The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

53 and Me May 3, 2017

Shortly after Elihu and I moved to upstate New York from the suburbs of Chicago almost nine years ago, I became profoundly afraid of the unknowns that awaited me. My previous life had been laid out pretty well, and my future had never been a terribly big concern. I would be a wife, a mother, a teacher, a part-time musician… the rest would take care of itself. But upon arriving here – with no job, no students, no husband, no friends, no music, no connections, no money, no health insurance, no savings – and the rest of my life stretching out vast and empty before me, I was overcome with fear. Core-shaking, nausea-inducing fear. Marlboro reds and red wine were not enough. And so one day I did the only thing left to do. I called a psychic.

Yeah, I know. But still… I remember not feeling like I’d exactly gotten my money’s worth at the conclusion of our meeting. I am not a fan of readings in which they tell you what you already know; instead I want proactive advice; situations to be on the lookout for, and actions to avoid. Practical stuff I can use. I’d like some guidance on my way back to the path. But the reading left me with just the usual sorts of things; a couple of insights, some advice – and what that advice was I certainly can’t recall now – but I do remember that this fellow had become repeatedly aware of the number ’53’ during our session. At the time it meant nothing to me, but he told me to keep an eye out for it, and that he sensed quite strongly that it had – or would have one day – some real significance in my life. I filed it away in my head, and before long it was forgotten as the survivalist years began in earnest.

Since that first summer here, so many incredibly valuable, challenging and life-changing events have transpired that I would never in a million years have expected to know firsthand. However for great stretches at a time I had my plate so full that I didn’t have the time – or the perspective – to consider what it was I might have been learning from my new situation; instead my main concerns were simply getting through a day with enough food, heat and a happy child. Occasionally I would catch glimpses of a promising future that might one day emerge if I just kept moving… But those moments of insight and clarity were few and far between as days, weeks and months passed in a depressing, stressful and exhausting blur. Sometimes though, my mind would often go back to that particular number. Fifty-three did not speak to me of anything significant; a humdrum number with no promise or hidden meaning. What on earth could 53 possibly mean? I wondered over and over.  How might this number change my life? If this 53 pertained to my age, then it would likely prove to be a letdown – middle age would be firmly upon me by then, I’d think to myself, looking elsewhere for its significance. At the end of my periodic ruminations I would always come up with nothing. Fifty-three was a wash. Just another number or just another year. Whatever.

Not too long ago, as Elihu and I sat at the breakfast table, the number 53 floated into my thoughts, and so I posed an innocent question to my son: Had this year in particular been much different for me from all those that had come before? Without hesitating Elihu said “Oh yes. Definitely.” My eyebrows went up. “How so?” Sometimes the answers I seek from my son try his patience, as either they are so obvious or they are simply set up to reassure my failing ego, something for which Elihu has little sympathy. My gut was tightening at the prospect of him scolding me and letting the “obvious” answer go unspoken. Thankfully he answered with a straightforward list of reasons. And as I heard the reasons spoken aloud, I began to wonder if we weren’t perhaps in the very midst of the mysterious 53 right here and now… My son and I are forty years apart in age, and while this, his thirteenth year, was an easily identifiable landmark in his life, my own age of 53 hadn’t really appeared to be a milestone. At least not at face value. But digging deeper, I realized that this had been a hugely significant year for me…

After he’d finished, I asked him please to indulge me, and to repeat what he’d just said. I was grateful that he did. “This is the first complete year The Studio has been working as a business” he started. “It’s a real thing now. You played your first solo job since I was born. You’ve had singing gigs with a jazz guitarist. You have friends. You’re even working out again.” (And, little did he know, I’d lost seven pounds and was facing the thrilling prospect of wearing my favorite clothes again.) I stopped for a moment to consider what he’d said. Damn. The kid was right.

I did a quick review in my head of all the months of the past year, all the tiny landmarks, all the firsts, all of the milestones reached. I created bylaws, held board meetings, drafted contracts, learned dozens of new songs, met lots of people, gotten new gigs and developed new skills – and a bit more confidence, too. It was easy to forget the progress when my nose was always to the ground, my mind only on the present day’s to-do list… But when I lifted my gaze it was possible to see that I really had covered new ground. Wow. I was actually in a better place than I used to be. Crazy. Whoda thunk? Certainly not me!

I’m still fairly surprised to notice that things feel pretty good at this moment in time. I feel that finally, finally, I’m getting some traction here as I move into this next era of my life. Finally I can see the future taking shape and my once far-off goals coming into sharper focus. So as I wrap up another year of residency on this planet (my birthday is May 7th) I can truly say that 53 has been good to me. Mystery solved. And just sayin – I’ll be ready for more at 54…

 

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Would ya just look at what’s been going on at The Studio? Night and day from a year ago, right?

 

 

 

 

 

Judging A Book April 25, 2016

Ace Productions

Me, (on the right) back in the day. Chicago’s own Ace Productions. From rocker to chicken farmer. Crazy.

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Things aren’t always what they seem, are they?

The past two weeks have been so crammed with the events of life, both mundane and profound, and in the process of moving through all of it, the surprises just keep coming. To those on the outside looking in, it might seem we’ve got a quiet, simple life here in the country. But a closer look would tell one otherwise. Even now, when my son is absent for the week, I’m so beset with to-do lists that I feel almost stopped before I’ve begun. This is nothing new, however, and lest I come off sounding too whiny, let me add that it’s definitely a good sort of work that I’m beset with. I work for myself, I’m beholden only to my own dreams and goals, and for the most part, the stress in my life is low. Mostly.

I’ve spent the past six hours beginning to print out the past five years worth of blog posts, and it’s been interesting to see how my life’s evolved since we moved here from Chicago, now over seven years ago. Some things were planned for, but most were not (of course that we’re here at all was never, ever part of my plan!). And all of my experiences, pleasant or otherwise, have brought me to the place where I exist today, which is, at the end of the day, not a bad place to be. Actually it can be an exciting place to be. That’s not to say the future isn’t daunting. Yeah, it still scares me. But to look back over the past few years has helped me to realize how far Elihu and I have both come.

