The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Direction February 29, 2016

IMG_3612O degrees. True North. Everything starts from here.

This has been quite a week. Although on the exterior our life doesn’t appear to have changed much, beneath the visible surface of our everyday comings and goings the tiny eddies of life are swirling about us, tugging us along to join up with new currents on unknown trajectories. Serendipitous events fall into our path, questions and open-ended quandaries seem to solve themselves, and in spite of the tiny disappointments that tempt us to mope and wonder ‘why me?’, there seems to be a general lightening of our load; a new pathway through the woods is gradually emerging; our direction is becoming clearer.

(At this point let me warn readers that this may be an unusually lengthy post. Those who haven’t the time can check off a paragraph at a time or return later…)

Only this morning did it really dawn on me that I am, in a way I have not been since the birth of my child, free. Elihu and I have had several candid and long conversations about this changing time in his life, and it’s fast becoming clear to me that he is fairly capable of taking care of himself.

Yesterday, however, we experienced a small bump in the road when he came home near tears after having done poorly on two tests. He prides himself on always doing well, on always understanding the material. But, like me, he is a bit of a spazz and sometimes easily distracted. He misses assignments, he loses papers, he bites of more than he can chew and then freaks out over his heavy load and then must rush to catch up. And yesterday, he was not only heartbroken over his poor performance at school, but he was simply exhausted. He didn’t need to tell me either; he had dark purple crescents under his eyes, and his pupils shook visibly (with Achromatopsia comes the partner disorder Nystagmus – or the slight quivering of pupils – something which becomes more pronounced when a person is tired. Poor kid, he’ll never be able to lie about that. I can always tell when his body’s had enough.) His performance was so uncharacteristic that his teacher had even called me shortly before Elihu arrived home from school. I had been ready. It was time to check in.

When Elihu is this tired, his eyes cannot tolerate light. I know this well, of course, and every window in our tiny home is covered with a film of tinted plastic, including the huge picture window in our living room. But even that is not enough to filter out the light to a tolerable level when the kid’s as wiped as this. I pulled the curtains shut, then invited him to join me on the big couch. He sat next to me, and I scooped in the pillows and draped our bodies with a comforter. He snuggled into me, tears still pouring as he relived the math test and how he’d balked at material he’d thought he understood. He was deeply disappointed to have ‘ruined his record’, of having done poorly on both math and language arts (for a kids who’s doing Ghost from Hamlet and who simply milks the language for all it’s worth, this was a surprise). He’d completely missed an assignment to study vocabulary words – how did he miss it? he wanted to know. I put my arms around him as he calmed down, and I waited for the moment to turn things around.

I assured him I knew exactly how he felt. And I did. I also reminded him that when things are mysterious and seem too much to comprehend – break things down. This was something I’d had to remind myself of over and over this past week as I drafted the final bylaws for the Studio. Break it down. We reviewed his days, his class schedules and the means by which he learned his assignments. We found a few holes in his systems (or lack thereof) and discussed a few ways we could both be proactive in improving them. Good. Progress. As we chatted – for more than a half hour – we also talked about the near future, and the way in which he would soon be changing. He’d had deep aches and pains this week, and my guess was that it was due to his growing. We both had seen the massive volume of food he’d eaten – when just a few weeks ago he had been eating like a bird. And certainly the girls in his class were changing. This seemed to be the window in which life as we’d known it thus far would turn into something quite different.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” he said from his cozy nook inside the nest of pillows, “but I do want to move out as soon as it’s possible.” I knew what he meant. “I want to be on my own. I like being on my own.” I told him I understood. His grandma would understand, too. So would his uncle. All of us enjoyed our solitude. He went on with his thoughts, “I don’t always like all the extra help you give me. And you know the way you label everything so I can find it, and you’re always saying (he raised his voice in a silly mock-adult tone) ‘Oh, I’ve put everything where you can see it, and I’ve installed safety handrails in the refrigerator’?” We both laughed. “Is it that bad?” I asked. “I’m just trying to empower you to get stuff for yourself. You know that, right?” He agreed that he did, but assured me, colorblind or not, legally blind or not, he would one day have to figure out all this stuff for himself. I assured him that I just wanted to give him an easier entree into the real world. And I promised him not to worry – that before long, his life would be all his.

_______________________________________________

A few days ago I went to Albany, the state capital of New York, to pick up copies of my father’s incorporation papers from 1959. When I examined them to see that they were all in order, I was taken aback. There before me were the original articles of incorporation, mission statement and all. Every page, of course, hand-typed. There was my father’s creation, there was his dream, first made legally manifest. There was the address from grand Passaic Avenue, the house where he had grown up. My goodness, he was young back then. This even pre-dated his first apartment on West 57th. It was hard for me to imagine this time in his life, and what his vision for the future might have looked like back then. There, beneath his name were the names of his dear friend and attorney, and also my Godfather.

All three of these men were now dead. It was a strange moment to see their names listed on the paper – poignant to be sure; for all of these men still seemed real to me, still so present – as if one might simply pick up the phone and hear their voice on the other end – and yet to realize at the same time that they were all gone from this earth. These men were gone. I sat for a moment in that that strange, foreign feeling, a bit numb, a bit overwhelmed by the gravity of this new reality. For the moment, I was the person who needed to bear the work of these three gentlemen into the next era. If I hadn’t come to this place in my own journey, their vision might have ended when their own lives did. Hopefully, I would now convey this creation of theirs forward into the future, and just maybe, beyond my own lifetime, too…

I was lost in nostalgia and sentimental thoughts when I snapped to, realizing that this was a busy place, and while all these thoughts and feelings were filling my head, there were folks in line behind me who had their own stories that needed an audience with the Department of State. I tucked the documents into a folder, and as I turned to leave, I smiled at the Indian gentleman who’d announced me earlier, when I’d arrived, as ‘a young lady needing some assistance.’ !

Having this document finally in my hands somehow seemed a piece that had, until now, been missing. It felt like a confirmation, telling me unquestionably what my job was now. What my father had started, I would continue. Seeing the text before me, the mission, the declaration that ‘no person shall enure benefit from said corporation’ … I knew there was no turning back now – and my spirits were greatly lifted to see this all in black and white, to hold these papers in my very hands… I left the office building (how exciting to be in an actual city once again, and to ride a, gasp, elevator!!) and hit the rainy streets to head back to my car, deeply invigorated to see this thing through to a successful conclusion.

____________________________

Heading back to the highway (it’s surprisingly simple to go from my modest, rural home to the bustling state capitol!) I stopped at a strip of third-world looking storefronts which boasted things like international calling cards, halal meat and wigs. Perfect. I needed a few Indian staples which certainly could not be found in my ultra-white part of the world. I entered a shop where I saw a short woman completely covered in a black hijab, and I was taken aback at the sight of her eyes peering out from the tiny, rectangular slit in the fabric. I scolded myself for wanting to stare longer at the foreign-looking figure and made my way between the narrow shelves piled high with sacks of dal and rice, searching out my favorite mango pickle and some candied fennel seeds for Elihu.

When I returned to the counter, I was again surprised by what I saw. A plump, middle aged white woman with graying hair stood at the register. She wore a leopard print head covering which was pinched together under her chin. I couldn’t help myself. “Excuse me”, I said, “You’re a white woman. What are you doing here?” Honestly, this was a story I just had to hear. “Well I’m Muslim!” she declared, without offense, but with a touch of surprise. I mean, didn’t her clothing alone tell me that? “Yes, I can see that. But come on, I mean – you’re here…” I waved my hand towards the shop, the halal butchering station in the back, the enormous sacks of wheat, piles of nested plastic lotas…. “I mean, you know….” And there we began what was to be an hour and a half conversation which covered every subject imaginable, from our ex husbands (whose names are remarkably similar, and so are the stories!) to a comic moment during her colonoscopy to where one finds the truly authentic cous cous around here…

We zipped, free-associatively from one topic to another, with me unintentionally playing the anthropological interviewer… I cannot help myself; when I get the opportunity to hear a person’s story, I want all that that person is willing to give, and all that my time will allow me to receive. I thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and I’m sure Hope did too. When I finally gathered my things to leave, I mentioned something about food – I had wondered where I might get some naan before left the neighborhood – and instantly she plunked a package down on the counter. “Here, take this.” It was a lump of tin foil inside a plastic bag. I knew exactly what it was. The package screamed Devon Street from ‘back home’ in Chicago. It said ‘Pakistani food’ down to the generic smiley face on the bag. “It’s chicken kabob with naan. It’s from my ex’s restaurant.” I protested, and I asked if I took it, what would she eat? “Oh, honey, I can get more. Believe me, I can get more.” After the backstory she had just shared, I knew for sure that she could.

