The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Chameleon August 13, 2018

big hat 2

I am not a fan of change. Not at all. I pretty much like things the way they are. I like things simple, and I really like routines. I fairly thrive on the predictability in my life. But I’m also big on wild, serendipitous romps, and those who know me well will understand I’m not terribly keen on rule-following, which can make for some fun life adventures. These two approaches to life might seem at odds with each other, but for me they’re not. It’s not terribly hard for me to slip into other people’s worlds, observe, participate as if I belonged there, and then retreat back into my own private universe when the party’s over. I’m pretty good at wearing a bunch of different hats. Seriously. You should see my closet.

Recently, I enjoyed an unexpected foray into the horse racing culture here in my town. I’d had a good look at it from the inside the year before, so this year I had a much better idea of how to dress, what to say, what not to say. I was thankfully in the company of pals from back in my high school days on Chicago’s Northshore, so my edit function was a bit softened. But not so much so that I didn’t ask questions, that I didn’t pull out my small notebook and jot down some observations. And when my friend shouted, “Liz, winner’s circle, now!” after a race, I readily dropped my phone, bag and journal and followed the entourage down the stairs and out onto the side of the racetrack, where we lined up for a group photo of the owners and trainers. My host’s girlfriend refused to join us, maybe because the whole affair was intimidating. I can see how it could be. But me, all I could think as I looked back up at the grandstand was “once in a lifetime”.  And although the cheap fascinator clipped to my head had seemed a weak choice all afternoon, it turned out to be just the ticket for the photo op. I could just imagine my mother saying to me as she had all throughout my youth and young adult life: “Kid, you live right”. Yup, I admit it. Sometimes I’m lucky.

If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been raising poultry for almost a decade now, I might still not believe that I myself really am a country girl. It flatters my ego to pass insider small talk at the feed store, and especially at the livestock auction house – where for goodness’ sake the workers always remember me and ask where I’ve been after long absences! – but secretly I almost always feel like I’m pulling one over on everyone. I’m not posing, not at least at this point in the game, but deep down, I always feel as if I kinda am. My muck boots and brown felt farmer’s hat guard against anyone being the wiser, but me, I always know better. Am I a country girl? Yes, and no…

When you play piano for three hours at one sitting in a busy restaurant, you never know who’s listening. Sure you can eye the crowd, get a good feel for the demographic, overhear a conversation or two to help inform your musical choices, but at the end of the day (or the end of the night as it were) you really can’t know. A couple of weeks ago an unassuming middle-aged foursome left the room after tucking a tip in the jar. “I really enjoyed Where Are You? ” one of the men said, smiling and waving as he exited. That was a tune very few would’ve known, and the generation that did was getting a bit too old to be making their way to this downstairs dining room. Musta been a musician, I’d guessed. You just never know the hats that folks are wearing which you just can’t see…

At the age of seventeen I was hospitalized for depression. I guess. Back then folks didn’t know the nuances of mental illness; panic attacks were simply lobbed into the mix with bipolar disorder and anorexia and any other possible affliction of the mind and spirit. We who suffered from any of these ailments were all sent to live with each other in close quarters, and made to push our chairs together in a circle each day to unburden ourselves to the room. It was there that I met a very drugged up man in his late twenties (all ages from teen to elderly shared the unit) whom I’d been quick to dismiss as all but lost. I remember his round, balding head, that he shuffled about, unable to lift his feet individually, and his lips were always shiny due to a constant drool (which I knew he could not control but which did not stop me from passing an unfair judgement of him). He and I were talking once and I had lamented how no one could understand me. How I just plain felt different from everyone (yeah, I know this is the song that every 17-year-old on the planet sings, but please just go with me here). Tom said he knew what the problem was: I was a chameleon. He’d observed how I’d changed my way of speaking to different people based on what I thought would make them comfortable. He said that he’d watched as I’d become someone completely different with each interaction. Immediately, it hit me. Yes, I did that. Yes, he was right. This man, so terrifically slowed by his meds, so dulled by his interminable residency there, he had observed me as no professional had. “You’re a chameleon” I remember him repeating, to make sure I understood. He wasn’t just saying some shit inspired by antidepressants. This guy saw all the hats and knew that none of them were mine – and all of them were, too.

