The Severing

There was a time when it was all on me.

Making money, taking care of the kid, the students, the Studio, the chickens and ducks, the house, all of it. Now, at least for the moment, nothing at all is on me. I am bereft of the many responsibilities that had once left me spent at the end of every day, while, unbeknownst to me at the time, had all been at the very heart of my purpose here on this earth. Now, with all of that tidily wrapped up, my purpose is not something I know with any certainty these days.

It’s not a pleasant feeling.

Yes, there are still some hurdles ahead which only I myself can navigate, and there are situations which would likely fall apart if I didn’t step up and do my job, but at the end of the day these will merely be administrative tasks. They do little to address the deeper issue that lurks behind my every moment these days.

Why the hell am I here?

The kid is successfully launched, my brother is on site to help mom out, and I have no one to whom I am beholden. Is this not precisely what I had yearned for all those years ago when I lamented the unending domestic drudgery that was my life?

Goodness, Elizabeth. Your future has arrived. Why then is it such a melancholic occasion?

I’m moved to write tonight, but my conscience is nagging me to get in the car and attend an open mic across town. I know there will be a keyboard, I know that I can join in. But I also know that it will almost certainly disappoint. There is a resting level of mediocrity which afflicts this town and its music scene. Swarms of not-quite-average musicians fill the open mic signup sheets by 6:30, promising a three-hour cavalcade of out-of-tune guitars, waif-like girls with nasally, warbling voices and miserably indistinguishable three chord songs.

I realize that writing publicly and honestly about my feelings may well have bad consequences, but at this point I’m not sure that I care anymore. The stakes just aren’t that high these days.

Last spring, the candor in my writing, instead of being seen as simply that, was taken to be a breach of trust within the band that had employed me. As the new member of an established family, I had marked myself a loose cannon from the start. There was no going back. No apologies or retractions were going to fix it. It made me physically sick for months. And, it had been such a musically successful endeavor, the likes of which I could never have guessed would come my way – that it made the loss even more tragic.

When my new musical venture vanished, so too did my hope. My desire to stay fit, to be healthy. Even my will to get out of bed. I forced myself to attend a handful of open mics in a desperate search for something, anything, that might help fill the musical void, but instead, the experiences made things much worse. I discovered that I was alone. Completely alone. To realize one is living in a community without peers is heartbreaking.

In an effort to pull myself up and out of a serious funk, I tried my hand at busking this fall. It went well, and I began to really look forward to future sessions, until one night when I was packing up my keyboard, I suffered two herniated discs. A lightning bolt of pain had me instantly on the ground. Crap. I’d finally come upon a promising solution, and in one split second it was gone.

The two months that have followed have been another challenging detour. It’s hard not to take shit personally sometimes. Things were looking so good just less than a year ago. I had a gorgeously promising foothold into another world, a higher tier, and then – I lost it. After a period of mourning, I’d tried to get back up again. I’d tried to take matters into my own hands, to be proactive. And then….

Seriously?

I’m going to try to check my self-righteous and self-sorry attitude and try to behave with some humility this evening. My plan is to go out shortly, armed with a wide range of material to offer. Folks seldom ‘get’ me at these things, so I’ve taken to writing songs that I think might resonate better with the room. Who the fuck knows what will fly and what will tank? I’m planning on doing “Twisted” because it’ll be fun, and, since it’s a basic blues I figure I can’t go wrong…. But I can already feel that sensation of losing traction with the audience. Joni who? Whatever. (Ok, yeah, I do know it’s Annie Ross a la Wardell Gray.) I’ve got an REO Speedwagon tune in my back pocket if all else fails.


Consider this a real-time post. I have now been to the open mic and returned. Some insights. Not a whole lot, but some.

When I realized that the first three songs out of the gate were Dead tunes, my perspective changed. It was likely a room of people with whom I had little in common. What kind of material did I possibly know that would they resonate with? Would I simply be met with blank stares? I myself was merely tolerating their music. Quite likely they would merely be tolerating me too. Again, I scolded myself: these were my fellow humans, the whole purpose of the gathering here was to be supportive of each other. My own piano student herself was hosting, and of course I was happy for her enjoyment and success. But it was a challenge for me to remain in the room. And although I heard no compelling grooves, there were a few people eagerly pounding on djembes and swinging tambourines – so the music had an obvious appeal to some.

