Center

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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.

Sunrise

We’re lucky here at the Hillhouse, to see the sun rise from our kitchen and living room windows. It’s interesting to track the changing spot on the horizon from which it lifts; just a week ago it was a tree or two to the left, but now it’s marched along the rim of the forest a surprising distance. It’s funny the way the heavenly bodies move, imperceptible as one watches, quite noticeable when one does nothing but turn away for a moment and then look back again. All day long the sun makes her progress just like this, slow, steady, never stopping. Like a willful, living creature, diligently keeping to her task, dedicated only to that one singular movement. What a contrast is the peace and stillness of a sunrise to the frenetic cauldron of action and emotion swirling around far below it on the surface of this globe. A sunrise is deceptive: it leads one to believe, if only for a second, that everything everywhere has taken a pause, that nothing at all stirs upon the earth… that all is, in this very moment, perfect and right with the world. 

Yeah, I like the sense of peace that I get from a sunrise. The sense of possibility. The best possible feeling of what it is to stand here, as a human, witnessing. But it doesn’t always play out that way. When I awoke today, the sorrow I’d forgotten in sleep had come to wrap itself around me again. As I looked out the window, I saw that all the trees were bathed on one side in a deep magenta, a sign that this was the moment. I went to the living room in time to watch the sun as it lifted free of the treetops and burst its rays over the countryside. This one particular moment of a sunrise is an interesting thing; it isn’t always the moment of joy and peace that one might think. For me, it seems to heighten whatever mood it is that I’m already feeling. On a brilliant summer morning, with the promise of a full and rich day before me, my chest fairly bursts at the sight. But today, a day on which I remember again the intense sorrow of losing my father, and with him all the questions I never thought to ask, the sun wrenches it all out of me all at once, and it hurts. Soon my face is covered in sunshine and tears.

It occurred to me shortly after waking that tomorrow is mom’s first birthday without dad in fifty-four years. They, as some readers will remember, shared the same birthday. My heart sinks to my feet. What can we possibly do to make it easier? See to it that she keeps busy, I suppose. Maybe we should go to that Weight Watchers meeting after Elihu’s bass lesson. Maybe that will help. Maybe we can stop by, maybe we can bring a bottle of champagne (that would’ve had my dad clapping his hands in happy approval). Maybe we can have her over here for supper. Hell, I don’t know. What to do? My heart breaks all on its own, and now it’s breaking for my mother. Crap. There is never a good time for goodbye, no matter how full and rich a life may have been.

All morning I’ve been remembering my father’s friends that have gone before – and there are a good number of em. In fact, there were very few folks from my father’s world left – and in terms of a physical presence in his life, essentially there were none. I thought back to the last time dad had been to the farm. It was this past July, and it was Martha’s 86th birthday. I remember on that day dad had been speaking in a nonsensical way, that he had once again turned a corner. But that didn’t lessen his pleasure at being there; he was happy, a soft smile on his face the whole time (in spite of the temperature in the kitchen reaching up into the high 80s). I had known it even then; after nearly fifty years of sitting in this kitchen, after hours and hours of drinking, smoking, storytelling, cussing, shouting and laughing, this was the very last time dad would be sitting in this space. The last time he and Martha would be in the same room together. (As it turned out, they would have one final visit with each other in person. They were both patients at the ER at the same time in late summer, and I had thankfully snapped one picture then.) I watched them, both at the farm and at the hospital, knowing in my heart that these oldest of friends were saying their last goodbyes. I also realized neither one of them was even aware of it. I guess one just kinda tends to feel as if nothing will ever change. That things, somehow, will always be thus. Silly humans, we.

