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

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

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

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

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….

Shift

It’s here. My new, post-child life. The one I’ve both dreaded and longed for. What will occupy my time? Will I ever know a social life again? Will I ever travel? Perform music? Will my life expand – or will it contract?

Without any preparation or forethought, a few lovely things recently appeared on my horizon and have now been firmly penned into my calendar. In due time I’ll share my progress, but for now, suffice to say, life has thrown a couple of sweet surprises in front of me. Certainly the aging thing isn’t slowing down, and my fingers are looking more like my 87-year-old mother’s than the ones I’ve known ’til now – yeah, the mortal shit continues to do its thing – but on a personal level things look promising. I don’t make any more money than I have in the past – in fact, I have less of it than ever before – but I’m not lacking in things I need. I’m lucky.

My son spent almost two weeks here with me after returning from holiday break at his father’s, one week being a bonus of time due to extended virtual classes. Just last night I drove him to campus, and he was beyond thrilled to be back. Having used his extra time studying and preparing for his new courses, he was more than ready. Plus, in the extra week, my son had also taught himself to play trumpet. Shortly before I left, he was standing with his eyes closed, playing variations from the Carnival of Venice. When he hugged me goodbye – my son is not a hugger, mind you – he squeezed me really tight and told me that he loved me. Oh, his joy. My joy. Truly, a mother could not wish for more.

From the parking lot I can see Elihu’s dorm room window, and before I drove off into the night, I stole one last peek at him. He was still playing his trumpet.

It’s one thing to leave a happy child to his bright future. It’s another thing to return home to one’s own bright future. How grateful am I that this moment in time, one which I’ve dreaded for ages now, does not bring with it the despair it might have, had things worked out otherwise. I now have things to look forward to. But, beforehand, there’s a lot on my plate which needs my attention: figuring out my way around a Mac, gaining facility with a new program, learning a bunch of music (maybe you get where this is going). So before I can fully enjoy the experiences ahead, I have a lot of work to do. For me, it’s fairly daunting. I’m not a techie, and I really don’t like dealing with gear (least of all new gear). Thankfully, I have friends who can help. And, as my son always scolds me when I ask him for answers, there’s always an Indian dude on YouTube who can tell me how to get the job done.

On a personal level there is also a nice treat headed my way in the next few weeks. I’m going to drive my deer-battered car to Chicago, where I will not only unload all of my vintage gowns and dresses, but I will stay with my bestie from high school, visiting a handful of old friends while I’m in town. There will be food to savor, sights to see and memories to revisit. Plus there’s another little excursion I’ll make in addition to my midwestern trip. This is a piece of seriously serendipitous magic at play. (I’m sending a demure wink of appreciation to the party responsible.) Hopefully these adventures will refresh me and prepare the way for the rigors ahead.

Thrilled am I at the changes that await. Thrilled am I to be at the doorstep of my life’s next big shift.

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Please forgive the mom brags to follow, but I feel compelled to elaborate on my son’s progress in life, and at RPI. I hope you might find it interesting…

Firstly, Elihu has made his autonomy more real than ever; he has deleted all of the videos on social media in which he’s appeared in a humorous or childish manner. He wishes to present himself as professionally as possible – and home vids are not something he wants in that mix. It presented a true shift in the way I had to think about him with relationship to me; I could no longer casually involve him in my posts. His role as my child is ours alone, it is a private thing. I get it, I certainly honor it, but I kinda mourn the change too.

My son is an Aerospace major, and a Chinese minor. He taught himself how to write and speak Mandarin before he went to college, and just this past week he tested into Chinese 3 for the spring semester. Elihu had a nice piece written on him for the school blog, he played solo tuba at the school’s fall concert (go to 3:07 to hear RPI president Dr. Shirley Jackson give him a lovely introduction, or go to 25:10 to hear him play Bach), he played in several ensembles (jazz, classical and early music) and has been invited by the outgoing president to perform at her invitational farewell concert. He’s written a tuba concerto as well as auditioned for soloist with the orchestra. In an effort to keep up his beloved German, he began a German conversation club with happy results. He also tried to start up an indoor model-building aviation club, but sadly there were not enough takers. He’ll persist, however, and I have no doubt he’ll be successful. He’s won numerous scholarships; not a penny will we pay in tuition, room, board or materials – all due to hours upon hours of his hard work. (He knows damn well it’s far beyond this mother’s purview!)

As an avid linguist (he is conversant and literate in five languages now) Elihu is thrilled to share the company of students from all over the globe, giving him the opportunities to hear and practice new languages. His roommate is Chinese, however the student’s first language is not Mandarin, and his accent makes understanding tricky – but this is precisely the stuff that inspires my child; he’s using this situation to expand his understanding of Chinese languages.

