The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Vortex March 1, 2020

In my mind, March is it. It is the beginning, it is the ending, and it is the never-ending middle all at once. Sap drips from the trees onto my car, signaling that some shift of nature is afoot, yet the temperature stays well below freezing without letup, telling me that no such change is on its way. At the doorstep of March we are as close to a cold, dark January afternoon as we are to a muggy, pollen-dense May morning. March is enigmatically right in the middle of it all.

These days Elihu and I are in the middle of it all, too. We are constantly moving, ever on to the next project, the next appointment, the next milestone. However, on a quiet Sunday like this, with coffee brewing in the kitchen, blue jays scolding outside the window and a teenage boy sleeping soundly into the late morning, it doesn’t exactly feel like it. This very moment is when life feels the way I like it best; rested and unhurried. But this is just a momentary pause in our life. Deadlines, exams and concerts are approaching. Preparations are being made for presentations, tours, camps and travel. Tutors and teachers and after school clubs must be coordinated. As I sit here in the quiet of my bedroom, a shaft of morning light flickering through the curtains, I try to imagine all the things that are yet before us, but the visions are as hard to fully comprehend as last night’s dreams.

The orchestra has become a source of great joy for Elihu. He has finally found peers – other kids his age who also live on the outskirts of mainstream school culture. Smart, mathsy, musical, multilingual and funny, these outsiders are insiders here, and I am so deeply relieved and happy for my son that he has finally found a social group to which he truly belongs. Yesterday, I peeked in on the orchestra as they rehearsed the Brahms, and I witnessed my son in his own heaven. After the last note he pulled away from the horn and smiled in a way I have seldom seen. A mother could wish for nothing more. With my heart full I left him for an afternoon with his people.

This is the season of SATs for all high school juniors, but for those who have set their sights on MIT, this means two additional SAT exams. Regular high school curriculum – even the rigorous work of the Waldorf School – does not prepare a student for these extra tests, and so Elihu has been working with a tutor on the weekends. Between tuba lessons, tutors and other extra costs it has been a financially stressful time. But crazy as life is, an angel has come to us at perfectly placed times… An old friend from my past life in Chicago has sent us gifts of money simply out of the blue, and really, the timing has been truly miraculous. In the middle of it all sometimes I just don’t know how it can possibly work out, and yet somehow, it does. (An extra thanks to you, angel.)

Among the many extracurriculars that Elihu has going on are film club, math club and mock trial. Not only does he cut a fine figure in his jacket and bow tie, but his preparation is meticulous and the delivery of his statements to the court is equally impeccable. He has won best advocate twice now. Truly, if he wished, he could pursue a career in law (my paternal grandfather was a judge, so it’s in the genes I suppose), but of course this won’t be his path.

Flying has taken a backseat these days. With fields under snow, cold weather, academics and music there just isn’t a lot of time or opportunity. Elihu did however do a week-long internship in the aircraft maintenance hangar at the Saratoga County Airport recently, and that was really inspiring for him. Every day when he got home he radiated pure happiness. He learned a lot about the practical, real-life side of aviation. I’d even go so far as to say it was one of the best experiences of his life thus far.

The most thrilling and challenging event is yet to come… Elihu won runner up in the Empire State Youth Orchestra’s concerto competition (“Someone has to win, why not me?” said the young man after what felt like a pretty good audition) and he will be soloist with the ESYO repertory symphony in May. Elihu told me the other day that the moment he is most looking forward to is when he walks onto the platform with his tuba, shining under the lights, when he takes his seat, breathes for a moment, and then nods to the conductor. Indeed. Can you imagine? I still have a hard time understanding this will be happening. But we’re not there yet. There are many unseen things to be done in addition to the practice and mental preparation. Elihu needs to be fitted for a tuxedo – tails, white tie and vest, the whole nine yards – and this will require even more time and money. I don’t know how it will all come together, but I know it will. Somehow it always does.

When the heavy snows arrive in December we suspend our garbage pickup for a few months. The driveway gets increasingly narrow and icy at the end of plowing season, making it a challenge to leave containers at the roadside. By mid March we have our own private dump in the driveway. It’s a tad embarrassing to see the great mound appear as the snow melts away, and with one sunny afternoon it can become a bit pungent too. Winter snowfalls are a beautiful thing, but they do make day-to-day tasks a bit trickier. County plow trucks routinely knock over our mailbox, making it necessary to pickup our mail down the road at the post office. The coop is surrounded by great berms of snow, leaving the flock only a small area in which to move, and even our poor birds are becoming short-tempered and irritable. And this year, in addition to our temporary dump we have enormous tree limbs down throughout the property. A massive ice storm a few weeks ago left us without power for three days as well as a huge mess of downed branches and even entire trees strewn across our five open acres. The melting of March will reveal the extent of the mess. It’s got me wondering how in hell we’ll clean it all up, but one thing at a time. We’re not there yet.

Elihu and I recently went over his schedule for the next few months, and it’s rather stunning. Soloist with the orchestra. A trip to Washington state to find his new tuba, a South American tour with the orchestra, a week of study at MIT, a trip to Europe with his father. I won’t see much of him this summer, and while it saddens me, it’s OK. It gives me deep satisfaction to know that I’ve helped to make all of this happen. And it gives me true happiness knowing that my son is happy.

The sun has moved across the room, now it’s falling onto the bed. I know that it’s getting late, and we need to get moving. Chickens have been tended to, breakfast dishes stacked in the sink, and Elihu has been buzzing notes on his mouthpiece for awhile now. In a few moments we will load the tuba into the car and head off to his lesson. Later on today he will meet with his tutor. Afterwards we will head home in the dark for supper. Bed will follow, and tomorrow, after two weeks of winter break, school will start again. I will resume my work, and the preparations for the coming month’s events will begin anew.

