The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Tribe November 14, 2015

Sousaphone

Elihu loves everything low – especially if it’s made of metal. There is no doubt about it, this kid’s found his tribe.


Elihu’s flight got in very late last night, but the kid, he’s a trooper. He’s traveled a lot more than many adults I know, and in spite of having to deal with some really draining hurry-up-and-wait situations, his spirits seldom flag. Last night was no exception; he passed through the exit hallway as nonchalantly as if he were merely getting off the school bus. He coolly walked up to me this time – for the first time ever – without being followed by an employee of the airline holding out a clipboard for my signature. No one checked for my ID to see that I really was his mother. Nope. None of that stuff anymore. Just a lone ‘young traveler’ (as Southwest now officially refers to him) returning home.

Our reunions are different these days, and I struggle to remember what it felt like to see that tiny boy coming around the corner and running into my open arms. Now we just sort of pair up and begin walking to the escalators as if no time had passed, and as if we were nothing more than casual acquaintances. Which is ok, cuz however brilliant I may think my child to be, he is still 12. And self-respecting 12-year-old boys, no matter how much they love their mothers, do not want to be seen running into open arms, being gushed-over and animatedly doted upon. It’s my deepest desire to hold him tight and have him return the embrace, but I check myself. And secretly, I congratulate myself for holding back; because I actually do think that I’m settling into my new role as mother of a pre-teen with some style and dignity. It’s not easy, but it’s important to adjust, to respect the change that’s taking place here. And it’s got me thinking.

The little boy chapter is coming to a close, this new teenage chapter is yet to begin, and what follows is almost too much for me to even contemplate. One day, in a mere minute or two at the rate things are moving, my son will move out. And away. The way things are looking now (with his growing love of all things German), it may well be very far away. Our airport reunions will be far fewer. They may one day become more joyful, animated events, but nonetheless, there will be less of them for sure. As I sit beside him at baggage claim, I can see in the super-bright overhead lighting that there is a darker and more obvious patch of hair above his lip, and my heart sighs heavily. It’s coming. This young man is changing right before me. And one day, he’ll be out in the world doing his thing, and by then… it’ll be just me. I don’t mention this observation of mine, but as I study his elongated fingers and note how he sits almost as tall as me now, my heart whimpers. This will not be easy. I’m definitely gonna need a plan.

As we chat on the walk back to the car Elihu asks what I did this evening. I tell him that a friend had come over, and we’d had dinner and hung for a bit. Elihu asked about the nature of my relationship, and I told him. Me, I don’t want another element in my life. Not romantic, an any rate. I’m just not interested. “Does he know that?” Elihu asked me, sounding more like a bestie than my young son. I told him that yeah, I’d made it clear. There was a pause. “So, then, what do you want?” Elihu asked. I thought about the wide-open expanse of life in front of me and considered it a bit more critically than usual.

Recently, I’d made digital copies of some ancient videos. They represented so many of my old worlds, and it blew my mind to see things that I never thought I’d see again… My son, a tiny baby, being given a bath in the kitchen sink in our old house in Evanston. A clip or two of me at the radio station getting ready to go on air. Seeing Elihu’s father and me, performing together, happy and doing what I’d loved so well, it had cheered my spirits and saddened me all at the same time. Seeing me as an even younger, huge-haired rocker was amusing, and remembering that world was like peering into a dream… Then there were the alt-country bands, the indie projects and a million little worlds in between. Bits and pieces. A haphazard mosaic of my young adult life.

And then even longer ago here were fuzzy clips transferred from my dad’s super 8 reels of us as a young family – back in the early 70s when the Studio was just being built. Clips of concerts and rehearsals, of harpsichords being loaded into old Volkswagons. family dogs running underfoot, too-long scenes of cherished family cats doing nothing much at all. Almost every adult was smoking, and all were laughing and happy in this world of their own creation. I was peering through a magical window to see my mom, dad, Frank and Martha, and the many musicians who’d spent time with us in summers past as young adults – most of them far younger than I am now. These people were my whole world when I was young, and now many were simply dead and gone.

I thought of all the friends and peers whom I’d loved who were now so far-flung across the globe and fully embedded in their contemporary lives… All these groups I’d also been a part of once. All of it – the distant past and even the not-so-distant past – seemed in stark contrast to our current life. We had friends, yes, we had wonderful neighbors and truly good people in our lives, but still, there was something still missing. “What do you really want?” Elihu asked me again as we finally reached the car in the airport parking lot. After another moment of thought, I answered him, happy to have finally identified it for myself: “A tribe.”