Elihu has made friendships with several PhD students and faculty members. He is networking and enjoying the camaraderie of similarly-minded (um, shall we just say “brilliant”?) folk. And as you can easily understand, all of this fills my heart to bursting. Funny, but of the twelve schools that Elihu applied to, this one was last on his list, and it was the only one (we still don’t understand this at all) which accepted him! It was RPI which awarded him a $100,000 scholarship should he choose to attend. And yet even still – it was last on his list. Isn’t it strange how life works? It seemed such a disappointment at the beginning, and yet it’s turned out to be that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has provided the very best situation for my son. I still can’t believe how it all worked out so well. It wasn’t what either of us had envisioned.

A most amazing shift indeed.

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Elihu’s Instagram

Stuffed

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

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

It seems I’ve been fooling myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kinda.

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

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

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

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

To get unstuffed.

Rhodes Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until they weren’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mortal, Coiling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stillhouse

Things here at the Hillhouse are quiet these days.

There are still the comings-and-goings of piano students and their families, and the chickens mutter to themselves and scratch in the leaves all day, a familiar sound which is almost always audible through the thin windows of my vintage ranch house. There is animation here; there is still a lovely sprinkle of energy from the visitors, both human and animal, which prevents me from feeling the absence of my son too acutely. And of course, there’s music; now I finally have time to practice a bit, to learn new material, to try things out. That helps keep the house from feeling as silent as it might otherwise.

But even so, my feeling about this new single life is tenuous.

My mood continues to ride the crests and valleys of a mildly manic state. I don’t reach the absolute lows that I know some people to experience. Rather, I sense what I can best describe as a loss of hope, a state which I can feel coming over me the way a person might feel a migraine coming on. I try to get ready; I check the calendar for my next student, my next appointment, my next diversion… Mindful of the imminent low, I try to find the footholds that will get me through.

And while I don’t experience the true euphoria of a manic high, some mornings I awake with my chest bursting with the thrill of possibility; my head swimming with enough ideas to fill a book. I pen dozens of notes to myself in a handful of tiny spiral notebooks which I keep throughout the house, having the absolute conviction that I will revisit these ideas, flesh them out and convert them into insightful posts. (A more honest part of me knows that this is not likely to happen.)

There are mornings when I lay in bed (grateful to finally be able do so!) and I wonder where my reason for living will come from in the day yet before me. It’s not a down place, it’s just a medium place. It’s where I live most of the time, actually. The to-do list always pulls me forward, but it’s certainly not something which gives my life meaning. (Lest I give the idea that I’m inert these days, let me assure you that I am not. Yes, there is a new, relaxed pace to my life, but it is still rife with a myriad of tasks and errands, many which have me grumbling ongoing complaints.) But in those first, quiet and undefined moments of the day, I am without a sense of purpose. I am adrift.

Like today. I awoke feeling neutral. Feeling nothing. The time of day was not apparent by the diffused light, my body felt good, rested and free of pain, my mind was empty. For a moment I did not even quite know where I was. Glorious absence it was. And then my critical mind awoke and reminded me: this was too much absence. Wait, was I here for some reason? I couldn’t remember. Figure it out, Elizabeth. Get up, do the morning’s chores, and figure it out.

These days I feel the need to get out of my tiny environment. To see old friends, to relax into relationships that I miss, to see people who already know me. Friends from the time that came before parenthood and life in the country. I need a respite, a change of scenery, a little dose of the city. I dunno, just something else. For the most part I am a homebody to be quite sure; I love my bed, I love my home, I love living far from the road surrounded by nature… I love all things familiar, comfortable and easy. But this place of domestic peace will always be here. My opportunities to get out and enjoy life will not. I’m getting noticeably older with every passing month (my arthritic hands are getting worse and worse each week), so if I’m to travel, to get up and out and far away from here, I need to do it soon. Soon.

Recently I’ve begun to consider more seriously the idea of giving away my flock. I don’t see how I can ever leave this compound if they are still my responsibility. Having my son go away to college has been immensely freeing – no meals to cook, no shuttling to school and back – and yet I can’t take full advantage of this new situation as I might like. I’m deeply conflicted about this.

Recently I asked a farmer friend of mine if she’d like to take my flock. She said yes, but then asked me “Are you sure?” Yeah, she knew. I did too. A move like this needed some serious introspection. Having a flock of chickens all about the property is a lovely, life-enhancing thing. They improve the mood of all my visitors – and they always improve my mood, too. If they were gone this place would be very, very quiet.

So this is where I find myself now. Suspended between my old life and the new one ahead. Seems I need to be brave and wrap up this era for good.

Just not absolutely sure if I’m ready for the still to follow.