The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

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. !

 

Ruminatrix November 30, 2014

When my dad’s estate was finally settled and the funds put into an account, my mother was given a checkbook to draw on the funds. I thought she’d have been mostly pleased that there was something to draw on even – but that was eclipsed each and every time she’d pull out the checkbook by the horrible thing she saw printed upon them. She let out a veritable shriek when she first explained the situation to me… My mother almost always takes any situation and immediately finds – and calls attention to in the bitterest way possible – the great, personally-directed injustice of it (for her a glass is always half empty and not half full, a fear-based reaction likely tied to her father leaving her family for good when she was ten). And this checkbook presented a major offense, it appeared. In fact, it was a two-pronged offense in her eyes; on the one hand she’d lost her identity again, and had reverted from “Nancy J.” back to a “Mrs. Robert S.” (her generation has strong feelings about women’s hard-earned rights), and secondly, her title was listed as “Executrix”. Hm. Sure, I paused at that. I needed a moment to understand it, but certainly, these estate planning folks knew what they were doing, this must have been a case of archaic language surfacing in modern legalese. “Trix” was merely the feminine for “tor” and should be taken as nothing else. (Yes, I know, our modern minds all go immediately to “domenatrix”.) For some reason this feminine form of “executor” has survived, while other words like “aviatrix” or “administratix” have not; I suppose it’s another gender-equalizing step forward in the de-sexing of our language. Guess I can understand mom’s displeasure a bit better. Regardless of her feelings on the matter, there you have it. My mother is an executrix.

My mother is also, once again, Nancy. She is still someone’s widow, but in some ways she’s now coming into a new version of herself that wasn’t possible when dad was alive. I get that. In her day a woman lost her name when she married, it wasn’t questioned. In her case, she also lost whatever it might have been to be Nancy, instead, she became the wife of a famous harpsichordist. To her great credit, while Andrew and I were still small, she went back to college and earned a Bachelor of Science, and got herself a job at the local hospital. I remember seeing her at the kitchen table with her Texas Instruments calculator, the size of a small brick, working on numbers way into the night. So growing up, I naturally thought her to be a math type, unafraid (as I was) of calculations. Maybe she even liked math. It seemed so. At least I never heard her complain. And it wasn’t until recently, as we discussed Elihu’s math assignments for school, that I heard her make a comment that shattered my previous assumptions about her. She felt herself actually bad at math. It was her weakness, and she hated it. ?? Since this is a woman who has been doing crossword puzzles religiously for decades, I naturally thought she just had that clever brain for whom nothing is a challenge, and for whom everything comes easily. Guess not. Immediately, it put a spin on things: my mother had stepped out of her comfort zone when she’d gone back to school. It might not have been so much about keeping busy or contributing income as it had been about her keeping – or creating – her own identity. Her sanity, her sense of self. Another piece of the puzzle was revealed, and things made more sense.

Marrying a mildly famous person has its downside. Like my mother, I too had a partner who was well known. Much more often I was identified by him, very seldom was it the reverse. In the beginning of our relationship this was a point of stress, and it was something we talked about, and worked on. Thankfully there then came a good long stretch of time when I myself found success of my own, and in my own niche subculture had become modestly famous as well. I was busy, and creatively satisfied. It was only after I discovered my own life that I was able to enjoy, shame-free, a life alongside a famous person. But truthfully, a voice nagged at me towards the second half of our relationship: “What are you here for, and how can you possibly ever find out if you’re living with this person? Your life as a couple is all about him; are you sure you’re ok with that?” There was so much more at play than simply being partnered with a famous person. There were my insecurities, yes, but beyond that there was a person on the other side of the equation who was slowly morphing over the years into a textbook-perfect narcissist. I know he wasn’t like this in the beginning; no, we were both very naive, young things back then. Trying situations had yet to bear on our simple lives. I personally believe that his own highly dysfunctional upbringing plus the stressors of life had a cumulative effect on my ex, gradually nurturing the lion within until he became the strange, self-serving creature he is today. At present he is a mix of things; while I can no longer recognize (even as I could a year ago) any human tenderness in his eyes (his son also notices the creepy transformation when his father is here with us) I do know that he is a loving father, and that somewhere in that self-serving, self-justifying persona of his, there is a misunderstood boy who wishes only for love, comfort and sincere recognition. And these are things I could not have known before. And it helps tremendously. But it didn’t come to me overnight; it’s taken time and lots of introspection to arrive at this place.

Last night, as Elihu and I played Scrabble, we chatted about many things over our game, so when he paused and said “I don’t really get it”, I wasn’t sure what he’d meant. On Thanksgiving we’d watched videos of his father and me, from preparations for the wedding through the wedding itself (this was our only footage of dad) and then to his birth and first adorable months as a baby. Elihu had never seen his mother and father together – as we had been for over two decades –  as a couple. There was much laughter, and an ease about us that no longer existed in any way. Turns out the videos were on his mind. “He was just all about you. You guys were so happy and showed each other so much love. I don’t get how it changed.” “Well,” I thought aloud, “I guess my ‘negative Nancy’ stuff helped. I mean, I was a lot more like grandma than I’d realized. A lot of the time I felt like we lived his life more than mine – or ours – and I guess it made me upset. So I was mean sometimes. Looking back, I guess it probably helped change things. It wasn’t the only reason, but it was one of them, I suppose.” We talked a bit more about it, and Elihu came to some new understanding which seemed to help. The conversation ended while the Scrabble game continued on. (Yes, he won.)

Elihu recently asked me what makes kids in their twenties so much more ‘grown up’ than the high school kids. He saw them all as physically grown, savvy, smart and funny. How was it that they high schoolers were still considered ‘kids‘? Immediately, I recalled the chicken curry effect. Some nights I’ll whip up a batch of his Grandpa Riaz’s chicken curry, and while I follow all the directions just so, it won’t taste quite right. But the next night? Dead on. Delicious. One can’t help but notice the difference. What the curry needed was time to settle, time for the ingredients to become integrated. Yes, all the right ingredients were already there with the high school kids – they had lots of information on board, and as Waldorf kids, they had lots of world experiences too – but what they didn’t have under their belts yet was time. And there is no substitute for the deeper advancements that come with the simple passing of time. It becomes a subtle form of contemplation in and of itself. I always tell my students that the time in between practice sessions is just as important as the practice itself. Some magical, internal process takes place that brings the pieces together. Glad of it too, there’s so much information in life to assimilate; emotional, factual and otherwise. Happy to know some of it takes care of itself. !

