The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Critical Mass December 6, 2020

Not a day of my life passes in which I do not lament that fateful moment this past June in which everything changed. And yet, that one sad accident which has disappointed me so deeply has also prepared the way for some new life adventures, ones which never would have happened otherwise.

I wonder, over and over, what was that one point at which the wood chipper became unable to draw the large tree branch in? Exactly how small was that piece of wood which caused the machine to kick the limb back out and into my eye? Was it less than a gram’s worth of wood? Was it a mere millimeter in length? (And while we’re contemplating the tipping points of a process, I must note that a mere three millimeters to the right and my cornea would have taken the impact. So while I may lament my injury, another very small difference might’ve meant a complete loss of vision.) Takes but one drop to breach the surface tension on a cup of tea, one spark to start a forest fire.

Of course you’ll naturally be wondering what in hell was I doing using a wood chipper in the first place, and without eye protection. As I’d mentioned in the previous post, I’d hired a ragtag bunch of men to help me restore some order on my property – they weren’t really putting their backs into it, and I wanted to get stuff done. None of the crew had been wearing any eye protection, and besides, I’d thought the main concern was the impelling. In my life I’d watched plenty of crews loading chippers, and had never known anything to be expelled backwards. Since that time, if nothing else, I’ve learned a bit about prudence and precaution. And it is because of that event, and the trajectory of subsequent events in the past few months, I’ve come to learn the importance of taking emotional safety precautions as well.

As I was convalescing, lying flat on my back for over a week (per doctor’s instructions), I spent a good deal of time sleeping. It pained me to sacrifice up a week of stunningly perfect June weather, but when you lose a chunk of your sclera (the white portion of the eye) and your told it will not heal correctly if you do not stay on your back and keep it covered, you goddam better lay flat and keep it covered. It is as good now as it will ever be, but sadly, it’s far from ideal. It always feels as if I have something in it, and the new floaters make everything constantly blurry. Plus in the dark I now see white flashes of light every time I move my eyes. I’m getting more used to it, but it’s not pleasant, and it poses some issues when driving at night. (It’s a challenge even now to keep self pity at bay, but I suppose it’s a good lesson for me. We all know someone whose challenge is much greater.) And yet, as I lay sleeping and attending to the healing process, I had a dream… a very good one. That dream was the one piece, the extra fragment in the equation of my life which then instantly changed the trajectory of things…

I dreamed that I’d met a man I’d known back in high school; the two of us had had a crush on each other which lingered and had sustained itself through both of our now-ended marriages, and so it brought with it a small thrill. I had dreamed we’d met in a futuristic city. It felt so good to see him, just so good… This man and I had been texting for over seven years, attempting to meet in different parts of the world – even missing each other by mere hours in Paris a few years ago. Naturally, I texted him again, telling him of my dream. He texted back these words: “I have always thought we had a pending unkept engagement.” I read and re-read those words so many times. How intoxicating… Shortly thereafter he asked if he might visit. My situation wasn’t ideal what with my eye still in some discomfort, but my son was leaving soon to visit his father. There would be a window in which we could meet in private; it was too perfect to decline. I had several weeks yet to heal, and so we made plans to reunite, after over 40 years. It was a thrilling prospect. Handsome, uber-intelligent, from my home town even! Twelve years post-marriage and having had only a handful of failed dates since then, this seemed too perfect to be true.

Our week together was lovely. It was dreadfully humid and hot, but my friend had lived most of his adult life in the south and so it didn’t bother him, for which I was glad. He had brought gifts too; he was simply charming in every way. And so we enjoyed sharing stories, catching each other up on our lives, eating, drinking, and well, doing all of those other things that go with a romantic reunion. It was heady stuff in the very beginning. And at my age – closer to 60 than 50 – it was certainly a very rare and lucky thing to experience these wonderful feelings again. I myself had pretty much resigned myself to a sexless, relationship-less life without too much disappointment. I’d had a good run, after all. I’ve often said that I’ve had more than one woman’s share of romance and adventure. And I have. So for me, anything from here on out is just icing on the cake.

And I certainly did enjoy the icing… But it became trickier to do so, as his manner began to change quite drastically not long after our reunion… It started with a strange absence of communication. There had been nothing out of the ordinary in our texts, but all of a sudden, he was silent. I used a few ploys to get him engaged, and after several weeks I managed to get him to respond to me again. And he did explain. He’d given me legal advice, and I’d then gone to other attorney friends for their opinions. Apparently, this deeply insulted my friend. But wasn’t that the prudent thing to have done? One often seeks the counsel of more than one doctor… I found myself apologizing (as would become a pattern) and finally we were able to get back on track. And within days we both decided we needed to see each other as soon as possible.

On the next visit we reunited urgently; I was a bit surprised at how fast this was moving (I’d thought we’d be merely good friends with occasional benefits). He warmly addressed me with terms of endearment, happily letting me know that he had told both his mom and his brother about me, wondering if we might not carve out a workspace for him in my home for the times he would visit. I was a bit dazed, but began to wonder if it might not make sense… Why not? In hindsight I can see how I was being railroaded – whether that was his intention or not – and I was so unprepared for this escalation that I just sort of acquiesced, assuming that life was presenting me with a happy and unexpected new path. In that I’ve been so responsible for my and my son’s best interests for the past twelve years, I myself am surprised at how easily I began to change my thinking to accommodate this new man and his plans. It’s almost as if I was no longer in charge of my own life for that small moment in time.

