The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Judging A Book April 25, 2016

Ace Productions

Me, (on the right) back in the day. Chicago’s own Ace Productions. From rocker to chicken farmer. Crazy.

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Things aren’t always what they seem, are they?

The past two weeks have been so crammed with the events of life, both mundane and profound, and in the process of moving through all of it, the surprises just keep coming. To those on the outside looking in, it might seem we’ve got a quiet, simple life here in the country. But a closer look would tell one otherwise. Even now, when my son is absent for the week, I’m so beset with to-do lists that I feel almost stopped before I’ve begun. This is nothing new, however, and lest I come off sounding too whiny, let me add that it’s definitely a good sort of work that I’m beset with. I work for myself, I’m beholden only to my own dreams and goals, and for the most part, the stress in my life is low. Mostly.

I’ve spent the past six hours beginning to print out the past five years worth of blog posts, and it’s been interesting to see how my life’s evolved since we moved here from Chicago, now over seven years ago. Some things were planned for, but most were not (of course that we’re here at all was never, ever part of my plan!). And all of my experiences, pleasant or otherwise, have brought me to the place where I exist today, which is, at the end of the day, not a bad place to be. Actually it can be an exciting place to be. That’s not to say the future isn’t daunting. Yeah, it still scares me. But to look back over the past few years has helped me to realize how far Elihu and I have both come.

The other day a new friend of mine came over to see my home. She was rather taken aback at the interior – apparently I hadn’t accurately represented it the way it appeared to her. “You said it was a crappy little ranch house…?” she said, a little confused. But here’s the thing, it is a crappy little ranch house! It’s got all of four rooms – and apart from the walls I painted, there’s a distinct, lingering essence of Brady Bunch (partly due to the harvest gold range). Yes, on the face of it, I live in a modest, almost crappy house. But inside it’s cozy, inviting and easy on the eyes. It’s not so much the piano, the harpsichord, the great view or how it’s decorated, but rather that it’s comfortable, and most importantly, it’s lived in. Elihu and I have often joked that we have a “tardis” house – cuz it feels completely different on the inside than it looks on the outside. Yup, outer appearances don’t always tell the whole story.

Last night I went out. Went to a dinner and evening of gambling at the Casino and Raceway. I am not terribly fond of the place, but for one night of the year I allow myself to “do as the Romans do”, and I try to enjoy the place for what it is (not a good fit for someone on a lean budget perhaps, but thankfully my penny betting netted me $6). During my night I met several interesting people. Firstly, I met a successful local realtor, who showed off his smooth interpersonal skills like a modern-day, barroom Yoda. I learned his father was a piano tuner, his grandfather had played the banjo, and he himself was a barber shop singer. Yet in spite of the personal tidbits he had given me, I didn’t end up feeling completely at ease with him; his eyes scanned the room almost continuously, seldom stopping to meet mine, and it made me wonder if he might have wished an escape from our conversation, which may have gone on too long for his comfort. I tend to filter very little, and don’t cultivate a very ‘pro’ game face in social situations. Maybe that was it. Maybe he was eager for his girlfriend to arrive. Maybe I was simply thinking too much, and this was just how he was. Who knows? Regardless, it was interesting to talk with him, and the direction of this post was in good part inspired my our conversation.

The fellow serving our prime rib on the buffet line turned out to be an interesting fellow as well. One parent was from Montreal, one from Mexico, he’d grown up between the two, and he had an engineering degree but now worked as a chef. I’m always interested to hear how people got here from wherever it was they were before. So many stories. Mind boggling. The bartender in the dance club was European, of French and Italian parents, her co-worker from Ukraine. And as I danced, I noticed a black man in a wheelchair on the sidelines. Feeling a little guilty that I was dancing, and that he couldn’t, I went over and said hello. Turns out he’s a motivational speaker and trainer – and he was just doing a little assessment of the crowd as to whether he would indeed get on the dance floor – sometimes it feels right, sometimes it doesn’t, he explained. He told me he loves to dance, and then did a little spin in his chair showing off some colored lights under the wheels.

After drawing “Prince” and then his “formerly known as” symbol on my hand in sharpie and waving it at the DJ (to which he nodded enthusiastically), I waited for a long while, thinking this would be the perfect ending to the night. But again, what seems obvious to me might not seem so obvious to the other guy. It seemed without question that a dance club would pay homage to Prince only two days after his death – don’t you think? Well, these guys didn’t. No one did. And in fact, Prince’s death really didn’t resonate in any meaningful way with any of the people in my small group. Seriously. It kinda shocked me. But again, each of us lives in our own tiny universe. My mother can’t live without the opera on Saturday afternoons, me I like Prairie Home Companion, and a whole lotta folks don’t know or care about either. We judge others by how we feel, and by what’s important to us, and sometimes that criteria doesn’t even exist for others.

Prince himself is a great example of the paradox of perception. His take-no-prisoners showmanship and over the top sexuality – in fact, his over-the-top androgyny – all of it might suggest a man who might well be full of himself. In real life, Prince was nothing like the expression of himself on stage, in fact, he was a private person who lived a rather usual life at home. He enjoyed his friends, he enjoyed supporting and guiding young talents, and he enjoyed seeing those around him happy and thriving. But more than this – he was actually frightened by the prospect of getting on stage. He suffered from anxiety, and felt most comfortable and stress-free when at home. Which is why, I suppose, he hunkered down in Minneapolis, never moving up and out to a more lavish lifestyle in a more glamorous location. Stories are now coming to the fore of his having acquired a dependence on certain opiates in order to function as he needed to. And this I understand. I’ve lived with panic attacks since the age of 14, and they are not a joke. Nor are they something that can be rationally understood, or mitigated by practical wisdom. In fact, I’m not sure that I’d find myself comfortable on stage anymore. There was a time when I could sing a cappella for thousands of people and not be frightened – hell, once upon a time that was inspiring. But not these days. Not that the idea doesn’t thrill me, but something irrational and deep inside wouldn’t make it easy. So I get it. Prince had two sides – each viable, each genuine – but each completely different from the other. But to look at the guy, you’d never know.

Life is full of variety, surprises and unpredictable events. And it’s certainly not under our control. Our guidance, perhaps, but control?…. nope. What I’ve learned, in going through my old posts tonight, and in meeting so many new people these past few weeks, as well as trying to better understand the death of a personal hero, is that it behooves one to listen, and to try to really understand where other people are coming from. It’s important to try to learn how they see the world. When I remember this, I find it helps smooth out rough patches in my relationships, and it helps me to consider troubling situations as possible opportunities for new ways of thinking about the world.

A final note about Prince that I wish to make so very clear: he was a person who lived with love and respect for all living things. He felt a deep, reverential connection to God through his music. He was a mentor, a teacher, a philanthropist. He was, in my opinion, an incredibly powerful expression of God among us. He was so super-bad and over-the-top, that his love, reverence and wisdom could be easily missed by those who saw only what he presented to the world. So, it just goes to show. You never really know what’s inside the book until you start to read…

 

Waking Time August 15, 2015

The sound was so shrill that it pierced the layers of fog surrounding me and reached deep into my subconscious, playing itself as a new feature of my dream. It sounded as it always did; like a warning or a cry for help. Was it a child’s cry? It didn’t quite sound like that, but it evoked a similar tightening of my gut. Was it a predator? Was it a happy sound or one of anguish? It was hard to tell, and as always, even after searching my surroundings as best I could, I wasn’t able to find the creature responsible for it. Gradually, as the cry continued, it pulled my waking self loose from the blissful abandon of my dreamscape, until I floated up and out and eons away from that place and instead came to the daily, and many times disappointing realization, that I was here. In my bed. And the goddam rooster was crowing.

