The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Pouring In January 12, 2016

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On our kitchen wall, just next to the front door hangs a glass weather barometer. It used to hang above a rusted drip tray on the kitchen wall at Martha’s. Elihu had mused over it once, as all children had through the years, and we’d explained how it worked. Mom recalls that Martha had said he could have it if he liked. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of yet another piece of stuff in our tiny house, but the idea grew on me… When the green-tinted water rises to the top of the spout – and sometimes drips over and stains the wall – we know that rain is coming. I wish there were such an indicator for incoming emotional storms… “When it rains….” as the expression goes…

An old family friend had kept the tradition through the years of calling Martha on every solstice. This year, on the occasion in December, the fellow called mom as a stand-in for Martha. His call was welcomed, as he too was an old family friend. But his news was not good; he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and didn’t have much time left. Sadly mom was out the first two times he called, and by the time she found him in, several days later, he was quite weak. Only two weeks later he died, and on Saturday we attended his funeral. All about her my mother sees her contemporaries leaving this world, and must be a strange and sad place in which to live. There comes a time in life when every time you turn around people seem to be getting married. Then life takes over for a stretch of time with an assortment of twists and turns, until… All the people around you now seem to be dying. Old friends take their place in line one by one, and then, all of a sudden, they’re gone. Just like that.

Yesterday I received another jolt in the form of an angry email from Martha’s niece. In the message she called me a thief, and told me that she knew I’d been in the house since Martha had died, and that the only possible reason for such a visit would have been to steal something. She wanted an end to it all here and now. She demanded the thin, sterling silver bangle that Martha had always worn be returned to her at once, as well as the rest of the things I’d stolen. Seriously? Ok, come to think of it, I do have Martha’s dusty copy of “Yankee Expressions”, yes, I did take that. I was reading it while sitting with Martha one afternoon, and threw it into my bag. It’s still on my bedside table. I peruse it from time to time, very likely in the same sort of way that Martha once did. Regular readers may even recall how puzzled and concerned I was when Martha’s niece announced that items had gone missing from the house after Martha’s death (the items had since been found; they had simply been moved). After posting some lovely interior tableaus from Martha’s house on the blog, her niece had asked me to please remove them to ensure the safety of the house and its contents. I promptly removed all the images, and apologized as best as I was able. There seems to be nothing I can do to ensure a positive outcome with this person. Ugh.

This morning, as Elihu ate his breakfast, I’m afraid the poor dear got an earful from me. I recounted to him the whole thing – after which a look of deep sadness passed over his face. “But I want to keep the barometer” he said quietly. “Sweetie, we’ll buy the barometer from her. She just wants the monetary value of it. Don’t worry, we’ll make a fair deal with her”. I stewed a bit more in silence, until my beautiful son looked up and quoted a saying that he heard Martha use often: “Everything always works out”. I smiled, and wondered it perhaps Martha herself hadn’t nudged that little piece of calming wisdom into my son’s head. Howsoever the little nugget came to him, it was nice to reminded again.

What a strange and heartbreaking week this has been, and it’s only Tuesday! Lest I waste any more precious work time battling folks who ultimately do not care what I have to say – or believe me – I will paste the response I penned to her last night below, and call it a day.


 

XXX, I have no idea where all this has come from. I could have easily taken things all the while over months, years even – objects that I’d known and loved since I was a child. And I did not. The bracelet is the ONLY thing I have to remember Martha by, and I shall not return that which was given to me!! We were all together as I asked you if I might have it, as it meant a lot to me. You were kind and assured me Martha would have liked me to have it. I have no recollection of anything else. I also recall it was a low-key, friendly meeting. I had no idea you were giving this trinket to me under duress. Plus this tiny bracelet is not even worth much! I wear it daily, keep it by my bedside nightly. It is my link to a woman I consider to be my second mother. It is a cherished keepsake. 

 

As mom recalls, Martha told Elihu if he was interested in the barometer he could have it. I wasn’t particularly interested in it – but he was, so we left the rusty drip tray on the wall and took the glass home. 
And yes, I did come back to the farm once or twice after Martha left. Just to sit and be in the space, to remember. To take in that certain way the kitchen smelled, the views from those windows…  It was a living link to my oldest memories. I was savoring that which was soon to disappear forever.
So sorry you feel this way. It is a shock to my very core. Perhaps you and mom can remain friends – I don’t suppose we were friends to begin with, but that will certainly be a challenge going forward. I hope one day you feel differently about me. I’m not a thief, and Lord knows, there were many things – the red bench I mentioned several times – that I would have loved to have in my life as a reminder of the Farm, and for which I gladly would have paid. I would even have loved, bought and used the school bell at the Studio to ring in kids from lunch break at camp. But I dared not even ask – that’s how respectful I was about Martha’s/your stuff. There was also a Harry Belafonte LP I liked and would have paid for – and would actually have listened to – but I didn’t ask about that either, cuz I didn’t want to add stress.
The barometer is a lovely way to share Martha’s story with all the children who come to my home, but if you feel strongly that we came to it by unsavory means, I’ll box it up and leave it at the Farm asap. It would be disappointing to Elihu, and I know he’d like to buy it with his own money if you’d allow him that option. I really hope you’ll consider it.
It seems that distrust and hate are motivating you here. It’s hurtful to be the recipient of such anger – and especially after all this time has passed – not to mention bizarre, as you sound so unlike the person I’d thought you to be. Never, ever would I have seen anything like this coming. I am very sorry that you’re feeling so taken advantage of. I didn’t know you well, but I’ve always liked you. All of this truly breaks my heart. 
Maybe a robust sale will help you to feel more secure about things. I hope it all goes well.

