The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Going December 17, 2013

Let me tell you a bit about the scene: Mom and Dad’s house is an open-plan, post and beam beauty in which life takes place in the kitchen – which is the first room you walk into through the garage (as with most of the world, they never, ever use their front door). As soon as you come in, the dining room is just beyond the large kitchen island, and the L of couches to its right. (A Franklin stove sits near the couches but has been dark and unused for the better part of the past two years, unlike decades before when it was well-tended and in daily use.) There is a large tv that bisects the kitchen and the living/dining area, and it is constantly on. Mostly it’s the old black and white movies, sometimes it’s the cooking channel, and in the evenings it’s set to the local weather. Mom has become ever so slightly hard of hearing these days, and so the tv plays at a volume that adds a certain frenetic energy to the room. I always have to turn it down in order to hold a conversation. And through it all, dad – at least the past few years – has either been sitting at the island on a stool, sitting in his chair to the side, or lying down on the nearby couch. Since we four Conants moved him from the stool to the couch this past Sunday night he has lain there ever since, and it’s my suspicion it may well be where he remains until he dies. Because there’s little question about it now: my father is dying.

As I’ve said before, we Conants – at least mom and dad, Bob and Nancy, that is – aren’t very comfortable with physical displays of affections. Or spoken expressions, either I suppose. It was only through a very intentional campaign made by my ex husband years ago (when he was still my very new boyfriend) that I learned to say “I love you” to either of them. Thank goodness it was over the phone – I don’t think I could have done it in person. But at the end of my catch-up calls on Sunday evenings from Chicago to sleepy Greenfield, just as I was about to hang up, Fareed would lean in close to my face and mouth in an exaggerated way ‘AND I LOVE YOU!’ and he’d shake me til I said it. I thank my ex for a couple of things in my life, and this is one of them. From that time forward it because customary to end conversations with an ‘I love you’. But in person, not so much. And after I moved here, even less. Only in the past few months have I made an effort to revive it. Because, well, now’s the time, you know?

When my parents began their post-city lives here they found themselves in a cozy little social group which included a gay couple (that they were gay never registered to me until I was way into my own adulthood – they were simply my beloved Jim and Everett), an ‘older’ (as in my age now) opera singer, husband and wife musicians who ran an old-fashioned farm and maybe a couple extra characters that joined in the parties and concerts over the years. But the core group was always Frank and Martha, Jim and Everett, and Ruthie. Over the past decade I’ve seen all of them die. Except Martha, that is.  (One might joke that she aint never dying. And if you knew her, you’d laugh, shake your head and tend to agree.) Since only the trio has been left, it’s naturally had me wondering who would go first. And now I’m pretty sure we know.

Mom did finally call someone to learn our care options at this point. And finally, there it was, “Hospice”. For me it wasn’t a shocker, but the idea hit mom like a train. I heard it in her voice on the phone – she even readily admitted that even she wasn’t emotionally prepared for hospice to be brought up (the suggestion actually surprised her!). Later, when we visited, her eyes began to well with tears as we talked about the next phase. She’s held out til the last possible moment, and while I myself might have done many things differently, none of that matters now. Dad is still happy, so if we can keep him comfortable and healthy, he will die here at home. That, in my world, is a HUGE blessing. But regardless, it is still the death of my mother’s partner of over fifty years we’re talking about here. As much as we might toss it all around like so many common plans for the to-do list, we all know what this means. We are getting ready to have dad die, right here, and very soon. She is facing the biggest good-bye of her life. And after that, the house will be empty. She will be alone. Shit. This is hard. So goddam hard. It’s not like we didn’t know it was coming, either. “So how long did you think he might still live, Mom? Three years? More?” “Oh God no!” she snapped. “But then what, like another year?” I pressed. I’m not sure she herself knew. One doesn’t tend to actually sit down and map this stuff out. “I don’t know. His mother lingered like this for years….” she trailed off. That may have been so, but it looked like we were closer than that. Never know though. You hear stories of folks being put on hospice care and then living for years… Just never really know. But then again you kinda do….