Today’s re-entrance into waking reality was a little bit less of a blow than in mornings past. Elihu’s been gone for a couple of weeks and I’ve gotten a lot accomplished. Some mornings I wake with dread. Some with urgency; last night’s to-do list sits encouragingly on my bedside table and I’m ready to rock. Some days I awake in a pleasant neutrality, with caution and gratitude striking a momentary balance before the day begins to favor one over the other. Either way, it’s very seldom that I wake up entirely happy to be here. But this morning it definitely was different. Maybe not exactly a thrill, but at least waking up today didn’t pull my spirits down. That was progress.

A week before, each day had started differently; I’d had house guests stay here and so for that window in time things slowed down. So as not to lose forward momentum, immediately upon waking I turned my attentions to minor domestic repairs and garden chores to assure the mundane stuff got done, even when larger projects had to wait a bit. It all worked out very well, and in fact the visit was filled with serendipitous little meetings and outings – plus it gave me the opportunity to be with my friend’s daughter, a young girl who’m I’ve known for much of her life. We enjoyed some true girl time together (Elihu’s a great kid, but he could give a hoot whether I dress up or wear farm boots to town) and a chance to wear ‘super-sparkly’ stuff and mascara. (Just so ya know, Lilas and I also caught plenty of frogs.) Plus mom Mary left me with a pretty tasty recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes. It was a nice break in the routine, and after they left I could feel a refreshed surge of excitement for all that lay before me.

It’s beginning to look like the Studio might really blossom in the coming year – construction’s coming along, both indoors and out, and the place looks gorgeous. I’ve been trying to move about in the world in spite of ongoing panic issues, and have been making an effort to meet new people and see how other folks run their businesses. I’ve been practicing piano and have spent hours honing my book, moving songs into my preferred keys, merging lyrics and chords, making peace with formerly unknown bridges and verses. I’ve even gone out and met musicians. I’ve learned the contents of my wardrobe and cobbled together a few new outfits that will suit a new, public and active life. And more than all of this – I’ve finally gotten rid of the falling-apart and mismatched table and chairs that took up most of the precious screen porch. Since my food bill had been considerably less over much of the child-free summer, I was able to put that money towards an ensemble of low-end patio furniture I’d had my eye on since June. My patience paid off; the stuff had been marked down by almost half. I borrowed Zac and Stephanie’s vintage diesel truck and bounced down the road to pick em up. Planted the old wooden chairs at the top of the hill in the woods (what fun that always is to come upon some useful chairs when on a walk! And in the winter, it’s a great view) and last night, as the grass was still wet from a recent rain, I launched the old table to the heavens in an immense fire.

The first thing I did this morning was check the porch to see if it I hadn’t maybe dreamed it all… and to make sure the heavy table had indeed burned. No, that had not been a dream. It was now a pile of white ash. And yes, the porch looked lovely. It was whispering to me to come, sit, take my coffee there. Ok, maybe on paper it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but this has added a whole new room to the house, and plus it’s outside. Surrounded by flowers, hummingbirds and butterflies, its ceiling dancing with the reflected sunlight from my pond and my pool. My kiddie pool. But still.

I also got a lawnmower this past week. Got five open acres that the woods is quickly reclaiming and have felt a growing urgency that I equip myself to take some action. I have a friend who mows the place a couple times a year just to keep on top of it, but the place really needs a bit more maintenance than that. A rider is far beyond my budget, but I was able to find a self-propelled and fairly new Troy Bilt from a fellow down the road – and what’s more – I can actually pull start it myself without throwing my back out. Yes. Finally, I have the power to cut my own grass. Again, on paper, not much. But in reality, it truly makes me queen of my castle at last.

The kid’s having a great time with his father and their family. He’s on Washington Island in the far northern region of Wisconsin, kayaking and enjoying nature walks. He sounds rested and happy. Makes me happy too. Glad he’s able to share in all of that typically summer stuff. I don’t always have the resources to give him those experiences. So that’s good. We’ve both enjoyed our time away. I have two nights left, and in that time I hope to sit in at the local piano bar. All this practicing has my voice a little fuzzy and my knuckles are puffed and sore with arthritis, but hey, it all still works. Things could always be worse. !

Shortly after Bald Mountain called me back into this waking world, I checked my nightstand to see if there might be a note of encouragement left by my last night’s self to help propel me into a new day…. And indeed, there was. It read “August 15th, 2015. Been here seven years.” Earlier this week I’d passed my three year mark for having quit smoking (I was a part-time smoker then, but still, it counts). And wouldn’t ya know, here it was. Today was the day Elihu and I had arrived, seven years ago, at this great unknown new life. A sketchy ranch house with green shag carpeting and what I like to call “high Angie Dickinson” decor – wrought iron pulls on the mahogany-toned cabinets, red velvet-covered doorbell speaker… I had looked about me from a place of deepest desolation. My head was spinning, my heart broken, my future absolutely unknown. The faint smell of wet dog didn’t help, and to be honest, neither did the fine view from my living room window. I was petrified of the situation, and my ex was so full of rage at me for having left. It was an absolutely horrible place to be. But see, now – it’s not. Things aren’t exactly what I’d thought they’d be when I set out to create a family and build a new life, but still. This place is my home, and this is my life. Not so bad. Really.

If you’d have told me seven years ago today that down the line I’d be raising chickens, shooting at foxes and stuffing a string bass into the back of my CRV, I’d have thought you were dreaming. But look how it’s all turned out. Wow. Me, a single mom in the country raising chickens and a polka-loving, tuba-playing boy? Yup. It’s all true. And I’m pretty sure I’m wide awake.

 IMG_0237Super sparkly and ready to rock.

 

Blue Moon, Red Fox August 1, 2015

A Blue Moon rose last night over Greenfield, and from my lovely spot here on the hill its rise was gorgeous. It’s been a week that’s run the gamut for me emotionally, and this was a good way to bring the week, and the month, to a close.

There are two red foxes in our neighborhood now, and sadly, late one afternoon, in broad daylight and as I witnessed helplessly from inside the house, a fox grabbed our dear Sussy and ran off with her (Elihu took a rare shot of her that appears at the top of the last post’s photos). I shouted and ran after, but it was too late. It wasn’t til the next day that I realized how hard our dear, chatty hen had worked to evade the predator; there were four distinct spots of struggle which started on one side of the house and concluded out back. A day or two later Elihu, neighbor Zac and I watched as the fox made another pass at the yard, crossing over the creek and through the field without so much as picking up his pace to a trot as I yelled after him. Clearly, this place was easy pickins, and my shouting was no deterrent. This is so frustrating. Last year I did battle with a family of raccoons, and to my chagrin I ended up killing two of them. The humane trap isn’t as straightforward a solution as one might think (and then there was the skunk which I did end up catching – and then releasing – thankfully without getting sprayed). What’s more, foxes do live up to their reputation as being clever creatures. They can figure out all sorts of inventive techniques to reach their prey (and they are notorious for evading traps). This new situation is very distressing – I can never leave our property with confidence, but truthfully, even if I am here, I’m not sure I can do much to stop this visitor from making off with one of our gals. And while there are a good twenty birds I could lose without much regret, there are three of whom Elihu and I are so deeply fond, that to lose them would be a true heartbreak. All I can do is hope that somehow they’ll be spared. (We’ve lost four hens in the past month, and now the loss of eggs is becoming a challenge as our young gals aren’t laying yet and we still have regular egg customers.)

