Stuffed

Stuffed

“You got a lot of stuff,” the minor rock god had said as he lay in my bed, actively surveying his surroundings for the first time. His words stunned me; it was the first objective observation from an outsider regarding my inner world. My closet doors had been left open – I hadn’t worried about keeping them closed. I had nothing to hide. Or had I?

I’ve always harbored a tiny bit of disdain for folks who have too much stuff. Of course I know that I too have stuff, but it’s tidy, it’s organized. I don’t have a walk-in closet of clothes, nor do I have a wall of shoes. Just a modest closet in a mid-century ranch house. I’ve always thought that if it was a visual treat to behold, and if it was easy to locate things, then what I had was just enough, and therefore not too much. So, it surprised me to hear these words. They’ve stuck in my thoughts over the past year.

It seems I’ve been fooling myself.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a lot of crap in my house. But the ‘bump under the rug’ has been pushed to the basement (“cellar” is a much more apt term; there’s so much goddam water down there that every last item must be stored in a plastic tub packed with desiccants). The saying “out of sight, out of mind” is very true.

It was about a decade ago when I began to employ my system for keeping the out-of-season stuff along with all the other miscellaneous memorabilia and household detritus in plastic bins downstairs. Cardboard boxes made many decisions for me; mildew, rot and mice removed a good third of the hold. Overall, I’d thought the current situation was fine. I’ve long made annual campaigns to skim the top and get rid of the most obviously irrelevant stuff (like gifts of clothing Elihu no longer needs and broken airplane parts), and so I’d thought my possessions were at an acceptable level.

I’d thought that I pretty much owned just the stuff that I used. Not so. A closer, more honest look at the contents of my basement shows me that in fact, I’ve held on to so much more than I’d realized.

A recent inventory of my ‘backup’ closet downstairs has revealed something to me. While I’ve written about it, spent hours upon hours examining my collection of clothing and culled a good portion of it, as of yet I’d only made the easiest decisions. A few days ago I set about to whittle my household down to only the things I use in my current life. And as deeply heartbreaking as it is, I have come to understand that I will never be wearing those tiny size 6 sundresses ever, ever again. No matter how successful any subsequent diet or health campaign may be, those days are gone.

I held up a tiny pink dress and flashed back on the last time I remembered wearing it. My former husband and I had been in Italy, in a small town on the banks of Lake Como. We had gone for a walk and stopped to watch the local boys playing a game of soccer. The village was steeply graded; I recall us hanging our elbows over the top of a chain link fence, looking a good distance down onto the field, the lake and mountains behind. I was either newly pregnant then, or just about to be pregnant (yes, Elihu was made in Italia). The dress is tiny, the fabric is thin. Yet I hadn’t worn a bra. Probably just a G string below. Good Lord. Yes. Things have definitely changed.

I suppose it was this dress which catapulted me into a storm of activity which I like to call “facing the monster”. Until now I hadn’t been able to summon the emotional fortitude to face all of this shit. Some of it, but not all of it. A few days ago, I dug out every last piece from my downstairs collection and layed them on the bed. Memory after memory, “someday” after “someday” came with every garment I rediscovered. After an hour of agonizing over what to do with it all, I realized that I myself had to do as I would advise any friend. I could make this grueling – or liberating. I could make this hard on myself, or I could just choose freedom over anguish. After all – I have lived a life of very few regrets. (Even the regrettable experiences can themselves be seen in hindsight to have opened up exciting new paths in my life.) Casting these items out of my house shouldn’t bring heartache; I’ve fully enjoyed them, they served their purpose in my life, and I don’t need them anymore. It was time to give it all away. Simple as that.

Kinda.

Me, I’m still a backward-looking gal at the heart of it all. Can’t say that I haven’t savored the hell out of my life, and I certainly chose every adventure that became available to me, and yet still, some tender sense of longing prevents this process of letting go from being as simple as it seems it should be. And so, I will document. Take pics. Archive. Because these items bring to the surface memories which have been dormant for a long time – and I’m grateful to have them. These are images and stories which I’d like to revisit through my remaining years.

I’m taking a trip to the Midwest soon, to visit my old home. To see old friends whom I dearly miss, and to drive through old familiar neighborhoods which will likely no longer be all that familiar. Going “home” may be exactly what I need to remind myself of the impermanence of everything.