At the time of dad’s death his functioning life had long since ended.  Dad had no life outside of his home, no pressing endeavors to attend to, no ability to play the harpsichord – nor the piano, no ability to walk outside on his own, no car to drive, no ability to read, no social life, no old college chums to call and check on, no pals from his former lives to chat with…. He had nothing at all but mom, his cats, the opera on the weekends, and the tv. (Yes, he had Elihu and me too, but we were only there a few short visits a week.) And I suppose a few years of this life might eventually grow tedious, no matter one’s lack of abilities. Dad was still very much aware of his surroundings, and as familiar and comfortable as they may have been, at some point I guess there’s not a lot to hang around for anymore. I can’t help but remind myself that it’s really only us we’re sad for; a quick recounting of all that dad did not have in his most recent life helps set me straight. Wherever he is – or is not – is just fine for him. It’s us that’s the problem. Actually, it’s mom that I’m worried about. How must it feel? Seriously, how must it feel? I’m sad, Elihu is only sad in passing, but it’s mom I keep thinking of. Tomorrow, this first birthday in over half a century without her mate, this will be a landmark. She’s just gotta get through it.

Life marches on, enough distractions for us that dad’s death is somewhat tempered. I still have loads of new music to learn (and the arthritis in my fingers worsens almost daily). I still haven’t told Elihu that his beloved teacher is leaving. Waiting til the last possible moment, as not to spoil his final day of vacation. And thankfully the temperature outside is going up, so we won’t have to worry about bringing the goose into the kitchen overnight as we did on Friday, when outside temps were ten below. Ironically, shortly after we saved the goose from losing his little webbed feet to frostbite, we ourselves ran out of heating oil. ! Must remember that in terrible cold like this it takes a bunch more fuel than usual. See? Lots to keep us going, many new dramas appear on our horizon. Just like the sun on its  never-ending path, the events of our lives march tirelessly onward, sunrise to sunset and all the moments in between.

Living Wake

Mom and I both said it at the same time. This evening had turned out to be – with no prior intention – a wake. The impromptu party of old friends, with tales re-told, pictures snapped and the general volume of the room increasing as the night progressed, had truly become a living wake. Had there ever been such a thing? mom and I wondered aloud to each other. How fantastic a gathering it had been, and how important for all of us. Likely there would be no such gathering after dad’s death; so this had been it. We had gathered around dad’s bed, telling stories and laughing, then gradually made our way to the living room filling in all the available seats. We all stayed much longer than I think any of us had planned. And while my father opened his eyes only once or twice in the four hours we visited, we all agreed that he had been present for the party. Stories were recounted, old photos were passed around, and there was laughter just like in the old days. (Our house had always had humor if nothing else!) And somehow, although she had not planned for it, mom rose to the occasion as ever she did in the days of yore, pulling cheese, crackers and wine out of almost-empty cabinets to continue her long-standing role as queen hostess.

Back in the days of my father’s early music festival he’d always had an assistant to help him during the summer. The duties of said intern were wide-ranging and went far beyond simply picking musicians up at the airport and manning the box office. These various and sundry jobs were the subject of hilarious tales re-told tonight, none of which had to be elaborated upon to be entertaining. And what made this all the more precious a night was that two of dad’s long-standing assistants were here: the two Jims. They are more than former employees, they are family. I’ve known them both far longer than I’ve known just about anyone, and while I don’t fancy myself an old person, the way the tales were flying tonight I think that my generation now qualifies for that category. One of the Jim’s son was also there along with his girlfriend, and I found myself suddenly very aware of how old we all sounded. As a child I can remember my own parents talking of things that happened long before I was born, and thinking them irrelevant and, well, ancient. I looked at my own father and realized in some new dawning awareness that one day I too would not only be old, but very old. Sometimes it’s more than hard to believe; it’s scary. But it’s the crazy and unpredictable stuff that happens in the middle that makes the trip worth it I guess.

If I’d wondered how my brother would fare in the face of our father’s imminent death, I had my answer tonight. Andrew wobbled in during the party absolutely stinking drunk. Thankfully everyone (save perhaps that poor young girl) knew the deal. More than that, they responded with love and compassion. One of the Jims even let my poor brother collapse in his arms as he succumbed to his grief. I’m grateful to him for understanding. This is a tricky situation for anyone, and much more so for someone who doesn’t have it together emotionally. My mother was also able to get teary, although I haven’t seen her out and out cry yet. But it’s coming, I’m sure. I found it strange, but as we were wrapping up the evening and making our goodbyes she began to cry a bit, and I didn’t. In fact, I felt almost cried out. It almost feels as if this waiting is just too much. Like I’m done already. Only thing is, I know I’m not. And I’m still so very scared.