The other day a new friend of mine came over to see my home. She was rather taken aback at the interior – apparently I hadn’t accurately represented it the way it appeared to her. “You said it was a crappy little ranch house…?” she said, a little confused. But here’s the thing, it is a crappy little ranch house! It’s got all of four rooms – and apart from the walls I painted, there’s a distinct, lingering essence of Brady Bunch (partly due to the harvest gold range). Yes, on the face of it, I live in a modest, almost crappy house. But inside it’s cozy, inviting and easy on the eyes. It’s not so much the piano, the harpsichord, the great view or how it’s decorated, but rather that it’s comfortable, and most importantly, it’s lived in. Elihu and I have often joked that we have a “tardis” house – cuz it feels completely different on the inside than it looks on the outside. Yup, outer appearances don’t always tell the whole story.

Last night I went out. Went to a dinner and evening of gambling at the Casino and Raceway. I am not terribly fond of the place, but for one night of the year I allow myself to “do as the Romans do”, and I try to enjoy the place for what it is (not a good fit for someone on a lean budget perhaps, but thankfully my penny betting netted me $6). During my night I met several interesting people. Firstly, I met a successful local realtor, who showed off his smooth interpersonal skills like a modern-day, barroom Yoda. I learned his father was a piano tuner, his grandfather had played the banjo, and he himself was a barber shop singer. Yet in spite of the personal tidbits he had given me, I didn’t end up feeling completely at ease with him; his eyes scanned the room almost continuously, seldom stopping to meet mine, and it made me wonder if he might have wished an escape from our conversation, which may have gone on too long for his comfort. I tend to filter very little, and don’t cultivate a very ‘pro’ game face in social situations. Maybe that was it. Maybe he was eager for his girlfriend to arrive. Maybe I was simply thinking too much, and this was just how he was. Who knows? Regardless, it was interesting to talk with him, and the direction of this post was in good part inspired my our conversation.

The fellow serving our prime rib on the buffet line turned out to be an interesting fellow as well. One parent was from Montreal, one from Mexico, he’d grown up between the two, and he had an engineering degree but now worked as a chef. I’m always interested to hear how people got here from wherever it was they were before. So many stories. Mind boggling. The bartender in the dance club was European, of French and Italian parents, her co-worker from Ukraine. And as I danced, I noticed a black man in a wheelchair on the sidelines. Feeling a little guilty that I was dancing, and that he couldn’t, I went over and said hello. Turns out he’s a motivational speaker and trainer – and he was just doing a little assessment of the crowd as to whether he would indeed get on the dance floor – sometimes it feels right, sometimes it doesn’t, he explained. He told me he loves to dance, and then did a little spin in his chair showing off some colored lights under the wheels.

After drawing “Prince” and then his “formerly known as” symbol on my hand in sharpie and waving it at the DJ (to which he nodded enthusiastically), I waited for a long while, thinking this would be the perfect ending to the night. But again, what seems obvious to me might not seem so obvious to the other guy. It seemed without question that a dance club would pay homage to Prince only two days after his death – don’t you think? Well, these guys didn’t. No one did. And in fact, Prince’s death really didn’t resonate in any meaningful way with any of the people in my small group. Seriously. It kinda shocked me. But again, each of us lives in our own tiny universe. My mother can’t live without the opera on Saturday afternoons, me I like Prairie Home Companion, and a whole lotta folks don’t know or care about either. We judge others by how we feel, and by what’s important to us, and sometimes that criteria doesn’t even exist for others.

Prince himself is a great example of the paradox of perception. His take-no-prisoners showmanship and over the top sexuality – in fact, his over-the-top androgyny – all of it might suggest a man who might well be full of himself. In real life, Prince was nothing like the expression of himself on stage, in fact, he was a private person who lived a rather usual life at home. He enjoyed his friends, he enjoyed supporting and guiding young talents, and he enjoyed seeing those around him happy and thriving. But more than this – he was actually frightened by the prospect of getting on stage. He suffered from anxiety, and felt most comfortable and stress-free when at home. Which is why, I suppose, he hunkered down in Minneapolis, never moving up and out to a more lavish lifestyle in a more glamorous location. Stories are now coming to the fore of his having acquired a dependence on certain opiates in order to function as he needed to. And this I understand. I’ve lived with panic attacks since the age of 14, and they are not a joke. Nor are they something that can be rationally understood, or mitigated by practical wisdom. In fact, I’m not sure that I’d find myself comfortable on stage anymore. There was a time when I could sing a cappella for thousands of people and not be frightened – hell, once upon a time that was inspiring. But not these days. Not that the idea doesn’t thrill me, but something irrational and deep inside wouldn’t make it easy. So I get it. Prince had two sides – each viable, each genuine – but each completely different from the other. But to look at the guy, you’d never know.

Life is full of variety, surprises and unpredictable events. And it’s certainly not under our control. Our guidance, perhaps, but control?…. nope. What I’ve learned, in going through my old posts tonight, and in meeting so many new people these past few weeks, as well as trying to better understand the death of a personal hero, is that it behooves one to listen, and to try to really understand where other people are coming from. It’s important to try to learn how they see the world. When I remember this, I find it helps smooth out rough patches in my relationships, and it helps me to consider troubling situations as possible opportunities for new ways of thinking about the world.