Now that it’s real I feel a mix of three things: first, concern for my mother (and Martha too). How will she react? Will she allow us to see her cry? Childbirth gets so heavy that all modesty goes out the window; will she behave in a similar way with the death of her spouse? How does this work exactly?? Next, my brother. Just how will he react? How will this affect him? His drinking? Will this be what he needs to finally rise up and get healthy or will he sink to his own final funk? And then I myself feel a queer mix of sorrow and relief. The two battle it out inside me; when I take a closer look at his existence, it seems we only want him around us for ourselves, plain and simple. He himself would probably greatly appreciate an escape from this tired, confused body. But even as my mother had admitted a few weeks back, just having him there – even if he’s asleep, checked out, for all intents and purposes ‘not there’, his energy and presence is still very much there. And you feel it. You just know he’s there in the room. And it makes a difference. We both try to imagine the house without dad in it somewhere (as it’s been for the past quarter century) and the house seems almost pointless. Good thing mom has that goddam tv to fill the house up with crap and distraction I guess. Sigh. Elihu has great compassion for mom and her need to ‘fill the space’. “She just doesn’t want to really understand how far things have gone. She’s scared, so she tries to ignore it.” Yeah kid, probably a good bit of truth to that. Whenever I mutter about mom under my breath he says “I understand. She doesn’t mean it. She’s just trying to figure out how to behave”. Yeah, once again, thanks for keeping me on track. This isn’t easy for any of us.

When we went over earlier today, dad was resting on the couch. It was a different sort of resting now. Having continued to lose weight, his cheeks took on an extra sunken look in his horizontal position. Honestly, in his current condition, if you just glanced at him, you might think he was already gone. But no, he is there. He is there. Still. While Elihu chatted with grandma, tv continuing to do its thing, I sat next to dad, hoping for something. Some new pearl, some word, a smile…. Sadly, gone was my hope for a cute anecdote or story, it was all he could do to recount his two childhood pals by name for Elihu last time; now he related tiny blurred scenes to me, and all I could do was to try and understand what he was seeing as best as I could. Which I noticed became increasingly hard to do as mom continued to badger me with useless and uninteresting facts about this and that… a constant stream of crap that may as well have come from the goddam nightly news… Can’t that wait? I’m thinking, but biting my tongue lest it come out as I think it might… Please, lady, just shut up!! Can’t you see I’m trying to hear what dad is saying? But I don’t move, my focus is essential here. I listen, then I place my hand on his. We are connected now by touch, and I swear I feel him relax. His eyes have been closed the whole time. “Hi Dad, it’s me, just sayin hi”. He opens his eyes and smiles gently. “I love you so very much, dad” I tell him. And in a not-too-faint voice he answers me “Oh Elizabeth, I love you so very much”. Then he closes his eyes again. But my hand is still on his, we are still engaged with each other. Mom comes over to us and leans over the couch. I hope she doesn’t stay long, because she’ll probably start asking him what he wants or trying to make sense with him, asking him things that require answers – hell, that require opinions. And dad just doesn’t care now. Can’t you see that, lady? I’m thinking. Dad opens his eyes and looks at mom, saying “Pop is here…” then trails off. Mom laughs it off as the nonsensical mis-firings of an Alzheimer’s-riddled brain, and thankfully, she leaves. But I know that something is going on in there, and I stay with it. Me, I believe he’s just seen his father. His Pop. A pause. He closes his eyes and smiles. “I am in pleasure” he says, with a slight tone of humor. But then again, I take it to mean that he’s feeling ok too. He’s letting me know. “Susan” he then says, his eyes opening and looking a bit off into space. “You mean Susan, your niece?” “Yes, Susan. Where is she?” he asks. Now me, I personally believe he’s probably just seen Susan himself. She knows he’s coming soon, so she’s letting herself be seen. “Your niece Susan died about a year and a half ago. It was rather sudden. She was living with Jean in Florida. She got very sick and died.” What else to say? Sorry was not what this was about. He seemed to be thinking of – if not actually seeing – family members that were now gone. Sorry was the opposite of what was going on here now – all I felt was ‘yeah, this is it. Yes, there is some love and comfort awaiting him when he goes.’ And thank goodness! It makes me feel much better about things. A moment passed after the Susan thing, then he raised a finger and pointed a bit out and to the right… “who are all those people waiting by the curve?” he asked. “Oh, Dad, I wish I could see them too, I wish I knew who they are, but I don’t.” As if to keep things real, keep humor in the house (a staple of our family) he summons a bigger voice and in a funny accent says “I weesh to be reech”. He repeats it again, closes his eyes, and a wide, happy smile settles on his face.

This is the fork in the road at which many of my friends may choose to part from my company. Because for me, I do not believe dad’s words are meaningless bits of information, retrieved randomly from disparate areas of the brain…. I do not see this as a purely physical phenomenon taking place. Surely it is on some level just that, but there is another equally ‘real’ phenomenon occurring now which is not something than can as yet be quantified by science. I recognize my father is becoming less vibrationally in tune with this reality, and he is now becoming aware, if only in the faintest way, of the new reality he’ll soon be joining. Bunk and booey to my neurotransmitter-as-only-real-data-channel thinking friends, I know. My dear friends of the ‘it’s either working or it aint’ school of thinking will know dad’s behavior to be nothing more than a failing system of data transmission. In short: a body breaking down. Yeah, I’d agree with that. But I’m going to take that other path from here on, the one that knows we are more than an organic machine, and that there are countless energies we are a part of that no meter or machine can measure. I know that ‘real’ can be real without tests, trials and placebos. My dad’s death is certainly a real experience to him, and that, ultimately serves as the Truth here and now. Quantifying or qualifying his Truth does seem rather silly, don’t you think? A moot point really.