It’s late now. And it’s Christmas Eve, too. I’m so tired. Mom must be tired too, but it’s not over yet. We’re almost there, mom I think to myself. I also think to myself that dad must have – on some level – appreciated the company tonight. He shifted positions nearly the whole evening seemingly in search of a comfortable spot, yet I’ve heard this is simply a phenomenon that happens near the end of life. And although he seemed mostly gone from the room, he was able to nod a time or two in response to a question, and had us roaring with laughter at his agreement. Yeah, I think dad knew what was going on. He’s just pooped is all. Just too tired preparing for his transition, too tired fighting this defeated body to speak, to engage. After all he’s been engaging, performing, teaching and living for eighty-five years. I can understand.

Thanks, dad, for throwing such an awesome party.

Party Time

Those who knew me personally ‘back in the day’ will remember The Party my ex and I held each year before Christmas. While still living at home, in my college years, I had begun to host a party each year, and so continued the tradition after I moved out and into my small apartment on the shores of Lake Michigan, in Chicago. My boyfriend moved in shortly after I did (I’d never truly lived alone until this divorce and cross-country move) and so the two of us began to host these annual parties together. By the time we closed our doors for the last time, we’d thrown twenty-one such parties. I’m slightly ashamed to admit, but I was disappointed that the dissolution of our marriage also meant that The Party would come to an end. Personally, I’d fancied very much seeing “Elizabeth and Fareed invite you to their fiftieth annual Holiday Party’ on an invitation one day, but clearly, with the time I have left here, and what with the ‘clock’ starting all over again, I will not make that milestone. I suppose I should feel lucky enough to simply have gotten back on the horse again after a six year hiatus.

It’s hard to begin a social life anew while in one’s middle forties, parenting a young child and navigating the cost of living as a newly single person. A few years down the line, it’s better, but my life in general certainly doesn’t have that cozy, familiar sense of place and of belonging than it did in the city where I lived my professional years. So to compare my situation as it is today to the one in which I lived fifteen years ago is ridiculous, I know. And yet I can’t help it… Those parties, in their heyday, were just magic. And to be frank, they were probably the most magical of all when the world was new… When we were, all one hundred or so of us, crammed into that tiny two bedroom coop in Rogers Park, crowding around the piano, singing, smokers elbowing for a spot on the balcony, me, shushing through the crowd in a killer dress, arm above my head supporting a platter of meticulously-crafted hors d’oeuvres…. The parties got larger over the years – our home got larger too – and the nights grew longer. One year the thing went for twelve hours non-stop. No kidding. Looking back, if I were to choose the years that stood out, it would be one of the first years in the apartment. Cozy, alive. And then there would be that first year in the mid-century behemoth. I have a shapshot memory from behind the piano of all my beloved friends, carol books before them – many even lining the balcony above our heads – all singing, beaming and just radiating love and happiness, the gorgeous, twenty-foot tree behind them, a crackling fire warming the room.

We were young, all at the doorsteps to creative, inspired careers. Some of us were already full-swing, many have since gone on to wonderful places. And many have, like me, settled into the next phase of their lives. The lives of parents, the lives of those with just a little bit less energy (less motivation to drive around looking for a parking space!). Lives that don’t include parties with tuxes and gowns. (I must add that the tuxedoes worn to our gathering had nothing to do with choice and everything to do with the fact that the wearers of them had just concluded a jobbing date and were on their way home from ‘work’.) These were electric gatherings, and we were young, merry and good-looking. I can’t help but feel a little pang of nostalgia in remembering. Perhaps if I’d known the end was coming it might have given me a sense of closure about the whole thing. But in that the divorce itself was a surprise, the end of The Party was also unexpected. There was no way to know that a tradition would be coming to a close. We did make it to twenty-one though, kinda like the party ‘came of age’, in a way. Anyway, that’s how I like to think of it. Helps me to close out that era in my mind.