Come on, Elizabeth, forgive the dropped beats and the out of tune guitars. You’re far from perfect, don’t be so snarky. Be nice.

So yeah, after a $3 whiskey (!) I did get a little kinder. And I listened. In between tunes the piano guy played “Christmas Time Is Here” from the Peanuts book, and he actually knew the bridge. So there was that. A fellow Greenfielder sat in on drums, adjusting his snare hits to fit the errant beats accordingly. The vibe was congenial, and although I’d never been introduced to some folks, they’d already known who I was, and that was nice, I suppose. Maybe next time I’ll get there earlier and play. After all, I’ve got a week to choose my angle.


About three months ago, in absolute despair about the next chapter of my life, I consulted a local tarot reader. She worked at the head shop which Elihu and I had visited since he was tiny, and from which I bought my first oversized gemstone rings (to accommodate my ever-enlarging osteoarthritic fingers). This woman was said to have been the “best there”. And so she did my reading.

Among the cryptic things she’d said to me (I took notes) was this line: “Soon, in late November or early December there will be a great severing.” My God that sounded scary. Of course my first thought was my mom – who knew, right? She was 87, after all… A friend had even suggested maybe this meant my son. No, neither of these could possibly be!

And then today, at a piano lesson, this young girl from across the road, whose family had taken in half of our flock (the favorites) when I left for the road this past spring, they had made the decision to “off” the hens, as they were old and had ceased laying eggs. The girl mentioned this in passing, as it is a common thing for farm folks to do and to talk about – in general it’s nothing more than a recounting of the week’s events. But this time – this very afternoon – to me it was a punch in the gut. I was stopped.

For a few moments I tried to process this. It’s been several weeks now that I’d been wanting to go over to her place and visit with my dear Hammie (a black and white Hamburg hen). My heart wished for that comfort, as the past few months have been pretty awful for me. I’d thought that once I was walking ok without the use of a cane, I’d take a trip across the road to see her… It was a hope I held onto; it was a tiny light I had looked forward to. I just wanted to see Hammie once again, to see her beautiful, familiar patterns… I wished to hold her in my arms and bury my nose in her side, taking in that lovely, earthy scent.

But – she was gone now. Head cut off and left in the forest, she’d been food for the wild creatures. Ah well. At least I know she filled a belly or two, and her parts have sunken back into the woods of Greenfield. She still rests here. And she was, after all, just a chicken. A reunion wouldn’t have been the same thing for her as it would’ve been for me. But still. My heart breaks once again. Great severing, indeed.


Time for me to sever myself from this day, from the unexpected sadness, from the way in which I miss so terribly the tribe I’ve yet to meet. I’m not as despondent as I was a month ago, but I’m not in a great place either. I miss my son (he won’t be here for break). I miss the music I used to make and the places I used to go. I miss having friends, I miss the body I used to inhabit. I’m just waiting now. But for what, I don’t know. Holding my breath in hopes that things don’t get too much worse, or at the very least that things don’t change too quickly, so my heart will have time to adjust.

But I’m certainly grateful that I don’t live in a war zone. I do have my home. It’s warm and it’s safe, the interior is cozy and beautiful, and the roof doesn’t leak – and since the mouse nest has been evacuated from the piano, all is well for now.


I experienced one very good moment this past fall; it was a happy and welcomed respite from the current bleak musical landscape of my life: Here I am singing “I’m Confessin” with a non-local band at a trad jam session which is held monthly in Saratoga.

A happy accident. Now this is what I need more of in my life.

Second Act

“Bankruptcy is not a dirty word” is followed by an image of a Staples-esque ‘easy’ button… “Considering Divorce?” is followed by a graphic of two browning, crispy roses shedding their petals… Been looking online for a local attorney to help me create a will – not that there’s anything except a few killer gowns and a handful of vintage keyboards to pass on – as I was reminded once again by my primary doc recently at my annual one-stop-shop-git-it-all-done visit that I really should, as a 49 year-old single mother, have a will in place. Yeah, made sense. After all I’d come to my doc’s to demystify my physical world, to break it down, to learn the things I must watch over more closely as I neared the half-century mark. To create the most personally important to-do list ever and to put it into action.  And if she had a sidebar tip about end-of-life planning, why not. Hey, it was a small personal success that I finally knew my cholesterol numbers, so I was ripe for more forward strides.  When she said the bit about the will, I immediately whipped out my date planner and wrote it down in the never-ending list. At least it was finally written down. A physical manifestation of my intention. A good start. It still must make its way into action, and that is why I find myself tonite, after having watched Oliver! with Elihu and finally putting him to bed, searching for attorneys to help me craft said last will and testament. Maybe not the best way to shop. But hey. It’s a start. And besides, I feel the need for an internet nightcap.