Going forward I wish to learn what it is to know contentment. To know acceptance. It seems that’s precisely what this post-childrearing era is good for. The sexy stuff of youth is gone, the tumult of raising a family is done, and empty space ahead is all that remains. A fresh, new inventory feels due.

Picture this, I say to myself, with hope growing in my heart: a home free of things I no longer need or use. A house free of “what-ifs” and the lamenting sighs one utters upon finding an ancient relic of a former life. One or two pieces can remain, I suppose. There’s no need getting uptight about this. No need to get overly pedantic; the point here is simply to lighten my load. To get rid of those things that don’t serve me anymore. To move into my future with a refreshed sense of lightness. To get rid of my burden.

To get unstuffed.

Rhodes Trip

Rhodes Trip

After owning my gorgeous Fender Rhodes keyboard for 42 years, I finally sold it.

It was a symbolic goodbye to my past, to my youth. I had always created scenarios in my mind in which it would enjoy a new, reinvigorated life while still in my care, but aside from a one-off rental last year, no new situations emerged. My own basement was too damp for its safekeeping, and I had no more opportunities to play it with other musicians. I’d thought to add it to the Studio’s Airbnb package for an additional fee, but my wise son really didn’t think it would work. And, in thinking more critically about it, I realized he was right.

I posted the instrument online, and within days there were several offers. The one that appealed best was from a Cuban-born jazz pianist in New York City. Turned out we had some friends in common. He’s a great musician and would either play this instrument or harvest it for parts (the piano wasn’t in top condition). Either way it was a happy ending. Plus I’d get a little cash in my pocket. Lord knows there’s never enough of that stuff. So into the CRV it went, and I got on the road to meet the fellow in the Catskills, a halfway point for both of us.

I’d thought to identify myself by texting to look for the black CRV with the flower on it, but when I arrived I saw that it had blown off of the car. First such occurrence in a lifetime of similarly-adorned vehicles. Ha, I thought. I’ve been de-flowered. It was a little deflating, but things so far were going well. Let it go, I told myself. So, I met the fellow, we loaded the keyboard into his car, enjoyed a very nice conversation over a cup of coffee, and then parted ways.

As I was only minutes away from the iconic Big Pink, I took a detour before heading home. Although (please forgive me, I wish it weren’t so) I’ve never been a fan of Bob Dylan, and The Band is not a group I find compelling at all, I still understood the place for what it represented, and it was strangely exciting to lay eyes on the historic landmark. I got what it was about. And, after having wound my way through the narrow and twisting mountain roads, I was refreshed and invigorated after the visit. So far, a very good day.

When I got on the highway I popped in the pianist’s CD. He sounded amazing. Everything felt improved. My mood was light. My beloved Rhodes had the perfect new home, I could breathe a little easier for a minute with the influx of cash, and I’d visited Big Pink. Cruising now. Yeah, things were good.

Until they weren’t.

I saw red flashing lights in my rear view, and so moved to the right to allow him to pass. Crap. The lights were for me. I pulled over and tried to stay calm, but all I could think was that my insurance would go up and this was gonna take a couple hundred dollars out of my sale, too. Crap. And after such a happy ending. Man, this was so deflating.

(It was an interesting opportunity to examine the feelings that accompany being pulled over. The adrenaline, the fear. What for? You know it’ll all be ok in the end. But that moment is definitely not pleasant. The cop was kind, and he told me what would happen next. It was a mere blip on the path, this I knew. But no matter, when he walked back to his car and I beheld the paper in my hand, I began to cry. It was a self-sorry weeping; why in hell couldn’t things just go fucking right for me? I thought. And I’d recently just started a mindful campaign to choose the positive spin on things and not the negative one. So why this? There had to be a lesson here, some new insight. Something. But I sure couldn’t find it.)

I tried my best to let it go. I watched my speed on the remaining drive and ended up listening to different music. Listening to jazz after a long hiatus had me too pumped. Not a good choice for highway driving, apparently. The sun was setting as I arrived home, and my mood improved. But still. Why did this have to happen now? I wondered. Plus I’d lost my flower. Really?