Wearing so many hats can be thrilling, but it can also become a tad burdensome. The hats that I present to the world here in my writings can give some folks the illusion of having a personal relationship with me, when in truth, there is no such relationship. Recently I’ve been getting a little insight into what being familiar to a lot of people might look and feel like in real life (I hesitate to use the world ‘famous’, but well, you know what I mean). Mostly I’m pretty thrilled to get private messages from folks, and I’ve even made a few friendships through this platform, but wearing so many hats – and wearing them so publicly – makes it easy for folks to think they know exactly who I am. As a friend once said so candidly about my writing: my words are ultimately self-selected. One might take this to mean: how would you know if I was making it all up? How would you know when I embellished or when I omitted things to skew the results, to make you like me better or sympathize with my plight?

The answer is: you cannot know. Because I simply have too many hats in my closet, too many dresses in too many colors. I am, after all, a chameleon.

 

 

 

Words of Wisdom Won March 10, 2018

I know, right? Who am I to be offering up words of wisdom? For one, I just blew one of the cardinal rules of blogging for the first time in my 616 posts here: never begin a post with the personal pronoun “I”. Off to a good start…

Lying on my side in bed this morning, ruminating over the many things I have to do, and working on defining the most effective ways in which to execute them, I was inspired. Ah, you know that fragile window in time, don’t you? Those first fleeting moments of the morning when just a hint of inspiration overcomes you, and for a split second all things feel possible – and the stirrings of these possibilities begin to motivate you… But like a dream which one struggles to remember upon waking, the spark begins to fade the harder you try to bring it into view. And then you realize, fully, what you are in for. Yes indeed. You’re back. Phooey.

Yeah, it’s easy to feel inspired when you’re horizontal, when you’re warm, when you’re not hungry. That brief moment before anything really starts to hurt, before you remember that you forgot to wheel the garbage out to the side of the road… it’s easy to feel that lifting of spirit when your mind is empty of static, and the fragments of possibility sparkle there in your thoughts, beckoning you to rise from your bed and do, do, do, be, be, be… The challenge then becomes somehow holding on to that feeling, and coaxing it alive as you move through your day.

The idea that best helps me out when I want to forget the whole affair and just go back to bed is this: Face the Monster. Lately I’ve been taking the single most frightening thing I have to do each day and putting it on top of my list. It’s actually brought some impressive results. I’m still really scared, but I’m forcing myself to do things that I dread, and it’s not all that bad of an experience. I’m still rather consumed by insecurity and trepidation about my future survival, but I’m wading forward through the muck in spite of it. I’m in absolute awe of the human beings for whom this earthly life is but a trifle. Those folks who find their path, make a livable wage and own late-model cars. How in the world do they do it? I sometimes wonder if I will ever get it. Will I ever be unafraid? Will I ever earn a living wage? Sigh. Back to the list…

So, today “Facing the Monster” will entail going out to schmooze, where I will meet some artists and non profit types (they intimidate me greatly as they all seem to know exactly what they’re doing; they write grant proposals and deal with all that administrative nonsense while continuing to produce their art, uncompromised) and hopefully sit in at a local piano bar. Now if this doesn’t sound all that daunting, you’re probably right. But from where I exist, here on the inside of my skin, it has “panic attack” all over it. Really? Meh, not as bad as once upon a time, but still…

As many may know, The Studio has experienced some tremendous milestones over the past few weeks. Firstly, a local news channel produced a lovely piece on the venue, which was just what we needed. But then? A day before it aired we lost ALL of our power to the free-standing venue. After forty years the original underground power line went kaput. Who knows how, who know why – and at this point, who cares? Bottom line: ALL programs had to be cancelled as I set to figuring out how – or even if – I was going to make this pricey repair. At the end of the day it’s still just me piloting this silly ship, and I was completely out of money and answers. For several days I chose not to even think about it, because I was just plain out of steam. Metaphorically speaking, I went back to bed.

Then one morning, I said ‘fuck it’, and I Faced the Monster. I created a GoFundMe page for The Studio, held my breath in and hit send. I had no idea, really, that it would work. I knew a couple of folks would help out, but in fact the response has turned out to be so much more than I’d ever expected. It’s been deeply touching, yes – that would seem pretty obvious – but what this experience is also helping me to understand is that this venue, while ‘mine’ in some ways at this point in time – is not really mine. And soon, in order to survive and thrive, it must be handed over to a greater population. At some point, this simply cannot be my baby anymore. It needs to belong to a community. Seems obvious, right? I mean it’s a ‘community arts center’. But until now, it’s been basically my personal pet project (and my mother’s too; she would very much like to see the Conant/Studio legacy live on). And I won’t lie; surrendering control and seeing other folks come in and make it their place too seems a little scary. I need to learn how to keep my vision for the place clear and evident while at the same time sharing the reins with others. It’s obvious that I, by myself, cannot do all of the things which successfully running an operation like this entails, so I’ll need to Face the Monster once again. Next up, I need to find my posse…