Everyone needs to belong. Groups – in whatever form they manifest – are for most of us, essential. And all of us belong to several groups at any one time. Even here and now, in my somewhat smaller life, we belong to certain populations. The Waldorf school is one. Elihu’s peers, another. And there are those who help to make up our family by virtue of their physical proximity to us. But in revisiting these videos and recordings from another era, I’m reminded of the bonds that are absent in our current life. I miss being part of a community – of musicians.

Musically speaking, things appear somewhat fragmented in this area. I meet musicians who seem to know only folks whose genre they share. I inquire about folks outside their worlds, and they don’t really know much. Back in ‘the day’, in Chicago, while there were surely separate and distinct genres of musicians and scenes, there was often an overlap. Pop musicians would hire jazz guys to play on their tracks, jazz guys would stop in the dive country bars and marvel over the hidden talent there, hard rockers and R&B artists would mingle at the same parties. And me, I benefited from all of it. Me, I floated all over the place. As a result, I felt at home in many worlds. But the thing of it was, all these disparate musicians were aware of each other on some level. There was a commonality among all musicians, and one almost always felt an inherent sense of belonging. At least that’s how it felt to me. But here, in this small town, it doesn’t feel like that at all. Granted, I’m not working here as a musician, and I don’t get out a whole lot, but I’ve made some small inroads, and from what I can see, there are a lot of ‘micro scenes’, and no substantial cross-pollinisation between em. I’m not sure which population I might belong to. Honestly, I’m not convinced I belong in any of them.

Secretly, I’ve held the hope that one day I might bring the music to me; that I might create my own scene here, rather than searching for one out there. While the Studio is currently a bit too ambient and live a room in which to host anything but the most acoustic of musical ensembles, I hope to figure out a way to deaden it up a bit so I can begin to think of casting a wider net. As I imagine a future in which all things might be possible, I envision the room, once again full of people. Alive with music. A place in which people can meet each other. A place where a new tribe might assemble.

It is beginning to happen. Maybe not in a terribly obvious way, but things are starting to take shape. There is now a weekly yoga class. I see the looks on the faces of folks who are seeing the space for the first time. And just as in my father’s day, I hear people remark with surprise as they scan the room that they had ‘no idea’ a place like this existed here. But it does, and it calls for people to gather within its walls.

As the room fills with a dozen middle-aged moms in search of time for themselves, I begin to see more possibility growing… When Kristin dims the lights and begins to coach our bodies to move and our minds to relax, I begin to feel a future growing in this place. The way isn’t clear yet, but it isn’t as vague as it was a year ago. This is a time of transition, I remind myself again. I need to be patient. I also need to stick to my to-do lists and be vigilant about following through and keeping on the path. Things will get better, the way will get easier, and someday, oh I pray, I’ll find my new tribe along the way.

 

Chapter October 4, 2015

Sometimes they start and end with a defining moment, but mostly they overlap, fading in and out with such subtly that we don’t realize the times have changed until long after they have. Looking back one can see with clarity how and when the events and circumstances changed, we can note the point at which certain characters left or our joined our drama, we can remember ‘times’ as if they were distinct acts in a play, yet when we sit in the midst of our action, deeply embedded in our own scripts, it can be a challenge to see the bigger picture.

Recently I came upon a pile of fringe on the floor of my cellar clothing storage room, and recognized it to be from an antique dress that I loved well. Made in the 1920s, I’d worn it throughout my career with the Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago. A deep ache began to grow in my chest. The dress was likely ruined, but I didn’t dare confirm it. Nor did I pickup the mess. Instead, I sat and felt the grief fill me. I wondered why it broke my heart so? I thought back on all that had happened in that dress… I remembered the stories, the scenes, the cast – the soundtrack. I tried to console myself; the dress was in tatters, but hadn’t I used it well in its time? Hadn’t I myself enjoyed those days as deeply as I ever could have? Yes, I had. I’d always enjoyed myself to the core. What bothered me so deeply now was not so much that that time in my life was over, but rather that I never actually understood when it was that it closed. I was never warned that there would be no more gigs, no more crowds, hands in the air singing ‘Brother Can You Spare A Dime’ in full voice, smiles all around – the whole thing was over before I knew it was over. And that’s what got me. In order to give myself some kind of closure, I stood there and let myself remember…