This is our sixth year raising chickens, so we know that unexpected loss goes with the territory. But still. It’s hard to shake a loss, especially when you lose one of those ‘special’ birds that has shown herself to stand out from the flock in any number of endearing ways. I can assure you this: even a simple chicken may possess unique tendencies. Elihu himself will scold me for anthropomorphising these creatures – but nevertheless, it’s sad to lose a hen who added such good cheer to our homestead. Mom is a good lookout and calls us with advance warning; she lives just one property over, and daily she puts out corn for the deer. Just this past week the foxes (this is how we know there are two and not just one) have joined the raccoons, deer and turkeys at mom’s place (between the furry creatures and all the birds, her house looks like Snow White’s cottage!). I just hope the foxes eat their fill there and forget about their taste for chicken. I should think it would be a whole lot easier to eat what’s given to them than to hunt – and tear apart – a bird. At least I hope so. Elihu and I found a fox den in the woods on the side of the hill and covered it with sticks. I’ll return soon to see if they’ve been moved. If so, at least we’ll know where they live. That will give us something to work with. This is an adventure that’s likely only just begun. It’s all so discouraging; just when you think you’re past the rough spots, there’s always some new challenge. But truly, that’s life in the county.

At this writing Elihu is back in Chicago with his father, and will return again in little less than two weeks – coming in on the late night flight that arrives after 1 in the morning. Later that evening we plan to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra, so it’ll be a long day. But no point sweating over that just yet; that may as well be a year off… House guests arrive any day now, and between the Studio, my search for piano jobs, staving off the ever looming panic attacks, teaching a handful of students and life in general (oh yeah, and fox hunting) there will be plenty to keep me occupied.

A few weeks ago I’d tried my hand at another garage sale, in order to get an infusion of summer cash into my pocket – and to once and for all get rid of all this stuff that has remained in my possession all these years. I finally unpacked the one last box from my move here, and at last knew definitively what should stay and what should go. The sale was a lot of work – and a bust too, netting me a mere $47 after two hot and sweaty days, not to mention the many hours spent in prep. And after it all, I was still left with my stuff, plus the trash that had come with the process. Rather than spend more money I hardly even had, I decided to muscle up and get rid of it by myself – the old fashioned way: by going to the dump. I hadn’t been to a dump since I was a kid and my dad would load up the station wagon and back it up to the big, sandy pit here in Greenfield. The place has been closed for years, and thankfully, somehow the forest has reclaimed it. (It’s actually kind of eerie – in driving by you would never know that there’d been a huge, open space there once upon a time. I shiver to think of the stuff that’s hiding just below the roots…) I did have to shell out $25 for the car load, but what a relief to finally have my big trash out. Now I gotta muster the oomph to load up the car again and schlep all that leftover stuff to the Salvation Army store a few exits up the Northway. Believe me, when the last extraneous scented pillar candle and ironically amusing coffee mug is finally out of my garage, I will feel a relief that will, I’m hoping, be something of a spiritual experience.

The one thing that has pained me most about living here – aside from the lack of affordable, good ma and pa restaurants and any true ethnic diversity (those wonderful little joints usually come along with that missing diversity) – is that there’s no water in my world. Yeah, there’s a lake just about a half hour drive in any direction, but that aint the same as living on the shore of one. And ten miles may just as well be a hundred. Anyway, even if I do make it to a shoreline, I have no means of getting out onto the water. I don’t have any boating friends here, so I don’t have an in. This was something I could live with for a few years, but just a few days ago I reached my limit. What was stopping me from at the very least finding my way to the local sailing club? I didn’t even stop to think about it, I grabbed my bag and got in the car.

I’d heard about the sailing club – but no one I’ve asked ever seemed to know where it was exactly, or how you got there. Good Lord, people, are you not all smart phone equipped? I myself had a mere map on paper – and that was all I needed… It was a bit further off the beaten path than I might have guessed, but easy enough to find. I pulled in and discovered an old home on a lovely, tree-shaded lawn that ended at the water’s edge. I parked, got out of the car and crunched up the gravel driveway as a man in front of me, looking up into a tall white pine, said quietly “there’a a bald eagle in that tree” and pointed behind my shoulder. Sure enough – stock still he sat, surveying the water for dinner. I always have a pair of binoculars in the car for appreciating birds and scenic outlooks, so I doubled back to get them. I offered them to the man for a look. He enjoyed them for a minute, then thanked me as he handed them back. I stood there feeling more than well rewarded. I’d finally found this place – and got my first sighting of a wild bald eagle. This had to be a good sign.

I went in and found two high school boys on the porch waiting for their charges in the youth summer program to arrive. We had an enjoyable chat, and I got a better idea of the vibe there. Although there were the requisite high-end cars in the lot, the place didn’t have an overly highbrow feel to it, instead it felt homey and very family-friendly. I passed my card to one of the boys, the one who’d said his own mom might actually like to take me out on the water. I also wrote a note on my card and pinned it to the bulletin board. I hesitated for just a second, but decided to do it. Nothing to lose. I snapped a couple pics of the old-timey, nautical-themed interior, then got on my way after admiring this rare view from the underdeveloped west shore of the lake.

Until the magical day I get on the water again, there’s always much to do around here. Progress is stop-and-go with the Studio, but things are still moving forward. We now have doors that actually lock, and we’re just a day or two away from a kitchen with actual running water. ! Bits and pieces are still annoyingly hard to complete; a strangely-shaped box office needs some desk and counter space, but just how that will work is still not known. A large crack has erupted in the new wall which the carpenter suspects is being caused by a leak in the roof. There’s an enormous pit in front of the place that will need to be back filled after the plumbers finish their work. We still need to order and install an art hanging system, and there are knobs and face plates to go up. Small crap – construction mess and various bits and pieces – still lay about on folding tables and it all needs to go out or back where it belongs. Much of the tedious little stuff I can do myself – and in fact that’ll get to that this next week, but my hands are tied when it comes to addressing perennial leaks and joining pvc pipe. But on the whole, this process has been fascinating, and I’ve learned a lot on the way – it’s been a supreme game of ‘which comes first’, and for me, a person for whom linear thinking is often a great chore, it’s helped me to organize my actions effectively. Sometimes (hell, who are we kidding, make that most times) it feels as if nothing has actually been accomplished – that I’ve been spinning my wheels and getting nearly nowhere, but the photos from our ‘then’ and ‘now’ tell me otherwise. Much as I’d like to think I’m a happy, positive energy in this world, the inner side of me is more of a ‘glass half empty’ sort of gal, and panic and worry are forever tapping me on the shoulder to remind me of the ‘what ifs’. But I’m working on it.

This may be my last solo day for a while, as my friends arrive soon to stay here for the week, and Elihu returns not long after they leave. I feel a mix of that dull, waking awareness that summer is on its way out, and a growing dread for the unknown future of my world. One of the things that does lighten my heart as I plod along on this planet are uncommitted days in perfect weather – just like this one – when my garden comes alive with color and my chickens surround me, purring and chuckling sounds of contentment. So today, this first day of August, I’m not going to do much, and I’m going to do my best not to feel guilty about it either. I’m going to savor my solitude, my birds and my garden, as I enjoy the memory of last night’s Blue Moon. I’ll be back to hunting red foxes soon enough.

IMG_0204This was not actually the true Blue Moon, but the one the night before. Still looks pretty full and sure is beautiful.

IMG_0149Usually I’d scold Austin and shoo him off the bird feeder, but he’s alerted us so well whenever the fox has been here that I feel he deserves this special treat.