So here I stand at the start of a new chapter. Tonite will be our second party. I still don’t dare use the word ‘annual’ on the invites, as I’m just not ready to commit yet. But if I make it to a fifth year, I just might. I still want an out if I need one. Still not even sure who it is I might expect to see – I’ve never cared for RSVPs. In my ideal world, a party should have a life of its own. I provide the opportunity, serendipity creates the magic. Or not. It looks as if we’ll have a snowstorm tonite; such a forecast can change everything. And I’d rather have people stay away than get stuck in my driveway. So we’ll see. Much up in the air. I’m also not very good at actually inviting people either, I make a quick ‘handout’, send out emails and almost always forget half the folks I’d wanted to include – suffice to say, if you live here, we’re friends and yet you haven’t received a proper invite from me – paper, email or otherwise – please don’t take it personally. I can assure you, you’re invited. My form leaves a bit to be desired these days. Ich. I’m gonna blame it on the chickens. !

Elihu is still sleeping, and I wonder if I too shouldn’t sneak back into the warmth of bed. It’s going to be a long day. Many farm chores await, as well as a last-minute cleaning of the house and general tidying. Yeah, think I will climb back in for a bit. I’m ok for now, and as ready as I’ll ever be. A moment’s more rest, a chore or two and then it’s time to get this party started…

Pianist Laurence Hobgood’s performance of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ in all twelve keys was always a highlight of our parties… here’s the link to his new CD which I highly recommend. Highly. You can still get one in time for a Christmas gift. And yes, it includes the aforementioned ‘twelve in twelve’.

Better

Feeling a bit better now. After my last post, my body seemed to respond to my mood by bursting into a mini cold-flu, making my weekend rather unpleasant, but here I am, on the other end, regrouping, assessing, thinking about things and in general trying to put a different spin on it all.

Yeah, I’m still not entirely crazy about my life these days. But is anyone? I awoke a little while ago, and spent some time just looking out over the snow-covered scene outside my window. I could see stars through the pine trees and a gentle glow from within the coop. How lucky was I to see such tranquility, such beauty, right there in front of me, from my own home? I paused to reflect on the moment. There was still present in my gut a dull sort of dread – I’ll call it that, for lack of a better word – at the frightening and unpleasant things yet before me in my life, but, at the same time, there was also a feeling of gratitude for all I had that was good. I mean come on, I was one lucky woman. I spent a few minutes in a sort of life-review in order to convince myself. I remembered different eras gone by, from spending my summers as a kid on a farm to being a jazz singer in big cities, to sailing on the North Atlantic, jumping out of planes, touring with bands, the years of teaching, hosting a radio program, a long, treasured relationship, a beautiful home (several of them, actually) an enjoyable pregnancy and an amazing child – all manner of experiences, and all my own. All the places I’d been, all the scenes I’d been part of. Man, who gets all of this in a lifetime? An old friend once remarked upon my arrival here (at the doorstep of a yet another ‘new’ life that I was none too happy about) that it seemed I’d lived five different lives already. And she was kinda right. This slower, quieter life in the country may not have the instant appeal or rockstar thrills of my past lives, but it’s a lovely one to be sure.

My mother had come by earlier in the evening for a visit, and Elihu had played his bass for her. As we sat there listening to him, I had realized that this was one of those moments. It was one of those windows in time I’ll be happy to look back on one day. It was one of those perfect little capsules of life. The stuff that makes everyday life worth all the crap. And we showed mom our newly decorated Christmas tree too. And finally, we surprised her with an old video I’d found of the two families from some twenty-seven years ago. Mom was about the age I am now in the video, and Fareed and I were skinnier (and younger) than I ever remember us being. My father played the harpsichord while my parents-in-law looked on. There was a good deal of chatter on the video and we laughed to see everyone being very much themselves.  It was such a nice surprise to have a window into that time. Naturally, for me it was a rather bittersweet thing – I still cannot wrap my brain around this whole change thing. But in spite of our whitening hair and widening waistlines, it was wonderful to be able to share it with mom and Elihu both, to give us all a nice sense of the scope and progression of things. I’d originally thought it would be most important for Elihu to see, but in the end, I think it served me better. It’s me, after all, who needs to be reminded of all that I’ve had, and to make peace with the changing landscape of my life – and oh, that last little detail – to somehow come to grips with my mortality. ! (There’s a gal at school who just figures certain changes are inevitable in life and accepts it all with a low-key, classy sort of attitude – I however, find the facts that I need reading glasses, root cover-up and have gone up two dress sizes without even trying are flat-out unacceptable! ‘That shit is for other people! Not me’! I cry as they drag me off to the looney bin…)