I’d been young, pretty, and fairly on top of my game. On stage, in front of that band, dressed in those one-of-a-kind vintage dresses, bedecked with bracelets and hip-length necklaces, kohl-eyed and as animated as ‘the it girl’ herself, I glowed. I emanated fun. I was always chatty with the audience, slightly inappropriate, slightly bawdy; camp enough to give the show some punch, self-deprecating enough to endear myself to fans. The tunes were those I loved best, and although the charts were mostly written for a man’s voice and had me splitting lines and finishing them an octave above or below, I loved them all. The music was charming, the guys and the gals in the band were charming – and our audience was charming, too. It was a cast of characters united in their deep love for the dusty songs of a time long-gone. I must have known the door to this time had closed when I moved away from Chicago to the corn fields of Dekalb. But no, even then I had an occasional job with them. Enough to make me think this band might slow its pace, but would always be there in my life, chugging along… It was only when the building in which the band enjoyed a steady engagement (at Bill’s Blues) burned to the ground a couple of years ago – long after I’d moved to New York – that my heart finally understood it was over. There was no going back now. And this poor dress, after nearly one hundred years of service, is done with its career of dance parties and concerts. This is not to say that its life is completely over; the dress may yet provide years of service as a costume – perhaps in a high school play, or in a little girl’s dress up trunk. But its show days are over. That chapter has closed.

The thing about chapters and books is that you know exactly where you stand with respect to the ending. You can clearly see how many pages are left. From that, you can figure out how to emotionally pace yourself. You might love the book so well you put it down for a few days, so as to make it last. You might love it so well you cannot put it down, and so you consume it immediately. Either way, it’s your choice. You control things. You can choose to skip to the end of each chapter and ease your mind by learning that things finally do come out ok, or you can simply take solace in knowing that ultimately it’s just a book, and as such, it has a finite life. And no matter what the outcome, good or bad, it will come to an end. And you know exactly when that will be. At any given time in your reading of that book you can tell precisely where you are in relation to the ending. Me, I like that feeling. That definite knowing. If only we could know how many days were in a life as well as we know the number of pages in a book. A pity we don’t, I say. How much more carefully we would write if we knew how many pages we’d yet to go.

It’s been said of me by friends that I tend to look backward more often than forward. And I suppose I agree. I get nostalgic and misty over past decades quite easily. In my defense I offer that it’s because I have had some very good and memorable times on this planet. It’s also been said of me by friends that I’ve lived half a dozen lives already. And I would agree with that too. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have lived this life. I’ve piloted a 40 foot sailboat through a storm on the Atlantic, I’ve jumped out of planes and hosted a radio show (not at the same time!) I’ve sung in front of thousands of people, I’ve played a sparkly accordion, I’ve traveled to unusual parts of the world, I’ve butchered a chicken, I’ve raised a child. I grew up in a house full of harpsichords, my summers were filled with New England lakes, Baroque concerts and life on a farm. From a young age my father took me to hear jazz, and my grandma showed me how to dance to Jelly Roll Morton. My Pakistani father-in-law and Chilean mother-in-law opened my world to a still-wider cache of experiences. I learned to make new kinds of food. I cooked food on a private boat as it motored down the Mississippi, I avoided day jobs by taking hundreds of temp jobs and doing singing telegrams, two tanks of helium in my trunk on the ready to blow up balloons en route to my hits.

My memories are jammed to the rafters. And as I recall some of them, I can almost pinpoint the times at which ‘mini eras’ came to be, and the times at which they came to a close. Funny thing is, when I was actually living these memories, I wasn’t necessarily aware of them as chapters. All I knew is that I was following the events as one prepared the way for the next. And when an era came to an end, it certainly didn’t feel like it. I may have sensed things were changing, but in the back of my mind I guess I always thought that things would continue on as they were… Maybe that’s because I am not good at goodbye. Change is relentless, and I know it’s not healthy to fight it, but still, it’s not something that sits easily with me. I like things steady and for the most part, unchanging. But to be fair, if life didn’t lead me to new experiences, I’d probably cry of boredom. I guess the trick to living happily in the balance is to be aware of things as they are happening. Perhaps this is a gift of aging. Even if I knew it before, I know it so much more keenly now: savor, savor, savor. You may not think so now, but chances are good that one day hence you’ll look back and miss the way things were this very day.

My son is in seventh grade. If ever there was a time in which things change, this is it. I know it was for me. My first real crush, the first time I ever shaved under my arms, the first time I realized how complicated it all was. Elihu comes up to my ears now, he might even a bit taller. His skin is still smooth, but the hair is coming in differently on his legs, his toes and feet don’t look like a young child’s anymore, and soon, very soon, he will become taller than me. And I’m ok with this, poignant though it may be to my sentimental heart, because now I know to be on the lookout for it. I will not be taken by surprise by the forthcoming chapter, dammit. Each day I note how subtly he is changing. I soak up our time together now because I know that one year from today we will have entered another era, and things will likely be very different. Being aware helps me in my process. I just wish I’d thought this way all those years ago – as I left the Aluminum Group days, as I left the sailing crew days, as I left my days of city living…. I guess I always thought I could return, effortlessly, to those experiences. I didn’t quite realize that each chapter requires a certain, magical alignment of the stars, and that that magical composition morphs and moves on just as surely as do the eddies in a river…

