The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Big Year December 31, 2012

I’m feeling the need to write some sort of summation, some sort of re-cap of this past year. There’s just so much to remember… too much. Lots of people we know and love have died. That’s the first thing I think of. The world didn’t end. That’s the second thing I think of. And it just continues to go on and on…. that’s what I think next. So what do we take away from 2012? I’m not exactly sure. But I do think something new is underway…

I do think we’ve turned a corner, that energetically we as a species have changed our trajectory, but I admit, it doesn’t necessarily look that way from today, New Year’s Eve, 2012. There’s been plenty of violence, pain and ignorance this past year to make it seem as if it’s business as usual on this silly planet. Yet still, I believe – call me naive if you like, I’ll accept that – that we as humans are no longer on the downswing. There is now a critical mass of people on this earth who share a witness to the corruption and inequity all around us. There has never before been a time in history when so many are so educated and informed about the world in which they live. And although the number of folks in communication with each other thru social media and other devices may still represent a minority of the planet’s population, I believe the global trend is moving towards mass connection on an order we can’t quite envision even today. I dunno. Could be incredibly optimistic here. Maybe. But maybe not. May as well keep hopes up, keep expectations high.

For me personally, this year meant the end to my four year divorce process. I also got my first real job in a decade. I quit smoking in earnest too. No more bummed smokes here and there to take the edge off of life. Took the death of a friend to get me there, but I made it. So this year has been good. Heartbreaking, poignant, but solidly good and forward-moving. I’m surprised, however, that I don’t find myself in the high spirits I thought I might be today – could simply be that my son is gone and my house has taken on a quiet, solitary mood. Could be that my day to day reality still seems like a challenge; the magic of the coming New Year doesn’t necessarily mean it will be any easier to resist a smoke, workout daily or miss things and people absent from my life.

I’ve said it before and I say it again now, this is a tough planet on which to live. In order to try and help us all along here, I’m going to do my very best to right the wrongs I’ve committed, to take the hopeful path when doubt arises, and if all else fails, watch a Monty Python skit if I just can’t wrest myself out of a hopeless funk. !

It’s been a big year, yet the future’s much bigger still. I wish for us all the very best and brightest adventures ahead…

 

A Million Windows December 30, 2012

When I was attending Columbia College in Chicago back in the late ’80s, I still lived with my parents in my childhood home in Wilmette, Illinois. I rode Chicago’s el train to and from school several days a week, and as I often had band practice after classes, more often than not I’d end up coming home late at night. I almost always had a window seat, and I’d lean in close to block out the reflection of the train car’s interior so that I could enjoy the scenes that passed… So many neighborhoods, so many homes, so many apartments, so many ways in which to live… I watched it all, hoping I would come to understand the world better… I tried to comprehend so many individual lives all going on at the same time. So many people tossing their keys onto the table, so many people turning on lights, checking the day’s mail, so many people tickling babies, kissing, eating, watching tv, worrying about tests or arguments or recipes or bills or job interviews, so many people newly in love, so many newly widowed… Each window offered a tiny, split-second vignette which I savored as best I could. I still have a few images locked away in my mind’s eye from that time; a room illuminated by a single light bulb and an entire family gathered beneath, a fat man brushing his teeth, a woman reading at a table, glancing up at the train…

My father understands the intrigue of a window too. We’re both the ones with the ‘dream’ gene in the family – neither mom nor Andrew seem to have dreams, much less the ability to recount them in incredible detail as both dad and I can. I wonder sometimes if the fascination with the unknown – or maybe more accurately the romance of the unknown’s potential – might not be related to this dream gene thing. I also think it’s related to a love of things miniature; of cozy, tidy tableaus. The spirit of ho train sets and doll house interiors… I can hardly drive down a street at night but be swept up in the fantasies that each house suggests; the tall windows of Saratoga’s fine Victorian homes, the lone farm house in the field, the top floor apartment on the corner building, all lit from within, all whose contents can’t quite be seen but are instead implied… It’s so compelling. All these scenes call to me, I feel as if I absolutely must know each one of them.

