The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Shift February 17, 2015

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Big shifts are underway. Frustratingly, the two I’m most keenly interested in are difficult to pinpoint and identify. Although the changes are slow-moving and subtle, sometimes it seems they appear overnight.

My own face and body are morphing into a form I never expected to see myself inhabiting, and my son, while still just a boy, occasionally evokes shadowy premonitions of the years ahead. I’ll catch a glimpse of his back and shoulder and understand it to be the sculpted shape of a young man, but then that idea falls away again and I’ll realize that it’s still just my little boy. A subtle turn of the head or bending of a limb will look somehow new and different, and again the approaching future reminds me that it’s coming. But still, it’s only a hint – nothing I can define, measure or quantify… And after my vision fades, it’s still a young boy’s body I see, and I’m relieved. Yes, I know big changes are coming, and deep inside I’m beginning to get ready. But my feelings remain mixed: being a single mother to a young child is exhausting; am I not indeed ready for the next chapter? I know that I am, and in fact I’m so looking forward to seeing what kind of young adult my son is to become – but I also know how terribly I’ll miss aspects of this intimate, magical time in our lives. Getting ready, breathing in….

Unlike the vaporous nature of the visions I have of my son, the snapshots I see of my own body are not momentary illusions, nor do they portend for more lovely visions to come. The relatively new jowls bracketing my jaw line are not an aberrations caused by the light. In fact, with more light and more careful scrutiny the changes appear more advanced than I might otherwise have thought. Low res pictures and dimly lit rooms may offer comfort and push the truth off to a comfortable distance, but I can’t fool myself for long. I know what’s going on here. And yeah, I know I’ve said it before, but likely I’ll say it again a whole lot before my run on this planet is through: This wasn’t really supposed to happen to me. Of course I know that’s not exactly true; I knew age would befall me, it’s just that somehow I imagined the whole process would be a tad bit, well, sexier. Aging didn’t seem all that bad when I saw the relaxed elegance of over-fifty models carrying firewood or sipping tea in LL Bean catalogues, or when women of a certain age happily rode bicycles alongside their silver-templed life mates during insurance commercials. It was possible to age with style and ease! It was really all about attitude, right? Yeah – the right attitude, a good head of hair, a long inseam and a snappy, clean jaw line. ! If I had those goin for me, I’d happily take the wrinkles around my eyes and the mane of silver. But age doesn’t manifest so neatly in most of us. Sigh.

At the risk of belaboring this discussion, I feel I need to completely clear about things. In order to become more comfortable with the subject of aging, I wish to blow the goddam top off of all this polite, tip-toeing around that folks do when talking about getting old. I have a low tolerance for euphemisms…. Please, friends, can we be as honest as possible with each other? I once knew a man who said that “woman don’t go gray. They go silver.” And while I still think it’s kinda cute – it obscures the truth of the experience. I’m sorry, but unless you look something like Emmylou Harris, gray hair for you will likely detract from the drama of your look rather than add to it. (I do know one person who has been blessed with a head of truly gorgeous gray hair. In this case I might even be tempted to call it silver. Yes, Francine, I’m talking about you.) I will not have this ‘glass half full’ nonsense about how beautiful a person’s wrinkles are, how the lines around one’s eyes are ‘earned’…. Bull fucking shit. I’m sorry y’all. I don’t find them ugly per se – wrinkles do not diminish my love for or attraction to a person – but they don’t demand my admiration as does the dewy, smooth skin of a young person. Come on. I am so tired of pretending shit’s what it isn’t.

Having said all of that, I’m going to need a way of living inside this wrinkling body while feeling somewhat ok about it. It’s been a while since I fell off the workout wagon, and I know that once I’m back on the horse again, that’ll help me feel better. And one day, I’m tellin ya now, if I should ever come across $5K that doesn’t need to go out as soon as it comes in, I’ll be making an appointment at a local surgeon’s office to get some help pulling things up again. Yeah, I’m not above it. Just not rich enough yet to put it on the list of options. So for now, it’s all about going inside to make the needed adjustments. And also – it’s about living for something else besides me, which brings me to another shift that’s underfoot these days…

