The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Fade Up February 27, 2014

Just as the very real images of my dream begin to fade, my body starts to register some incoming data from the physical world… although I can still very clearly see the environment of my dreaming mind, I can also sense that my nose is very cold. My face too, and also the shoulder that rests outside of the covers. While still tracking the scene that continues to play in my mind, another line of thinking superimposes itself on top: for a few seconds both my sleeping and my waking consciousness are co-existing. And even as that is happening, there’s a third witness present; I (whomever that may be) am watching the two operate simultaneously, and I am marveling over it. Underlying the whole thing, dreams, to-do lists and the emerging memory that yes, we are out of fuel oil again, a soundtrack of Stanley Clarke’s School Days plays, over and over. The music is a bit distracting, but I can’t seem to stop it. Over and over again the line plays as my waking mind picks up speed and the lists start coming at me fast and furious. So much for sleeping in this last precious hour.

I watch the mix of thoughts and sounds fly around in my head like the scene in the Wizard of Oz where the witch morphs from riding a bicycle to flying on a broom…. Thoughts fly about me in a virtual storm, and it feels I have no control… Eventually my witnessing mind is pulled back in from the sidelines, the dream evaporates, and I am now in my body again. The visions and soundtracks are gone. At last, I manage to sit upright in bed. Yes, the house is cold. The nightscape has faded into another day of earthly realities. And this business of keeping the house from freezing in single-digit temps is now number one on the day’s to-do list. In the past I might have been thrown by this alone – I remember in the early days, running out of fuel was downright frightening. It felt lonely and vulnerable, and although it was nothing personal on anyone’s part, it felt somehow as if the world had chosen to turn us away. But this morning, I wasn’t stopped, or even slowed down. (I admit that without the Brady Bunch double ovens to warm the kitchen and our portable electric heaters I might feel otherwise.) These days, it was just another thing to deal with. And these days, I’m getting pretty good at dealing with things. !

I am, however, a bit dismayed that the five gallons of kerosene I’d dumped in the tank yesterday afternoon didn’t even last us twenty-four hours; we’d barely kept the house at 60 degrees – truly, I’d been frugal. How in hell had we blown through all that fuel? Maybe kerosene doesn’t burn as efficiently. Maybe single-digit temps really require a lot more fuel. I guess. Having some concrete ideas makes it easier to take. We’re on a wait list for emergency oil thru the state assistance program, so relief is coming at some point. (It’s been a week without proper heat now, and although it feels like the longest we’ve gone without oil at one stretch, Elihu remembers us going nearly two weeks without heat a couple of years ago. Funny how you repress some things.) Besides, I’m sure there are folks much worse off than us. Sometimes I worry more about my instruments than I do us, and it’s then that I realize I guess I shouldn’t be bitching. I’m lucky we get help at all – and luckier still to have a piano and a harpsichord in our living room. Just take it day by day, I tell myself, and I keep my sights set no further out – because it’s far less stressful. And it’s kinda funny how the things that used to be the really big stuff become the not-so-big stuff in light of the truly heavy shit. Like a concert hall whose floor and walls are being removed as I write this, like a business that needs to be created, programs developed, budgets mapped out… Never mind getting my taxes together, learning the score for the children’s theater production next week or the Bach Partita with the right-over-left hand crossing business that I need to have learned by Monday (I have lovely memories of my father playing this, so it’s truly a joy to finally learn it myself)…. Yeah, it’s all pressing in on me, but with the drama of the Studio continuing on all the while – sort of like the dream and waking realities living side-by-side – it doesn’t seem as daunting. Interesting how one’s perspective on things can change.

My spirits are also somewhat buoyed by last night’s conversation about the future of the Studio with my mother. I’m back to teaching my continuing ed course I call “Not Your Mother’s Piano Teacher” on Wednesday evenings, and mom stays with Elihu. (I wasn’t able to teach it last semester as mom couldn’t leave dad. Now, of course, she’s free to come over.) After I got back we sat and talked about life for a while. Naturally the Studio was the main concern; we discussed the different systems of heating, the floor materials, small upgrades that might benefit the place – and I was surprised at how positive she seemed at the ideas. I myself had been fighting daily not to succumb to tears over the whole thing. How was she so calm about it all? I learned that from her perspective, this is dad’s legacy we’re talking about here; we need to do what needs to be done. (When I falter, Elihu says the same thing. “You have to do this for grandpa!” he reminds me vehemently.) It it so beyond the scope of anything I’ve done, and it almost seems downright nuts to talk about spending all this money when Elihu and I are living in a house without heat. (There goes dad’s VA insurance, but then this is a much more fitting use for it than an elaborate funeral!) Really, it seems crazy. But then again, it’s kinda like apples and oranges. The Studio will be a source of income one day (that’s the hope, I’m still working hard on believing it) and it will be my sole occupation at some point. So it makes sense to invest in it. We can live in a chilly house for a bit, it won’t affect our future. At any rate, that’s how I justify it. I just see them as two separate entities. And thankfully, as my focus is on the Studio now, it gives me less time to stew over my own personal situation. In a week’s time this will be nothing but a memory…

From one reality to another, from one set of priorities to another, I gotta keep living in the moment, dealing only with what’s before me. I’m keeping my head down here, and my focus on the path in my immediate field of vision. I’ll look up every now and then to make sure I’m going in the right direction, but for now, my individual steps are the most important thing. Soon enough this reality will fade into the next, so for now I’ll just do my best, carefully putting one foot in front of the other until I get to the next rest stop on the trail.