My shopping for an attorney reaches its conclusion, so I set sail for a little fun… I begin to torment myself, searching for “then and now” images of actors and musicians (as initially inspired this evening by me and my son wanting to learn more about the kids in the production we’d just seen.) Interesting indeed, heartbreaking too. I hardly remembered the chap’s name, but I can tell you that as an eight year old girl I felt the first, faintest tingles of sexual excitement watching Jack Wild on his crazy, high-70s adventures of HRPufnstuf. It was good that I finally saw him as Artful Dodger – else the poor man would had died with me only knowing the fluff that followed. I see he played football – but let’s just call it soccer – with Phil Collins, whose mom was a talent scout. Ok. I’m stuck at the idea of little Phil and even littler Jack playing soccer…I begin to imagine it… the future pop icon’s soccer mom says “Philip, sweetie, can you bring Jackie over here for a minute? His Mum and I need to speak with him about something…” Oh yeah, and that Jack Wild is even dead – that was sure news to me. You too? Just wait til ya Google him and see him looking like, to quote my son,” a ninety year old lady”. He had oral cancer, and it must have helped to shape his face in the final years. As I study the changes – the ones I hope so dearly people will overlook in me – I note how even the subtlest shifts result in a remarkably changed countenance. Tiny increments can result in a big transformation. Yikes.

I admit it; every so often I check up on folks to see how they’re aging. Lately – as in the past six months or so – I find myself thinking about aging a lot. I don’t mean this with any false modesty; I know that I don’t look bad for my age. I feel relief that I don’t – cuz in my younger years I fairly begged age to make an early home with me, indulging in hours on end of baby-oil sunbaths while sucking down Marlboros and hydrating myself with alcohol… Although that was several decades back, and it hardly seems like it should still count, I’ve heard the damage lasts. I dismiss that thought however with visions of regularly scheduled yoga classes, daily aerobic activity, disciplined portion control, and a robust daily intake of water. In this future life I also see daily meditation, an orderly, systematic approach to household chores, more delegation of such to my able-bodied son too. Oh, what a bright life this will be. This life that I will start just as soon as my house is clean and tiday. What’s that? Oh yes, my house is clean and tidy. Well then, just as soon as we get Elihu’s new violin and get him started on lessons. Then I’ll set out to get going on it all… Oh, but then there might be a day job… And I can’t possibly start drinking all that water if I have to sit at a piano all day, can I? And yoga – I can’t go because it’s too late and Elihu would need a sitter!

All joking aside, whether the hitches are mild or severe, there truly are some blips in the road that seem to make my ‘new lifestyle’ a little less than practical. I was able to do the yoga thing for a while a couple of years ago, but it just got too expensive. So I’m hoping with the little extra cash from playing piano for Waldorf, I can afford them again. But when? If not working, then it’s mom duty. No subs for mom. Grandma has to tend to Grandpa. No budget for babysitter. See? Taking action can be tricky. Still, there must be a way to live well. More research will be needed on this one.

And this aging thing – I just can’t lie down and let it take me without a fight. But that’s essentially what I’m doing. I think I’ve got a pretty healthy mental/spiritual/emotional thing goin on, and I do believe that helps to mitigate the signs of aging (cosmetic or otherwise)… but the physical part of the equation has me a little worried. Just tonite, after sitting for an hour to watch Oliver! and then getting up and trying to walk down the hill to the compost pile – OY! did I feel like a little old lady. Sheesh! Hand on my lower back, unable to stand up straight… A real mess, and just because I sat ‘wrong’ for too long. Yeeps. Now that feels old. My core muscles were hardly able to help. I slipped from right to left, each side taking the shortest turn possible in keeping me erect. I can honestly say it was kinda scary. Cuz I can tell you, just one short year ago my body never felt like that. I haven’t been using it much, and well, we all know what happens ‘when you don’t use it…’