Giving food is a deeply personal gesture, and so too, I suppose, is receiving it. It struck me later, as I opened the fragrant package and served it for supper, that it is a supreme act of trust that one eats food from, well, a stranger. But it is also a living metaphor for the way in which we must simply trust each other in this life. How we must support each other, show kindness and give of ourselves when the opportunity arises. How we must learn to receive as well as give. Thus we are all interdependent upon each other, no matter how solitary our private lives may be. And in the giving and receiving of such gifts, one is made to understand that ultimately, the directions that our lives take are each so influenced and guided by those few and special friendships and associations which pop up along the way.

Elihu and I had the most flavorful dinner we’d had in a long while, made tastier still because it was altogether a surprise for both of us. We thanked Hope for our meal before we ate, and then we chatted into the night, pausing here and there to tear off small pieces of the naan, chewing thoughtfully, slowly, until there was finally nothing left on the plate but crumbs.

___________________________________

For several years now, I have wished to own an altimeter. I find the topography in this part of the world mysterious and fascinating, and have always wanted to know precisely how much the ground is dropping or rising as I make my way over the countryside. The elevation of our house is a mere 300 feet higher than the city of Saratoga Springs, just five miles away, and yet the perspective is radically different; we can see far over the top of town to the Hudson Valley beyond, and the Green Mountains of Vermont are visible in the distance. I’m even amazed how the view improves simply by standing atop the porch roof – just eight feet of elevation makes a huge difference. And I can’t help but see the metaphor here too; a small change can make a big difference in how things look.

Not that I can ever truly justify buying things I don’t need (when heating oil, food and electricity are still so hard-won each month) but there was a short time a few weeks ago when I actually had a little room to buy something. The altimeter was still very much on my mind, so I bought it. Finally, after years of comparing and thinking and mulling and asking and reading reviews, I found myself this little gem of a tool – clock, barometer, thermometer, compass and altimeter, all in one. !! I didn’t hesitate to order it, and since the thing arrived I have not let it out of my sight. I check it second by second as I descend down the winding road into town, I check it as I walk the driveway or down the hill… The compass has become a new find, too. Having paid more close attention recently to the position of the rising sun on the horizon, it’s been very satisfying to learn at exactly what points on the compass things are happening. I always kinda knew North was a bit out the front door and to the left – ah, but now I know precisely how far to the left. And it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to know exactly where I stand.

Having the compass in hand reminded me of a time a good decade past, when I was at the helm of a boat, all by myself, in the middle of the Atlantic. It was nighttime, and I was taking my turn on watch, at the wheel. The weather was getting rough quickly, and the auto nav feature, which had been working only intermittently until then, finally gave out. The large wheel began spinning quickly (as it was no longer physically linked to the navigation system) and I had to grab it, stop it from spinning, and then restore our original course. Here was my dilemma: there was now no screen to tell me where we were, and it was raining – there were no stars to use, either. I righted the course as best I could, but intuition is of little use in the dark and in the middle of an ocean. One needs firm bearings. How could I do this? How could I make sure we didn’t end up 300 miles off course by the time the rest of the crew woke up? There was nothing at hand with which to tie the wheel in place so I could go and get help, and no one down below (all of them sleeping through the storm) would have heard me, even if I had screamed. What to do?? Man, how did they do this in the old days?

For a moment I sat with this, in the dark, puzzled, but strangely, not afraid. And I remember the moment when the answer came to me – because I laughed like a crazy person (while buckets of water landed on my head as if thrown in from off-camera in a movie scene). I needed to use the compass! I mean, duh!! The enormous glass dome that sat inside the wheel was an old-fashioned, magnetically-driven compass! I remembered our fix and turned the boat back to its correct course. I sat there for three more hours, holding onto the wheel and muscling it to keep firm as the ocean tried endlessly to tug it away from me. When my watch was over and my relief came, I released the wheel and my arms instantly became like rubber. Only after the whole affair did the gravity of it really sink in; I’d seen the toe rail dip several feet under the water as we listed at a frighteningly steep angle, the sails were under way too much power, and I was the least equipped of the crew to have been in charge under such circumstances. I suppose on the whole, looking back at it now, I was lucky. I had lost all my modern support system, and the stars, too. But that compass kept me on course. That trusty gadget told me exactly where it was that I needed to go. Seriously. Thank God for that blessed invention.

Unless I take off into the deep woods around here, I’m not sure my compass and altimeter will ever become much more than a novelty.  But no matter, I’m thrilled to have it, because I enjoy the feeling of knowing where I stand, and just where everything else stands in relationship to me. Somehow, having that little gadget at the end of my keychain, always with me, it gives me a sense of comfort. It’s all there, telling me exactly how I relate to the world. And I love it.

_____________________________________

I certainly know where I stand with Martha’s niece these days; not long ago she sent me several very angry emails regarding her Aunt’s bracelet and barometer which she feels I stole from her. As I understand it, she was upset enough to have considered taking legal action. While I love Martha dearly, and hold the few trinkets I have of hers as my most prized possessions, this is territory I do not care to enter into. I boxed up the items, wrote a letter of apology and expressed my hope this would help make true the saying Martha was so fond of, that “Everything always works out.” I just don’t understand what inspired her anger; I have never been the target of such bitterness and accusations. It surprises and shocks me still, but I can no longer take it personally, for honestly, she doesn’t know me. And sadly, she doesn’t care to, either. Thus concludes the relationship between me and the Ward family. Ah well. (Martha and I are still good. This I know.)

It feels like I’m getting a clearer sense of where I stand in my life, too. Recently, the Town of Greenfield made an inquiry as to the status of the Studio, and when I called to follow up and check in, I got the feeling that my relationship with the town might be on shaky ground. I did my best to assure the town assessor that things were moving along, our future looked good – but that wasn’t what concerned her. She wanted to know just what exactly was going on there. She noted we’d had some recent renovations but had not communicated this to the town. Me, I don’t know the procedures, so if I should have let them know – or filed a permit, I surely didn’t. I realize being unaware of a rule doesn’t always get you off the hook for not abiding by them, but here I hoped she’d go easy on me once I’d presented all my paperwork. After all, the only thing I ever set out to do was repair the damage from the flood that happened just after dad died. I just wanted to fix it so we could use the place once again. I did, and here we are.

My attorney gave me a checklist last year to help keep me on track, (something which I’ve been dutifully avoiding until now), and the woman who’s helping me with my books has been another Godsend, as she too provides me with not only to-do lists, but a good deal of positive, maternal energy, reminding me to breathe, telling me it’s all ok, that I can in fact do this (my choice of words might be more like ‘pull this off’, as if it were a heist or something). Like my dear son, and like so many other human beings are wont to do, I have put off dealing with this whole affair until it was absolutely unavoidable. But the looming deadline given to me by the town has forced my hand, and over the past week I’ve rustled up some of the most dynamic people I know to help pilot this ship. I’d held secret hopes that these certain women might share the dream with me, but til my back was against the wall I hadn’t had the conviction to ask them. But I did, every last one – and I couldn’t be more thrilled that they all accepted.