 

New Groove February 25, 2014

Not even out of the gate and things are already getting tricky. Thought the radiant heat thing was a done deal. Electric radiant heat, that is. The water delivery method, not so much. It’s twice as expensive, requires its own shelter external to the building for the boiler, the pumps and such, plus it’ll raise the entire floor a good five inches, requiring all doorways to be raised, making the ceiling shorter at the stage end. I realize that this system runs much cheaper in the long run, and its an efficient one, but it’s just not what I want. I don’t want the stage cramped and low. I don’t want to change the space. Just heat it.

I’d thought the heavens had opened up when I heard about these magic, wafer-thin (that’s my Monty Python-esque way of describing them) pads that one simply rolled out over the space and then covered with a lovely wood floor. (Wood, that by the way, is being cut from our Greenfield forest just behind the Studio and milled locally. That’s the romantic plan, at any rate, at this idealistic stage of the game, but I can just see my dreams being dashed right and left as I make my way through this process…) But in a single email my heart is broken again. The kind fellow who’d come out today to write up a bid on the heating system told me in one short sentence that the system I want ‘will not put out enough energy for that sized room’. And so the manufacturers of the electric radiant system he sells will not agree to it. Crap. I haven’t even started the demo and I’m off to a rocky start. Not the way I envisioned things so early in the game. Come on stars, I thought you’d planned on aligning for me here?

So I do a little online searching and find a system like the one I’d imagined in my head, and I dash off an inquiry… I feel a bit like a patient going from doctor to doctor in hopes of finding the diagnoses I want to hear rather than the honest one. Am I fooling myself? Or is this indeed a big world and might there be someone out there who won’t see my problem as unsolvable? I was feeling too blessed, too hopeful for a moment. Gotta breathe. And hell, how on earth am I going to make my living at this? How can I offset costs like these? One lousy payout by dad’s VA insurance will barely get the place demo’d. Shit. Wow, I am sounding a bit manic. Cuz yesterday – hell, even a couple of hours ago (before the heating guy emailed me the disappointing news) I was beginning to coast on thermals of excitement… man, things were just feeling so hopeful, so possible, and I was lifting, lifting….

But as with any self-respecting manic episode, I found my heart descending to the very floor – literally – as my old friend Jim (and one time assistant to dad) shook his head despairingly and said to me  “In the end, it’s just an oak floor that needs to be replaced.” No romantic salvaging and re-purposing of this very wood – wood which Jim knew the meaning of in my heart – no point for all that labor. I searched, but saw no light of inspiration in his woodworking eyes. No, this was a tear-out and haul-it-away job. (In the back of my mind I continued to search for a meaningful good-bye, maybe instead of a burning man fest, maybe have a burning floor fest? I don’t know, something? All those memories, all that music… If only we could bring it to life again in some way. Or… maybe not. I must remember the object is not the memory…)

Ok. So now I can see around the corner, into this next, not-so-sexy phase. As the demo guy warned me several times “It’s gonna get a whole lot worse before it gets better”. Yeah. I think I get that – but it looks like pretty soon I’m about to really get it. It’s just that I know how I want things – but in the end, it’s probably going to be settled by cost. The re-build can’t happen without grants, gifts and donations, so I’m already in new and frightening territory. I can commit to a demolition of the existing damage, but beyond that, it’s still just a dream. I guess that’s what part of this new chapter is going to have to be about: dreams; keeping them inspired and alive no matter who says it’s not practical (and that would include my own inner naysayer), keeping the dream growing, adapting, interacting, improving… I have a glimmer of a vision, but as soon as I look at some slick website for another arts center, or as soon as I realize that this might mean I never make it out of town for the next ten years (these are the last of my good years I fear!!) or as soon as I realize that I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING, well, then that kinda kills the buzz. So that’s when it’s time to bust out some tasty homemade Pad Thai for supper and then make a little music with kid.

