The Birth of Death

The Birth of Death

Although I find the expression “passed away” a weak and distasteful euphemism for the term “died”, I admit that I myself have used it many times, when deep down I’d much rather have not. Hard to say whether I acquiesced for the comfort of my audience, or because on some level I’m a coward and lack the integrity to put my money where my mouth is.

This needs to stop.

I am so weary of the ways in which this current, first-world culture regards death. I am weary of the way in which we neglect the subject. I am weary of the trepidation with which most of us approach death. It drives me nuts. No, I take that back. It doesn’t just drive me nuts. You know what? It makes me angry. Seriously.

Here is the point at which I must express myself through a mild rant….

Do we not all understand how cemeteries pollute the air and waste people’s time with all that goddam lawn-mowing and weed-whacking? Do we not understand how embalming is horrible for the environment, and how it will not keep your loved one ‘as is’ unto eternity? And why do we just assume once a loved one is dead, that their body must be immediately whisked away from the premises, as if it was now a loathsome thing to be avoided?

You’d be surprised how many things around the experience of death are either taken for granted or are never even questioned in the first place.

Funny how you plan the shit out of everything in your life, yet when a family member dies, you’re all of a sudden thrust into the middle of an administrative vortex, making decisions with no prior information – and no bargaining power whatsoever. Death deserves as much planning as anything else. After all – this could well be one of the biggest ticket items of your life.

Depends on whether or not you’ve made some plans.

Once, while I was sick and confined to my bed for a few days, I set out on a little research project. I’d long had a list of unanswered questions which I could never justify carving out the time necessary to address. This was at the top of the list: Is it legal to be buried on your own property? There simply wasn’t enough online information at the time, so I found a couple of funeral directors and got them on the phone. I called different states, too. And I took notes. The consensus was “yes”.

When my boy was about eight years old, we’d had a conversation about death and where the bodies of dead people go. He’d accompanied me many times to the town cemetery on the hill, following along as I meandered through the headstones, matching up family members and imagining aloud the details of life back then. He’d understood that these were people just like the two of us, whose homes had been right here in Greenfield. He’d understood the concept of once-living people now lying in repose under the sod. And, as we’d seen a whole lot of dead animals at various levels of decomposition on the side of the road or even in our chicken run, none of this death talk was inherently unfamiliar to my son. In fact, I think it was precisely because he’d grown up like this – with a mom like me, and on a farm where creatures often die without warning – that he came to have his own feelings about death and what to do with a body once it was no longer living.

My young son told me that he himself wanted to be laid out in the woods. He told me that he should be put into a slight depression in the ground, and covered with leaf litter. I admired his thinking. We never wished to waste anything here; scraps always went to the chickens, paper and such went to the burn bin, and the resulting ashes were subsequently shoveled onto the garden or into the woods. (We called this method “going back to God”.) I told him how much I loved the idea, but that strangely, it was likely illegal. He protested adamantly, driven to the point of tears. He insisted it was the right way to put your body back into nature. He told me that it was the only way he wanted his body to end up. I calmed him by saying that I would do everything I could to make sure it would happen.

A dear friend of mine saw to his own burial in advance of his death. A craftsman and a farmer, he built his own casket and even dug the hole with his backhoe, right there on his property, not far from his house. In his mid-thirties he had been diagnosed with Leukemia, and after a couple of years it was clear that he wasn’t going to live much longer. While he still had enough physical strength left, he set about to make his final arrangements. My life at that time was in Chicago, and he was then living with his wife and three children in the hills of upstate New York, so sadly I wasn’t able to be there. I heard he hosted quite a party. And afterwards, he began his decline in earnest. Then he died, was put into the casket he had made for himself, and was buried in the grave he’d dug. His friends backfilled the hole. Can you imagine anything more perfect? Me, I cannot.

I hold this man’s ending as an impeccable model of closure.

It seems simply crazy to me that we in the first world are so forthright about every last goddam detail of our lives, broadcasting our dramas on public platforms and rushing to share our every insight and opinion, and yet when it comes to the only experience which we all have in common – aside from being born – we are virtually silent as a collective. Sure, there are groups – there are always groups – who come together to discuss death and its related concerns – but as a society on the whole we are not very comfortable with the subject.

I’ve hosted a handful of Death Cafes. Just the idea that there is an international group founded simply for the purpose of providing places for people to convene and talk about death is proof enough that the need for such a forum exists. And yet still, even among the most progressive populations, this is just not a well-discussed topic.

In future, I mean to change this if I can.

Many years ago, after my first job playing music for essentially forgotten and dying people in the most low-budget of nursing homes, it occurred to me that many of these people were the last of their clan, and they faced dying alone. I began a little inquiry, asking the workers when people usually died – what time of the day or night – and how they went. Was someone there with them? (There is such a thing as “active dying” and health care professionals can usually tell when a person is entering that phase.) Almost every one of these residents died alone, many in the wee hours of the night. Few were ever accompanied by another human. I asked if there was such a job as sitting with someone when they died.

They told me that there was not.

Well, as it turned out, there actually was such an occupation. And while I had experienced a short moment of elation in thinking that I’d just invented the new vocation of “death doula”, I soon learned that there were folks who’d already navigated this terrain. Turned out a “death doula” was actually a thing. But there was a punchline: it wasn’t a thing for just anyone. It was a service available only to a privileged population. There was no money to pay someone to sit with a dying person in a poorhouse of elder care.

This is such a heartbreaking reality, and it’s long had me wondering what I might possibly do to help improve the situation. As I see it, the best contribution I can make at present is to share my thoughts on death and the dying.

I do believe that one day things will be different. That one day our culture will place more value on frank and open end-of-life discussions. But personally, I think it’s going to take many decades. And it’s going to take folks like me who are ready to help start the conversation.

So friends, please consider this post to be the birth of a discussion on death.

The Rights of Spring

The Rights of Spring

When people say to me “Happy Easter”, I feel a bit conflicted. The “Happy Passovers” don’t bother me, nor do the “Happy Ramadans” I hear from my Muslim relatives. But I can understand why it bothers me; I was born into a Christian family, one which conveyed mixed signals about the religion, let alone the origin or meaning of the holiday. We were a secular family who went to church together maybe five times, tops, during my childhood. The subject of religion was never spoken of in my family; we were one of those educated, white, liberal households who hung their cultural hats on the Episcopal Church, but who seldom actually went there.

In that my parents were music lovers, and in that classical music – more specifically Baroque music – was their thing, a lot of religious texts went along with the territory. And that always confused me greatly. They would sing along with choirs, lifting eyebrows and swaying with great emotion, yet the words they sang were completely counter to anything they espoused to believe in real life.

My mother is fairly foul-mouthed person who would often loudly chastise religious folks for being “goddam Christers”. There was a strong implication in my household that anyone who believed in Jesus – or who was loud about their beliefs – was tacky and ignorant. This message, however subliminal it might’ve been, was delivered to me loud and clear. So when I was 12, I decided that I needed to learn for myself what this religion thing was all about, and I asked my mother to please drive me to St. Augustine’s for service every week.

Sunday school and the occasional youth group events went along with the experience. And, after noticing peers serving as acolytes, I asked if I might not be one too. So began my five-year stint as an alter “boy”, attending the 8 a.m. services with the ancient and unintelligible Fr. Lightburn and sometimes, with nerves present, the high services for Christmas Eve or Easter with Father Mazza himself.

I loved the ritual, the mystery, and the notion that I was performing actions that had been done by so many before, for hundreds of years, in the very same manner. I felt the essence of reverence in the pouring of the water over the priest’s hands before he prepared the sacrament for communion. I loved the very name of the container into which the water spilled – the lavabo bowl – its Latin-derived name just reeked of antiquity. The service – in particular the smaller, less well-attended one – pulled me in. I loved the silence (no music accompanied these early services), the robes we wore, I loved the lighting of candles (there was a slightly stressful moment when you held the long taper up to the candle and waited for the wick to take the flame), I loved the way we two acolytes stood during the service, motionless, flanking the alter. I loved the language too – I relished the recitation of the Nicene creed. (For me it was never the same after the church later modernized the text.) All of this motivated me to try and better understand the meanings behind the pageantry. It seemed disingenuous to be part of a service, the reasons for which weren’t entirely clear to me.