But first comes today. Art opening, piano bar. Sounds fun. I get to wear nice clothes for once. Even sparkly things, which I secretly love. I’ll meet some people, share my vision for The Studio, sing some songs and make some people happy. And I’ll remember today’s piece of wisdom; Face the Monster and scare him back under the bed – at least for now.

 

 

Offense and Owls March 29, 2014

Unfortunately, I just can’t seem to sleep in this morning. While I’m sure I could use the extra rest, my mind and body are awake now, and there’s no going back. Maybe it’s my age, or the two glasses of wine I had last night with dinner. Either way, I’ll take it as a rare opportunity to have the house to myself for a while, as Elihu continues to sleep deeply. And I know that boy needs it. Yesterday, finally in the car and on the way home after school, he asked me if this hadn’t been the longest week of our lives. Poor kid had been sick the way I’d been the previous week, and he plays a rather large part in his class play, so had been rehearsing all week as well. I knew how he felt. For me, the longest week of our lives had been the one just before.

In addition to the drama onstage, there’s been a good deal of interpersonal drama going in private. The situation with Elihu’s classmate – or with his classmate’s mother, I should say more correctly – finally came to a head. And after more than four months of my having waited to learn which of my many trespasses offended her so deeply, we finally got our answers. Let me tell you, this experience has taught me a few things. Firstly, there are many ways in which to live; you cannot for one moment take any of your own beliefs, values or customs to be the clear and obvious path. No matter how sensible you may think your own approach to life, I can guarantee that some aspect to how you live will offend or frighten someone. Secondly, every now and then you’ll need to apologize as humbly and simply as possible, without caveats or explanations – even when you know your intention was good and wish fervently for the offended party to get that. Yeah, sometimes I guess you just gotta let things go. It was a great exercise of restraint for me to pen a simple letter of apology (my third or fourth apology, but perhaps a physical card in hand will seal the deal) without qualifying myself. Just had to say I was sorry. And crap, I am. I will live differently from now on.

So, just what was it that I did to convince a fellow mother that her child should not be allowed to be in my or my son’s presence outside of school? Firstly, I used profanity. (Old friends will likely be nodding in agreement. This will not come as a shocker to some.) Last Halloween Elihu and I had been invited to join his classmate’s family and another one as well for some dinner and trick-or-treating. We met at an Irish pub, enjoyed a meal and a couple of beers (I waited to order one until I made sure the other adults were drinking. In the Waldorf community I’m usually careful to observe before I jump in. It’s still a fairly new world for us, so I watch things first…) Apparently, I swore ‘more than once’ during the night, and made a ‘sexually lewd’ comment when in my car, with the windows down for her boys to hear… I don’t doubt that I swore. Rain was coming down in buckets, and I was having trouble getting my kid’s elaborate costume in the car without smashing it. I’d had two drinks (not as an excuse, but hey, I don’t drink often, and when I do, I feel it, and so does my tongue) and I can totally see my cursing the damn thing as I wrestled it into the back seat. Yes, I am fairly confident I used profanity. And at the table too – I mean, what the hell? I’m finally out with grown-ups, the kids are running around the restaurant being silly and there’s a general volume level in the room that just seems to soften the blow – if not flat-out invite – words of color and emphasis. Ya know? Course I do admit to having far more of a potty mouth than would be acceptable in many homes, but then again I’d been hearing about “Jesus H. Christ and his twelve raggedy-ass disciples” since I could remember, and I’d known since an early age that many things in life weren’t worth “a pinch of sour owl shit”. Nuff said.