So things look promising right now. At least on paper. Or so I think. I’m not much of a numbers or papers kinda gal, but I think I did a fair job of dotting my Is and crossing my Ts… At the very least, I aim to be as transparent as humanly possible. My only intention is to be given the platform and support with which to create and grow a small center of arts and human interaction. And while I may not know exactly how it is that I’ll get there, at the very least I have a better understanding of where it is that I stand in the world, and my direction is becoming clearer every day.

 

 

Relic July 3, 2015

It’s not my home anymore, and today this sight is truly a relic of my long-gone past, but still the shores of Lake Michigan restore my soul as nothing else can.
IMG_0183


In the wake of Martha’s death, things have changed around here. For one, in the short time between the lovely farewell party we held for her at the farm and the day in which her relatives returned to organize her house, several of her belongings had been stolen. It had to have been an inside job, which leaves the few of us who know the place well to be suspects. I don’t truly think Martha’s niece thinks that we did it, but I can’t know this for sure, and that cloud of distrust has given this transitional chapter a very unsettled feeling. But it sure helps to wind things up there, and at the same time helps propel me back into my own life, something that’s been on hold for a while now.

It’s more than strange to see the farm no longer inhabited. Not a soul remains. Only stuff. Things upon things, more piles and objects than one can comprehend. It is a house that has been receiving its contents for half a century. And now, with their final caretaker gone, they sit, silent and enigmatic, most of their stories lost to those who are left to dispatch with it all. For me, I don’t find myself wondering so much at the items – if the stories are lost, at least their purposes speak for themselves – but more to the point are the unanswered questions – why was Martha saving all of this stuff? For what use was it all intended? Hoarding can just as easily be achieved with elegant, historical relics as it can with modern junk. In the end, things that aren’t of use are essentially just that. Junk. Stuff that sits inert, waiting for someone to give it a new life. So while this house may seem at first glance to be full of precious antiques, I see it a little differently. I see it as a repository for things that at present aren’t realizing their potential. (And in some ways, I also see the place as a mirror for my own life in this moment.)

When mom, Elihu and I visited Chicago a few weeks ago (for the memorial of another dear, old friend), we were given the rare opportunity to see the places where my parents raised my brother and me – and personally it was a way in which I could finally say a deep and meaningful goodbye to those chapters in my life. Our old home had been lovingly restored, the new owners more than happy to share with us every nook and corner of the place. We had the good fortune to eat familiar, much-missed food at places that were once regular destinations in our lives. We re-acquainted ourselves with the new city skyline, saw neighborhoods where some old places were razed and new ones erected, and we took it all in with enthusiasm and great interest. The lake, the unending stretch of beach that goes on for mile after mile, that boundless expanse of horizon which I still miss so very much… We saw it all, and we experienced it all together. And at the age of eighty, I’m not sure my mother will return in her lifetime. I know I will never return in the same way. (As for Elihu, he doesn’t remember his Chicago life, brief as it was, so for him it’s just an interesting anecdotal chapter that came before his time.) This trip was the perfect conclusion and farewell to our former lives. And this time it made coming home to Greenfield truly feel like coming home.

Shortly after we came home from our brief visit to Chicago, Martha died. And a week later, we had her memorial celebration. After that, the items went missing from her place. And now, the farm is no longer our space to enter freely. Ultimately that’s ok – there’s plenty I need to get to; the Studio, my teaching, my own home and property, my chickens, my health, my daily routines (which have been anything but routine over the past month or more) and, of course, my son. I’m resurrecting my quest to find piano solo jobs in this bustling tourist town, and last night made more than a dozen stops in my first attempt to sus out how things work these days. I learned plenty in just six hours of conversation and visits. I’m not up to speed in many ways. I’m out of practice, unfamiliar with my songs, my keys, even the silly lyrics. And technology? Forget about it. My lack of a smart phone and tablet all but cuts me off from the world around me. My songlist itself needs some serious updates (I’d thought I could hang my hat on the novel concept of being nostalgic and ironic, playing mostly a diet of guilty pleasure radio hits for the over 50 set, but the wisdom on the street is that I need a serious infusion of more current material, regardless of my cute little shtick.) I recall a time in my life when I had several hundred songs up and ready to go without a second thought; now I second guess it all. Did I really ever do this before? Was I really a musician in a former life? I certainly never jobbed with a vengeance, but I got work. More importantly – I almost always had work; and if I didn’t, it ended up finding me. Here, in Saratoga, a world in which I’ve never worked professionally, I don’t have the infrastructure of dozens of musician friends nor the good reputation I once took for granted to proceed me. And I certainly don’t have that ‘famous’ guitar-playing husband to help give me an added boost of credibility. All I have is me. (And a new rig, thank God. Wait, make that ‘thank mom’. !) Here, in this ‘new’ town, in this new life, it feels like I’m a relic.

Things can change, this I know. And thanks to a handful of magically timed recent meetups with some very wonderful women I know and a little outside perspective, I’ve been able to reinvigorate the vision. If it weren’t for my hairdresser – whom I merely visited yesterday for a quick hello – I wouldn’t even have set out to meet all the people I did. She urged me to go and close those deals which I’d proposed just a few months ago. And sitting in her chair, whom should I meet but an old friend of Martha’s. It seemed another push from the universe to let go of the past and move into my future.

My day started at six a.m. and didn’t end until lil man was back home and we two settled into bed around 2:30 (his flight from Chicago – where he’d been visiting with his father – got in after 1. A super late night.) My day started by learning, praise Allah, that I didn’t have colon cancer. Pre-cancerous polyps, but that was all (my grandparents died of colon cancer, and my cousin, two years my junior, is on her third round of chemo in her fight against the disease). My day filled quickly after the doctor’s appointment, and I only returned after dark to close the chickens in before I headed out to the airport to pickup Elihu. It was a day full of unplanned-for events, the enjoyable company of friends, and the gleaning of much important professional information. I felt a bit like an outsider though. Yes I’d left Chicago more than six years ago by now, but I’d been cloistered away ever since in the role of rural, impoverished, single mom. Yesterday it felt like I was starting all over again. But at least I was beginning on my own, not in the wake of a famous husband, not on the reputation of a varied career as keyboardist, not as a frontman for a well-loved band, not as any of those things. Just as me.

I still have a hard time letting go of my past life because sometimes I worry that nothing can match its glamour; that instead of a fruitful future, I can expect a long, bleak road ahead. That kind of thinking has been easy to succumb to in the past, but I need to get rid of it now. It’s ok to hold on to a keepsake – there’s nothing wrong with being in possession of a relic or two – but there’s still a lot of junk in my house that no longer serves me which I need to clear out, so that a new life can have the space and freedom to move on in.


IMG_0085The most beautiful, perfect sendoff for our dearest Martha. Michael made a fine toast (we all raised a glass of Martha’s regular evening drink – gasp – Apricot Brandy) after which we all sang Martha’s favorite song, “Simple Gifts”. That big, beautiful farmhouse came alive again, and I’m sure wherever Martha was, she was pleased.





A real-life tableau, undisturbed for decades.

___________________________________________________


Ever a practical woman, Martha wrote her own obituary, as well as her final wishes and disbursements here in this plain, spiral notebook. She called her matters ‘mundane’; simple though they might have been, mundane they were not.

IMG_0152A last image of what has been our ‘normal’ for the past five decades. Mom and Andrew sit in the kitchen at the farm as they have since he and I were tiny.

______________________________________________________

 

IMG_0048Is my own collection of stuff any less of a mystery? How in hell did this crap all find me? Another garage sale of epic proportions in on the calendar for this summer. My house will not end up like Martha’s. (Besides, there’s no space; it’s a mere four rooms to her ten.)

IMG_0052I am of the opinion that if you do not see it, you will not use it. I’ve labeled all this stuff and use it all pretty regularly. I’m doing my best to keep my crap confined to this storage room and nowhere else.

IMG_0058I’d thought my new rig was so modern and ready-to-rock, but alas, the bulky 3 ring binders of charts (and my reliance on them too) instead of a handy tablet is a handicap in this day and age. No matter, for now it’ll have to do. Until I can store it all in my brain, that is.