For several years in my adolescence, I struggled with the concept “God is everywhere”. How could this be? And how disturbing was this? I knew He was supposed to love me, but really? Did he also watch me as I undressed? Was he in the shower with me too? This I never liked.

One day in youth group we’d baked little heart-shaped dough pieces onto which we’d painted the words “God Loves Me”, and I remember a moment in the green, wet grass outside in the church’s courtyard when I got it. I had been holding this small thing in my hand and thinking very hard. If God was everywhere, then God had to be… energy! What else was everywhere? Energy was present – latent or active – in every single thing in the universe! Finally, I had figured it out. I was giddy. I was ready to accept this religion thing now. The Jesus-coming-back-to-life thing would still need some work, but at least I now had some sort of reliable footing onto which I could build.

And so I passed the next decade thinking that yeah, there was merit to the basic tenets of Christianity. But of course, the more one learns about the world, other cultures and other religions, and about how power works in general, the more one grows understandably skeptical about the whole concept of organized religion. By my mid-twenties I was pretty sure that the truths that Jesus et al were trying to share with the world had been corrupted by the filter through which the information was given; the messages were coming to us through a lens of privileged men (I’d say “white” men, but there are more races implicit in the re-telling than just the white guys). We were not getting the unadulterated truth. The message – as well as the terms and conditions which the religion laid out for its believers – had become mainly a vehicle for power and suppression. And it was not always easy to know where the truth ended and the falsehood began.

My mother-in-law was the first person to introduce me to more metaphysical ways of organizing the world. She was a bit wacky – and she never really liked me much – but she taught me a lot, and I can credit her for expanding my ways of thinking. A lot of the stuff she turned me on to was, especially at the time, very “woo-woo” and would’ve had most mainstream folks rolling their eyes and passing judgement. But it was material worth considering. After all, we humans have an innate need to quantify and qualify our existence, and every little bit of information helps us along the path. Even if we choose to be atheists or agnostics – that in and of itself is a choice. Like the old Rush song goes, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice”. Me, I’ve always chosen to keep my thinking open.

When my husband left me, it threw me into an existential tailspin. I spent hours upon hours reading all manner of material related to spiritual thought. I meditated, I visualized, I learned about ancient texts and beliefs in energy. At the time, I was desperate to learn why my husband had treated me so badly, how he could possibly have justified his behavior, and how it was that he simply didn’t care anymore. The concept of past lives was the only thing that supported my new reality. This idea held the possibility for a definite cause-and-effect phenomenon which helped to explain things. And for a very long time I was fully invested in that belief.

Now, I just don’t know.

A few months back, I started speaking aloud Nichirin’s Buddhist chant “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” every day. I’m no closer to allying myself with the Buddhism thing than I was before I started chanting, (and I do think many Buddhist folks I know are just as fanatical about their beliefs as are super-devout members of any religion) but I do feel very much in agreement with the way in which all sects of Buddhism champion a continued effort towards a higher level of peace and acceptance. Plus, I am growing more comfortable with the concept of impermanence. And I’m not chanting for religious reasons per se, but for the mental focus it brings to me. The way in which it offers clarity and specificity to my goals. For me it’s a vehicle for good and productive living rather than an expression of any belief system.

And it has me thinking again.

Are we part of an individually, soul-based continuum – or a more general, energy-related, molecularly described continuum? Either way, we are unquestionably made of stardust. We are, on a purely physical level, made of the cosmos, and to that physical cosmos we shall return.

I’m sure that Jesus lived, and I know he was a great teacher of love, and although I’m not convinced, I think he even might’ve come back for a minute. I’ve had plenty of my own metaphysical and unexplained experiences, so I can’t dismiss this high-profile event out of hand. And while I’m questioning such things, I might also ask: Did lamb’s blood painted on doorways really prevent the deaths of newborn babes? Did the angel Jibreel really visit Mohammed and impart to him the teachings of the Koran? Did Siddhartha really banish the evil Mara?

What seems to matter more than the verity of any of these historic claims is that they provide us with belief systems, something we humans crave. We want to know that waking up this morning was necessary. We need to feel important, validated and purposeful. And all of these teachings, at their heart, are about the very same things.

Spring is a time of renewal. And it doesn’t much matter what we call it, or how exactly we got here. A renewal by any other name is still just that. All of it is correct. All of it is right.

Happy Spring to us all.

Making Music

Making Music

It’s come to pass now. I’ve just been to New York City for a rehearsal. It was my first time playing with other musicians in almost two decades. And it was fun.

But it was also work. I had learned my parts, yet I’d still missed a few details. The music director and the leader were kind about it though and helped coach me as best they could. But in the end, there were a few nuances I couldn’t get in the moment, and which I promised to make good on by the time we met in Chicago for our first show.

I know I talked too much. I’m accustomed to being the funny one, the one in charge, the most colorful character in the room – but it wasn’t so in this situation (nor was it really appropriate for me to add my unnecessary commentaries). For as many times as I scolded myself during the rehearsal to please stop talking, I failed at that effort. It had been so long since I’d been in the company of professionals that I felt downright provincial, and it threw me off. I felt like the chicken farmer from upstate who couldn’t stop chittering about how exciting it was to be in a big city and playing with a real band. Sheesh.

But all in all, it went well. And it’s going to feel like heaven when we’re all assembled on stage and playing (we have some guests for the upcoming date in Chicago who are joining us – it promises to be a night of gorgeous sounds). How perfect is it that our first show will be in my hometown? It seems like something from a dream. And yet it’s real. Very real. When it’s all said and done, I will have driven a few thousand miles and moved a whole lotta gear. I will have spent hours upon hours learning and practicing. Man, it’s just such a lot of work. But strangely, that seldom enters my mind. It’s just what one does in order to play music. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a joy. And not everyone can do it, so I’d be foolish to waste such a gift.

It does make one wonder, though, why in hell would anyone go to all this trouble and invest all this time and money only to end up barely breaking even? Any sane person would question the whole thing. But musicians, we don’t tend to focus on the effort or expense. If we did, I can promise you there would be no live music! So why do we do it? For me, honestly, it feels like I’ve never had a choice. And look, I know, no one made me do this. But I’ve always felt that playing music was so naturally a part of my life that there were no other options. I did go to college and I tried to do things the “right” way, but it simply wasn’t my path. Learning, rehearsing, loading in and loading out, it’s been part of my life ever since I was sixteen and my mom drove me and my suitcase Rhodes to rehearsal in our powder blue ’65 Valiant.

This new situation is more than just about the opportunity to play music, it’s about the opportunity to work with people who are very good at what they do. Over the past fourteen years I’ve been so musically lonely. When I lived in Chicago there were so many excellent and talented musicians with whom to work that I never experienced a shortage of projects, and I was always challenged. But here in my country life I haven’t had any musical relationships at all. Of course I’ve been busy raising a child, but still….

So this is why I bought a new keyboard, spent hours learning material and just drove four hundred miles for a rehearsal.

So I could get back to making music.

Imposter’s Roster

Imposter’s Roster

All in all, things are going so well these days that I’m starting to become suspicious. I’ve had such a challenging run over the past fourteen years, I can hardly believe the recent and rapid cascade of events.

Firstly, I have been welcomed into a new band under the leadership of one very intelligent and creative individual, a man whose work has been known to me for many years.

There was a time when I’d held him in such high esteem that he seemed altogether in another league. And I still assert this to be true; the guy is super-prolific and uber-talented. But, if I will remember my own sentiments from a recent writing, he is still just a man. I get this. I’ve spoken to him on the phone and very much enjoy his energy from those conversations alone. And after having watched a few interviews and having begun to read one of his novels, I’m feeling much more familiar. I can feel the love and sincerity present in him, and frankly, I’m beside myself with happy anticipation at our first meeting in just two days’ time. I so seldom meet individuals whose energy comes close to mine, and this time I think I will definitely have met my match. I cannot wait.

At this writing it is Thursday, and my very first rehearsal with the new band is on Saturday in Brooklyn. I’m hoping to capture my experience as it unfolds, because this, the “time before”, will be an interesting thing for me to look back at some day. It feels a bit bold to be revealing this part of the experience; is it not cart-before-the-horse? Is it too much like a flat-out diary entry? Perhaps. Nonetheless, I shall continue to document the process.