A final note about Prince that I wish to make so very clear: he was a person who lived with love and respect for all living things. He felt a deep, reverential connection to God through his music. He was a mentor, a teacher, a philanthropist. He was, in my opinion, an incredibly powerful expression of God among us. He was so super-bad and over-the-top, that his love, reverence and wisdom could be easily missed by those who saw only what he presented to the world. So, it just goes to show. You never really know what’s inside the book until you start to read…

 

Crazy January 1, 2016

Last night I spoke with Elihu. He’s in Florida with his dad and his dad’s other family, and for the most part, he’s loving it. He’s got a racoon tan around his eyes and sand lodged in his sneakers. Aside from the occasional all-American family gatherings which he must endure – replete with football-watching menfolk and salads that contain marshmallows – it’s been a happy time for him. Which makes me happy, too. Yet it’s never easy on this end when lil man is absent; our family if rife with dysfunction, depression and a deep apprehension for the future ahead. My son can be a lovely, shining distraction in such times. But these days, even Elihu’s presence might not have changed things, cuz they’re dark. I know, that doesn’t sound like a nice way to kick off the New Year, but hey. It’s true. I’m always ready and eager to find the hidden silver lining in any crappy experience, and I’ll broadcast my good findings when I discover them, but I will never shy away from telling my experience the way it is, no matter how it looks.

Last night, New Year’s Eve, was my brother’s 50th birthday. I know how deeply he blames me for his rotted-out, stinking life. I know he thinks mom gives me all her resources, that she favors me over him, that one day she will leave her entire estate to me when she goes. That none of this is true is beside the point; Andrew is ill, and simply does not posses the ability to see things outside of his own highly personal and paranoid perspective. For years and years I’ve fought this impediment to his potentially thriving life, but now, in this brand-new calendar year, I am choosing an entirely new tack: I am finally going to let it go. Nothing can be done for Andrew unless he chooses to do it for himself.

A lesson I myself would do well to live by – I keep waiting for some mysterious exterior force to enter into my life and help sweep things into a shining new order… Hoping for a savior to come and assist me, to uplift me, enlighten me, tell me how it is that I should proceed with my new business, someone who will see and share my vision and throw herself into the ring along with me, full of fresh ideas, vigor and business savvy. I keep thinking that somehow, this magical missing element will find me and make it all better. It’s a nice fantasy, and you never know, shit happens in mysterious ways, but still… I need to get moving. I need to make connections. I need to get my ass out of the goddam house and do things for myself already. No one but me can get the ball rolling.

Last night I’d planned on attending a bonfire and maybe meeting some new people, but between my running out of fuel oil (no matter how many times you see it, it’s always a bit disheartening to see the needle begin to visibly drop each minute) and it being Andrew’s birthday, and his being drunk and storming out, and my not wanting to see my mother sit alone, I bagged. Plus the idea of coming home from a bonfire in the cold, snowy dark woods to a cold and dark house was too much for me to take on. So instead I sat with mom, drank a couple of beers and watched TV like a good American. But that’s ok – because I’m lucky enough to have been invited to join some local musicians tomorrow night for an informal jam. Just the sort of thing I’ve been missing these past years. It won’t be too long before I’ll be back out into the world and making my new way.

During the day I’d been messaging back and forth with my brother’s only remaining friend on the planet, a fellow, who as far as I can tell, is living in the Bay area and is doing well for himself and his family. He spends hours on the phone with my brother, as much chatting about nothing in particular as he does conducting a covert attempt to draw out my brother’s feelings as a means of getting to the bottom of it all – and maybe even finding a fix to Andrew’s grim situation. However sane and successful this guy might be, sadly this fellow seems to have bought my brother’s skewed story, which is this: I, Andrew’s sister, am the cause of everything that is wrong with his life. He has been profoundly abandoned and unrighteously neglected by our mother. Mom pays my way, and leaves him out. I get all the accolades, he gets no respect. I live for free in a house she owns… You get the idea. What my brother doesn’t understand is that while yes, I do live in a home our mother provides for us, he too lives in a home provided for him. The difference is that I pay my own bills (while also raising a child), and mom takes care all of his expenses. But he’ll never see this. Because he can’t.

The truth of the matter is that my little brother has always been sick. In first grade, he came home from school reporting in a screaming rage how much the kids at school hated him, and that the whole class had “pulled machine guns on him” (I remember this specifically because as a 3rd grader I had never before heard this curious use of the word ‘pulled’). Last night, Mom recounted to me that when she’d gone back to work when we were young children, Andrew had asked her if he got a tummy ache in the middle of the day, would she be at home for him? She was honest and told her small son no. But she promised always to be there when he got home from school. And she was. So here we have a kid in whom something’s already a bit off (ie raging how kids ‘pulled machine guns’) and then you have growing feelings of abandonment on top of it: a cocktail for emotional trouble. But back then the signs were likely cast off as crazy kid’s talk, the behaviors chalked up to routine issues of childhood. My brother was quiet, funny and hyper-intelligent (when I described him once as ‘Rainman smart’ to my mom, she had a fit. “See?” she’d said, agitated and getting louder, “You think he’s crazy! Why can’t he just be smart?”) and if he brooded, it was considered merely part of his personality. It was a different time. We weren’t on the lookout for children with mental illnesses.

And while our culture is thankfully changing its feelings towards mental illness, I can tell you that it’s still not without stigma. I do think my mother’s thoughts about mental illness have changed over the past few years, but in her world it’s still not a comfortable subject. Yeah, I do think that personally she feels shame, maybe embarrassment, and even responsibility. Likely, she sees it this way: Mentally Ill Child = Crazy Child = Failure of Parent. Even I myself – dealing daily with panic and anxiety issues – have only just discovered a metaphor that allows for a deeper understanding of what it is to have a mental illness: If someone felt nauseas in their stomach – would you try to tell them they didn’t? Furthermore – you wouldn’t expect them to simply turn off the bad feelings, would you? Mental illness is the same as a tummy ache. It’s physical and it’s real, and it cannot be changed through will and desire alone.