Ok. I’m better. I’m seeing things more clearly today. I mean, in a nutshell, I kinda feel I got it all. A wonderful, happy child. Parents next door, a cozy little cottage in the country, overall my health isn’t bad, and let me not forget my job. One in which I actually get to do what it is that I do –  and something that I actually enjoy doing. A job at which I see my own child daily, plus I get to be with all these other wonderful kids all day long too. Really? Wow. Yeah, it’s a good thing. A good thing.

From the middle of this snowy winter night, things are looking a lot better than they did a couple of days ago.

Here, Not Here

There’s this nagging feeling I can’t get rid of in my stomach. I’m lying in bed, trying to sleep without help from a pill. It’s just not working. So I try to go into the dread just a bit to see what’s at the core of it. Maybe if I can name it I can quiet it down – at least for now – and finally get some sleep. What is it? I wonder… Is it dad? Yes, that’s part of it. Is it the neighbors we ran into tonight? Her girls were just the tiniest things when we moved here, now the eldest daughter talks with confidence about certain far away colleges, and a career in marine biology… Is it my own son, with his feet growing big and his legs getting hairier? Yes, it’s all of these. Each one stirs a familiar tugging inside, but I know that there is one that looms larger than the others tonight. And finally I can’t stand it. I forsake that perfect toasty nest I’d at last made in the covers, I rise up to my knees, and I look out of the window above my bed. I see a serene picture of our garage and chicken coop, lit gently from within by one red heating bulb. Beyond it, I see only blackness. The sort of scene that reminds one of a tomten fairy tale; a quiet, timeless farm carved out of the endless woods, a small homestead made cozy by its simplicity and isolation. On nights when the moon is full, it casts a deeper charm on the outbuildings, and they seem to glow in contrast to the forest beyond. But this nightscape is not to be much longer, I may not even see it like this for another full moon. Like my disappearing father, like my own tiny child who lives only in memory now, and like all the other inevitable changes of my private universe, a silent transition is already underway. Soon the darkness will be gone forever. Before long the lights of a house will pierce our dark and quiet corner of the world. Nothing, it appears, is sacred. Nor is anything forever. And I just can’t get used to it.

Once, at the home of a piano student, I happened on a simple children’s book that was laying out. In a few minutes I’d read the whole thing, and by the last line I found myself in tears. I’d thought this same thing many time, but had never dared to give expression to it. It was about all the ‘last times’ of childhood. How one never knows if this time will be the last. The last time a mother can ever pick up her child, the last time he’ll call her mommy, the last time she’ll read her child a bedtime story… there are a myriad of lasts, and yet one can never know for certain which moments they are. I think now of my father. Tonight mom told me that he hasn’t been downstairs since my visit a couple of days ago. We’d had a bit of a heated exchange on the phone the other night as I continued to lobby for some in-home nursing help. She’d hung up on me. Although she still believes that dad will manage to march downstairs again tomorrow for breakfast, business as usual, I myself don’t think so. Instead, the very real possibility occurs to me that we have finally experienced a last time here. The last time dad ever came downstairs. The last time. I arrive at that final, looming idea: this may well be where the true last time will happen. Right there, in the bedroom which looks out into the same woods as mine, in the bedroom with years of cat hair embedded in every upholstered surface, in the bedroom with photos of Andrew and me as babies still sit displayed on the bureau after five decades, there, on the right side of the bed – on my father’s side of the bed – that is where he will experience his own last time. That is, very likely, where my father will die.