I keep telling myself to be realistic; things could still change. I might not be a fit. I might not be good enough. Oh, but man. I know I am. I just know it. But wait. Do I?

There is a constant feeling living in me these days which I must combat. And having learned recently that it’s an identifiable “thing”, I feel a bit better. Perhaps I’d heard the term at some point in my life, but previously it had meant nothing to me. “Yeah,” my friend had said as I described the unpleasantness I was experiencing, “You’ve got ‘imposter’ syndrome.” “Yes! That’s it!” I’d shouted when she named it. What a relief! She told me that as a working architect she too often wondered if she hadn’t been fooling people all along. “I think to myself: Why am I here?” she said, “There’s got to be a mistake, do they understand it’s me?“. Exactly. That was how I was feeling too. Somehow, I musta fooled someone. Right?

Likely not.

It’s just that is has been nineteen years since I’ve played in a band with other musicians. That’s a very long time to be on hiatus, and it makes me wonder if it’ll be just that easy to get on the horse again. And I can’t say that I don’t write that with a bit of inner animosity; curse those musicians who had supportive spouses to share the load of a household. Curse all of those people whose lives didn’t change with the advent of children, whose music didn’t come to an abrupt halt. I admit it, it makes me jealous. But keeping in mind the wondrous result of my almost two-decade hiatus – a successful, creative and thriving child – I can temper these thoughts and instead focus my energy on the adventure that awaits.

As some readers may know, I recently had a piece of writing published in a very public way. It happened so very quickly, and with no foreknowledge whatsoever. I’d been upset at the headlines surrounding the death of drummer Taylor Hawkins and immediately set out to express what I was feeling. When I finished, it was 1 a.m., and as an afterthought – I have never once submitted a single piece of my writing to anyone before – I decided to send it to a couple of newspapers. I perused their requirements, amended the piece accordingly, then sent it off to the Boston Globe, New York Times, San Fransisco Chronicle, and lastly, from my hometown, the Chicago Tribune. I had a tiny voice inside my head saying that the Tribune would pick it up. Ages ago I had written a grant proposal and mailed it off, never thinking of it again. Turned out I was the winner. The grant had been from the Chicago Cultural Center. So, I had a feeling.

I slept very little the night after I’d written the piece, and by the time I arose and checked my inbox just a few hours later, there it was. A rejection from the NYT, but a letter of interest from the Trib. I was excited, but I was conflicted by the subject matter. Seemed strange that I should revel in a success made possible by a man’s death. I smiled to myself all morning, but then would scold myself for doing so. Just how was I supposed to feel? Within two days the paper’s syndicates had in turn published the piece for their weekend papers, and shortly after that my inbox was filled with emotional letters from people all over the world. This time, however, there was no imposter thing going on. These folks all just wanted a witness to help them process their grief. I set aside several hours to respond to all of them. It was the necessary and right thing to do. For once, I knew that this was my job, and I was good at it.

I’ve got some exciting but rather intimidating challenges ahead in my immediate future. I suppose just meeting the fellows in the band and spending an afternoon rehearsing in earnest will be the first thing on the list. Then comes the show in Chicago. And then comes a photo shoot. And finally, on my 59th birthday, I’ve agreed to perform some absolutely on-the-fly, improvised and through-composed songs as part of a storyteller’s program. When the host asked me, I didn’t allow myself to say no. Many have been the moments I’ve wanted to call her back and tell her to find someone else, but I can’t. These days my life is about saying “yes”. Even when I am fairly certain there must be some mistake, I need to behave as if everything is just fine.

I’ve got to trust that people know what it is that I am capable of, even if I myself am still not quite sure.


Visit my future bandmate Wesley Stace (formerly known as John Wesley Harding) here.

Death of a Drummer (Original Post)

Death of a Drummer (Original Post)

After giving birth to my son almost nineteen years ago, I pretty much checked out of pop culture. Being essentially a single mom from day one, I didn’t have the time or energy for anything else. So yesterday, when I heard of drummer Taylor Hawkins’ death, I wasn’t hit hard the way so many of my friends and fellow musicians were. What had bothered me were the headlines that told us “10 different substances” had been found in his body. The implication was tawdry and disrespectful; it was sensationalistic language that didn’t demand a backstory. It basically left readers with the takeaway that this was just another sad and perhaps unremarkable casualty of rock ‘n’ roll. Who needed to read further? Not having any previous sentiment for the man, I was surprised at how offended I was by these cheap headlines. There had to be more to the story.

Indeed, there was.

I read the Rolling Stones interview with Taylor from June of last year. Despite his expletive-rich conversation, he revealed himself to be soft and vulnerable on the inside. I recognized in Taylor an aspect of myself. I saw this tender fallibility in many of my friends, too. This man was simply trying to do his job, just trying to get through. Imagine a musician playing huge arenas who must fight his fear to even be on that stage! There’s no place to hide. All he can do is power through it. Or medicate through it. A human does what he or she must, simply in order to get through.

It’s so easy to be star-struck. I’ve met a number of famous people in my day, some who inspired me to offer up some inane fan-banter, and some who later became known to me in human and intimate ways. At first, you feel their energy, their focus, and perhaps you sense that they are existing in something of another world. And there is no doubt that their hard work and rare talent should be respected, and it is often true that their thinking takes them elsewhere. But at the same time, one must always remember that people of elevated visibility are not gods or goddesses. They are humans. And they are also just doing their best to get through.

My father was a harpsichordist of some note. His esteemed career took him to many stages in many countries. As a child, I would see him as two different men; the fellow who shuffled around the house in his slippers and bathrobe, doting on his beloved cats, and that other man – the one who wore a white bow tie, tux and tails, who warmly received us backstage, the gentleman who greeted fellow musicians in French or German. When I visited people in the early music circles, they would often ask if Robert was my father. It was a point of pride for me, but it also gave me instant credibility, and just a hint of my own star power by proximity. What I did not know about my father til just a few years ago – was that he struggled with stage fright. He may even have dealt with panic attacks. From what I know through my experiences, and what I’ve pieced together from anecdotes told about him many years later, I’ve come to suspect that I may have inherited my genetic predisposition for depression and panic from him. My famous yet fearful father.

For many years I was married to a well-known musician. Although I did enjoy most of the experiences that came with the territory, I’ll admit that I had very little tolerance for the super-intense fans. They seemed somehow clueless to the fact that this man also shuffled around the house in his robe and doted on his cats. (There is one thing to be said for people who achieve a certain level of fame: they become quite adept at graciously interacting with fans. I’m not sure I could successfully cultivate this important skill. My ex was, and still is, expert in this area.) These people didn’t seem to get that he was just a guy. I know that it’s what being a star is about – cultivating an other-worldly aura – but still, that fan behavior never sat well with me. It seemed such an unrealistic burden to cast upon someone. Whenever I meet someone of high esteem, I try to relate to them as honestly as I can. My goal is to bear witness to their humanity, not their star power.

It’s the humanity of this fellow Taylor that endears him to me. It’s the fact that he was not an irresponsible or reckless person, but rather a man dealing with recovery, with fame, with stress. Such a potent mix of things – a situation that few of us can understand. That this man dealt with insecurities and fear – even when he was at such a high level of fame and accomplishment – is a testament to the emotional frailty that is present in all of us. Human beings are all just doing the best they can, just to get through.

None of us is the person we would have the world believe we are.

Let’s try to realize that there is so much more to every story than we will ever see. We must trust that no one is having an easy time of it; this is a hard planet.

Be an attentive and forgiving audience; everyone is putting on the best show they possibly can.

A Greeting

A Greeting

This is an unconventional post for me; I should like to briefly introduce myself – and in some way, qualify myself to a completely new and unforeseen audience.

My name is Elizabeth Conant. I’m a 58-year-old woman, originally from Chicago, who has recently concluded a 15-year run as a single mom in rural upstate New York. Although I’ve worked mainly as a piano teacher and accompanist in this past chapter, in my previous city life I was a working musician.

This blog began in earnest some ten years ago when I desperately needed a conduit to the word in the wake of a traumatic divorce (I know, what divorce isn’t traumatic?) and cross-country move.