Who, by the way, is kickin some ten year old butt on that big ol bass of his. We got to his lesson a little early today, and his teacher obliged him by giving him a longer lesson. Did they review the same-old same-old? Not so much. No, instead, my man Mr. F turned lil man onto a bit of walking bass stuff today. And even if it did finally end up in some out-of-the-blue mom and kid scene, tears, tantrum and all, at least for a good half hour we had a really sweet thing going. What he’d begun to learn in his lesson, we finished off at home. I gave him some more of that chromatic stuff he was searching for but couldn’t quite find… And when he got it – that had him just laughin and grinnin ear-to-ear. I remember how exciting is was to finally demystify that left hand walking stuff. So much fun to learn new tricks. The tears, it turned out, were not so much his frustration with my teaching as it was just his ‘turnaround burnout’. (Not the kind of turnaround that happens on a five chord.) Elihu was still in that midway-zone; having Daddy yesterday, having Mommy today, but never having the two together. Before long he was sobbing, his arms around me, face buried in my tummy. “It’s not fair” he said over and over. “I want my Daddy. But I want my Mommy too! I want them both at the same time!” All I could do was hold him and tell him I understood. Maybe the old man felt the tug of his son’s heartbreak all those hundreds of miles away, because the phone rang, and it was him. About to board a plane for Indonesia, but he had a moment. Thank God.

I turned to wash the dishes as I cursed the situation for the umpteenth time. Honestly, I was still pissed as his father for doing this to his son – at his choice to start two other families at the same time, to act without thinking any of it through. But then again, it was the consequences of those unplanned moves which then opened the way for us to live our life here. I very likely would not have been present for my father’s death had I been living in Illinois with two kids and a touring husband. And being with dad as he died – that was always on the short list of things I needed to experience. I did, and I am lucky. When I see my son’s heart so heavy, it makes me mad, but it’s tempered by realizing what we have right now – what we wouldn’t have had otherwise. As I finish up in the kitchen I hear Elihu laughing again from the other room. Think he’s over the twenty-four hour mommy/daddy hiccup. Think he’s settling back in again. Over the hump and back to the routine.

Think we can both settle in to our new grooves now. Lord knows I got a lot ahead, I gotta keep my thinking clear and my pace slow and steady. But man, so much unknown where I’m going. Hell, I guess there are a lot of unknowns in front of all of us. Best thing might just be to lay down a groove and keep on moving; everything around you might be going crazy, but you’ll be still be there, just layin it down, letting everybody know that the ship is doin just fine, and we’ll all arrive exactly when we’re supposed to. Both of us, my lil man and me, bass player and captain, it’s on us to bring the ship safely into port – and all in good time.

 

Clean Slate February 22, 2014

For me this has been a day of very mixed feelings. From elation at the prospects of the future to intense pangs of sorrow at having lost something precious, now irretrievably gone from my life…

Today some friends and I cleared the Studio out of its contents. There was so much more stuff than I’d realized there’d be. And I do understand pretty well how stuff adds up – I’m rather a stickler for organization and pairing down to the most important stuff – but the piles and the boxes just continued to appear. It’s amazing how we humans manage to stash away objects. And when you finally do get around to excavating every last corner of the place and have set all the piles out before you, what then?  How do you let go of things when they’re so loaded with nostalgia, longing, subtle shades of regret? Where do you draw the line?

I regarded the boxes and when pressed as to whether or not they should go out onto the big trash pile I found myself sounding a lot like those poor souls on the show Buried Alive… “Mmm, uh, I might use those again, uh, maybe just put them here for now. Hm, um, wait, wait… I’m not sure, I don’t know…” Wait, me? I can’t let go? I myself used to help others let go of their stuff and organize their possessions long before it was trendy, long before places like The Container Store were even dreamt of. Under the informal moniker of “Assess a Mess” I’d go to people’s homes and help them throw away all of their crap or send it back out into the world. A combination of psychologist, personal assistant and trashman, I’d help them make all the hard choices. I employed what I called my “rule of two”: if you hadn’t used it in the past two years and didn’t plan on using it in the next two months, then out it went. I wasn’t cold-hearted about sending stuff away; I always tried to find objects a second life – and this was before the era of Freecycle, Craigslist or Ebay, yet somehow I’d make it through mountains of stuff, leaving a perfectly clean and organized joint behind. But now that it’s come to me – now that we’re talking about my recently deceased father here and all the tangible results of his life’s work – it just isn’t the same deal at all. And my mother’s hand is here too; it was she who kept the place running, made the videos of all the concerts, fed and watered the audiences at intermission, the musicians before and after concerts and rehearsals – her things are here too, and it’s troublesome to vote her things out when I know all the love and attention they represent…

Thankfully I had my partner Ceres and her kids here to help. It was far more work than it appeared to be at first, and I – physically or emotionally – couldn’t have done it alone. After getting a bit further into the job I discovered that the more I excavated, the more that I liberated the walls and corners of long-forgotten stuff, the more hopeful I became. I began to envision little future scenes of what one day happen here in this room. I’d been listening to the boombox I’d bought dad for Christmas last year (so he could listen to his favorite Bob and Ray CDs) to keep me going, and I heard violinist Andrew Bird on the local college station and wondered… might I host him here one day? I realize he’s become kinda big now, but I knew him in Chicago back in the day. Never know. And what of my other friends from my old life? I started imaging concerts, combinations of folks whose music I love… I didn’t want to spoil my fantasy with all the ‘yes, but‘ conditions, so I held back the sober voice of reality and limitation and allowed myself to continue to dream while I cleaned… Later on I heard jazz vocalist Janice Borla – also another fellow Chicagoan – and man, I though her recent recording sounded great. A totally different kind of music and crowd, but maybe, I thought, might I have something like that here too?