IMG_0103I try to keep my world as simple as possible. Hopefully, a tidy home will provide a solid platform for a full and invigorating life to come. If some things are about to change in my life, I’ll need some things in place that never do. That’s just the kind of gal I am. I’m fine with some change, and I feel it’s important to routinely clean one’s house out of unused items, but I utterly depend upon some things remaining just as they are.

IMG_0025Here’s a pic of our first-born hen this year, whom we named Martha. Sadly, for no reason I can understand, she died one morning this week. We’d never before had a hen who was half red and half white. She was as unique as her namesake.

IMG_0014I don’t cry anymore when our animals leave us, but my heart still breaks. I’d hoped to have a living remembrance of Martha here on our tiny farm, but I’ll have to let go of the sentiment and attachment. Sorrow and regret can zap a person of their hope, and I need to keep mine strong and healthy. Goodbye and thank you, tiny, feathered friend.

IMG_0002It’s not exactly in my backyard, but Saratoga Lake’s not terribly far.

IMG_0011Our house on the hill lives in the middle ridge of this photo – in the darker blue section just above the treeline, with the Adirondacks beyond. For me this is a new body of water, a new horizon. This beautiful view gives me a new perspective on things, and that’s something I could really use right about now.


       Post Script: Martha suffered a stroke in the mid 80s which left her left side paralyzed. While she was able to drive for a while, and did far more than one would expect for a person in such a situation, she was clearly stopped in her tracks by this life-changing event. It has been posited that her stuff remained in disuse because she was never again able to resume her activities and projects as she’d planned after her stroke. Heartbreaking to think how everything can change in a minute. A good reminder for us all to use our lives as fully as we’re able, and while we’re able, too.

 

Hope Burning March 3, 2015

I’m trying to imagine how everything might look right now if I knew I were dying.

Tonight the moon is out, and from every window in my house I see a gentle, rural scene. Beyond my kitchen window to the north I can see a thinly wooded forest through which the moonlight passes, leaving slender shadows in the sparkling snow. To the right of that there is a deep swath of open yard which stretches up and over the rise; it’s defined at the far end by a stone wall and row of trees beyond which lies another large field. I can also see the lights from my neighbor’s homes in the distance, and it feels nice to know they’re not right upon us, but still, just close enough. I like knowing that. Through my living room window to the east I see the ridge of the horizon, and lights twinkle from the hills beyond the Hudson River. There are people living out there, under those twinkling lights, and I like knowing this, too.

It’s a modest house for sure, but it’s cozy, it’s comfortable, and I think that most of the people in this world would be happy to call this place home. For just a second or two I’m able to conjure the feeling that I’m looking at it for one of the very last times, and for however many times I’ve so deeply missed the homes I’ve lived in before this one, for however many times I’ve lamented ending up here, alone at the end of a long, country driveway – now, in this moment, this place feels like the most important place of my whole life. Tonight, this place is my only home. It’s where I want to be. And until recently, it’s where I’ve always felt safe from the world.

Less than an hour ago I heard that a friend, who’d discovered her breast cancer in what she’d thought to be its earliest stages, had learned through her recent surgery that it was worse than previously thought. The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. A diagnosis I’ve heard many, many times in the past decade of my life… It doesn’t always end the same way, but it’s a long, difficult road to travel no matter the severity of the disease, and I don’t envy those who’ve had no choice but to take up the charge. I’ve seen friends fight tenacious cancers, some triumphing after incredibly brave battles, some succumbing after equally courageous campaigns. And in the end, who in hell knows why some people make it, and some people don’t? No one, of course, deserves to get cancer. And no one deserves to die of it either. But when the patient is either the parent of a young family or a practitioner of the healing arts, it somehow seems all the more unacceptable.

Last night, Elihu and I had dinner with a neighbor, who brought up the subject of another town resident who was, although putting up a kick-ass fight, dealing with a lethal cancer. His mother had died of it, and he himself hadn’t even discovered it until it until quite recently – when it was already stage four. He was a relatively young guy, and with three young children he had a lot to live for, but still, it didn’t look good. Truthfully, it looked bad. But in spite of how imminent his death appeared, my heart lightened to hear a new tone in our hostess’s voice as she offered rather brightly that of course he still had a chance. (Funny how one latches on to hope – however small or unlikely it promises to manifest.) I myself had only learned of his diagnosis a few weeks back – after, I’d seen him in a local liquor store and given him some grief about his newly launched vodka business. He’d cited some local lore on his product label about which I questioned his firsthand experience. But he sure showed me; he’d known more about it than I’d thought he would, and even had the class to acquiesce about a point on which he may have put something of a romantic spin for the sake of salesmanship.

After my needless challenge of his new product line had concluded, he cheerfully asked after Elihu, remembering his charismatic performance at the Greenfield Elementary Talent Show a few years back. Our kids had ridden the bus together for a few years, and Elihu, whether this man knew it or not, had fairly idolized his namesake son. Maybe I should have told him? I wasn’t sure how relevant it was at this point. Just as well I didn’t go on…. In hindsight, I so wished I’d have stopped babbling sooner, and just played it a bit cooler. I had remembered to congratulate him on the new business, but still, I guess I just feel as if I’d been a bit foolish, a bit trivial spewing all that ridiculous banter to fill the space. I know it’s the common, everyday stuff that matters – it’s banter mostly that keeps the world turning – I just wish I’d been a little less enthusiastic in my pursuit of it. After all, there was some serious courage on display right in front of my eyes, and here I was chattering on as if it was a day like any other. Of course it was a day like any other – and when you’re sick, don’t you wish for your life to go one all around you as if it truly were business as usual? But then clearly, it is not just another day. A confusing mix of realities.

Both my parents have had cancer. My cousin’s been undergoing repeated rounds of chemo over the past several years in an effort to keep her colon cancer at bay. Our grandmother died of colon cancer. I myself, for the second time in as many years, have pre-cancerous polyps growing inside of me which need to be removed. The office gal at the gastroenterology group is nonplussed at my status; it’ll be months yet before I can even get in for a first appointment, much less get the things lopped off. “They’re slow growing” the gal on the other end of the phone tells me in a near monotone, the subtext being “We know what we’re doing. Don’t freak out here.” In past years it’s been another thing to tick of the to-do list, this year it’s something that begins to really frighten me. I mean, what if? What’s to say it shouldn’t be me too? There is no fucking justice in the assignment of disease. I am just as human as the dad down the road with the young family, or my friend and acupuncturist with the breast cancer. I am just as unsafe as they are from a surprise diagnosis. Nothing saved my old college beau from dying of Leukemia before he turned forty, or my dear musician friend dying from esophageal cancer shortly after that, or my old childhood pal passing from lung cancer before fifty. None of those jovial, loving and spirited young men deserved to go, nor did their loved ones deserve to lose them. From my earth-bound perspective these good souls deserved none of the shitty hands they were dealt.

In spite of the cheery demeanor that goes out before me in the world, I live my life in an ever-present, low-grade state of fear. And lately, I’m more keenly aware of just why. Making my way through life feels like I’m walking through a field of land mines. And now that I’m past that fifty mark, people in my life have begun to leave at an increasing rate. Right and left I hear stories, I learn that ‘so-and-so is gone’, or ‘didn’t I hear that she had only months to live?’ or ‘it was so sudden, and then he was gone’… It almost doesn’t shake me quite so much – at least not as much as it did say a couple of years ago. And also because many of my friends who have died have been out of my immediate, day-to-day world, their deaths have seemed somewhat unreal and distant. But the frightening reality of death has settled in all around me now, and I find that I’m even giving my eleven year old son simple directives should it be learned that I too have something possibly terminal. I’m not sure how comprehensive Medicaid is, but I am surely at its mercy. If a treatment isn’t covered, it isn’t going to happen. I feel a growing pressure to archive the work of my life, to get it organized clearly – so clearly that someone other than me could go through the mementos and understand their context and stories. I want my footprint to be tidy and identifiable, even if I know it will only eventually recede back into the rolling sea.