I’ve dealt with depression and panic attacks since adolescence. Thankfully, these issues are currently much less acute than they’ve been in past years. That may well be because I now stand at the threshold of a curiously inviting time of freedom and possibility.

In some respects this collection of writings might be construed as an online diary, but I hope that readers may find contained within the 650+ posts some substantive content which pleases or inspires them.

Welcome to The Hillhouse and thank you so kindly for stopping by.


For a peek into our life here at The Hillhouse, please visit our Instagram page.

Link to the Chicago Tribune piece on the death of drummer Taylor Hawkins

Numbers Game

Numbers Game

When people say “Age is just a number”, I usually don’t respond. Because I do not agree. And in a mere few seconds I cannot possibly convey the degree to which I do not.

Age is represented by a number, and that number tells a whole hell of a lot about you, no matter how you spin it. You can have the most youthful, energetic presence in the world, but still – seventy-five is not thirty-five. Period.

I don’t mean to sound snarky. But then again, maybe I do. Sometimes snark is what it takes to get folks’ attention. And if you’re willing to go there for a moment, I invite you to see things from my perspective….

Crazy 45 was of the opinion that, like a battery, a person is born with a fixed amount of energy which is depleted over the course of a lifetime. For as much as we laughed about his ridiculous theory, the basic phenomenon which he was trying to express is real. We are physical machines living in a physical world, and physical shit degrades. You simply cannot do the same things at the age of eighty that you could at the age of forty. Everyone has a shelf life.

Numbers are the benchmarks by which we mark change – good or bad. We need to know where we stand in order to know what needs improvement.

Back in the day – say in my mid to late twenties, when my body was in its finest natural form – I began working out because I wanted to finally present to the world as the badass I’d always secretly felt myself to be (in my school years I’d always carried a few extra pounds and I wanted to change that). I hefted my own equipment numerous times a week and never accepted help from anyone, it was a point of pride. I would routinely lift very heavy amps and keyboards in and out of the trunk of my car with a good degree of ease.

At the time, I’d thought that working out in a gym was helping me to maintain that strength (as well as helping to define my arms for sleeveless stage wear), however the truth is that it probably didn’t matter all that much. I was young; I was already fit and strong. I coulda carried that stuff around all day with the same amount of effort whether I worked out or not. And regarding the weight, although I might’ve lost a few pounds thanks to aerobic activity, for the most part in my twenties I stayed within the same five-pound range. And if you were to have told me what my new acceptable baseline weight would be several decades hence – I woulda thought you were crazy. I am now what I would’ve termed then as huge. But numbers change. New normals emerge….

Skip ahead a few decades, and I have actual proof on paper of the benefits of exercise. These days it seems my exercise is in some ways making up for the natural vitality of youth. I can see an advantage which I did not in my twenties. Numbers, apparently, do matter. And it seems the older one gets, the more they matter.

I’ve had an emotional rollercoaster of a ride over the past year – figuring out what would define me after mom duties ceased, wondering how on earth I was going to make a living post-child support while also dealing with depression and panic attacks – and so my health-related numbers have been all over the place. My blood pressure has historically always been good, so when it spiked this past year, my doc was concerned. What was to blame? Had anything changed? Yes. I was incredibly stressed. I’d begun to drink a lot, and I’d ceased working out almost entirely on account of an injury. She pointed out how different all of my numbers had been when I was working out – and how they’d all gone up since. It was shocking.

And so I began a restored campaign to take back my health. After a few months of greatly reduced alcohol intake, an almost vegetarian diet and routine exercise, my numbers – chiefly blood pressure and cholesterol – were back within the normal range. My arms didn’t look like the ones I’d enjoyed in my youth, no matter how many pounds I could curl (in my current natural state I cannot lift the weight I could two decades ago, proving that age really does affect our latent physiology), but the numbers now definitively proved that exercise was indeed making a difference.

The older I get, the more important these markers become, because my biological reality reminds me that my life is on the physical downslope now, and I mean to optimize my experience for the remaining trajectory. Please, don’t protest. It will likely be an enjoyable time, and there may be wonderful adventures still ahead, but I am on the other side of the hill. Quite likely you are, too.

Youth is something of a guarantee that things will be on track for optimum health (if one doesn’t struggle with eating disorders, substance issues, disease or depression – those situations change the game entirely). If you’re in your twenties or thirties, you’re most likely in a nice, stable zone. Trust me. If you’re there now, don’t fret too much about improving yourself. Nature is on your side for the moment. But add on a few years, and you’ll have to re-define what being “normal” means. It might mean ten or twenty extra pounds. It might mean higher blood pressure or increased cholesterol. It might even mean that getting through winter seems to take more out of you than it used to. And eventually, if you want to keep those numbers healthy, you’ll have to take some action.

We all like to think that our looks aren’t the most important part of the life equation. That it’s our quality of life that comes first. But it’s a vain world in which we live; our looks are inherent to our quality of life. Our mental health – our very outlook on life from the moment we rise out of bed in the morning – is very much defined by how we feel – and look. It’s been said that Queen Elizabeth I had all of the mirrors in her chambers removed as she began to look older. Wisely, she did not wish to waste her precious energy in fretting about the heartbreak of the inevitable.

In my recent trip back home to Chicago I visited a few nightclubs and heard some bands play. I wondered, as I looked out at a sea of aging musicians and concertgoers, just how were these folks all feeling about their aging process? I saw men who dyed their hair just like I do, and this time I give them a pass. Cuz there is no doubt: gray hair signals to the world your true age; it implies a certain feebleness and infirmity. (Sure, there are a few lucky souls whose looks are even improved by silver tresses, but they are in the minority.) And we live in an ageist culture here in the US. You get old, and the younger population can’t help but see you as somewhat irrelevant (if they even see you, that is). Argue against this if you like, but I believe it to be true.

Having been gone for almost twenty years and returning without benefit of having seen these folks in the interim, I noticed the changes more keenly. We were all older. It was almost shocking. I’d left when I was young, and I’d returned in late middle-age to a roomful of men whom I once knew but now could no longer recognize at a glance. For me, every visit, every party or reception required I make a little internal adjustment at the new countenances of my old friends. I couldn’t help but wonder if all of them were doing the same for me. After all, I wasn’t thirty-eight either.

Believe what you want, but I assert that getting old and remaining physically attractive are directly at odds with each other. And I think we can all agree that youth and beauty signal power and relevance to the world in a deeply visceral way. On some level, I think most older people pretend that we aren’t truly aging (because in our minds we still feel young) or at least we try to downplay it. Hell, I know I’m still pretending. And I might yet give in and choose the needle. I might. Why not? I color my hair….

In assessing the path ahead of me, I plan on having one more relatively active decade left. And I mean to play the game of life as best I can. My feelings on this may change as the years pass, but at this writing I am committed to doing what I can to temper the reality of looking older as best I can.

I know my age, and every infirmity related to it. And even if I should choose to lie about it – the numbers definitely won’t.

Dear Diary

Dear Diary

Tenses change. Plans change. This is uncensored and unedited. Raw diary stuff. These are my journal entries from my recent trip. Girly stuff, but maybe it’s of interest to some. Had to get it off my chest and out the door. Thanks in advance for the witness.

February 8th, 2022

It has been a very long time since I’ve been away.

Perhaps paying twelve dollars for a grilled cheese sandwich wouldn’t phase a lot of folks, but I’m fresh off the farm. It was stunning at first, but then my road-reality meter kicked in and I realized this was gonna be one expensive, albeit modest getaway.

It’s been years since I’ve gone “back home” to Chicago and wouldn’t ya know that when I had my hair done today in hopes of presenting my best self, I acquiesced and had my eyebrows colored too. I knew it had been too much, but my gal insisted I always get dramatic and overly concerned about making them too dark. “Worry more about the dye on your fingers,” she’d said. Yeah, well you can be sure I’m worrying about that, too.

When I flipped on the Motel 6 light and had my first fluorescently-lit sighting of them, I recoiled. Then my heart broke. I would be returning home a female Groucho Marx. Why now? And things had been going better than well up until that moment in the chair. Ah well. First-world problems, I reminded myself (as I made a note to immediately find a salon when I got to Chicago which could reverse the travesty).