I do, however, realize not all people feel this way. After some twenty years of my cooing over the wonder of it all I asked my then husband (probably for the 100th time) if he didn’t just wonder who exactly lived behind all those windows? “And”, I continued, “Don’t you just wonder what they all do for a liv- “He didn’t even let me finish – but cut me off, laughing, as he answered with a loud and resolute “NO!”. I didn’t take it personally, instead I learned something from it. My partner didn’t get it, (and granted, I’d probably exceeded his patience on the subject) but I always knew that even if he didn’t get it the way I did, someone else in this big world surely did…

So now, with the world available to me in this little box, and my child once again gone away, I find myself swept out into the vast beyond as I follow trail after trail of other people’s stories… As I read page after page, connecting the dots of both the famous and the unknown, I see that there is no end to the story… (there is also no end to my fascination). The only peace I find is to accept that I just can’t get it all, I never will, and somehow, that’s ok. Kinda like a train ride, I’m only going to pass so many windows and there’s only so much time to peek inside.

There are things to be done here around the house, and it’s not always easy to rouse myself from the quest for more stories, more windows to other worlds… I have to remind myself that every train ride ends with a destination. I’ve got students to prepare for, music to learn and chicken soup to freeze. So for now, I’ll just have to mark my page and close the book.

 

Winter Home December 29, 2012

Fareed is here, Elihu is here, I am here. In the living room of our small house, cozy and warm inside, playing with new Christmas toys while it snows like crazy outside. Elihu and his dad are supposed to take the train to Chicago in a few hours. I don’t like to think about that now – because it’s just so nice having a house with the sounds of people – with the sounds of a family. It doesn’t happen often, so I try to savor it. Right now I’m sitting in the corner just beholding. Elihu is so happy once again. Both his parents are here, and for now the feeling is gentle, relaxed, very nice. One of our chickens is baking in the oven and the house smells good. 

I am so enjoying this moment; listening to Fareed play the guitar, watching Elihu play on the living room floor – and for now, knowing I don’t have to be a single place except right here. It sure feels good to be home.

 

Twelve Days December 27, 2012

In my home, as a child, there was always talk of the twelve days of Christmas. Sometimes, on one of the twelve days, there might be another present or two for us – usually under Frank and Martha Carver’s tree, the two other older people in the lives of me and my brother, Andrew. They lived on a farm with a Franklin stove that was always warm and a house that smelled wonderfully of the country. We Conants and Carvers all knew that Christmas was about a journey. Not that our family felt any affinity towards the religious aspect of the holiday, in fact I’d say they were solidly secular about it – but in spite of that, my parents delighted in singing the old religious hymns and recounting the historically accurate account of Christmas which our commercial world seemed to ignore completely. Making the season even more personally meaningful to us all was that Andrew’s birthday was on New Year’s Eve, and my parents – though seven years apart in age – were both born on January 6th, Epiphany. (The day most of the Christian world is busy celebrating Christmas and giving each other gifts as the wise men themselves did two thousand years ago.)

I too, have stressed to my own child that this season is about a beginning, a journey, and finally the culmination of that journey on Epiphany. My son is himself easily able to see metaphors in life and can see the season for what it offers. He may still believe in Santa, and we may not be a household dedicated only to the teachings of Jesus, but he can still understand how holy a time this is in our yearly calendar and how this time is a good one for self-reflection and renewal. I myself, however, in spite of my lifelong efforts to remind my peers that the true celebration of Christmas only just begins on the 25th, have just finally gotten one thing straight. The twenty-fifth is not the first day of the twelve as I’d always thought (I’d been counting Epiphany as a stand-alone day after the conclusion of the twelve days) but rather the first of the twelve days of Christmas begins on the twenty-sixth.

Today I also learned that there is a correlation between the signs of the zodiac and these twelve days. I realize this may be dangerous territory for some; to mix the Christian teachings with the Zodiac (the study of the Zodiac being something which seems either too ridiculously ancient, esoteric or just plain bullshit to many) may seem a stretch, or perhaps wrong, blasphemous. But I am at once impressed at the way in which these different templates match up, how magnificently it all seems to work. (There are also 12 tones in our western chromatic scale!) I realize that to some the relationship between the Zodiac and the days of Christmas may be no new information, but for me it was. I also just learned that many folks are under the impression that Christmas day marks the end – or the culmination of the twelve days. Big world. Lots of stories. The journey to the truth takes time and discretion.