IMG_1473A rainbow appeared as Elihu and I took down the Christmas tree on Sunday. I didn’t even see this second rainbow until just now when I uploaded the photograph! One for me, one for lil man. Maybe Martha really was right when she said that everything always works out.

 
 

Lining Up April 19, 2015

Every time I hear someone refer to the ‘circle of life’ I cringe. Because I don’t think of life a a circle at all. Seasons, migratory and mating patterns might be cyclical in nature, but our tiny private lives are not. To my thinking the circle idea is just plain wrong. If this were a circle we were in, we’d end up at the place where we started, and we’d do it all over again. (For the sake of this conversation, let’s not concern ourselves with the afterlife – I’m just talkin worldly stuff here.) People are fond of explaining away the death of a pet to their little ones by saying that ‘it’s all part of the circle of life’. I think it might be better to tell the child that every living thing in the world dies. Life always comes to an end. Yes, it can be sad, but it happens to all of us. When I hear someone say ‘circle’, I kind of expect things to start all over again. And in a way they do – only the subsequent rounds are played with a new cast in brand-new situations. There may be similarities in old and new events – but still, that doesn’t make the whole play a circle. It’s still just a trajectory of actions moving into the future. The way I see my life here on this mortal coil – it’s a line. You start at the beginning, and you proceed through all sorts of events until you reach the end. And if you’re successful, you make it to old age. Then you die. You travel from point A to point B, making a line. Not a circle.

The eighth graders are doing the Lion King for their class play, and I’m playing piano. One of the most popular songs from the play is, of course, the ‘Circle of Life’. I’ve become a bit more immune to the expression due to the number of times I’ve now heard it, but as I listen I can’t help but reflect more deeply on the transient nature of our brief lives here on the planet. Yesterday Elihu and I attended the funeral of one of Greenfield’s old-timers, and today we’ll go to a birthday party of two wee ones. Life and death side by side like this make me more keenly aware of this finite timeline we’re all living, and how important it is to live with intention and gratitude as we go along. Our sense of time may slow or speed up depending on our age and our circumstances, but at the end of the day, when it’s time to say goodbye forever, it always seems as if life wasn’t quite long enough – even when it was. I’m sure that Olga, at 94, felt it had been long enough. And I never worry about those who’ve died. All those prayers for the dead strike me as just plain useless and beside the point. I’m not worried about them; it’s those of us left behind who need the prayers. Those of us who are left behind to bear the heartache and loss have a much harder job by far than the ones who are dead and gone. Those of us whose lines are still being drawn, those whose ending points are still somewhere over the distant horizon…

IMG_7482Elihu had never been to a funeral before, so I thought it would be a good life experience for him to have. We didn’t know Olga well, but she was our neighbor and it felt good to know she was always there. Her passing truly marks the end of an era here in Greenfield.

IMG_7485As soon as we walked in we saw the Carrico clan… they live across the big field, and a couple houses over from Olga.

IMG_7509Elihu loves little kids, and we’re so glad to have these wonderful girls as neighbors.

IMG_7496Stephanie’s belly is more like a circle than a line for sure! She’s coming along with mystery baby number four!

IMG_7488Inside, Elihu marvels over the changes that happen in a long lifetime.

IMG_7492Olga, young and old.

IMG_7489It’s nice to see smiles on such a say day.

IMG_7519The funeral procession makes a long line up Lake Ave.

IMG_7521After Catholic Mass at the local church, the family brings Olga to her final resting place in the town cemetery. Elihu had also never been to a church service like this – while it was in reality about forty-five minutes, he could’ve sworn it was three hours. ! Talk about experiencing time differently! (I so get it though.)

IMG_7545It was a lovely day, a lovely service, a lovely goodbye.

IMG_7552The line between the cemetery and the field seems to stretch on forever….