A few days later I accepted an invite to visit a new friend’s historic home on the outskirts of a nearby town, and we had an enjoyable visit getting to know each other. On the way home, on another winding, upstate New York road, I slowed to 30 mph as I entered the village, when from my right, bounding out of the woods, came a deer. I remember seeing its big black eye, its tan flank, and I instantly panicked at what I knew was about to happen. While I braked hard and fast, there was really no changing the outcome. There was no blood, however there was a strong, solid impact, and I saw the poor creature rolling on the pavement, long thin legs up in the air, trying to right itself. I pulled over and went back to find the deer and saw it on the lawn, legs folded underneath. Man, this was horrible. She would probably die, but likely it would take a while. Shit. Shit. I hated this.

My car needs around $2,800 of work now. It’s a damn good thing I was only going thirty; if I’d hit a deer outside of town and had been going the speed limit, I’d likely have trashed my car and been in far worse straights. And I’m certainly glad for insurance, but there goes another $500 for the deductible. I’m really down on my new winnings now. Just as few hundred dollars left. Crap. Another challenge to my outlook on things.

Perhaps life is just one giant game of “good news, bad news”. How else to make sense of it all? I remind myself that overall, I still have it good. I’m not facing a medical battle, I’m fed and warm, my son is successful. For the most part I’ve lived a storybook life, so I can’t complain. But still, life on this planet sure can be a challenge.

Ah well. As long as we remain among the living, the road yet awaits. Onward….

I sold my Rhodes to Manuel Valera, and this was the track of his that I was listening to when I got pulled over. Suffice to say I found it quite inspiring. Perhaps you will too… The Planets/Jupiter

Mortal, Coiling

Mortal, Coiling

I am everything I never hoped to be, and less.

Truly, friends, I’m not searching for pity. Only witness. For I cannot be the only one who has begun to entertain thoughts about the descent we shall all experience, if, as they say, we are “lucky” enough. I’m not sure I concur about the lucky thing. Not yet. There may still be adventures ahead that will re-invigorate and inspire me onward, but as of this writing, they are slim. Not nonexistent, but definitely slim.

The osteoarthritis in my hands is noticeably worse than it was six months ago. My fingers hurt nearly all the time, they cannot close into a fist, and I drop things frequently. In the early part of this past year I lost about a third of my hair; after a traumatic emotional experience it began to come out in handfuls, and in spite of supplements and a good diet I’ve yet to see any of it return.

The inner fortitude and motivation I could summon in the past is evasive these days. No longer can I hit the gym daily, marking my progress in a guaranteed slimmer and stronger physique. No longer can I make moving into a daily habit, as piecemeal as is my life, as frail as is my current stamina.

One night or two a week I dig deep, and summon the balls-to-the-walls energy and fuck-this-word motivation to hit the pavement and run long and hard. But it’s often at midnight, when, after having jittered a leg over the side of the bed for a good hour in hopes of finally growing sleepy, I give up and instead don my nighttime run-in-the-road garb. Headlamp, headphones and reflective vest on, and I’m out. Usually for an hour or two. Chewing up the road in front of me, leaving miles of tricky grade behind. But I tell you, if it weren’t for those old school R&B hits, I’m not terribly sure any of this would be possible. And sometimes it takes a few shots of whiskey to light the spark. Yeah, I know. My kid doesn’t think it’s terribly safe either. But the alternative is lying there, all fucking night, thinking. Thinking about all the nasty shit that’s coming. Cuz it is. Yeah, you can protest. Be better than me. Fine. Yeah, think what you want. You do you, as they say.

My tone has changed, hasn’t it? I know it has. And because I’m not a fan of polluting this lovely Hillhouse journal with the stuff that’s rolling around in my head these days, I’ve purchased a new domain on which to share my thoughts. But somehow, I can’t find the resolve to deal with the details. To figure out how to re-engineer things. All the templates seem lame. Can’t even figure out which font to use. I just can’t care quite enough to get it going. Not yet. But I will. Somehow, in the end, I always get shit done.

In the interim, however, I’m gonna bitch. I’m gonna kvetch, I’m gonna let off some steam. Cuz it’s been building for a while.

The events of this aching world tire me. For the most part I just ignore them. It’s always been my feeling that the best way to help improve the world is just to be nice. Help folks out, do something that makes someone breathe easier. Create those rings that ripple out into the world and make things just a tiny bit better. Despair not; leave the rest of the world to fight over that bigger picture. Instead, take a walk in the woods with your kid. Play the piano for a few minutes. Arrange some flowers, feed the birds, bring the mail in for a neighbor. You know, stuff that gives energy to nature, to beauty, to service. Cuz really, what the hell else can we do? What else will benefit the world as immediately as any of these things?