We passed a house today that I’ve always liked; it was a small cottage nestled into the side of a mountain, part of it was made of local stone, the rest a deep gray clapboard with white trim and tidy black shutters. Many were the daydreams I’d had about what life might look like if I myself lived there… Today I saw that it had recently suffered a fire. Gutted. It was black with soot, and dusted with the flurries that had started to fall again. I know most people’s first hope would have been that the residents got out safe. Somehow, I always take that as a given. Instead, my first thought is usually I hope they were able to save a few favorite things. But this time, after a moment’s more thought on the matter, I changed my mind. No, that wasn’t what I hoped for this time. This time I really did hope that they’d made it out safely, and hadn’t dawdled on account of the memento box.

My arthritic hands have started to make playing the piano painful; they’re beginning to twist in different directions and ache all day long. My vanity had already given up, but this new physical challenge of simply playing – of doing the only thing in the world that I’m truly qualified to do – is breaking my heart. It’s making me fear for the shape my fingers will be in ten years from now if they continue at this rate. But then, I remember my friends and what they face. And as with everything in life, when the road gets harder than you could have ever imagined in your worst dreams, the unimportant stuff somehow falls away. It’s not about living so much pain-free as it is about just plain living. It’s not so much about grabbing a box of mementos on the way out. It’s about steeling yourself, gathering your courage and getting the hell out of harm’s way.

Tonight I’ll be thinking of my friends – all of those who face deeply frightening health challenges at this time – and I’ll be sending them as much love as the airwaves can hold. I’m surprised to find I’m not quite out of hope yet, in fact I’m turning up the dial now, and I’m emitting as much hope out into the world as best I can… I pray they receive it, and like some sort of beacon, it will help them find their way out of the burning house in time…

 

Dream Gift December 25, 2014

For the most part, my dreams aren’t that mysterious. While they take place in some fabulously surreal landscapes, the subjects are easy to recognize. My dreams are a Dadaesque montage of various and sundry events from my current life, taking place in the settings of my earlier life. Usually things happen alongside modified versions of a vast lake (Michigan), in a place under a canopy of trees (Evanston) or beside a modern city on that same lake (Chicago). My inherent nostalgic bent thrives as I sleep, and upon waking I feel a hazy sort of satisfaction to have returned ‘home’ for a visit. My dreams look backward, not forward. I see no sense in keeping a dream journal to glean hints of powerful hidden foreshadowing, because from stem to stern, I’m just not the kind of gal who thinks a whole lot about the future.

Until last night. I slept in fits and starts, due to a stubborn cold which made my breathing difficult and irregular, and as a result I was able to awaken in the midst of several dream sequences, all of which I can easily recall. And the thing that struck me, as I reviewed the scenes in my head before rising, was that they took place here. And now. And – more intriguing to me – was the fact that they were all somehow centered on the Studio. There was construction, industry, there were people working together, sharing the vision… Hammering, drilling, the smell of lumber, the sight of studs awaiting drywall… At one point I awoke in a start, yelling out loud “We must have two bathrooms!”, and found my heart pounding as I sat up in bed, still panicked that the contractors had overlooked this very important feature…. When I came to, and realized that we did have two bathrooms, I was greatly relieved. I pulled the scene back into my mind’s eye and studied it more closely. Now this was interesting; there were some design ideas there I hadn’t considered before that just might work… Merry Christmas indeed. This felt like a gift.

People may tire of my manic swings, hell, I myself can’t believe how low and high I can go in such short order, and how endlessly I can do so… But I’ve long been mulling over the idea of what’s missing in my life these days, and how I need to redefine myself and live into the future ahead. A lack of planning skills is in some way why I’m here, now, in this present funk. So I need to start envisioning how it all might look one day… Elihu will be gone into the world in too little time, and if I think I’m having an existential crisis now, just imagine how it’ll hit me then!

I know, as well as everyone does, that the main objective of life is to express love in the world, and that expression takes its form in service to others. I’m not a big fan of hard work, or methodical process, so I’ve chosen to do my part in the service sector in the guise of smiles to strangers, small talk to disenfranchised-looking folks and such. Not meaning to sound too full of my self, I do admit a certain ease when it comes to expressing compassion and connecting with people. Elihu once remarked about me that I seemed to make friends wherever I go. Yeah, kinda. But that’s easy. I kinda feel I need to step it up a bit more.

I love teaching, I love coaching kids, and it’s the best feeling in the world when they get something. Hell, I love it when my adult students get something. I have never been a particularly hard worker, so I’m keen on sharing my slacker shortcuts with anyone. If I can save anyone else from all the time spent not understanding what the hell was going on – in music, in life, in any endeavor – then I feel I’ve done something of service to my fellow humans. That’s all well and good, but somehow, I gotta cast a bigger net. But I’m so afraid. I try to identify what imaginary, invisible thing it is that holds me back. After spending the last two days reading the memoirs of three successful women writers, I can identify one thing right off the bat: I don’t have an insatiable drive for success. Seriously. I am fucking lazy. I’m not being all needlessly self-effacing here; I’ll admit that when I’m in it, I’m in it. And I can work my ass off. I can produce tangible results like crazy. I’m good at organizing, assessing and restoring visual order (when given the wide-open space and freedom from parenting duties). So yeah, I can work. But it’s private. There’s no one to judge, to witness. And like I said, I don’t experience this kind of work ethic until the place is clear of kid duty. And see, that’s one big problem. These other women did it fine with kids in the mix. Me, I just don’t get that. Plus they had spouses, boyfriends, even goddam deadlines. I do remember the adage “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”, and I can vaguely remember a time in my life when that might have been said of me, but right now, the way I feel here and now – forget it. I get panicky just trying to envision coaching a small ensemble, never mind running a series of educational programs and making sure that our 501(c)3 papers are in order. Shit. How will this work? I can’t do this. Can I?

I gotta. The key to ridding myself of panic, of that paralyzing horror, the key to wanting to wake up in the morning and not distracting myself all day long by keeping a super-tidy house and making a killer tasty supper – the key to all of this is to be of service in the world. I thrive on being a good mother, and I thrive on buoying the spirits of those who seem to have withered under the weight of it all – cuz I so get it – but I think it’s time to be brave and take on more. This cold I’m currently experiencing has done a nice job of presenting me with a swath of guilt-free down time. Time in which to read, to learn what it feels like in someone else’s head, to get a new perspective, to digest… It’s been a good couple of days. My nose is sore as hell, I can hardly hear a thing in my right ear and my eyes are still disgustingly red and watery, but it’s all good. In a way, this miserable cold has kinda been a gift.

It’s hard to imagine that my position at Waldorf is over, at my choice, and that I have no tether. With an audience to witness this internal struggle, I haven’t left myself an opportunity for escape. (Believe me, I wrestle with whether or not to even include the whole Studio story here. I am so tempted to pretend these thoughts never happened, so tempted to continue teaching, being a mother, collecting eggs, all as if nothing else mattered. Who knows, I still might do that. Just sayin.) If nothing else stands to motivate me, I must remember my father. I cannot allow this amazing gift of such a beautiful venue go to waste. If nothing else, I must continue his legacy. It’s taken a year (and even so, I’m still not completely there) to realize that I can never, ever hope to come close to doing what he did. His gift was early music, and it’s not mine. To try and continue as before is impossible. Hard as it is to come to terms with, it’s true. I can only do what I do. My gift is connecting people, uplifting people, sharing insights, being a host. So I need to follow the spirit of my gift, in whatever form it needs to manifest.