 

Curve Ahead July 31, 2014

Where to start? The cast of characters is growing, from Log Cabin Joe to Hillbilly Al and a handful in between, and the sub-plots are multiplying. A house is being built to the great heartbreak of all who live nearby, another beloved house which we all had hoped might stand is going to be torn down, people will be moving in, and people will be moving away. A ghostly visage was spotted, serendipity threw in a few hard turns, neighbors popped by unannounced and set to framing out a new step in front of my house (because I’d asked to borrow some scrap lumber to do so for myself), and a potential blind date turned into a new and interesting friendship. Neighbor Chad, a former professional speed skater and dad to those cutie boys Ryan and Brandon, faces surgery to repair a torn ligament he got from falling out of a tree while deer hunting last year, my new met-on-an-almost-blind-date-but-not-quite friend must wear a heart monitor for another week and remain in the company of people at all times, lest he pass out while alone, with no one to call for help (hence his staying on as my house guest.) A couple more art classes to go at the Studio, some concrete being poured and set, a wall going up in the basement, the lawn to be cut and a coop door yet to be hung, the various comings-and-goings that all of this activity entails, including the requisite gear; earth movers, spinning concrete trucks, tractors, trimmers, boxes of tile, great, heavy balls of clay, five gallon buckets and rags to clean up… All of this is chugging along, plus a small group of family and friends is planning for an intervention with my brother at the beginning of next week. A few days later, Elihu comes home. Whew!

The past three days have seemed almost like a week with all the chaos and activity. My guest, Ken, erupted in laughter at it all (as I casually pulled a dead mouse out of a drawer, dumped it into the trash and continued to start the morning coffee without missing a beat), just imagining the highly entertaining cable series he absolutely insists my life should be. “I’m just wondering where we should put the camera” he’d said, smiling, shaking his head… I’ts not often that friends get a view from the inside here at the Hillhouse. Yeah, I’ve had guests before, but somehow life here has never been quite as animated and unpredictable as it has of late.

Night before last, as Ken and I sat on the couch enjoying a rather deep, existential discussion, I saw behind him, approaching from the kitchen and through the short hallway, a rather healthy-sized bat. Living in the country as I do, you might think this has happened before. And indeed it has happened in every other place I’ve lived – but not here. Until the other night, that is. I was watching with great concern that the poor beast not knock over some precious breakable as she continued to encircle the room, but soon realized that this creature was deftly missing – with room to spare – every obstacle in her path. I was impressed! My friend, himself a pilot, must surely have been sharing my amazement… maybe…. I glanced over at the couch. Ken was clearly not bearing respectful witness to the miracle of flight taking place right before our eyes… Humor me if you will; picture a black Mr. Clean; tall, built; a take-no-prisoners kind of physique that lends itself well to the military and police work (he’s retired from some twenty years of exactly that) – and now picture that same gentleman covering his face with my over-sized pink velvet throw pillow, ducking down and shrieking like a girl every time the bat made another pass around the room. One had to laugh. Thankfully, he had to laugh too. We both did. I admit, that lil creature was movin fast, and to us it felt like a random, unpredictable flight that might easily have ended up in someone’s face. I was finally able to catch her by trapping her in between two frog nets, but then she hooked her way out, and flew off to the mudroom. The door to the mudroom remained closed, while the backdoor to the outside stayed wide open. My second house guest eventually left and did not return. So far as we know.

And there was the apparition. And the change in my route. Why had I chosen to double-back and take Locust Grove instead of 9N as I’d intended? Having just given Ken a brief history of my folks and the Baroque festival, I figured I’d use my mistake as an opportunity to point out soprano Ruth Lakeway’s empty house. When we crested the hill and I indicated the house, Ken told me he saw a woman in the porch. I gave him a look. “White hair, lavender colored, long sleeved top” he said. “Wait, you’re not shitting me?” I asked, in almost a panic. He insisted that as an officer of the law – not to mention an artist who painted and drew landscapes, people and animals, he was trained in observation. He knew what he’d seen. That was enough for me; I turned around and made my way back to the house.

There were in fact people at the house. They emerged from the garage – on the other side of the house – when we pulled in. Still, none fit the description. It didn’t matter at this point, and it was soon forgotten as I re-acquainted myself with the new owners, who were in the middle of a project. They were removing items from the house, preparing it. I kinda knew what was coming next. It was known that the house had done nothing but take on water since Ruthie’s death eight years ago, and that the mildew and moisture had finally won. Although the woman who now owned it had known and loved Ruth as I had, and had herself dreamed of one day living in the sweet house, it would never come to be. The house now had to be torn down. I looked at Karen to see if this was the truth, and her eyes teared up. She insisted they’d had every manner of professional opinion on the matter. It was coming down. I made no attempt to be stoic… I began to cry. It was clear that she was just as heartbroken as I was. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in my grief.

In her day Ruthie had created a wide sphere of influence through her loving presence in the community and her unique, gentle demeanor. With no husband or children of her own, she had given her time and energy to her church, her voice students and so many more. This house was for me a sacred place, as it was to many others as well. I marveled over our being there, in that moment. Over the circumstances. Had I not made the ‘mistake’ of driving down her road, had Ken not spotted that visage in the porch – I wouldn’t have known this was happening. I wouldn’t have been able to take the lamp from her back porch so that I might use it in mine, I wouldn’t have been able to remove Ruth’s windchimes and then hang them on my own porch in remembrance of her. Did Ken see Ruth? Yes, I believe so. I believe she was helping as best she could to gather me into this event of closure. As we all stood on the front lawn, talking and comparing stories, Ken told them what he’d seen earlier. The consensus seemed to be that this was all meant to be, we had all found our ways there in order for this to happen. There were tears, hugs, prayers and goodbyes. And for me, there was gratitude.