One week ago today, when the Studio’s last guest was gone and I stood alone in the space, a clipboard full of new email addresses under my arm, I knew then that we’d experienced a beginning. The beginning of the preceding chapter was easy enough to define; six inches of standing water covering the Studio’s floor left me nowhere to turn. The moment my eyes first looked upon the flood I knew things had shifted. I just wasn’t sure how things would pan out…What followed was a chapter full of incremental changes, movement at a snail’s pace that could hardly be detected from up close. Yet things had changed. In a big way. And finally, we were here. I’d spent a lot of emotional energy coming to terms with the idea of my father’s era truly being done now, and it was a good thing the process has been slow – otherwise I might not have had the heart to go through with it. I needed the time to find emotional closure to the old days before I could step across the threshold into the new ones. Looking out on this empty hall, it occurred to me that one day this time will be looked upon with some nostalgia and interest, too. When my son takes over, or the board votes me out, or a theater company buys the whole shebang and puts a new wing on…. This will be the era that came before, upon which people wax nostalgic…

I may not know how many pages are left in my book, but at least I know to write more carefully as I go, being ever mindful of my surroundings as the chapters unfold. One day I hope to leave behind a fine book, with a fine ending too. But for now, it’s just one sentence at a time.

 

Thinking Thanks November 27, 2014

It’s often my son who turns me around. Sometimes I self-police, but usually it’s him. I’ll moan over my arthritic, misshapen fingers, or worry about running out of heating oil, or I’ll make some grumblings about the plight of the divorced, single mother, and there he is, to turn it all around. “But just think, you can play music with those fingers”, and “Isn’t our house nice and toasty right now?: or “If it weren’t for you and daddy splitting up, we’d never have known this life!” Sure, I’ve said all those very same things to myself, but it always helps to hear them again from an outside source. Yes, all of this is true. And while it’s become something of a trite, Facebooky sort of platitude by now, it really does make things so much nicer when we’re deeply appreciative of all that we do have, right now. It’s always easier to condemn than to praise, likewise it’s often easier to feel disappointment than gratitude. But putting that extra oomph of energy into turning it around, and seeing things ‘half full’ is worth the effort. Contentment becomes the prize.

Yesterday we spend a snow-bound day inside and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. The kitchen is currently a hot mess on account of my negligence, but it doesn’t bother me. Nor did it last night, as Elihu and I cozied up on the couch and looked over his favorite childhood books together. Nor did it distract me when we decided to actually use our fancy, modern tv in the basement and watch a whole movie together. ! Nor did I fret over the unkempt house when we went outside in the darkness to marvel over the still-falling, sparkly snow that lay in great mounds over everything.

We retired late. The two of us often rely on help to sleep – benadryl for him on bad nights, half an ambien for me – but last night we both gave it a go without assistance. He got into my bed, and we chatted a bit after I turned out the lights. “How is this going to end?” I asked him, “If we both love talking so much?” “Ok, Good night” he said, and not another word was spoken, although we both tossed and turned for a good forty-five minutes before we finally slept. But a good night’s sleep we had, and my dear child is still in bed as I write.

Later today we’ll go to grandma’s for a proper Thanksgiving dinner. There may yet be drama to follow, but for now I’m not worrying about it… I’m looking forward to all the annual food favorites – all around a proper table, on the good china, with good wine… After that we’ll pack up a meal and bring it to Martha at the farm. Our family traditions have morphed and diminished with time, but I’m grateful that things are winding down slowly, and not changing all in an instant. It was a year ago today that my family had its final meal together, and with dad being gone this year, it feels different. We’ve had time to adjust, thankfully, and all is as it should be. Throws a bit of a nostalgic, melancholic feeling on things, but still, there’s so much we do have – and so much that we have already had in our lives – that it’s ok. Sad some moments, but happy others. Such is life here on Earth – contrasts we struggle to reconcile, losses we must work to accept. The stressors in our lives may constantly vie for our attention, but today it’s best not to listen. Instead, let’s look around the room and sigh with satisfaction at those simple gifts we are so blessed to have in our lives right now.

IMG_1638We needed to fix our dove of peace that floats over the garage at this time of year…

IMG_1633Elihu is a great help.

IMG_1642Still needs a little tweaking, but isn’t she lovely?

IMG_1662The first thing I see outside this morning: the beautiful view from our living room window to the southeast.

IMG_1699The sun pokes through for a moment as powder falls from a branch.

IMG_1650The view from our kitchen window, in the same direction.