Three years ago, when I first started writing, I had said that I knew things were ok, in spite of my bad situation (see the post “Snowflakes”.) That I knew there was a silver lining somewhere in the middle of the whole mess. That things, although they didn’t appear so on the outside, were poised for an improved future. Thing is, while I was writing what I knew to be true, I did not yet feel it. It’s almost as if I was self-coaching in front of an audience, that I might soon come to believe in my heart what I knew to be true in my brain. I hesitated to publish it too, because I knew damn well that I was not feeling as optimistic as I’d sounded. Just the opposite, really. But something inside me knew that it would one day be true, and that I’d catch up. Quite honestly, six years after having left my Illinois home and moving here I have still not caught up. But I’m much further along. I continue to revisit my old life (maybe a bit more than some folks would think productive), trying to identify the actions that brought me here, and more importantly what created the spirit in which those actions were created. How do I ensure that I behave differently in the future? How also do I ensure that my child doesn’t pick up these emotional weaknesses himself? Thanks to the solitude I enjoy in the country, plus a combination of thinking and simply being, I have come closer to some answers.

That being said, daily I’m still combating a deep, existential fear, one which will be quieted only when I realize what it is that I do, and then find myself doing it, and one can only hope, getting paid for it as well. ! (Living with the help of state assistance, while still essential to our survival, has become a little challenging on the ego.) The Studio lurks in my mind as a dormant dream with plans that sit, waiting for the next step. I know I’ll get there, and until I do, much of my psyche is upset because the place still lingers, unresolved and waiting… Yet while The Studio sleeps through the winter and waits for my attention, I continue to heal, grow and learn. I’m still identifying aspects of my life – good and bad – as well as some issues carried over from my own parents, and coming to understand how these things manifest in my life today.

I’m still dealing with panic attacks these days too. Realizing that I went for years without any fear of them, I focus my thinking on what made that time different from today. How was I able to live panic-free? I believe it was thanks to a clearer sense of meaning and purpose. I know I’m a very good mother, but at the end of the day, that alone is not the answer. Sometimes I wish it was enough just to be a great parent, but important as that is, it’s not. I still need my own thing, too. Something that satisfies – and also pays. Yes, I do have ‘things’, but none of them is panning out as I’d like: I’m a musician, but I don’t play much anymore. A teacher, but too few students to make it a real job. I’m a writer, yes, with enough material for a book or two – but I don’t write for hire, I write for me (don’t get me wrong – I’d gladly write for hire, I just don’t know how to begin that pursuit). I’m a chicken farmer too, I suppose, but egg sales only cover my costs if I’m lucky. I spend my time doing many things, but at the end of the day I probably do more thinking than anything else. If only there were a name for such a thing… Oh but hang on, just maybe there is… Do you suppose there are any job opportunities out there for a ruminatrix? Or maybe… a Ms. Ruminatrix?

Well, at least it’s something to think about…

 

Panic 1-1-1 September 7, 2014

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It’s the infinite possibility that gets me. The unfathomable, unknowable vastness of situations that exist – the organic events going on, right now, in the very spot of grass beneath my feet, the goings on of people and commerce in my town, across the whole state, the whole country, and at the same time all the like going on in other towns, in other countries, even on other continents… It’s the weather systems that surround our globe and the super-heated action taking place miles below our feet… and then of course some similar sort of activity also taking place on some other planet so far away that you could never even begin to comprehend how far away it is, much less come to understand and know all that goes on there, too. Oh, and then there’s the microscopic, unseen world that supports and makes up the world that we do see; events of commonplace chemistry and basic physics taking place that have unto themselves limitless interactions, relationships and morphing outcomes ceaselessly going on – no matter whether you’re paying attention or not. The whole bloody lot is always moving, reacting, growing, decaying…. Life always moves. And life is e-normous. Limitless, in fact, many would agree.

Which of course is fine, and all is as it should be, I suppose. Everything nests somehow into everything else, and therein lies the beauty of it all, the Godliness of it all. It’s just that it’s so much. And perhaps I’m short-circuiting or something, but lately I’m highly inclined to want to get a grip on how all of it works. Now I realize how silly that sounds, honestly, I do. But that’s the thing with problems that arise from your thinking process; they can be downright illogical. And no matter how illogical, the thinking still appears to be real to the thinker. And so that hyper-awareness of the largeness, the unknowability of it all then helps to tip me into that most unpleasant state of panic once again. I hate it, but can’t seem to stop it. I’m walking a fine line here, even in the wake of Robin William’s depression-related suicide – because I do not relish the idea of people thinking I’m crazy. But having panic attacks is in of itself is a kind of crazy – as is depression, or being manic. And so many of us suffer in some way during our lifetimes from some kind of mental health issue. So many of us have lived our own kind of crazy at one time or another. Really, how in hell can you live on this planet and not lose it from time to time?

These days, in addition to the run-of-the-mill panic attacks which come on through obviously stress-induced and rather specific situations, I’ve been finding that unremarkable events are also acting as triggers for my panic. Because, as I’ve just pointed out, nothing is really all that unremarkable when you think about it. I even find that glancing at clouds can frighten me, because I realize how big they themselves are, and how high up they are too, and I begin to experience a mild fear of heights even at that line of contemplation. Sort of a sympathetic vertigo, you might say. Conversely, when I try to pull my awareness back into my immediate sphere of experience (as a means of calming myself), I cannot help but then become acutely aware of the activity all about me – the activity of cells, the movement of insects (they by themselves spin me off into a world of disbelief and wonder – how in hell can something so tiny have all those systems packed inside? And don’t get me started on nano technology – the subject can literally make me light-headed and slightly dizzy. Really.). So my challenge then becomes how to tame this mental mess. And believe me, I’m working on it.