We’d had our holiday party last Friday on the Solstice, the longest night of winter, a landmark on the holy calendar in its own right. While I invited my friends and neighbors, with whom I have never had conversations of a religious, spiritual or metaphysical nature, under the auspices of a general open-house among friends, I secretly held the intention that Elihu and I mark the night in camaraderie and love, that we might mark the occasion rightly and set a happy and bright tone for the future to come. I noticed that there was no talk of the date, no mention of its rumored significance (save my humorous toast to the ‘end of the world’ as I thanked my guests for attending) and I found that interesting. Also made me wonder once again, where were all those other folks who, like me, believed in pausing for just a moment to acknowledge this special day?

I may feel alone in my desire to live more connected to the ancient traditions, it may seem as though I’m alone as I concentrate on my connection to Spirit, to God, to the rest of the world and all its inhabitants… but my Yahoo inbox tells me otherwise. I know there are others out there. But these ‘other’ people live far and wide, and I know none of them personally. I did see a neighbor on Facebook who, although she purported to be hosting a ‘cookie party’ on the 21st, called it a ‘celebration of Solstice’ on her farm’s page. (Her lack of the article ‘the’ before ‘Solstice’ made her true intention seem even more apparent to me.) So I know there are others whose attention is not entirely in this modern, me-first world. And we’ll come to know each other someday. Not worried. Things seem to happen as they should.

Surrounded by the woods and fields with birds always at my window feeder, I’m in a perfect spot to contemplate my connection with all that is. Yeah, I’m feeling the need to remain at home, to remain quiet, to go about my chores and to live in gratitude as best I can. Some days I really miss people, but so far I just haven’t found a need to be with them. Somehow, after four years here in relative social isolation, I still feel the need to be alone. So I’m going to use these next twelve days to contemplate things as I wish them to be, to contemplate also the strengths and lessons of those twelve signs…

There is a meditation for today on the sign of Taurus – the second of the twelve Holy days – and also coincidentally both my and my son’s birth sign – which ends with these words:

Now I choose
to shape my future
in a balanced dance
between comfort and challenge

The original text is much longer and is more specifically related to the sign of the bull, but for me, these final lines seem to sum things up very nicely. I’ve spent the past four years learning how to live on my own. From here forward I need to expand, to grow my endeavors, learn how to thrive on my own. And right now, it looks daunting to me. I’ll probably need to keep an eye on that balance thing.

Not sure what messages await in the next ten days, but I’m interested and curious. So much to do, so much to know in this world. For the short stretch of days ahead I’ll try to live as mindfully as I can. I might not be able to live in such a state of concentration the remaining days of the year, but I’ll do my very best for the next ten.

 

Melting Time December 26, 2012

Woke up to snow covered trees and fields, the white Christmas we hadn’t even dared hope for. Santa had come long before Elihu awoke at 5:30, but I was pooped and asked if he could wait for an hour. Good kid, he did. The morning was lovely, we made a fire and opened presents and listened to the Peanuts Christmas album. Our first Christmas together, just we two. It was nice, but still…. it’s just the two of us, and something, some tiny little thing just wasn’t quite there. I knew it, he knew it. It didn’t prevent us from enjoying our time, but still…

On account of my mom having a nasty winter cold, we postponed the family Christmas afternoon at our house, and instead made a short visit to grandma and grandpa’s. My mom’s posture and lessening mobility are beginning to show in her inability to do simple things without discomfort. My father hardly gets out of his pajamas anymore, and he is constantly forgetting what has just been said only minutes before. It is an old people’s house, and on this day in particular, it’s not the most enticing destination for a little kid, even one as forgiving and easy going as mine. We need to head out to visit some friends, so after a while we find relief in our evening’s plans and take our leave.