All manner of possibilities started to come to me, and I let myself fantasize for a bit as I worked. I loved music of all kinds – I just couldn’t see limiting the room to one thing or another. House concerts? Maybe that’s the route to go… Baroque Ensembles that are starting out and need a smaller venue? Hm. The jazz kids from Skidmore hosting small ensembles and including some of the high schoolers in town?? Stuff just kept coming. But then I’d feel a sudden wave of panic, when I’d look up from my task for a moment and see in my mind’s eye the room as it had been for decades… In an instant it was a late summer afternoon and the house was full of people, there was the scent of freshly cut hay in the air, and of course the music. The harpshichord, the gambas, violins, flutes, voices… The familiar sound of the chairs being scooched back on the wood floor as people got up to stretch and mill about… The dreamlike vision came upon me and with it all those subtle feelings I associate with my entire childhood. In my head I could still see so clearly the golden sunlight streaming through the western doors; I remember the flowers, freshly cut from the local roadsides, that my mother would arrange for a vase on the stage; I remember the murmur of the audiences’ voices as they chatted during intermission….

Baroque music and the scent of newly cut hay, the warm sunlight, low in the sky… The memories all swirl around my head, tugging at me to remain there with them, never to leave them lest they die forever… My heart wants things to continue to hear and see these very same things for years without end.  But of course, this is impossible now. Their leader is gone, that era has closed. I know I sure don’t feel like much of a leader myself, and I haven’t a clue what I’m in for. But I guess there’s no question about it. It’s my party for now, ready or not. Into the future we go, much to learn, much to do, and lots of great music and memories yet ahead. Thanks, mom and dad, for the great start. The Studio won’t be the same, but it will continue to have a lot of heart and soul.

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The Studio as it appears from the South from just outside mom and dad’s house.

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This is the side of the Studio people see first, the main door and box office are here. Note the stuff already piling up out front.

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I really wanted to convey the size of this hump in the middle of the room. Seriously, right now we could rent the place out as a skate park! Look at this stool – all four legs are on the floor!

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A selfie with the ever-present tapestry on the back of the stage wall.  Dad and I once had a picture taken of us on this very same spot. I’m feeling a bit sad about things right now.

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See the tilt of the floor now? Crazy!

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I was hoping this might illustrate the drama of the mid-room bump. Kinda…

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Ceres’ son, Christoper, is being creative in trying to illustrate the big bump. In real life it looks much more impressive.

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This is the green room. None of us (mom and me, that is) ever liked dad’s ridiculous choice of green. Ich. Thank goodness I can finally get rid of it. This room served as a backstage area, holding pen for several harpsichords and apartment for musicians and their families while they played here at the Festival. Now my Rhodes lives here – but after sitting in three inches of water for over a week, it’s in need of some serious cleaning and looking-over. So back to my basement it’ll go. That’s grandma’s rocking chair on the left – in good shape. Anyone want it? It’s yours!

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More stuff.

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The box office jam-packed.

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Hmm. You can always tell a lot about a person by looking at their trash….

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The spiral staircase to the balcony. As kids we had loads of fun on this. Note the high-tech, ten pound cam-corder mounted to the balcony railing – mom recorded every last concert on it. (We’ve since had them converted to DVD.)

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The Studio’s sign came off the frame shortly before dad died, and it’s been sitting in a bank of snow. Lest it become warped and useless as the wood floor of the place, Ceres and son Brian moved it up from the road and into shelter. (The Conant’s summer cottage is in the background – it’s where my brother lives now.)

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Ahh, such a great space.

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Always loved this beam detail.

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Even with the damaged floor, she still looks beautiful.

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Had to take this pic from a distance so it’s fuzzy – but it’s from mom and dad’s very first festival in 1959. !

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Here the Zabel family is going home after an afternoon of hard work. Thanks guys! We’re on our way now!!

 

Better Plans Ahead February 20, 2014

Folks warn ‘be careful what you ask for’ – because as we all know, sometimes you sure can get a whole lot more than you bargained for. And sometimes you don’t even get what you asked for – you get a whole new situation which might even seem quite beside the point; the answer to your prayers comes in the most unlikely forms, trying your patience, provoking self-pity and other loathsome mental states…. You wish rain would come to save your garden, but instead a powerful storm comes and leaves things looking much worse than before, but then that inspires an inventory and cleaning-out of the space resulting in a new, more beautiful garden. You hope for a promotion at your boring workplace, but instead you get fired – but now you finally have the time to go out look for that job you really want. You drop a lot of cash buying the wrong color paint for your house and then it turns out to look even better than what you’d originally chosen… I think you get the point. Right? You ask, then you receive. But not always in the way you had planned. But that’s the thing about plans – some of the very best ones change, and go on to become even better ones still.

