The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Real Ideal October 28, 2017

Ever since some friends and I found ourselves painting the walls of my new home in a mad dash to finish the project on the eve of our wedding, I have adopted a phrase which has served me well through the years: “Lower your standards and you’ll always be pleased with the results”. (Jokes have subsequently been made that I may have brought the divorce on myself by setting the bar so low at the very start. !)

Nearly every endeavor of some significance seems to involve more plots twists and surprises than one could ever anticipate at the outset. These little ‘spanners in the works’ can leave one ready to throw a laptop out of a window or just stay in bed and hope the world outside might forget all about you. But the impulses are brief; after all you couldn’t get your work done without the laptop – however old it may be – and by 8 o’clock your child would be be desperately pleading with you not to make him late. And then there are always the roosters. They never let you forget it’s time to start all over again and get things done.

Initially, a great new idea buzzes with possibility. The idea inspires, promotes new ideas, it sheds light on a potential path into the future. For a moment, everything seems right. A vision emerges, a plan to bring the idea to life takes shape. But the reality that follows is so seldom as pure, easy and straightforward. And therein lies the challenge.

Traffic, spilled coffee, sick pets, sticking brakes, cancelled students, lost music, failing technology. Those are the fairly mundane bumps in the road. Then you have the state returning your non-profit forms repeatedly when you, your attorney and your accountant had thought it looked good and was ready to go. You have board members that don’t respond to emails. Your emerging business has needs, but no money. Your venue looks so lovely, and the calendar of events is starting to fill up, but then the new AC units get hit by lightning in the middle of the cooling season and the septic tank cracks. Yes, these things can happen. And yes, they happened to me. And I have staved off tears and desperation by reminding myself to lower my standards. To relax a little, because somehow, (as Martha Carver always said) “Things always work out.” That, and a little Monty Python skit here and there have helped tremendously over the past few months as I’ve watched how quickly an ideal situation can become a real one.

If my son remembers me for nothing else, he’ll remember me for saying this time and time again: “It’s not a mistake if you learn something from it”. There are so many tiny heart breaks in the craft of building model airplanes – the kind of model that actually flies, not the kind that sits on a shelf looking pretty. The practice of building and then flying a craft inevitably results in crashing. There’s a slogan model aircraft enthusiasts enjoy sharing: “Build, Fly, Crash, Repeat”. This is not a hobby for the faint of heart. It is not a hobby for mentally flabby folks like me, either. There’s a lot of analytical thinking that goes into the building and repair. It’s a hobby that involves a mix of unlikely gifts; the appreciation for aesthetics and beauty, the ability to physically assemble delicate parts, a knowledge of mechanics and technology, and the understanding of basic physics. And the underpinning of the whole hobby is that deep, unquenchable desire to know what it feels like to fly… A tall order, and thanks to the unrelenting properties of this physical planet, a plan that’s bound to fail at some point. I can think of no other undertaking that better illustrates the relationship of ideal and real. And let me tell you, the undaunted spirit of these flight enthusiasts is inspiring. We can all take a lesson from these folks. A crash is just a means to a repair, and who’s to say the new craft might not be an improvement upon its former self?

Another saying my son will remember me for is “You never know until you go”. Been saying that to him since he was a toddler. Truly, you can hear about something, but until you experience it for yourself firsthand, you can never really know it. Recalling to myself the several aforementioned philosophies has helped me to traverse a very challenging chapter in our lives over the past few months. An absence of posts here on this blog will attest to our busy life (never before in the 6+ year history of this blog have I let more than four weeks go between posts. Talk about ‘lowering ones standards’. !).

Readers may enjoy a little update on the Studio, and I am pleased to tell everyone that things are indeed a whole lot better than they were a year ago. I was glad for our insurance, because it helped pay for some of the AC repair – but at the end of the day it’s still mom who fills in the gaps. The deductible, the electric bill. The stuff for which I cannot find a grant to help subsidize. It’s easy to find a small bit of grant money for a sexy project – everyone loves to see high school kids performing and ‘staying out of trouble’, but no one – that I’ve come across yet – is interested in funding the repair of a septic system, much less helping to pay the monthly operating costs. I can’t provide a platform for things to happen until the basic costs are met, but that point doesn’t seem to matter to the folks giving out money. It may seem hard to believe, but just to keep the venue open, insured and heated/cooled, it costs me – out of my own, impoverished pocket – around $800 a month. Slowly some events are starting to help me cover those costs, but it will probably be another year before “we” (I have to bite my tongue all the time – I want to shout “We is actually just ME!”) break even. I’m going to boldly suggest that in a year’s time I might even glean a tiny income from the place. Maybe. I’ll set my standards low, so that I’ll be more than thrilled when the money does finally come in…