Every now and then my brother’s friend will reveal a tidbit about Andrew heretofore unknown to us, and last night came this bombshell: Andrew remembers mom once saying that she ‘regretted ever having him’. Where the hell had this come from? Never once in mom’s life has she said or done anything that would have implied such a thing. Not even in the heat of an argument. Never. It shocked me to hear that Andrew thought this. And these days, in this crazy world, nothing much shocks me anymore.

I joined mom and Andrew last night, birthday gifts in tow, and tried to assimilate myself into the kitchen quietly. But I suppose I spoke too candidly, too animatedly, too something-or-other, and before ten minutes had passed, my drunk, brooding brother stood up and walked out. I followed him out into the snow, calling after him, begging him not to leave. He stumbled in the frozen ruts of the driveway and mumbled something unintelligible. This, by now, was sadly nothing new. I stood and watched, to make sure he made it safely to his house, some 200 feet down the driveway. The year that dad died, Andrew had fallen in the snow, and we were worried he’d pass out and die there. It’s always a concern in the cold months. On Christmas Eve, my 80-year-old mother had been worried enough to walk the rough terrain around his house, tapping her cane on the windows and calling out to him. Finally, he came to the window and barked at her he wasn’t leaving his house. Usually his rages are brought on by an event or a comment, but this was new – it was unprovoked, and as such, more unsettling than usual.

Among his concerns for his future, Andrew is worried that I will get everything when mom’s gone, and he will go the way of the poor house. Frankly, the way the market is, I expressed to mom that I personally held out no hope of a dollar being left when she died. She took immense offense to this, even though I protested – the markets were continuing to dive, and after all, she had her own expenses to pay. It was simple math! She’d been smart about her estate planning, yes, but no one can outrun a horrible market – this in no way reflected badly on her! Try as I might to de-escalate her emotionally charged reaction, I couldn’t. Maybe it was because my lack of trust showed a lack of respect and acknowledgement for all of her hard work and forethought. Her generation does things ‘the right way’ after all; they take care of their own, they don’t take handouts, and there’s great shame if things don’t work out that way. But things can change in unexpected ways, I tried to explain to my mom. And in light of my own experience, I thought it was prudent to be prepared for the worst.

At one time in my life I thought my husband had my back – emotionally and financially – as he had always promised me. Many times over the years my ex husband assured me I had nothing to worry about. He said his own mother had worried all of her married life that her husband would leave her unsupported. My fears were just as unfounded as hers, he had told me. But as it turned out, that wasn’t the case. I went from fancy restaurants to food stamps almost overnight. I reminded my mom of this. Shit can change in unpredictable ways!

I tried to assure mom that I was forever indebted to her for taking care of everything I couldn’t – tuition for my son, heating oil and injections of cash when there was no income in sight – but that didn’t assuage her agitation. I wanted her to know that I was being practical here, not personal; at the end of the day, no one really had my back. And it didn’t bother me. It was better to be emotionally prepared for lean times than to count on help. I tried to assure her that I wasn’t worried – and besides, the key thing here was not my future, but my brother’s. The issue at hand was that Andrew needed to know he would always be taken care of. I assured her that when she was gone Andrew would be cared for. I promised I would intercede, that I would not let him go without a home, without food or heat. And if there was no money left, then social services and governmental support would always be there for him, and I would always be able to advocate for him. I had hoped to ease her mind, but I don’t think it worked.

As long as my mother is living, and my brother too, there is nothing I can do to change their dynamic. The best thing I can do is remove myself as far as possible from the mix. I’ve spent countless hours on the phone, writing letters, emails, standing in lines, filling out forms – all to help Andrew get better. But with this new year has come a new realization – I cannot do anything for him. I cannot repair anything, and I can’t change the way he lives or thinks, nor can I change the way my mother behaves or thinks. While I may think the short and easy answer is a little tough love from mom – if she cannot bring herself to do it, then it’s not an answer. I explained that she was ‘an enabler’, but judging from the look on her face, I wasn’t sure she’d gotten my meaning. When I suggested that she withhold payment of his electric bill until he agreed to see a counselor, she moaned in classic passive-aggressive tones “I know, I know. It’s all my fault. You’ve made that perfectly clear.” So around and around we went with no real meeting of the minds.

I had simply wanted to remove a burden from her load, but it had backfired. She was not thrilled when I posited a long life of continual, low-grade poverty for myself (sorry, but I don’t see any gleaming opportunities from where I stand today). Honestly, I’d love to have money, and if I did, I’d use it well and wisely, and I’d share it too – but if that never happens, I need to be happy with what I have. Lowering one’s expectations softens the blow of reality. Hell, even years ago – when I had all the money I needed – I’d often say ‘lower your standards and you’ll be happier with the results’. Cuz seriously, it’s so true! Because then, any good that comes your way is lovely and unexpected icing on the cake! Yeah, I prefer to avoid disappointment by moderating my expectations. Crazy? Meh.

As I’ve been writing this, coincidentally, I’ve been talking on the phone to a friend of mine back in Chicago who is enduring her own battle with addiction. She’s an alcoholic, and last night, on New Year’s Eve, she had decided she would admit herself to the rehab program at a local hospital. (Like me, she is, although intelligent and accomplished at many things, living in poverty. Sadly, Medicaid offers very few options for inpatient recovery addiction programs. To my great relief there was a good local hospital available to her.) My thoughts were partly on her last night – was she there yet? Was she trembling yet? How crappy did she feel? I had told my mother about her. “Why does she need to go back to rehab if she’s already been through it before?” my mother asked, honestly confused. I promised my mother that rehab was very, very hard. That it might take several tries before someone had the strength to follow through all the way. And that even then it was not a fail-proof solution.

And as I explained this to my mother, inside I came to a new, deeper understanding about Andrew. He needed to want it, to crave it, to be willing to fight for it – all on his own. If a professionally successful mother of three had a hard time mustering the focus and will it took to get clean, how on earth could my brother even begin? In that epiphany I was no longer convinced that recovery was an option for him. Certainly it would never happen as things were now. Later on my friend called me from intake. We chatted a bit, laughed a bit, and I felt hopeful for her. She too knows that this time it still might not take; that this is a harsh and unkind world, and it will be difficult to go it without a drink. Her road will be hard. But I’m so grateful that she’s at least back on the path. Not everyone gets as far as that.