Tomorrow we march into our future.

 

 

 

 

 

Wannabe December 30, 2011

‘To be or to wannabe’, I think that’s my question today. Am I writer or do I just think I’m a writer? Over the past few weeks I’ve had more ideas for posts than I can deal with. I find I’m getting out of bed every night to jot down ideas. I have more material than time to write it. And I feel it must come out – if I’m to live healthily, that is. I can’t really justify it any more than that. I am followed by a guilty voice that tells me this is pointless and selfish. Every now and again I peruse my old posts and wonder if it doesn’t seem an extended pity-party for the poor, almost divorced (yeah, yeah, get over your drama) newly-impoverished (it’s been three years – not so new) middle aged woman who (boo hoo) is now a single mother in spite of her wishes (join the fucking club) to a simply amazing child (isn’t everybody’s?) and must somehow start over in life, now that her boobs can no longer hold their own without a bra and… well. You know.

Years ago after reading a letter I’d written, a dear friend remarked ‘you’re a good writer. You should be a writer’. That got me angry. ‘I am a writer!’ I screamed at him. ‘What do yo mean I should be?!’ I referred to of course, as this poor guy could hardly have known, my collection of hundreds (ok, maybe dozens) of journals in which I’d written nearly every day of my life for the past decade. For many years of my life friends would see me writing in a tiny notebook, one small enough to fit in a pocket if necessary. I’d assumed he, having seen them himself, knew of their importance. Importance to whom?

The conversation we had on that day began a now decade-old debate inside my head. Just what makes a writer a writer? Is it getting paid to write? Is it simply the quantity of material? The quality or uniqueness of the writing? Getting published perhaps? It seemed, as the anger of my reaction to his one simple statement revealed, that I myself felt being a ‘real’ writer meant being a published one. I think I got angry because I myself felt guilty. I knew I wasn’t a writer. Silly to declare that I was. I’d always wanted to express things; I’d dearly wished to connect with people who might be happy to recognize themselves and their own experiences in my observations, and so I wrote. While I had material, no one had ever read any of it as of that point. To connect with people, this was the germ of my hope, but I hadn’t come close. So my own private sense of failure had bubbled to the surface in anger. I wrote, yes. But was I a writer – yet? I knew I wasn’t. My writing existed for me alone.

So now I have this growing repertoire of posts, and in some way, they are published. Kind of. I’ve had thousands of readers visit, I have hundreds of regular readers. I know I’ve connected with people. Does this now finally make me a writer? I’m still not convinced. I don’t want this post take on a ‘poor-me, won’t you please help me with my lack of self esteem issues and validate me’ sort of tone, I really don’t. I’m just sort of wrangling with this in a public way, as I’ve been doing with all of the mundane events in my life. So on I go…

I’d always thought that being a real writer meant in part that you were paid to write. That was somewhere in the equation. But first, a writer had to be published. No money in this critical step. You know, send your stuff out to underground zines and obscure quarterly literary issues – the kind that I remember looking hand-typed way back in the day. (And honestly, the kind of publication I might pick up casually at a cafe but would find little interest in.) But before the days of the internet I wouldn’t have had a clue how to find, much less court, these publications. Then of course people will want to know how to market you. Who do you read? What authors do you like? What is your writing similar to?…  Shall I mention another guilty issue for me? I read a lot, but I have nothing to show for it. I can never remember the titles or authors once a book is finished. So if someone asks me ‘what have you read lately’, while I can recall all the places I’ve been and all the thinking I’ve done as a result of all the volumes I have indeed read lately, I can’t for the life of me remember who wrote them or what their titles were. And that is inherently disrespectful of the author, to say nothing of what a huge oversight it is in general (plus it just makes me look stupid). While it’s not an excuse, I know I’m not the only one guilty of this. It’s kinda like meeting someone at a party: you have a really interesting conversation with them, maybe even beginning to feel a real kinship with them, but you’ve forgotten their name. Now what do you do? You feel silly; you like them, but you don’t know their stupid name. If you know you’ll never see them again, you don’t really need to know their name. You now know their essence; they’ve shared their story with you – and isn’t that the part you truly take away? And if you do think you might want to see them again, you ask their name. Maybe write it down. Then you can find them again if you like. Kinda like me and a book. If I really like it, I’ll write it down. Or I’ll scribble the author’s name on a post-it (and well, there goes that). So while I read a lot, I don’t have much on paper to show for it. So that might not go over so well in an interview situation. Maybe that’s what an agent is for – to run interference. But an agent? Geez. That’s a whole nother ball of wax.

Singer/Songwriter = Writer/Thinker. That’s occurred to me.  But what good is a singer/songwriter singing alone in her basement? What good is a writer/thinker with a journal in her pocket? I need to make some forward movement here, but I’m feeling stalled. Ladies’ Home Journal is hosting a writing contest. I submitted a piece. Not sure it’s clever enough. One thing I’m realizing in this process is that my writing is done in pretty plain language. Not a lot of color or nuance. Out of the context of my blog – who I am and what I’ve gone through up til now – my writing might not hold its own. I don’t really hope to win; I just don’t feel my writing stands out in terms of craft. I’m more about getting the idea expressed and shared, and I’m not sure my voice would work in a stand-alone essay contest. We’ll see.

Btw – I am printing out my entire blog and having it spiral bound at Kinko’s (parts I and II, thank you very much) as a gift for my internet-challenged parents. So pretty soon, I’ll have something published. Sort of.

I guess I’m a writer. Maybe. I’ll keep working at it, cuz even if I’m not one yet, at least I know that I want to be.