I’m resting for a few hours in Erie, PA, and have made only half the drive. It’s the first time I’ve ever decided to break the trip up with an overnight stay. It’s also the first time I passed most of the drive in thought. Because there’s a lot to think about right now. I’m embarking on a whole new life, and this is not an exaggeration. The way in which events have built up, one upon each other, is remarkable as I examine them in hindsight. I was shaking my head in disbelief for much of the drive, marveling over the last fifteen years, over the past fifteen months, over the past fifteen days.

Without an internet connection for my laptop nor a charger for my phone here in the room I need to conserve power and so shall sign off shortly. I am endeavoring to document my adventures in bite-sized pieces as I go along.

Day one: pack and drive. Night one: lay in a bed in a non-smoking room which nonetheless smells queasily of smoke, while trying so hard to remember just how exhausted I’d thought I was just moments ago.

Post note: I experienced a “Cheryl Strayed” moment at the motel. I couldn’t put my hands on a few items, so I broke down and unpacked both bags. I spread the contents onto the bed, and only then could I sleep. I repacked in the morning. Packing an under-seat bag for Vegas has proved a huge challenge. Trying to be casual (my companion travels a bit like a homeless person) and yet prepare for any number of situations is no easy feat! I hate to say being a woman ups the ante, but it does. My uber-thin hair requires products, I gotta have day looks and night looks plus workout wear, swim crap and makeup, too. Oy. It ain’t easy.

February 9th, 2022

To see an old friend – who knew you way before – and to find yourself squarely in a safe and familiar place, and then to find yourself laughing effortlessly to the point of tears – all this, mind you, after decades apart – is a holy thing.

Last night we had our first visit. So easy, so good. My girlfriend is going through a time of compromised health, so I’ve been afraid that my balls-to-the-walls energy might really zap her of her reserves, but so far it hasn’t been the case. This is why I like to keep interpersonal visits somewhat brief. Short and perfectly sweet. You know – kinda like that quote ascribed to Ben Franklin about fish and house guests having a similar shelf life. So, on I’ll move before long. But how lovely this is, right now.

I’ve awoken and there’s no going back to sleep. It’s the second night on the road, the very start of what may turn out to be a three-week excursion. My mind is swimming now. For some reason Rainbow’s “Stone Cold” has become this early morning’s ear worm. It pulses behind my thoughts. Where shall I hold court and meet everyone? I want to make sure no one gets slighted. I want to make sure I don’t lose my voice. Cuz that often happens. And mostly, I don’t want to get sick. At every last recreational trip I’ve ever taken I’ve gotten sick. Usually very sick. It’s almost as if my body didn’t feel like I deserved it. This time, I’m gonna assert that I do deserve this holiday. So please, universe, not this time. Really.

I’m staying with my high school bestie, and I’m the most comfortable I can remember being in a long time. With her as host, I’ve come to understand the experience of sleeping atop a good futon (my weak back would have the floor if it weren’t quite so hard) and underneath a weighted blanket. Heaven for now.

I’m in a suburb just west of Chicago, and it feels like home. The houses, the very way in which the trees bend over the street, the brick two-story shops along the main drag, the diffused light of the cloudy nighttime sky, all of it is deeply familiar to me. And the winter light of a cloudy sky evokes a certain mood… I peered thru the blinds just now and it looks the same outside this morning as it did when I went to bed last night. Mercury vapor lighting fills the block making it look like a movie set. Yeah. I remember this. There’s that certain feeling. It brings me back.

We are directly under the flight path for planes departing O’Hare, and it was exciting to see the belly of a plane overhead as I arrived last night, its whining engines audible. What’s fun about my experience here and now is that while it’s like being back, it’s also like being a tourist and thrilling to things for the very first time.

I fully admit to leaving short and cryptic posts on Facebook. Although it gives me a tiny thrill to see the conjecture among my friends as to where I am and what my plans are, I really don’t mean to tease. I just don’t wish to over explain. And I shall endeavor not to inform folks of my next location, nor share too many details of that portion of the trip as I wish to honor the privacy of my travel companion, and also I’d like to keep that tiny pocket of experience as my own. Honestly, it’s the reason for this whole trip, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Two more days here before the adventure begins in earnest. Another Midwestern city, and then a flight to a destination at the other end of the country. It still does not feel real. I’ve been alternately giddy and apprehensive about it since I said “yeah, I’ll go” several months back. It’s been the fuel for my forward-moving engine, it’s been the light at the end of the tunnel. And as exotic as the location may be, that’s really just an extra. What’s lifting my heart is the thought of spending some time with my friend. I’d thought we’d pass the time just hanging at his place with the dog, but then this appeared. And these days – being closer to 60 and understanding in a much deeper way the finality of it all – there’s very little room for “no”.

So “yes” to Vegas it is.

February 10th, 2022

A magic day. Truly. Effortless and serendipitous, a day filled with new experiences, a dozen stranger’s stories, tears even, and hugs, too – parking spaces that appeared at the right time, an ancient lady who shared stories of her medical practice and of hearing Julie London sing, a day of beauty salons and gyms, Mexican food and long post-meal conversations with my high school bestie.

I’m straight-up legit tired right now. Not much to add, only that I’m really grateful for this little window of respite. I’ve been on the hook for so long now that I feel almost delirious with freedom and possibility. I even feel a little guilty; it still feels like I should be doing something productive,

And right now, sleeping seems the most responsible thing to do. Adieu, dear friends. See you tomorrow.

February 11th, 2022

Today was a quiet day spent at home. My friend is coping with health issues and so moves slowly through her day. I admit I haven’t been doing all I can to temper my own cyclonic energy, and I do think we’ve reached the natural conclusion to our three-day cohabitation. We certainly learned a lot about each other after some twenty years apart, but yesterday I could tell that I was taxing her patience as I repeated questions and forgot conversations. Not gonna lie, I do worry about my memory. But I also know that I process things differently (I don’t tend to remember details but rather emotional impressions), and I communicate differently, too. I tend to speak in a gestural way – lots of movement, sounds, impressions… lots of schtick. Much of it did in fact have her laughing to the point of tears, of peeing her pants even, but it took energy to witness, to react to it. Or, as I learned last night, it required “some spoon”. (A spoon being a unit of energy.) Spoons she didn’t have left. And I get it. I felt the energy in the room shifting. It was time.

We love each other and nothing changes that, but it really is true that we are very different people. I can elaborate on our short but rich visit later… For now it’s enough to say that two late middle-aged women have had a lovely visit, bathed in the silence of an old house and kept company by the chittering birds outside the kitchen and an ancient, blind cat named Marilyn.

I’m snuggled under a weighted blanket on a deliciously just firm-enough futon, comfy as can be, enjoying the rare nether time of early morning with the shades closed. It’s my last morning in my friend’s home. No idea what the light is outside, and I have no clear idea where I am. I am just HERE. And soon, I won’t be.

The gentleman friend with whom I am going to Vegas called yesterday and told me that his mother was just put on hospice. It took me a minute to take it in. Life had entered into my little fantasy. I shifted inside. My relationship with him had just gotten more human. He was going to need a friend, and some support, even if he didn’t realize it. And I knew I was the perfect gal for the job.

This morning I’ll pack up, recount the takeaways from our visits, I’ll apologize for being such an energy Godzilla, there will be hugs, and then I will hit the highway in my tightly packed car and head out for Milwaukee. From my comfortable, reclining post here in my darkened room, a building excitement begins to grow in my chest. I’ve been on the farm for a long, long time. And I am here, now, precisely to reward myself for all those years of toil. Now it is here. This next leg is going to be unforgettable. I am on the front side of what will become a treasured life memory. Crazy.

February 12th, 2022

Ok. Here I go…

It is that rare “time of the beginning”; waves of excitement push at my chest, a pulsing begins in that certain place with no encouragement… I feel like a girl with a crush… How glad I am that I was never in a serious relationship with this man; he is an unpredictable guy, and I don’t think it would’ve been enjoyable. His ex-wife must’ve had a time of it, I’m sure. But now it doesn’t matter. This is our window. It will be brief; it will be lovely. I’m going to savor every moment. When I’m an old crone it will be memories like these – which I’ve yet to make, how thrilling is that?! – which will fill my thoughts as I sit and rock, waiting for my time to be up….