From the insane to the mundane, the silly to the serious, it’s been a crazy mix of life here lately, and yet the next week may hold still more… Mom has finally come around to understanding that Andrew will never, ever get better on his own (yes, we’ve been here before, but I feel this time it’s different) and she can begin to see that he has only good things to gain by taking part in a detox and rehab program, and he has only potential danger and harm if he doesn’t. Plus this heaven-sent former cop of a friend has brought to our attention how devastating it could be should a civil case ever be made against Andrew in the event of an alcohol-related death. This is some serious shit, and although I’ve been making my case for several years now, it’s taken this financial threat to bring it home. That, and a little magical aligning of the stars. We’ve got a great family drama scene on deck, and I’m eager to finally see it through to its conclusion. Which will in of itself be but a beginning to a whole new chapter…

I checked in with Waldorf today, and it seems I’m just about off the hook. They’ve covered nearly every class except for a day or two of the high school. There’s a slight chance they might need me to cover for a bit, but it doesn’t appear that it’ll pose a conflict with my new work at the Studio. This is beyond my wildest dreams, and the feeling of freedom and possibility has me a little giddy. It’s almost like I have too much oxegyn, too much space, too many options, too much opportunity. My unexpected house guest and the little surprise detours of late have stalled my progress for the time being, but it doesn’t worry me. We’re approaching a Great Change. Middle School for Elihu, and with it all the changes of pre-teen life. A new situation for my mom and brother, a new career for me, a new house in the neighborhood, two new families moving in, one moving out. A parking lot going in the woods for the Studio along with a network of roads into the forest, a new heating system and myriad other upgrades. Networking, meeting people and growing programs, seeing plans become real…. I’m at the cusp of a whole new chapter in my life. I’ve been riding it out on a long, slow straightaway for the past few years, and finally now I see a big curve up ahead.

Breathe in, hands at ten and two… I’ll give it just a little more gas, and we’ll be taking that turn before we know it.

 

 

Time Game April 24, 2014

For a few months now I’ve been toying with the idea of drawing up a timeline for my life. To make a visual representation of it, sort of like a roadmap from the known into the unknown. I’ve been, as regular readers may know, in sort of a sentimental funk recently, and having made a near-complete inventory of my life and its landmarks, as well as having become more familiar with those of my parents and their parents too, it seemed both a sensible and tangible way by which I might begin to better comprehend and really understand what my own finite life might look like. It might seem a strange project; trying to posit the year in which I might possibly die, maybe it might even sound a bit morbid to some. But I think not. I need to get a handle on this mortality thing by whatever means necessary.

I’m not a person who can simply tally things up in my mind with ease. I’m just not great with numbers. In math class, word problems had me wanting to chuck the book over my shoulder like the characters in a Peanuts cartoon, and if anyone ever asks me to count change back, it takes me a minute to wipe the glassy look from my eyes before I can get down to business. I’m hard-pressed to tell you how old I’ll be in thus-and-such year, because I was born in a ‘3’ year, which prevents sums from rounding to a tidy 5 or 10. (Yes, I could simply take away three or add seven – but this is precisely the kind of stuff that rattles me.) I do know that my son is 40 years younger than me (minus 9 days, but who’s counting?) so thankfully I always know where he and I stand with respect to each others ages. But exactly how old will I be in 2045? That just sounds so Jetsons-ahead that I cannot begin to comprehend it. It makes me think of my dear old father. How in hell must he have felt to hear that it was the year 2013? Dementia aside, anything past the year 2000 – even for middle-agers like me – always felt like some far-off futuristic land into which we would never enter in our lifetimes. Even though we knew that in all likelihood, we would. I don’t know about you, but ten mintues to midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1999, I still didn’t really believe where we were. (I had the honor of counting down the new year to a very high-brow and refined crowd at a tony downtown Chicago restaurant; the smattering of muffled applause at the event was a bit underwhelming after all the hoopla working up to it. Woo hoo.) So imagine a cat who was born in the 1920s finding his daughter informing him ‘Dad, it’s the year twothousand thirteen‘…. How crazy must that have sounded? How does a fellow who’s losing his memory deal with that unlikely-sounding date? Myself, I don’t want to be caught off guard. And so this morning I made myself a map.

At this point in our futuristic present, I suppose there’s probably an app for making such a timeline. (If there isn’t, you’re welcome.) And given the enormity of this world, I must remind myself that the chances are pretty great that something like it has been done before. (I remember thinking at dad’s ‘living wake’ how novel that was – but I didn’t kid myself to think we had been the only ones to do so. Anecdotal stories poured in shortly thereafter confirming my suspicion.) I made my timeline by parceling off a hundred and fifty years in five year increments, noting the births of my parents, my birth and my son’s, and then the death of my father. I made a bracket that spanned the eighty-five year lifetime of my dad, and then I took that eighty-five year measurement and used it as a measure for a possible projected lifetime for mom, Elihu and me. It was interesting to see actual dates to represent our potential years of death. Even though my mom is now seventy-nine and likeliest the first of we three to go (I still don’t actually believe my mother will ever die), I’ve still never found myself literally considering how much time she has left. And me, of course, why I’ve always just envisioned my own life trailing vaguely off into the murky and unseen future without ever really coming to any definite conclusion… (Because I too, in my heart of hearts, will never actually die, you see.) Ah, but even though I do in fact understand that I shall be dying one day, I’ve never stopped for even so much as a minute to envision how, where… or when. You can see the insight this exercise provides, right? Now I have number. A target to be mindful of. A bit arbitrary, sure, but much clearer than no idea at all. And my son? Well who in hell ever stops to ponder the time in which one’s own child might leave this earthly plane? Me, apparently. So, you may wonder, what is the data? What do those numbers show?