Last week I took our roos (and also our 12 pound duck whom we named Christmas Dinner) to the Amish farmer to be butchered. It was a fine, sunny fall day and every last corner of the hilly countryside and winding road looked like a perfect magazine shot. After I got home and the birds were tucked inside the chest freezer, it was off to the Studio for a sound check. Then I picked the kid up at school, made sure he had something to eat and a plan for his evening. Homework, tuba, building, get the birds in and collect eggs. Oh, and please don’t spend too much time at your workshop, I cautioned him as I left. I paused for a moment in the driveway to take it all in. I could’ve listed a dozen things that needed tending, fixing, or replacing, but for one moment I let them all rest, and I turned my attention to the miraculous moment in which I was existing. My son was happy, thriving and well-taken care of (and probably pretty psyched to have the house to himself once again), and I was about to join dozens of happy and excited kids at The Studio. What? Amazing. For just a moment it all seemed perfect. Maybe even ideal.

The life that I’m living now was certainly never part of the plan. If you’d have told me that one day I’d be a single mom living in the country, that my kid would play tuba, build airplanes and speak German, that I’d be raising chickens and selling eggs, that I’d be running a community arts venue on my own… If you’d have told me any of this a decade ago, there’s no way I would’ve believed you. Cute story – but not mine. But look, here we are.

Trips to the emergency room, cancelled events, governmental red tape and failing cars can wear a gal down, but honestly, this life has turned out to pretty close to ideal. Really.

 

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Here’s a link to the gallery page of The Studio’s site. The main page is not current – I will endeavor to make updates after I publish this post and before I finish the grant proposal which is due this coming week. ! Don’t even get me started about the annual Halloween party happening tonite – I will cobble together a costume in the 11th hour. Elihu however is well prepared and is thrilled to be going as Otto Lilienthal. Elihu will be proudly declaring the German aviator’s last words “Opfer müssen gebracht warden” throughout the evening. (Otto died of a broken neck after falling from one of his thousands of flights. His final words translate as “Sacrifices must be made.” Indeed.)

 

Five Hundred and One October 21, 2014

This is my five hundred and first post. I hadn’t intended to pass up post number 500 on such a mundane subject as Spam, but very anticlimactically, there you have it. It seems the tally of my published posts was one behind, causing me to miss my landmark. But then that’s not so very important as is the fact that I’m still at it, over three years and five hundred posts (and dozens of unpublished posts) later. The result represents several thousand hours of writing, editing and re-writing. And while I don’t yet deign to claim that I’m a professional writer, I do however, with a small amount of confidence, now identify myself to people as a writer. Not a blogger. I’m a writer with a blog, not a blogger who writes just to generate content. (Lord knows generating content has never been my problem. !)

Bloggers enjoy making entire paragraphs out of one single sentence for effect.

Not me. Well at least not yet. Never say never.

That’s precisely what turns me off when I visit other blogs. That silly, truncated format, those tiny look-how-clever-I-am paragraphs, that sing-song, cutesy tone. Just doesn’t do it for me. Kinda like the Dead. You either dig them, or you don’t. The typical blog format either works for you or not. A particular style of music can either fill your heart with joy – or make you want to rip the radio out of the dashboard. Me, I don’t write in order to have a blog; I write because I’d probably go nuts if I didn’t have an outlet. To be entirely honest, I’ve come to rely on you guys. Having an audience – dare I even say a family? – with which to share my ruminations and experiences is what has motivated me to get out of bed on many a morning.

I don’t think my writing is necessarily great stuff (no false modesty here, I really do think it’s improved in some ways), but I believe what gives it integrity is that I actually write down the things that run through my head. I don’t believe that I’m terribly different from most folks – I just think aloud, that’s all. But in that lots of people get a kick out of watching other people’s tiny dramas – or in some cases rubbernecking at their worst train wrecks – I figure at the very least The Hillhouse offers up some form of entertainment, if nothing else.

Elihu and I went to see comedian Steven Wright the other night (first time I’d popped so much money on a ticket in my entire 51 years on the planet. Hope the kid treasures the memory, at least I know that I will…) and in the days that followed I began to think more critically about what made comedy compelling. What made writing compelling for that matter. And while it may seem simplistic, it seems to me it’s mainly about the truth. Why are some things so goddam funny? Why is some writing worth reading? Because either you’ve already thought the same crazy thought yourself (and thought it was just you thinking it) or have never heard a certain situation expressed before in such an obvious, truthful way that it gets your attention. It’s either been your truth at one point too – or at least you can feel the truth in it. You get it. And that’s why I’m here. Because I need to know that you’ve been here too. Or at least that somebody else gets it. I don’t have the immediate feedback of hearing your laughter, but I do feel the presence of somebody else in the room, and it feels nice.

