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.

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.

Shift

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.

______________________________________________________

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

Mortal, Coiling

Mortal, Coiling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waypoint

Waypoint

I love maps. I can spend hours looking at a map, imagining the topography, envisioning the reality of being in those places, and trying to more fully grasp the relationship between here and there. Landmarks are, of course, essential to figuring out where you are – and how to get to your destination. These days I feel as if I’ve arrived at another one of my life’s landmarks, and the time has come to plot my next course.

In an ongoing effort to distract myself from the realities with which I now must live my life – an eye injury which challenges me daily, extra pounds which do not come off my frame as easily as they have in the past, and a clinging sense of sorrow that my best days may well be behind me – I am trying to keep moving. I am trying to keep busy.

Of course I continue to teach piano, and in spite of a recent heartbreaking setback, I am still looking for a musical partner. I run the Studio’s Airbnb. These things are routine and familiar parts of my life. But they have not been enough to keep my spirits from sinking. This, I can now see, is going to take some effort. And while I can honestly say that I’m not pining for my son, and while I deeply appreciate not having to make a full dinner every night and drive a twice-daily shuttle to and from school, I have to admit that I do miss him. The house lacks a certain energy now, it lacks a certain animation. My son challenged me, he taught me things and encouraged me to think more critically. I sorely miss our wonderful daily conversations. Somehow, for as much as I treasure being alone, it’s not feeling quite as blissful as I’d previously imagined it might.

When I look at my mother’s life as it is these days, it saddens me. I see the parallels between our lonesome lives, and it makes me sadder still. Mom lives by herself, and she doesn’t have the benefit of students and their families coming and going. Her world has grown smaller as her strength and mobility have diminished, and now her only companions are the wildlife she feeds outside her window, her television and her emotionally dysfunctional adult son who speaks very little and almost always leaves her guessing as to what’s on his mind. But even so, he is her son, he is the one who gives her a reason to keep daily rituals in place. She pays his bills, buys him food, makes him dinner, and often speaks about the goings-on at her place using the plural pronoun “we” – when in truth my brother is hardly her companion in the true sense of the word. Sure he fixes things around the house on occasion and he joins her most nights for a meal – but he is moody, unpredictable and often angry about something. Many days he utters not a single word to her. But he is her son, and somehow that is enough. Yeah. I get that part.

We’re all fond of saying that life is short, and that you must live life to the fullest because you never know… And of course this era of covid has brought that message to the fore of our collective mind, yet how often do we actively heed this way of thinking? How often do we challenge ourselves because we know tomorrow isn’t promised? Me, I’ve usually been the one to try shit out. I’m usually the one to take the dare, the one who’ll do the crazy stuff. On some level I have always felt like it was now or never. So I get it, and I’ve tried to live it. But I admit I’ve held back. Especially during my tenure as a single mom. I put a lot on hold, and justifiably so. But now that there’s space and time before me, I feel an urgency about getting back on the horse.

I can honestly say that there is some bone-deep, existential shift taking place inside of me these days. I’m thinking much more seriously about the stuff that I have always thought I might do “one day”. And my new awareness is born of two things: the deaths this past year of several peers (who were also dear friends), and the magic of reaching this certain age. I can’t consider myself middle-aged now. That’s not really accurate. Even if 50 is considered to be the new 40. Fuck that. OK, so maybe our current culture affords us a slight advantage – after all, do your remember how a woman in her 50s just a few decades ago seemed like a dried-up granny? That’s certainly not true now – but the possibility of dying still looms, undeniable and ever-present. Cancer is everywhere. Covid is real. And accidents happen. For me, these days, life feels like a roulette wheel. So I gotta get going.

A few days ago I saw a neighbor’s post on Facebook. She and her family – including two young boys – had climbed a mountain. She’d raved about the gorgeous view, and stated that it was not a difficult climb. The day that I saw the post it was midday and sunny. I had no students coming, no side jobs, no Airbnb turnover. My day was wide open. I did a quick search for the mountain, downloaded a trail app, and within minutes I was pulling on my hiking boots and filling a backpack. Inside of an hour I was at the trailhead (if I’d known ahead of time how long and narrow the wooded road to the mountain was, I might not have gone. I’m grateful to now know about these ancient carriage roads; they won’t put me off in the future). I was off to somewhat of a late start in the day, but I was comforted by the sight of a full parking lot when I arrived. I’d be safe, at the very least, if something should happen.

The ascent was a challenge, inasmuch as my heart was pounding so hard I began to wonder if it wasn’t actually dangerous, and I was virtually gasping in air through an open mouth for much of the upper part of the trail. When I reached the summit, I was drenched in sweat. But as anyone who’s climbed a wooded trail can attest – the sight of light from above and the expanse of rock that meets you when you reach the summit restores your body and your spirit as few other experiences can. I think this is why people get hooked. I think it’s why I climbed another mountain a day later. And, in spite of how horrible I feel when the ascent becomes almost torturous, it’s why I hope to climb again soon. Tomorrow, in fact, if all goes well.

Not too long ago I began taking a Tai Chi class. It’s an expense that some might find imprudent when my means are so modest, yet it’s something I feel that I have to do. I love moving. I love dance. I love working on balance. One day I hope to teach a dance class at the Y – but for now this is how my love of movement is going to manifest. I don’t know much about Tai Chi, but I can’t let that stop me. What I do know is that it feels good.

And speaking of getting back on the horse – that’s on my list too. I have a few friends who ride, one of whom, like me, is missing her daughter and companion, and so I hope to go riding with her. It’s been decades since I’ve been in a saddle, and I remember how sore it made me when I was young, so I have no illusions about how it’ll feel. It’s gonna hurt, I know. But how many things that are truly worth it don’t require some discomfort at the start? I can’t think too much about it. Yeah, things can go wrong. And you can get hit by a car crossing the road to check the mailbox. No reason not to try.

When I crewed on a sailboat in the Atlantic many years ago, I also decided to go without a whole lot of mental preparation. I mean, how can you prepare for open-ocean sailing when all you’ve ever known is sailing a dinghy on calm, summertime waters? It kinda amazes me now when I think back on it: the captain had emailed from a port and asked me to please bring some baking supplies with me, so my modest rolling suitcase contained huge zip lock bags of flour and sugar… No one in security so much as batted an eye (different times to say the least). I had in my pocket a scrap of paper with the name of the harbor where I was to find the boat. I did not understand a word of Portuguese, nor was I fully understanding the logistic challenges required to get from the airport to the tiny coastal town. But somehow, in a pre-cell phone world, I made it to the boat after two days of travel. And before I could quite comprehend the scope and nature of the adventure before me, land was long out of sight and I was taking our bearings and writing them down on a chart. In spite of my inexperience, I was soon piloting a large boat and plotting courses. I just had to go step by step. I knew close to nothing when I began, but I’d learned a lot when the trip was over. Through some pretty rough storms, torn foresails and stalled motors we’d made it to our various destinations.

Whenever I hesitate to try something new, I try to remember the boat. I recall how not overthinking was key. I also remember how important it was to know where we were – and to know where it was that we wanted to go next.

I know where I am. I know that my body is not what it was. I also know where my body will go if I live long enough. No one can evade the physical reality of aging, no matter how healthy they may be. So while I’m alive and able, I owe it to myself to get on the boat and go.

I owe it to myself to check the map, chart a simple course, and head for the waypoint.

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elizabethconant.com

AeroCraft

Elihu’s Music on YouTube