One day I do hope we’ll have the opportunity for a good laugh together about it all as we re-evaluate our Earthly lessons and kick back for a little respite after our exhausting lives on this tricky planet. Cuz I believe this is one tough-assed school. And I believe we’ve come here to work on things. We’ve found the right groupings and scenarios and countries, bodies, talents and occupations – the whole shebang – so that we might most effectively learn what it is we need to in order to become better. Dare I say, more Godlike. When I put it like that, kinda makes me laugh. I mean man, this planet don’t exactly seem like a good choice for a mission like that, huh? Pretty crappy place sometimes. Sure aint easy, even when you do have it easy. Plus there is this existential uncertainty which thrums through us our whole lives, nagging at us to try and answer it if we dare listen. But thankfully, there are lots of diversions here to muffle its drone. Yeah, you can easily go through your life and never give a shit about anything but just getting by. The challenge, however, is to care, and to widen your sphere of caring and loving influence. And we all know that is much, much easier said than done. The distractions are so very tempting – and easy. But a life spent mostly on the path of love and caring is one spent pretty well, at least I think so. Certainly more of a step ahead than not. And my dad has made many steps forward here. He’s also had to carry some burdens that I wish he hadn’t. He grew up knowing he was loved, but he grew up in a culture where love was not expressed. A handshake from dad before he went off to the Army. Nurses instead of mother. Boarding school from a young age. I’m glad that now, in these final, restful moments on the couch that I can tell him I love him.

Because if he’s going soon, all he really needs to know is that we love him. The rest will sort itself out on the other side.

 

Evidence December 16, 2013

“I still don’t understand how people can not believe in Santa”, Elihu said from the backseat as I drove him to friend Keithie’s house for a birthday party. I considered for a second asking him to explain his thinking, but decided instead to let him do the talking. We were on thin ice here, and I wanted to see where this was going. How he, in his ten-year old world was working this all out. “I mean, how can you not believe when there’s so much physical evidence of Santa?” he continued. Again, I said nothing. I so did not want to blow this by leading the witness. So, uncharacteristically of me, I remained silent in the front seat and contributed nothing to the discussion. “How do people explain  all the presents if they don’t believe in Santa? How can they? How is it possible that there are so many presents around the tree if it’s not Santa?” he said with a hint of impatience. Ah, I thought to myself – presents, of course. I got what he meant. And from that perspective, I can understand his thinking. Kinda hard not to believe in the face of all that physical evidence. I knew he’d be spending the next few hours with some rough-neck country kids who hadn’t believed in Santa since Kindergarten. I prayed to myself that the topic wouldn’t come up, cuz these boys probably wouldn’t hesitate to tell them what they thought. We were traveling outside the nurturing, childhood-preserving culture of the Waldorf School, so anything was fair game. But Elihu was resolute and fully committed to Santa, even now. Even moments after singing “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” and discovering for the first time the lyric “you may say there’s no such thing as Santa, but as for me and Grandpa we believe”. (I had felt a pause in the car. A moment of thought, of mulling things over after hearing that line, but then somehow sensed he’d made it work and it didn’t end up challenging his beliefs). So if those boys had other ideas, I had a feeling Elihu still wasn’t ready to buy em.

The last few years we’ve had a handful of unexpected things happen to us around Christmastime which have certainly helped to keep the magic alive. When Elihu was six, we returned from seeing Santa to find that one long-awaited paper white bud had finally opened, a miracle he attributed to the Christmas Spirit we’d generated by being with Santa. One year we pulled in the driveway to find a beautiful, wrought iron birdfeeder holder – complete with birdfeeders and bags of seed. I myself was so stunned that I didn’t have to worry about faking a thing. Equally as surprised as Elihu, I searched my mind for the likely suspects while Elihu just accepted it with the most matter-of-fact attitude. He knew it was Santa, who was being kind to pay an early visit here in Greenfield, as he knew that Elihu would be in Illinois for Christmas. While it was thrilling, it wasn’t beyond belief for him at all (as it was for me!). And last year we had a fresh Christmas tree miraculously show up on our doorstep. Again, he took it in stride. My mouth was still hanging open while he was already working on getting it into the house. This year the miracle was perhaps smaller, but it gave me pause. A few years ago I made a large outline of a dove in white lights which I hang over our garage door. It’s a pretty large installation, so finding that half of it didn’t light (after I’d checked and then gotten up on the extension ladder to hang it, argh) was a huge bummer. I decided to keep it lit anyway, hoping it would motivate me to take it down and fix it before too many days passed. But one morning we woke up to find the whole bird perfectly lit up. It had just fixed itself overnight. I was flabbergasted and incredibly relieved. Elihu, however, has come to expect the unexpected and simply told me it was simply “the little extra bit of magic that hadn’t shown up yet”. ! Whatever the cause, I was appreciative and grateful, and secretly I took it as a sign that things were going to be alright. That I should finally free myself of that persistent, internal hum of worry that followed me through my days and nights…

