The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Better Plans Ahead February 20, 2014

Folks warn ‘be careful what you ask for’ – because as we all know, sometimes you sure can get a whole lot more than you bargained for. And sometimes you don’t even get what you asked for – you get a whole new situation which might even seem quite beside the point; the answer to your prayers comes in the most unlikely forms, trying your patience, provoking self-pity and other loathsome mental states…. You wish rain would come to save your garden, but instead a powerful storm comes and leaves things looking much worse than before, but then that inspires an inventory and cleaning-out of the space resulting in a new, more beautiful garden. You hope for a promotion at your boring workplace, but instead you get fired – but now you finally have the time to go out look for that job you really want. You drop a lot of cash buying the wrong color paint for your house and then it turns out to look even better than what you’d originally chosen… I think you get the point. Right? You ask, then you receive. But not always in the way you had planned. But that’s the thing about plans – some of the very best ones change, and go on to become even better ones still.

Maybe you’re in an incredibly unfair and miserable situation – maybe there’s a high level of fear or uncertainty, discomfort, lack of basic things like food, shelter, heat…. Maybe things truly are shitty right now. (I know a little bit about it. Not the nitty-gritty, honest-to-goodness down-and-out stuff, but down enough, thank you.) There is one consolation to be taken even if this is your current state, and that is: if you don’t want things to be like this, don’t worry, they won’t be. Things change – so you always have something to look forward to.  If you have the patience to keep the faith, stay as hopeful as you’re able, and wait it out – soon you’ll see where this new situation takes you (the old ‘fake it til you make it’ idea) – you might just end up in a much improved place in your life – a place that didn’t even show up on your list. Might be a nice surprise.

Without meaning to appear coy or too passive-aggressive here, indulge me if you will in the follow story lines (yes, this is my story): Your husband leaves you. You hadn’t for one moment ever considered this might happen, and yet now you have no choice but to deal with the situation. The only option is to keep moving. You’re hurt and angry and scared, but nonetheless you begin to make progress down that new, unforseen path (of course you may well be sobbing and screaming much of the way). And a coupla years later down that unexpected path, you find that you’ve just learned a whole lot of wonderful things and met a whole bunch of interesting people that you wouldn’t have otherwise. And your kid goes to a school he loves, heck, you even work at that same school. Now that time has eased up on your heartache, you can look back from where you came, look at where you’ve arrived, and now, only now can you agree with the universe that it did indeed give you just about everything you’d wanted. Ok, so you’re doing it solo, and sometimes that has you a bit down, but maybe even that plays an important role in the perfection of your current life. (If nothing else, you can make your very own rules, do things your way. Keep a clean bathroom and a tidy house. !) So maybe things don’t always happen the way you’d originally planned, but that’s only because you can’t see the good stuff down that other road… You haven’t got the advantage of seeing the landscape from above – but apparently, it seems, someone or something else does have the greater perspective. And ‘it’ has graciously given you a nudge down the fruit-bearing path. (To me it seemed more like a rather rude shove, to be honest, but sometimes I guess it takes a little extra muscle to get someone moving in the right direction. Especially for the more stubborn sorts.)  So thank you, universe. Nice of you to help out, I appreciate that.