I’m a sentimental person, and that sort of leaning will of course give this awareness of finality even more charge. I know that I’m probably dwelling more deeply on these passages than some folks would. (At the same time, I think any human can easily understand ambivalence around change.) But that’s the only way I can live through it all. I need to name it, to face it and to savor it before I can let it go. I need to bear active witness, I need to engrave that memory into my system, I need to take it with me as best I can. To preserve the essence of what this thing that I loved felt like. It’s a challenge for me to be simply pragmatic about it, and in fact, I really can’t. I can’t understand change without feeling a burning nostalgia. Sometimes in order to lend perspective and maybe take some of the sting out of it, I try to imagine a time just a couple of hundred years earlier, and I picture the change that’s taken place long before the world came to look as it does now. I imagine the Native Americans of Saratoga Lake, watching as their sacred sites were defiled and built-up by these white people from somewhere else… then I imagine the large parcels of unbuilt land throughout town, the disappointment of certain homeowners when the space around them appeared to shrink as investors continued to build upon the remaining vacant quadrants of land. I imagine all of the tiny disappointments, all of the hearts that had to acquiesce with deep regret the bittersweet changes around them.

I see the business people making these visible and profound changes in our physical environment. And I understand their detachment around such things too. They are merely dealing with a product and a service. (Be damned the wake left behind in its many forms, all of us must simply learn to live with resulting change!) “You can’t stop progress” people like to say. The implication is that progress is good. That progress is desired. Yeah, well, cancer is progress. Nuff said.

I feel a little better now, at least a little more sleepy. All I can do is be as zen as I can about the changes coming; I will savor these final nights of our deep, black forest, I will drink in all the tiny familiarities of my dad while they’re here, I’ll enjoy this magical time of a ten year old boy’s life, and I’ll be present and grateful for every last bit of it all. So that by the time today becomes yesterday, while it won’t be here to look upon anymore in my physical world, it will still exist somewhere. It will be here, cherished and alive, forever in my heart.

Lost

Kid’s been gone over two weeks. Maybe it’s three by now. You’d think I’d know, but I don’t. Been busy, busy, busy, trying to get all the things done that I simply can’t during the year. I suppose now that he’s ten it’ll become easier for me to do things. He can get himself something to eat or entertain himself easily enough. It’s just that I always feel badly about digging into solitary projects like filing, organizing teaching materials or other time-consuming stuff when he’s home. Which is why I’m hitting it so hard now. But today I feel stopped. The sun is shining and the day is bright, yet I can’t shake this feeling that the world is passing me by. I’m here in my windowless basement office, going through boxes and files and papers that just never seem to end. And I wonder, as I have so many times before, how on earth do working people deal with all this crap? There’s never an end to things that need tending to, never an end to the drawings and schoolwork that needs to find a home, there’s never an end to the personal correspondence, the filing, the bills, the paper…. And yet, at the end of the day, when someone asks me “what do you do all day?”, I’m hard-pressed to properly explain myself. Which leads me to this very moment. Right now, I’m feeling tetherless and lost.

In going through my music closet, and in finally opening great manila envelopes marked “to look at and file”, my past spills out onto my lap in old set lists, cocktail napkins scrawled over with chords, laminates and other small, useless items that only break my heart today. I remember the feeling of hope that went along with that time in my life. Our lives seemed all yet ahead of us then. Yes, I can say that I knew I was enjoying a good time in my life, and I did enjoy myself. I loved doing what I did, and I never took it for granted. But there was always another show coming up, another project, another seed of hope… I was always swimming with a fast-moving current. There was never anything static about that time in my life. But my life now is very different. Aside from my beloved son, I have to admit to myself, there’s very little of that sort of hope inside me today. There just doesn’t seem to be any forward pull. Yes, I have my writing, I suppose. Dear friends and readers who check in to bear witness to our tiny adventures, but is that in of itself a destination? What, I wonder, as I hold the evidence of a life once fully lived and enjoyed, just what the hell is my ‘thing’ now? Mom? Part-time accompanist at my kids’ school? Goddam recess monitor? Man. So much hope, so much forward-looking energy in these old scraps of paper. Yet where did they land me? I haven’t touched my Wurlitzer in ages. I haven’t played in a band since I left Evanston. It’s been two years since I’ve sung a proper show. And I miss it all like crazy. I fully admit to flat-out jealousy when I see the Facebook updates of my friends who are still making music. How lucky they are to be playing. To be doing what they love. I do know that I’m lucky to be here, and to have this new chapter from which to learn and grow, but still….