Maybe you’re in an incredibly unfair and miserable situation – maybe there’s a high level of fear or uncertainty, discomfort, lack of basic things like food, shelter, heat…. Maybe things truly are shitty right now. (I know a little bit about it. Not the nitty-gritty, honest-to-goodness down-and-out stuff, but down enough, thank you.) There is one consolation to be taken even if this is your current state, and that is: if you don’t want things to be like this, don’t worry, they won’t be. Things change – so you always have something to look forward to.  If you have the patience to keep the faith, stay as hopeful as you’re able, and wait it out – soon you’ll see where this new situation takes you (the old ‘fake it til you make it’ idea) – you might just end up in a much improved place in your life – a place that didn’t even show up on your list. Might be a nice surprise.

Without meaning to appear coy or too passive-aggressive here, indulge me if you will in the follow story lines (yes, this is my story): Your husband leaves you. You hadn’t for one moment ever considered this might happen, and yet now you have no choice but to deal with the situation. The only option is to keep moving. You’re hurt and angry and scared, but nonetheless you begin to make progress down that new, unforseen path (of course you may well be sobbing and screaming much of the way). And a coupla years later down that unexpected path, you find that you’ve just learned a whole lot of wonderful things and met a whole bunch of interesting people that you wouldn’t have otherwise. And your kid goes to a school he loves, heck, you even work at that same school. Now that time has eased up on your heartache, you can look back from where you came, look at where you’ve arrived, and now, only now can you agree with the universe that it did indeed give you just about everything you’d wanted. Ok, so you’re doing it solo, and sometimes that has you a bit down, but maybe even that plays an important role in the perfection of your current life. (If nothing else, you can make your very own rules, do things your way. Keep a clean bathroom and a tidy house. !) So maybe things don’t always happen the way you’d originally planned, but that’s only because you can’t see the good stuff down that other road… You haven’t got the advantage of seeing the landscape from above – but apparently, it seems, someone or something else does have the greater perspective. And ‘it’ has graciously given you a nudge down the fruit-bearing path. (To me it seemed more like a rather rude shove, to be honest, but sometimes I guess it takes a little extra muscle to get someone moving in the right direction. Especially for the more stubborn sorts.)  So thank you, universe. Nice of you to help out, I appreciate that.

Continuing on with the story line… Sometimes you do want something really big to happen in your life. And instead of experiencing a dramatic, unanticipated, life-changing even, you experience what you perceive to be nothing at all. So you decide you’re ready. You plead a little with the universe, you make your case, you throw down the gauntlet. Your time has come, please, world, bring it on! You are sick and tired of things the way they are, you’re ready for something new, and you let the world know it. But your frustration is deep and you’re probably not seeing that the thing you’ve begged for is indeed making its way to you in mysterious, unpredictable ways. You haven’t noticed any of this yet, so you’re still pretty crabby… and you’re pretty close to convinced that it’s a done deal. Nothing’s coming your way. But hey – you kinda thought as much. Whatever. Slog though, keep making those to-do lists, keep on keepin’ on. At least you got a new mat for that little spot in front of the kitchen sink and a hyacinth plant for the table. Those are an upgrade of sorts. And maybe those’ll have to do. Cuz all this other shit – this big life shit, the real stuff – man, it’s way too much anyhow. I mean, can I see myself doin something so big? So ambitious? So, er, grown up? Naw – shit like that’s for those other people. Naw, I’m just gonna live my little life, do the best job I can at that, and be kind to people as I go along. That should do. That should take me on outta here. What else can I do? I’m not young anymore, aint got the tiny body, the full tank of non-stop energy, I’m not living in the epicenter of an uber cool music scene… Things are different.  I’m a farmer now. A mom who might also pass as a grandmother. Yeah, I’m the crazy chicken lady across the field who teaches piano lessons. Start a business? Take a huge leap into territory that I know nothing about? That shit just sounds crazy. Maybe crazy chicken lady aint so bad.