Continuing on with the story line… Sometimes you do want something really big to happen in your life. And instead of experiencing a dramatic, unanticipated, life-changing even, you experience what you perceive to be nothing at all. So you decide you’re ready. You plead a little with the universe, you make your case, you throw down the gauntlet. Your time has come, please, world, bring it on! You are sick and tired of things the way they are, you’re ready for something new, and you let the world know it. But your frustration is deep and you’re probably not seeing that the thing you’ve begged for is indeed making its way to you in mysterious, unpredictable ways. You haven’t noticed any of this yet, so you’re still pretty crabby… and you’re pretty close to convinced that it’s a done deal. Nothing’s coming your way. But hey – you kinda thought as much. Whatever. Slog though, keep making those to-do lists, keep on keepin’ on. At least you got a new mat for that little spot in front of the kitchen sink and a hyacinth plant for the table. Those are an upgrade of sorts. And maybe those’ll have to do. Cuz all this other shit – this big life shit, the real stuff – man, it’s way too much anyhow. I mean, can I see myself doin something so big? So ambitious? So, er, grown up? Naw – shit like that’s for those other people. Naw, I’m just gonna live my little life, do the best job I can at that, and be kind to people as I go along. That should do. That should take me on outta here. What else can I do? I’m not young anymore, aint got the tiny body, the full tank of non-stop energy, I’m not living in the epicenter of an uber cool music scene… Things are different.  I’m a farmer now. A mom who might also pass as a grandmother. Yeah, I’m the crazy chicken lady across the field who teaches piano lessons. Start a business? Take a huge leap into territory that I know nothing about? That shit just sounds crazy. Maybe crazy chicken lady aint so bad.

Lately, as in the past few months, I’ve been toying with some different thoughts about  who I am and what my role should be in this next chapter, and these ideas are growing, marinating, morphing and showing signs of something much, much larger waiting for me just a bit down the road from here…. It seems – fairytale-esque though it sounds – that in order to see a dream take shape, one must keep a vision, hold it dear, and then share that vision with the world… Like a snowball rolling down the hill, your idea collects more mass on its travels, and soon you have far more than you’d set out to create… And then, of course, you have just entered into yet another chapter in your personal and professional growth. Holy shit. But then it’s not a dream anymore, you can’t hide anywhere, and what if you’re not truly able to act on all these prophetic-like platitudes you’ve been broadcasting all over? What a disappointment you’ll be then – mostly to yourself, of course, but that’s still not going to be as bad as the embarrassment you’ll feel at your very public ‘jump and miss’. Oh oh. What have I started? Sheesh. Think I’m frightening myself here. I’m exhausted and I haven’t even begun. Gotta keep my focus…

You do know what I’m babbling about, don’t you? Life, death, the Studio and unforseen catastrophes…. Let me backtrack just a second… I’ve been formatting and printing out all my posts from the past three years, and I stopped to read some posts from the past couple months – the time before my father died, a time of great inner sadness and reflection. At some point I lamented that I felt I needed a greater purpose in my life – that I almost felt I had a calling, but I didn’t yet know what it was. And then of course there were dad’s enigmatic words shortly after that…”When beautiful January comes…” And then there was beautiful January – and with it, the great flood. The Studio was ruined. My vision for the future seemed dead before it had begun. And yet… Things have been happening with great serendipity; the right people appearing at the right time, kind offers being made, solutions appearing from nowhere, improvements suggesting themselves as we re-think our plans… All sorts of things are coming together like some sort of energetic groundswell coming to lift me up and push me into this next era.

In a way I’m glad my father is gone now, because I don’t feel I could have moved forward with a new vision for The Studio had he still been here, after all, this place was his baby. He created it with a very specific – and successfully met – vision of having a venue crafted with superb acoustics for his beloved eighteenth century music. That was his field of expertise, and it is simply not mine. (I feel I should add that while I do dearly love Baroque music, I don’t know enough about that world to make it my thing.) I not only feel freer to move into this next adventure, but I feel that somehow dad is energetically supporting me from wherever it is that he exists now. Oh this is tricky territory – I have some dear friends for whom this sort of talk verges on insane nonsense, some friends who may agree more than they’d ever let on, and some friends who wonder why I pussyfoot around here when clearly I’m talking about my dad being in Heaven, and that he’s still somehow connected to this world – and more than that – he’s able to assist me on some level. Hey, I don’t know the truth, all I do know is that a situation which had me wanting to hug my knees to my chest and rock back and forth in a dark closet has now got me excited to wake up in the morning, inspired to move, thrilled to follow where this all leads… Cuz I’m going somewhere. Not quite sure where, but that’s ok. I have a loose plan, and I’ll leave it that way, cuz things will be changing yet again, I’m sure of it. And I’m also pretty sure that whatever happens next will be paving the way for better things just over the horizon….