Sometimes, when my life’s a wreck or I can’t pull myself out of an undesirable situation, I try to imagine what advice I would give myself if I were somebody else. An objective outsider. Because as we all know it’s much easier to tell someone else how to change their life than to actually make those changes for yourself. ! Using that tactic, I find it’s easy to coach myself. And so I make a list of categories which might benefit from a little assessment: Financial, Professional, Physical, Spiritual.

Ok, number one: there’s a lot of uncertainty ahead, what with the Studio, the lack of a real job and income – and so it’s easy to understand how I might be panicking just a little. So what can I do? What action can I take to mitigate the financial stress? Cut down (on what?!, the cynical voice inside me bitches) on expenses, be frugal with all food, drive as little as possible, take extra piano students as I can. Ok. Not much, but something. And The Studio? I’m doing what I can; bought my first rolls of insulation, watched some YouTube vids, consulted a few pros and have assembled my tools. I’ll begin installing it this afternoon. The new electric lines are in, and the heating units go in next week. There’s networking to be done, so I need to meet with a couple of folks over the next month. I’m still a bit overwhelmed, but what more can I do right now? (If I began to contemplate the legal issues ahead I’d feel as if I were back to square one. Maybe the lesson here is ‘one step at a time’). At least I’m doing something, and the situation’s in hand.

Next is of course, are the health issues. The arthritis in my fingers has accelerated rapidly over the past month, and where before it was merely unsightly, now my knobby distal knuckles are warm and painful nearly all the time. I’m only responsible for playing three classes at school this year, but even so, with my fingers getting stuck in between the black notes and aching as they do, I wonder how it’ll work out. I’m back on the glucosamine regimen, plus have added some Chinese herbal supplements, topical applications of essential oils, I’ve begun acupuncture again and will shortly try a few rounds of electromagnetic therapy. I’m not sure how I’ll sustain such treatments on such a tight budget, but at least I’m underway. Doing what I can.

Also, I’ve gained a lot of weight over the past few months, and I’m a little frightened by it. So, again, what action should I take? I know, join the Y. Check. Joined at a discount, no less, thanks to the scholarship program (some red tape and hoops to jump through, but I’ve come to understand that being poor is in of itself a part-time job.) Ok. Done. Now, what to wear? I donned my old sports bra the other day, but I’m so much larger than I was the last time I wore it, the damn thing ripped in two when I tried it on. Ich. Ok. Just gotta replace it. An unforeseen expense, but as my local health-nut and excavator friend Al said to me this morning (on his cell phone in the middle of a 20 mile bike ride) “Just get a new one and keep going. Keep going.” Mom’s underwriting my new Weight Watchers membership – and that starts Monday. I simply cannot imagine going back to such an austere diet. I once lost 55 pounds on WW, after the birth of my son, so I know the culture well. (Atkins is more fun, but WW is more realistic and its success longer-lasting.) But honestly, it comes with hunger pangs and an undeniable lack of satisfaction. I suppose the loss of extra fat on my frame and improved numbers (bp and cholesterol) should make up for the near-constant feelings of hunger… that’s the idea I guess. And hopefully, after I’ve made movement a part of my routine, I’ll just plain feel better. I know it’s true, I’ve experienced it before, but it seems ridiculous to me from where I stand right now. Life without a few glasses of wine each day? Life with portions a mere quarter of the size I’m accustomed to? Sheesh. It’s but a day off, yet I still don’t believe it’s coming. I don’t suppose anyone is ever ready for major change. Just gotta jump in. (Or as my buddy Al would say, “pull the trigger”.)

Now to the spiritual part of the equation. Got much of that down I think; I spend a lot of time in nature, I express gratitude all over the place and I’m always reaching out to people and spreading kindness and love where I can. But I can’t lie; I’m still dealing with feelings of betrayal and anger towards my ex husband – I’m still upset that he doesn’t support us better, that our poverty is just fine with him and his parents. It still angers and frustrates me that I don’t have a partner, a spouse, someone to take up the slack every now and then, help with homework, maybe even vacuum or make dinner once in a while… And I know, as a student of basic spiritual concepts, that ultimately that shit comes back to me. But still, it’s on my plate, and six years later it’s a larger issue than I’d like to admit. And in addition to the forgiveness thing, maybe some mental silence might serve me too. I think I could muster ten minutes a day concentrating on nothing but my breathing. Twenty, probably not. But ten, yeah. And perhaps in the realm of intention, a little more controlled thought also might serve me well… That is to say, replacing the doom and gloom imaginings with lovely visions of what the Studio might look and feel like when it’s up and running and inhabited by happy folk. Ok. Begin minimal meditation practice. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Good. Sounds doable.

The list seems so short when I see it here, so why does it feel so daunting? And good Lord, it seems I’ve been through all this before. How have I not made more progress, I wonder? I remind myself that if I could just live panic-free and enjoy both mental and physical fitness, life might be a lot more enjoyable. Cuz right now, it’s only minimally so (hence the comfort of food and wine. We all know that drill). As I watch people go through the activities of their day, I often wonder: what is life like on the inside for them? What are their demons, their challenges? To what degree would they consider themselves to be content… happy? One cannot judge a book by its cover; I’m fairly sure no one is quite as put-together and problem-free as they might seem. But then again, maybe there is a sweet spot on the other side of all this self-improvement. Maybe one can be happy, content. Fit. All at the same time. At least one hopes.

Yesterday I saw a man riding his bicycle down our road. He was loaded down with stuff – a bedroll, bags, pieces of cloth, a crazy-looking horn, baskets brimming… Clearly, he was not out for a day ride. Unable to forget the cyclist, I turned around a couple of miles into my commute and doubled back in time to see him tackling the great cemetery hill – a hill which even as a healthy young child I would walk my bike up, rather than ride. I carefully passed him, pulled over to the side of the road and waited. I watched as he rode up the steep incline in a serpentine fashion. Interesting technique, I thought. He was actually making it up the hill – and with a full load, too. This person was impressive, and I had to meet him. He might be just the inspiration I needed.