But the third and most recent visit was strangely different. It seemed to start out quite well, it really did… But somehow, at some point, things changed on a dime. The warmth was gone. It took me a while to put the pieces together. Sadly, this man was truly a jealous type. A silent type. A loner, an academic who spent most of his life inside his head. A man who liked things clearly delineated and did not pick up on nuance. I began to feel as if I was walking on eggshells around him. I had no idea what he was thinking. Sometimes he would toss out a berating comment almost as an aside, and it would throw me for a loop. A whole day passed when he hardly said a word to me. And one night he turned his back on me in silence. I realized then that I was no longer behaving like myself around him. I was degrading into a woman who was desperate to figure out her man and how to keep him pleased. And I didn’t like this new me. But damn, it had started out so beautifully, so magically! To me, our first two meetings were just heavenly, and left me glowing for days, even weeks afterwards. This abrupt change in our relationship was bizarre to say the least.

But there is likely a deep pathology at play in this fellow. In fact, when my affections were fresh, and after the first time when all three of us were together, I eagerly asked my son – who had enjoyed a bit of conversation in French with my friend at the dinner table – just what did he think of this gentleman? Did he like the fellow? “Yes, he’s nice,” Elihu responded, and then added “But he’s off“. The kid is a good read of character, but as I was dearly wanting to think the very best, I gave less weight to my son’s assessment than I probably should have. I was ready to overlook the quirks, choosing instead to think of them as quaint qualities which contributed to his unique personality. He is cut of a different cloth than most, that’s for sure. I once thought of him as delightfully anachronistic. Now I feel he is merely peculiar. He is unable to connect emotionally. And now I can understand why his adult daughter has ceased communication with her father. I should’ve known it wasn’t for some passing family disagreement.

We had a final impasse just today, and after receiving an angry text from him, I returned one to him in which I told him that he wasn’t being kind. But nevertheless I also wished him peace, and then said goodbye. Best to end before it gets dangerous. A few days ago I sent him an email detailing as concisely as possible my concerns. I figured if I heard back at all, it might take many days. I had held the faintest hope he might apologize, or at least offer some insight into his changed attitude. Now, I have no expectation for a response. Closure, this time, is something I’ll have to find on my own. I don’t foresee any help from him in tidying up this ending. So I’ll probably never know what changed his behavior towards me, but that’s just gonna have to be enough. But no matter, I’m sure my old friend will continue to do good work in the world, for he is a man of laser focus who enjoys pursuing his goals and studies. Honestly, it seems that work and faith are about all he needs to sustain him. My heart is badly bruised at this writing, and I’ve cried my tears about this, but I do think the action I took was a good protective measure. At least I can minimize my injuries. I’ll try to keep the lovely memories and discard the rest. On we go…

There was a moment in the rockier part of my brief relationship with the old flame in which I became deeply frustrated. He had shut me out for days. His texts were terse. I could not understand how quickly his tone had changed – and as I wasn’t there with him in person, there was no way to glean any more insight. In deep frustration, and without taking a moment to second-guess myself, I fired off a text to another man with whom I’d also had a long-standing vibe and texting relationship. And there it was. The one moment, the one tiny action which then caused everything after to change…

This fellow was the polar opposite of my high school crush. Younger than me, he was a musician who’d once enjoyed a bit of success as a front man for an outrageously amazing band, an athlete too – he was a wild card of a man; I knew he’d accept if I made an offer. We would hang, and we would make some music. He’d sent me a song that he wanted to do – its message being a deep and urgent lament for a simple, uncomplicated kind of love… I remember a moment at the historic Victoria pool here in Saratoga – a perfect summer’s day on which I listened to the song, and immediately thereafter dove into the cool water for the first time that year, a fresh hope growing in my heart for something new… Music, friendship, candor. I would so enjoy the company of someone more like me, I’d thought, and these were things that my musician friend would bring to my world.

The minor rock god came to visit. He brought his dog, too. And while I’d actually experienced some trepidation about his coming here, it turned out to be one of the most fun and delightful times I can remember here at the Hillhouse. My son loved him, and of course we both loved the dog (my kid, my mom and even our neighbor engineer friend were all convinced he was the best dog on the planet). For a few days our house was full of reckless fun. Playing music, recording, talking, day drinking and late-night ice cream binging… It felt completely different from the vibe that had been present when my high school crush was here. Perhaps a bit more chaotic and frenetic than even I’m used to, but oh what a blessed departure from life-as-usual! What a joyful time we had. And for the first time in over a fucking decade, I made and recorded music with another soul. On the drive back to the airport we turned the music loud and sang along with it, the dog with his head out of the backseat window. When we parted, we both turned at the same time at either end of the long hallway, and we each raised a hand in goodbye at the same moment. I turned away with a huge smile. What a lovely surprise the whole experience had been. My life had again been changed, this time truly enriched. All from a single moment in time, just one tiny action.

Shortly after my injury, I decided that I had to take up some extra activities in order to distract myself from my new and diminished eyesight. I memorized the countries of the world, and then I set out on learning some French vocabulary. I learned some new songs, I revisited the slow movement of Bach’s Italian Concerto. And I also made the decision that when life presented me with opportunities, I would not say no. One day I joined a gym without a second thought, and have worked out nearly every day since. I’ve lost 30 pounds over the past four months, and if I do say so myself, this week my body is really starting to show some nice new definition. And again, all of this is still fueled by my eye injury. I’m using my loss to net myself some gains. If I didn’t, I’d tank, I swear.