Well, if we were all to live as long as grandpa, then mom will die in 2021, I’ll die in 2048, and Elihu in 2088. Man, that last year just sounds off-the-hook wrong. Two-thousand eightyeight? That sure seems far-off. But aside from the shock of seeing that distant-seeming year in black and white, I am just a bit stunned at what I now see before me. Damn. Ok, so this may not seem groundbreaking or revelatory; I realize that I can easily just add 85 to anyone’s birthyear and arrive at the posited year of death, but to see it all in a linear form in front of you on paper is something completely different. At least for me. One thing that caught me a bit by surprise was how small the area was in which my father’s and my son’s lives intersected. Dad had this long, full life, but only a tiny portion was shared with his grandson (and to make it ever a bit more heartbreaking, Elihu hardly knew his grandfather as the elegant and eloquent man he once was). And if I pushed the timeline out a bit to encompass the births and deaths of my grandparents, what struck me then was how far apart our generations were. My grandmother had my dad when she was 45, I had Elihu at 40, so already you can see how wide the space becomes. Also, my son was born exactly one hundred years after my maternal grandmother; on both sides we’ve given wide berth between generations. To give it an even more surreal touch, my great-grandfather (dad’s maternal grandpa) served in the Civil War! He was young, 16 or so, when he as a drummer boy lead the troops into battle. (Obviously he came back safe and sound, because here I am.)

But for how much longer am I here? And once again the largest question of all comes to the surface: just what the hell is it that I am supposed to be doing while I’m here?

I’ve suffered with panic attacks since the age of fourteen, and can say that a contributing factor to panic is the sense of this world being too goddam and overwhelmingly big, and me, the experiencer of panic attacks, so goddam small and powerless within that big world. In large part panic attacks are about control – or more accurately, lack of control. It comes from being acutely aware of just how immense the world is, how limitless the options, how daunting the task of finding that one reason you’re here, that one thing that only you can do… My most difficult challenge in life has always been to truly feel that I’m ok at what I’m doing. That I’m not just existing for naught. Spinning my existential wheels, so to speak. I don’t have the tenacity or desire to be truly outstanding at anything, but at least I’d like to be comfortable just being here. I might not set any records, but I still want very much to feel like my tiny life added to the value of the planet. Having never paid much attention to the constant escape of time, I’m all of a sudden feeling a mild level of panic rising inside… is it too late? And if it is too late – for what exactly is it too late?

In my job at the Waldorf School I am blessed to have personal relationships with a great number of children, from first graders to twelfth graders. Having been there for two years now, I can begin to see how it is that children grow from teeny to teenager. I can now look at an eight year old and begin to guess what she’ll look and act like as an eighteen year old. Sitting at the piano looking out at the second grade class, I realize they’ll be freshmen in high school when my own son is a senior. These tiny babies will be lumbering, smelly, adult-sized humans by then. Truly unfathomable for me only a few years ago, before I came to know what it was to have a child of my own grow older, but now, today, I can begin to get it.To truly see it in my mind’s eye. Seeing the process up close like this fuels the fire and once again the nagging question burns; am I too late? What have I not done yet that I need to do before it’s no longer possible? Until only a few years ago, I had all the time in the world and nothing seemed impossible…but not so now. Now I know about things like arthritis and bad knees. The concerns of old people are becoming concerns of my very own, and it’s got me feeling the heat. Now I can finally hear the ticking of the clock…

At the time of this writing I have 2,050 subscribers. I look at the number and no longer think of two thousand and fifty people, instead I think: how old will I be in the year 2050? Now I know. I will be 87. If I make it. And if I do make it, what will I be doing with my life? Will I be doing good work on the planet, or merely existing? To have an end date in mind really does wake one up. It renews a sense of urgency where there was once nothing but exhaustion, frustration and run-of-the-mill complacency. I may still be a bit crabby about being here, I might still feel I have more on my emotional plate than I’m capable of successfully dealing with, but at least now I have a better idea for how much longer I might even have the opportunity to be such things at all. Maybe, with an ending in sight, I’ll find the resolve to get down to business. To write more thank-you cards, smile more at strangers, tell more people how much I appreciate them… And maybe I can find the courage to give myself a list of the things that I’d always thought I might do ‘one day’…. The days ahead may well be fewer than the ones behind. If that isn’t enough motivation to square away the proverbial bucket list, I don’t know what is.

