There was a time when it was all on me.
Making money, taking care of the kid, the students, the Studio, the chickens and ducks, the house, all of it. Now, at least for the moment, nothing at all is on me. I am bereft of the many responsibilities that had once left me spent at the end of every day, while, unbeknownst to me at the time, had all been at the very heart of my purpose here on this earth. Now, with all of that tidily wrapped up, my purpose is not something I know with any certainty these days.
It’s not a pleasant feeling.
Yes, there are still some hurdles ahead which only I myself can navigate, and there are situations which would likely fall apart if I didn’t step up and do my job, but at the end of the day these will merely be administrative tasks. They do little to address the deeper issue that lurks behind my every moment these days.
Why the hell am I here?
The kid is successfully launched, my brother is on site to help mom out, and I have no one to whom I am beholden. Is this not precisely what I had yearned for all those years ago when I lamented the unending domestic drudgery that was my life?
Goodness, Elizabeth. Your future has arrived. Why then is it such a melancholic occasion?
I’m moved to write tonight, but my conscience is nagging me to get in the car and attend an open mic across town. I know there will be a keyboard, I know that I can join in. But I also know that it will almost certainly disappoint. There is a resting level of mediocrity which afflicts this town and its music scene. Swarms of not-quite-average musicians fill the open mic signup sheets by 6:30, promising a three-hour cavalcade of out-of-tune guitars, waif-like girls with nasally, warbling voices and miserably indistinguishable three chord songs.
I realize that writing publicly and honestly about my feelings may well have bad consequences, but at this point I’m not sure that I care anymore. The stakes just aren’t that high these days.
Last spring, the candor in my writing, instead of being seen as simply that, was taken to be a breach of trust within the band that had employed me. As the new member of an established family, I had marked myself a loose cannon from the start. There was no going back. No apologies or retractions were going to fix it. It made me physically sick for months. And, it had been such a musically successful endeavor, the likes of which I could never have guessed would come my way – that it made the loss even more tragic.
When my new musical venture vanished, so too did my hope. My desire to stay fit, to be healthy. Even my will to get out of bed. I forced myself to attend a handful of open mics in a desperate search for something, anything, that might help fill the musical void, but instead, the experiences made things much worse. I discovered that I was alone. Completely alone. To realize one is living in a community without peers is heartbreaking.
In an effort to pull myself up and out of a serious funk, I tried my hand at busking this fall. It went well, and I began to really look forward to future sessions, until one night when I was packing up my keyboard, I suffered two herniated discs. A lightning bolt of pain had me instantly on the ground. Crap. I’d finally come upon a promising solution, and in one split second it was gone.
The two months that have followed have been another challenging detour. It’s hard not to take shit personally sometimes. Things were looking so good just less than a year ago. I had a gorgeously promising foothold into another world, a higher tier, and then – I lost it. After a period of mourning, I’d tried to get back up again. I’d tried to take matters into my own hands, to be proactive. And then….
I’m going to try to check my self-righteous and self-sorry attitude and try to behave with some humility this evening. My plan is to go out shortly, armed with a wide range of material to offer. Folks seldom ‘get’ me at these things, so I’ve taken to writing songs that I think might resonate better with the room. Who the fuck knows what will fly and what will tank? I’m planning on doing “Twisted” because it’ll be fun, and, since it’s a basic blues I figure I can’t go wrong…. But I can already feel that sensation of losing traction with the audience. Joni who? Whatever. (Ok, yeah, I do know it’s Annie Ross a la Wardell Gray.) I’ve got an REO Speedwagon tune in my back pocket if all else fails.
Consider this a real-time post. I have now been to the open mic and returned. Some insights. Not a whole lot, but some.