Lately, as in the past few months, I’ve been toying with some different thoughts about  who I am and what my role should be in this next chapter, and these ideas are growing, marinating, morphing and showing signs of something much, much larger waiting for me just a bit down the road from here…. It seems – fairytale-esque though it sounds – that in order to see a dream take shape, one must keep a vision, hold it dear, and then share that vision with the world… Like a snowball rolling down the hill, your idea collects more mass on its travels, and soon you have far more than you’d set out to create… And then, of course, you have just entered into yet another chapter in your personal and professional growth. Holy shit. But then it’s not a dream anymore, you can’t hide anywhere, and what if you’re not truly able to act on all these prophetic-like platitudes you’ve been broadcasting all over? What a disappointment you’ll be then – mostly to yourself, of course, but that’s still not going to be as bad as the embarrassment you’ll feel at your very public ‘jump and miss’. Oh oh. What have I started? Sheesh. Think I’m frightening myself here. I’m exhausted and I haven’t even begun. Gotta keep my focus…

You do know what I’m babbling about, don’t you? Life, death, the Studio and unforseen catastrophes…. Let me backtrack just a second… I’ve been formatting and printing out all my posts from the past three years, and I stopped to read some posts from the past couple months – the time before my father died, a time of great inner sadness and reflection. At some point I lamented that I felt I needed a greater purpose in my life – that I almost felt I had a calling, but I didn’t yet know what it was. And then of course there were dad’s enigmatic words shortly after that…”When beautiful January comes…” And then there was beautiful January – and with it, the great flood. The Studio was ruined. My vision for the future seemed dead before it had begun. And yet… Things have been happening with great serendipity; the right people appearing at the right time, kind offers being made, solutions appearing from nowhere, improvements suggesting themselves as we re-think our plans… All sorts of things are coming together like some sort of energetic groundswell coming to lift me up and push me into this next era.

In a way I’m glad my father is gone now, because I don’t feel I could have moved forward with a new vision for The Studio had he still been here, after all, this place was his baby. He created it with a very specific – and successfully met – vision of having a venue crafted with superb acoustics for his beloved eighteenth century music. That was his field of expertise, and it is simply not mine. (I feel I should add that while I do dearly love Baroque music, I don’t know enough about that world to make it my thing.) I not only feel freer to move into this next adventure, but I feel that somehow dad is energetically supporting me from wherever it is that he exists now. Oh this is tricky territory – I have some dear friends for whom this sort of talk verges on insane nonsense, some friends who may agree more than they’d ever let on, and some friends who wonder why I pussyfoot around here when clearly I’m talking about my dad being in Heaven, and that he’s still somehow connected to this world – and more than that – he’s able to assist me on some level. Hey, I don’t know the truth, all I do know is that a situation which had me wanting to hug my knees to my chest and rock back and forth in a dark closet has now got me excited to wake up in the morning, inspired to move, thrilled to follow where this all leads… Cuz I’m going somewhere. Not quite sure where, but that’s ok. I have a loose plan, and I’ll leave it that way, cuz things will be changing yet again, I’m sure of it. And I’m also pretty sure that whatever happens next will be paving the way for better things just over the horizon….

 

 

Snowy Valentine’s February 14, 2014

Yes, today was another snow day here in the great Northeast (you won’t hear me arguing –  it’s always a treat to sleep in an extra hour). We are indeed beset with the stuff. I could hardly manage to shovel yet again, as I had to work to fling the snow high enough to get it out of the way. Worked up a healthy sweat, and felt good when I got back inside. It was nice to move my body a bit; Elihu and I had done hardly a thing all morning but sit on our butts, play video games and scoot around the internet following miscellaneous tangents and such. It was nice to have a day off, but after a while I felt it wise to use my day a bit more productively, so I washed the sheets (not something I do very often, I’ll admit, but later tonite we have guests arriving), vacuumed the place and did some other domestic chores. A satisfying mix of work and play.

Towards the end of the afternoon we migrated to the living room where we began to play a little music. Elihu had come up with a fun little funky, bluesy groove, and after that was played out we started a little old-fashioned jam. He gets the nuances of the different styles, and he has a great natural ability to cop a sound – but if left to his own he’d prefer simply to ‘oom-pah-pah’. The kid still loves polkas. Thought it might have been a phase, but it seems to be sticking around. That’s fine by me. You may not believe it, but there is some pretty amazing polka music out there – if you venture a bit beyond Myron Floren et al (and he’s fantastic, don’t get me wrong), there’s a whole world of charming and marvelous historic recordings to enjoy. I don’t care to be falsely modest here, I am proud of my kid’s ability to play, and happier still that it’s something we can do together.

My heart belongs to only one fellow – and how lucky I was to be able to spend the whole day with him. Tomorrow he goes to spend his winter break with his father. I’ll miss him, and I’ll remember this Valentine’s Day fondly.

IMG_0243A little music, some RC helicopter fun and tower-building. A perfect, easy-paced day.

 

Diorama Days February 12, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind,Pics — wingmother @ 7:19 am

No matter how prepared you are, there’s always that crunch time which sneaks up on you. Thankfully we were very nearly done with Elihu’s diorama of the Mojave Desert by the time our nerves frayed and he ended up having something of a mini-meltdown. But we persevered, as a team, and got it done. Elihu gave me a heartfelt apology for yelling, and I was happy to accept. Our evening ended on a positive and satisfied note. Until, that is, we discovered that he’d left his binder at school and we couldn’t locate the actual report itself (on which the diorama is based, of course.) A bit of stress-induced bickering followed, but after scouring the house we agreed it was most likely in his binder, at school, and if it wasn’t, we’d deal with it then.