Gosh how things can turn. I’ve approached this whole trip having as few expectations as possible, knowing full well that things would change; the very nature of this excursion was about welcoming serendipity. I was going to give myself a basic structure and things would happen of their own accord in the spaces. It was wise of me to remain open; within the first two hours of my arrival in Milwaukee I’ve been to a funeral and will soon head to the hospital to visit my host’s mother. As I waited outside for my friend, I walked his big black dog through a sidewalk-less suburb in the snowless cold, reflecting on the last few days, and musing at the days to come.

I have now left the dog in the car and come into the Irish pub to join the gathering, albeit from a distance. I took an ale from the open bar and passed on the wake’s buffet of cabbage and meatballs. Hungry though I am, I’ll wait to share a meal with my friend. A man in a red-letter jacket passes me. UW Madison. (Go Badgers.) I’m definitely in Wisconsin, and that makes me happy.

We’ll be off to the hospital shortly, and likely Sabbath, the dog, will come with us too. And then…? Somehow we will be on a plane tomorrow afternoon. What happens between now and then is anyone’s guess.


February 14th, 2022

You know the way they say that Vegas never sleeps? Well, I’m here to tell you otherwise.

We’re staying in a fine hotel, and the details are elegant. The lobby is beautiful. The grounds are generously planted with mature palm trees, and a water feature stands in front of the enormous portico where limos and cars wait for their passengers– and we’re even on Las Vegas Boulevard. This is one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in. The down comforter and pillows feel grand. But that’s where meaningful luxury ends. There is no hotel restaurant, and the bar is shut tightly by eleven. It’s 3 am and I just returned from a walk outdoors. Two teenaged doormen greeted me on my way back in, and aside from one fellow standing behind the massive granite slab of a reception desk, I saw no one, not even a homeless guy.

My companion (in futuro to be known as “minor rock god”, aka “MRG”) is here to bet, and to lay about in bed. He’s about sports as much as he is about music, and while I can’t ever recall having as much fun singing to tracks and playing air parts with anyone, I can’t match his enthusiasm for the games. Even after I’d won one of my bets, I’d shortly thereafter forgotten the details. I was sorry not to have been more invested in it, as my attention to the games was a kindness I certainly owed him.

I don’t mind the low-key stay we’re having. I pretty much knew what to expect, in that both of us are poor as paupers, but I guess I kinda thought a hot cooked meal here and there would’ve been part of the deal. Thus far on our trip we’ve subsisted on bags of snacks from a Walgreens down the street and a pizza from downstairs (barring the first night when, absolutely ravenous, I foolishly spent nearly $100 on wine, cheese and fruit from the hotel store). I can live like a college student better than any 58-year-old woman I know, but at day three of our adventure I’m weary of gleaning sustenance from Ziplock pouches of nuts. And I’m so fucking hungry.

As with everything else in my life, I shall have to remedy this situation on my own. As my companion sleeps, I am hatching a plan to strike out on my own tomorrow. I’ll take the monorail into town and see the strip. I’ll watch the dancing waters of the Bellagio and have myself a goddam proper sit-down meal. Yeah, I’m a pretty chill gal these days, but this current low-rent situation is a bit of a drag. I can’t imagine I’ll ever get to Vegas again, so I’d better step up.

Absent too is any meaningful, simple physical kindness. It’s really no more forthcoming from this fellow than it was with the hostile, misogynistic guy I became entangled with a year back. MRG is a kind man with a warm heart. He is observant and intelligent, and I think he’s one of the most creative and naturally talented musicians I’ve ever known. But he’s also got his own issues. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who knows what it is to live with such a deep and immutable depression – and that ticky, nervous energy which manifests as a chronic swaying of the body or tapping of the foot. This can’t help but endear him to me, because in some small way, I get it. And I do count him as a good friend. Plus I’ve known him for over twenty years now.

But sadly, I can’t count him as a lover. And I’m the easiest prospect! I’m not interested in a relationship, I’m ready and willing, and tho I may be looking older, and although I realize I’m not thin nor in top shape, I still assert I’m not a bad catch. But he’s not into it. He’s really not present – something I feared would be the case, and so early on – as in months ago – I had asked him specifically only for his presence. Can’t ask for something someone can’t give, I suppose. Kinda breaks my heart. All I want to do is take his hand, to feel his arm around me. For him simply to kiss me. But none of this is happening. Ironic, isn’t it, that there are men who’d have me in a hot minute, yet the one I’ve got a jones for could take me or leave me? And he’s the one who invited me… but for what, exactly? There was a time in my life when all of this would’ve made me weep. Now I just take it as a soft punch to the gut and keep moving. (Who am I kidding? I still might weep.)

Gotta get some sleep. It’s 4 am on Valentine’s Day and I’m still wide awake. I can’t cry. I just gotta take another Ambien and hope that it takes me away for a minute. I’ll need my rest because tomorrow I have a date. With myself.

Post note: MRG and I had a conversation about the situation, and we ended up going downtown together, and then sharing a meal. He knew I’d been to Vegas before, so he thought I’d already seen the strip. (No, I worked here before: plane, venue, plane, I explained.) He told me that food wasn’t even on his radar (he’s one of those power bar/protein powder in a blender guys), and he apologized for not being aware of my desire for a meal. I felt better that we’d talked about it, but I still can’t say I wasn’t a bit let down. But I’ll always enjoy his company, and I appreciate his understanding. And I really did want his witness, cuz this was not exactly what a girl had in mind, ya know?

And btw, check out this unplanned coincidence….


February 18th, 2022

These aren’t the best circumstances. MRG’s mom has been moved to hospice care, and his long-deceased bestie from high school’s brother-in-law just died of an overdose (just what the fuck is up with heroin and boys from Waukesha?). This is heavy stuff. Easy for me to downplay tho, when my expectations have been dashed and I’m in my own personal vortex of experience. I wish it weren’t so, but selfishly I am bereft, as things really turned out so much differently than I’d hoped. I do know enough about MRG, however – and about life – to know that shit changes on a fucking dime and you just gotta go with it. But still….

Today I’ve been given a second ‘bonus’ day with MRG. I’m really happy about this, yet if I were to be truly honest about my deepest feelings, I still wanna cry. We’ve learned a lot about each other over the past week, one such thing is that he admits to a reduced sex drive (due, I believe, to the several meds he’s on), and he has a compartmentalized way of dealing with it. I’m guessing it’s kinda like those men who screw prostitutes without kissing them. MRG finds kissing an awkward annoyance. Might be just his response to me. I can’t really know. But in that I’ve been waiting a long time for some real connection with the man, my heart has been processing some bitter disappointment over the past few days. There will be no such connection.

This bright, cold morning in Milwaukee I am in a waking dream. I cannot step outside the feeling of deja vu. I have been through this before, I’m absolutely sure of it – is this merely for the fact that I myself have broken many mens’ hearts and now it’s my turn to feel the same? Nah – it’s more than that. I feel a strange familiarity here. Crap. I want just to be near him… Honestly, it’s not about sex in this moment – I just don’t want to leave. I like being in proximity to him. And when my stay had twice been extended, each time he smiled. We’re friends, this I know.

I’ll be leaving shortly. That makes me apprehensive in a tiny, nagging way. I have many times watched the ‘other’ party suck it up and face the rejection put upon them when I myself had to leave or break things off. When I felt a mere kindness and little more for my short-term bed partner. Now I am the one suffering the mild rejection. There is nothing really personal going on here – at least I don’t think so – but I can’t help but wonder. Is it me? He’s told me it’s just something he’s not into. Hell. (Again, I wonder, why did he bring me here?) Having sex (never mind even broaching the term “making love”) has been off the table for most of this trip, but man. Just once before I leave? No?! How sad it this? Months and months of waiting, with no happy ending. Sad, sad, sad. But I’m a big girl, so I’ll deal with it.

For me, this is a dramatic and disappointing conclusion. Even still, none of this visit was a mistake, nothing was truly unpleasant – to the contrary; we became better friends… And man, I laughed. Can’t remember when a person – aside from my son – has ever made me laugh like that. So. Gotta work with what ya got. (Says the grown woman with tears streaming down her cheeks at the coffee shop.)