As soon as my mood begins to descend (there is an unseen component of me that almost always battles constant panic and intermittent bouts of depression) I make a huge effort to get my ass to the gym, or to power walk the country roads. A few nights ago, confused by the strange, unsettling way in which my ‘new’ relationship had turned, I took to the road at midnight in a reflective vest, and in the rain hammered out three miles. Moving helps. I feel kinda like Rocky, slamming his fists in training; the killer grade on these country roads are my version of his running up those steps… At the first moment of weakness, fear or desolation, that first feeling that I just want to sleep, to forget, to drink, to medicate, to get some relief…. I flip the switch. I don’t give myself an option or an out. It’s time to move, to do, to be…

And so it is that I’m trying to make the best of the worst. To see the cues that life presents, and as a result, to take actions that will turn things in my favor. I see those nasty floaters in my eyes and truthfully, my heart sinks. My soul is despondent. So I look to the next thing I can do which will help me forget, change my focus and carry me forward. Forward to the next thing I can do to help myself, to help a friend, to help the world. I may be just one person – and believe me, I’m not always entirely convinced that my presence here is at all necessary – but I do recognize that it takes only one small event – and perhaps even just one person – to affect the future.

A tiny change of mass can make a critical difference.

 

May Past June 4, 2015

We’re just a few days into June, but still, May seems eons ago now… Lilacs have browned and withered, the trees are all completely leafed out, and our thoughts turn now to graduations and picnics… I wanted to remember the recent events before too much time went by. A day or two in our modern culture can seem like a month, and I worry that the most recent weeks will be lost if I don’t document them now. As of this writing, I’m aware that this is all old news, but please indulge me as I share with you the events of late May here in Greenfield.

Much is changing in our lives these days; we’re soon to lose Martha – as well as the last remaining open fields in our small hamlet (several new “For Sale” signs indicate more new construction may be here very soon), my son is on his way to seventh grade, the wildflowers alongside our road have succumbed to their annual cutting from the town’s over-zealous campaign to keep the landscape looking as tidy as a true suburb, and at last the discomfort in my knee is no longer something I might simply be imagining – it’s been diagnosed and the verdict returned: I too, am getting older. Arthritis has made itself at home in my very own body. Nothing is as it was.

Every few years in one’s life there comes a time of sameness – where you fall into a little groove in your life; you see the same people, you do much the same thing, you eat the same things, watch the same shows, sing the same songs. And – you even look pretty much the same as you always have. For a year, maybe a couple of years, maybe even a decade – life gets into a comfy little routine, and while there are times when you might find it confining and a bit too predictable, still, it feels nice. After all, your life is familiar. You know where you are in relationship to everyone else. And things are just fine the way they are. You might even wish things could remain so until the end of your time here on this planet. Only thing is, it can’t stay that way forever. Nothing in this particular universe can remain static for long. And so…. one moment you look up and find that the landscape has changed. Friends have died, places have changed, and your body no longer looks or feels like the body you thought you lived in. There comes a critical mass of evidence from various sources, in and around you… and then in a flash, you get it.

There may still be many wonderful adventures ahead in your life, but that doesn’t soften the sting. Things have changed. The landscape of your life is all of a sudden very different. And so you pause for a moment, cuz it’s heavy stuff. The path you thought you knew well has taken a turn, and you weren’t prepared for it. So yeah, you can’t help but grieve. But still, at some point, you’ll have to move on. Even more change than this is yet to come, whether you like it or not. So you gotta get up, take a breath in, and relax into the new life ahead…

IMG_1361Hard to believe that 12″ of elevation made all the difference between life and death. The grapes on the bottom tier suffered from a couple hours at 32 degrees, while the vines only a foot higher up were spared. Sadly, Michael’s lost four years of growth overnight with this late-May frost.

IMG_1366The leaves and tiny baby grapes just crunched to dust in my hand – and less than twelve hours after the freeze! Devastating news to Mike, who’s worked tirelessly for years just to finally glean a modest crop or two of fruit.

IMG_1363See the tiers of wire? Vines on the top level did not freeze – those only inches below did. Amazing.

IMG_0836A happier sight: Friend Jo (who grew up the next property over through the woods – only we never knew each other!) rides her Mustang Sierra to the Studio to check out our new ‘trails’ out back. She rode to our place a couple miles through various trails through the woods to the north, where she has her stable.

IMG_0838I’ll have to savor this view; soon the property across the road will be sold and likely developed. Something I never, ever in a million years thought would happen.

IMG_0856The trails were kinda rough. We may need to let the debris settle and ‘cook’ for a year. Then we can pack down the softer material and begin to flatten it. For now, it just offers a nice pathway through the trees.

IMG_0859This will be a nice parking lot when the time comes. In the extra space beyond, we’ll have a grassy area with picnic tables and concrete pads for sculpture exhibits. (The trails extend out into the woods from the far end of the open area – upper right corner of pic.)

IMG_0590Twelfth grader Dan came over to show Elihu a couple of chords on the mandolin. He made the instrument the focus of his senior study – and went from knowing next to nothing about the instrument to becoming quite an expert mandolinist!

IMG_0588This was just what Elihu needed – now he’s off and running.

IMG_0526Elihu draws his signature cartoon character “Stanley” on the board in his medieval cloak, as he awaits his classes performance of monologues.

IMG_0390Mr. Esty encourages the children to add more physicality to their pieces by doing so himself…

IMG_0560A beautiful job by all. But I did have a favorite.

As I had to take over for Elihu in the pit orchestra (tambourine w/Mr. Esty on violin), I missed the very beginning of his monologue, and the end was a bit short too. My kid, if I may say so, was the most animated of the bunch.

IMG_0565Grandma was partial to “Giles” as well..

IMG_0443Back at home, relaxing with those he loves most.

IMG_0459Nothing so restores the soul as a quiet moment with a gentle hen.

IMG_0499My version of chick rock.

IMG_0070Oops! Every now and then it happens.

IMG_0072The penny kinda gives some perspective. This egg was really more like a pigeon egg.

IMG_1164Elihu uses a shield made in 5th grade during their Greco-Roman studies block. He is deflecting the awesome power of a four-week old chick. !!