IMG_1654The birds need a little help this morning! Platform feeder’s under a good eight inches…

IMG_1657Stanley the Tree Sparrow on the kitchen’s dry erase board.

IMG_1678And my dearest bird boy, sleeping in on a snowy, Thanksgiving morning. Thankful am I.

 

Turning Tween May 2, 2014

Maybe it’s because of the landmark birthday. Maybe it’s because he himself feels that something should be different by now. Maybe it’s the recent onslaught of the relentless Pokemon sub-culture that has created a divide between us. Maybe it’s because his very physiology is changing. It could be any one of those things or more that have us in a new place in our relationship. It’s pretty clear to me now, we’re entering into new territory; my son and I are entering into the world of the pre-teen.

Yeah, my heart sinks a bit to admit it, but I know for sure that something here is new. It still feels foreign – really wrong, in fact – when I think about such a change occurring between the two of us. We have always been a team, but it doesn’t quite feel like that right now. I’d have expected some sort of mysterious change in our relationship had he been a girl, but I guess I’d thought the mom-son thing might be immune. No matter, something present in our relationship is changing, and I need to adjust. And I need to help make this transition smooth. I need to treat him gently, and with love and understanding. I need to remember how I myself once felt to be on the verge of that kind of change. To be at the doorstep of sixth grade, with its first heavy heart breaks, the complex web of communication and misunderstanding between friends and classmates, and not lastly those strange physical changes that just add to the insecurities of the age. I need to honor what it is that he’s going through. And most of all, I need to give him more space.

We two, like-souled and blessed with uncanny communication have become subtly divided over the past few months without my even realizing it. We have begun to become what our peers have already long been: parent and child. No longer are we somewhat parent and child, mostly peer and friend (I know, I know, folks will chide that this is unhealthy, unrealistic, impractical and more. Say what you will, so far it’s worked very well.) Now our relationship feels just a bit different. There’s nothing wrong here, and we still laugh and play together, but a definite shift of sorts is taking place. And it’s all ok – it’s to be expected. Elihu is growing into a healthy individual, I get that. It certainly helps to keep that in mind when bedroom doors are all of a sudden closed, bathroom doors too, when normal conversation is embarrassing, when my previous silly antics – while still entertaining to his classmates – have now become horrifying for him to witness… Keeping this big, pre-adolescent change in mind helps me to ignore my slightly injured ego when he recoils, tells me angrily to “please stop” or even worse, begins to tear up in embarrassed frustration. I have to remind myself that I too am shifting gears here; what’s worked for the past few years no longer does, so I’ll need to figure out the new boundaries. I’m just beginning to get a handle on it, and I hope that until I do my dear son can trust that I have his back, and that it is not my goal to embarrass or horrify him in front of his peers. I may not edit as much as he’d like, but I will do my best to demonstrate to him that I’m still on his side. (And I hope I can do so without making him into a spoiled brat. It’s tempting to want to acquiesce and buy him that coveted Pokemon card to show him what a pal I can be…)

This new place is not a bad place to be, really. As soon as I begin to lament the passing of my tender young child, I find myself enjoying a bit of relief as Elihu takes on new jobs around the house. In fact, he’s responded resolutely to my requests. I can sense (not just a hunch, we two have discussed it) that he needs more responsiblity around here. He sincerely wants to have more regular duties in our household. And I gotta say, after years of doing every blessed last thing myself, I am more than ready to delegate a couple of jobs.

It’s still a bittersweet place to be; from this day I can remember well what it was to hold my small child only a few years ago, and yet at the same time I can picture a young man preparing to leave home. So many nights I’ve nearly wept with exhaustion at the unending job of motherhood – the baths, the meals, the laundry, the cajoling – the usual stuff. Some days my dearest wish has been that my son not need so much of my goddam help anymore. When, I think, fed up and simply aching for a moment to myself, when will this kid grow up already?

I’d thought we were probably past it, and wondered if I hadn’t been doing it more for me than for him this time ’round, but tonight Elihu asked me to please read to him from our beloved Burgess Bird Book for Children. A rare, first edition copy nearing a hundred years old, we both love the quaint language and thorough accounting of birds that the main character, Peter Rabbit, encounters as they return to the Old Orchard with the coming of Spring. We first read it the Spring he turned six, and I’ve read it aloud to him each year since. Feeling a bit grouchy at the end of a long day and possibly on the verge of another self-sorry rant, I asked if we might want to skip the book tonight. In response, Elihu got kinda quiet, smiled up at me and shook his head ‘no’. My heart thusly softened, we cozied up together in bed to enjoy a couple of chapters.