Any moment I’m going to get a call from the forester, and I’ll don my snowshoes and join both him and the head logger in the woods. These guys are fantastic and fastidious and they’ve stayed in communication with me throughout the job. My parents got screwed over by the last outfit they had harvest their woods, some twenty-odd years ago, and this time I made it a top priority to find folks I could trust. The logger had some questions and asked that I accompany them on a walkabout, so he could make sure that he didn’t cut what I’d hoped to keep. So far the process has been as unobtrusive as I believe logging can be; the very roads on which they remove the trees recede from view into the forest from just a few feet away; the roads themselves are few and the cuts selective. (Might be one reason we’re not making the big money that we could if we cut more dramatically.) The other day I explored our property as I hadn’t since I was a child. It was thrilling, inspiring, and from the newly formed trails had me expanding my ideas about hosting nature walks in tandem with art classes. In the past I’d been asked by small folk music groups if I could offer camping space… Soon the answer will be yes. And there’s a huge basin of wetland that my parents had once discussed making into a pond (at the time there was state money available for it if it was to be left a wild area. Something to re-investigate.). There’s some gentle topography to the woods and even a creek – which one of the workers noted to me was not yet ‘categorized’, meaning it had yet to be named. ! See what I mean? So much potential has opened up now, there are so many options before us….

While I don’t know how exactly it is that I’ll be using the Studio and the surrounding eighty acres of woodland, I do know that I will be sharing this space with people. I have a list of ideas, some likely not very realistic (hell, none of this seemed remotely possible two years ago!), some more practical than others, but I’m not comfortable sharing them yet. In the year’s time since the Studio’s big flood, I’ve posited so many possible scenarios and gotten so ahead of myself, that in going forth I’m going to make an effort to chill out a bit. To hold my cards a bit closer to my chest. Not to run through the halls blabbing my big ideas, lest they turn out to be wildly unrealistic and naive. Bad enough I suppose that I’m beginning to create all this infrastructure without so much as a concrete business plan. I do, however, have a general trajectory in sight, and above all else, my goal is to add some love and light to the world. I want to help bring people together, to create community without pressure, without the need for people to spend beyond their means… I’d like to create a space where people can come by for no good reason. I’d like to provide a platform for people to create, learn, perform and interact, all without the pressures of holding their work to professional standards. The summer art classes, while not personally mine, have set a nice tone for the place. Deep in my mind’s eye, I do have a vision for the place. From where I stand today, I simply cannot know how much of that will come to pass – hell, if any of it will come to pass. I may not know exactly what I’m doing, but I still dearly wish to succeed at it, whatever the final product may end up looking like. And with all of you here as my witnesses, failing becomes far more unpleasant a thought; I’m motivated by both lofty and not-so-lofty reasons. But whichever direction this whole project goes, it’s safe to say that things are improving.

I, my son and the Studio are all on the edge of something new. The ground trembles as the trees fall, my son’s legs ache as they grow longer, and for the first time in my life, my fingers actually hurt when I play the piano. It’s such a confusing mix of happy anticipation for the new adventures ahead – and dread for the disappointments that will also come along with that same future… My heart skips a beat sometimes when I realize that there’s no possible way of ever going back (or is it just A-fib?  !). I know what I’m getting ready for, and yet I don’t.

Although I may not know much about the particulars of this next chapter, I do know this for sure: the big shift is finally underway.

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This came my way via Facebook yesterday… Worth a quick peek.

 

Time Neverlasting May 6, 2014

Tomorrow, on the 7th of May, 2014, I will be fifty-one years old. The novelty of turning fifty now past, I find myself wondering how to emotionally approach this very average-sounding, non-landmark of a birthday. It’s interesting to me that although aging is a concept I admittedly have a hard time with, I haven’t invested a lot of energy or thought into it – certainly not the way I did last year’s birthday. And when I do pause for a moment to consider what’s happening here, I feel a bit stuck. I’m getting older, but somehow I’m still not adjusting. Somehow, I still don’t believe it.

This time last year I was twenty-something pounds lighter after a long and successful campaign on the Atkins diet. I passed my fiftieth summer looking and feeling great. I even got to visit Chicago, got to sing in front of some audiences, eat some fabulous food, visit much-missed friends and favorite places… And all while not being two dress sizes too big for me. (Say what you will, I don’t care. You’re right, I am not liberated, modern or emotionally responsible about this; life just feels a whole lot better as a size 10. Sorry, but for me it’s true.) There were some moments in which I felt absolutely glowing and good; positivity and energy radiated from me without effort… It had been some years since I’d felt this way, and I was a bit surprised to notice how familiar a feeling it was – and how not only enjoyable it felt to look and feel good, but how powerful it was too. To have virtually no reservations about how I visually presented to people. I zipped up old favorite dresses and they felt as good as super-hero costumes. But this year, I live in a different body, and the thought most forefront in my mind each day is this: man, I fucking blew it. And once again, I look and feel frumpy. Tossed many of most of my fat clothes last year, and bought a couple new skinny outfits too, which now I simply cannot wear. Crap. Choosing clothes was hard enough, now it’s an extra tricky challenge. Oh dear Lord, whatever have I done to myself? No matter, it is what it is. The question that I’m left with now is this: what do I do next?