New Year, new game. I can’t play that old one anymore. I’m letting go of Andrew and his burden, I’m going to move into my future with focus and fortitude. The YMCA approved my reduced membership fees, so I’ll get back on that path. Haven’t moved in a long time, so my body will appreciate it. I’ll devote to my new business the time it requires, and I’ll figure out how to improve those things that I’m currently doing my best to avoid. Sometimes it might seem pure folly to use some arbitrary mark on a calendar as a reason to undertake great changes, but hey, if not now, then when? This will be a good year for me and my son, I just kinda feel it. At least I’m reasonably hopeful that it will be. One never knows. Serendipity and unexpected blessings are just as crazy and unpredictable as the scary stuff. Truly, it’s a mixed bag, and you’ll never know until you go.

So like I said, I’m going forward into this New Year with guarded, modest and humble expectations. That way, the little successes along the way will appear huge and thrilling! Imagine how wonderful it will feel when happy, unplanned-for events fall into my path when all I meant to do was just get through the day! Now that’s my kind of crazy.

Elihu with tanI’ll tell ya what’s crazy… Dad talked Elihu into cutting his precious hair – which he’d been intentionally growing, with my support for a year now – all because the family was having professional photo portraits taken on the beach. My kid felt duped, and he’d held back tears. He was deeply sad when we spoke this afternoon, but he’s a good kid, and he accepted it without complaint. We’ll be back on the quest for long locks upon his return. Love my boy so deeply it hurts sometimes.

 

 

Breaking Ground January 31, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0133The only access to the attic is above the pantry.

IMG_0137Here’s the fellow stoking the machine…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0287$$$

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0357Watch your fingers. !!

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

IMG_0367I know what we’re having for supper!

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

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

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Some videos of the main event…

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

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

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

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

 

Grounded January 23, 2015

IMG_5897

Because Elihu missed four days of school from having the flu lately, he’d been a bit behind in his homework. He was staying on track, and we’d talked to his teacher, so I wasn’t worried. But he was. Poor kid’s been having a hell of a time getting to sleep over the past few months, and now, what with this school thing, it’s worse. Part of the reason is that in addition to school, there are a few other things weighing on his mind.

A few days ago he pulled his two oldest helicopters off the shelf and began an online quest for replacement parts. He misses seeing the giant one fly – it was his first, and we both have nice memories with it. “It isn’t right that it costs more to replace the broken parts than to buy a whole new one. It’s just a waste. It’s not right” he had lamented to me earlier that night. He’d admitted to me that he felt a deep sentiment towards this one particular heli – the big orange one he’d had since he was himself tiny – like the kind of feelings someone usually reserves for favorite stuffed animals. And I’d agreed. This machine was our friend, and we owed it to him to get him back in the air.

But it didn’t seem likely, from what we were learning. In fact, if we wanted to fly this one again, it just made economic sense to get a new one and use it for parts. Elihu resigned himself to this, but I could tell it disappointed him deeply. This was just another mild defeat which added to his sinking mood. I knew there was another piece too – one which he’d been keeping to himself because it was just too heartbreaking to speak aloud, and that was the absence of an old school chum from his life. The boy whose mother felt I made “bad parenting choices” by way of removing feathers from a dead owl or using a cuss word within earshot of my kid… She removed her son from the Waldorf School last year (no, I was not the reason for the change, although I’m sure it relieved her to be rid of me), and Elihu’s had a huge hole in his heart ever since. I emailed her recently about getting the boys together – completely on her terms, on her turf, whatever could work – but heard nothing back. That’s the way she handled the situation last time, and apparently it was still her method. Last year it took me three emails plus an intervention by the class teacher to get her to admit the reason she wouldn’t agree to our sons playing together. (Ironically she’s a psychologist and her job is to help people through communication. !) Plus the blog. She finds that to be the most dangerous of my bad parenting choices. Even after I removed every last image or mention of her son – and apologized profusely – even then it wasn’t enough to pacify her (when I apologized in person she had literally said “no worries”). And so my kid suffers. Many tears have fallen over this lost friendship, and we’ve spent hours parsing over the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what might yets’. Elihu has learned to stuff it down, to forget it for now. But tonight, feeling the stress of being behind in his work, unable to fly his favorite toy and long out of touch with his old best friend, he succumbs.

He’s curled up into such a tight ball on his bed that I can’t lean in to kiss his forehead. Instead I kneel beside his bed and put my arms around him. “Mama, I’m really scared. I really am.” I hate to hear this from my brave, spirited and wise boy. But I can’t indulge in my own feelings of fear and uncertainty; I need to provide comfort. “What are you afraid of, sweetie?” I ask. “I’m just afraid,” he answers me. “Of everything.” I tell him that I am too, and that sometimes we just need to break things down and tackle them one at a time. He was behind, but still keeping to a schedule, so that was good. We’d found a website that sells his old helicopter, and that was good. And we’d sent an email to his friend, so we’d done all we could on that front. Until his friend was a teenager with his own ability to communicate with us, sadly that one would have to wait. But besides, wasn’t life sometimes magical for us? Didn’t the possibility exist that we might see him sometime when we were out and about in the world? After all, didn’t crazier, more serendipitous things happen to us from time to time? Elihu nodded his head a bit. I stroked his back and sat with him in silence for a moment. When he gradually straightened up, I could feel the bed was wet with tears where his head had been. I leaned in and kissed him. “It will be ok. It will.”