As soon as he’d come down the other side of the hill, the man pulled into a church parking lot and disappeared around a corner. I walked around to the back, and announced myself first, lest the poor rider be seeking a bit of privacy to relieve himself perhaps… As I entered the church’s back yard, I saw this slender, tanned man sitting in the cool of the shade at a picnic table, a veritable banquet spread out before him. He was digging into some bread and hummus when I joined him. I learned that he was from Oakland, California, and had left the day after Christmas, last year. He’d made it to the Canadian east coast, and was now heading back. Altogether, he was very unaffected and matter-of-fact about his journey; when I asked him questions he answered them directly, and for the most part he didn’t seem aloof or coy, just possessed of a quieter nature, and perhaps exercising just the tiniest bit of caution in the face of my enthusiasm. I had so many questions for him, and had I not needed to get Elihu’s bass delivered to him in time for orchestra, I might have been a bit more focused with my inquiry.

Among the many things I wondered, the most prominent question was: what occupies your thoughts as you ride? He admitted to a certain incessant, repetitive nature to his thoughts, and offered that it was in fact, one of his main challenges. What criteria did he use to choose his route? How could he afford to do this? What had he done before? He was a little cryptic with some of his answers, but I sensed he was the sort of fellow who would have declined to answer if he felt it beyond his comfort. He told me that he’d just turned 65, so there “was no job to go back to now” as he was officially retired, but that he had worked in the flower industry. Still so enigmatic. As a day laborer? As the CEO of a company? In what way had he worked? He said he was “used to being outside” with his work. Ok. That narrowed it down some. But so many more questions burned, and as we got off into tangential topics of getting fit, perhaps having a dog to inspire daily activity, what programs might exist to help pay for the cost of a dog if I did get one, how different regions of the country dealt with recycling and such, I got further away from my informal interview and settled instead for a gentle, enjoyable conversation. How I had come to live here, how Chicago had been so brutally cold when he’d ridden through it last March… There wasn’t enough time to learn from him what I’d hoped. But I suppose there is no possible way to truly understand such an enormous undertaking unless you, well, undertake it. And perhaps that was the most important lesson here.

I gave him my card and encouraged him to stay in touch by email when he checked in with the world at his next library stop. I hoped so dearly that he would, but even if he didn’t, no matter. Phil had added to the quality and fullness of my life just through this simple meeting, and if I never heard from him again, this would have to be enough. It certainly was a dose of inspiration come to me at a time of need. Maybe that itself was more than enough.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of ones popping up during my days – and my nighttimes, too. And while I’ve made an effort not to get too terribly esoteric in my writing here, nor to explore in-depth some ideas that have long been a part of my life – for fear of turning some folks off for good – I will admit a completely open mind when it comes to matters that our mainstream culture still doesn’t treat as legitimate. Like ghosts. Or apparitions that appear to people who are dying, and unexplained experiences like music in the air, or the scent of flowers – just as real as the real thing – arising from nowhere. Or like repeating numbers. I won’t go and tell you that I think God is directly communicating with me and offering me a personally targeted message in my time of introspection and need, but I will say that something is happening to me these days. I’ve seen the number 111 pop up in all sorts of places, and finally, it’s caught my attention. In fact, I’ve seen the number 111 appear so frequently over the past week, that I’ve taken to photographing it. I awoke last night at 1:11 and grabbed my camera. I am not nuts. It’s happening. A quick Google search helps fill things in, but still, I almost don’t even believe my own story. Have I been seeing what I want to see? Have I been exaggerating the truth? Am I just looking for help, in any form at all? Am I leading the witness?

In the end, who really knows? No one. It’s just one more event taking place in this endless maelstrom of life. And happily, it doesn’t make me panic. Instead, it gives me a tiny seed of hope. And that’s something I need to cultivate these days. So who cares where it comes from? I’m going to take it as a little knowing wink from the universe telling me that things are going to work out just fine, and I’m going to keep on moving forward into this worldly adventure, taking each moment one by one… by one.

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Returned Home August 7, 2014

To begin with, the train was four hours late. It wasn’t too terribly bad for me; I enjoyed a relaxed walk around downtown Schenectady, stopped by a local shop and had a nice long visit with the owners (whom I knew from years of such train travel), I explored a more hardcore city neighborhood and dropped in on a West Indies grocery (in search of some mango pickle) where I passed almost another hour chatting with new friends and learning the similarities and differences between Indian and West Indies cuisine, among other things. I watched the C130s flying in and out of the nearby airfield, their immense bodies and thundering engines shocking me at each pass…  All in all I took it well in stride, but admittedly as I waited on the platform in those final minutes, the wait was becoming too much. It must have been much worse to have suffered it on the train, so I waited in sympathy for my weary traveler.

They were the very last two passengers to disembark, and as they approached I hardly recognized the pair; Fareed at this point has a head of nearly all-white hair, and our son hardly looks a tiny boy anymore. Of course I knew this intellectually, but somehow his height shocked me – in fact his whole appearance shocked me. Handsome with a fresh haircut and oxford shirt, he seemed so much older. We didn’t kiss, we didn’t even fully hug (I’d harbored a tiny fear he might be newly reserved in our reunion and so had also readied myself for this too), but nonetheless he laughed at my mouth, agape, my speechless reception. And there we were. The three of us, together, again. I reminded myself to keep the recent unpleasant exchanges with my ex altogether apart from this experience. I’d done this many times before – but this time, on the heels of an emotionally charged round of FB messages, it felt different to me. Several recent ‘pep’ talks from friends cautioning me to keep my ex at an emotional distance helped me to stay aware. I’d been such a sucker for so many years, this time might I keep my dignity and not allow him to hurt me or push my buttons? I would give it my very best. Having the distraction of my beloved son helped, and as we got into the car and drove home in the dark, there was no lack of things to catch up on, and conversation was easy and stress-free.

I made us the nicest dinner I could in as little time as possible, and before too long we had dug into some fresh sweet corn and home-made tandoori chicken, plus a little wine, thanks to my recent houseguest Ken (whom I’d dropped off on my way to pick up the guys). After supper Fareed put a string on my garage-sale-find-of-a-guitar, and then the three of us settled on the couch to watch a little something together. Things felt easy and good, and our son was truly happy, happy, happy to be seated in between his mother and father, no matter what it was we happened to be doing. Fareed explained that he’d recently been on a Bill Hicks kick, and that he really wanted to share the comedian’s stuff with me. He explained it was a bit racy, but that the cat was deep, that he had a message. Our child is no stranger to profanity, and he himself knows full well it’s not appropriate for him to use in everyday life, so it’s not a huge deal. Good thing too; this bit was loaded. In many ways. We all enjoyed it, but before the video was done Elihu told us he’d had enough and was very tired. So we went off to get ready for bed.