While we’re received with love and warmth at our friends’ home, and while they feed us and include us and make us feel very welcome, still, something is missing. We watch as the extended family plays Wii together. First round we sit out, next one they include Elihu, who, in spite of his limited vision does pretty well. But still, something’s not quite feeling right. We don’t quite feel we’re at home. We both agree we should be leaving soon. We find the right time, the polite time, and thank our hosts and wish everyone a Merry Christmas as we head out. The snow covered fields seem to glow in the moonlight. Standing there in the cold night air, we feel relief.

Although we’re very much looking forward to going home – at least I’m nearing the end of my energy and can’t wait to be there – just as we approach our driveway, Elihu suggests we visit Martha. We haven’t seen her in a while, we miss her, and now is a good time. After all, if we wait just one more day… well, you never know. So we turn around and make an impromtu visit. Martha is a matriarchal figure of my extended family, a woman who, in spite of repeated visits to the hospital and a continually declining quality of life, simply refuses to die. She holds court sitting on the side of her bed tonight. We have a nice visit. But still, it is an old person’s home with pill bottles, strange-looking health and hygiene aids, ancient layers of dust from years without housecleaning, dessicated plant carcasses and antique bottles on shelves… There are also beautiful antiques and lovely old floorboards beneath threadbare rugs, the walls are carefully chosen colors authentic to the home’s original Colonial style… It’s a queer mix of the grand house it once was with the temporary nursing home it has now become. Again, not the most Christmassy place we could be, and certainly not the liveliest. Finally we hug and kiss goodbye, and soon we’re out in the moonlit night on the road home.

But home isn’t the ultimate relief I’d thought it would be. Instead, I make one false move, and the whole night turns on a dime: Elihu continues to investigate a toy, and pulls it apart in such a way that I believe it to be broken, or at least unworking until I can put it right. In an exasperated tone – probably much harsher than I intended – I tell him it’s not time for that now, it’s time for bed. I tell him that if he’d just waited til the light of day he wouldn’t have made the problem, that it’s enough and it’s bedtime. ! Tears come. Rage comes, sobbing, angry noises, horrible noises, noises that are all way too much for me to deal with. But I need to. In the wake of our lovely day, I have let myself get angry, I have ruined it. I apologize, and explain that I’m at the end of my rope. He says he gets it, but asks why I had to yell. Again, I tell him it’s because I myself am pooped, I’m done… that Christmas day is done. More tears. More volume. Then… a respite.

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas” he said finally. Yeah, I knew what he meant. In a way, it really didn’t. I steered him to the kitchen, where I pulled out a cookie and some water. I asked him to tell me, in an ideal world, what a real Christmas day would look like. He told me that it would be in a big house with a stairway up the middle, a mom and a dad (a tall, ‘generic’ looking dad he said) an older sister and a younger brother. He recounted the whole day. I listened. Man this is tricky. I got nothing to compete or even come close to this scene. I wonder how it would be if Fareed had stayed. Hell, if we had all just stayed in Evanston. In our beautiful home. The four of us, how we’d planned. But I let it go, there’s just no point to doing that to myself. As so many times before, I toss that old dream out quickly and make an effort to concentrate on us, here, now. I apologize to Elihu again, this time for the lack of all those things he wishes he had. He tells me it’s ok. We sigh, sit in silence for a moment, then head to bed.

But after he’s in bead, he asks me to leave. Not sure that he really means it, I offer to sit and talk. I pull out a short book, and as I open it he explodes. Tears again. He wants me to leave. He screams at me. I just don’t get what’s behind all this. It’s very late, and it’s been a crazy long day. That’s part of it, I know. But there’s small voice inside that tells me there’s more; he’s feeling a bit let down. Christmas in a family of two just isn’t the same. I feel sad that I can’t give him the family he wants. Shit, I’ve felt this way for the four years I’ve been here. I try not to indulge the feeling, but at times like this, it kinda stares you in the face. I know I’ve made a very good life for my son here, but at Christmas, what with all the hope and expectation and hype – it’s kinda hard to see real life match all that.

I let him cry, I say goodnight to him, and he says good riddance to me. There’s no repairing this tonight. From my room next door I listen as he winds himself down, and I relax as he falls asleep.  Finally. That’s better.

The countryside might be covered in snow, but here inside there’s been one hell of a meltdown.