This time when I reached for the ancient book my heart skipped a beat. A dim awareness had been growing lately, but I had been to afraid to name it. My hunch would no longer allow itself to be ignored, and my heart sank deeply when the question finally spoke itself to me: might this be the last year I’d ever read this book to my son? “Very possibly” was my answer. Oh-oh. All of a sudden I wasn’t so sure I really wanted to be over and done with my job. And when I located the bookmark and opened the book, I noticed that we were halfway through. And you might even say I panicked ever so slightly when another thought then occurred to me… We were halfway through our beloved children’s book, and we ourselves were halfway through Elihu’s childhood. The day that I’d prayed for on so many mother-worn nights was finally within sight. Oh dear friends, do be careful what you wish for…

I know how the remaining chapters of Mr. Burgess’ book will go, but I don’t have the same clear vision for our own story. I am, however, fairly sure that it too will end happily, while setting the stage for many more beautiful seasons yet to come.

 

Center April 20, 2014

IMG_8983

My beloved old home, my one-time center.

This past week I’ve spent dozens of hours going through old photographs and documents and projects and letters and recordings and videos and doodles and poems and journals and mementos and, well, stuff. So much stuff. Each single piece represents a project that was once upon a time the perfect center of my universe. A decade all about The Aluminum Group, two decades singing with my ex-husband, a few years of radio programs, a couple of years with this band or that, a short, intense relationship with any number of one-off deals; demos, sideman jobs, showcases… Each long-forgotten recording brings me back into a tiny universe unto itself, with its own cast of crazy characters, with its own sound, its own feel…

Here, in the country, in the middle of ten acres with chickens my only current companions, I can easily begin to feel as if my past lives were just as much a dream as last night’s. But they weren’t, and there is something inside that compels me to document it all, to acknowledge it, to remember it, maybe even to relive it. Thanks to Facebook I can share some of my re-discoveries, and that helps bring some resolution. But what of all this material? What to do with it? And at the end of the day, after I’ve re-visited much of my past life as a musician, why is it that I feel less like I know who I am – and not more of who I am? The problem is, I guess, that I feel I’m all of those people. The jazz singer, the accordion player in alt country bands, the hard rocker with the hair, the white R&B queen with the steps, the one with the vintage keyboards singing the middle harmony part… even the gal playing her dad’s harpsichord on a track here and there… And of course part of the problem too is that these days I do none of what it was that I used to. So naturally I feel its absence more acutely.

I guess what feels strange in looking back, and what also felt a little isolating even at the time, is that I belonged to so many different musical circles which seldom intersected. I remember always feeling a bit like an impostor in each world. And now, when I have no real musical identity but that of years past, I find myself searching through old boxes to rediscover who it is that I most miss being. Who do I most identify with – where was my musical home? It’s just not possible to answer. Also, a handful of my fellow musicians are gone now, and that leaves me feeling even more at sea. This has been a long week holed up in my basement, trying to organize and in some fashion catalogue all the ancient material. Man, why should anyone even care? I find myself wondering. But then again, why not? What if? What if one day… one day my son wonders what his mom did when she was his age. What if? I’ve only just discovered a wonderful cache of dvds of my father’s concerts here at the Studio… Having a window into that time is priceless and precious to me now. And so, with that sentiment still clinging to me, I put the endless boxes of tapes back onto the shelves to sort themselves out later. A girl can only do so much.

I find photographs too. And some of them have me crying. I just kill myself with what-ifs sometimes. I see a photograph that captured just perfectly the feeling of our old home in Evanston, and I miss it so much I post it on Facebook, hoping old friends might offer some comfort, some sense of familiarity, of family even. Of center. Problem is, in each memory I uncover, I remember how it felt when that was my center. Of course I can know where my home is now (and it finally feels it) but on this holiday weekend when everyone’s talking about new beginnings and happy Easter, happy Passover, happy Spring…. It doesn’t feel quite right. My father’s not here; our family is unbalanced. My brother is a mess, and who knows, maybe my mom misses my dad as much as I do now. So who, what or where becomes home? Where now is the center of my world?

I had some errands at the mall today. Usually malls make me panicky; the large, open spaces, the constant drumming of background noise, the energy of all those people… but today it made me sad. I saw old, overlooked people pushing cleaning carts, limping grandpas pushing walkers, lost and lonely-looking souls everywhere, just walking ahead, vacant gazes on their faces, just going, going, going…. but to where? And when they were done with their search for satisfaction, where to then? Home? What was for them, I wondered, watching these displaced loners, the center of their lives? Was it a cozy chair, a bedroom, a corner of the kitchen at home? Memories of loved ones now long-gone? Just how lonely and isolated were these people? Did their center exist years ago, never to return? Hell, did my center exist years ago, never to return?