It was last year on the 27th that dad died, and a year ago January that the Studio flooded and ruined the gorgeous oak floor on which so many performances had taken place. A year since my heart was doubly broken. While I haven’t done as much as maybe I’d originally thought I would in the year since, I have to understand that this has been an important year, a necessary year. Like my cold, this stopping-in-my-tracks business of the flood, the demo and the slow start to rebuilding, this seemingly fucked up situation has actually turned to reveal itself as a gift. The gift of time for inner adjustment, the time to let go of what things were, to begin to nurture an idea of what things might yet be…

Recently, the forester called me to say they were ready to put the landing in for the logging equipment. Two years behind schedule, the logging of my family’s woods was finally scheduled to happen – which would not only put some money in the coffers to continue rebuilding, but it would, in the process, provide the Studio with its own parking lot. I can’t remember feeling as happy, joyful and hopeful in years as when he told me the news. We’re waiting on a good deep freeze to get the heavy equipment in, and because it’s been so warm and rainy lately, I almost feel as if it’ll never happen. As if the call from the forester might just have been a dream. When I get super down, I try to conjure that feeling of excitement, of progress. Not sure I’ll believe it til I see it. The drive is marked, I’ve circled the keeper trees with nylon tape, and the crew will call me when they’re on the way. I’ve been told that when it starts, it’ll happen fast. Which is good, cuz I could use some forward movement just about now.

In such unsuspecting ways do these life gifts reveal themselves. And in so many ways, this waking life itself is kinda like a dream. It meanders around new corners and pushes you into strange, unanticipated situations. And sometimes, I think, it might just be better to be surprised. Isn’t it more fun sometimes not to know what happens next? After all, it’s the element of surprise that makes it so exciting to unwrap a gift…

 

_______________________________________________

Post Script:  Speaking of service, today I remembered Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr. as I searched my shelves for some new inspirational reading. My father and he were friends at Yale, where Rev. Sloane was chaplain – the two of them also sang in the Yale Glee Club – and I had Bill’s last book “Credo” autographed one year as a Christmas gift for my father. I was fortunate to enjoy a few conversations with Reverend Sloane; at the time I didn’t fully appreciate how lucky I was to have spoken with him. In revisiting some YouTube videos of him recently, I have a new appreciation for the fellow. In person he was just as warm and supportive as you’d imagine him to be. Here’s a short clip of Bill receiving an honor for his service, and some of this thoughts on the state of our world…

 

Badass Not September 17, 2014

Back in the day, I kinda thought I was a badass. I wasn’t, of course, but I tried hard to convince myself – and many of the people around me – that I was. Inside I was full of self-doubt, but I was still together enough to pretend to the world that I was fine. More than fine. And truthfully, there were moments when did indeed feel strong and confident. Maybe there were some moments when I really was a badass. Good at something in my own way. I think I knew it on some level, yet still, a voice nagged at me… They’ll figure you out one day if you’re not careful…

But for a while, there was something I truly did have going for me. I was in shape. And for a few years there, fitness was my thing. Really my thing. Worked out six days a week, and worked out well, thoughtfully. I’d have women come up to me and ask me for tips, for help with their routines. Back then I hadn’t the life experience to know that a good measure of that fitness was, plain and simple, thanks to youth. And thanks also to a chronic sense that somehow I could just never measure up. And so I made up for it the best ways I could. Being a mini rock star in my small sub-culture, dressing fine, and being on stage – whether I actually was on stage or not. Always fundamentally insecure, always trying to appear that I wasn’t trying. And frankly, the only true barometer I had that showed me I was truly good at something was seeing my hard work paying off in the form of a fit body. So I kept at it.

Until, of course, life took over. My story is not unique, really. Nope. Woman has kid, becomes busy, hell, becomes divorced, poor, run-down by the duties of the post, and, well… Next thing you know a decade’s passed and thirty extra pounds have come to live on your frame. It does sneak up on you. I had no true understanding of how large I’d become until it became necessary, once again, to buy ‘fat clothes’. That, and the observations of my young son that “I really was getting big now”. One can only stall so long. Clearly action was needed. But when I stared down the solution in the face, I wondered how I would approach it. What motivated me then didn’t drive me now. I couldn’t just put on the 80s hair metal cassette and kick some ass… It wasn’t about any of that anymore. How was I going to do this? Sure vanity drives me still, I think all humans share that to some degree, but this time it was more about my quality of life. And the very length of it, too. I’d taken enough of those online tests that determine your ‘actual’ age vs. your ‘age in years’ to know that my prospects weren’t quite as good as I pretended they were. Bad enough I’d smoked all those years. Then there was this inactivity thing on top of it. Ich. Time to move.

At first, I did not want to go to the Y. For one, all I’d ever gone to were women’s gyms. There I was off the hook. Didn’t have to look good for anyone. (Keep in mind, the last time I spent a lot of time working out I was much younger, and my wiring was different than it is now.) And this time, some shadow of that adolescent concern still bothered me. It bothered me for or a day or two. Until I realized that, unlike the me at 25, it honestly wasn’t about my ego anymore. My fitness or lack thereof. And ironically, in some ways, being an overweight, middle-aged woman gave me a new feeling of freedom. Some of it due to the anonymity of my demographic, some of it due to the fact that I don’t care so much anymore how I appear because there are more important things in my life. Course I do care, but also, I don’t. You know, not in the way I once did.

The variety of ages and abilities of the people attending the Y blows my mind. I’ve never before been a part of such a diverse population. Not in my jobs, not in my small, personal world. Not really even on the street. But at the Y – there are ninety year olds and two year olds all doing something. Hell, there are mommies pushing infants in jogging strollers… It’s amazing. Kinda reminds me of the picture books for young children that show all the goings-on of the outside world. Like a Richard Scarry book, or like a Sesame Street short. People of all shapes and colors and ages are there, just doing their thing. Gives me a lot of latitude just to chill and concentrate on doing my own best – and not worrying about looking my best while I’m doing it. I’m still kinda acclimating to the idea of being really sweaty and gross looking in front of, well, everybody, but it is freeing. And while I may not be able to go as low into my squats as the women in my Zumba class (seriously, when did I become this friggin weak??) I know that it’s ok. I don’t have to be a badass anymore. I just have to be. Thank God.

As I’ve passed my first week of routine workouts, I’ve come to notice a couple of things. One, is that my long morning workouts have not served yet to raise my overall energy, instead, I feel like passing out on the drive home. ! This, I hope, will change before long. I remind myself that it’s hardest in the beginning. That I haven’t worked out like this in a decade. (At least one hopes these are sound arguments for hanging in there.) I’ve also come to observe something about the way I move through the world – about the way in which many, likely most folks move in this world: I used to move through this world in spite of my body, now I’m moving through the world because of my body. Simply walking has become a more thoughtful process. And crazy as it might sound, I feel less daunted by it. It feels more familiar. I don’t look for the closest parking space anymore cuz I don’t dread the walk. Ok, so maybe I might not love the walk, but still, it doesn’t feel like quite the burden it did just a week ago. Which is hopeful, because this time, I have a feeling this workout thing might have to become part of my life for the long haul.

And maybe, if I live long enough, and well enough, maybe that’ll give me enough street cred to finally make me a legitimate, card-carrying badass.

 

_______________________________________________________

Just a friendly reminder that if you’ve enjoyed my posts and would like to buy me a cup of coffee (that’s a blogger’s euphemistic way of saying ‘give me a small tip’) you can click on the tip jar icon at the top right of this page and it will allow you to do so rather effortlessly through Paypal. Thanks for considering, and thanks even more for contributing to the coffers of this writer and mother.

 

Defeat, Distraction and Divots July 12, 2014

These days I tend to think of my life as being empty. Void of the things that made it fulfilling and enjoyable a decade ago. And certainly, in some ways it’s true. The nature of my life now is completely different; back in the day I lived in a bustling metropolitan area and was always involved with several creative projects at any one time. I enjoyed the great privilege of producing and hosting my own radio show, of performing in all the great venues on a regular basis, and most nights of the week were concluded in the company of friends at a restaurant eating great food. I shared my world with people who also lived their lives inside a whirlwind of creative endeavors. Yeah, it was an incredibly enjoyable time in my life. And while this chapter might not be as thrilling, it’s really no less busy, no less full. I have to remind myself it’s just different. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing, it’s where I’m supposed to be. I’m constantly faced with new challenges, both physical and emotional, and I learn from every one of them. It might not be as flat-out fun as the way I seem to remember my old life as being, but if I take a step back and observe things as objectively as I can, it appears I am not living an empty life at all.