To make life seem a bit easier and a little less daunting, I sometimes like to think of it as a game. You gotta play by a handful of rules, you get to use your natural talents when making your moves, and if you apply a little clever strategy you can accomplish things beyond the ordinary, expected outcomes. I’ve got a modest bag of skills to play with, but more importantly, I have an eye on the clock and I’m ready to play the second half. Ready, I suppose, as I’ll ever be. Yeah, guess it feels like game time now…

Post Script: It’s amazing how quickly my math skills have improved since I linked them to this little age experiment! With each handful of new subscribers I find myself easily computing my corresponding new ‘end age’. It’s motivating, for sure. I’m fairly sure I won’t make it this far (Elihu and I have agreed that 90 feels about right for me – but tell that to me when I’m 90) and at current readership, I’m now 96. Yikes. Goodbye dear world! I enjoyed the ride and learned a lot… hope to see you all again some new day….

 

 

Lung Leavin’ Day February 2, 2014

The past few weeks have been incredibly stressful and frightening for me, but hearing someone else’s story has quickly put a new perspective on things. Today Heather Von St. James celebrates another year of life, another year of victory over Mesothelioma. I myself had a friend (luthier, Jim Norris) die of this cancer years ago. It broke our hearts to learn that our friend was diagnosed with this particular cancer, as Mesothelioma is usually thought to be a certain death sentence. Heather, however, has shown the world that it is not. Heather is a shining spokesperson for hope. Please learn about her story, and watch her video. Here is Heather’s story. May you take from her experience inspiration to face the challenges in your own life. And please, if you’re able, donate something to help fund research into fighting this disease.

1266854_685378121502165_639066134_oHeather Von St. James and her family. Gorgeous, glowing and glorious is she.

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Woke up with a dull headache already nestled in between my temples, just waiting for me. I wondered how long I was doomed to live with this now. Now that the corner had been turned, and I’d foolishly declared before the world that a) I had been an idiot and ruined my father’s Studio and b) had been stupid enough to announce to the world that I was going to make it all better. What kind of spell had I been under? What the hell had I just gone and done?

Last night, as I stood at the sink (washing dishes for the third time that day – my kingdom for a dishwasher!) a realization came over me in a rush, and I literally felt as if I would vomit into the soapy water. Oh fucking no – the whole thing just presented itself to me in an entirely different light. This was no opportunity! This was a trap! And I’d fallen into it! Worse yet – I’d made the trap to begin with! The ‘if onlys’ came at me fast and furious, and I almost thought I would pass out. Instantly, I was terrified at my future.

I tried to settle down, tried to break the situation down into the few things I knew for sure. Ok. I knew these two things: that if I didn’t do anything about the Studio, one day profound regret was a great possibility, and that if I at least tried to do something about the Studio, then I would never face that outcome.

I have always longed for a quiet, under-committed life, with low stress; a simple, beautiful home in which to live, occasional international travel, visits from out-of-town friends and long, lingering dinners with good wine; musicians with whom to make music, friends with whom to laugh. I’ve long imagined how my little life might pan out here in Greenfield, and it was the great consolation for having lost the possibility of a life shared with my husband and child. But if I took this on – good Lord, my life, at least for the next ten years, didn’t show itself to be any of these things. Crap. I want to be anonymous, I want to be left alone. I want to relax. I just want to be happy.

I suppose I’ve already blown it about the anonymous thing. And some mornings I wake up with a similar dread as today, and wonder just what have I gone and done? More than a thousand people are daily peering into my life, and I have almost nowhere to hide now. I can’t take any of it back, either. It’s all out there, forever.  And all of my own doing. Man, I guess I just never thought…. And that’s the problem. Never thought… How many of us truly do think carefully about things?

It seems to me that there are two ways you can live your life; you can tune out and fill your existence up with distractions (career, sports, shopping, activities, living through your children, food and so on) and never truly think very critically about your life, or you can face that awesomely frightening question of your very own purpose and potential here in this world. And should you find yourself contemplating that second question, you can either go back to that first, comfortable route (I really, really want to go back to that one, but I’m afraid I’ve screwed myself out of it) or you must plow ahead into that alternate, murky future. Fucking scary. Or maybe not for some of you, I’m sure many of you don’t share my way of thinking on this – Lord knows this planet is made up of all types; I’m continually amazed at how differently people approach things. You think you kinda understand how someone’s feeling, after all, we do share the most basic needs and wants, but then you learn that they feel something quite different from what you’d assumed they did. And we all know what happens when you assume….

And I myself had always assumed that life would be fairly easy. That all that yack yack yacking about how tough life was and how ‘youth was wasted on the young’ and such – all that was nonsense. All that Buddhist four truths stuff, all this inner exploration and contemplative journey crap – what a waste of time and energy. Enjoy what you got, help out a little when you can, and just shut up already! Ok, that was a young, middle class girl who had the world in her front yard but had no clue. This was a young person who hadn’t yet faced a lump in her breast or a set of knuckles inflamed with arthritis, or the death of her father (or the ruination of her father’s work at her own hand). So, things change. Or maybe things just wait for you to catch up with them. Maybe these little atmospheric whorls of potential events lie in wait somewhere before us in time, and it’s our tiny steps in between that determine which of them we ultimately enter into.