I shouldn’t read meaning into things that aren’t meant to convey anything special, and yet the spontaneous re-lighting of the dove, and just in time for our party (mostly snowed out – the only folks who came were neighbors with tiny children. It was one of the loveliest parties ever) signaled to me that the world was ok, and some magic force wanted me to know it. My heart was lifted, my stress eased just a bit. Things seemed hopeful again. But as with anything in life, things never stay just so for long.

Whether it was the storm, the county plow truck or our own ‘dumb Mike’ the plow guy, it didn’t really matter – but the sign for our family’s Studio – the concert hall in which dad had hosted his Festival of Baroque Music – had become dislodged from the frame and now hung awkwardly, threatening to fall into the roadside ditch. There for many a year, many a storm, and today it goes. A strange feeling of something not being right – of being somehow different and wrong – came over me as I saw it. It’s a large, heavy sign, and I surprised myself in finding I was able to free it from it’s frame and drag it to the safety of our driveway, where I rested it against some trees. Then we continued up the driveway, past the Studio itself and up to mom and dad’s house for a quick visit. Things, I’d just heard, had been quite strange and different with dad the night before. The broken sign at the road seemed to me like an omen of sorts.

Last night had been brutal. Dad was found in the morning sitting on the couch in his own excrement, upset, detached, unable to make sense of the simplest instructions. Mom and Andrew were able to clean him up, and somehow mom got some food into him too. But by the time Elihu and I arrived, dad was slumped over in his chair, his hands nervously moving, twittering in a strange, new fashion, his gaze fixed on the floor. When I went to him and tried to say hello, he didn’t even lift his gaze. After some coaxing, he did respond to me, but returned within seconds to odd little non sequiturs, bits of sentences that still – God bless him – were very well-constructed and incredibly ‘almost’ plausible-sounding. And after some tricky discussions about action plans for the next forty-eight hours (mom is so defensive and controlling about the whole subject it’s very difficult to make progress. It’s the old ‘lead a horse to water’ thing going on) we decided he needed to be returned to the couch, where he’d likely stay the night. It took all four of us – me, mom, Andrew and Elihu to get dad to the couch. Yeah, things were different now.

I know there are good days and bad days, and they can come and go, but even so, this really did seem to be an entirely new level here. (I was losing my faith that we’d see him bright and engaged again as we did just two weeks ago.) We got him comfortable as possible, but his hands were still trembling, tugging, moving, searching for something… he was still unsettled. But as the minutes passed be began to grow more calm. That was good to see. Before we left, Elihu did his best to connect with grandpa. He leaned way over, putting his face inches from dad’s. Elihu told him that he loved him so much, and immediately dad’s face transformed from that of a vacant, old man to that a young boy’s grandpa. He smiled, made eye contact with his grandson and said “Oh Elihu, I love you so very much too”, they kissed goodbye and then we left. On the way out I put my arm around mom’s shoulder, told her I loved her too, and that I knew this was hard. Once again, I saw her eyes become damp. She does not cry. She does not relinquish control. This is going to be a very hard time for her.

On the way down the driveway I see the sign, resting on its side for now. The sign was due to come down in the next couple of months anyway. We’re having a parking lot put in the woods just to the left of the Studio – phase one you might say in ‘our’ (my) plan to separate the Studio from mom and dad’s property. If we’re going to have our own stand-alone arts center, we can’t share a driveway with the neighboring house. And much as my mother may use her best dramatic passive-aggressive tone when speaking of ‘my plans after she’s gone’ – as if I can’t wait for her to leave already (!) she must understand that one day her house – gorgeous and memory-filled as it may be – is a house that someone else will be living in one day. (I point out to her that I already have a perfectly good house. What do I need with this one? This she seems to understand. And yet, she must not get it completely, it seems…. sheesh.) And I am fairly sure a new family wouldn’t want to share their driveway with an arts center. Cars, people, comings and goings… Naw. So we’ve got to do a little restructuring now. So, as I said, the sign was due for a move soon, anyway. It just came unexpectedly, abruptly, like this new phase with my father. Who is finally the least like my father of all the versions I’ve seen so far. Yes, it feels there is a changing of the guard coming soon, and that there are signs all around, both little and big, to help remind us.