Again, all was well, all was peaceful and relaxed. I hadn’t realized it, but Fareed was planning on reading a bit to Elihu, and so he joined us on the big bed to read a short story. I don’t even remember what it was I’d said – granted, in the wake of the vulgarity and off-color routine we’d spent the last half hour watching, my mind may have been off in the wrong direction – but I made some passing attempt at a joke; I’m sure it was stupid (I don’t remember what it was that I said) and suddenly Elihu started to cry. Fareed got angry at me – very angry.  His tone shifted in an instant, and he virtually spat at me, telling me that I’d been inappropriate and to shut up. I was floored. Now imagine, I think we’re all kinda still horsing around, that stuff is light and going nicely – so both the eruption of tears and my ex’s venom were a complete surprise. Boom! And there it was. All of a sudden I was the bad guy – the one who’d gone too far. ?? I tried to stay myself, and I did. If it were anyone else they probably would have told Fareed to go and get the fuck out of the room – that that sort of reaction was far beyond what the situation required, it being in of itself  inappropriate and inflammatory. But then there was lil man, between us, crying. I had to suck it up. “I think I’m just really tired”, my self-aware boy offered. Fareed shot me a look of such hate and rage that I knew Elihu’s comment meant nothing. Christ, this surely sucked. I rolled over and took half an Ambien as Elihu’s father continued reading. I needed to get the hell out of this situation, and my adrenaline was pumping. I prayed the drug would do its thing quickly. I believe it did, because I don’t remember the end of the story, but I remember seeing Fareed get up and leave. I asked him to turn out the light, which he did before closing the door.

Elihu roused when his father left and began talking. By this time I was very drowsy, so it took some effort to stay with him, but clearly, he needed to talk. When I’d thought our conversation over, he’d pick it up again. On it went like this for another fifteen minutes or so as my son emptied his heart to me as he hadn’t in a long time. “Mommy, it wasn’t what you said. I was just really tired. That’s all.” “Okay, sweetie. You don’t have to say that, but thanks.” We lay there for a minute in the dark. I knew there was more coming, so I said nothing and waited.

“I think I’m beginning to get it” he said. “I think it’s because I’m older. Because I understand it in a different way now.” I didn’t have to ask him what he meant. I just let him talk. “Do you know how many times I cried in the back of the Sprinter?” he asked. He tried to explain that even though he was part of that other family, he couldn’t shake the knowledge that he really wasn’t – and that it wasn’t his own mother sitting there with his father. “I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like if that was my real family in that car” he added. “Oh but sweetie, they are your real family too.” He paused. I knew what he had meant. “You mean if it had been me and daddy, and maybe another child of ours?” I asked. “Yeah.” He paused again, then asked me “How come you and daddy don’t get along like other divorced parents? Like other people who aren’t married anymore?” He’s asked me this before, and I always point out that we do get along – I cite our enjoyable dinners, our light conversation. “But you’re not together in your heart” he answered. I knew what he meant, and I could be polite and agreeable all day long but this would never change. Again, I apologized, told him how badly I felt about all of this – how I’d have chosen otherwise if I could have. Maybe this wasn’t the time, but again I reminded him that we would never have known about chickens, about birds, about life in the country had none of this happened. Yeah, this time that argument didn’t matter much to him. Eilhu was stuck in a great meditation on the ‘what might have beens’, and I could do nothing to prevent it. I explained that the reason his mother and father weren’t perhaps as comfortable together as other ‘ex couples’ might be related to the order in which things happened. I said that most people conclude a relationship, take some time to heal and regroup, and then start a new one. And then they start their new family. Not always, but mostly. “I think I just got that this summer” he said quietly. “Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. But I just got that in a way I hadn’t gotten it before.” Man. I’d always had a hunch – doesn’t take a genius to come to the conclusion either – that one day, perhaps in his mid teens maybe, he’d look back on things with a fresh perspective. One day he would get it. I had no idea that day would come so soon.

My ex had recently accused me of bad parenting, and his eruption at me seemed his way of confirming this idea for himself. As if he needed to stay his ground. See here? You’re doing it right now! appeared to be the subtext. (A larger population might find both of us guilty of bad parenting for the Bill Hicks thing alone!) Earlier, I’d heard him scold Elihu for biting his spoon when he ate. I had hated the intensity with which he’d done so, but again, he’s Elihu’s father, he has a right to express things he feels are important. “So what’s going on with the spoon?” I asked as we backed off the heavy stuff. “I kind of have a tick” he began. I’d suspected something like this (he and I both have anxiety issues – he mitigates anxiety by releasing it in some repetitive sort of behavior, something which migrates as it’s identified). “I kinda want to bite the spoon to get rid of the feeling.” Yeah. I got it. “Ok, so you’re aware. That’s good.” We were quiet again. In my head I replayed the scolding his dad had given him. Me, I didn’t dig that moment of parenting. I shook it off and reminded myself that at least my son was finally home. “But you did have a really good summer, right?” I asked him, wanting to end on something of a positive note. I knew he had – in fact it was one of his best summers ever, but I could hear he was getting tired. He didn’t have much left. “Yeah, I did.” As I turned on my side to get ready to sleep, Elihu put his arm around me. I’d thought he might have wanted some space, so I had left him alone. I smoothed my hand over his head and told him I loved him. “You wanna go sleep with daddy tonight?” I offered, trying to make a demonstration of fairness. “No, I want to stay here with you.” My heart melted, and I was washed over with relief.

Things were changing all around me in my life and nothing seemed predictable anymore, but none of that mattered because my son was back. The epicenter of my life, my heart – my entire world – was right there in my arms. Finally, after one very long summer, my son had returned home.

IMG_0070The evening before, Zac, Stephanie and their three girls came by for an impromptu visit just as Ken and I were finishing up with supper.