After our talk I’d left him to sleep, but even after two hours had passed he hadn’t been able to turn off his mind, to forget all that troubled him. Finally, he stormed into my room with Lenny, his favorite stuffed parrot, and harumphed as he dove into my bed. I didn’t say anything, I just turned off my computer and joined him. I understand so well the challenges of sleeping at night; my own thoughts race through the never-ending to-do lists and possible future scenarios, both hopeful – and frightening. Always just a couple steps ahead of a dire economic state, I live with a constant, low-level of stress which I’m afraid has somehow bled over into my son’s consciousness. I know our household is full of humor, music and nature. I know unquestionably that I have given Elihu the very best home life possible within my means. But I also know that he, like me, feels the edge on which we live. And he, like me, is physiologically prone to anxiety and panic. And he, like me, has no social life to distract or entertain him. He has but one friend with whom he meets outside of school, and those dates are too few, I know. He, like me, is for all intents and purposes, a loner. And that’s not a bad thing; for the most part we both enjoy living a quiet, isolated life in the country. Being a loner truly isn’t the same thing as being lonely, but tonight it really does feel just as bad as it sounds.

I realize that this will pass. Elihu’s an insightful kid, and so he knows this too. Things won’t always be thus. And no matter who or what it is that’s doing the flying – even his old favorite aviator, the tireless Wandering Albatross – not a one of them can keep on flying forever. Eventually everything must spend a little time on the ground.

 

Dream Gift December 25, 2014

For the most part, my dreams aren’t that mysterious. While they take place in some fabulously surreal landscapes, the subjects are easy to recognize. My dreams are a Dadaesque montage of various and sundry events from my current life, taking place in the settings of my earlier life. Usually things happen alongside modified versions of a vast lake (Michigan), in a place under a canopy of trees (Evanston) or beside a modern city on that same lake (Chicago). My inherent nostalgic bent thrives as I sleep, and upon waking I feel a hazy sort of satisfaction to have returned ‘home’ for a visit. My dreams look backward, not forward. I see no sense in keeping a dream journal to glean hints of powerful hidden foreshadowing, because from stem to stern, I’m just not the kind of gal who thinks a whole lot about the future.

Until last night. I slept in fits and starts, due to a stubborn cold which made my breathing difficult and irregular, and as a result I was able to awaken in the midst of several dream sequences, all of which I can easily recall. And the thing that struck me, as I reviewed the scenes in my head before rising, was that they took place here. And now. And – more intriguing to me – was the fact that they were all somehow centered on the Studio. There was construction, industry, there were people working together, sharing the vision… Hammering, drilling, the smell of lumber, the sight of studs awaiting drywall… At one point I awoke in a start, yelling out loud “We must have two bathrooms!”, and found my heart pounding as I sat up in bed, still panicked that the contractors had overlooked this very important feature…. When I came to, and realized that we did have two bathrooms, I was greatly relieved. I pulled the scene back into my mind’s eye and studied it more closely. Now this was interesting; there were some design ideas there I hadn’t considered before that just might work… Merry Christmas indeed. This felt like a gift.

People may tire of my manic swings, hell, I myself can’t believe how low and high I can go in such short order, and how endlessly I can do so… But I’ve long been mulling over the idea of what’s missing in my life these days, and how I need to redefine myself and live into the future ahead. A lack of planning skills is in some way why I’m here, now, in this present funk. So I need to start envisioning how it all might look one day… Elihu will be gone into the world in too little time, and if I think I’m having an existential crisis now, just imagine how it’ll hit me then!

I know, as well as everyone does, that the main objective of life is to express love in the world, and that expression takes its form in service to others. I’m not a big fan of hard work, or methodical process, so I’ve chosen to do my part in the service sector in the guise of smiles to strangers, small talk to disenfranchised-looking folks and such. Not meaning to sound too full of my self, I do admit a certain ease when it comes to expressing compassion and connecting with people. Elihu once remarked about me that I seemed to make friends wherever I go. Yeah, kinda. But that’s easy. I kinda feel I need to step it up a bit more.

I love teaching, I love coaching kids, and it’s the best feeling in the world when they get something. Hell, I love it when my adult students get something. I have never been a particularly hard worker, so I’m keen on sharing my slacker shortcuts with anyone. If I can save anyone else from all the time spent not understanding what the hell was going on – in music, in life, in any endeavor – then I feel I’ve done something of service to my fellow humans. That’s all well and good, but somehow, I gotta cast a bigger net. But I’m so afraid. I try to identify what imaginary, invisible thing it is that holds me back. After spending the last two days reading the memoirs of three successful women writers, I can identify one thing right off the bat: I don’t have an insatiable drive for success. Seriously. I am fucking lazy. I’m not being all needlessly self-effacing here; I’ll admit that when I’m in it, I’m in it. And I can work my ass off. I can produce tangible results like crazy. I’m good at organizing, assessing and restoring visual order (when given the wide-open space and freedom from parenting duties). So yeah, I can work. But it’s private. There’s no one to judge, to witness. And like I said, I don’t experience this kind of work ethic until the place is clear of kid duty. And see, that’s one big problem. These other women did it fine with kids in the mix. Me, I just don’t get that. Plus they had spouses, boyfriends, even goddam deadlines. I do remember the adage “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”, and I can vaguely remember a time in my life when that might have been said of me, but right now, the way I feel here and now – forget it. I get panicky just trying to envision coaching a small ensemble, never mind running a series of educational programs and making sure that our 501(c)3 papers are in order. Shit. How will this work? I can’t do this. Can I?

I gotta. The key to ridding myself of panic, of that paralyzing horror, the key to wanting to wake up in the morning and not distracting myself all day long by keeping a super-tidy house and making a killer tasty supper – the key to all of this is to be of service in the world. I thrive on being a good mother, and I thrive on buoying the spirits of those who seem to have withered under the weight of it all – cuz I so get it – but I think it’s time to be brave and take on more. This cold I’m currently experiencing has done a nice job of presenting me with a swath of guilt-free down time. Time in which to read, to learn what it feels like in someone else’s head, to get a new perspective, to digest… It’s been a good couple of days. My nose is sore as hell, I can hardly hear a thing in my right ear and my eyes are still disgustingly red and watery, but it’s all good. In a way, this miserable cold has kinda been a gift.