IMG_0145This is the trio we love – Thumbs Up, her sister Specks, and our eldest rooster and father of the whole flock – Bald Mountain. He himself has battled a raccoon – losing his comb in the process – and made it out alive. In fact, he’s survived many attacks in his six years here. Elihu loves him like a favorite dog. If too much time passes without hearing him crow, I go searching for him to make sure he’s still with us. He may be old, but he’s still fully loaded.

IMG_0056Went to the movies with mom and Andrew the other night, but it was still light out, so the birds hadn’t roosted yet. Not wanting to risk losing our favorites, I put one gal under each arm and stashed them in our screen porch for safety. I’d left the window to the porch open – and look what these clever girls did for added security! Do ya see em? They let themselves in through an open window.

IMG_0057Smart girls.

IMG_0051Smart boy, too. He parked himself on the table because he’s a big, heavy bird and likely couldn’t get to the top of the fridge.

IMG_0039This business of euphemistically calling a dump a ‘transfer station’ gets me. Can’t we just call this place what it really is?

IMG_0040I got in line to have my full vehicle weighed on the drive in.

IMG_0043We’re headed to the building in the distance.

IMG_0023Inside this hangar-sized structure is a mountain of trash. Ya just back up your car and heave away.

IMG_0021A large claw pushed the incoming mess to the back as folks continued to fling their trash onto the heap. Decades ago, before recycling was hip, I’d taken it upon myself to collect the recycling of my apartment building neighbors and drive it to a recycling center. My friends all knew me as the gal ‘who’d take your stuff’. I even had T shirts made that said “The earth is a finite resource. Recycle.” I sold them in Garbage Magazine (long out of print) and to anyone I could. I was – and still am – profoundly frightened of our long-term prognosis with respect to our cast-offs. I remember feeling very conflicted about even having children because of it. Many times I’ve apologized to my son for bringing him into this mess. Our future is not for the faint of heart.

IMG_0077Ah, but this is what Genesse Cream Ale was made for. To help us forget! Mom brought over a couple of cold ones, including this gem on the right: the very last of the original bottle shapes. They don’t make em anymore, which makes me a little nostalgic. Screw it, let’s drink!

IMG_0080I’ll miss those short, squat bottles. Genny in a long neck just isn’t quite the same.

IMG_0198Finally! It’s a very long, private drive to the shore, but I wasn’t daunted.

IMG_0192Here’s the lovely home of the Saratoga Lake Sailing Club.

IMG_0185A cozy feel just like you’d imagine. Even has that certain smell…

IMG_0186Ah, nautical memorabilia. Gives me a gentle feeling of being home at last. It’s been over a decade since I’ve sailed, and honestly, I couldn’t get underway without help these days, but there’s something about being on water and powered by wind that makes everything finally OK. It erases care and unites one with the world. Really.

IMG_0190Here’s the view from the club.

IMG_0189The bump in the center is Snake Hill, on the lake’s southeast side, and I can see it from my house all year ’round.

IMG_0194And look! A sailboat!! So close, and yet still, so very far…

IMG_0187Love this. Cheat the nursing home. Die on your Laser. !!

IMG_0180How’s this for bird watching? My first ever sighting of a Bald Eagle in the wild. Awesome.

IMG_0047But these are the birds I love most. I love to know they’re living a happy life here. While they enjoy roaming free and foraging in the grass (cutting my feed bill by more than half) they’re safer in the run. Now I let them out only when I can be out with them.

IMG_0036And this, I assume, is a happy frog living in our pond

IMG_0134I also like to think that even our fish are happy.

IMG_0126This time of summer our garden looks lovely – and that, even if it’s only a moment’s distraction from the endless concerns of money, my unknown future and endless to-do lists – makes me happy too.

IMG_0278The Blue Moon rises to the left, and the casino and harness track glow in the distance off to the right.

IMG_0269Burning what’s left of the paper and boxes.

IMG_0068After seeing me ‘standing alone’, the moon retreated behind the clouds and left them glowing around the edges in the dark night sky. Goodbye for now, Blue Moon. Most likely things will be very different around here the next time we see you.


Post Script: I made the decision to let the chickens out today, because they seem so much more content to roam, take dust baths and sit in the shade. As I sat working at my computer Austin began to sound an alarm, and I looked up to see a fox about ten feet away from me, and creeping closer still. I yelled and the fox merely slowed his pace… Unbelievable how brave… Finally I grabbed a couple of rocks and threw them, and he/she did then retreat towards the woods, but it stopped a few times to look back to see if he/she might not be able to get past me and grab just one hen… Now I simply cannot go inside until sunset for fear of an event. Time to wash the car and do a little weeding I guess.

 

 

Springing Forth April 5, 2015

Never in my four years at the helm of this blog have I passed so much time in between posts. But there are many good reasons for such a break. Too many, most likely, to accurately recount here.

The digest begins like this: Two weeks ago the logging job stopped, and with it came not only the money from the harvest, but the work in earnest began on the Studio (thereby spending all of the windfall in short order.) The logging site was left with a lot more mess than we’d agree upon, and I met with the forester to discuss cleanup, a task I knew would be very hard to enforce once the big machines had left the premises. I’d seen the gear there on Sunday, but by the time I’d finished my early morning rehearsals at school on Monday morning, I returned not only to find every last piece of earth-moving equipment gone, but huge heaps of dirt, stumps and stone ringing the work site. So not what we agreed upon. But then again, they were there to get the timber, not to leave me with a squeaky clean parking lot. But still. One more thing on the list to make right.

Meanwhile, there were decisions to be made about materials and finishes and such, while daily life continued without slowing down. Lesson plans, rehearsals, paperwork for the Studio, meetings, meals and homework all kept going, much to my frustration. I’m not a great multi-tasker, and as such the past month has been a bit trying for me. Panic attacks have been kept at arm’s length (thanks to the miracle of Xanax I can avoid them almost altogether), and as if a perfect bipolar patient, I swing back and forth from one emotional extreme to the next several times in the course of a day. One moment I’m brimming over with hope and visions for a successful future, the next I wonder what in hell it is I think I’m doing here and I’m just about ready to take a job at McDonald’s and excuse myself from the whole affair. Exhausting stuff.

One week ago Elihu and I drove to Philadelphia to meet my cousin (my late father’s nephew), his wife, his sons and one wee one too. It was the first time I’d ever met any Conant relatives as an adult, so it was an important visit. My cousin also took us to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra – box seats, no less – where we heard not only Mahler’s 5th, but also a new concerto written for tuba (!!!). Serendipity came through for us after the concert and we found ourselves walking backstage, escorted by the composer of the piece himself. Elihu was beside himself with the thrill, and I’m afraid that I caused him no small amount of embarrassment as I lost my cool and fell into something of a star-struck stage mom in the presence of both composer and soloist. We chatted with the tubist, and offered to meet up with her again in the summer, when the orchestra (of which she is a member) makes its summer residency in our hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York.

For me the trip involved a lot of driving – more than twelve hours in the car for a brief, weekend stay (and with panic attacks threatening the whole way it was a bit more stressful than it might have been otherwise). But it was well worth it for the new relationship we now have with our family, not to mention the memories we made that will, to use the most trite but accurate expression, last a lifetime.

Since our return from Philly everything at the Studio seems to be happening without pause; decisions I might like to have labored over a bit longer need to be made ASAP; purchases, while modest, are still adding up to steeper totals than I’d imagined, and the reality of our lot in the wake of now-absent loggers still has me concerned. But it’s all good, as I must remind myself. Sometimes even hourly. I’m tempted to cry almost daily with all the money that’s going out… It feels surreal to live on food stamps and state assistance and then turn around and pen a check for several thousand dollars as if it were business as usual. I can’t wrap my brain around the discrepancy between the commerce of the new business, and the lack of commerce here at home.