My son’s been gone over a week, so maybe that’s helping me think like this. Maybe that’s partly it. I don’t know. But today I’ve been unusually wistful and everything – everything – seems to have a grinding poignancy about it. Everything from a seagull wheeling in the sky to an old man shuffling through the mall… all of it seems loose, free, ungrounded, without destination. Comfortless, centerless.

Maybe I’m also feeling this way because  tomorrow a local chamber music group is holding a concert of Bach in dad’s memory. Mom and I are going. Andrew, being rather a wild card, is not. It feels sad that mom didn’t feel it ‘safe’ to include him. But I can agree. So there the center erodes even further. And one day my mother will follow my father, my brother will be lost to me in his illness, and my son will move away as children are supposed to. Then what? What defines me then? Where will my center be then? I can’t seem to get any true and clear vision for the future, and my past can’t stop reminding me that I’ve left it behind. My dad is gone, my husband long gone, and my family as I’d always thought it would be is gone as well.  But photos and recordings remain. Maybe that’s why I can’t let em go. As much as they might seem at times too weighty an anchor to keep around, when I do have the time to investigate them for a moment or two, re-discovering these tiny treasures restores my hope. So I guess I’ll hold on to them a little longer, because it seems the evidence of my past might just become the centerpoint from which I move into my future.

 

Life So Far October 29, 2012

Dictated to me tonight. Wish we’d done more of this over the past two years, but it just never happened. So glad we got this one down…

October 29th, 2012   by Elihu Scott Conant-Haque

You know, as I look back at all the years I was in Greenfield School, I realized that although I’ve had so many experiences at other schools, I really have had most of my life there. Even though I’d had five years at other places, I really became aware of where I was at age five, so that’s why I say my “whole life” was there.

Greenfield School had been a good school. I mean, I’d been famous at the place, not that I’d had many friends. And it was true, I didn’t have many friends, though it varied; sometimes I’d have a lot, maybe for a week or two, and then they’d remember that they played sports and that they were “cool” kids, so they couldn’t hang out with me. And then it would go back to just Keithie and me, and maybe Carter. Keith is a tall boy, a fast runner (unlike me) and he plays sports. He’s an outdoorsy type, he rides motorbikes – he even has his own – and can do huge bicycle jumps. Not that I’m not cool, I am, just in my own way. I guess Keith had been the only kid in my class to realize that maybe I was cool – in my own way – and that’s why he was friends with me. Cause usually, a kid is friends with you only if you’re cool – and you have to be cool in his way.

Anyway, the years at Greenfield seemed to pass quickly, as I look back at them now, a fourth-grader going to Waldorf, with many, many friends (not that I’m popular.) Greenfield was a good school, it’s just that, I guess my eyes sort of contributed to the way I acted, I don’t know. Because the school seemed really chaotic to me, but not to others; they could deal with it. Ha, they wouldn’t have even cared even if it was chaotic for them – they would have just kept on going. But that was then. Now is now.

I guess you probably want to know more about what I’m doing at the moment than what I did a couple of years ago – though all this seems interesting to me, because it’s funny to look back on my own life now, and see all the things I never would have realized then.

At Waldorf, things are going pretty good. I mean maybe it’s not true that I’m totally loaded with friends. A friend is sort of a different thing than a classmate that really cares about you. A friend is someone who’s willing to play with you at recess rather than doing their own silly sport that you can’t understand. Now friends are nice to have, and there are two real good friends I have at Waldorf. Cora and Sophia are their names. They’re twins. They have freckles and short, rusty-colored hair. They’re both a little taller than me; Sophia’s about an inch taller and Cora is about two and a half inches taller. Mostly everyone is my class is taller than me. I’m the second shortest, next to Phoenix.

It’s a good school, this new school, Waldorf. I mean, I’ve been here for about six months, it’s not like it’s really new. I’ve mostly set into the things I have to do. They’re different from Greenfield, though there is homework. I have to do spelling. But the thing I like most about Waldorf is that it’s not as chaotic as Greenfield, it really isn’t. It’s a gentle school. And singing is a big part of the day. Since I’m a very good singer, that was obviously a nice little surprise that I didn’t know of when I first came to the school. There are many beautiful songs we sing. One we’ve been practicing especially hard on is a song called “the Goose Song”. It’s a beautiful song, with a melody and harmony part. We have a class of 22, so when we sing both parts together it sounds amazing. But it might not sound quite so amazing, because sadly, Sophia and Cora are moving soon.

Well that’s about all I have to tell you about Waldorf and Greenfield. I’m really happy to have this written down. It makes me feel good to know that somewhere in all these files, in our little Mac computer, tucked away under a little stool, in a little bedroom, in a little country cottage, where live a little boy and his mother, is a whole story of that little boy, looking back. And to know, that somewhere in that little boy, he feels happy.