We regrouped, and stepped back to admire the project. All the rocks he used were actually ones he’d brought home from the Mojave Desert himself, when he’d been on tour with his father last summer. We thought that was a nice touch. Elihu had acquired his collection rather by chance – as the vehicle in which he’d been crossing the desert ran out of oil. (Of all places… yeeks. How often does that happen? How bout instead: “About to cross the desert, guys – maybe we should top off the oil and pick up a few extra quarts to be safe”. !? Just sayin.) They’d stopped and left the rv to explore the roadside, and lucky for him, he’d ended up with a pocketful of some cool rocks. Eventually the band was saved by some good Samaritans with oil to spare, and they left unscathed and with one hell of a good story for the books. So with the real, Mojave Desert rocks and the background panel that carries the scene off into the distance (like the ‘real dioramas at the Natural History Museum’ Elihu said), he’s got something to be proud of.

Last night we’d put some time into the project, and Elihu had finally finished his hand-written final copy; cursive, in pen, all the corrections made. Ready to go. He was tired and hadn’t eaten in a long while. I made him a hot bowl of his Grandpa Riaz’s chicken curry – with rice, chickpeas and lots of sauce mixed in. (Big school projects or over-booked weeks require pots of food that can be ladled out and heated up in a hurry.) He kept saying how good it was, I kept saying it was all because of Grandpa’s spice mix. It’s a Haque family staple, and there are choice moments in life when nothing says comfort like Grandpa’s spice mix chicken. Tired as he was, Elihu shivered with cold, so I brought him his fuzzy bathrobe and helped him into it as he ate, rolling back the cuffs and getting him comfortable. “Mmmmm” he said. “I’m so happy right now.” I was too. It was a perfect end to a productive night, the end of a good day. “Mamas are good at this” Elihu said as he dug into his bowl. “What’s that?” I asked. “This. Making me feel good and warm and fed. And making dioramas. Mamas are so good at dioramas.” “Aww, thank you honey” I answered, thinking for a moment that I should make an effort to keep the equation as even as possible, “Daddies are good at lots of good things too… and you know your daddy loves you so very much.” Elihu, wrapped in his plush, navy blue bathrobe shook his head no as he continued to eat his curry chicken. “Daddies aren’t good for this. Mamas are.” Then he looked up at me with the sweetest, most earnest face – so sweet I was tempted to go the Charles Dickens route and turn it into a funny bit – but I dared not tinker with this moment, because I knew what he meant, and it was the most sincere expression of love. I returned a look of love, and we shared a moment of connection. I finally broke the spell by asking him, what then, were Daddies good for? “Getting serious.” He paused. “Going on adventures.” Hm. I’d have to agree. Running out of oil in the middle of the Mojave Desert certainly qualifies as an adventure.  I suppose one could then go on to say that dads are also good for inspiring awesome dioramas too, I guess. !

These days won’t last much longer. I don’t remember making a diorama past third grade, if my memory serves me correctly. And I just don’t see a middle schooler coming home with any such assignment. As I think of it, this might even be it. The last diorama. We enjoyed ourselves though. (And we’re eager to see all the others tomorrow!) And I am loving this time in our lives – can’t say I’m taking a single moment of it for granted. How lucky I am to feed him that comfort food, wrap him in warmth and look at him in love. Although shades of the preteen are now beginning to emerge, he still has the tender aspects of a young child, and in spite of an appetite to learn more, do more and take on more responsibility, he still possesses that certain kind of sweetness that tells me he is still a young boy.

Because I know that this enchanted window in our life will one day be just another memory of many… (Hey Ma, remember that Mojave Desert thing we did for Ms. Reid’s class? Do you still have it?) I am savoring it fully. I am basking in the charm of this age, and trying to make sure the scenes and the feelings are safely tucked away inside me, so that I can revive them decades hence, when I need a little reminder of how sweet things once were ‘back in the days’….

The days of mom, son, and the diorama.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Post Script: As I recall, the tour van had a slow oil leak that no one knew about as they set out over the desert… I offer this addendum in an effort to report the story as correctly as possible, as Elihu’s father has expressed his opinion that I “post selectively”, and that is never my objective here. ! I just write what I know to be true from my own experience of things.

A More Important Post Script:Feb 2014 A 193

the entire sandy diaorama, with actual rocks from the Mojave desert and Joshua Trees hither thither and yon

Feb 2014 A 195

a closer peek at one of those Joshua trees

Feb 2014 A 201look! It’s a burrowing owl uncharacteristically hanging out in a tree! Maybe not accurate, but kinda cute! (The other owl is actually doing what he’s supposed to and is sticking his head out of a sandy hole below.)