In an effort to drum up some income (as well as play music again!) I’ve begun to make some plans. Since Elihu is now old enough to be left at home alone for more than a quick run to the convenient store, I’m starting to think about getting something together for the summer tourist season and actually finding some work. Breaking into the local ‘music scene’ (there really isn’t one – it’s just a summer extravaganza of wedding-esque cover bands) is proving to be much more difficult than I’d thought. In spite of knowing a handful of musicians, I can’t seem to find a single job. Not even a freebie – and Lord knows I’d be happy just to sing. My gear is as out-of-date and out-of-the-loop as I am, and my now-ancient (make that vintage) Yamaha S80 won’t cut it anymore, even if I should find work. (Yes, I do still have my Rhodes and Wurli, but those are in dire need of work and require an extra pair of hands to move.) The days of lugging a 70 pound board around – plus amp and gear – are just plain over. Some of my pro friends might pooh-pooh my desire for a lightweight keyboard with, gasp, builtin speakers, but that’s the way this gal is headed, I’m afraid. I found a candidate for a new board on Craigslist, and when this income-free week of Spring break is over and students resume, I hope to make it my new piece of gear. Let’s hope it ends up paying for itself in the coming months.

Sometimes it feels as if I’ve taken a giant hiatus from my life after having become a mother – and a single one to boot. When I stop and look at the stats, I realize that I haven’t worked as a musician since shortly after Elihu was born. That means I’ve been dormant for over a decade! Not that I have any regrets; being present for my child as he’s grown up has been a blessing that many are never given the option to experience. Yeah, being broke has been a drag, but even so, it’s been acceptable, because I’ve been able to be here for my son (plus, when in a true pinch, grandma has always had our back. The significance of that cannot be understated.) I have an amazing child in part because I’ve chosen to be with him and not farm him out to daycare while I grind out a minimum hourly wage. It’s all worked out ok thus far, but I pray things will be changing soon. I’m tired of just getting by. They say do what you love and the money will follow. God I hope. People ask me what my business plan is with the new place, and honestly, I can say that I still do not know. I know what I intend to achieve, but the hows are still the struggle. Lists are being made and ideas being created – and tossed out just as fast. Something will take shape, I know. Just not sure how. But whether I make music myself, or make music possible for others, as long as I can somehow glean an income in the process, I’d be the happiest gal around.

Today it’s Easter, and while this year my son may no longer truly believe in the Easter bunny (can’t help but think he maintains his belief to please his mum!), outwardly his show of enthusiasm doesn’t let on. Last night we watched the old 70s TV special “The Easter Bunny’s Coming to Town” (with Fred Astaire narrating) and today we quoted our favorite passages from the show as we dug into our colored eggs. To my chagrin, when his little half brothers called this morning, they had Elihu turning the house upside down for hidden eggs, which the Easter bunny had not bothered to hide at 3 in the morning when he was filling the basket. The Easter bunny can only do so much. ! And now, I think my kid gets that. But no matter whether he believes or not, it’s still been a special morning for us. We’re both happy to be at home, together. That makes it a good day, no matter what.

Soon we’ll gather the last eggs from the coop for the incubator, and after that we’ll take a long, leisurely walk around the property. We’ll visit the fox’s den in the side of the hill, we’ll check to see how little snow is left in the shady spots, and we’ll see how our mom-and-son cairns by the lightening-struck tree have weathered the years. We’ll shore up the piles of rocks, agree that it was a fine walk, and head home to await an evening meal with grandma and Uncle Andrew.

I’m not sure how things will pan out in the days to come, but today I’ll try not to worry too much about it. Instead, I’ll continue to do what I’ve done for the past ten years of my life – I’ll enjoy watching my son as he makes his way through his childhood and towards his future.

IMG_5592The family! Yay for the Conants of Philadelphia!

IMG_5573Big ones and wee ones…

IMG_5577…and funny ones, too! Just look at that chicken purse! Love it. We’re definitely related.

IMG_5696The Kimmel Center, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Elihu just kept expressing his amazement over the space. He’d never been to a concert hall like this before. A night he will never forget.

IMG_5683The hall, gorgeous; the Mahler, rich; but Carol – beyond anything he’d expected. Elihu was simply transported. He loved the piece, and he was given a new appreciation for the virtuosity needed to play such music. Suffice to say he aspires to much more than the common polka these days. Thanks, Michael and Carol.

IMG_5699Chatting backstage with tuba soloist Carol Jantsch and composer of “Reflections on the Mississippi”, Michael Daugherty.

IMG_5697My son and Mr. Daugherty, whom we later learned shares a birthday with Elihu!

IMG_5700Elihu is psyched. !!!

IMG_5616Philly by the light of day. I was interested to learn that the sculptor of this famous bronze figure of William Penn atop the city hall clock tower was by Alexander Milne Calder, the father of modern sculptor Alexander “Sandy” Calder.  There’s even a plaza which is home to works by both father and son.

IMG_5625City of brotherly love…

IMG_5627… and lots and lots of art. There is literally a large piece of art on every corner. Loved that.

IMG_5629So what does lil man want to do when in this historic, all-American city? Eat Vietnamese food, of course! (Wing Phat? How appropriate for my little aviator!)

IMG_5632Hello, cousin Matt!

IMG_5637Tasty quail! We had Pho, too….

IMG_5649Thanks to Matt and Stephanie for taking us to this sweet Asian grocery store (oh, and lunch, too)!

IMG_5648Helpful signage.

IMG_5655Fish heads?

IMG_5659We liked this one… We all agreed it mighta been worth $10 to watch the staff running around trying to catch a loose bullfrog…

IMG_5663Spring-loaded and ready to leap.

IMG_5606Headed back home we can see the famous Boathouse Row across the river.

IMG_5566The whole area is full of boulders and hills. Most of the local houses are themselves made of stone.

IMG_5556A jam-packed weekend had my lil man zonked out.

IMG_5721In the morning, it’s scrapple for breakfast! A Philadelphia delicacy!

IMG_5728Cousin Dave, waving goodbye in front of his stone house. Thank you for the hospitality!!

IMG_5745One last look at the Philly skyline…

IMG_5794… and then it’s on to the New Jersey Turnpike. The language of roadways is different all over; one travels by highway, expressway, turnpike, thruway, freeway, tollway and parkway. Phew!

IMG_5787Next time.

IMG_5914This tells us we’re getting close to the end of our trip…

IMG_5916And so our wonderful little adventure comes to a close as we return home. To snow. !

IMG_5969Sadly, I saw this hairy woodpecker being hit by a car. He lived long enough for me to bring him home. We admired his beauty, then buried him along with our other birds under the flowering quince bush.

IMG_5997Elihu had his buddies over the other day. They had a blast.

IMG_6021Elihu and Sawyer enjoy the hens.

IMG_6025I took the boys for a walk down the road to see how the Studio was coming along.

IMG_6028The sign will need to be moved to mark the new driveway and parking lot, a couple hundred feet to the east.

IMG_6056Mud season begins.

IMG_6032The boys have fun in the room that’s almost prepped for its new floor.

IMG_6030A kitchen will add greatly to the building’s functionality.

IMG_6043The view from the Studio’s balcony. The boys are enjoying the last of the snow.

IMG_6072Elihu got a little asthmatic after all that running around, but it was worth it.

IMG_6195Easter morn.

IMG_6197Digging for treats.

IMG_6120Elihu gives Thumbs Up a good smooching.