IMG_0075Middle girl Bailey piles Elihu’s stuffed birds on her daddy’s lap.

IMG_0106Stanley the frog is always good entertainment.

IMG_0085So is the trampoline.

IMG_0115Zac, always himself building, repairing or figuring something out, looks over Ace’s bird sculpture. (He once identified an old model T wheel on the other sculpture that sits a few feet away and outside of this shot.)

IMG_0118Kind of a crappy picture  – but I had to share… Check out the way the whole family piles in the truck’s front seat. So redneck (in the awesome sense of the word!). Love it.

IMG_0148A quick goodbye selfie of me and my new ‘old’ friend, Ken, just as I dropped him off to go and pick up dad and son.

IMG_0165In Schenectady I found my new Indian food mecca… Closest thing to Devon Street I’ve seen outside of Chicago. Love the crazy assortment of goods, from pots and pans to produce and plenty of Bollywood* videos and CDs.

IMG_0156Saw a few vegetables that were new to me.

IMG_0153My new friend and store owner Ramesh shows me a kind of string bean I’d never seen before.

IMG_0155Now this is what I’m talkin about…

IMG_0158Spent a good half hour chatting with Mattie, the gal in the middle. Her sister in law, on the left, gave me some good pointers on making my own garam masala. It’s a spice mixture that’s a lot like American barbecue in that it involves different spices depending on the region the recipe comes from.

IMG_0152Yeah, we had a good time!

IMG_0167Look at lil man… how short his jeans have become in seven weeks!

IMG_0183Closest thing to a family photo we’re gonna get.

IMG_0190Another bad pic – but the vibe is there. Elihu was laughing and laughing.

IMG_0197The kid mighta slept all day if I hadn’t woken him up. Still on a summer schedule, but we’ll get that turned around in a week or so. For now it’s all about making that emotional shift that always takes a few days after daddy time is done.

Post Script: Much as I try to edit my posts, errors always slip past – usually little nothings, but in this case I’d substituted the phonetic match for “Bollywood” with “Baliwood”… I can just see it; grand song and dance numbers with shadow puppets… or epic scenes with hundreds of beautiful Balinese women from Indonesia adorned with those huge gold headpieces, making eerie side-to-side eye movements and waving their surreal finger extensions in the air… Hmm, maybe I’m onto something here….

A rare second Post Script (the very first, I believe!). I won’t of course publish the initial email I received from my ex in response to this post, but I will post my reply:

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I understand your perspective, but can’t agree on much of it. I do take jokes too far, but I truly missed the experience you described. You may well have said it, but know that I did not hear you say anything about a ‘magic moment’, and I merely made a stupid attempt a joke, likely at about the same time I guess… then it went south. I swear it was all a freaking surprise in my face…
What ‘peace and humor’?? (He cited his response to my joke.) Your hate was immediate and off the chain and out of proportion to any event that might have transpired, period. Truly, I was being silly, and meant no harm. Elihu was exhausted, and my timing wasn’t great, but that didn’t warrant such rage from you. 
You say ‘I haven’t learned’ – oh I have learned… I’ve learned that you’re a self-righteous, mean person when someone no longer serves a purpose in your life. You’re as cold as your parents. You can turn it on and off like a switch. Elihu can’t understand why you’re so ‘different’ when you’re here – he promises me that you’re fun, happy, that you smile. I don’t doubt that you’re a happy guy when folks are playing by your rules.
As for my cleaning up his room – he gets it. We’ve talked, and he understands as you don’t seem able. I need to get shit done when he’s gone – cuz when he gets back life starts to roll faster and faster… and whether you see the need or not, his room was a fucking mess and it needed help. I don’t have a partner to share the load, so I gotta get it done when I’m able. Sorry. Think what you please.
And regarding the ‘at least three’ lost friendships ‘because of my blogging’ – hey, if my truthful and heartfelt expression of my experience has turned someone away, then they probably shouldn’t be in my life.
You and I both want the very best for Elihu, and I believe the opposite about the blog; it will serve as a lovely record of his growing up, something he’ll be grateful for one day. I say nothing mean about you – certainly I’ve touted your value in his life many times. I do, however, express my personal feelings on matters that involve you – as you are the father of my child, and we shared nearly half of our lives together. I’m bound to have some residual feelings about the whole thing! That Elihu and I are living in poverty and you might be somehow implicit in that result – I understand that it might stand to embarrass you (I should hope it would!), but it’s our truth, so on the record it goes, just as we experience it. The blog’s content explores our life here and has virtually nothing to do with you; I don’t get why you think it’s so bad for our son.
Thanks for his great summer – and glad you were able to stay, it made all the difference in a good transition for Elihu.
 

Yearful May 19, 2014

It seems I should be feeling some enormous weight removed from my chest; a great lifting of spirit at the conclusion of a stressful Spring full of performances and commitments. And to some degree I do, I guess it’s just not quite the experience of bliss I’d thought it might end up being. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m more than relieved it’s all behind me now.) Last night the 8th through 12th grades of the Waldorf School did their end-of-year performances in Skidmore College’s ultra-modern and gorgeous Zankel Music Theatre. After having secretly dealt with the idea of panick attacks resurfacing at such an event – and meditating daily to mitigate their probability, and even in spite of having taken 3x the normal dosage of Xanax to stave off such attacks from hitting onstage, I was nonetheless side-swiped, mid-performance, by a couple of doozies. The difference between the recent attacks and those of some thirty years ago is mostly the medicine, I think, and also a good deal of high-intensity mental energy spent beforehand in preparation. Those two things seem to make the attacks the slightest bit more bearable. But no matter how prepared you’d like to be, if you suffer from em, there’s really no hiding to be done; they’ll find you eventually. And let me tell you – that shit is not fun to deal with. It definitely takes away from you being able to enjoy – and fully live into and perform into – the moment. I just kept reminding myself that my role was supportive, that my job was to make movement easier for the kids; to make the movement as intuitive as the sound itself. I just kept thinking my only job is to make a beautiful sound… It helped a bit, but not as much as I’d hoped. But in the end, as it is with any on-stage errors, those that I made were much larger in my head than in reality. (Although I’m not going to be checking the Skidmore live broadcast archive to prove that theory. !!)