IMG_1176He will not relent! (The chick looks confused.)

IMG_1181What??
IMG_1182Oh well. Defeat!

IMG_1148My young Icarus.

IMG_1194We’ve decided to empty the garage of all our past costumes. The mice have wrecked so much, it seems futile to keep holding on to them, regardless of the hours and hours of work they represent.

IMG_1324Here’s the Ben 10 character Wild Vine, attacking helpless Elihu.

IMG_1311With the kid inside it looked even cooler.

IMG_1310Time now to give some of em up to the fire gods. Elihu often says I have something of a Jim Carrey-esque vibe to my facial expressions.  Guess I see what he means.

IMG_0006Here it begins…

Dust to dust… (Extra points awarded to those who can spot the Caddyshack reference.!!)

IMG_0014…it starts kinda slow…

IMG_0020…then roars into a short-lived inferno.

IMG_0034No biggee for the kids, who ran back to the trampoline almost as soon as the flames started.

IMG_0054After the initial burst of paint-fueled flames, we topped it off with some wood and then roasted marshmallows over the fire.

IMG_0057Goodbye, dear neighbors! Always love to have you stop by for a visit.

IMG_0137The sixth graders before leaving for a two-day excursion which will conclude their Medieval studies block. It rained the whole time, but they had a wonderful experience even so. It’ll be a trip they’ll never forget.

IMG_0165This is my new post these days; long hours spent at the farm keeping Martha company. Lately she’s become quite angry and belligerent with mom and me. I don’t take it personally – it’s got to be frightening to lose control over one’s life. Hopsice requires having someone in the home round the clock, and Martha’s still not thrilled with having people in her home all the time. Can’t say I blame her. We’re all doing the best we can.

IMG_0176On a happier note (pun slightly intended), dear friend Ken stopped by for a quick visit. He gave me a little demonstration of his Viennese Harmonium – from the back of his rental van.

How much fun is this?

IMG_0189Ken and his daughter took us Conants out for a lovely dinner. That’s my hermit-like brother Andrew on the left. A rare sighting!

IMG_0064Spring is marked each year by bedside bouquets of lily of the valley, and a few chapters of our treasured Bird Book for Children. We finished the book on the last eve of May. Til next year, Mr. Burgess.

IMG_0065When all is past, there lies pure comfort and peace.

 

In Justice July 16, 2013

There’s a strange dichotomy in our country these days between lightening-fast social change and the continuation of archaic and primitive beliefs. Honestly, every last human being on this planet needs the very same things. Not everyone is content to stop at what they simply need, certainly, and much more importantly not everyone will concede that all their neighbors also deserve the very same things; this is part of the troublesome place in which we find ourselves these days. But the flood gates for parity among humans really do seem to be opening; the recent victories for gay marriage gift us hope and seem to indicate a critical mass has been reached. Now, if we could only see the same forward movement when it came to these insidious, deep and invisible biases when it comes to race and color of skin.

While I don’t believe that justice was served in the outcome of the recent Trayvon Martin case, I also don’t believe – deep down in my very core – that throwing his murderer in jail, while perhaps the best by-the-books outcome, would serve to advance the cause which is at the very root of this problem. Also, I find myself rather surprised, when reading all the Facebook comments about the injustice that’s occurred, that the commentors are expressing themselves in a tone of hatred that seems equally as inhumane as the sentiment of the race-based bias they’re objecting to. I understand the frustration these people are expressing – and I share that frustration – but then to blindly swing the other way and demand figurative blood from the other side – that gets us nowhere. A strange feeling comes over me as I take it all in – there’s a creepy, subversive taste to the sentiments folks are expressing. I’m reminded of the book we were required to read as middle schoolers… In The Lottery, a small, all-American town attributes its comfortable way of life to the annual sacrifice of one of the town children. Each year there is a lottery – very much like that in The Hunger Games – in which a child is chosen, and then ultimately stoned to death by his or her own townsfolk. I can’t be the only person feeling like this. Feeling that in our fevered desire for equanimity we’re losing sight of the forest for the trees. Are we not perpetrating the very thing we are espousing to go against? Are we not all feeding into a mass-mindset of eye-for-an-eye? Are we not resorting to primitive resolutions – needless sacrifices – in order to achieve our goals?

I’m convinced that simply incarcerating people guilty of certain crimes does nothing to prevent the said criminals – or others – from continuing to repeat the same or similar crimes. I do now understand, after having become friends with some folks who’ve actually worked inside state prisons, that there are some criminals who are beyond remorse, beyond rehabilitation – criminals whose actions are the result of any combination of nature and nurture – and they truly should be separated out from the population. And while I believe that this George Zimmerman fellow who shot Trayvon (and must deep inside his heart believe that he was justified) would do well to be ‘taught a lesson’, I think the larger issue is not necessarily to punish or incarcerate this man, but rather to begin work on transforming him and those who think as he does. If we can step back for a moment and turn down the heat of our emotions, why is it that we would want to see such a person behind bars? To ‘show’ him? To make a statement? Or to help bring about his remorse? To simply see justice served? Or, maybe, to help re-define for our culture what is acceptable and what’s not? That is my hoped-for objective at the end of the day. I ask those who angrily demand justice: will his incarceration actually do much to advance the cause of equal rights? I understand Trayvon’s grieving family might crave this man’s imprisonment, but what, as a society, do we really gain from it?