 

 

January’s End February 1, 2014

So is this what dad had in mind when he mused “when beautiful January comes….”? I mean, really? I can’t imagine he meant to imply anything so specific as the tumultuous events of the past few weeks, of course, but I wonder if he might not have had a clue – on some level – that things were about to change. That the course of events in my life and at the Studio were about to shift and gain momentum in a slightly new and refreshed direction. That things would soon be very different. Personally, I’m not good with change, or ‘different’; things were just fine as they were, thank you. (At least they weren’t scary.) A major event was needed, apparently, to get my full attention and suggest we might try looking at things in a new way. Ok already. Got it.  Now I’m listening….

I haven’t had the time to visit the Studio again since my heart-sickening discovery the other day. I need to take photos, I need to remove items, to spend more time truly assessing the damage. Maybe today. I’m a bit weak at the thought of it. But strangely, at the same time I’m just a bit invigorated. Already I’ve shared my experience with people, already I’ve begun to make plans, to imagine possibilities that never would have occurred to me if all of this ‘tragedy’ hadn’t happened. I think that I really am beginning to believe in the possibility of surprise, happy endings. Note: I am still cleverly offering myself an out; I’m not entirely convinced there’ll be a happy ending here, just more inclined than a couple of days ago to think there might be one waiting for us not far down the road… Just to be clear. ! Gotta cover my butt. I mean, how stupid would I look if I got all excited about this great new future of the Studio, and then – nothing happened. (It’s the dimmer vision of the two, but I can still see that possibility, too.) Because the huge to-list ahead, frankly, just doesn’t seem possible when I think with my brain from last week. This week’s brain, however, seems to think there’s hope… Hm. Crazy? I still don’t know what’ll end up happening. I’m as curious and eager as anyone to see the outcome.

At first, in those hours shortly after my epiphany regarding the new course of the Studio – the flash of inspiration that involved radiant heating, re-purposed floor and all, I’d felt divinely guided. And even now, in this moment, I do believe in that concept on some level. But in spite of the wonderful and loving support of friends – and the confidence I have in a larger force at work here – I’ve still felt that familiar shadow of doubt creeping in on me again… “Come on, silly. You’re thinking way too big here. Sounds great, but, really? Ya really think you can pull a project like this off??” The voice of ‘reality’ has begun already. The magic is so soon under threat of realistic goals and most-likely outcomes… I stop myself for a moment, and let it all just settle. I sit and think. Consider the road ahead. Really and truly, can there actually be a future for this vision of the Studio that I hold close my heart? I can surely see it – hell, I envisioned it when I’d moved here five years ago – but still it’s hard to place my faith in it. I mean, when I take a step back and look at the bigger picture on paper it really doesn’t look like a plausible scenario. After all, we live with the help of food stamps, we run out of heat a time or two each winter and I have to work full-time plus teach on the side and be a mom (oh yeah, and take care of a bunch of chickens and a ornery gander. Not to mention get in a garden). As things stand right now, this Studio thing is pretty much just on me, and I already have so much on my plate. Or am I forgetting something…?

I pause again to digest, to consider the resources within my current world of friends and acquaintances. One thing I learned in running a cafe and nightclub was to delegate. That is probably the most important aspect of any successful business; that the captain of the ship delegate tasks to those who are talented in what they do, motivated, energetic and most importantly, get your vision. So I guess the most immediate task before me is to clarify what it is that I see happening in this new Studio. I need to get it down on paper, I need to think about it, turn things around in mind, cull, distill, get down to the core goals. I need a mission statement. I also need a board. And before I can do a thing as a legitimate NFP, I need to transfer dad’s Foundation identify to our new one as The Studio. Can’t get weepy now, it’s as it must be. Both dad and his dear friend who’d set the Foundation up in 1959 are now gone, and there is nowhere to go but forward. So there’s a list before me. Not as if I don’t know what to do next. And I suppose the more witnesses I gather here before me (that would be you) the more accountable I become. Yeeks. Raising chickens is a smelly pain-in-the-butt of a job at times, but easier on the whole and more predictable, I’m guessing, than what’s about to come.