Actually, my life in the country is chock-full of tiny events, and I am still a busy woman, only it’s a different kind of busy. In fact, I sometimes wonder how many years it will take me to find myself moving again with more regularity and less urgency. How long til I reach a point of equilibrium? Of balance, of true contentment, of peace and ease? When will the need to put out small fires cease? I suppose my feelings of discontent are partly due to the Studio and my apprehensions about all the unknowns before me, and I suppose things will only get more demanding on that front. But that’s ok, I have a suspicion that that sort of work is likely to bring more contentment than trying to trap raccoons, finding ways to keep the water out of my basement or dealing with less-than-forthright neighbors in sketchy real estate deals.

I am grateful that my partner, artist and teacher Ceres Zabel, has just successfully concluded her first week’s class at the Studio. All the kids had a great time, they learned a lot and came home with beautiful pieces to show for it. This weekend we have more work before us as we tidy the main room and turn what is currently a construction zone into a tamer, cleaner version of a workspace. More elbow grease. But that kind of work feels better than any other. I can’t wait til the classes are done for the summer and I can begin to get the insulation in and the sheet rock cut and back up – with my own hands. Until this whole experience I never would have considered doing some of the labor myself, but I’m discovering that it doesn’t hurt to try and learn how to do things yourself (plus a lack of funds kinda motivates as well. !). There hasn’t been a husband or partner around for the past six years, so I’ve had to suck it up and figure things out for myself when shit’s hit the fan. And this Studio experience is like more of the same – only on a larger scale. I have learned so much in this adventure, and it’s barely begun. So much yet to learn.

Actually, learning things is was makes things interesting. I can thank a recent heartbreaking and shady sale of the adjacent property for a quest which turned into a day-long hunt for maps, deeds and property descriptions and had me driving all over the county to collect information. I learned some interesting things along the way, some of which had absolutely nothing to do with the business at hand, but hey, isn’t that what makes life more fun? It wasn’t an errand of joy necessarily, but it turned out to be a joyful day of sorts. If nothing else, a nice diversion from the stay-at-home grind of chasing chipmunks and chickens and comparing quotes from contractors.

And then there were the lovely, impromptu visits over the past few days with neighbors, and the moments of pause they provided in my busy life. My house is cleaned out, now only the organizing remains. The field at the end of the driveway (thank God not Crow Field – the big one where the Woodcocks return each spring) will likely see the building of a too-big-for-the-lot house by fall. After penning letters giving both the seller and the buyer a piece of my mind, all that’s left to do now is to get back to building my own life and business. A couple of diversions have taken my mind off of the changes – both welcome and unwelcome – that are appearing on the horizon, and now it’s time to get my eyes back on the path directly ahead.

Diversions keep it all possible, they prevent the reality of life from becoming too daunting and dark. Thank goodness for kids and frogs, unexpected visits from neighbors and tiny, impromtu outings. Oh, and thank goodness for calls from your own child who tells you that he’s driving ‘right now’ down the strip in Las Vegas and then says ‘oh my God I have to go now Mommy cuz there’s too much to see…”. I am happy, happy, happy to know my son is enjoying himself and seeing the places I can’t afford to show him myself. I’ve already seen them, now it’s his turn. He’s in the middle of a great summer, and my heart lifts to know it. Knowing that makes whatever hardships I might be feeling in the moment so much easier to take. I miss my son, but  I know that he’s living a summer he’ll never forget. And in my own way, I guess I am too.

IMG_7961Less than an acre, but soon there’ll be a four bedroom house squeezed onto one of the few remaining fields in Greenfield.

IMG_7960What saddens me is that this field is next to my driveway. What angers me is that the owners asked that I pay to have my driveway moved so that they could sell their lot. (My ancient right-of-way makes the lot too small to develop – legally. That doesn’t seem to have stopped them in the end.)

IMG_7964Here is the tiny bit of disputed land – make a triangle from the rock on the right, the white plastic jug in the driveway, and the right rear tire of my car. But hey, if this is what it takes to prevent a house from going up, so be it. It’s the law, but the law doesn’t seem to be working. As long as I don’t have to move my driveway (more like a road really), than I’ll just have to accept the unwelcome change.

IMG_7981Neighbor Ryan stopped by for a little frog catching. Just when poor Stanley (the frog) and his family thought they could relax. Ha!

IMG_7993Mom Boat Tailed Grackle gets ready to feed her ‘baby’. (Big baby, huh?)

IMG_7995I’ve got a primitive and slow camera, but look at this! Love it.


IMG_8004The juvenile is gray with dull, gray and brown eyes. Adults are black with iridescent greenish-blue plumage and have strikingly contrasting yellow and black eyes.

IMG_8146Elihu will be bummed he missed the annual blooms of our rare Canada lily.

IMG_8148Time for art camp at the Studio!

IMG_8324Ceres has been running her Odyssey School of Fine Arts for over twenty years – its new home is now in the Studio.

IMG_8326After a short lesson, the kids get down to work.

IMG_8307Today they were given magnifying glasses to help inspect the details on the blooms and leaves they were to draw.

IMG_8329Here’s Mason’s final product!

IMG_8351Miakota’s had a great time this week.

IMG_8306Tom gets started…

IMG_8331…and here’s his final drawing.  Nice shading!

IMG_8344Much trickier than it looks.

IMG_8023Now to peel back the many layers of  the property line mystery…

IMG_8032We may live in a virtual culture, but there’s still plenty of paper hidden away in the vaults.

IMG_8039It’s details like this that I’ve come to the department of Public Works to see for myself.

IMG_8030Ah, the crazy language of property description.

IMG_8046Course I’m a bit of a map freak, so this was very exciting. Here’s a local map from over a hundred and fifty years ago.

IMG_8052Here’s a town that doesn’t even exist anymore – it was built around an old glass factory, just north of Lake Desolation. (I love the way each building has its owner’s name written beside it.)  It’s kind of like the East’s version of a ghost town. You can find bits of glass and pottery in the woods on the site but not much more as humidity eventually claims everything. When the industry collapsed and the town was no longer needed, some of the houses themselves were moved down the mountain on rollers and re-constructed in Saratoga Springs – a good ten miles away. Impressive and amazing to me.

IMG_8073I’m a great fan of all things modern and mid-century, and I’ve always loved this lobby of the county building, complete with lamps made of the same granite as the table upon which they sit, and dig those original (and sadly kinda shabby) metallic gold lampshades!

IMG_8066Now onto a title insurance company. Bit of trivia for Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford fans: this is the site of some interior restaurant scenes from The Way We Were.

IMG_8063Disappointingly, there’s not one single detail left that would even give you and idea for the soda fountain it once was. (Also a disappointment was finding no deed or title description to be found that mentioned my driveway and thereby proved, on paper, of its existence before we bought the place.)

IMG_8067More movie fun facts: the scene in which Bob ties Barbra’s shoes in the moonlight was filmed here at the historic Medbery Inn in downtown Ballston Spa, New York in 1972.

IMG_8374I stopped by Zac and Stephanie’s and before I knew it, I’d tagged along with them to the local Polo grounds to see my first game. Saratoga Springs is a horse town, and this famous Polo field is a mere three miles from my home, yet I’ve never been. (Maybe cuz it’s $30 a car, and I’m usually traveling solo.)

IMG_8441The ground rumbles when the action gets close. All that prevents the ball from flying out into the onlookers is an 8″ tall board on the perimeter of the field, and the incredible skill of the players.

IMG_8443There they go!

A short bit of live action on the field (which is I hear is the size of nine football fields).

IMG_8449Wow! One of the kids in our group actually got a ball!