IMG_6149Elihu and his chickens.

IMG_6152The bigger picture.

IMG_6317A sight we seldom see; neighbors out for a walk on the hillside road. They wished us a happy Easter as they passed.

IMG_6322Mom and son cairns.

IMG_6291The lightening-struck tree. Still looks the same as past Easters.

IMG_6356I found a kite under the snow and we had fun watching it whip in the wind.

IMG_6393Our own Calder-esque bird sculpture by friend and Vietnam vet Ace, and our garage’s dove behind.

IMG_6377Almost home. A perfect Easter day.

Happy Spring to all our friends around the world, and may good things blossom anew for each and every one of you.

 

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…

 

Ruminatrix November 30, 2014

When my dad’s estate was finally settled and the funds put into an account, my mother was given a checkbook to draw on the funds. I thought she’d have been mostly pleased that there was something to draw on even – but that was eclipsed each and every time she’d pull out the checkbook by the horrible thing she saw printed upon them. She let out a veritable shriek when she first explained the situation to me… My mother almost always takes any situation and immediately finds – and calls attention to in the bitterest way possible – the great, personally-directed injustice of it (for her a glass is always half empty and not half full, a fear-based reaction likely tied to her father leaving her family for good when she was ten). And this checkbook presented a major offense, it appeared. In fact, it was a two-pronged offense in her eyes; on the one hand she’d lost her identity again, and had reverted from “Nancy J.” back to a “Mrs. Robert S.” (her generation has strong feelings about women’s hard-earned rights), and secondly, her title was listed as “Executrix”. Hm. Sure, I paused at that. I needed a moment to understand it, but certainly, these estate planning folks knew what they were doing, this must have been a case of archaic language surfacing in modern legalese. “Trix” was merely the feminine for “tor” and should be taken as nothing else. (Yes, I know, our modern minds all go immediately to “domenatrix”.) For some reason this feminine form of “executor” has survived, while other words like “aviatrix” or “administratix” have not; I suppose it’s another gender-equalizing step forward in the de-sexing of our language. Guess I can understand mom’s displeasure a bit better. Regardless of her feelings on the matter, there you have it. My mother is an executrix.

My mother is also, once again, Nancy. She is still someone’s widow, but in some ways she’s now coming into a new version of herself that wasn’t possible when dad was alive. I get that. In her day a woman lost her name when she married, it wasn’t questioned. In her case, she also lost whatever it might have been to be Nancy, instead, she became the wife of a famous harpsichordist. To her great credit, while Andrew and I were still small, she went back to college and earned a Bachelor of Science, and got herself a job at the local hospital. I remember seeing her at the kitchen table with her Texas Instruments calculator, the size of a small brick, working on numbers way into the night. So growing up, I naturally thought her to be a math type, unafraid (as I was) of calculations. Maybe she even liked math. It seemed so. At least I never heard her complain. And it wasn’t until recently, as we discussed Elihu’s math assignments for school, that I heard her make a comment that shattered my previous assumptions about her. She felt herself actually bad at math. It was her weakness, and she hated it. ?? Since this is a woman who has been doing crossword puzzles religiously for decades, I naturally thought she just had that clever brain for whom nothing is a challenge, and for whom everything comes easily. Guess not. Immediately, it put a spin on things: my mother had stepped out of her comfort zone when she’d gone back to school. It might not have been so much about keeping busy or contributing income as it had been about her keeping – or creating – her own identity. Her sanity, her sense of self. Another piece of the puzzle was revealed, and things made more sense.

Marrying a mildly famous person has its downside. Like my mother, I too had a partner who was well known. Much more often I was identified by him, very seldom was it the reverse. In the beginning of our relationship this was a point of stress, and it was something we talked about, and worked on. Thankfully there then came a good long stretch of time when I myself found success of my own, and in my own niche subculture had become modestly famous as well. I was busy, and creatively satisfied. It was only after I discovered my own life that I was able to enjoy, shame-free, a life alongside a famous person. But truthfully, a voice nagged at me towards the second half of our relationship: “What are you here for, and how can you possibly ever find out if you’re living with this person? Your life as a couple is all about him; are you sure you’re ok with that?” There was so much more at play than simply being partnered with a famous person. There were my insecurities, yes, but beyond that there was a person on the other side of the equation who was slowly morphing over the years into a textbook-perfect narcissist. I know he wasn’t like this in the beginning; no, we were both very naive, young things back then. Trying situations had yet to bear on our simple lives. I personally believe that his own highly dysfunctional upbringing plus the stressors of life had a cumulative effect on my ex, gradually nurturing the lion within until he became the strange, self-serving creature he is today. At present he is a mix of things; while I can no longer recognize (even as I could a year ago) any human tenderness in his eyes (his son also notices the creepy transformation when his father is here with us) I do know that he is a loving father, and that somewhere in that self-serving, self-justifying persona of his, there is a misunderstood boy who wishes only for love, comfort and sincere recognition. And these are things I could not have known before. And it helps tremendously. But it didn’t come to me overnight; it’s taken time and lots of introspection to arrive at this place.

Last night, as Elihu and I played Scrabble, we chatted about many things over our game, so when he paused and said “I don’t really get it”, I wasn’t sure what he’d meant. On Thanksgiving we’d watched videos of his father and me, from preparations for the wedding through the wedding itself (this was our only footage of dad) and then to his birth and first adorable months as a baby. Elihu had never seen his mother and father together – as we had been for over two decades –  as a couple. There was much laughter, and an ease about us that no longer existed in any way. Turns out the videos were on his mind. “He was just all about you. You guys were so happy and showed each other so much love. I don’t get how it changed.” “Well,” I thought aloud, “I guess my ‘negative Nancy’ stuff helped. I mean, I was a lot more like grandma than I’d realized. A lot of the time I felt like we lived his life more than mine – or ours – and I guess it made me upset. So I was mean sometimes. Looking back, I guess it probably helped change things. It wasn’t the only reason, but it was one of them, I suppose.” We talked a bit more about it, and Elihu came to some new understanding which seemed to help. The conversation ended while the Scrabble game continued on. (Yes, he won.)

Elihu recently asked me what makes kids in their twenties so much more ‘grown up’ than the high school kids. He saw them all as physically grown, savvy, smart and funny. How was it that they high schoolers were still considered ‘kids‘? Immediately, I recalled the chicken curry effect. Some nights I’ll whip up a batch of his Grandpa Riaz’s chicken curry, and while I follow all the directions just so, it won’t taste quite right. But the next night? Dead on. Delicious. One can’t help but notice the difference. What the curry needed was time to settle, time for the ingredients to become integrated. Yes, all the right ingredients were already there with the high school kids – they had lots of information on board, and as Waldorf kids, they had lots of world experiences too – but what they didn’t have under their belts yet was time. And there is no substitute for the deeper advancements that come with the simple passing of time. It becomes a subtle form of contemplation in and of itself. I always tell my students that the time in between practice sessions is just as important as the practice itself. Some magical, internal process takes place that brings the pieces together. Glad of it too, there’s so much information in life to assimilate; emotional, factual and otherwise. Happy to know some of it takes care of itself. !