Got a wonderful family lawyer who can help with this, got a logger who’s willing to front me some money before the harvest, got a dozen or so folks on the sidelines, waiting for their work to begin. It’s beginning to look like the train is slowly moving already. I need to keep my destination fully alive inside my head, I need to share the vision as much as possible, I need to sow the seeds. Then I need to get in the soil and get to work. Ok. Psyching myself up here. I’ll need a lot of re-starts and re-psyches along the way, I’m sure. At the end of the day, knowing that I’m keeping dad’s life’s work alive, and moving it into the future – that’s the stuff that makes me want to ignore the fear and keep plodding ahead. I can so imagine it. Concerts, classes, lessons, recitals, kids, adults, super-old adults, baby and mom movement classes, eurythmy, ballet, sculpture, clay, mosaic, drawing, painting, yoga, modern dance, Baroque dance, theater, classical and modern, early music, jazz, trad, folk… Structured concerts and jam circles… Moneyed folks and non-moneyed folks, arts available to all. No elitist crap, everyone’s welcome. It’ll be a supportive atmosphere…. a place people are excited to visit, a meeting place of all sorts, a place where you’re safe to start from knowing nothing, a place where you can begin to learn, a place where you can hear and see the works of artists at the top of their fields…. oh boy. I get it, just gotta get it down on paper. Streamline it a bit. But here is where it starts – a storm of the brain on paper, the great master list of possibility…

So now “beautiful January” has come, and gone. A hard, hard month for me. The first days without my beloved father. (Yesterday in the car I lamented out loud that I missed dad so very much now that he was gone. Elihu spoke up from the back seat. “He’s not gone, he’s just not here.”) It’s been one of the most aesthetically beautiful winter months that I can remember – days of snow-covered woods and fields, days of white-on-white magic, the purest-looking January ever. Clean and new, patient, cold and waiting for the changes soon to follow. Such a month of extremes, this beautiful January has been, and with it has come start of something unexpected and new. Thanks for the heads up, dad.

 

New Ground January 29, 2014

All day I’ve been feeling slightly detached from my surroundings. I’ve had to step into quiet hallways or bathrooms to let out a few tears before returning, fresh-faced to my professional duties. I’ve alternated between absolute heartbreak, nausea or just plain emptiness. I mean, at some point news is just so bad you can’t process it. You can’t do anything about it but accept it. And responsibility for it too. Which, of course, makes the horror so much more acute. Yes, something unspeakable has happened, and it’s very likely your fault.

Last night mom told me there was water leaking in the Studio, and that I’d better come check for myself. While it was my brother Andrew who’d thankfully first noticed it, he’d offered very few details regarding the damage. Last week sometime he’d noticed a slick spot on the driveway just down from the utility room by the Studio’s front door. When he got closer, he heard a pump going non-stop, and it was freely pumping water into the building. I’d thought I’d turned all the valves off – I knew I’d intentionally skipped on having a plumber come and winterize the place as I just couldn’t swing another $300 expense – especially with Christmas coming – so I thought I’d done my best to safeguard the pipes for winter. But clearly I missed something – at the very least I’d overlooked turning off the hot water heater (now I understand why the Studio’s monthly electric bills are at least $50 in spite of using nothing but a few exit sign lights). Crap. I’d been so wrapped up in my life – and my dad and the holidays and just my own shit that I’d neglected to understand the importance of properly shutting the place down. I guess I figured the past winter’d been fine, so if I just did what I did then we’d be ok. And since we didn’t have any programs til late Spring, we didn’t need the insurance either. After all, I have a hard time just paying my own bills, let alone those of an empty building that’s only used seasonally. What a big fucking mistake.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I don’t think you would have believed it either. I’ve known about wood for a while – after twenty-plus years living with a guitar player (and being the daughter of a harpsichordist) I’d seen and heard my share of wood. Seen it shaped, bent, seen how summer and winter wreak their havoc…. but this was insane. The center of the large room was lifted a good two feet in the middle, in a line from the stage to the balcony. A great, undulating ridge just rose from the ground as if it had been fashioned so. Once I took it all in – realizing that the outer six feet or so of the room lay under a good three inches of water and that the floor rose like an island in the middle – I got brave and walked out onto it. I stood there in utter disbelief. I jumped. And jumped. But the floor was as solid underneath me as if it had been intended as a hump and not a flat surface. There was no real give, no indication that the cement was yet a few feet away from the wood. It was the strangest, most dramatic morphing of wood I’d ever seen. Fascinating. Heartbreaking. Unreal. Too much. Way too much.