The bit about a ‘sexually explicit’ remark still has me scratching my head… I run through the likely culprits, and I find none fit. I admit that I enjoy punctuating language with an occasional well-placed swear word, and I have hung out with enough men and musicians to have become fairly adept at sexually crass expressions of speech, but man, I could not for the life of me I imagine what it was that I’d said. And she’d said she didn’t care to repeat it either, so I’ll have to give up on learning from this one. Hey, if she was looking for bad parenting choices, she might have found greater offense in the fact that I paid our $44 tab entirely with singles from my kid’s tip jar. I didn’t know we’d be joining them til the day before and hadn’t set any extra funds aside for it, so I was fairly panicked when the check arrived and I didn’t have quite enough… but Elihu did. Hey – I wouldn’t doubt it that this had me swearing under my breath! It had me feeling like a crappy mom for sure. I told him that I was using his money and assured him that next pay-day it would all be returned. Then I slunk over to the hostess’ station and asked her to please swap out my many small bills for some larger ones. I didn’t want the unnecessary embarrassment of paying our portion with forty-four singles… I was trying to stay as ‘normal’ as possible that night. But I’d used my kid’s money to pay for my beer and I’d sworn like a sailor. Not so normal, I guess.

Then there was the owl. The one from which the two boys had removed feathers and talons. That I had allowed the boys to ‘dismember’ this creature was deeply offensive to this family’s Native American beliefs. (Blonde haired and blue-eyed child, I would never have guessed.) What we’d done that day had shocked the parents – so much so they weren’t even able to share it with me; these past four months I was none the wiser for what I had done. But I too had my own feelings about the owl….We knew this owl personally; it was our own Barred Owl – the one that always hooted at two in the morning and once sat on a branch above our heads and allowed us to look our fill at his black-eyed beauty. We’d shone a flashlight up at him and watched as he did what owls do. He would sit still as a stone for minutes on end, then in an instant rotate his head nearly all the way round. He was mysterious, grand and silent. We tired of watching him long before he flew away, and left him in the darkness again, telling him with our hearts how much we loved him as we headed back down the long driveway to the house. How grateful we were that he lived here. It made us feel deeply good to know that he was always somewhere about. Heartbreaking news arrived one day when neighbor Zac told us he had a dead barred owl for us – it had been hit on the road – and he’d bring it over for Elihu to see. We just knew it was our owl. It was with mixed feelings that we beheld the giant bird up close, but it was smashed and dead, all we could do now to honor it was to bear witness, maybe to save some feathers and talons, and to wonder how it was that such a creature survived year after year…

I’d saved the owl in an enclosed tub for several days (otherwise he’d have been dinner for someone else), knowing that Elihu’s classmate was coming over. I’d thought it would be interesting to see it up close, and the mementos would be an unexpected treasure. After all, how often do you get this kind of opportunity? I wondered at what else we could do; taxidermy cost too much. Leaving it out in the woods – as we do with sick, dead hens, that didn’t feel right either. Hell, nothing felt right. Might have buried it, but the ground was already cold and hard. So I decided we’d harvest what we could, then burn it with a little ceremony. Have not cultures been reverently burning their dead since ancient times? I got a woodpile ready as the boys began to learn just how hard it really is to remove feathers from such a robust creature. Pliers were required, and as for the talons, wire cutters were the only tools that worked. I can’t say that there wasn’t a slightly violent feeling involved in the process, but I kept reminding myself that we’d have these feathers and talons – and this remembrance of our friend – for years to come. (Butchering chickens is a kind of violent act as well, but we eat them, so we feel it’s only correct that we must know what it is so kill them, too.) I reminded myself that this creature’s soul had now returned to its creator – that it was now just decomposing matter. If life on a farm teaches nothing else it teaches this: once something is dead, it’s gonna get stinky and messy real soon. Unless you’re gonna eat it – get rid of it. When Elihu and I throw out dead organic matter – whether eggshells for the compost heap or dead hens for the resident raccoons – we always say the items are ‘going back to God’. And that, I believe, is the best way to throw things out. To release them back into the cycle; to allow them to integrate back into the substance from whence they came. Look, getting rid of a dead creature always evokes queer feelings. Sorrow, honor, regret, wonder…. finding a good point of resolution isn’t easy. The day my father was cremated was difficult for me; I still have a very hard time in knowing that his beloved body no longer exists in this physical world… But in the end, when soul and spirit have departed the mechanism, we are left with something that is indeed only physical matter. I don’t believe it hurts to remember the soul that once animated the body by saving just the smallest token. I still have a lock of my father’s hair…