It’s hard to imagine that my position at Waldorf is over, at my choice, and that I have no tether. With an audience to witness this internal struggle, I haven’t left myself an opportunity for escape. (Believe me, I wrestle with whether or not to even include the whole Studio story here. I am so tempted to pretend these thoughts never happened, so tempted to continue teaching, being a mother, collecting eggs, all as if nothing else mattered. Who knows, I still might do that. Just sayin.) If nothing else stands to motivate me, I must remember my father. I cannot allow this amazing gift of such a beautiful venue go to waste. If nothing else, I must continue his legacy. It’s taken a year (and even so, I’m still not completely there) to realize that I can never, ever hope to come close to doing what he did. His gift was early music, and it’s not mine. To try and continue as before is impossible. Hard as it is to come to terms with, it’s true. I can only do what I do. My gift is connecting people, uplifting people, sharing insights, being a host. So I need to follow the spirit of my gift, in whatever form it needs to manifest.

It was last year on the 27th that dad died, and a year ago January that the Studio flooded and ruined the gorgeous oak floor on which so many performances had taken place. A year since my heart was doubly broken. While I haven’t done as much as maybe I’d originally thought I would in the year since, I have to understand that this has been an important year, a necessary year. Like my cold, this stopping-in-my-tracks business of the flood, the demo and the slow start to rebuilding, this seemingly fucked up situation has actually turned to reveal itself as a gift. The gift of time for inner adjustment, the time to let go of what things were, to begin to nurture an idea of what things might yet be…

Recently, the forester called me to say they were ready to put the landing in for the logging equipment. Two years behind schedule, the logging of my family’s woods was finally scheduled to happen – which would not only put some money in the coffers to continue rebuilding, but it would, in the process, provide the Studio with its own parking lot. I can’t remember feeling as happy, joyful and hopeful in years as when he told me the news. We’re waiting on a good deep freeze to get the heavy equipment in, and because it’s been so warm and rainy lately, I almost feel as if it’ll never happen. As if the call from the forester might just have been a dream. When I get super down, I try to conjure that feeling of excitement, of progress. Not sure I’ll believe it til I see it. The drive is marked, I’ve circled the keeper trees with nylon tape, and the crew will call me when they’re on the way. I’ve been told that when it starts, it’ll happen fast. Which is good, cuz I could use some forward movement just about now.

In such unsuspecting ways do these life gifts reveal themselves. And in so many ways, this waking life itself is kinda like a dream. It meanders around new corners and pushes you into strange, unanticipated situations. And sometimes, I think, it might just be better to be surprised. Isn’t it more fun sometimes not to know what happens next? After all, it’s the element of surprise that makes it so exciting to unwrap a gift…

 

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Post Script:  Speaking of service, today I remembered Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr. as I searched my shelves for some new inspirational reading. My father and he were friends at Yale, where Rev. Sloane was chaplain – the two of them also sang in the Yale Glee Club – and I had Bill’s last book “Credo” autographed one year as a Christmas gift for my father. I was fortunate to enjoy a few conversations with Reverend Sloane; at the time I didn’t fully appreciate how lucky I was to have spoken with him. In revisiting some YouTube videos of him recently, I have a new appreciation for the fellow. In person he was just as warm and supportive as you’d imagine him to be. Here’s a short clip of Bill receiving an honor for his service, and some of this thoughts on the state of our world…

 

Wrapped Up December 24, 2014

I’m alone in my house on Christmas Eve. That in of itself isn’t so bad, not really, but I’ve come down with quite a cold, a furious case of pink eye, and there’s nothing much of interest on hand to eat. There’s the nagging feeling that my mom’s alone in her house too, and so is my brother. And we’re approaching the year anniversary of dad’s death. It adds to the strange, unresolved ache of the day. And there’s just too much time to think about it. Elihu called from Illinois a little while ago. He too feels that something’s missing. “There’s no magic” he told me. “It just feels like another regular day”. I know the absence of snow there doesn’t help, but there’s more to it than just that. “Does Santa still bring you anything?” he asked in a quiet voice. I could tell he was continuing to test the waters. I told him no. “When did Santa stop bringing you presents?” I deliver my answer as tenderly as I possibly can…”High school, college… I suppose around the time I kinda became a grownup.” There was a long pause. As I sat on the couch, looking past the Christmas tree to the field of melting snow and misty woods beyond, I could feel something shifting in my son. He was resisting this coming of age thing. I knew it, he knew it, but neither of us dared to say it aloud. I’d thought this year would be it, and it might be, but his poor heart can’t let go of the last shreds of hope… Neither can mine.

Myself, I can’t remember a defining moment. When I knew for sure. Plenty of folks have had them – Elihu’s own father knew the jig was up when crawling through the attic he came upon his presents wrapped and ready to go – but I can’t recall one moment when it all became clear. I, like my son, resisted the bleak, harsh truth; the end of youth, magic and suspense. Who knows when I knew Santa didn’t exist? Was I nine? Nineteen? No one in my family ever discussed it, and so for me it kinda faded out gradually. I’m conflicted about this whole thing, do I just tell him? Write him a letter? Wait for him to ask me point-blank? He’s asked me about as directly as he was able, and I, not wanting to cave, had begun to laugh. Then he began to laugh. And once again, we had evaded the question… and the answer. There’s just so much loneliness and heartbreak in the world, and I’m feeling it now so keenly – that I can’t bear to bring more of the world’s reality down upon my little man. So I keep letting it go.