I once found and contacted Jaye P. Morgan’s most recent producer and was this close to getting an interview with her for my radio show. This was a good ten years ago now, and back then the woman must have been in her late 70s. I’d been fascinated by how she, as a career diva, had dealt with aging. She’d even written a comic song about west coast plastic surgeons and the everyday trials of her glamorous, aging peers, so I knew she was at least able to treat the subject with some humor. But I wasn’t persistent about making the interview happen, and deep down I think she didn’t really want to get into it. And maybe I myself felt that it was too intimate a territory for me to breach. So I let it go. Besides, at a mid-thirty something, what the hell did I know about aging yet? Nothing! These days, however, I bring some experience to the table. Just this afternoon I even removed a pure white hair from my eyebrow. A first. Sigh. Miss Morgan, if you’ll indulge me, I think I’m ready for that interview now.

Years ago, I asked Fareed if he was at all worried about getting old – and ugly. He said no, because he’d always been unattractive, so getting more so wouldn’t be much of a shock. People wouldn’t treat him much different either way, he supposed. Me, however, having started out as a pretty young thing, and enjoying all the power that went with it, he proposed that aging might well hit me a lot harder. He postulated that I’d likely see changes in how people responded to me as my looks changed. Once, shortly after I’d had Elihu and was quite large, I went to the grocery store. I was exhausted, unkempt and fat. And I can tell you this too: I was invisible. I knew well what it was to be an attractive, well-dressed young woman who drew people in. And to experience the absolute opposite just these few months later – it truly blew my mind. I learned instantly and unequivocally that in youth and beauty there is power. Never did and ugly old man inspire the same feelings of warmth as a pretty young woman. Never. And yet within the outer shell of that man lives a person as complex, as human, as needing of love – if not in more need of love – than the pretty girl. How unfair is life. The moment I realized people were not even noticing me was stunning. I got it. I realized how lucky I’d been. How much love I’d been given by strangers just because of the way I looked. My heart bled for all of those who never knew that kind of immediate acceptance. Truly this is a cruel, cruel world.

I’m not doing this aging thing with a lot of class. Really, I’m not. I’m uptight about it, I’m continually surprised by it, I’m offended that age should drag me along with it… As light-heartedly as I may live my life, deep down I’m wondering how this is supposed to work. Oh, I can be happy here on my back forty with my son and my chickens, but I can’t hide back here forever. Maybe til my kid graduates from high school – but what then? I need to find this new life, this new person I’m to be. It used to be about the tiny-waisted cocktail gowns or the platform boots, but those things are never coming back. So what’s next? I find myself with thirty pounds on my frame that I can’t simply ditch the way I used to. My upper arms move in two different directions. I have no jaw line anymore, and what were once slight, temporary laugh lines are now permanent contours. Although it might sound it – this is not about knowing that I’m truly, legally divorced that’s bringing this on – I’ve been keenly aware the last few years that I’ve been walking through a transition time of sorts. The past four years here in New York my son has grown a foot, and my hair has become undeniably gray. And I just can’t seem to understand it.

I’ve identified this window of age in which everyone shifts from their ‘first act’ selves to their ‘second act’ selves… (The third act seems to occur in a wider range of years, and has within it some subtle differences, as in there’s ‘old”, then there’s ‘slack-jawed-in-the-nursing-home-wearing-a-diaper’ old. Those would be the last couple of pages – and I’m not thinking about those for now, although let us open our eyes to this very personal possibility. That may be us one day – although I pray we all die sweetly in our sleep before our kids ever have to choose that fate for us.) This transition phase seems to occur sometime in the mid forties. Don’t know quite when the threshold is crossed for sure – but I can tell you from my own experience that I felt ‘ok’ and ‘youngish’ still in the first few years of my forties, but this last year I no longer can claim those feelings. I don’t necessarily feel old, but I no longer feel young. I can much more easily see over the rise ahead. Or perhaps I might say that I’ve reached the rise in the elevation and can now see the grand plateau before me…

Personally, I was never one to look forward. Never once dreamed of ‘my’ wedding, a house, a career. Knew I’d be a musician and that was pretty much it. Knew I wanted to travel, have a beautiful home and be a mother one day. But ‘one day’ never existed in real, calendar form. It existed in a far-off, fuzzy dimension I never took a moment to envision. For all my lack of energetic homework, I feel lucky to have landed in such an idyllic situation. There are times when I lament my lack of planning, wondering where instead I might have ended up had I indeed bothered to plan it all out a bit better, but in the end I know that regret does nothing. Sadly, it doesn’t even burn calories. ! I’m in a good place from which to go forward. I’m still without a social life, and my friends seem to be mostly back in the midwest, but I’m a bit more hopeful than I’ve been the past few years about our life here continuing to improve. The past four years have been my transformation time, and the process is now gently lifting to reveal a wide-open future.