So, after over four months of wondering, the case was finally solved. Foul language and removing parts from a dead owl were my unknown transgressions in the eye’s of our friend’s mother. But I still think that trumping these was the third and still unforgivable offense I’d originally thought was long off the table: that of having once posted an image of her happily smiling child on this blog. Upon learning her feelings about it, I removed all mention of her kid without a moment’s hesitation. I’d not only apologized in a couple of emails, but in person too. I made a point of checking in with her, asking if we were good now. She’d said yes, but clearly was being polite to avoid any confrontation (this is to me ironic in that by profession she counsels others). So here we were, back at the largest issue in her mind: the fact that I had exposed her child to the internet. A place she suggested in a recent email that I must certainly agree is known by all to be a ‘VERY’ (her use of caps) dangerous place. (The world itself is a dangerous place too, but one cannot stay indoors all of one’s life.) Ok. I understand how it can be, but do you really feel your child’s well-being is threatened by one lone image of his smiling countenance on a blog? Sheesh. I obviously do not share this woman’s feelings. But I respect that she feels the danger is very real. But besides taking action, and apologizing, what more could I do? No more, but no matter, the damage has been done. In her mind I had been crossed off the list. She wasn’t going to take any chances on a wild card like me.

In her mind proper values are self-evident, obvious. But in my mind, there’s an interesting twist to this whole thing… What I myself find a little hard to understand is that her child routinely rides on a motorcycle with his father… This is a risk I personally am not willing to take. When I lived in Chicago I once had a motorcycle, and I loved riding. But when I got pregnant, I decided that I couldn’t justify that kind of risk anymore. Someone depended upon me now – there was no room for accidents or injury in my life. When my child is out and on his own and no longer depends upon me, I may get back on a bike again. But not before. This for me is an unacceptable risk, one I feel is far more real and dangerous than mention on any blog. Amazing, isn’t it, how differently people feel about things? I’ve learned a lot from this chapter. One thing is for sure – I’m not going to go around sharing with folks whom I don’t know well that ‘I have a blog’. Too much of a hot-button issue. You just don’t know how it’ll resonate with people. Instead – from now on I’m simply going to say that I’m a writer. I like that better anyhow. And writers can use all the colorful language they like.

Last night mom, Elihu and I went out to dinner at the iconic Hattie’s – a place where the fried chicken still tastes the same as it did forty years ago – and then enjoyed a show afterward at the high school. Each year they produce a top-notch quality musical. This year it was Footloose. Doesn’t seem old enough yet to be hip or ironic, but I guess it’s enjoying a resurgence of sorts, and in spite of having played some of the songs to death in wedding bands years ago, it was still fun to see. The choreography was impressive, and we all enjoyed it. The angel of serendipity was again on our sides; we got a parking spot in front of the restaurant, and then three seats together in the front row – and in front of the percussionist no less. Afterwards in the swarms of people crowding the lobby we ran into two girls we knew from their days at Elihu’s old elementary school – and it made me so happy to see them now as such talented, beautiful young women. It was a nice way to end the evening for Elihu to hug them and say hello. We headed out into the foggy night and in less than fifteen minutes Grandma was dropping us off at home.

The calm inside our house was such a contrast to the whirlwind week now behind us. We were delirious with anticipation of what lay ahead… ‘Imagine’ I said as we smiled to each other… ‘we have NO plans for two days!’ I tried not to dwell on the mountain of dishes, the baskets of laundry, the mess of recycling strewn across our yard… Yes, there was work to be done. But nowhere to be, no one to answer to…. no one to offend. And maybe, somewhere out in the vast, dark woods, there might still be an owl sitting patiently on a branch, waiting, like us, for the first faint stirrings of Spring…

 

We Are Three! March 1, 2014

The Hillhouse turns 3 today! Wow, what a lotta stuff here… Some 440 posts, over a thousand subscribers, visitors from over 100 countries… Sitting here in this tiny room, just the two of us, it’s almost impossible to imagine it.

I can hardly remember so much of our past three years (especially the first one), as it all seems so far away now… It kinda feels as if these days we’re living a completely new chapter. I guess we are. My fiftieth year is nearly behind me now, I have a regular job, my father is gone and the Studio is emerging as the new adventure… We’ve learned how to raise and butcher our own chickens and grow our own food. My son has braces, he’s becoming more capable and independent every day, and he has discovered a passion for upright bass…. Yeah, things these days are indeed new and different.