 

Very Merry December 24, 2012

A sunny Christmas Eve day here in upstate New York. If chickens can know happiness, then ours are surely feeling that way now; post-morning walk in the field, they sit unmoving on their perches while our goose basks in the afternoon sun in what seems a state of contentment.

Early this morning, Elihu awoke with a start, going from a deep sleep to sitting upright in bed, eyes wide open, as if he’d just remembered something. “It’s not Christmas morning yet” I said, and he laid back down. “I know.” he said. “I was just practicing.” In a way very uncharacteristic of his usual 9 year old self, he went back to sleep.

I didn’t wait for Elihu to wake, I was happy to putter about on my own for awhile in the early morning hour and tend to the chores. As usual, I threw my on jacket and muck boots over my pajamas and went out to tend the chickens. I enjoyed the hens crowding about my feet, following my every move. I had fun plucking off the odd bird who jumped into the feed bin and tossing her out. I stomped through the night’s ice on the water trough and finished my odds and ends outside.

Elihu and I enjoyed a breakfast of scrambled eggs and hot sauce, while he told me all about different kinds of Albatrosses. We made up two fictional spoofs of bird species; the Glue-Footed Booby and the Wondering Albatross. We cracked ourselves up with all their various characteristics. A little later we went down the road to the post office to mail off a Christmas card to David Attenborough and also Elihu’s sister, who lives in England too. We were both amazed that we could mail a letter from our sleepy little town here in the country and know that before too long it will end up far across the ocean, thousands of miles away…

All the gifts have been wrapped, the plans have been made, the dishes all washed. For the first time in months, I have nothing to do, no obligations to fulfill, nowhere to be.  Later tonight we’ll go to a party of some very old friends. Tomorrow grandma and grandpa and Uncle Andrew will come over. And of course, tonight, long after we’ve fallen asleep, Santa Claus will come. This is my first Christmas ever with Elihu here, and perhaps the last Christmas that Santa will ever visit. So I feel very lucky.

And for now, I feel very merry too. I wish the same for all of you…

 

37 Things December 20, 2012

“37 Things to Hoard by 12/21!”. This, and other doomsday-related messages pop up when I open my Yahoo account. I smile to myself. A little late, dontcha think? I gave up my personal dilemma long ago (but notice the ads still follow me.) I’m goin with the up scenario. No, not as in ‘up in flames’, and no, not up as in the Rapture, leaving my clothes in a heap on the ground behind me… I just mean that I’m going with the glass half-full – or rather the planet half-full – attitude. Yes, world, the Mayan long-count calendar is coming to an end within the week. Finally. There are a lot of folks been sweatin out this big event for a long time now, and while there might be egg on their faces come Saturday morning, at least they’ll be able to breathe easy again. That’ll be nice. I’ll feel good for em. They’ve learned some practical life skills over the past couple of years, and they’re equipped to coast for while now. Won’t that feel good. (Seriously, no box-store runs for at least a year! What a boon!)

I make light of it now, but a couple of years ago I was in turmoil. Many different flavors of it. Divorce issues, severe lack of money, depression, and now this end-of-the-world shit. Really? I decided to get to the bottom of it, separate the wheat from the chaff. I went through two years of study – from doomsday blogs and ultra right-wing ‘build your bunker now’ types to folks who were awaiting the time humanity would return to inner earth for renewal. Yup – it’s a big world, and there are lots of posited time lines and possible outcomes. And with what I learned about cutting-edge study of matter and time itself, I’m quite willing to accept that any – and every – possibility might literally occur – and all at the same ‘time’. Just gotta step outside the box of our currently agreed upon reality of how space and time work. ‘Just’, ya know? Hmm.