I got home tonite to find two pieces of mail. One, a bill. The second, quite likely a solicitation for money from my kid’s school. Already the guilt began to grow inside when I recognized the Emma Foundation – crap, another campaign I am in no position to contribute to. But I would, if I could! Crap, I say to myself under my breath as I open the letter. And at first, I can’t understand what it is I’m seeing and reading, because my expectations were so the other direction…. And then, I get it. And probably because of all the emotions that have gone on over the past day – seeing my dad like this, seeing the imminent end of my child’s innocence, realizing that there is so much unknown before me – all of it and more – it all just sort of wells up in me and I do what I know my own mother would benefit from ever so much more than even me in this moment: I cry, I cry, and I cry. I get a mix of feelings – it’s kind of in the same space as a mystery Christmas tree showing up from out of nowhere at your door just when you had no idea how you’d be able to afford one yourself, it’s that, it’s a feeling of instant humility, a prideful dash of ‘do we really appear that needy?’ and then finally, a gentle reconciliation with what’s just been given to you in love – and most likely after a healthy process of consideration. In this case, a vote has likely been passed, several folks have been putting their heads together on this, and they came out voting for Elihu. He is the recipient of a generous donation towards his Waldorf tuition. The note is even signed by the mother who lost her own ten year old child and who created this fund in order to create a lasting legacy in her daughter’s honor. Wow. Hardly a humbler, more honored feeling than this.

Change is everywhere, yet it’s so embedded in the everyday that we can’t see much of it for ourselves. The evidence of that change is there, but actually recognizing it for yourself is the challenge. In my own casual, armchair efforts to better myself as a student of life, I’ve long reminded myself to notice the tiny voice within, magnify it ten times, and then heed its message. Sometimes we know something’s changing, but we don’t want to believe it. Some will think me a naïve tree-hugging Spiritualist to hear me say that I do believe things happen as they are supposed to (not to be confused with things happening as we’d hoped they would). As with my surprise divorce and out-of-character cross-country move, these were unwelcome changes that created the opportunity for so many new experiences we’d otherwise never have had. Suffice to say, sucky things can beget better things.

The evidence tells me my father is going to die soon. The evidence tells me that my son is growing up. Both of these are hard things to understand.  Thankfully, the evidence also shows us that there are some people in this world who act towards others in love and kindness and will go to great efforts to do so.

And it still does kinda seem there’s an awful lot of evidence to support this Santa thing too.

 

Party Time December 14, 2013

Those who knew me personally ‘back in the day’ will remember The Party my ex and I held each year before Christmas. While still living at home, in my college years, I had begun to host a party each year, and so continued the tradition after I moved out and into my small apartment on the shores of Lake Michigan, in Chicago. My boyfriend moved in shortly after I did (I’d never truly lived alone until this divorce and cross-country move) and so the two of us began to host these annual parties together. By the time we closed our doors for the last time, we’d thrown twenty-one such parties. I’m slightly ashamed to admit, but I was disappointed that the dissolution of our marriage also meant that The Party would come to an end. Personally, I’d fancied very much seeing “Elizabeth and Fareed invite you to their fiftieth annual Holiday Party’ on an invitation one day, but clearly, with the time I have left here, and what with the ‘clock’ starting all over again, I will not make that milestone. I suppose I should feel lucky enough to simply have gotten back on the horse again after a six year hiatus.

It’s hard to begin a social life anew while in one’s middle forties, parenting a young child and navigating the cost of living as a newly single person. A few years down the line, it’s better, but my life in general certainly doesn’t have that cozy, familiar sense of place and of belonging than it did in the city where I lived my professional years. So to compare my situation as it is today to the one in which I lived fifteen years ago is ridiculous, I know. And yet I can’t help it… Those parties, in their heyday, were just magic. And to be frank, they were probably the most magical of all when the world was new… When we were, all one hundred or so of us, crammed into that tiny two bedroom coop in Rogers Park, crowding around the piano, singing, smokers elbowing for a spot on the balcony, me, shushing through the crowd in a killer dress, arm above my head supporting a platter of meticulously-crafted hors d’oeuvres…. The parties got larger over the years – our home got larger too – and the nights grew longer. One year the thing went for twelve hours non-stop. No kidding. Looking back, if I were to choose the years that stood out, it would be one of the first years in the apartment. Cozy, alive. And then there would be that first year in the mid-century behemoth. I have a shapshot memory from behind the piano of all my beloved friends, carol books before them – many even lining the balcony above our heads – all singing, beaming and just radiating love and happiness, the gorgeous, twenty-foot tree behind them, a crackling fire warming the room.