February 20th, 2022

So what is a girl to do once she’s had it all?

There are far worse problems I know, but still, this feels like something of a quandary. I have dropped two dress sizes these past four months, hooked up with an old crush, sat in with a musician I’ve admired for years, met with a number of old friends, and…. And? At the end of the day, what the fuck does it matter? Who cares? I’m still feeling the loss in my gut. I hate this.

Time to try again, I guess. Gonna visit with another fellow tonite. He’s not a reader or a thinker like MRG; he seems like a simple guy. But he’s kind, and he’s a hell of a great musician. Those things mean a lot in my book. I think it’s a date, but not sure. I’ve assumed before, so I gotta be cautious, aware. I’m going out with Southern Blues Rock Guy tonite! (Just please don’t tell EC – a bassist we’ve both previously worked with – as I don’t think he’d be too thrilled. SBRG mighta been a player back in the day. Who cares?) It’s nighttime, it’s snowing right now, and the neighborhood looks heavenly. I’m waiting outside the door of the house in Skokie where I’m staying, waiting for my new friend to arrive. Got my hooker boots on and I’m having a relatively good hair day. Feeling put together. I’m actually excited. This feels crazy. I’m not quite sure what’s happening….

Post note: I couldn’t have seen this one coming, either. SBRG took me to his father’s home for pot roast – and I met his lovely sister and his dad’s girlfriend. Surprisingly, it turned out to be one of my very favorite moments of the trip so far! Afterward we went to his apartment and – jammed. Ha! A cop even came to the door to shut us down. But no vibe, nothing else. And when my Uber never showed, he was a true gentleman and drove me home in the falling snow. A lovely night but can’t say I wasn’t once again just a little sad at the end of it all. I suppose he was just being respectful and professional. Who knows? (Seriously, is it me?)

February 25th, 2022

The second to final night of my trip. Staying in a luxurious bed of down in a beautiful home in Evanston… I’m the guest of a family whom I love and who loves me too… A couple with whom I have history, and so I’m totally comfortable here. Host Randy and I enjoyed some whiskey, a light snack and some good conversation before I tucked in. And earlier, I enjoyed a dinner with old friend Lisa. As I settle down for a moment of pause before I turn off the media, I realize that I couldn’t feel more perfect, satisfied and resolved as I do right now. Can’t begin to convey what I’ve experienced during this trip. So much that I’m confident I shall never be able to remember it all. The numerous personal interactions I’ve had are the huge gift that I take away from it all. And I’ve learned so much more from in-person visits with old friends than I ever could’ve gleaned from online exchanges. Can’t being to express the depth of insight I’ve been given. This trip has exceeded my expectations, in spite of its disappointments. It’s been a tiny miracle. A real joy.

A true adventure.


Anecdotes and Takeaways (A post-Post digest):

Where to start? Firstly, I feel a bit naked. This post might be a case of TMI, but hell. I ain’t gettin any younger, and I’m beginning to feel like I have nothing to lose, and perhaps some insight or closure to gain. Nothing I’m saying here is all that shocking. And I’ve tried to provide a certain level of privacy to those I mention (save for a few links which the more tenacious among you may follow if you choose).

I’ve just about lost the timeline now, but I can say that among the many stops I made, one stands out: I went to the annual event called “My Sweet George” in honor of George Harrison’s birthday. It was at Martyrs’, a club I’ve played many times, and something of a landmark in Chicago culture. It was there that I met many old and dear friends, I heard wonderful music and even threw out a little flirty energy. Why the hell not? I had to feel a little emotional traction after all that rejection… It was a magical night, and now it exists as a treasured memory.

I fit a lot in on this trip. In thinking back, I’m overwhelmed, really. I sang on a friend’s song at his home studio, sat in with a rock band, sang on stage with a well-loved Chicago songwriter, enjoyed several wonderful home-cooked dinners, saw my old neighbors (and my old apartment!) – even saw my childhood home. I visited with a dozen or so friends and attended a few really fun nights of live music.

I can’t begin to express how restorative this trip was. I learned a lot about interpersonal relationships, too. Yeah, some of this experience was a letdown, but at the end of the day, the whole thing has helped me to usher in a new chapter. I’m no longer nervous about driving across country, nor about airplanes (panic attacks seem to have subsided for now). Hell, I even took a zipline over the rooftops of old Las Vegas. I was superwoman for a few weeks, and it was just what I needed.

Thanks for the witness, friends. There’s going to be an exciting new chapter before too long… Furreal. There’s some real-life shit gonna be happenin in my life pretty soon. And you can be sure I’ll share it all.

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These are a few of the folks I visited on my trip:

Martyrs’ “My Sweet George” / oh my god / Lisa Lauren / Kick The Cat / Ralph Covert

The Claudettes / Louie Zagoras / Conscripted

Star Shooting

Star Shooting

My thick, arthritic fingers give me away first. Next come my crepey neck skin and disappearing jawline. Then there’s the thinning hair. Seriously. Did the universe not receive the directive? I was supposed to get a moment of glory after the kid launched, right? Understanding more fully the unforgiving nature of aging, and learning in some bright new way that I’ve not been given any pass on account of merit – I have taken to saying “yes” to opportunities these days, cuz who knows how many more lie ahead?

That little word has opened a lot of doors lately. I would’ve said no to a few invitations but for that ticking clock in my head and the agreement I’d more or less made with myself that I would dive headfirst into life while I still had the physical ability to do so. “Want to come to Vegas with me?” Yes. “Want to record something today?” Yes. “Want to come on stage and sing with us?” Yes. “Remember that comment you’d made about wanting to play in the band? Were you serious?” Yes.

Add to that list taking a zipline above the rooftops of old Las Vegas, driving cross-country (panic attacks took that off the table for a number of years) and flirting with men as if I were twenty years younger – and you’ve got a little thumbnail of the way I’ve spent the past couple of months.

Just to keep things real, however, I will add that when I’m left to my own, and without an agenda or a goal, I tend toward the same old familiar depression. But with these new recent experiences afresh in my mind I have learned that there are some things I can actively do to prevent the slide back down into hopelessness. (I’m grateful that my situation is not as intolerable as it is for many; I’m lucky, and I realize this.) There have still been short stretches of time in which I’ve felt the despair begin to take me over, and it’s then that I force myself to take some sort of action. Write, play the piano, learn a song, take a walk. Something, anything. Any sort of activity… simple, home-bound and doable.

And then there’s the complicated, far-flung and seemingly impossible stuff. That’s fair game too.

When I took my recent trip to the Midwest to visit friends (which happened after my initial week’s adventure out west, a nod of appreciation going out to the minor rock god), the entire experience flowed like pure magic. I kept marveling over it, hour by hour, as the serendipity continued without pause. Wasn’t the other shoe going to drop sometime soon? No! Why the hell should it? I’d tell myself, somehow actually believing it. The ‘old’ me would’ve prepared for mishap at every turn.

But not this new me, apparently. And friends, let me tell you, during my three weeks of travel and adventure I did not once succumb to such thoughts – and it was to my great surprise, I assure you! Just who was this woman? This lucky, lucky woman? Surely it was not Elizabeth! How could this be? Feted by friends, appearing places at just the right moment, having my tab picked up by a stranger, finding a parking space right in front of the club. I’m not a believer in instant karma (not sure anymore how I even feel about long-term karma, to be truly candid), and while it’s tempting to chalk it up to a happy reimbursement from the universe for the many years of good, solid and solo parenting – I don’t think it was so. Rather, it was my happiness, my exuberance – these things paved the way.

I can’t account for the flawless timing of things – but I’m still a believer in the magnetism of energy, the attraction of like with like. I dunno. On paper it seems to go well with a belief in karma, but the jury is out on all of this stuff. All I know is that I felt powerful and engaged with everyone I met. I was of course on cloud nine to finally be amongst my brethren, but it was more than that. As I’ve said before, it really was magic.