So as I stood at the sink last night, fighting the urge to throw up into the dishwater, I remembered a woman who’d recently contacted me. She’s a reader of this blog, and she wondered if I might not help her in her own journey. For just a second, my own distress diminished as I considered the fear that Heather must have known. I think I’m afraid – but of what? My issues are external, they do not hold my life in the balance of their outcomes. They are nothing, really, compared to the challenge that Heather faced. Ok, Elizabeth, see? There are far more frightening prospects in the world. You, (saying this to myself, of course) are a wimp. You are being cowardly. How dare you? I remembered also my promise to Heather, and if I never came to fixing the Studio, I could at least do one thing I’d said I would.

Here is Heather’s story. Of course, it’s inspiring. This woman’s courage is impressive, but so too is her follow-through. Ok, so she made that mind-numbingly difficult decision to have a friggin lung removed in order to save her life, and she survived. Wouldn’t that be enough, you’d think? No, apparently not – because Heather has the drive and focus to continue to spread the word about Mesolethioma. She’s still taking action, long after she did her part. She had to face a kind of fear the likes of which each one of us prays we never, ever have to face. Ok, she did that, then she took care of it. Then she goes and does more. (Plus she’s a wife and mom. Cannot underestimate the time and energy that role represents.) Alright. My situation may feel dire, but I can temper my fear just a bit when I realize that it’s external, and that it is not a life or death situation like hers. Thank you Heather, for showing us that nothing is a done deal. I am known to say that this is a pain-in-the-ass planet we live on, and that life here is tricky. Heather, you clearly already know all of that – but have gone far beyond worrying about things and bitching about how hard it all is (that would be me doing that). Thanks for teaching us by example. I’m going to try my best to live up to my own challenges as you have yours. I’m not sayin I’ll do half as well, but you’ve inspired me to at least try…

As Heather says, “With hope, the odds don’t matter”. Thank you for your inspiration, congratulations on all your achievements, and most of all, happy Lung Leavin Day!

 

Funk December 7, 2013

Been in a bit of a funk all week. Partly because of an old friend’s death, I think. The idea of him being so absolutely gone, and for something that seemed so fixable. Partly that. Partly other stuff too I guess. Stupid stuff. Like a parking ticket I really can’t afford, given to me while I loaded my kid’s bass in at school. And then the way it doubled on the very day I got paid (and the day, of course, I’d planned to pay the ticket). Or like the crown wiggling its way loose again when I haven’t even paid for the last time my doc re-glued it in place. Or maybe it’s been the onslaught of new music I’ve had to learn and read for school. I’ve spent the past two decades avoiding this very sort of thing, now here I am beset with it. Good for me, I suppose. (Some of it’s been written specifically for the classes, so it’s strange, chromatic and meandering and there’s no way to ‘hear’ one’s way out of it). And then there’s the constant lack of money and the fast-coming holiday. Thankfully, Elihu will be with his father, so East coast Santa’s off the hook for an extra week. No extra income, though. Maybe the extra week will buy a solution. I’m unsure though, and worrying about it has me tired and stressed. Then there are the aging folks in my family, an alcoholic brother, a mother who doesn’t think things are all that bad, and all the mental energy it’s taking to avoid thinking about that whole scene. Ich. And there are five baskets of laundry taking up my bedroom floor that need to be folded and put away. A Christmas tree that needs to be bought and decorated, a party next week to host, evites for which must yet go out… And a piano to tune. Which will likely fall to the bottom of the list of priorities when I scrutinize more closely my month’s budget. And lastly – and most vainly – there’s my waistline. I was feeling great this past summer – I really did make my fiftieth a success – but I’ve sadly just about un-done all my progress in just a few short months of Halloween candy, home-baked bread and apple pies (oh, yeah, and after last night, you can add homemade meatballs to the list). Of all people, I should know better! All that deprivation for nothing. Crap. Lastly, there are my fingers. Betraying me with unrelenting rheumatoid arthritis almost every single day. Just last night I noticed a new growth of bone spur on one of my outer knuckles. My third fingers are now getting stuck in between the three black notes (but not the two black notes, which are just a tiny bit further apart. Til now, who knew?) and I must tug to wrest them free as I play. Very discouraging. Very.

All the way ’round, I’m just not feeling too good these days. I just can’t seem to get ahead of it. Can’t find peace. Can’t quite get myself up and out of this temporary funk. At least I hope it’s temporary….

What to do? I make a list. First, I might do well with sitting in quiet. I don’t think I even know how to do that anymore… Yes. Maybe that’s it. I should be meditating. I remember a couple of years ago when I moved here, shaken and sick with heartbreak, I meditated almost an hour a day. Sat quiet, in a dark closet, imagining my in-breaths igniting all the little energy spirals up and down my spine… An hour of chakra-balancing felt like fifteen minutes. Stepping out of the dark room I was always surprised when I looked at the clock. And it helped. I remember it did. But how on earth to get that back into my routine again? It seems so, well, hard. Boring. Ok, how to start? Keep it short. Do-able. Schedule it in every morning first thing. Ok. First on the list. Meditate. Right.