We were young, all at the doorsteps to creative, inspired careers. Some of us were already full-swing, many have since gone on to wonderful places. And many have, like me, settled into the next phase of their lives. The lives of parents, the lives of those with just a little bit less energy (less motivation to drive around looking for a parking space!). Lives that don’t include parties with tuxes and gowns. (I must add that the tuxedoes worn to our gathering had nothing to do with choice and everything to do with the fact that the wearers of them had just concluded a jobbing date and were on their way home from ‘work’.) These were electric gatherings, and we were young, merry and good-looking. I can’t help but feel a little pang of nostalgia in remembering. Perhaps if I’d known the end was coming it might have given me a sense of closure about the whole thing. But in that the divorce itself was a surprise, the end of The Party was also unexpected. There was no way to know that a tradition would be coming to a close. We did make it to twenty-one though, kinda like the party ‘came of age’, in a way. Anyway, that’s how I like to think of it. Helps me to close out that era in my mind.

So here I stand at the start of a new chapter. Tonite will be our second party. I still don’t dare use the word ‘annual’ on the invites, as I’m just not ready to commit yet. But if I make it to a fifth year, I just might. I still want an out if I need one. Still not even sure who it is I might expect to see – I’ve never cared for RSVPs. In my ideal world, a party should have a life of its own. I provide the opportunity, serendipity creates the magic. Or not. It looks as if we’ll have a snowstorm tonite; such a forecast can change everything. And I’d rather have people stay away than get stuck in my driveway. So we’ll see. Much up in the air. I’m also not very good at actually inviting people either, I make a quick ‘handout’, send out emails and almost always forget half the folks I’d wanted to include – suffice to say, if you live here, we’re friends and yet you haven’t received a proper invite from me – paper, email or otherwise – please don’t take it personally. I can assure you, you’re invited. My form leaves a bit to be desired these days. Ich. I’m gonna blame it on the chickens. !

Elihu is still sleeping, and I wonder if I too shouldn’t sneak back into the warmth of bed. It’s going to be a long day. Many farm chores await, as well as a last-minute cleaning of the house and general tidying. Yeah, think I will climb back in for a bit. I’m ok for now, and as ready as I’ll ever be. A moment’s more rest, a chore or two and then it’s time to get this party started…

Pianist Laurence Hobgood’s performance of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ in all twelve keys was always a highlight of our parties… here’s the link to his new CD which I highly recommend. Highly. You can still get one in time for a Christmas gift. And yes, it includes the aforementioned ‘twelve in twelve’.

 

Post 400 December 11, 2013

My first post was written in March of 2011. I have a hard time realizing that it’ll be three years soon. When I started out here, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was intending to do other than to gain a little witness to what I felt to be a pretty unfair situation. While I still feel there’s much about our situation that has been far less than fair (I can hear my mother’s voice in my head ‘who ever told you life was fair?‘) I can now see with much greater clarity – due in great part to this blog and the wonderful correspondence it’s inspired – that what had started out as a personal tragedy in my life began instead to show itself as a rare opportunity. In the beginning, when I began to write, I felt like I was talking to myself, but I always held out hope that there was somebody else in the room with me. After all, I was feeling very alone in the early days of The Hillhouse and this was my only link to the world. Thankfully, it’s a big world, a big room, and as it turns out I haven’t just been talking to myself this whole time. Phew.

There are now over eight hundred of us here, there are four hundred posts in the archives, and The Hillhouse has been visited over thirty thousand times. Wow. ! That’s fun to know. And the world map – man, impressive. I’m waving hello to all of you, wondering as I stare at the list of countries – did you happen upon us by accident? Are you a local or a lonely expat nostalgic for the U.S.? Do you visit because you too have gone through a divorce, because you too can’t make peace with growing older, or because you too have chickens? Or are we a serendipitous, tangential stop on a walkabout thru cyber space? I wish I could meet you in person; I’ve seen and read many of your blogs, and you’ve opened so many windows to other experiences and places which otherwise I’d never have known.

Not meaning to sound dramatic here, but this whole blogging adventure has been life-saving for me. Really. You have all helped to save my life – my hope, more accurately – and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I so appreciate your friendship and emotional support. I send mine back to you. This planet is not for wimps, and it’s not possible to get through the adventure solo. So again, thank you, thank you, thank you.