My beloved Fender Rhodes sat in the greenroom, the ancient cloth grill woven thru with silver strands wicking up the water into its innards. I thought about the cabinet, considered the electronics. I hadn’t the heart to look any closer, I just hoped that it hadn’t yet reached the critical height of the inputs on the far side. And wet though it might be, I could still reclaim the action and have it all cleaned, in the long run it would probably be ok. Been on my list to have gone over anyhow. I was thankful we hadn’t moved dad’s piano here yet. In terms of gear, the loss was minimal. Even my friend’s kiln was up on blocks and appeared safe. But ancient concert posters had sucked up water and puckered, losing ink and fading to nothing but soggy, meaningless pieces. But if that was the worst of the stuff – that was ok. What else? I wondered, slowly wading around the corner…

I made my way to the bathrooms and found water dripping from every piece of trim and weeping from the ceiling. Mold had started to grow on the walls, but thankfully the cold temperatures had prevented it from exploding all over. The main issue was the floor. Where it was poured cement, not such a big deal. But that gorgeous wood floor of the hall itself, the one that had seen so many concerts, so many memories…. To lose that wood, the very wood that had made the sound my father had so keenly sought – and so successfully achieved… it made me positively ache. First I had lost him, now I had lost his room. I didn’t cry, it was too much. And there was nothing I could do. Not a mop nor bucket would make a dent. This would take a pump. Or someone with a pump. Definitely someone with time. I sure didn’t have that. I turned to go down to the house and let mom know the awful reality.

Before long I was crying, and asking for mom’s forgiveness. I knew I’d been lax about preparing the place for winter. I’d gotten away with it the year before, so I’d thought we’d be ok. I’d ignored that tiny voice that told me over and over to make sure… make sure…. Mom was kind to me and told me not to blame myself, and for that I was grateful. Her words helped take a little of the sting away. But going to bed last night, and waking several times during the night were miserable moments. This morning it came back with a sickening thud, but thankfully I had a child to get going and a workday of my own to prepare for. Not a lot of time to sulk, to think ‘what if’, to linger over the sickening prospects – or lack thereof – before me. Plus a new tiny voice had begun to arise in my mind, and it was persistent. I’d ignored it before and the outcome was horrible. Maybe I had better pay attention. It seemed to impart a sense of calm. Calm? This is no time to be calm! I think, but then I stopped to listen more attentively…. What is it… what…? A feeling came upon me that I should not despair. That I should not weep as I might have wanted to (not that I didn’t weep – oh I did.) But even after I wept came a feeling of comfort right behind, a distinct and real sense that everything was going to be ok. Even last night as I’d gone to bed, it was there as the tiniest inkling. And by now I do know unquestionably that amazing things can come from the worst initial experiences. I felt, somehow, as if there simply had to be something to this. That there had to be an answer – that there was an answer, but I just hadn’t gotten there yet. I thought back on all the unlikely things that had happened as a result of other unlikely things – the divorce, the move to New York, my son ending up in the Waldorf school, me ending up getting a job at his school – all these things, each one dependent upon the other, the first event of which I never would have chosen for myself if given the choice. Yeah, there definitely was something here. I just hadn’t found it yet.