I can’t make much progress as I feel right now. I have no food left in the house, and I’m hungry. My hunger is no doubt helping to make my mood even darker, and I’m trying to muster the resolve to do something about it. It takes some gas and time to get into town, and I just can’t find it in me to go. I’m almost out of cash now too, cuz kids don’t take piano lessons in the summer (I sure never did), but that doesn’t stop bills from coming. August is always something of a financial challenge, and especially now in the wake of our July trip and some small home improvements. I know this has been a great summer, and I was so blessed to have visited Chicago (and to have eaten all that gorgeous food!), but it seems the spark has worn off. I know things aren’t bad by any means. I do. And I’m doing better than I was a year ago. I know it. Plus I’m home, surrounded by things I love, by nature, by a beautiful summer day. Even so, in this moment I’m still not quite sure where I am.

A Million Windows

When I was attending Columbia College in Chicago back in the late ’80s, I still lived with my parents in my childhood home in Wilmette, Illinois. I rode Chicago’s el train to and from school several days a week, and as I often had band practice after classes, more often than not I’d end up coming home late at night. I almost always had a window seat, and I’d lean in close to block out the reflection of the train car’s interior so that I could enjoy the scenes that passed… So many neighborhoods, so many homes, so many apartments, so many ways in which to live… I watched it all, hoping I would come to understand the world better… I tried to comprehend so many individual lives all going on at the same time. So many people tossing their keys onto the table, so many people turning on lights, checking the day’s mail, so many people tickling babies, kissing, eating, watching tv, worrying about tests or arguments or recipes or bills or job interviews, so many people newly in love, so many newly widowed… Each window offered a tiny, split-second vignette which I savored as best I could. I still have a few images locked away in my mind’s eye from that time; a room illuminated by a single light bulb and an entire family gathered beneath, a fat man brushing his teeth, a woman reading at a table, glancing up at the train…

My father understands the intrigue of a window too. We’re both the ones with the ‘dream’ gene in the family – neither mom nor Andrew seem to have dreams, much less the ability to recount them in incredible detail as both dad and I can. I wonder sometimes if the fascination with the unknown – or maybe more accurately the romance of the unknown’s potential – might not be related to this dream gene thing. I also think it’s related to a love of things miniature; of cozy, tidy tableaus. The spirit of ho train sets and doll house interiors… I can hardly drive down a street at night but be swept up in the fantasies that each house suggests; the tall windows of Saratoga’s fine Victorian homes, the lone farm house in the field, the top floor apartment on the corner building, all lit from within, all whose contents can’t quite be seen but are instead implied… It’s so compelling. All these scenes call to me, I feel as if I absolutely must know each one of them.

I do, however, realize not all people feel this way. After some twenty years of my cooing over the wonder of it all I asked my then husband (probably for the 100th time) if he didn’t just wonder who exactly lived behind all those windows? “And”, I continued, “Don’t you just wonder what they all do for a liv- “He didn’t even let me finish – but cut me off, laughing, as he answered with a loud and resolute “NO!”. I didn’t take it personally, instead I learned something from it. My partner didn’t get it, (and granted, I’d probably exceeded his patience on the subject) but I always knew that even if he didn’t get it the way I did, someone else in this big world surely did…

So now, with the world available to me in this little box, and my child once again gone away, I find myself swept out into the vast beyond as I follow trail after trail of other people’s stories… As I read page after page, connecting the dots of both the famous and the unknown, I see that there is no end to the story… (there is also no end to my fascination). The only peace I find is to accept that I just can’t get it all, I never will, and somehow, that’s ok. Kinda like a train ride, I’m only going to pass so many windows and there’s only so much time to peek inside.

There are things to be done here around the house, and it’s not always easy to rouse myself from the quest for more stories, more windows to other worlds… I have to remind myself that every train ride ends with a destination. I’ve got students to prepare for, music to learn and chicken soup to freeze. So for now, I’ll just have to mark my page and close the book.