While I try to stay rather MOR (a possibly archaic radio term meaning ‘middle of the road’) about expressing my opinions on this topic (guess I’ve just blown that), I hold a much more radical take on the significance of this particular time in our planet’s history than many of my friends and peers might, or at least would admit to. Here is where my plight gets dicey: remain silent on issues I’ve spend hours studying or share information I’ve learned – as well as my corresponding opinions? I’ve heard it said that the worst sort of prison one can live in is the prison of caring what other people think. Lord knows I get that. Since I was a little girl I’ve been in rather too-desperate need of validation from all sorts of people. Course it starts with mom and dad, and if they’re not forthcoming (really, being of their generation, how can they be expected to be?) then it’s peers, boyfriends, husband, neighbors, even fellow musicians. Thankfully, I’ve grown a bit beyond my adolescent neediness, but I can readily admit that I’m not quick to rock the boat if I feel everyone likes and respects me. Not really willing to go too far out on a limb if it means I’ll end up crazy Lizzy… Preamble, be gone…

This is how I’m thinking: I know that the planet is reaching the end of one ‘age’ and the beginning of another. We, here on Earth, are reaching a new pivotal location in our galaxy (yes, we will arrive there precisely on Friday – doesn’t that sound plain silly when ya put it that way? Somehow saying 12/21/12 seems to give it more oomph!) that many believe will have an effect on us. Those are just measurements. So what? Well, shit’s gonna change. But what exactly that change will be, no one is sure. Take that back – lots of folks are sure, but there’s no consensus. As with the study of anything off the measurable path and into the netherland of spirit and intuition, one can only subscribe to that information that resonates with oneself. If it feels jive, then cast it aside. If it stirs something within you that says ‘yeah, that feels right’, then you’re getting close. Seems I’m implying that there can be many different truths about life, right? Right. Just like the blind men who identified the elephant each by a different part, each confident that his reality was the only reality – when in truth, they were all correct – in the same way, I believe we are all after the same truth – of which there are going to be many, many aspects and interpretations.

I’m going to keep things simple so that I might bring a coupla folks to my line of thinking: I’m going to live right here, right now, in this moment with as much integrity as I’m able. If I screw up, ok, I start over. Each new moment is an opportunity to start fresh. I won’t worry about hoarding fresh water or food, cuz it’d run out eventually anyway. I’m not gonna worry about a meteor, or floods, or fiat money crashing – I’m just going to try my hardest to live in alignment with the feeling deep inside me that tells me I’m on the course for good. If I feel crappy about a decision, I make a note to rectify it if I can, be brave when it’s daunting to do so, and make healthier, more loving decisions in the future. Oh yeah, I sound like a fucking saint, huh. Well, it’s all a grand, ongoing experiment. Plenty of days I just don’t feel like I have it in me for another day, and I’d rather sit at home eating cured meats and ignoring it all. But I know that that would ironically make living – and enjoying living – harder. The distractions only last so long, and then there you are again, with your own, lonely self, wishing life were more joyful and much, much less tedious.

I admit I’ve been blowing off the skills many of my brethren have been honing for years in preparation for this very time. Not some way-off future date, but goddam day-after-tomorrow. So there’s no time to remember how it feels to be ‘good’ at meditating (I could once sit in silence and darkness and keep relatively clear in my head for what felt like ten minutes but was closer to an hour. Couldn’t do that today.) There’s no community I can find to share this turning point with – in spite of all the social media… and so I come, feeling fairly unprepared and all alone, to a rather anti-climactic climax here at the end of December, 2012, planet Earth. Here we are. But where exactly are we and where, oh where, is the party?!

Well, after this Friday, I personally believe we will be entering into an age in which peace and understanding will permeate all cultures, a time when technology will grow at an exponential rate, leaving smart phones sitting on shelves right next to rock-carving tools. When the awareness of one’s own spirit will be second-nature, when the man-made institutions of religion are no longer needed and disappear altogether. But I do not think this will happen all at once. Nope. This is still Earth, and we are still humans, and linear time still binds us. But nevertheless we are all tiny particles of God, and we will come to remember that in the next thousand or more years – and behave accordingly. Maybe we’ll see and feel some of the change during our own lifetimes. Hopefully it’ll pick up speed during our childrens’ lifetimes. Dunno. But somethin’s afoot, of that I’m sure.

BTW – the party’s at my place. Thought I’d kickstart this next grand cycle with a little celebration of friends and community. Get it off to a positive, hopeful start. So I gotta get my party list and go shopping. Maybe I’ll take a look at the ’37 things’ and see if they’ve got any ideas for entertaining in Age of Aquarius…