 

Night Snack June 6, 2012

I think I’m dreaming, but I’m not quite sure… my son and I are running through the tall grass of my parent’s property in the dim light of early night, searching for the source of a skirmish we hear. A bird of ours is in distress, she is being attacked by something. He is far away from me, nearing the hen and her attacker faster than I am, and I begin to fear for his safety. ‘It can’t be any creature that would harm him’, I think as adrenaline comes over me. It looks a lost cause as I get nearer to the spot. The grass is too long to pinpoint the trouble, and it’s dark enough now that I believe our attempt to save her is lost. I am now aware that if it’s a dog moving in on her there may be more dogs closing in soon. My son himself is hardly tall enough to be spotted in the undergrowth and he seems all of a sudden vulnerable to the imaginary pack now sifting out of the woods and coming in closer. I call to him to stay back, I tell him we need to call this off. “Just come back!” I yell across the darkening field whose perimeter of forest now appears as lightless as black velvet. I feel some relief to hear his feet rustling back to me, the sound of his footsteps blending with the terrorized movements of our hen.

I now realize this is a dream, and the fearful mood dissolves just a bit, enough for me to begin to consider that I am replaying a version of what might have happened to the hen we had recently found dead in the garden. Then I begin to associate the dead carcass we’d seen in the garden with the meaty, tangy and tough strips of cured beef we like to indulge in every so often, and note how that kind of food feels as crude and real and death-like as the event that’s going on before us. As my focus now begins to turn in earnest to the idea of beef jerky, I realize that I would very much like some of that now. My dream fades a bit more; one half of me wants to remain in that dark field and finish our quest, retrieve our bird and scare off the predator, yet the other half of my mind is now seriously attached to the idea of beef jerky. I realize I’m hungry…. hey, I didn’t really have supper, did I? No, just broccoli. Man, I really do want something like that.. do we have any? Now I am indeed waking out of the dream. I am still able to shout one last thing to dream Elihu, but now I’m not sure he’s with me anymore. He’s still putting his energy into stopping the kill… so I finally leave him there, and open my eyes.

12:12 am. I smile to myself. That’s a number been in my world a long time. Got married on 12/12. And I am hungry. Salami. Got some of that. Started to buy it only recently for Elihu’s lunches. Is it enough to get me out of bed? I wonder, as I take an assessment of just how comfy I am, lying here under my warm covers rather than with cold, wet feet out in the middle of a field as I just was… Ok. Now I am awake. Yes, salami it is. And then the other half of the second-to-last sleeping pill to make sure I can truly get back to sleep.

I’m up. The salami does a good job. Not jerky, but salty, chewy. Kind of. I step outside and notice that it must be cloudy, because it sure is light out for the middle of the night. All that light from the mall, from the stores on 50 that stay lit all the time. All of it bouncing up onto the ceiling of low-lying clouds, keeping the land underneath bathed in a constant glow. Maybe something healthier to cap off this snack. A strawberry. Have one, leave two for Elihu’s lunch tomorrow. Just as I finish it, I realize I have bitten the inside of my mouth ever so slightly, and I notice the sour taste of the small cut mix with the tang of the strawberry’s last flavor. For a microsecond the two tastes are almost one. I worry it with my tongue to check how much it actually hurts. It upsets me for the briefest moment, til I remember what a familiar sensation it is. All the dozens of times throughout my life in which I’ve ever so slightly bit the inside of my cheek by mistake, the lingering salty, sour taste of an open cut left behind. I imagine myself if I were dying of some disease, thinking with nostalgia on something as preciously mundane as this, and becoming happy instead to experience it once more. Hm. One swallow of seltzer water will end this snack perfectly. Without checking the bottle, I grab it from the door of the fridge, take the top off and take a swig. It is not what I’d intended; instead it is the sickly sweet, no calorie sparkling lemonade I’d bought in anticipation of Elihu’s school chum coming over. Our seltzer water is too foreign and fancy for him, so I’d bought this. A taste of plastic hits me, and immediately I see the flourescent lights of a grungy corner garage where they sell Mountain Dew and stale candy bars.

My snack ends. So many images, all in a matter of mere seconds, wafting up from disparate corners of my memories. Waking in of itself becomes a dream. I shuffle back to my bed still going slow, energy mellow, hoping the transition back to the dream side might be more seamless than other nights. Roll into covers hardly pushed back, my body’s form still held by the pillows and blankets. Onto my right side, for I am a mostly a right side sleeper. Tuck it all in around me, and very soon am dissolving into the mysterious dimension of dreams once again.