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.

 

Gray Area March 2, 2013

A few months back, I posted a question on Facebook: to color or not to color? I was wondering what the current cultural concensus was about covering up the gray hair. My young son had been hoping that I’d give up coloring my hair for two reasons; first, because of the potentially dangerous chemicals, and second, it was not natural. If my hair was now turning gray, that was how it should be. To Elihu, interfering almost seemed like questioning a divine natural plan. He really wished I’d just leave it be and accept the change… And so for several months I have let it be. I’ve entered into the experiment with an open mind. And after all, winter is a good time to go into chrysalis mode and try things out; grow out hairstyles, lose a few extra pounds, rethink the wardrobe… But each day, when I take a peek into the rear view mirror and see that ever-lightening pate of mine, I wonder. Am I big enough to do this? Am I laid back enough, accepting enough, natural enough? Can my ego handle this, I mean, really? At first I was invigorated – just think how free this will feel! No more roots to stay on top of… my look would be proud, natural, all me… I was beginning to see it… and wouldn’t ya know, there were even folks out there cheering me on! Just not the women.

That Facebook tally? Just about half and half – out of dozens upon dozens of responses, it really was split down the middle. Surprisingly, all the men voted for going gray. And all but just a couple of women voted to keep on coloring. We women just can’t seem to give it up. The thinking is, as best as I can understand, that if we have the means to look younger, and if culture is accepting of our doing so… then why not? Hmm. Well, I guess my kid came up with two good reasons not to. But the more I look at the top of my silvering head in the rear view, the more I falter…  I can understand why the men vote for going gray and the woman don’t; our culture doesn’t really support men dying their hair, so they’re more at peace with the idea of turning gray. (Hell, many of em have to deal with losing all of their hair! Makes going gray seem easy.) When you see a guy whose face says 70 but whose hair is a rich, dark brown – don’t you wonder about him? Don’t you kinda wonder if he thinks it actually looks good? I mean, does he think he’s fooling us? But then again – look at his wife. She’s the same age, and her hair is also an unnaturally dark and even color. But we allow that – and think little of it. Interesting. We’ve definitely got a double standard going. So why would I want to play into this whole charade? Am I really so shallow?? After living with my witchy gray hairs for a few months, I can now answer that question with a definitive ‘yes’.

Another thing about growing out your gray is that it can take a long time. My hair grows terribly slowly, so it might take four years to get to the length it is now. And I really don’t want to wait that long for the ‘complete’ look, nor do I want to cut my hair off. I’ve given this lots of consideration. There have been days when I’ve worn my new gray proudly, but in the end, it aint working for me. There are those for whom the graying process turns into quite a boon, resulting in a gorgeous new look for later in life – but that’s not my story for sure. I am not aging like Emmy Lou Harris here. I had a dear friend who once said that ‘men go gray, but women go silver’, yet despite that gentlemanly thought – and despite my own son today laughing with delight at the way my ‘silver’ hairs sparkled against the dark ones… I’m not feeling it. So I’ve decided that when I’ve lost 15 pounds, I will allow myself the royal treatment; a professional cut and color. And if my wallet can support it – maybe even a blow out. Whoo – gawd that’s gonna feel good. And I’m not a spa kind of gal. Never once in my life had a manicure – never mind a pedicure. Had a massage once, when I was eight months pregnant. No, I don’t spend money on extras like that. But it’s time. I’ll be fifty in May, and my fragile ego needs a good send-off into the second half of the century. A good cut and color should help – and since God apparently means to have me age in the usual way (although I still think there’s been a huge mistake here somewhere), I’m going to need to do what I can to soften the transition. 

So how jive is beauty that is so ill-gotten? Can one have a somewhat manufactured sort of beauty and still maintain one’s integrity? I struggle with this still, but have come upon a few more clues to help me sort it all out… The Waldorf School presents the perfect, supportive environment in which to ‘grow out ones grays’, and yet there are more than a few women there who continue to color – and who make no bones about it, either. We all know that Dolly Parton has been nipping and tucking for years – and has never been anything less that honest about it. And does this woman not have integrity? Good Lord I should say so. Integrity – and wigs, too. That’s a whole ‘nother level altogether.

So I guess I’m feeling better about my decision now. I feel empowered just imagining how I’ll feel with fifteen pounds shed and new, beautiful hair. And quite honestly, I’ve been feeling just about anything but empowered these past few years. I could use a little boost. A little pretty time. So after a good deal of thought on this subject, it’s with great relief that I can now say it’s no longer a gray area for me.

Or is that grey area? Hmm…