I realize too that it’s far too easy for me to make such sweeping assumptions about justice and the futility of our system, but it’s precisely because I’m not emotionally wound up in it that I can dare to give voice to my feelings. I can already feel the grumbling response to this post growing. Yes, some will say I have a naive take on things, that nothing’s as simple as all that. Yeah, I get that. But I also get that our system does little to improve situations. Our comfort with locking people up – and not addressing the reasons or cultural climate that gave birth to the crime in the first place – that is the shit that bothers me greatly. We all love the drama of a good crime story – but one upon another they’re quickly forgotten. We don’t learn anything of substance about why the perpetrator did what he/she did, what socio-economic or mental health issues may have been involved… nothing of substance ever seems to come to light, and if it’s mentioned, it’s certainly not investigated with any rigor. So we lock em up. That’ll show em who’s right. Yeah, ok. But what then? Have we fixed anything? All we’ve done is to take a moral stand. We’ve talked the talk, but beyond that, there’s not a lot of walking goin on.

As I pulled up to the local convenience store today, I saw a small sticker on the wall. On it was the shape of our country, and the text in the middle read “I miss America” (strangely, it was printed in yellow and black.) Given the mostly conservative and somewhat redneck climate of my immediate neighborhood, I got the message. And it occurred to me that those who would put up such a slogan might be feeling as if Mr. Zimmerman was exercising his inalienable right to self-defense in that brutal act. Where I live, there’s just no room for any conversation on such matters. Truths are black and white (or black and yellow) and no one in my neck of the woods is changing their minds any time soon. This breaks my heart. I can only hope that little by little the inevitable changes moving through the cultures of our entire world will soon wash over these people too. And I hope too that somehow, one day – maybe still a century off, but I so hope not – our very legal system will also change to reflect a larger vision of human truth. Because the main issue here is the establishment of balance between every single citizen of this globe. While we bicker amongst ourselves about rules and laws and meting out punishments commensurate with their crimes, we might just be missing the larger point. I realize we have to start somewhere, but I hope we pick up speed as we move towards our common goal. I pray one day everyone sharing this planet might have the peace of mind and heart to know they are truly living in a world of love, respect and justice for all.

 

Mid Century Mama May 5, 2013

Folks that know me – or knew me in the life that preceded this current one – will know me to be a most enthusiastic fan of all things mid century. I cherish the Eames chair in my living room (although I admit it’s a vinyl knockoff – but it’s still gorgeous), and I lament the loss of that stunning, five level ranch home in South Evanston that some may remember from those once-famous Christmas parties. I still have a few mid century things in my life, in fact I’ve created a rather pleasant look in my home here by mixing early American with modern pieces. What I have satisfies my desire for beauty – it still ‘scratches the itch’, as my ex and I used to say. But day after tomorrow, mid century will come to mean something entirely different in my world. Finally, after much ambivalent anticipation I myself will be ‘mid century’. !

Honestly, that’s not a big deal. The bulk of my friends are already past that landmark. I’ve done enough rumination on it to be able to move on. Or have I? Ok. So maybe it is a big deal. There are still a couple of things on my mind at the doorstep of this birthday: I’m alive, many of my dear friends are not. My parents are alive, many of my friend’s parents are not. I’m healthy, many of my friends are not. I have my beloved son with me every day. Many parents do not have their children with them. So – there’s the half-full glass take on it. And that’s my overall, bottom-line assessment of this landmark. However, in the spirit of complete honesty, I feel the need to vent just a teeny bit (I am secure in the knowledge that I am putting a voice to the feelings of many in this forthcoming mini-rant…)

Here goes: Not happy with the funky neck skin (which literally seemed to appear over goddam night just a few months ago), nor the crazy new chin hairs (some white!), nor the now full-time creases around my eyes, nor the deeper lines from my nose to my mouth (when acting in high school  plays I’d pencil in these lines to appear older – the way I look now!), nor the way the arthritis in my hands is causing the joints to become grotesquely oversized, nor the strange way in which the skin on my thighs and butt is more crinkly than seems fitting for my age, nor the way I just can’t lose those last ten pounds, nor the way I now need readers or glasses – no longer can I blow off the glasses when heading out… While not a one of these things came on all at once, and certainly no one thing just up and happened in my fiftieth year specifically, I can say that I didn’t really notice any of this age-related activity in my forty-eighth year. I can honestly say that a whole bunch of stuff really came to the fore just this past year. All of a sudden I had a head of silver when just a year ago it was hardly noticeable. My neck? Just fine and dandy – til recently. I’m sure all these changes happened incrementally, but they seemed to hit a critical mass of sorts this past year. When in my mid forties I still felt I looked pretty good – I didn’t really see what all this crap about aging was about. Didn’t need readers, hell, didn’t really need my glasses so much either. Yeah, physically speaking, my forties were fine (except for a little divorce-related weight gain). But all of a sudden I really feel that I look my age. The jig is up, the charade is over, the cards are on the table. So I’d better quit my bitchin and proceed with a little class and composure. I don’t need to go on and on about the disappointments of growing old when Nora Ephron, bless her soul, so eloquently expressed all of her aging-related predicaments in “I Feel Bad About My Neck”. If you’re a peer of mine or older, read it. She brings such humor and humanity to the experience.

I remember a moment once, when a new awareness washed over me – clarity and perspective came to me in a flash. I can remember being in my bedroom in my beloved Evanston home, looking through the branches of our backyard tree towards the afternoon sun… I was contemplating what it meant to be turning 42… I considered that if I had a life expectancy of 84, that I was now halfway there. That I was, more accurately, on the downslope of my life: I had passed all those years of youth, and before me was nothing but the process of aging… In that moment I realized that I’d had a general sense of hope and expectancy that had been present with me all my life and had been driving me forward… to that next moment of satisfaction, then the next one, and then the next… yet where was the destination? What was that ultimate, one experience that I still ‘hoped’ for? Cold fear grabbed my chest – had I been on a fruitless, vain search for something I’d never find? Or had I already found it – and didn’t know that I’d found it? I’d enjoyed my life – all of it, as best I could, I’d always been aware of my good fortune, and yet, there was always a tiny nudging from inside to move toward something not yet achieved… As endless as the process had always seemed, a certain end was, in fact, coming. To me.