See you again soon…

 

Better December 10, 2013

Feeling a bit better now. After my last post, my body seemed to respond to my mood by bursting into a mini cold-flu, making my weekend rather unpleasant, but here I am, on the other end, regrouping, assessing, thinking about things and in general trying to put a different spin on it all.

Yeah, I’m still not entirely crazy about my life these days. But is anyone? I awoke a little while ago, and spent some time just looking out over the snow-covered scene outside my window. I could see stars through the pine trees and a gentle glow from within the coop. How lucky was I to see such tranquility, such beauty, right there in front of me, from my own home? I paused to reflect on the moment. There was still present in my gut a dull sort of dread – I’ll call it that, for lack of a better word – at the frightening and unpleasant things yet before me in my life, but, at the same time, there was also a feeling of gratitude for all I had that was good. I mean come on, I was one lucky woman. I spent a few minutes in a sort of life-review in order to convince myself. I remembered different eras gone by, from spending my summers as a kid on a farm to being a jazz singer in big cities, to sailing on the North Atlantic, jumping out of planes, touring with bands, the years of teaching, hosting a radio program, a long, treasured relationship, a beautiful home (several of them, actually) an enjoyable pregnancy and an amazing child – all manner of experiences, and all my own. All the places I’d been, all the scenes I’d been part of. Man, who gets all of this in a lifetime? An old friend once remarked upon my arrival here (at the doorstep of a yet another ‘new’ life that I was none too happy about) that it seemed I’d lived five different lives already. And she was kinda right. This slower, quieter life in the country may not have the instant appeal or rockstar thrills of my past lives, but it’s a lovely one to be sure.

My mother had come by earlier in the evening for a visit, and Elihu had played his bass for her. As we sat there listening to him, I had realized that this was one of those moments. It was one of those windows in time I’ll be happy to look back on one day. It was one of those perfect little capsules of life. The stuff that makes everyday life worth all the crap. And we showed mom our newly decorated Christmas tree too. And finally, we surprised her with an old video I’d found of the two families from some twenty-seven years ago. Mom was about the age I am now in the video, and Fareed and I were skinnier (and younger) than I ever remember us being. My father played the harpsichord while my parents-in-law looked on. There was a good deal of chatter on the video and we laughed to see everyone being very much themselves.  It was such a nice surprise to have a window into that time. Naturally, for me it was a rather bittersweet thing – I still cannot wrap my brain around this whole change thing. But in spite of our whitening hair and widening waistlines, it was wonderful to be able to share it with mom and Elihu both, to give us all a nice sense of the scope and progression of things. I’d originally thought it would be most important for Elihu to see, but in the end, I think it served me better. It’s me, after all, who needs to be reminded of all that I’ve had, and to make peace with the changing landscape of my life – and oh, that last little detail – to somehow come to grips with my mortality. ! (There’s a gal at school who just figures certain changes are inevitable in life and accepts it all with a low-key, classy sort of attitude – I however, find the facts that I need reading glasses, root cover-up and have gone up two dress sizes without even trying are flat-out unacceptable! ‘That shit is for other people! Not me’! I cry as they drag me off to the looney bin…)

Ok. I’m better. I’m seeing things more clearly today. I mean, in a nutshell, I kinda feel I got it all. A wonderful, happy child. Parents next door, a cozy little cottage in the country, overall my health isn’t bad, and let me not forget my job. One in which I actually get to do what it is that I do –  and something that I actually enjoy doing. A job at which I see my own child daily, plus I get to be with all these other wonderful kids all day long too. Really? Wow. Yeah, it’s a good thing. A good thing.

From the middle of this snowy winter night, things are looking a lot better than they did a couple of days ago.

 