 

Sans Solo February 8, 2014

Not a single event, discovery or achievement has ever truly been a solitary endeavor. Whether someone’s climbed a treacherous mountain peak, invented something revolutionary or done something for the very first time – none of it happened in a vacuum, apart and unaffected by the world. No matter what Miss Rand claims, we people here on Earth are absolutely interdependent of each other. Our personal triumphs ride on the experiences of those who have come before. You can’t beat a record unless one has already been set. You can’t build something unless something similar has already been built (and likely failed, hence the innovative re-build). Coaches, teachers, guides, the opinions of friends, personal opinions, the disregard for opinions of any sort – all of it goes into the pot. (Kinda reminds me of that saying ‘if you decide not to decide, you’ve still made a choice’.) There aint no way an achievement of any sort stands on its own. In part, maybe, but certainly not entirely. Try to back-engineer, understand and then make for yourself the handful of items you use in the first five minutes of your day today. Nuff said.

And here is where I need to let go of the illusion that this burden is all my own. This is the thinking I need to assume this morning, at the beginning of the path immediately before me. Yeah, I have a lot on my plate, and yes, I will be ‘directing the troops’ as it were for the time being, and I understand it’s important to have a vision for the future, but I can also see that the project I intend to set in motion will be by no means exclusively my own baby. Even my father’s incredibly successful and long-running music festival was not his alone. It might have seemed it – he certainly did a hell of a lot of the grunt work on his own – but he could never have pulled it off had my mother not been there to feed the many musicians and their families, to keep track of who ate meat and who didn’t, who had allergies, how many beds needed to be made up, when folks were arriving, when they needed to be at the airport… Then there were the assistants – one every year – to help run the administrative side of things. And, of course, the musicians themselves who made great expenditures of time and energy to participate. One could say the whole thing was very definitely inspired by the vision of one man at its core – but in the end, the Festival of Baroque Music was a huge group effort. And from the get-go, I can see the same will be true of the Studio in its new incarnation.

In a few hours I will meet some younger-bodied folks who are going to help us begin the long and un-sexy process of cleaning up. Not meaning this to sound like a sour grapes excuse for the way I let things happen, but I don’t think we (again, not me alone, but me and my artist partner, Ceres) would have ever made such a thorough cleaning-out of the place had we not been forced to. Many times I’d walked the place, shaking my head in frustration at all the stuff that needed to be assigned new homes. Many times I’d pushed it to the back of my mind. I’d made a few feeble attempts to remove an item or two – even tried to sell some paintings at local shops – but in spite of them having been hot tickets once-upon-a-time, I couldn’t find any current interest for the art. So I brought it all back, to languish in the Studio as I waited for a plan to come to me. I still have no idea what we’ll do with the contents of the place or where it will even live as I find homes for it all. In my basement, most likely. I have the space, but I don’t relish the idea at all. It’s ok, eventually things will sort themselves out.

There’s sentiment floating around some of this stuff too, like for my dad’s harpsichord tools. What to do with them? Which items do I keep, which should I give away? Posters of past concerts, expensively framed (a Christmas gift from me and my husband one year), certificates signed by famous, long-dead musicians, awards given to my father from local institutions, and many various original paintings. Not to mention my Rhodes, which lived here as I hadn’t the room in my own place. Guess I’ll have to make room now. (I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I had secretly hoped to learn how to successfully sell on Ebay this year – now might be a good time to take that project on.) Yeah, there are things here that could very likely find appreciative homes somewhere in the world, and while it’s hugely daunting to me to know how to find those homes, at least the process has begun. Here again, it can’t be just me. I don’t have these skills (yet), so the theme of the day has now become ‘delegate’. It’s time to enroll others in the mass project. Get rid of stuff, demo, choose new materials, rebuild. And then, at long last, move forward…

I still don’t know much about the future of this place. But I do know enough to recognize those first chills of excitement, hope, inspiration…. It’s a challenge for me to move past seeing this place as my father’s, to move past all those exquisitely nostalgic memories. The other day, when Ceres, mom and I were discussing our next move, when we got to the part about the floor, mom had said something about making sure to duplicate the amazing acoustics of the first floor… but suddenly aware of what she’d said, she stopped herself short. Ceres pointed out that mom, like me, had a hard time thinking about the space in a new way. (Ironically, the place had been too live a room in which to do any other types of music besides acoustic chamber music. Yes, an audience sops up part of the sound, and yes, it’s better to start a room too live than too dead, but still…) Our objectives are going to be different now, and for me it’s still a challenge to see this old building in a new light. I understand that where dad is now, it doesn’t really matter. He saw his vision come to life, and he saw his creation come to a perfect close. He surrounded himself with all the right people to realize his dream, and now it’s my turn to do the same.

This will be an ensemble piece, with just the occasional solo.