As I pass casually over the old posts I’m reminded of our three-year ride here; in the beginning, Elihu was baby-toothed, had an adorable lisp and his passion for birds – as well as his collection of books on the subject – was just beginning to grow. We shared our life with avian friends of all sorts – from homing pigeons to exotic pheasants and much in between (I particularly loved our button quail, King George, who, along with our cat, lived free-range in our house and made strange, espresso machine-like sounds in the dead of night in his vain search for a mate). The bird adventures still amaze me. We’ve tamed our current bird experiences a bit; having sent our goose Maximus away, we’ve nothing left but some chickens (one of them is in the kitchen recuperating on sick leave from the coop as I write this).

While this blog officially started three years ago today, we’d already lived here for two years. I think of those first two as the lost years, as I was still fairly reeling from the loss of my husband and old life in Chicago. This blog came about as a means to express myself, to free myself from the ceaseless internal turmoil. My ruminations circulated, around and around in my head without resolution, without any sounding board, any witness… And the whole thing had felt very unfair (let’s be honest, it still kinda does). There was no legal justice coming my way, so at the very least I though perhaps I might glean some emotional justice if I could only share my story. So it started as a therapeutic device – but ended up being so much more.

What an amazing world this is in which we live; even when separated by half a globe, we can participate in each other’s lives, give each other support and continue to grow and learn from each other in ways we never could have anticipated. The world in which Elihu will grow up both thrills and frightens me. I can’t being to imagine the challenges his and future generations face, but at the same time I marvel over the potential before them… The planet will continue to shrink as social media and platforms like ours help to bring us all together – so that we may unite in our common goals as one human family. I’m convinced there’s enough on the planet to go around – and I pray that in the not-too-distant future the distribution of wealth and resources will begin to level out. Hopefully the better our ability to express ourselves and communicate, the happier and healthier our futures will all be.

While we haven’t ever known true hardship, Elihu and I have experienced enough challenges here at The Hillhouse to have learned a few important things. May I share them with you? As we see it, here are the top three ‘things’ to have in your bag of tricks as you go along: 1) A sense of humor (cannot be overstated); 2) A sense of adventure (life is a game, be bold and take chances, play as hard and creatively as you’re able) and 3) in the end, act in love as often as possible (for us, gratitude goes into this pot too). Look at that! Three years here, three little pearls to share.

Having said that, I think at this juncture it might be a healthy energetic move to wish my ex, his wife and their two boys, Elihu’s sister and her mother too, my love and good wishes for their futures… I don’t wish any of them ill. Not saying my heart’s not still recovering, or that it doesn’t pose a challenge for me going forward… This whole process – this very blog – has been driven by my discomfort with that situation. But I can say that I’m working on it. I don’t harbor bad feelings for my ex’s new family, and I wish it publicly known. All I wish for is that everyone here on this globe get a fair shake at a good life. And that includes people who’ve hurt me, intentionally or not. I guess we’re all just doing our best. So on with the adventure, and peace to us all.

To all of our dear readers, thanks for being part of our global family of friends; your love and energetic support means so much to us, and we send it back to you too.

E & E

 

Post 400 December 11, 2013

My first post was written in March of 2011. I have a hard time realizing that it’ll be three years soon. When I started out here, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was intending to do other than to gain a little witness to what I felt to be a pretty unfair situation. While I still feel there’s much about our situation that has been far less than fair (I can hear my mother’s voice in my head ‘who ever told you life was fair?‘) I can now see with much greater clarity – due in great part to this blog and the wonderful correspondence it’s inspired – that what had started out as a personal tragedy in my life began instead to show itself as a rare opportunity. In the beginning, when I began to write, I felt like I was talking to myself, but I always held out hope that there was somebody else in the room with me. After all, I was feeling very alone in the early days of The Hillhouse and this was my only link to the world. Thankfully, it’s a big world, a big room, and as it turns out I haven’t just been talking to myself this whole time. Phew.

There are now over eight hundred of us here, there are four hundred posts in the archives, and The Hillhouse has been visited over thirty thousand times. Wow. ! That’s fun to know. And the world map – man, impressive. I’m waving hello to all of you, wondering as I stare at the list of countries – did you happen upon us by accident? Are you a local or a lonely expat nostalgic for the U.S.? Do you visit because you too have gone through a divorce, because you too can’t make peace with growing older, or because you too have chickens? Or are we a serendipitous, tangential stop on a walkabout thru cyber space? I wish I could meet you in person; I’ve seen and read many of your blogs, and you’ve opened so many windows to other experiences and places which otherwise I’d never have known.

