My beloved old home, my one-time center.

This past week I’ve spent dozens of hours going through old photographs and documents and projects and letters and recordings and videos and doodles and poems and journals and mementos and, well, stuff. So much stuff. Each single piece represents a project that was once upon a time the perfect center of my universe. A decade all about The Aluminum Group, two decades singing with my ex-husband, a few years of radio programs, a couple of years with this band or that, a short, intense relationship with any number of one-off deals; demos, sideman jobs, showcases… Each long-forgotten recording brings me back into a tiny universe unto itself, with its own cast of crazy characters, with its own sound, its own feel…

Here, in the country, in the middle of ten acres with chickens my only current companions, I can easily begin to feel as if my past lives were just as much a dream as last night’s. But they weren’t, and there is something inside that compels me to document it all, to acknowledge it, to remember it, maybe even to relive it. Thanks to Facebook I can share some of my re-discoveries, and that helps bring some resolution. But what of all this material? What to do with it? And at the end of the day, after I’ve re-visited much of my past life as a musician, why is it that I feel less like I know who I am – and not more of who I am? The problem is, I guess, that I feel I’m all of those people. The jazz singer, the accordion player in alt country bands, the hard rocker with the hair, the white R&B queen with the steps, the one with the vintage keyboards singing the middle harmony part… even the gal playing her dad’s harpsichord on a track here and there… And of course part of the problem too is that these days I do none of what it was that I used to. So naturally I feel its absence more acutely.

I guess what feels strange in looking back, and what also felt a little isolating even at the time, is that I belonged to so many different musical circles which seldom intersected. I remember always feeling a bit like an impostor in each world. And now, when I have no real musical identity but that of years past, I find myself searching through old boxes to rediscover who it is that I most miss being. Who do I most identify with – where was my musical home? It’s just not possible to answer. Also, a handful of my fellow musicians are gone now, and that leaves me feeling even more at sea. This has been a long week holed up in my basement, trying to organize and in some fashion catalogue all the ancient material. Man, why should anyone even care? I find myself wondering. But then again, why not? What if? What if one day… one day my son wonders what his mom did when she was his age. What if? I’ve only just discovered a wonderful cache of dvds of my father’s concerts here at the Studio… Having a window into that time is priceless and precious to me now. And so, with that sentiment still clinging to me, I put the endless boxes of tapes back onto the shelves to sort themselves out later. A girl can only do so much.

I find photographs too. And some of them have me crying. I just kill myself with what-ifs sometimes. I see a photograph that captured just perfectly the feeling of our old home in Evanston, and I miss it so much I post it on Facebook, hoping old friends might offer some comfort, some sense of familiarity, of family even. Of center. Problem is, in each memory I uncover, I remember how it felt when that was my center. Of course I can know where my home is now (and it finally feels it) but on this holiday weekend when everyone’s talking about new beginnings and happy Easter, happy Passover, happy Spring…. It doesn’t feel quite right. My father’s not here; our family is unbalanced. My brother is a mess, and who knows, maybe my mom misses my dad as much as I do now. So who, what or where becomes home? Where now is the center of my world?

I had some errands at the mall today. Usually malls make me panicky; the large, open spaces, the constant drumming of background noise, the energy of all those people… but today it made me sad. I saw old, overlooked people pushing cleaning carts, limping grandpas pushing walkers, lost and lonely-looking souls everywhere, just walking ahead, vacant gazes on their faces, just going, going, going…. but to where? And when they were done with their search for satisfaction, where to then? Home? What was for them, I wondered, watching these displaced loners, the center of their lives? Was it a cozy chair, a bedroom, a corner of the kitchen at home? Memories of loved ones now long-gone? Just how lonely and isolated were these people? Did their center exist years ago, never to return? Hell, did my center exist years ago, never to return?

My son’s been gone over a week, so maybe that’s helping me think like this. Maybe that’s partly it. I don’t know. But today I’ve been unusually wistful and everything – everything – seems to have a grinding poignancy about it. Everything from a seagull wheeling in the sky to an old man shuffling through the mall… all of it seems loose, free, ungrounded, without destination. Comfortless, centerless.

Maybe I’m also feeling this way because  tomorrow a local chamber music group is holding a concert of Bach in dad’s memory. Mom and I are going. Andrew, being rather a wild card, is not. It feels sad that mom didn’t feel it ‘safe’ to include him. But I can agree. So there the center erodes even further. And one day my mother will follow my father, my brother will be lost to me in his illness, and my son will move away as children are supposed to. Then what? What defines me then? Where will my center be then? I can’t seem to get any true and clear vision for the future, and my past can’t stop reminding me that I’ve left it behind. My dad is gone, my husband long gone, and my family as I’d always thought it would be is gone as well.  But photos and recordings remain. Maybe that’s why I can’t let em go. As much as they might seem at times too weighty an anchor to keep around, when I do have the time to investigate them for a moment or two, re-discovering these tiny treasures restores my hope. So I guess I’ll hold on to them a little longer, because it seems the evidence of my past might just become the centerpoint from which I move into my future.

4 thoughts on “Center

  1. Wow, great picture. I feel ya. Glad you’re sorting it out a bit now though. I think the “empty nest” (on all levels) should be faced asap as long before it actually comes as possible. I recommend some sort of solo musical expression. Something musical that depends on no one but you. Something whose only purpose is to get what’s inside, outside; without thoughts of how “good” it is or how it compares to anything or anyone else. Something simple that’s hard to lose. I converted everything I had from my musical past, which was much simpler than yours I know…to CD several years ago. Nice to have it in a sharable listenable format…Best of luck to you in this process. GB

  2. Dear Liz, Yes this is part of the adjustments we must make as we move through the cycle. After I moved to Denver, divorced with two children and living in a small rental house (those Wilmette houses had so much character – and quality) in Denver, I found myself weeping about the cottage cheese stuff sprayed on my ceilings. Careless drywalling made me so homesick for real plaster walls. “Homesick” was what I felt all the time — how did I get here? was all I could ask. Too many goodbyes. Then, the kids grew up and moved out and I was faced with the vacuum. Even the new life I had built was only a passing phase.

    So, I started to create a new life and identity centered around a Shelley that had always been too busy to delve in and figure her REAL self out. I started renting rooms in my house and serving meals to international students at my dining room table. I didn’t have to be “Mommy” anymore and there was a freedom to discover another Me in that process. Life has since taken me other places as well. A new stride and identity – a little dizzying but isn’t it my responsibility to catch the waves when they come?

    I think you are feeling the natural grief about not being able to go Home again. I wish you all the strength and joy of exploring who you really want to be. Your son will be so proud of you, all the more so if he can observe you stretching out and wailing away with a new song that he knows only is sung by the one person he most cherishes: his Mom.

    1. sigh. so interesting to hear your story. I can’t imagine feeling the kind of ‘normal’ I once knew well ever again, but I’ll keep open to the idea of some new, good place ahead. Thanks so much for your words and your kindness. xo

  3. I have a belief that everything is on a continuum. There are always two things at either end that are the opposites and basically it is best to be in the middle….and I think that you will find ‘you’ are that area in the middle with the past and future at either end, you are now! Not so much of a definition as a location lol Just my rambling thoughts on this :)

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