It was a lovely night. The teachers have the routine of the end-of-year performance down. So do the kids. They struck and re-set that stage ten times that night and kept the program moving along. Yeah, it was long, but yeah, it was also impressive, diverse and heartfelt. How proud I was of every kid up there. Hell, this may well be what it feels like to be a part of any school I suppose. I have nothing to compare it to, so I can’t be sure. But I had such feelings for all the kids on that stage… How can one not have strong feelings of solidarity after having gone through so much together through the long school year? But there’s just something about knowing each kid – even if it’s just their name – there’s something wonderful about having some sort of relationship to them – however small (in my case I’m the accompanist for movement and chorus classes – not super-exciting perhaps, but the kids do know that Miss Elizabeth used to be a real musician once upon a time. Seems she used to tour… she just might be kinda cool. Not sure, but there’s a small chance that the thought exists among the populace…) I could look upon any one of those faces and feel something unique… And I consider it no small blessing that I’ll come to know most of these children as they grow up over the next few years. How lucky am I?

Well, I’m a pretty lucky lady if for no other reason that I finally know how it feels to play a truly in-tune piano. !! And a honking big one at that. Same fellow who tunes my piano tunes the 10 foot Steinway I played on this night. Must give that fellow a call soon. My piano quickly became a disappointment after playing this gorgeous, responsive creature. Only wish I’d felt freer to really enjoy myself on it. There’s always next year. But I’m on it- getting ready for it already…

As life tends to do, the landmark events quickly and unceremoniously move into the mundane, everyday landscape of regular life. Within hours of leaving the stage with an arm full of flowers, it was life as usual. A visit to the local animal shelter, a stop at the town cemetery, the taking care of domestic tasks forgotten all week in favor of prior committments. The big news this week was not so much the performance at Zankel as it was the installation of our new dishwasher. And yes, you naysayers, I have found it to be just as life-transforming as I’d hoped! At least three hours of time have become mine since I first began to use it late Friday night.  And my counters are CLEAN and EMPTY for the FIRST time in my nearly six years here. If folks don’t already know, I’m a BIG fan of right angles and empty surfaces. I like it when things are put where they belong. My life may be a mess, but God please grant me clean-looking counter tops. That way at least it looks like everything’s perfectly under control.  !

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Ok, so this is how the day starts. Josh will be installing my new dishwasher as I go about my very busy day.

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We started out early with Grandparent’s Day at school. Mom in back at left, Elihu in front at right with pal Ben. Note the drawings on their desks that they’ve made on Classical Greece (their recent study block.)

IMG_3300Class Five gives a performance of a classical Greek poem for an audience of grandparents in the Eurythmy room . It was done masterfully.

IMG_3203This is a regular eurythmy class. The idea is simply that sound is made visible through movement. Kinda like dance, but not exactly.

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Here the class is given direction for a new piece.

IMG_3236Same room, now it’s used for orchestra. This is the most utilized, multi-functional room I have ever, ever seen.

IMG_3237The bass section.

IMG_3307Later on the same day, here we are at Zankel. Fancy shmancy indeed.

IMG_3331We started with a little eurythmy rehearsal on stage in the late afternoon.

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Now the High School orchestra rehearses.

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Eurythmy in traditional costumes which show and enhance the movement so beautifully.

IMG_3415Alex has a solo in the Bach.

IMG_3418Recorder ensemble.

IMG_3422The Waldorf acapella  group. Sublime.

IMG_3424Yay!

IMG_3431A nice shot of the High School Chorus

IMG_3433They did some great pieces, including  a lively arrangement of  ‘Ain-a That Good News’ by William Dawson.

IMG_3414It’s growing next to impossible to take a candid of this 11 year old boy. Screws up his face as soon as he sees me lift the lens… Mom is in the striped shirt. She’s been with us since before 8 this morning, and it’s now well past 8 p.m. Long day…

IMG_3409Backstage the ninth grade girls dish…

IMG_3411And Miss Elizabeth tries to secretly listen in on what ‘the kids are talking about these days’….

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Hey look! They got me flowers!! Apparently, they’d planned on giving them to me onstage with some fanfare, but I’d quietly slunk off after my bit was done. This is a new world to me! I was so very touched. Plus I just LOVE fresh flowers. A wonderful night. And did I mention the Steinway was ten feet long? Almost looked like a mistake it was so honkin big. And those bass strings. UN real.  Woo hoo!

IMG_3686Ok, the night’s program was beautiful, the whole day in fact was a marvel, but this is the height of it all: a new dishwasher was at home just waiting for me!!

IMG_3443A dishwasher and flowers. !!

IMG_3280The next day starts out cool and green…

IMG_3219Elihu’s taken my camera to document our life from his perspective for a little while…

IMG_3212This is what lil man sees from his world in the backseat…

IMG_3217…and this is what’s on his mind most of the time.

IMG_3491On our way to the 4H meeting, I was struck by fresh activity in our long-dormant village cemetery…

IMG_3473We stopped to see that a local woman who’d died in early January was just being buried now.

IMG_3489Having just begun to read a book on the current culture of death in our country, I was fascinated and had to stop.

IMG_3488Wherever dear Agnes is now, I hope she can share in the joy Elihu finds in making a lovely, resonant percussive sound on the structure designed to lower her casket down into the vault. (I learned the proper terms from the man who’d set it all up a bit earlier.)

IMG_3493As a child, I’d ride my bike to cemetery hill and pump myself a refreshing drink of water at this now dry hand pump.

IMG_3499And this is how I think of this place looking. Most graves are over a hundred years old on the hilltop.

IMG_3524We’re over the hill and on the other side of Greenfield now at the locally well-known Estherville Animal Shelter for our 4H meeting.

IMG_3532It’s a very casual place, a casual bunch.

IMG_3541Aged horse Stardust (yes, I sang him his song) and goat Blossom routinely stand in the newly paved road. All of my 51 years this was a bumpy, uninviting dirt road which posed no threat to these two residents. Now the cars zip thru here and I can’t help but worry…

IMG_3545Elihu doped up good on allergy meds for moments such as these.