In that moment, I understood – in a way that even evades me now – that I was going to die. Not sure how else to explain it. But I got it for a second. I also got that nothing was to be taken for granted, I got that I was somehow not exempt; that I too, if all went well, would one day be an old woman. That’s mighty hard to truly get when your skin is smooth, your joints flexible, your eyesight perfect… but I got it. For a few moments I think I not only came to know that I was going to be old one day, but in some way I made peace with it. But then life overtook me, vanity returned, the sense of being somehow immune to fate – all of that settled back in and had me forgetting again; living as if things would always be thus. But these days, now that the physical evidence is mounting, I am beginning to learn a little humility. And man, I’m not very good at it. Yet. My aim is to age with humor and dignity. I need to do this well, if for no other reason than as an example for my son. I’ve got to find a way to sink into this new body without that nagging sense of sorrow and loss. I know I enjoyed my youth – I surely did. So I have no regrets – and that should free me up to really embrace this new chapter. It’s liberating not to care so much about the trappings of vanity. I like that my priorities have changed. I’m looking forward to learning things now in a way I never had the time or interest to before. So while I might continue to bitch and moan about stuff, truly I’m coming from the half-full place. Just might not always behave like it. As I’ve said before, it’s a balancing act.

My paternal grandma and my maternal great aunt both lived to be a hundred. So, if I’m to live as long as Bessie or Helen, then I’m right smack in the middle. And I’m ok with that. After all, I’m a mid century mama.

 

Big Year December 31, 2012

I’m feeling the need to write some sort of summation, some sort of re-cap of this past year. There’s just so much to remember… too much. Lots of people we know and love have died. That’s the first thing I think of. The world didn’t end. That’s the second thing I think of. And it just continues to go on and on…. that’s what I think next. So what do we take away from 2012? I’m not exactly sure. But I do think something new is underway…

I do think we’ve turned a corner, that energetically we as a species have changed our trajectory, but I admit, it doesn’t necessarily look that way from today, New Year’s Eve, 2012. There’s been plenty of violence, pain and ignorance this past year to make it seem as if it’s business as usual on this silly planet. Yet still, I believe – call me naive if you like, I’ll accept that – that we as humans are no longer on the downswing. There is now a critical mass of people on this earth who share a witness to the corruption and inequity all around us. There has never before been a time in history when so many are so educated and informed about the world in which they live. And although the number of folks in communication with each other thru social media and other devices may still represent a minority of the planet’s population, I believe the global trend is moving towards mass connection on an order we can’t quite envision even today. I dunno. Could be incredibly optimistic here. Maybe. But maybe not. May as well keep hopes up, keep expectations high.

For me personally, this year meant the end to my four year divorce process. I also got my first real job in a decade. I quit smoking in earnest too. No more bummed smokes here and there to take the edge off of life. Took the death of a friend to get me there, but I made it. So this year has been good. Heartbreaking, poignant, but solidly good and forward-moving. I’m surprised, however, that I don’t find myself in the high spirits I thought I might be today – could simply be that my son is gone and my house has taken on a quiet, solitary mood. Could be that my day to day reality still seems like a challenge; the magic of the coming New Year doesn’t necessarily mean it will be any easier to resist a smoke, workout daily or miss things and people absent from my life.

I’ve said it before and I say it again now, this is a tough planet on which to live. In order to try and help us all along here, I’m going to do my very best to right the wrongs I’ve committed, to take the hopeful path when doubt arises, and if all else fails, watch a Monty Python skit if I just can’t wrest myself out of a hopeless funk. !

It’s been a big year, yet the future’s much bigger still. I wish for us all the very best and brightest adventures ahead…

 

Storm of the Eye June 12, 2021

Today my son is a high school graduate, and I am free.

One year ago today I injured my eye, and I have found myself a prisoner of that event ever since. Today, standing in the bright morning sunshine of a fine spring day (floaters still clouding my vision and an ever-present feeling of a foreign object still being in my eye), I find myself wavering between elation and terror at the future ahead. What will describe this new chapter? My opportunity or my injury?

I cannot convey the depth and breadth of our experiences over the past year, for they have been many and mighty. And today, as I sit in a house filled to the brim with the mess of one final week of tumult and year’s end chaos, I panic slightly at the idea that nothing will right itself on its own. All of it rests on me. I realize that my son and I have just concluded, and very successfully so, this era in our lives, so I should take heart. I just need to do this one final time. In the future there will be no such messes, no such disorder. All I have to do is muster the fortitude to do this once more. Somehow, however, this doesn’t seem to make it any easier. This time I don’t know where or how to begin. And so I nibble on the leftovers from last night’s graduation dinner, I pick at the frosting from the cake, I take a sip of the last dregs of a can of Mike’s hard lemonade I found in the door of the fridge. I feed the chickens, refill the suet, make the coffee. I begin a new post. I look over my Facebook feed. I stall.

Inside, the house is a riot of unwashed dishes, half-cut onions, piles of unopened mail, schoolwork and artwork and piles of musical charts to be filed, dirty clothes in heaps in nearly every room, and pair upon pair of muddy shoes, too (how do two people amass such a mess?). Clean laundry that languished too long before I could dry it (and now smells slightly funky) confuses the system in my mudroom and will force me to start the whole shebang all over again. The lawn is knee-high and rife with land mines of fallen branches and rocks that must first be found and marked before the grass can be cut. (And this is five open acres, no small task) The coop looks like a right proper hillbilly homestead with traps set, both humane and lethal, retired kiddie pools, garden tools, a few pumps and pond paraphernalia, a wheel barrow full of plastic junk and two metal grain bins, knocked on their side by the white whale of raccoons (who evades me still), their contents now fermenting and turning rank in the wake of recent rains. All a girl can say is oy.