In a month or so I’m getting out of town. Frankly, it’s what gets me out of bed in the mornings. But happy as I am to know that before long I’ll be visiting old friends and driving down the pot-holed streets of some big Midwestern cities, it’s more than disappointing that I can’t represent in the way I’ve always been accustomed; this time going ‘home’ I’ll be an aging lady with a few extra pounds and a bunch of new wrinkles.

Somehow I don’t think of myself as an almost-60 someone, until, that is, I see myself in an unexpected reflection (as opposed to the staged camera-above-the-face-suck-it-all-in pose). It almost always takes me aback, and yet this aging shit has barely started (if all goes “well”). It seems my former husband was correct; growing old is going to be a challenge for me. He always said it wouldn’t be hard for him, as he’d never known what it was go be good-looking to begin with, so he’d never know the loss of it. I was never flat-out hot, but I was attractive enough. And as my ex also said – I was pretty enough to entice men, but not so beautiful as to intimidate them. Suffice to say that with youth and a modicum of good looks come power. And that sort of power can only diminish with age. Again, protest if you like. But it’s true. If you don’t believe me – try applying for a job without any prior experience at 60. Let me know how it goes.

What’s the point of this? To let you know that your secret thoughts aren’t yours alone. There are probably many of you – especially those who are around my age – who concur. Those who may be thinking the same things but dare not express such ideas aloud for sounding self-sorry. Incorrect. Faithless. Me, I’m gonna go there. Cuz it’s kinda what I do, right? I tell you what I’m thinking.

Over the past year or so my mother has taken to muttering things under her breath about morphine and dying. She’ll tell you the lethal dose she’d need. She’ll make comments about hopefully not being around next year at this time and other such things. Clearly, doubled over with arthritis and without the physical stamina she possessed even a few months ago, she is tired and just about done with this world. And yet, when I once posited that I thought people should be able to choose their own exit, she yelled “You mean as in suicide?” with a look of horror on her face. And she’s not a religious woman. She’s politically liberal. She listens to NPR. You get it. So one might think she’d be fairly neutral on the topic of death. But truly, who is? I told her it was just semantics; death by choice was a far better way to phrase it than using the word suicide. She just screwed up her face in outrage and disbelief. But now look at the way she’s thinking. My mother is not too thrilled with her situation these days. Growing older is more often than not a decidedly un-fun thing to do.

My dear friend Ganga disagreed with me on this subject. She enjoyed a deeply spiritual experience here on this plane, and she felt every single moment was precious. Me, I argued that wishing for an exit when you felt your life’s work was satisfyingly concluded – and making it happen, too – that was a fine outcome, and it in no way conflicted with the sanctity of life. On this we never would agree, and yet we always loved and respected each other regardless of that difference.

When she weighed around seventy pounds and was too weak to even bring a fork to her mouth, I had spoken my truth as much as I felt was helpful and relevant. I sought to understand how she felt from the inside. For those on the outside, she appeared very close to death (in fact she died two days after I made my inquiry). I told her that we’d never been anything less than frank with each other, and that I wanted to know how she was feeling (this was my way of gently allowing her to tell me that she was aware that death was coming – and that she was perhaps even afraid of it). “How do you feel, physically?” I added, hoping she might take a closer, more honest inventory of her situation. I guess I’d wanted her to admit her frailty and accept my emotional support. But instead, she surprised me with her answer; “I feel robust in my body.” It was then that I realized how strongly a human clings to life. It was then that I realized that she was living her truth until her very last breath. I was shocked, and I was impressed. It was intriguing to say the least.

My son, mother and I have discussed this issue of ‘death by choice’ a few times, and both of them believe that the human instinct to survive is so innately a part of our DNA and cultural programming that very few people would ever choose to end their own life. I don’t know how my mother truly feels though. Her tone is so passive-aggressive that I simply can’t know how likely she would be to end her life if there were a legal and humane way in which to do so. I do know that my son knows my feelings. I wish to have the choice.

Friends, don’t worry. It’s not on the to-do list yet. Besides, it’s sadly not legal. However one day it might be, and the tools might be available. And if it were, I might take advantage of that freedom. Then again, I might not. I just can’t know until I’m there.

It aint over ’til the aging, overweight lady sings.