I think the answer might also be a gym membership. I know I need to move. Means I need to apply for a Y scholarship, I guess. Must be sure to use it if they give it to me… but when would I go? And what to do with the kid while I workout? I feel stopped before I start. I suppose I could walk outside instead. Tried it for a while, but petered out on it, completely bored with the same stretch of road, the long, empty silence. Music… yes, I should get music back in my life. Haven’t used ear buds in a good decade (I suppose since my kid was born). But I need help with this too. My ancient, classic IPod sits unused, filled with songs my next-door neighbor back in Illinois gave me (without the legitimate purchase and therefore legal licensing) and I am somehow unable to add songs to it from my similarly ancient and now dead Macbook. How do I retrieve the handful songs I did purchase once upon a time? And why can’t I simply add them to my pirated list, or at least input them without re-formatting the whole shebang and starting completely over? Don’t know, and I can’t seem to figure it all out. So when I do walk (which these days is actually never) I walk in silence. And somehow, I think it might be easier to move if I had a soundtrack. Man. I miss the days of cassettes. They were so much easier. It embarrasses me slightly to say so, but there it is.

You could say that I need some help in general when it comes to technology. Like the kind of help I always seemed to have around in the old days. A local college kid who can help me streamline my administrative duties – the kind of kid who would say ‘admin’ and not ‘administrative’…  I need a kid who’s still cheerful enough to think that none of my ‘admin’ needs are really that big of a deal and who can hold my hand through some much needed media upgrading in my life. There’s the IPod thing, yes, but then there’s so much more. I’ve been advised that as an aspiring writer/blogger I need to Tweet. I bought a book about it, but even after reading it I feel stopped. I can see the appeal, but I can’t seem to get past setting up an account. I’ve also been told it would be advantageous of me to use Foursquare. Really? I’m only ever in one of three places: behind the piano at school, behind the sink doing dishes at home, or driving back and forth somewhere between the two. Is that of interest to anyone, really? (Besides, can I even do all that stuff on my old-school flip phone?)

I’m not sure where to begin. The technology train left years ago and I did not get on board. Maybe all I need is to wait another couple of years and let Elihu help me. But aren’t I supposed to be helping him? Man. Last night we saw a record player in the window of a shop and he said he wished we had one. Careful what you wish for, kid….

In order that I might not sound myself too much like a record player – a broken one, that is – I shall stop my song now. Much to consider, much to do. And much I will no doubt put off til later. Only thing is, I can’t wait too long. Cuz stuff that currently smells bad tends to get even funkier the longer it’s left unattended…

 

Of Mice and Money June 22, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Divorce Diary,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 2:23 pm
Tags: , , , ,

How much to guard? How much to reveal? This very public forum has me second guessing things I’d probably once have written about without pause. Well, I have some new plans which feel pretty good, and as I’ve no support whatsoever from my husband nor his family, I’m going ahead with it. I’m filing for bankruptcy.

I’ve learned that the legal firms who now handle my debts can attach the money in my checking account. Once they’ve done their legal thing and followed the proper procedure, they are entitled to make the next step towards recovering the debt. Not that I wouldn’t pay the debt if I had an income, or the means, but I simply don’t. And I need the little I have to keep the electric on. So here we go…

I’m surprised at how matter-of-fact this all feels. I feel slightly detached, as if I were gliding through a dream. What the hell is real anyhow? I’m not doing so well economically for the time being, true, but I live comfortably, and surrounded by beauty. So am I truly poor? (Often, when I remark to Elihu that we’re lucky in many ways, citing our ownership of the land on which we live as proof – make that my parent’s ownership of the land on which we live – my son will correct me. He reminds me that people do not own land. We agree to leave each other to enjoy our own little pieces of it in our own ways, but, he reiterates, we do not own the land. Ok. He’s right, I know, but still it buoys the spirit to think we have ownership of something.) My ego-driven self really wants to know I still have something to show for myself here, yet in the end I do know that nothing is truly ours, and despite our best efforts everything will change form and cease being what it once was. I offer my beloved Aerosoles mid-heel slip-ons, frayed at the edges by gnawing mice as example. Looks like Jesus was right. All our stuff is going the way of rust, mice and moths at some point. So perhaps wealth – or at least the perception of  having stuff – is rather a shifting mirage.

So here I go. I’m starting over. I can only buy things that I have cash in hand for. Thankfully, that’s not really a new challenge; I’ve been living like that for nearly three years now. My needs are fairly modest, and I’m good at being frugal. Who knew? This is a reality I would never have dreamed of three years ago this time. I admit I get to feeling sorry for myself when I pass the patrons seated on the sidewalks in front of the wonderful Saratoga restaurants – I covet their elegant-looking salads and thin-stemmed wine glasses, but hey, I’ve been there, done that.

Not to worry, I’ll taste the arugula again.