This day is further loaded, as I think on it. Funny how June 12th used to mean different things in different chapters in my life. In my married years, it was my parents-in-laws’ wedding anniversary. Many years later it became known as the birthday of my former husband’s out of wedlock child, the day that changed everything for Elihu and me. The day that launched us on our voyage here at the Hillhouse. For years I was conflicted about the day: should I curse it or thank it? I certainly cannot curse any child, for his birth is not his own choice. But you can understand that it was a shocking time for me, all those years ago, and were it not for the miraculous way in which our lives turned out, I might still be nursing my wounds over it. I can’t say that June 12th doesn’t bring a bit of reflection. I have never before felt such acute emotional pain as I did on this day, thirteen years ago.

And now, the date has yet another meaning. Another change of plans that I must somehow accept. An injury that I must see as a catalyst to a yet unseen future that awaits, one that otherwise would not have been possible. Thinking back over the past year, I realize that I sought out new experiences as a means of distraction from my discomfort, and I can clearly see what the injury has offered thus far: my first forays into relationships with men since my divorce, a new awareness of physical health and fitness, a bad outcome with a relationship which offered an opportunity for me to step into a better sense of self-worth (the caveat here is that this is, sadly, still a work in progress), and lastly, a host of music performance videos and the small victories that I achieved as I learned how to organize and present myself in a new format. Overall, it’s been a good year. Every time I started to sink into self-pity, I used a new goal to pull myself up and out. Yeah, for the most part it’s worked. Mostly.

As friends and regular readers will know, I tend to indulge in excessive amounts food and alcohol to take the edge off when the shit just feels relentless. But somehow I managed to pull up and out of the habit last summer. I began to see an opening, a time when life would be mine again, and so I wanted to prepare myself, to lean in… I wanted to forget this troublesome eye injury and set my sights on the future… While I did get leaner and became increasingly dedicated to my physical improvement (and really came to look forward to my workouts), I suffered a bad muscle injury, and within weeks of a diminished routine, I fell off the fitness wagon entirely. This in turn had me newly depressed and brought along with it a resurgence of daily episodes with panic attacks. I kept up with the challenges as they arrived, but it was a struggle.

Added to the frenetic pace of Elihu’s final year and all that went on with me personally, stress began to mount… I lost a good portion of my hair inside of a few weeks in late winter (whether due to stress or changing hormones, it’s an alarming experience to say the least), the arthritis in my hands became significantly more advanced in a short amount of time (my doc said it was one of the worst cases of OA he’d ever seen in the hands of someone my age), and I saw a dear friend through a year of health problems which ended in her death two weeks ago. It’s definitely been a trying chapter. So naturally I fell back on the self-soothing mechanisms that I always have. The pendulum began to swing back, and I just let it. Knowing that I was creating a situation that would have consequences down the road, I continued on anyway, savoring the hell out of those carbs which I’d fastidiously ignored since last summer. Watching as one glass of wine with dinner easily turned into a whole bottle. I jumped into the pool, right into the deep end. And so here I am today, treading water, wondering how I’m gonna make it out again. I know I will, but the side of the pool still looks to be a long way off.

Things ebb and flow, and today I’ll just have to take it easy on myself. This day has become a strange landmark in my life, and I should pause to take stock: what does June 12th mean this time around? Might I look at it perhaps as a day of hope? Today is the first day I’m not the full-time mother of a high school student. The first day in which I have nowhere to be, no one to answer to (let’s forget for the moment about the some two thousand emails and two full voicemail accounts which must be gone through on Monday). Today I’m not waiting for the other shoe to drop, it already has. It’s what happens after that which intrigues me, and keeps me from giving up and crying into my hands. How can I give up? My son is about to launch himself into the world – a prospect which is nearly as thrilling for me as it is for him. I have my book to look forward to (yes, friends, I am going to set about the task of editing and formatting content from this blog for a publish-on-demand book) and there is the business of getting healthy and fit again. Lots to do, lots to do.

Once I can get this house in order again, I’ll begin to figure out what this new game’s gonna look like. If I can just hold on to that feeling of hope again, if I can just remember that out of chaos comes order, that a catalyst is necessary for growth, that growth, change and evolution are what this whole silly planet is about…

If I can just get myself there again, it’ll be a perfect storm of possibility, and I’ll be right in the eye of it.

 

Breaking Ground January 31, 2015

For the next month there’s going to be a lot going on around here. The loggers have started to work, and as the money comes in from the harvest, it’s going to go out just as fast, as we rebuild and repair the aging Studio building. This alone is great news, and that we also get a ‘free’ parking lot out of the deal is beyond my wildest dreams. Truly, it feels like a gift from the gods. I am beyond grateful for our situation and am these last few days in an almost continually upbeat mood – something uncharacteristic of me, prone as I am to frightening bouts of anxiety and moments of profound depression (yes, I’ve wondered sometimes if I’m not bipolar – but think it’s more likely an old-fashioned case of artist’s temperament coupled with that stressful lack of money thing). I’m almost waiting for the other shoe to drop right now – I can’t remember feeling so happy for this long at a stretch.

(I realize this ‘depression talk’ may surprise some readers, but know that I write about a mere fraction of the life that I experience. There simply isn’t time to convey all the inner crap that I wrestle with… Suffice to say my ongoing issues with panic likely indicate larger issues beneath, but in the end, the reason’s not so important as is just going forward as best I can. Your friendship and company on this adventure help a great deal.)