IMG_3554…and for these too.

IMG_3560Elihu found his sweet spot it seems.

IMG_3587Jessie and Sam – in the 4H shirts – are daughters of a guy I’ve known since I was their age. It’s nice to have continuity like that in the kind of displaced world in which we live in these days.

IMG_3578See this is why I have a ‘no hooved animal’ policy at our home. Give em an inch… Blossom is joining the party without an invitation…

IMG_3597After the club kids go home, Elihu remains to brush Stardust a bit. He’s got a lot of wild, winter hair coming off him and could use a little help being groomed.

IMG_3601Apparently goat Blossom and horse Stardust are inseparable.

IMG_3607After a good grooming they’re in search of treats in one of the out buildings.

IMG_3679Coming home to a clean, open counter. Oooooohhhh

IMG_3684See how nicely my flowers fit in the open space? What a nice reminder of our lovely weekend.

I can’t wait to wake up in the morning to a load of magically washed dishes. Truly, it feels like the dawning of a sparkling, new age.

Grateful to all I am.

 

Bothering To April 1, 2014

“Ask yourself this,” Elihu suggested as he paused at his breakfast, “What wonderful thing or possible surprise am I excited about having happen today?” I let a moment go by as I took in his words, and then let him continue, “Just imagine for a minute, what things might happen today? Will there be surprises for you in your day? Things you couldn’t have expected?” He stopped talking for emphasis and let some silence pass. “I mean, if you don’t think so….” He shrugged his shoulders and raised his hands in the air,”Then why even bother?”

We were having one of our existential conversations at sunrise which had come about as a result of my morning mood. I was unusually tired upon waking and so was a fair bit grouchier than usual. Most times when I’m feeling a bit like pouting I keep the darker stuff to myself – or at least under my breath. Today I was shuffling around the kitchen talking to myself at full volume and just radiating doom and gloom over a day hardly yet begun. I felt put-upon, I felt alone in my plight, without peer to share my load, misunderstood and underappreciated. I was singing the self-sorry single mom song, and God bless that young boy, he took a moment to turn things around and rope me in. He repeated his coaching, “Really, Mommy, I mean it. Ask yourself this: Might some amazing things happen today? Think this way. Otherwise, seriously, why bother?”

I know he’s right. I also know that some days I am just plain out of steam, out of inspiration, out of reasons – other than that GD to-do list that never stops – to do things, to keep on going. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a passive-aggressive cry for help, this is not code for planned suicide – nothing so dire as any of that. It’s just life-business as usual. Chef, cleanup crew, administrator, counselor, taxi driver, instrument mover, musician, worker bee… all of it. Sometimes it’s just too fucking much. So sometimes it’s a wise question to ask myself: might amazing, surprising, unexpected things happen to me today? I have to believe they will, otherwise….

So what does keep me keeping on? I wonder that myself, the introspection inspired by this morning’s ministry… I suppose, at the end of the day, I might say that I do things for my son. I do things that I might make his life less stressful, more joyful. I also live because if I didn’t, it would break my mother’s heart. And yeah, it would break Elihu’s heart too. And honestly, aside from just sticking around for the sake of my mother and my son – I can’t just check out. I’ve got work to do here. I’m pretty sure of it. (Not entirely convinced, but fairly sure.) I have my father’s legacy to continue, I have love and compassion to contribute to the world through this vehicle of the Studio, and through teaching and playing…  Yeah, I guess. It’s just that there’s so much crap to slog through first… “Ya think I’d be happier (read here ‘less bitchy’) if I knew I was going to work at the Studio all day – doing things I really loved?” I’d innocently asked my son. “Oh yes” he answered most emphatically without missing a beat. “You’re going to be doing the things you love the very best. So of course.” No sooner had I asked the question I was feeling some shame over having even said it out loud: because not only do I really love my current job and appreciate it daily, but I realize it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I see my son each day, I’m around all those wonderful children, I get to play a variety of music which I enjoy, I learn new things daily. The very school itself is like a large family. It’s a joy to have it as a destination every day. So why the mood? The questions? The doubting?

It’s just that this school has become such a committment of time – both there and at home learning new music – that I haven’t any time at all to build this new dream of the Studio. Makes me wonder what my plan is. Or if I’ll ever get to that next chapter. But when I pull back and relax a bit into the moment, I can understand that even this very day – the chapter I’m living here and now – that this in of itself is important in the evolution of the subsequent one. Each builds upon the other. My son will be in this school for three more years (and then four more in the high school). These are the Waldorf years. I may as well just hunker down, learn all I can and savor the moments, because all too soon I’ll be looking back at it in nostalgia the way I do to my younger years as a musician in Chicago. I have to remember that each era has had its own time and place and its own gifts; each era of my life has served its own unique purpose.

So for now my time and place is here. It’ll shift again one day too, as everything shifts. And as I sit and watch my son’s fifth grade class rehearse their class play, I can feel the supreme loveliness of this window in time. The children still seem small to me; the boys still with voices to match the girls. Their limbs are all long and thin, and all of them are still shorter than me. But one look into the sixth grade class (which, as an added metaphor for leaving their youth, move into a downstairs classroom for the first time) will tell you how much will soon be changing. The sixth graders seem so different, so much older, bigger… Such a different sort of tension too between the boys and the girls. The qualities that these fifth graders yet possess become exquisite, precious; something to be savored, and remembered for always. While the truly tiny years – those of the tooth fairy and Santa – may be behind us now, somehow these children are still our babies. So there’s no doubt, I am savoring this precious time for sure.

It’s just the logistics of life, I suppose, that have me in a bit of a funk. Just plain living takes so much work. But when I stop to realize that I have a child wise enough to be so contemplative about things, a child who daily expresses his love for me, who sees the beauty in nature, who lives as gratefully and thoughtfully as he does – then I remember. Then I get it. This is why I put up with all that other crap. Because joy and hope live in my son, and with the right sort of thinking, joy and hope can live in me too. Thank goodness the kid takes the time to remind me. ! Ok. So the dishes still won’t wash themselves, but somehow, things look a little bit brighter now. Because at the very least, now I think I know why I’m bothering.