I’m so glad you’ve stopped by here at The Hillhouse to share in a tiny portion of our life. You’ve given me such a gift in your audience, in your emotional support and input. It continually blows my mind that we’ve had visitors from over 170 countries now, many now regular readers (before this experience I wasn’t even aware that there were so many countries in the world!). I still wonder at who many of you are – expats lonely for home, far-flung childhood friends of mine, people who arrived here on a late night Google jag…? Just who, I wonder, are you? I do know one thing: you are my friends, wherever you are, whomever you are, and whatsoever brought you here. And in exchange for your love and support I send you my energetic good wishes for a life as free from emotional stress and strain as possible, and for many wonderful surprises in the future.

My grandma taught me that the best way to accept a gift is with sincere thanks. And so tonight I thank all of you with my very warmest regards, five hundred and one times over.

 

Opinions, Please… August 26, 2012

Hookay. Calmed down a bit since the last post. Which, by the way, was widely read and responded to quite enthusiastically. (Why should readership have peaked so dramatically? I always notice a direct correlation between the generous use of expletives and increased readership. But since folks don’t know the juicy words will be there until they’re actually reading it – I don’t see how that could factor in. But it seems to. Maybe y’all are just forwarding the ‘good stuff’ to your friends. ?) And thanks, for all the help and ideas. All of it is under consideration and is being thoroughly studied by my R&D department. It’s taking quite a bit of time to review it all, as naturally there’s a lot of material to read and digest. Once again I’m reminded of how big a world this is. Depending on my mood that’s either really bad news (it’s too intimidating) or it’s good news (there’s always room for one more success!). I’m kinda walking the line in between today. I’ll feel a surge of hope, but then doubt hits me and I feel like lying down for a really long time.

For example, here’s something that I just experienced a few minutes ago: I was checking in with one of my favorite writers, columnist for USA Today Craig Wilson (and former resident of Saratoga Springs, New York where I myself now live), catching up on a few of his past articles, and then decided to Google the stats for his daily audience. Daily planet-wide readership for the rag is a little better than 3 million copies a day. ! Seriously?! That’s crazy. And I got all excited the other day because my hits had grown from 1000 to 12,000 in just a few months, and my world map now had over 40 countries. What-ever. ! I must also remind myself that that number reflects only visits – not actual readers. Also, as someone pointed out this summer much to my chagrin, many of those hits – including those from abroad that get my heart beating faster – may well be accidental. Folks who may be searching for one thing and finding me instead. Oh well.

Undaunted, I carry on and make a plan. I will write to those folks whose writing I enjoy, and I will enclose a bit of mine. Maybe even throw in a CD. Or a rock. Something that might make my correspondence stand out. My first thought was to write Craig. His writing is gentle, easy – just cynical enough. No wonder he’s the choice for USA Today. His writing doesn’t offend, and it usually makes you feel good. I read his only book, a collection of essays entitled “It’s the Little Things” and, like many readers do, by the time I’d finished the book I felt like I knew him. It’s so easy to feel like that with the author of a memoir. I remember shortly after discovering Michael Perry last year (he has a new just-released book called “Visiting Tom” – check YouTube for the lovely promo video) I was fairly in love with the poor fellow. He’s a farmer, a writer, a musician, a parent. Hey! So am I!! I laughed out loud more than a few times as I read through his stories – and I guess I can attribute much of my warmth towards him to a deep gratitude for stirring me out of my laughter-free solitude. I’d felt so damn lonely these past few years out here in the country, and Mike made me feel so much less alone. I immediately got online and began to check out his site. His videos, his music, interviews. All of it. I got excited – it seemed like he might be able to offer me some help, some direction, some… something. I don’t know what. But I discovered that even this guy, who really isn’t that well-known, and for whom paying the bills is still a source of stress, he had far too many fans to deal with personally. Crap. My heart sank down to my toes when I saw his pleas: there were too many folks for him to respond to personally, that he felt bad about it, but thanked his readers for their support… That was the general gist of it. So I’m not sure about bugging him anymore. And after seeing that Craig has over three million pairs of eyes reading his daily column, I have doubts about writing him too.

Then I think again. Ok. Mike might be busy right now with his book tour and his new release, but he’ll be back in his little Wisconsin farmhouse by winter, and by then he might just have a little bit of time to consider a letter from me. Hm. And Craig, come on – that guy’s got a comfy day job. He’s got his routine, his nice house in a Virginia suburb… why he might even be getting a tad bored these days with all that routine. Who knows? Maybe he’s got the time to help me out. Maybe he might be happy to read some of my stuff. Give me some ideas, write a letter or two of recommendation…

In the ’90s I worked as an accompanist for a handful of comedy groups in Chicago. After so much time watching the actors doing their thing, I got to thinking that it might be something I could do too. Playing in the band in “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding” I enjoyed acting in a couple of improvised scenes, and from that I got the idea that I might do more. I’d played keyboards and sung on a handful of commercials and thought that on-camera work wouldn’t be much different. But for me, it was. I was just never good with cameras rolling. And it seemed the more auditions I went on, the more nervous and the worse I got. Looking back on it now I realize that if I’d just done more – rode it out, so to speak – I would have improved. I might have caught on. But I didn’t… and well, I didn’t. I really sucked. And my sucking, combined with my need for everyone to like me, that sucked even more.