Ok, so I’ve quit smoking, I’ve done the fad diet thing, I’ve gone months without a glass of wine, I have myself a brand-spanking new giant tv and a dvd player and all the Richard Simmons workout videos I can ever use. The trick here seems to be to get it all going at the same time. Since being a mother I haven’t ever had my game on like I had in the old days. Almost… but not quite. Like a bump under the rug, one weakness or another shows up in a corner while the rest of the room looks tidy and put together. So the game plan for going forward seems obvious, but daunting: just get plain healthy. It makes sense, really. It would be so much more enjoyable to feel lighter, more flexible, less driven by a jones and more by an organic desire just to be well. I can guess such a world exists, but it may as well be on another planet the way I feel right now. Gotta be honest here, food is the great reward at the end of a long and tiring day. The pure pleasure of sitting down to a tub of hummus and a stack of pita break with my kid when we return home is a highlight of the day. What would replace that? What will I look forward to if I don’t have my snacks, my wine? I have to figure it out, because I can’t eat as I used to, and while I may love my after school snacks, I sure don’t love the new body that came with em. So one goal for the ‘new year’ might be an overall re-tuning of my routines. A more watchful eye on portions and a workout time scheduled into my day just like I’d make time for practicing or teaching. I guess. A healthy, flexible and trim body sure would be a nice birthday present to give myself. And if I plan on going low and slow, it’ll probably take me a year to get my gift ready…

The eighth grade is doing “Tuck Everlasting” for their class play, and I’m playing the music for it. Even though Elihu read the book rather recently himself, and even though it’s something of a kid’s classic, I hadn’t read it myself and wasn’t even sure of the premise. As I sat there today composing little pieces for the interludes between scenes, I learned about its theme of accidental immortality and the frightening repercussions. And then in the midst of pondering my own process of aging and the reservations I still had about it – it hit me: Yes, I actually do want to grow old. Yes, my God, I do. Can you imagine not growing old? Staying just as you are now – forever? I know there’s nothing new to this message, but still. As I sat there, watching the characters talk about living until the end of time… I could feel the terror in it. And I thought of my father and his life, well-lived, perfectly wrapped up, ending with closure and rightness. Why should I fear concluding what is happily finished? I’m not done yet, and have much still to learn, but I can’t bring my experience to a happy ending unless I grow old first. So I guess I kinda need this birthday tomorrow. I remind myself that at least we’re all going at the same speed. And we’re all headed the same place, so I may as well relax and try to enjoy myself along the way.

My mother had a little accident a couple of days ago. Don’t want to say that she had a fall – it sounds like such an old-lady thing to have happen – but that’s exactly what it was. She said it was because she ‘broke her own rule’ about running for the phone. She turned and stepped on her gym bag and fell. The irony was a killer – she’d just gone to the Y to begin working out again after years away (hmm, do I sense a trend?) and had only just placed the bag there. She’d injured herself out of her effort to improve her health. ! (And who was the caller? You guessed it. I do feel kinda guilty about it.) Thankfully, she didn’t go the ultra old-lady route and break a hip, instead she just really whacked her back and kidneys. She’s so sore she thinks that she may even have fractured a rib. I was on the phone with her today as I sat at the piano between classes when the eurythmy teacher came up to me showing surprise on her face –  as I wasn’t supposed to be using my phone inside the school. But when she heard the conversation I was having with mom, she lightened. When I hung up she advised me that it wouldn’t always be like this. Being there for my kid, then for my folks. One day they’ll all be gone, and it’ll be just me again. And then, how did she put it? I’ll be free to work on ‘my own biography’. I added that it was a pity that I’d have to be doing it without benefit of youth. But she just waved her hand in the air and made a face that said ‘nonsense’… She insisted that most women found their most fruitful and enjoyable years to be in their fifties and sixties. Could be. She herself was good evidence of that. She definitely had an idea that I needed to add to the pot.

As my father would struggle across the floor with his cane he’d tell me that he remembered as a boy looking at old men like him and thinking that he’d never be like that… and then he’d laugh and say, ‘but look, here I am!’ I’d chuckle along with him, deep down thinking the very same thing that he once thought as a boy. How self-righteous of me! Ah, but how human. How mortal… Thank goodness there’s an end to it. I like the process of learning things, of doing things, but I also love being able to cross things off the list too. And one day, there’ll be an end to the to-do list that is my life. So for now I’ll just have to throw myself into it, while I’m able, because I think I’m beginning to understand that it won’t last forever.

IMG_2637An abstract image (the most forgiving type) of me, a guinea feather and dad’s wedding ring on the eve of my 51st birthday