I had told Elihu earlier that I missed him, but that he didn’t have to feel like he missed me too. “Oh, I don’t. I’m too busy here to miss you. But I do sometimes miss the feeling of the Hillhouse. You know, the feeling. Because it’s always go, go go when I’m here. Sometimes I get tired.” We sat in silence for a moment, sharing the space between us, feeling each other’s presence. A moment later his little brother banged open the door to his room and announced it was lunchtime. The household of two small boys and a hyperactive, non-allergenic dog had come to reclaim my son. I heard voices in the room calling for him to join them. “Merry Christmas” he said, and then hung up.

Just about an hour ago I got a message from a friend that her father was not doing well. He’d just turned 88 yesterday, and now it seems his body was beginning to shut down. I’d seen him year before last and even then had noticed that he seemed slower, more mellowed. Older. I’d called his music shop only the day before to say hello, and he’d been very much on my mind of late. I hadn’t heard back and had planned on calling him again soon. My heart raced when I saw the message, and rather than plan a simple phone call, I began to plan for a trip to Chicago. But the reality is that I’m sick and broke, and I have chickens. It’s not very likely I’ll go. Even if I could afford train fare, rental car and someone to watch over my flock, I couldn’t go til I was well. I couldn’t visit him sick as I was. It hit me, and I sat with the weight of the truth in my gut. It wasn’t very likely that I’d ever see him again. Crap.

What keeps running through my mind is the last time I saw him and how I had left my camera at home. I wasn’t able to take any photos of us together. And it bothers me. And I think of all the times I’d wanted to call him just to thank him for mentoring me all those years ago – and all the times I just put it off til later – to find that there may not be a later. I remember my own father’s last days, likely a year ago today even that I had thanked him for giving me the gift of music. Through a cascade of tears I kissed him and held his hand and tried to make up for all the years I’d never expressed myself to him. This time, with this man, I likely won’t have the chance. It eats at me, and I try to find resolution. I’ll have his daughter tell him that I love him, that I thank him. It’ll have to do. One more sorrow I don’t know what to do with on this rainy Christmas Eve.

It was twenty-eight years ago tonight that I first met my future parents-in-law. My ex and I had had our first date the night before, and the next thing I knew I was having Christmas Eve dinner at his parent’s home. It was essentially the start of our relationship. And it was also this time of year that my ex had asked for a divorce. So this whole holiday time is kinda loaded for me. And being here all alone, I begin to wonder how it must be for so many out there in the world for whom things must be so much more dire. I don’t have things bad by any means, but the isolation is giving me too much time for reflection, and it’s getting to me. I think of all the other people out there across the land who themselves are locked in their own private despair, and my heart aches. It aches for the world.

Knowing I’d be facing a few days at home recuperating, yesterday I stocked up on books at the library. These days I have no need for fiction – I’m ravenous for memoirs. I cannot get enough of people’s stories. I want to know how they do it. How everyone manages… Just how stoic are people being? How fed up are they, really? How scared? I gravitate to the self-effacing, phobic types. I think to myself, yes, I get it, they get it, I’m not so bad off… But then I realize they were together enough to format their writing, to pitch it, to submit it, to actually get it published. And I feel bad again, I guess I am so bad off. The very thing I’d sought is what ends up deflating me. So I turn to Nora Ephron. She’s been through shit and come out on the other side, glorious. But of course, she’s gone now, and that gets to me. I can hardly read. Last night I discovered her movie Heartburn, and through the miracle (it’s still new to me) of Netflix, was able to watch the whole thing…

I watched, riveted. I couldn’t believe her story, I felt it so keenly. I knew how she felt; I have lived it myself. After the movie finished, I followed thread upon thread on Wikipedia, following the stories beyond the versions trimmed for print. So-and-so slept with so-and-so, children were born out-of-wedlock, families broken… I see people married several times in their lives, and I can’t wrap my brain around it, although no one else seems to have trouble with it. How can you make one family, leave them behind and go on to make another?  Clearly lots of folks start over. But I can’t see it. My childbearing years are over, I can’t have another family. So sadly for me, that’s not an option. I keep searching… I need something, but what? I know what’s missing: I’m looking for resolution. I want a happy ending that I can envision for myself. None is to be found. Something is nagging at me, beyond the dysfunction of my own family, beyond the emptiness of the moment and the lack of a complete family. It’s that ‘why are we here’ thing again. And with all this goddam spirit of Christmas talk, you’d think I’d get it. But I fucking don’t. Why isn’t this stupid, goddam life easier? Why can’t we all just find our mates, our families, and stay put? When a pregnant Rachel cries to her father about her cad of a husband in Heartburn, her dad responds “If monogamy is what you want, you should marry a swan.” Sigh.

It’s not just the split family thing that eats at me, although that sucks. I can’t watch television – a couple of commercials and I start to get angry – because it doesn’t represent the truth. We’re sold this false notion of happiness and belonging, of precious beginnings and tidy endings. Maybe I’m mad at myself for wanting to buy it. Like the Santa thing. So mixed on all of this. I want my son to enjoy a full and bustling home for Christmas – but goddam it, why can’t it be me with my family, my children, my husband, even my goddam dog? But then again, I wouldn’t know this life. It’s just not all a tidy affair, this life business.

I suppose the only way to wrap things up nice and tidy is with paper and ribbon.

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Here’s a video of me singing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (complete with the seldom-heard verse!) on Christmas Eve, six years ago tonight. I was completely doped up on antidepressants, as that was what made it possible for me to spend the night in my own house with Elihu, my husband, his girlfriend and their new baby down the hall… I can’t believe I was there… it still seems like a bizarre dream… I had gone back to Illinois to show my son some sort of brave front, to show that nothing was amiss… Some may wonder how in hell I could have subjected myself to such a thing, but the situation was still fresh, and I still didn’t quite believe it was happening. My friend Karen (at the piano) saved me that night as she did many times in those difficult, early years. We really had fun doing a couple of these impromptu songs with her and her brother and it helped keep my spirits up… It’s a cute video, give it a watch. Maybe it’ll make up for some of my grinchiness. !