Funk December 7, 2013

Been in a bit of a funk all week. Partly because of an old friend’s death, I think. The idea of him being so absolutely gone, and for something that seemed so fixable. Partly that. Partly other stuff too I guess. Stupid stuff. Like a parking ticket I really can’t afford, given to me while I loaded my kid’s bass in at school. And then the way it doubled on the very day I got paid (and the day, of course, I’d planned to pay the ticket). Or like the crown wiggling its way loose again when I haven’t even paid for the last time my doc re-glued it in place. Or maybe it’s been the onslaught of new music I’ve had to learn and read for school. I’ve spent the past two decades avoiding this very sort of thing, now here I am beset with it. Good for me, I suppose. (Some of it’s been written specifically for the classes, so it’s strange, chromatic and meandering and there’s no way to ‘hear’ one’s way out of it). And then there’s the constant lack of money and the fast-coming holiday. Thankfully, Elihu will be with his father, so East coast Santa’s off the hook for an extra week. No extra income, though. Maybe the extra week will buy a solution. I’m unsure though, and worrying about it has me tired and stressed. Then there are the aging folks in my family, an alcoholic brother, a mother who doesn’t think things are all that bad, and all the mental energy it’s taking to avoid thinking about that whole scene. Ich. And there are five baskets of laundry taking up my bedroom floor that need to be folded and put away. A Christmas tree that needs to be bought and decorated, a party next week to host, evites for which must yet go out… And a piano to tune. Which will likely fall to the bottom of the list of priorities when I scrutinize more closely my month’s budget. And lastly – and most vainly – there’s my waistline. I was feeling great this past summer – I really did make my fiftieth a success – but I’ve sadly just about un-done all my progress in just a few short months of Halloween candy, home-baked bread and apple pies (oh, yeah, and after last night, you can add homemade meatballs to the list). Of all people, I should know better! All that deprivation for nothing. Crap. Lastly, there are my fingers. Betraying me with unrelenting rheumatoid arthritis almost every single day. Just last night I noticed a new growth of bone spur on one of my outer knuckles. My third fingers are now getting stuck in between the three black notes (but not the two black notes, which are just a tiny bit further apart. Til now, who knew?) and I must tug to wrest them free as I play. Very discouraging. Very.

All the way ’round, I’m just not feeling too good these days. I just can’t seem to get ahead of it. Can’t find peace. Can’t quite get myself up and out of this temporary funk. At least I hope it’s temporary….

What to do? I make a list. First, I might do well with sitting in quiet. I don’t think I even know how to do that anymore… Yes. Maybe that’s it. I should be meditating. I remember a couple of years ago when I moved here, shaken and sick with heartbreak, I meditated almost an hour a day. Sat quiet, in a dark closet, imagining my in-breaths igniting all the little energy spirals up and down my spine… An hour of chakra-balancing felt like fifteen minutes. Stepping out of the dark room I was always surprised when I looked at the clock. And it helped. I remember it did. But how on earth to get that back into my routine again? It seems so, well, hard. Boring. Ok, how to start? Keep it short. Do-able. Schedule it in every morning first thing. Ok. First on the list. Meditate. Right.

I think the answer might also be a gym membership. I know I need to move. Means I need to apply for a Y scholarship, I guess. Must be sure to use it if they give it to me… but when would I go? And what to do with the kid while I workout? I feel stopped before I start. I suppose I could walk outside instead. Tried it for a while, but petered out on it, completely bored with the same stretch of road, the long, empty silence. Music… yes, I should get music back in my life. Haven’t used ear buds in a good decade (I suppose since my kid was born). But I need help with this too. My ancient, classic IPod sits unused, filled with songs my next-door neighbor back in Illinois gave me (without the legitimate purchase and therefore legal licensing) and I am somehow unable to add songs to it from my similarly ancient and now dead Macbook. How do I retrieve the handful songs I did purchase once upon a time? And why can’t I simply add them to my pirated list, or at least input them without re-formatting the whole shebang and starting completely over? Don’t know, and I can’t seem to figure it all out. So when I do walk (which these days is actually never) I walk in silence. And somehow, I think it might be easier to move if I had a soundtrack. Man. I miss the days of cassettes. They were so much easier. It embarrasses me slightly to say so, but there it is.

You could say that I need some help in general when it comes to technology. Like the kind of help I always seemed to have around in the old days. A local college kid who can help me streamline my administrative duties – the kind of kid who would say ‘admin’ and not ‘administrative’…  I need a kid who’s still cheerful enough to think that none of my ‘admin’ needs are really that big of a deal and who can hold my hand through some much needed media upgrading in my life. There’s the IPod thing, yes, but then there’s so much more. I’ve been advised that as an aspiring writer/blogger I need to Tweet. I bought a book about it, but even after reading it I feel stopped. I can see the appeal, but I can’t seem to get past setting up an account. I’ve also been told it would be advantageous of me to use Foursquare. Really? I’m only ever in one of three places: behind the piano at school, behind the sink doing dishes at home, or driving back and forth somewhere between the two. Is that of interest to anyone, really? (Besides, can I even do all that stuff on my old-school flip phone?)

I’m not sure where to begin. The technology train left years ago and I did not get on board. Maybe all I need is to wait another couple of years and let Elihu help me. But aren’t I supposed to be helping him? Man. Last night we saw a record player in the window of a shop and he said he wished we had one. Careful what you wish for, kid….

In order that I might not sound myself too much like a record player – a broken one, that is – I shall stop my song now. Much to consider, much to do. And much I will no doubt put off til later. Only thing is, I can’t wait too long. Cuz stuff that currently smells bad tends to get even funkier the longer it’s left unattended…