Aside from the many memories I now have and treasure, I came away from the trip – and the past couple of months, too – with a new sort of awareness. I’ve always fancied myself an observant and somewhat contemplative type, but I also know myself to be an overwhelming energy in the room; I am an interrupter, a talking-over-the-other-person person; I am often insensitive to people even when I like to think I’m anything but. And I’ve been wishing to change this, so I made an effort to visit with friends in person (I put hundreds of miles on the car in side trips) even when I’d had online communication with them. And the more I met with folks, the more I realized the insight that in-person contact provided. I felt I began to understand my friends in deeper ways. Some may say this is simply a post-covid response, but I know it not to be. I will say however that being sequestered in the country and having no peers or creative life to speak of over the past fourteen years has probably contributed to my appetite for connection.

But it’s more than that. I’m gonna take a guess and posit that perhaps, in some way, I am finally growing up. Maybe. At the very least, I’m living with a keener sense of mortality.

Time tells me that I can’t fuck around anymore. If I’m gonna do something, if I’m gonna learn something or have a new experience, it’s going to take effort. It’s going to take being brave, taking a leap and saying “yes”.

When I visited my hometown, I stopped by the Baha’i temple near the house where I grew up. It was nighttime, and the enormous, dome-shaped building was brightly lit and simply majestic against the black sky. I stood there for a long time taking it in. After a while I glanced at the clock in my car, it was 11:22. Hm. That was my old address in Chicago. I’d gone back there to visit too, and had been happily received by my old neighbors. In every way things had continued to line up on this trip.

My eyes returned to the view, and I noticed an amber glow in the sky to the west of the dome. My first thought, of course, was that it was a plane. My second thought was that I wished my son was here to see it with me. The glowing light traveled above the temple in a path toward the lake to the east. It appeared to break up shortly after it passed over the dome, and then, silently, it disappeared. I stood there, amazed. My linear mind wrestled with the details; it was amber, not white. There were no red and green lights on the sides. It was silent, it didn’t look like fireworks…. But in the end, my magical mind let it go. I had witnessed something lovely, something breathtaking. It simply couldn’t matter what it was. It was now another part of my stunning journey.

It felt as if I’d been given a wink from the cosmos. Something was telling me that I was on the right track. I was exactly where I was supposed to be, and I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

I was shooting for the stars.

Over and Out

Over and Out

There is no more waiting. No more positing about how it will feel. The “just imagines” aren’t needed, nor are the observations about how changed this place will be from here on in. No more wistful reflections are really called for at this point. It’s been in the works for a while now, and it’s finally come to be. Elihu returned home to help do the deed, and now it is done. The flock has flown, and the coop is finally empty.

There will be some poignant moments yet ahead I’m sure, but this chapter needed to come to a close, and it’s not hard to understand why it was necessary. Elihu has set out on his journey, and now it’s time for me to fully commit to the adventures that await. Personally, I know it’s still going to be a challenge. For almost fourteen years I have identified myself chiefly by the descriptors “single mother” and “farmer”. Now these occupations have (for the most part) concluded.

People can understand what it means to be a mother. It commands its own kind of respect, that’s a given. But learning to inhabit the culture of animal husbandry in earnest is no small feat, and it’s not understood by just anyone. Those of us who have known what it is to really live in that world know that this title identifies you in a way as few others can. To put it in simply, being a farmer pretty much “grows your ass up” in a big way. (So too does being a single mom.) For a long while now, these two titles have done well in telling my story. But once again, things are going to change, and so too must my roles.

It’s strange to think about the “me” that came before. The person I was in my past life seems to have had so very little to do with the woman I was yet to become. But I think that a good number of people share this experience. It’s fascinating how many personas we inhabit during the course of one long life.

In my earlier years, living had been all about me; my life had all been about what I was creating and doing – it was all that I knew. Aside from teaching (which is what just about every musician must do to pay the expenses of living), my life was all about me. Yeah, I had a partner, and a couple of cats too, but for the most part, no one’s very life depended on me. My cats could’ve lived with a neighbor, my husband could’ve taken up with another partner (and he did, hence the chapter which followed). I myself wasn’t critical in determining anyone else’s prospects for a healthy and successful future. In short, I was an autonomous individual. (Please don’t read any subtext into this; I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it was a very fine way to live at the time!)

It goes without saying that having a child changed things. But having my husband leave me for a much younger (and pregnant) girlfriend, going from a privileged existence to poverty, and then moving from suburbia to the country – all of this happening in one fell swoop – that’s the stuff that really transformed my world and launched me into the roles which were to become my life’s main work.

In the following stage of my life things would no longer be about me. The health, comfort and safety of my child became the single driving motivation for every choice I made. There would be no sending in of subs, no calling in sick, no sleeping in late. For a good long stretch, it would all be on me, and everything would be about the welfare of my son. Stepping up and pulling through had felt like something of a triumph for me. And when I was fully under sail and somewhat in control of things, the terms “single mother” and “chicken farmer” certainly helped describe to the world who I was.

After a while, being these things became a point of pride, too. I’d made it, and I’d also done a pretty good job. Frankly, it was the first time I’d been exceptional at anything. Previous to being mom and chicken farmer, I’d always just done what was asked of me, laying low for the most part, rising to challenges only when I absolutely had to. (That being said, I have always shown up.) I hadn’t always been a super-hard worker in my previous life, but I’ve certainly done a respectable job at raising creatures here at the Hillhouse, both human and otherwise.

And now that job is over.

Frankly, if I’d allow myself to think about it too deeply, I’d likely lose myself in weeping. But that would enfeeble my spirit, and I can’t afford to do that. Now, more than ever, I need to rest, regroup and restore my energy. I need to renew my focus. Cuz things are changing. Movement has begun to pick up again. I’m gonna need my stamina to follow this next wave to its crest.

Some might say it was a fluke, others might say it was the infinite wisdom of the universe doing its thing. Either way, recently things seem to have worked out quite nicely…

Once, I’d made a comment on a Facebook post made by an old musician friend of mine regarding a group he was in. I wasn’t proud, but I’d been flushed with envy when I saw the keyboardist, and when I’d heard the beautiful sounds she’d made. I shared the compliment with him, and he forwarded it on to her. She’d appreciated it. That made me happy. It was, I’d thought to myself, the closest I’d get to that life again. I half-joked to my friend that I was jealous of the keyboard player; I so wished I could play in that band with him instead of her. (I was not joking. I was jealous, and I longed to play in that group.) Fast-forward a month or two, and can you guess what happened?

The timing was not great; I was sick with a very unpleasant 24-hour stomach bug when I first heard the news. I was reeling with nausea and fever. My friend had texted me to ask if I’d meant what I’d said, because the keyboard player had just quit. Rehearsals would be on the east coast somewhere. New York City, Philadelphia maybe. Was I interested? Even with a fever and a pounding headache I didn’t need a second to consider. Yes! Yes, yes, yes! Before the afternoon was over I’d spoken with the band leader and the music director. I’d agreed and they’d accepted. Immediately after, I puked my guts out and went back to bed, achy and disoriented. What had just happened? I’d make an inventory later. It sure didn’t feel like a triumph. I couldn’t digest. It seemed that I’d need to learn some software or get a new keyboard. I’d have to learn a bunch of new music. And the logistics weren’t clear. There would be stuff that needed to get done, but I couldn’t sort it all out. First, I needed to rest. It seemed as if my body was collapsing after a marathon.

A few weeks have gone by since I said “yes”. I’ve purchased a MacBook, begun to acquaint myself with some new software, and started to learn the new music. The tech part of the equation is far more daunting than the music, but before long I suppose I’ll figure it all out. I can’t think too long and hard about it all, as I don’t want to give traction to panic attacks, or just good old-fashioned self-doubt. Because I know I’m the best woman for the job. I do. I just don’t know quite how I’ll get there. But I will.

Cooped up no more, Elihu and I are lifting our wings and rising into the sky. Higher and higher, over the treetops and out into the great big life beyond.

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P.S. The flock has been moved to two different locations, one lovely farm is about a half hour’s drive away, and the other one just across the road. We have visitation rights at both. Our birds are going to have wonderful lives in their new homes, and this helps us to accept the change. It is already quiet here, and the coop is dark. Tomorrow morning there will be no crowing to wake me. The first few days will definitely be a time of adjustment, for both me and the birds. But I know that all will be well. Onward we go….