Not meaning to sound dramatic here, but this whole blogging adventure has been life-saving for me. Really. You have all helped to save my life – my hope, more accurately – and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I so appreciate your friendship and emotional support. I send mine back to you. This planet is not for wimps, and it’s not possible to get through the adventure solo. So again, thank you, thank you, thank you.

See you again soon…

 

Stop, Go November 17, 2013

At first her tone sounded potentially cheerful, ‘upbeat polite’, I suppose one might say. Having just had her son over for an afternoon playdate, I listened expectantly for a thank-you, an invitation for future such dates or some such gesture of routine civility. But within a micro second I heard the tone change, and after a slightly hesitant preamble, it came. The verbal cease and desist order. And then, abruptly, a hangup. Holy crap. I had not seen anything like this coming. My body flooded with a dull, sick feeling. And then, in another wave, came the cold shot of adrenaline. It reminded me of the way I’d felt in the wake of the flipper’s news that soon there’d be a house at the foot of our driveway. But worse. This was the mother of a child my son would likely spend the next eight years in a classroom with. And these kids really, really like each other. Oh no. A terrible, nauseous feeling began to grow in my stomach. It was nearing midnight when I heard the message. Sleeping pill or not, this would likely be a horrible night of sleep, and some unpleasant dreams were surely ahead.

In my past life as part of the public school community, my blog and its contents were never an issue. A casual mention of a classmate or pal perhaps accompanied by a pic wasn’t seen as something invasive or threatening; in fact, just about the opposite. It was a social thing, a bright and cheerful pause in one’s day, an online photo album for sharing. Granted, in the past year I’ve become aware how very different the feelings are in our insular community at Elihu’s new school, and I understand the stance on media in general, but I truly never worried – or even thought twice – about any controversy or disapproval over including my son’s classmates in brief mentions. Cameo roles and passing comments, smiling group shots or occasional close-ups of childhood moments hardly seemed threatening. But I do realize it’s a parent’s right to opt not to have their child’s image or information posted on an international bulletin board. Me, I’m fairly transparent, as readers will know. I kinda feel like you’re either pregnant or you’re not. Some information is already out there, irretrievably so, for the eons. You’ve already jumped in the pool, like it or not, so why not enjoy the water? But I suppose there’s the other side too – why give folks more information if there’s only a modest amount out there to begin with? Having one’s data on an insurance form (never mind the folks that list has been sold to) isn’t quite the same as the smiling countenance of one’s child shining as a beacon for all to see. (For a moment I consider the fear that indigenous people have about the camera stealing their souls. Could this be it? I laugh to myself.) I still don’t feel the threat personally, but I concede that I just might be missing something.

Anyway, I get it. And in an instant I was piloting my eight year old G4 thru all the fixes and retractions that I could find. At first I didn’t see much of anything – no name associated with his picture directly – and found his name mentioned only three times. But I changed the text right away. Deleted the pics too, although I did so with some sadness, as the joy just radiated off the screen. Really? I thought. I pondered at the threat these posed; was I putting the two of us in harm’s way on the blog? What wasn’t I getting here? I just couldn’t see it myself, but it didn’t matter. Keep going, get it all gone. I combed thru till I was satisfied he was gone, then emailed his mom an apology. She’s outwardly an affable person, but I don’t have an exceptional feeling of warmth or connection with her. I think I’ve tried, but granted, everyone’s busy, and most are trying to keep up some measure of professional demeanor on the outside. So I factor that in, and in retrospect I can’t say I’m entirely surprised at the situation. But I’m anxious about things now. Cuz this is our world, and we will live in it side-by-side with this family for a while yet. I just don’t want ill feelings in the air. I don’t need warm and cozy with everyone (although I’ll always try for it!), but I need a level playing field for sure.

Having a blog is a lot like hosting a radio program. You go on doing your thing in one small room, to nobody, for no apparent reason other than to hear your voice in the headphones, crisp and clear and perfectly equalized. It feels like it’s just you; there’s absolutely no evidence that it’s not. Then the phone rings. And once again, you’re almost dumbfounded that it’s not just you, alone there in the room playing music and recounting obscure anecdotes about the songs. You’ve got an audience! Of thousands! And one of em is calling to let you know how much they enjoy what you do! Really?? It’s still humbling and flattering, and of course, that one call (representative of the hundreds of others who aren’t so motivated – or geeky – as to actually call in) establishes for you that you are connected to your human family. You are. To your relief, you’re reminded that you’re not alone. And although it doesn’t happen often, something else also happens every now and again. That one other call. That one person against whom you’ve unwittingly caused offense, the person who for some reason has reacted to your broadcast in just the opposite way from the majority. And of course, since the perceived affront was the last thing on your mind or your agenda, you’re stopped in your tracks for a moment. But then you realize that this is a big planet, and it stands to reason that not everyone will feel the same way about things. So you shake it off. And then you get back to sitting alone at your desk, doing your thing – simply because you enjoy doing it – and hoping that somewhere out there just one other human being is smiling along with you.