When I realized that the first three songs out of the gate were Dead tunes, my perspective changed. It was likely a room of people with whom I had little in common. What kind of material did I possibly know that would they resonate with? Would I simply be met with blank stares? I myself was merely tolerating their music. Quite likely they would merely be tolerating me too. Again, I scolded myself: these were my fellow humans, the whole purpose of the gathering here was to be supportive of each other. My own piano student herself was hosting, and of course I was happy for her enjoyment and success. But it was a challenge for me to remain in the room. And although I heard no compelling grooves, there were a few people eagerly pounding on djembes and swinging tambourines – so the music had an obvious appeal to some.
Come on, Elizabeth, forgive the dropped beats and the out of tune guitars. You’re far from perfect, don’t be so snarky. Be nice.
So yeah, after a $3 whiskey (!) I did get a little kinder. And I listened. In between tunes the piano guy played “Christmas Time Is Here” from the Peanuts book, and he actually knew the bridge. So there was that. A fellow Greenfielder sat in on drums, adjusting his snare hits to fit the errant beats accordingly. The vibe was congenial, and although I’d never been introduced to some folks, they’d already known who I was, and that was nice, I suppose. Maybe next time I’ll get there earlier and play. After all, I’ve got a week to choose my angle.
About three months ago, in absolute despair about the next chapter of my life, I consulted a local tarot reader. She worked at the head shop which Elihu and I had visited since he was tiny, and from which I bought my first oversized gemstone rings (to accommodate my ever-enlarging osteoarthritic fingers). This woman was said to have been the “best there”. And so she did my reading.
Among the cryptic things she’d said to me (I took notes) was this line: “Soon, in late November or early December there will be a great severing.” My God that sounded scary. Of course my first thought was my mom – who knew, right? She was 87, after all… A friend had even suggested maybe this meant my son. No, neither of these could possibly be!
And then today, at a piano lesson, this young girl from across the road, whose family had taken in half of our flock (the favorites) when I left for the road this past spring, they had made the decision to “off” the hens, as they were old and had ceased laying eggs. The girl mentioned this in passing, as it is a common thing for farm folks to do and to talk about – in general it’s nothing more than a recounting of the week’s events. But this time – this very afternoon – to me it was a punch in the gut. I was stopped.
For a few moments I tried to process this. It’s been several weeks now that I’d been wanting to go over to her place and visit with my dear Hammie (a black and white Hamburg hen). My heart wished for that comfort, as the past few months have been pretty awful for me. I’d thought that once I was walking ok without the use of a cane, I’d take a trip across the road to see her… It was a hope I held onto; it was a tiny light I had looked forward to. I just wanted to see Hammie once again, to see her beautiful, familiar patterns… I wished to hold her in my arms and bury my nose in her side, taking in that lovely, earthy scent.
But – she was gone now. Head cut off and left in the forest, she’d been food for the wild creatures. Ah well. At least I know she filled a belly or two, and her parts have sunken back into the woods of Greenfield. She still rests here. And she was, after all, just a chicken. A reunion wouldn’t have been the same thing for her as it would’ve been for me. But still. My heart breaks once again. Great severing, indeed.
Time for me to sever myself from this day, from the unexpected sadness, from the way in which I miss so terribly the tribe I’ve yet to meet. I’m not as despondent as I was a month ago, but I’m not in a great place either. I miss my son (he won’t be here for break). I miss the music I used to make and the places I used to go. I miss having friends, I miss the body I used to inhabit. I’m just waiting now. But for what, I don’t know. Holding my breath in hopes that things don’t get too much worse, or at the very least that things don’t change too quickly, so my heart will have time to adjust.
But I’m certainly grateful that I don’t live in a war zone. I do have my home. It’s warm and it’s safe, the interior is cozy and beautiful, and the roof doesn’t leak – and since the mouse nest has been evacuated from the piano, all is well for now.
I experienced one very good moment this past fall; it was a happy and welcomed respite from the current bleak musical landscape of my life: Here I am singing “I’m Confessin” with a non-local band at a trad jam session which is held monthly in Saratoga.
A happy accident. Now this is what I need more of in my life.