There’s much to come, I’m fairly sure of it. Intermission was refreshing, but now I’m eager to see what awaits in this next act…

F*ck This

In kind of a self-sorry funk today. My May support never arrived from Fareed, and here it is nearly June. I can’t pay my phone bill and may not make it the weekend without my internet, cable and phone being cutoff. I fucking hate being so dependent upon someone who doesn’t care. And I won’t have my son here this holiday weekend to distract me from my mood. Elihu gets on a plane today and joins his father – they meet at O’Hare. Dad gets in from London and Elihu from Albany. Hope it all works. Can’t fret about that. It’ll be fine. Now my kid has a watch, a cell phone and a good book. And good sense. He’ll be fine. As for me, I’m left with lots of pasta in my pantry, but just about five bucks in my pocket. And I’m pretty pissed about it.

I am sinking today, I admit it. I’m angry at Fareed for leaving. I’m angry that he had another woman pregnant at the same time as me. I’m angry that he CCs me on emails that rejoice enthusiastically in the “family all being together” when he talks about plans for our son, his girlfriend, their kids and my parents-in-law to have dinner at the Pump Room in Chicago. I’m angry at his parents for not caring how we’re doing, for not offering to pay for half of Waldorf. I’m angry at myself for having no life outside of being a mom. I’m goddam tired of having a fucking rooster crow in my open window all fucking day long and not having the bread to fence him in properly. I’m tired of being two dress sizes too big. I’m tired of being poor. I’m tired of having no friends, tired of having no life. I miss making music. I wish I could play my Wurlitzer again with a band. I fucking miss the world I knew. Been here four years this coming August, and I still have no appreciable life to speak of. My son does – and this, of course, is the current priority – but I myself have little to look forward to, little to do that I enjoy. It really seems like all I do is the goddam dishes and the goddam laundry. I so wish I had a dishwasher. Must spend an hour a day washing goddam dishes, and seems there’s laundry every day. The only social life I have is when my piano students and their families come by. If it weren’t for them, I could go weeks without seeing another person besides my son.

Today I’ve fucking had it. And about the only thing that feels good is typing the expletive “fuck”.

I know I’ll feel better when some money arrives. I got paid for a lesson last night, and for a moment I almost felt as if I could breathe better. But it’ll barely pay for the gas to get to and from the airport today. So for the long weekend I got nothing. Not that I need it, I really don’t. And that’s the crazy thing about all this. When I think about it, having  money or not is really all kind of abstract and makes no true sense. When I know I have no money at all, my whole being gets bummed out, depressed, deflated – and the future appears to hold no promise. So then I get some cash and somehow – it is indeed all an abstraction, an illusion – I feel better. My whole being feels lighter, less threatened. But in reality, the influx of money isn’t much; it doesn’t actually accomplish a lot. If it takes away the threat of having my electricity cutoff, that’s understandable, and if it replenishes my supply of toilet paper, that’s good too, so there are some tangible reasons for its ability to lift my spirits. But beyond that, it’s really only illusory. Nothing amazing and truly life-augmenting will come of the new cash flow. Yet somehow, it lifts me from my funk. It carries me, buoys my spirit, makes all things suddenly seem possible. It restores hope. Crazy, huh? Yes. Crazy.

I need to rise above this crap. But today, being hopeful and upbeat is not my natural state. Plus I thought there was so much happy talk here that it might not be such a bad idea to temper it with a post that was probably more in line with my mood much of the time. Yes, I’ll turn it around, and no I don’t live like this most of the time – but the poverty thing is always present, and try as I may to pretend I’m feeling great, doing ok and fed and clothed, etc, deep down I admit I harbor a bit of resentment about not having what I’d like to have – what I used to have. And I should be ashamed, I’ve got it good. My child and I aren’t hungry, we’re warm, clothed. I have a grand piano and my son has a fleet of RC helicopters. By some luck, for being broke, we got a lot goin for us. Yes, I know this. But today I’m indulging. Just today.

I’ll be back to hopeful again tomorrow. I promise.