Sometimes all you can do in the wake of a mistake or misjudgement is stop and apologize, make right your actions as best you can, and keep on going. And just when you think you know better, you’ll find you don’t. Funny how surprises can still be surprising, even when you know to expect them! I guess it’s all part of the adventure. You can plan all you like, but you can’t be prepared for everything. And life is certainly different in action than it is on paper.

As my son and I are often fond of saying, ‘you never know until you go’.

 

Bye Bye July August 1, 2013

In much of the Western world August is the month of vacations and holidays. In Europe folks head to Mediterranean coasts and leave signs in windows telling all that they’re gone for the month. People there fairly expect it. But here in the states there is no one favorite summer month for vacation. In fact, it seems that much of the country favors a spring getaway to a trip in muggy mid-summer. (I can remember classmates returning from mid-winter and spring breaks with those telltale ski goggle suntan lines while I secretly felt sorry for myself that I had never had the privilege.) I myself come from a family that never once took an honest-to-good vacation. Since my father was a musician, the family accompanied him to some lovely places where he performed, but it was not quite the same. Ditto with my ex husband.

Our family did, however, spend the summers in our tiny country cottage here in Greenfield Center, New York, as my mother and father were busy hosting their long-running Festival of Baroque Music. While my youth’s memories are colored by the sounds of early music and the scents of freshly mowed fields, I cannot say that as a child I necessarily looked forward to that particular time each year, nor did I realize at the time how rare and lovely the experience was. To me as a child it was just plain hot, muggy and buggy. And there was little to do.

Some years I headed for New Hampshire, where I spent two weeks in an overnight camp that both my mother and grandmother had attended. (While I enjoyed it once I got there, I remember feeling a low-grade dread growing in my stomach as the trip approached.) In our tiny house we had a black and white tv that got only three channels; we seldom watched it much during the day anyhow, as my mother’s constant refrain was “it’s too nice a day to be in the house – go outside!” In retrospect I can realize how lovely and innocent my summers were, but as I was experiencing them I just remember thinking mainly this: July is hot, long and boring. As a kid I never really did like July.

But here I am today on the final evening of the month, and my feeling about this time of year has changed. It’s fascinating to me that I feel so differently about July as a fifty year old woman. Today I relished the gorgeous day, the blue sky and puffy white clouds. The breeze was exquisite, my progress on the house encouraging, and my plans for the future invigorating. As I sat in my chair admiring my freshly painted house – plus my windswept view – I just kept thinking about how lucky I was. I loved this spot, I loved my home, and was beginning to finally love my life.

This year July had been a great month. And, it occurred to me, although it really had been just visiting my old neighborhood, I did even manage to take a trip to Chicago. And I suppose that constitutes a vacation. After all, it was refreshing and very enjoyable. So yeah, I guess it counts. That makes my July a success for the books: a proper vacation, some kid-free time to do some fixes on the house, and a few moments alone in the fresh air with a good book. The garden’s going well, the house is tidy and no one needs me right now. Yes, this has been a very good month for me.

August is just icing on the cake. I feel like the next two weeks before Elihu comes home are the most supreme gift. Will use every minute, will savor every summer breeze. Soon enough I’ll need to prepare for the upcoming school year; gotta get ready for my fall classes and start thinking about lesson plans… So August won’t be all mine. But still, I got it good. Financially summers are always very tight because I don’t have any private students – that means no income. But the time itself – that is just so precious. I wait all year for the time to open up so that I can finally get to that list of projects. This year I got a lot of em done. And that feels very good.

July also marks my one year anniversary as a divorced woman. Another milestone, another step towards this new life we’re making for ourselves here in upstate New York. Sometimes I wonder how I ever got here, and what on earth I’m doing sharing my property with forty chickens and a goose, but sometimes it feels like the best fit ever. Especially on a fine summer day. Thanks, July, I’ve enjoyed you immensely. See you again next year…