Three years ago, when I first started writing, I had said that I knew things were ok, in spite of my bad situation (see the post “Snowflakes”.) That I knew there was a silver lining somewhere in the middle of the whole mess. That things, although they didn’t appear so on the outside, were poised for an improved future. Thing is, while I was writing what I knew to be true, I did not yet feel it. It’s almost as if I was self-coaching in front of an audience, that I might soon come to believe in my heart what I knew to be true in my brain. I hesitated to publish it too, because I knew damn well that I was not feeling as optimistic as I’d sounded. Just the opposite, really. But something inside me knew that it would one day be true, and that I’d catch up. Quite honestly, six years after having left my Illinois home and moving here I have still not caught up. But I’m much further along. I continue to revisit my old life (maybe a bit more than some folks would think productive), trying to identify the actions that brought me here, and more importantly what created the spirit in which those actions were created. How do I ensure that I behave differently in the future? How also do I ensure that my child doesn’t pick up these emotional weaknesses himself? Thanks to the solitude I enjoy in the country, plus a combination of thinking and simply being, I have come closer to some answers.

That being said, daily I’m still combating a deep, existential fear, one which will be quieted only when I realize what it is that I do, and then find myself doing it, and one can only hope, getting paid for it as well. ! (Living with the help of state assistance, while still essential to our survival, has become a little challenging on the ego.) The Studio lurks in my mind as a dormant dream with plans that sit, waiting for the next step. I know I’ll get there, and until I do, much of my psyche is upset because the place still lingers, unresolved and waiting… Yet while The Studio sleeps through the winter and waits for my attention, I continue to heal, grow and learn. I’m still identifying aspects of my life – good and bad – as well as some issues carried over from my own parents, and coming to understand how these things manifest in my life today.

I’m still dealing with panic attacks these days too. Realizing that I went for years without any fear of them, I focus my thinking on what made that time different from today. How was I able to live panic-free? I believe it was thanks to a clearer sense of meaning and purpose. I know I’m a very good mother, but at the end of the day, that alone is not the answer. Sometimes I wish it was enough just to be a great parent, but important as that is, it’s not. I still need my own thing, too. Something that satisfies – and also pays. Yes, I do have ‘things’, but none of them is panning out as I’d like: I’m a musician, but I don’t play much anymore. A teacher, but too few students to make it a real job. I’m a writer, yes, with enough material for a book or two – but I don’t write for hire, I write for me (don’t get me wrong – I’d gladly write for hire, I just don’t know how to begin that pursuit). I’m a chicken farmer too, I suppose, but egg sales only cover my costs if I’m lucky. I spend my time doing many things, but at the end of the day I probably do more thinking than anything else. If only there were a name for such a thing… Oh but hang on, just maybe there is… Do you suppose there are any job opportunities out there for a ruminatrix? Or maybe… a Ms. Ruminatrix?

Well, at least it’s something to think about…

 

Panic 1-1-1 September 7, 2014

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It’s the infinite possibility that gets me. The unfathomable, unknowable vastness of situations that exist – the organic events going on, right now, in the very spot of grass beneath my feet, the goings on of people and commerce in my town, across the whole state, the whole country, and at the same time all the like going on in other towns, in other countries, even on other continents… It’s the weather systems that surround our globe and the super-heated action taking place miles below our feet… and then of course some similar sort of activity also taking place on some other planet so far away that you could never even begin to comprehend how far away it is, much less come to understand and know all that goes on there, too. Oh, and then there’s the microscopic, unseen world that supports and makes up the world that we do see; events of commonplace chemistry and basic physics taking place that have unto themselves limitless interactions, relationships and morphing outcomes ceaselessly going on – no matter whether you’re paying attention or not. The whole bloody lot is always moving, reacting, growing, decaying…. Life always moves. And life is e-normous. Limitless, in fact, many would agree.

Which of course is fine, and all is as it should be, I suppose. Everything nests somehow into everything else, and therein lies the beauty of it all, the Godliness of it all. It’s just that it’s so much. And perhaps I’m short-circuiting or something, but lately I’m highly inclined to want to get a grip on how all of it works. Now I realize how silly that sounds, honestly, I do. But that’s the thing with problems that arise from your thinking process; they can be downright illogical. And no matter how illogical, the thinking still appears to be real to the thinker. And so that hyper-awareness of the largeness, the unknowability of it all then helps to tip me into that most unpleasant state of panic once again. I hate it, but can’t seem to stop it. I’m walking a fine line here, even in the wake of Robin William’s depression-related suicide – because I do not relish the idea of people thinking I’m crazy. But having panic attacks is in of itself is a kind of crazy – as is depression, or being manic. And so many of us suffer in some way during our lifetimes from some kind of mental health issue. So many of us have lived our own kind of crazy at one time or another. Really, how in hell can you live on this planet and not lose it from time to time?

These days, in addition to the run-of-the-mill panic attacks which come on through obviously stress-induced and rather specific situations, I’ve been finding that unremarkable events are also acting as triggers for my panic. Because, as I’ve just pointed out, nothing is really all that unremarkable when you think about it. I even find that glancing at clouds can frighten me, because I realize how big they themselves are, and how high up they are too, and I begin to experience a mild fear of heights even at that line of contemplation. Sort of a sympathetic vertigo, you might say. Conversely, when I try to pull my awareness back into my immediate sphere of experience (as a means of calming myself), I cannot help but then become acutely aware of the activity all about me – the activity of cells, the movement of insects (they by themselves spin me off into a world of disbelief and wonder – how in hell can something so tiny have all those systems packed inside? And don’t get me started on nano technology – the subject can literally make me light-headed and slightly dizzy. Really.). So my challenge then becomes how to tame this mental mess. And believe me, I’m working on it.

Sometimes, when my life’s a wreck or I can’t pull myself out of an undesirable situation, I try to imagine what advice I would give myself if I were somebody else. An objective outsider. Because as we all know it’s much easier to tell someone else how to change their life than to actually make those changes for yourself. ! Using that tactic, I find it’s easy to coach myself. And so I make a list of categories which might benefit from a little assessment: Financial, Professional, Physical, Spiritual.

Ok, number one: there’s a lot of uncertainty ahead, what with the Studio, the lack of a real job and income – and so it’s easy to understand how I might be panicking just a little. So what can I do? What action can I take to mitigate the financial stress? Cut down (on what?!, the cynical voice inside me bitches) on expenses, be frugal with all food, drive as little as possible, take extra piano students as I can. Ok. Not much, but something. And The Studio? I’m doing what I can; bought my first rolls of insulation, watched some YouTube vids, consulted a few pros and have assembled my tools. I’ll begin installing it this afternoon. The new electric lines are in, and the heating units go in next week. There’s networking to be done, so I need to meet with a couple of folks over the next month. I’m still a bit overwhelmed, but what more can I do right now? (If I began to contemplate the legal issues ahead I’d feel as if I were back to square one. Maybe the lesson here is ‘one step at a time’). At least I’m doing something, and the situation’s in hand.

Next is of course, are the health issues. The arthritis in my fingers has accelerated rapidly over the past month, and where before it was merely unsightly, now my knobby distal knuckles are warm and painful nearly all the time. I’m only responsible for playing three classes at school this year, but even so, with my fingers getting stuck in between the black notes and aching as they do, I wonder how it’ll work out. I’m back on the glucosamine regimen, plus have added some Chinese herbal supplements, topical applications of essential oils, I’ve begun acupuncture again and will shortly try a few rounds of electromagnetic therapy. I’m not sure how I’ll sustain such treatments on such a tight budget, but at least I’m underway. Doing what I can.