Yeah, I’m fairly brimming with hope these last few days, and I can’t stop the visions for the place from crowding my thoughts… I have to keep reminding myself just to keep to the tasks directly ahead. One of my young piano students gave me wise words I replay in my head daily: Start simple. Right you are, Brett. Thanks for that. It’s so easy to put the cart in front of the horse, to count my chicks before they’re hatched, to scheme too big in the beginning… But at least things are moving now. My plans can become more than just that… finally I can act on them. It’s been an excruciating wait for this influx of cash – we’ve been talking with the forester for two friggin years about this job! That they’re finally here – that they’ve been careful to keep my favorite trees, that they’re all super-polite, super-nice, that they’re also pretty damn cute (!) and that they have no problem with me being a hovering client – all this is more icing on the cake than I could ever have imagined. Really, how can a gal feel so good? I have to keep telling myself it’s ok to feel good. My inner Woody Allen imagines all sorts of horrific glitches, accidents or illnesses befalling me at this critical time, and I have to speak to it sternly. Goddam it, I am going to enjoy this moment!

At the end of the day (more specifically, at the end of yesterday when I finally saw the wide open expanse of my new parking lot) I am brimming with excitement. Every cell of my body is invigorated and ready. The last time I felt this thrilled for the future was when Elihu joined the Waldorf School. That was the beginning of his new life, and this is the beginning of mine. Yes, this is a very special, ground-breaking time.

IMG_0120Logging begins on the property. In order to make room for the massive equipment, the guys need to make a large opening in the woods. They call it a landing. I call it a free parking lot. !

IMG_0035The sun came out as they began to make the roadway in. (They moved a stone wall, inserted a huge culvert and covered it in crushed stone.)

IMG_0054A right proper, two-lane road in. Hooray!

IMG_0084They’re working their way in to the woods. Notice how things look now; in a couple of hours – at the end of this post – it’ll be a whole different landscape. I need to leave and do a few errands now; I’m sorry to miss some of the action.

IMG_0020We have other concerns back at home, including a sneezing Thumbs Up who has been living inside and receiving antibiotics for the past few days.

IMG_0105Elihu tried to squeeze her into his backpack. Sorry, no chickens allowed in school!

IMG_0113After six years of talking about insulating the attic, we’re finally able to! With single digit temps it comes just in time!

IMG_0133The only access to the attic is above the pantry.

IMG_0137Here’s the fellow stoking the machine…

IMG_0138… and here’s the fellow blowing the fuzzy stuff in. Not as messy as you might think. Sure hope it helps keep us warm.

IMG_0348I passed one of Saratoga’s many galleries after dropping Elihu off at school and saw this outside on the sidewalk display. Instead of this image of Chicago making me homesick, it made me happy. Love that city always, but it’s becoming clearer that my future lies here for now.

IMG_0298Back to the job site. Mid-day it started to snow, but it didn’t slow em down a bit. This machine is called a buncher. That big wheel is a rotating chain saw. You should see this thing in action (and you can, in a video below) – first it snaps the tree like a twig, then it picks it up and sets is aside in a pile to be cut and stacked later.

IMG_0261See?IMG_0314In just a couple of hours they’ve cleared a huge space. You can see the Studio now!

IMG_0186The back hoe’s job is done for now, as all the stumps have been cleared.

IMG_0197Here’s the buncher in action. Seriously, it carries trees like they were tiny plants. Crazy.

IMG_0246By lunch there’s a road and completed parking lot. I love trees, and yes, it can be hard to watch them being cut down, but this sight is glorious to me. Like a cathedral in the woods.

IMG_0287$$$

IMG_0242The beautiful, snowy road in front of neighbor Tom’s place. Sadly, one of our five resident deer was hit and killed (instantly, thankfully) here recently. Happy ending to the story however…

IMG_0239Tom, industrious man that he is, he dressed the deer and put some gorgeous-looking meat in his freezer! How kind of him to give me some too! I love rare meat, and this venison couldn’t be a more beautiful color. (My spirit would like to be a vegetarian, but my body is so not there. !)

IMG_0365Back inside I have a small project of my own to attend to. Remember when I lost my favorite earrings this past fall? After much searching, I found a new pair of go-to favorites which clamped safely shut on my ears. Not safely enough I guess. In a last-ditch effort to save it from the drain after losing it in the shower, I am trying my luck to retrieve it with a shop vac and some plastic tubing.

IMG_0363We have really hard water, can ya tell? I could clean the iron stains away and they would return in a week’s time. Our teapot routinely coughs up thick chunks of orange mineral deposits. Oh well. We like to think it’s good for our health. One hopes. Oh, and the earring? Sitting next to the other lost earring somewhere in the bottom of the septic tank. Oh well. I tried. And I learned how my drain works, too. So not a total loss. Restored my DIY spirit if nothing else.

IMG_0352Home from school now, Elihu takes his first peek at the site.

IMG_0357Watch your fingers. !!

IMG_0098Inspired by today’s physics class and learning about Thales of Miletus (the first guy to discover static eletricity), Elihu gives me a little demonstration.

IMG_0367I know what we’re having for supper!

IMG_0370A little German influence in tonight’s menu: Braised venison with rosemary mushroom sauce – I even made my own spaetzle and mixed berry sauce on the side.

IMG_0359Life is so busy these days that it makes us appreciate the peace and quiet of our home all the more.

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Some videos of the main event…

See how effortlessly the buncher snips this cluster of trees – as if it were a bunch of flowers.

Not the best camera work, sorry, but here you’ll see a giant white pine fall.

You’ll be able to see the whole site in this clip.

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More to come over the next month as the loggers work their way deep into the ‘back forty’…