IMG_8437The half time tradition of ‘stomping the divots’. The horse’s hooves leave footprints, some of which are pieces of sod that can be stamped back into place. One must be careful to tell chunks of dirt apart from other, similar-looking mounds before stomping. !

IMG_8368I haven’t tailgated in decades – this was a multi-generational party with lots of kids. Grandpa Phil (in blue) chats with son Zac (in yellow). These guys are my saviors – they helped fix the Studio up so we could open, they’ve helped me catch varmints, close up my chickens, fix water pumps and more. This is Annabelle in the pink sunglasses, she’s the big sister of three.

IMG_8208At the end of a full couple of days, I head back home down my beautiful and peaceful driveway. I’ve never taken this rural landscape for granted, but there’s never a good time to see it go. I’ll miss this field terribly. But on we march, into the unknown of the future, grateful for what still remains.

 

Clean Slate February 22, 2014

For me this has been a day of very mixed feelings. From elation at the prospects of the future to intense pangs of sorrow at having lost something precious, now irretrievably gone from my life…

Today some friends and I cleared the Studio out of its contents. There was so much more stuff than I’d realized there’d be. And I do understand pretty well how stuff adds up – I’m rather a stickler for organization and pairing down to the most important stuff – but the piles and the boxes just continued to appear. It’s amazing how we humans manage to stash away objects. And when you finally do get around to excavating every last corner of the place and have set all the piles out before you, what then?  How do you let go of things when they’re so loaded with nostalgia, longing, subtle shades of regret? Where do you draw the line?

I regarded the boxes and when pressed as to whether or not they should go out onto the big trash pile I found myself sounding a lot like those poor souls on the show Buried Alive… “Mmm, uh, I might use those again, uh, maybe just put them here for now. Hm, um, wait, wait… I’m not sure, I don’t know…” Wait, me? I can’t let go? I myself used to help others let go of their stuff and organize their possessions long before it was trendy, long before places like The Container Store were even dreamt of. Under the informal moniker of “Assess a Mess” I’d go to people’s homes and help them throw away all of their crap or send it back out into the world. A combination of psychologist, personal assistant and trashman, I’d help them make all the hard choices. I employed what I called my “rule of two”: if you hadn’t used it in the past two years and didn’t plan on using it in the next two months, then out it went. I wasn’t cold-hearted about sending stuff away; I always tried to find objects a second life – and this was before the era of Freecycle, Craigslist or Ebay, yet somehow I’d make it through mountains of stuff, leaving a perfectly clean and organized joint behind. But now that it’s come to me – now that we’re talking about my recently deceased father here and all the tangible results of his life’s work – it just isn’t the same deal at all. And my mother’s hand is here too; it was she who kept the place running, made the videos of all the concerts, fed and watered the audiences at intermission, the musicians before and after concerts and rehearsals – her things are here too, and it’s troublesome to vote her things out when I know all the love and attention they represent…

Thankfully I had my partner Ceres and her kids here to help. It was far more work than it appeared to be at first, and I – physically or emotionally – couldn’t have done it alone. After getting a bit further into the job I discovered that the more I excavated, the more that I liberated the walls and corners of long-forgotten stuff, the more hopeful I became. I began to envision little future scenes of what one day happen here in this room. I’d been listening to the boombox I’d bought dad for Christmas last year (so he could listen to his favorite Bob and Ray CDs) to keep me going, and I heard violinist Andrew Bird on the local college station and wondered… might I host him here one day? I realize he’s become kinda big now, but I knew him in Chicago back in the day. Never know. And what of my other friends from my old life? I started imaging concerts, combinations of folks whose music I love… I didn’t want to spoil my fantasy with all the ‘yes, but‘ conditions, so I held back the sober voice of reality and limitation and allowed myself to continue to dream while I cleaned… Later on I heard jazz vocalist Janice Borla – also another fellow Chicagoan – and man, I though her recent recording sounded great. A totally different kind of music and crowd, but maybe, I thought, might I have something like that here too?

All manner of possibilities started to come to me, and I let myself fantasize for a bit as I worked. I loved music of all kinds – I just couldn’t see limiting the room to one thing or another. House concerts? Maybe that’s the route to go… Baroque Ensembles that are starting out and need a smaller venue? Hm. The jazz kids from Skidmore hosting small ensembles and including some of the high schoolers in town?? Stuff just kept coming. But then I’d feel a sudden wave of panic, when I’d look up from my task for a moment and see in my mind’s eye the room as it had been for decades… In an instant it was a late summer afternoon and the house was full of people, there was the scent of freshly cut hay in the air, and of course the music. The harpshichord, the gambas, violins, flutes, voices… The familiar sound of the chairs being scooched back on the wood floor as people got up to stretch and mill about… The dreamlike vision came upon me and with it all those subtle feelings I associate with my entire childhood. In my head I could still see so clearly the golden sunlight streaming through the western doors; I remember the flowers, freshly cut from the local roadsides, that my mother would arrange for a vase on the stage; I remember the murmur of the audiences’ voices as they chatted during intermission….

Baroque music and the scent of newly cut hay, the warm sunlight, low in the sky… The memories all swirl around my head, tugging at me to remain there with them, never to leave them lest they die forever… My heart wants things to continue to hear and see these very same things for years without end.  But of course, this is impossible now. Their leader is gone, that era has closed. I know I sure don’t feel like much of a leader myself, and I haven’t a clue what I’m in for. But I guess there’s no question about it. It’s my party for now, ready or not. Into the future we go, much to learn, much to do, and lots of great music and memories yet ahead. Thanks, mom and dad, for the great start. The Studio won’t be the same, but it will continue to have a lot of heart and soul.

IMG_0370

The Studio as it appears from the South from just outside mom and dad’s house.

IMG_0448

This is the side of the Studio people see first, the main door and box office are here. Note the stuff already piling up out front.

IMG_0414

I really wanted to convey the size of this hump in the middle of the room. Seriously, right now we could rent the place out as a skate park! Look at this stool – all four legs are on the floor!

IMG_0384

A selfie with the ever-present tapestry on the back of the stage wall.  Dad and I once had a picture taken of us on this very same spot. I’m feeling a bit sad about things right now.

IMG_0382

See the tilt of the floor now? Crazy!

IMG_0438

I was hoping this might illustrate the drama of the mid-room bump. Kinda…

IMG_0441

Ceres’ son, Christoper, is being creative in trying to illustrate the big bump. In real life it looks much more impressive.

IMG_0415

This is the green room. None of us (mom and me, that is) ever liked dad’s ridiculous choice of green. Ich. Thank goodness I can finally get rid of it. This room served as a backstage area, holding pen for several harpsichords and apartment for musicians and their families while they played here at the Festival. Now my Rhodes lives here – but after sitting in three inches of water for over a week, it’s in need of some serious cleaning and looking-over. So back to my basement it’ll go. That’s grandma’s rocking chair on the left – in good shape. Anyone want it? It’s yours!

IMG_0393

More stuff.

IMG_0401

The box office jam-packed.

IMG_0410

Hmm. You can always tell a lot about a person by looking at their trash….

IMG_0459

The spiral staircase to the balcony. As kids we had loads of fun on this. Note the high-tech, ten pound cam-corder mounted to the balcony railing – mom recorded every last concert on it. (We’ve since had them converted to DVD.)

IMG_0449

The Studio’s sign came off the frame shortly before dad died, and it’s been sitting in a bank of snow. Lest it become warped and useless as the wood floor of the place, Ceres and son Brian moved it up from the road and into shelter. (The Conant’s summer cottage is in the background – it’s where my brother lives now.)

IMG_0483

Ahh, such a great space.

IMG_0485

Always loved this beam detail.

IMG_0462

Even with the damaged floor, she still looks beautiful.

IMG_0490

Had to take this pic from a distance so it’s fuzzy – but it’s from mom and dad’s very first festival in 1959. !

IMG_0458

Here the Zabel family is going home after an afternoon of hard work. Thanks guys! We’re on our way now!!