While waiting to print out a map of the Mojave Desert on the downstairs pc for Elihu’s latest assignment, I pulled up the wonderful photo of my dad that I’d used in his obit. Through tears I asked him to please give me the answer. I apologized to him, begged his forgiveness for being so stupid, for letting him down. I told him that I knew there was a surprise here, an answer, somewhere. Please, I asked him, could he please, please help me from his side? I wiped the tears from my cheeks, minimized the picture on the desktop and sat there for a moment, my mind blank, waiting. Then the phone rang. It was the guy who was going to be doing the cleanup on the Studio. I’d called a bunch of people and had liked him on the phone the best. He’d come by earlier to assess the job, and had met mom. She really liked him too. I realize feelings go only so far, but that there was such quick consensus made me feel lucky. (Things don’t always work out so easily as this had so far.) As we talked about the cleanup and subsequent repairs, he himself suggested we could salvage the floor and repurpose it. Couldn’t use it again as a floor, but he’d clean it up and stash it somewhere safe. Being more involved with the creative, physical arts these days than the performing arts, I thought it perfect. Struck me as kinda strange that he even suggested such a thing. “Or I could just junk it. Whatever you prefer.” I considered for a moment seeing dad’s old flooring being revamped in a hundred new ways – pieces of art, sculpture, benches, stuff… Stuff that would live again. The floor would come to life in a new way, and in so doing would carry with it a new story…. As a friend reminded me tonight, it is as the old saying went regarding the wood from which a harpsichord was made; in its death it sings again…. This was beginning to feel better. And then came the final discovery. The answer.

For years we’ve struggled with the heating situation in The Studio. It was never designed for more than summer use, and outfitted with baseboard electric heat, it could cost an awful lot to heat. It didn’t seem like a viable option. We’d toyed with other ideas – using the one air duct we used for AC to move hot air – but that would mean installing an outside furnace and perhaps even constructing a shed-like home for it too. The option that I had yearned for – but was never a workable option – had all of a sudden become the solution. I’d lived with it in a Chicago co-op for years and had loved it. (Nothing like walking on a warm floor.) There was the answer. Was it possible? The guy from the restoration service said absolutely. Ok, so we didn’t have insurance. But we were harvesting the woods for timber this year. We’d planned on socking it away for the future, but it seemed the future was already here. A plan was making itself: take the floor out and start over. And I knew how we’d start over – of course, the answer! Radiant heat! Heated from the floor up, it will be easier on the instruments and much more pleasant for the yoga classes and the dancers. Oh heaven, heaven! Finally we can heat the place in an even, gentle way. Finally we can take out those baseboards and free the room up from wall to wall! I can hardly believe it, but here it is. The answer. This is the sweetest relief. A moment ago I was heavy, now I’m light with possibility. And I’m full of hope again. Happy, elated. Amazing.

Other things come to me too. The walls must be taken out at the bottom, and when we do that it gives us the opportunity to insulate the place properly too. Wow. We’d talked about it, but it had always seemed low on the list. Now the list was making itself. If I can speak from a purely intuitive place, it feels as if I’ve been putting this project off for a few years now (ok, single mom duty to young kid does kinda make such things a bit harder) and it just kinda feels like the Studio is crying out to me for the attention and love it deserves. I still have no fucking clue how to run an arts center or what happens next, but I won’t let that worry me for now. This place needs some tlc, some basic repairs and upgrades, and truthfully, had nature not forced my hand I do not believe any of this would be in the works. One project at a time. My partner Ceres is still on board, we’ve still got plans for the summer, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t keep moving towards them.

This chapter has become, quite literally and figuratively, a bump in the road. And thankfully, this unforseen bump will make way for wonderful new ground.