘store up treasures of the earth’… Good advice. I’ve already learned how much heartbreak comes of mice and moths.
So I power on. I steady myself for the final wall, for the last few weeks of vacation and a child-free life and the ability to get it all done without interruption. The final weeks of my intensive house cleaning and a very nice end to a wonderful summer. What a fine thing it will be to start the new school year with a clean slate – and a very clean house.