The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Rhodes Trip December 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until they weren’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Embedded February 10, 2019


Elizabeth singing with David Amram at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York

There’s no time to write, no time to think, no time to plan. Life at the Hillhouse these days is just running from one fire to the next, one challenge to another…

I refer to my spiral notebook of to-do lists so that my heart will remain hopeful at all of the items that are now crossed out. With so many items checked off the list, why is it that life still feels like a fruitless, Sisyphean maze without a happy destination? Centered folks with a handle on their shit will tell me it’s all about the journey, the process. Yeah, well there are times when I enjoy the ride, yes, but for the most part right now I’m feeling compressed, broke and apprehensive. And honestly, there are so many things I’d rather be writing about than how stressful things are. But I have a hunch that a whole lot of my friends are also feeling the squeeze of life right now too.

I know one day I’ll miss this time. I do, but still… Sometimes, when I realize that I’ve been standing at that same stupid kitchen sink washing the same goddam dishes over and over for a fucking decade, I am overcome with a profound sense of frustration. But then I’ll remember in an instant that Elihu will be in college in two short years… There will be plenty of time then to arrange programs for the Studio, cull the crap from the garage and fix the chicken run fences. Plenty of time for all that domestic shit that just takes time and muscle. (But then I worry all over again; will I have any energy or muscle left by then to deal with it all?)

A week ago I had the good fortune to sing with my old pal David Amram. Elihu and I went to hear him at Caffe Lena, and he invited me up. For that one moment I remembered how it used to feel… Man, there is nothing like it. It felt like I was flying, weightless through space, supported by a warm, loving cloud… It reminded me of the same way I felt when, at 17, I recorded in the studio for the very first time. That feeling of hearing myself through the headphones, lifted by reverb into a starry, endless universe… It was enough to remind me that there is more to life than the to-do list and the dishes. But it’s still not quite within reach. Not quite yet.

I hadn’t planned on writing a post this morning, but now that I’m here at my desk I may as well catch folks up on the current doings here at the Hillhouse…

Elihu is continuing to amaze me; he’s on the mock trial club for his school (they have real trials in a courtroom presided over by an actual judge), he’s learning French now (I’m guessing by June he’ll be considered trilingual), he’s building gorgeous planes and continuing to post his builds on YouTube, and he’s kicking some ass on the tuba. On Saturdays Elihu is a tour guide at the local military museum, a post he enjoys – something that I could never have seen coming a year ago. There is a lot on his plate these days; homework often keeps him up until past midnight, and as a mother, it worries me. It’s always been my goal to keep my child’s life under-planned so that he might never feel undue stress (that will come in time!), so recently I apologized to him for having let his life become so full of commitments, but he assured me that he liked it that way (in his own words he describes himself to be an “aspiring overachiever”!). I’m deferring to his judgement on that. His life is really on his own terms now.

Last week, while driving Elihu to the military museum for his afternoon shift as a docent, we were accosted by an inebriated and angry young man (there was an outdoor festival in town) who, while crossing the street in the middle of the block, screamed as us that I was driving too fast. I waved to let him know I was aware of him, that he needn’t worry. He yelled at me again, and in my endless quest to be understood by everyone, I opened the window and told him not to worry, when in a better version of the universe I would’ve kept my mouth shut, and moved along on my way. My protest enraged him even more, and so as we drove off he swung his hardshell guitar case at the car. There was a loud cracking sound, and the car rocked. Sensing there might truly be damage, I pulled over, assessed the door and then followed him as he tried to retreat, yelling at me that “the pedestrian was always right”. The impact of his swing did make a dent, and the paint was chipped too. A small mark, but enough to compromise the finish and create a crease in the line of the door. To say that my heart sank is an understatement. (Keeping things in check I reminded myself that this is a first-world problem.) I’m grateful that his mother was there too; her peaceful energy was like an eye in the storm. She offered to pay for the repairs and gave me her cell number too, and so after I dropped Elihu off at his job, I visited the police station to file a report. This past week I’ve had to add body shop appointments to my list, and the issue is still likely weeks away from resolution. Ah well. Just gotta keep going.

Not long ago Elihu and I learned that his father was having another baby. It kinda threw us for a loop; Elihu had settled on things as they were (he and I had enjoyed a surprisingly lovely visit in London this past November with his half sister and her mother, and on that front things were very good indeed). Elihu said that it was hard news for him to hear, but suspected it would feel more normal as time went on. It was strange how hard the news hit me. I’d thought all that pain was gone, resolved and for the most part over. But there it was again, fresh; a reminder of how I’d never gotten the chance to have another child, how I was robbed of the possibility of a true family, how my partner had vanished without my consent. All at once the contrast was in my face; I myself was beyond menopause now, and somehow my ex’s wife was still in that youthful window of fertility. The wound opened up all over again. For a few weeks my stomach ached in an old and familiar way. But thankfully, in the month or so that’s passed, it’s subsided. My life won’t change much for this turn of events, and likely neither will Elihu’s. Crazy how stuff happens, and how one must shift one’s thinking to understand it all. Once again the landscape has changed in a way we never could have expected.

Our exchange student Leevi is coming from Germany at the end of March, and the house is topsy-turvy in preparations for our guest. A resident barred owl has picked off several of our hens; a plastic great horned owl sits atop a perch that we must move daily in order to appear a plausible threat to the henhouse predator. The weather continues to present challenges with flooding in our house and frozen pipes at the Studio. I can’t seem to get back on the diet train and feel fat and rather unhappy with it, but for the time being I simply can’t fret over it. There are too many other things to set right first.

So there it is friends, a rather hastily penned update.

Embedded below are links to websites which I recently created in order to hang ourselves a shingle out in the virtual world. Thought I’d try splainin to people what it was that we did in a more succinct fashion. Peruse Elihu’s site, won’t you please, dear friends? A lovely Valentine’s gift might be your subscribing to Elihu’s YouTube channel… (A mother’s thank-you in advance.)

ElizabethConant.comĀ  (The main site to which all the others are linked.)

Copterdude’s site

Copterdude’s YouTube channel

Not Your Mother’s Piano Teacher site

Singing70s (and more) site

Elizabeth’s Instagram (hillhousewoman)

Elihu’s Instagram (copterdude)

The Studio in Greenfield’s site