Nostalgia

My ex always used to say that I spent much of my energy in life looking back, while he spent much of his looking forward. I wouldn’t argue with that. I am, fundamentally, a sentimental person. And with the recent death of dear Von Freeman, something deep within my melancholic nature has been stirred. I’m made keenly aware of time’s passing. Elihu is no longer a very young boy, my father is now a very old man, and my hair is run through with silver. I’ve been here in New York now four years to this month. Time enough to have graduated from high school or from college. I’ve completed a four year term of life, and now, before I embark on the post-graduate study of life to come, I need to assess and file away what I’ve learned and accumulated thus far.

Over the past year I’ve been working at sorting through all of my household stuff, so that I might know the contents of my house – of my life – down to every last one of my mementos, recordings, art, writing and possessions (and the same of my son’s). Now I have reached the final – and most challenging – phase of the project: my office. Going through this archive of my life is an emotionally charged job. In some way it seems I’m bearing witness to all I’ve done and created thus far that I might now lay it to rest and begin the next chapter of my life’s work with renewed enthusiasm. When this room is finished, when the evidence has been considered and put away, it will create a good, clean emotional place from which to go forward into the adventure. But with all the retrospection going on today and all the poignant discoveries, for the moment I’m feeling a little sad, a little hesitant to say goodbye. A little stuck.

In this room is the fountainhead of all the things I’ve ever created and saved: work from grade school, papers from college, art, recordings, photos, writing, old programs from early in my dad’s career, ticket stubs, backstage passes, bits and pieces from every corner of my forty-nine years on the planet. What to do with it all? My goal, as I sit right now in the midst of a room full of paper, is to create systems. Binders will house the finest pieces of art, file boxes for the rest. Much has already been burned, much more is yet to be. Items – things – the stuff I really have no room for, it will be thinned to a manageable amount – put into a clear plastic box (for if it can’t be seen, it can easily be forgotten) and then onto a shelf. When will they lose their meaning? Will I end up tossing them or will that fall to Elihu after I’m dead? I am stopped by the quandary of stuff. What have my peers, my friends, my readers done with the sentimental things from their lives? I wish I knew. I’ve culled the best I can, I must simply store the rest that I can’t say goodbye to. I’m not good at taking my own advice. These things are not the person, not their love, not the memory, I know, I know… Yet I can’t throw out the postcards from my grandmother, nor the clay figure I made in second grade… I’m in a sentimental fog, and I’m trying to clear my head.

My load has lightened, it has, yet there’s still so much crap. Driving down the road today, I saw an open garage whose wall was covered in boxes. Likely the boxes that never got unpacked after that last move. I personally know plenty of folks with that story. So what then? And what, exactly, is actually in those boxes? Me, I’m finding mostly art in my boxes, some letters and lots of musical programs. I find a box of tax docs from our old Cafe and realize I can toss em now. That helps. Physically it gives me some room. Psychologically it frees me up. Ok. Progress is slow, but it’s there. One box down is one box down.

Then I come upon some photos of my last recording session. It was with Von. Wow. I look so much younger. And thinner. I remember – I was newly pregnant then. What a good time that was. It reminds me, and I’m happy to find these. I’d forgotten all about that session, I’m so grateful to have these pictures. I remember Von had said he thought he sounded like Ben Webster on the ballad… yeah, I remember that. I still have that recording. It gets me thinking. Maybe I should release it. Don’t know, but it’s something to think about. It’s a possibility.

Everything is a possibility right now. In a way it feels like I’m about to emerge – in earnest – from my old life. While reading my old letters to Fareed still brings tears, and while it’s still not easy to understand that Elihu has two brothers and a sister I don’t even know, things are better these days than they were in the beginning. Things are settling into their own new pattern. No longer is my story new and fresh. The hurt is there, but truly, it has dulled with time. I’ve come to realize that I love living alone, that Elihu and I have great adventures together, and that yes, two people can constitute a family. I’ve examined my life, and now I’m examining my possessions; taking a full-life inventory. I’ve moved through a phase of aging, of growing, of learning these past four years. I’m ready to move into my future.

Ever onward, yet ever mindful of the past. Nostalgic yes, but eager to create new memories. I think I still have a little space for a few more boxes….