Also, I’ve gained a lot of weight over the past few months, and I’m a little frightened by it. So, again, what action should I take? I know, join the Y. Check. Joined at a discount, no less, thanks to the scholarship program (some red tape and hoops to jump through, but I’ve come to understand that being poor is in of itself a part-time job.) Ok. Done. Now, what to wear? I donned my old sports bra the other day, but I’m so much larger than I was the last time I wore it, the damn thing ripped in two when I tried it on. Ich. Ok. Just gotta replace it. An unforeseen expense, but as my local health-nut and excavator friend Al said to me this morning (on his cell phone in the middle of a 20 mile bike ride) “Just get a new one and keep going. Keep going.” Mom’s underwriting my new Weight Watchers membership – and that starts Monday. I simply cannot imagine going back to such an austere diet. I once lost 55 pounds on WW, after the birth of my son, so I know the culture well. (Atkins is more fun, but WW is more realistic and its success longer-lasting.) But honestly, it comes with hunger pangs and an undeniable lack of satisfaction. I suppose the loss of extra fat on my frame and improved numbers (bp and cholesterol) should make up for the near-constant feelings of hunger… that’s the idea I guess. And hopefully, after I’ve made movement a part of my routine, I’ll just plain feel better. I know it’s true, I’ve experienced it before, but it seems ridiculous to me from where I stand right now. Life without a few glasses of wine each day? Life with portions a mere quarter of the size I’m accustomed to? Sheesh. It’s but a day off, yet I still don’t believe it’s coming. I don’t suppose anyone is ever ready for major change. Just gotta jump in. (Or as my buddy Al would say, “pull the trigger”.)

Now to the spiritual part of the equation. Got much of that down I think; I spend a lot of time in nature, I express gratitude all over the place and I’m always reaching out to people and spreading kindness and love where I can. But I can’t lie; I’m still dealing with feelings of betrayal and anger towards my ex husband – I’m still upset that he doesn’t support us better, that our poverty is just fine with him and his parents. It still angers and frustrates me that I don’t have a partner, a spouse, someone to take up the slack every now and then, help with homework, maybe even vacuum or make dinner once in a while… And I know, as a student of basic spiritual concepts, that ultimately that shit comes back to me. But still, it’s on my plate, and six years later it’s a larger issue than I’d like to admit. And in addition to the forgiveness thing, maybe some mental silence might serve me too. I think I could muster ten minutes a day concentrating on nothing but my breathing. Twenty, probably not. But ten, yeah. And perhaps in the realm of intention, a little more controlled thought also might serve me well… That is to say, replacing the doom and gloom imaginings with lovely visions of what the Studio might look and feel like when it’s up and running and inhabited by happy folk. Ok. Begin minimal meditation practice. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Good. Sounds doable.

The list seems so short when I see it here, so why does it feel so daunting? And good Lord, it seems I’ve been through all this before. How have I not made more progress, I wonder? I remind myself that if I could just live panic-free and enjoy both mental and physical fitness, life might be a lot more enjoyable. Cuz right now, it’s only minimally so (hence the comfort of food and wine. We all know that drill). As I watch people go through the activities of their day, I often wonder: what is life like on the inside for them? What are their demons, their challenges? To what degree would they consider themselves to be content… happy? One cannot judge a book by its cover; I’m fairly sure no one is quite as put-together and problem-free as they might seem. But then again, maybe there is a sweet spot on the other side of all this self-improvement. Maybe one can be happy, content. Fit. All at the same time. At least one hopes.

Yesterday I saw a man riding his bicycle down our road. He was loaded down with stuff – a bedroll, bags, pieces of cloth, a crazy-looking horn, baskets brimming… Clearly, he was not out for a day ride. Unable to forget the cyclist, I turned around a couple of miles into my commute and doubled back in time to see him tackling the great cemetery hill – a hill which even as a healthy young child I would walk my bike up, rather than ride. I carefully passed him, pulled over to the side of the road and waited. I watched as he rode up the steep incline in a serpentine fashion. Interesting technique, I thought. He was actually making it up the hill – and with a full load, too. This person was impressive, and I had to meet him. He might be just the inspiration I needed.

As soon as he’d come down the other side of the hill, the man pulled into a church parking lot and disappeared around a corner. I walked around to the back, and announced myself first, lest the poor rider be seeking a bit of privacy to relieve himself perhaps… As I entered the church’s back yard, I saw this slender, tanned man sitting in the cool of the shade at a picnic table, a veritable banquet spread out before him. He was digging into some bread and hummus when I joined him. I learned that he was from Oakland, California, and had left the day after Christmas, last year. He’d made it to the Canadian east coast, and was now heading back. Altogether, he was very unaffected and matter-of-fact about his journey; when I asked him questions he answered them directly, and for the most part he didn’t seem aloof or coy, just possessed of a quieter nature, and perhaps exercising just the tiniest bit of caution in the face of my enthusiasm. I had so many questions for him, and had I not needed to get Elihu’s bass delivered to him in time for orchestra, I might have been a bit more focused with my inquiry.

Among the many things I wondered, the most prominent question was: what occupies your thoughts as you ride? He admitted to a certain incessant, repetitive nature to his thoughts, and offered that it was in fact, one of his main challenges. What criteria did he use to choose his route? How could he afford to do this? What had he done before? He was a little cryptic with some of his answers, but I sensed he was the sort of fellow who would have declined to answer if he felt it beyond his comfort. He told me that he’d just turned 65, so there “was no job to go back to now” as he was officially retired, but that he had worked in the flower industry. Still so enigmatic. As a day laborer? As the CEO of a company? In what way had he worked? He said he was “used to being outside” with his work. Ok. That narrowed it down some. But so many more questions burned, and as we got off into tangential topics of getting fit, perhaps having a dog to inspire daily activity, what programs might exist to help pay for the cost of a dog if I did get one, how different regions of the country dealt with recycling and such, I got further away from my informal interview and settled instead for a gentle, enjoyable conversation. How I had come to live here, how Chicago had been so brutally cold when he’d ridden through it last March… There wasn’t enough time to learn from him what I’d hoped. But I suppose there is no possible way to truly understand such an enormous undertaking unless you, well, undertake it. And perhaps that was the most important lesson here.

I gave him my card and encouraged him to stay in touch by email when he checked in with the world at his next library stop. I hoped so dearly that he would, but even if he didn’t, no matter. Phil had added to the quality and fullness of my life just through this simple meeting, and if I never heard from him again, this would have to be enough. It certainly was a dose of inspiration come to me at a time of need. Maybe that itself was more than enough.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of ones popping up during my days – and my nighttimes, too. And while I’ve made an effort not to get too terribly esoteric in my writing here, nor to explore in-depth some ideas that have long been a part of my life – for fear of turning some folks off for good – I will admit a completely open mind when it comes to matters that our mainstream culture still doesn’t treat as legitimate. Like ghosts. Or apparitions that appear to people who are dying, and unexplained experiences like music in the air, or the scent of flowers – just as real as the real thing – arising from nowhere. Or like repeating numbers. I won’t go and tell you that I think God is directly communicating with me and offering me a personally targeted message in my time of introspection and need, but I will say that something is happening to me these days. I’ve seen the number 111 pop up in all sorts of places, and finally, it’s caught my attention. In fact, I’ve seen the number 111 appear so frequently over the past week, that I’ve taken to photographing it. I awoke last night at 1:11 and grabbed my camera. I am not nuts. It’s happening. A quick Google search helps fill things in, but still, I almost don’t even believe my own story. Have I been seeing what I want to see? Have I been exaggerating the truth? Am I just looking for help, in any form at all? Am I leading the witness?

In the end, who really knows? No one. It’s just one more event taking place in this endless maelstrom of life. And happily, it doesn’t make me panic. Instead, it gives me a tiny seed of hope. And that’s something I need to cultivate these days. So who cares where it comes from? I’m going to take it as a little knowing wink from the universe telling me that things are going to work out just fine, and I’m going to keep on moving forward into this worldly adventure, taking each moment one by one… by one.

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