This writing thing – the idea of writing other writers for help and guidance – it’s bringing up those queasy feelings I had at commercial auditions all those years ago. It makes me ill, and I just don’t like it. I know it’s different. I’m older, I have nothing to lose, and no matter how things turn out I still have my family, my chickens and my view of the mountains. So I’ll continue. I’ll get a plan, identify some goals, write some letters. But what material to include?

I’ve been going through the 200+ posts of the past year and a half trying to pull out a few favorites. But so far, I just can’t seem to choose. Friends, do you have any favorite posts? Even if you don’t remember the title of it, might you remember the gist of it? Was there a post or two you remember liking more than the others? I could really use some input. As usual, I’m easy to find; my email address is on the ‘about’ page here as many have already discovered, and of course, there’s always Facebook.

So please, if you have any ideas for me – send em! I can’t thank you enough for your help, for your company and your friendship. I really value your opinions, so please be forthcoming with them. I can take it. ! (I think.)

 

A Darkening Upon Me August 25, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 12:57 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Damn it. I’m just not cynical enough, I know it. I should be more ironic too. And slick. Yes, I should be hipper, slicker. Not sure, but I think so. And I’m not really funny. Endearing, yeah, sometimes, and probably amusing too, for a second maybe, but not laugh-out-loud funny. And I haven’t introduced my readers to any quirky, ornery curmudgeons from my rural neighborhood, no insane girlfriends have moved in and talked me into starting a cupcake business for the racing market of Saratoga, I haven’t confessed any radical sexcapades from my years as a rock goddess on the road, I don’t have an exotic pet that I carry around with me (although I did once have a parrot whom I carried to the market in a poodle bag until he chewed up all the woodwork in my kitchen and ended up back with the breeder) and I’m not recovering from an addiction. Well, kind of. I do still kinda want a cigarette every now and then. But naw. No one cares. That’s not a real jones. So. What do I got?

Well, I got a goose named Maximus who tries to hump me when I let him share the kiddie pool with me. He gets pretty excited sometimes, and I have to grab him by the neck and talk him down. So, well, there’s that. It’s funny I guess, but I haven’t been clever enough to weave it into a narrative yet. So it’s a missed opportunity, I suppose. I begin to wonder, are there any opportunities here at all? I mean, real gems, keepers? Is there any one thing in my entire blog worthy of an editorial staff – or more accurately an unpaid intern – anything that shows promise in its infant form? Perhaps I’m too dark; perhaps the gems are simply strewn everywhere and I’m tromping on them, unaware of the beautiful works they may yet come to be…

Here, in the mass of posts I’ve made over the past year and a half – here, amongst the some two hundred and forty thousand or so words I’ve assembled – at the very least, I must have created something useable. Something printable. Something worth a professional binding. Maybe? Oh fuck it. I don’t even know where or how to begin. It’s a self-help, educate-yourself-through-YouTube world and I still don’t know how to do it… Get an agent, I gotta get an agent. I know this. I’ve heard this. But seriously, what, am I high?  It’s a flippin huge world with big expectations and lots of rules. Just getting a friggin agent seems as unattainable as my getting into my beloved 1963 Avanti with the Studebaker engine and driving off. Seriously, even if I might have the gumption, I have no fucking clue how to start. Really.

In isolated moments of inspiration and hope I think ‘it can’t be that hard…‘  Then… Fuck it! I’m not gonna get into this mess. Yeah, just fuck it all. What a stupid idea. I’m not a writer. I have no street cred, no history or experience. Geez. I can’t do this. Really. I’m being naive here. Shit, I don’t know. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe I can do this… I gotta calm down here. This is no good. I’ve lost perspective.  I go upstairs, distract myself with a snack, some mindless tv. Gotta checkout for a minute. Go back downstairs to my desk. Sit there. Breathe in, breathe out. Now. Ok. Where was I? Publishing. Yeah. Just how is that supposed to work?  I still have no inspiration.

Man, I’m tired tonight.  But it is my window to work. Gotta make hay… Without my son here I’m free to think on it for another week yet, to even begin to consider a plan…. but then I realize there’s a huge process and a sophisticated industry that I know nothing about behind it all – and I feel stopped. And that’s frustrating. And exhausting. So for now I’m just gonna put it all down for the night, turn off the lights.

And for the next eight hours at least, things really are gonna get dark.