Falling Reign

This past summer has been an emotionally difficult season for me.

At a time when most of my peers have been wrapping up their careers, and at a time when I had fancied myself to be starting my career anew, I instead discovered my future to have fallen far short of that expectation. This has consumed me, and I have been stuck. And when my son returned from his trip to Europe late this summer, he knew it too, straight away.

“You are becoming happy in your sadness” he’d said after I’d admitted that I was still bereft at the end of my recent musical employment. “You are becoming happy to be sad. It’s not acceptable. You’re letting this become your story. ” He paused, and then he let a few minutes of dark highway pass, as if for effect. “Do not let this become your story.”

Although whatever had happened was in the past, he could tell that I was still dwelling on it – nay, simmering in it. What was gone – and how it had all gone down – was becoming toxic to me. “You have to move on” Elihu said, as we drove home in the inky darkness. It stung to hear him so critical, so serious. He was hardly my kid anymore; he was a peer offering sage advice. My mental health depended upon it, and we both knew it. I’d been able to push it away during the lonely summer months, as I’d had no one to counter my mood, no one to discuss it with. But he was home, and now I had the outside perspective I’d needed. Yeah. Time to move on. But to what?

________________________________________________

With no musical comrades, no peers and no dear friends in physical proximity, “moving on” seems truly daunting. Elihu has been my closest companion for the past nineteen years, and it is a tall order to replace such an insightful and considerate person with whom I can discuss things. I do have a few close friends – my oldest bestie from high school having recently become a cherished part of my life – but she is far away and has her own life to contend with. And in the end, no one can really take the place of my son. People warn against considering your child to be a peer, but I dunno. I have often said jokingly that I gave birth to a 50-year-old man. Not so funny as it is true.

Music seems to be fading into my past, and it breaks my heart fiercely. I have new projects – unrelated to music – which I should really dive into, but I flounder. I try to convince myself that I need new headshots, new recordings. That I need to write songs. Sure, I can always do that, but is it truly necessary at this point? Who fucking cares? I’ve worked mostly as a sideman; at 59 it’s a little late to pretend I’m a solo artist. So what is it that will earn me money, give me a sense of joy, self-respect and fulfillment? Is music even my path anymore? I am beginning to doubt it. I mourn the richness of my musical past and miss the brief taste of how it felt to make music again with other humans (that gave me joy, albeit short-lived). For now, I suppose it’ll have to go on hold while I discover what the next practical move should be.

What that will be, I don’t know. I’m grateful for my spiral-bound pads, filled with writing, lyrics, poems and project to-do lists, yet following through and assembling any of it into meaningful content seems as challenging as losing these goddam extra pounds I’ve solidly re-packed onto my frame over a season of self-soothing and grief.

__________________________________________________

Last night, a violent late-summer storm pelted the house with sheets of rain and gusts of wind that knocked out power and toppled trees. I stood in the screen porch, feeling fully the might of the wind and water, and I asked the force to please wash me free of the past; wash me clean that I might start over again, from this moment forward…

It’s been a few weeks now since Elihu has returned to campus. He is an autonomous individual. I am no longer a full-time parent. The Queen has died, lain in state, and been buried. Things are different now. It’s time for the new order.

I suppose it’s time for Elizabeth 2.0 now. And when I figure out what form that will take, I promise you’ll be the first to know.


Turn of a Dime on “Liz Sings 70s”, my YouTube channel

hillhousewoman on Instagram

The Heart of a Moth

If one were to believe in karma, or in a certain “this-therefore-that” way of thinking, a belief that each event is the product of other events, all serving to bring forth one particular outcome, then things would be easier to justify, easier to handle emotionally. But these days I’m not too confident about it.

Once I was. And it was a less stressful way to live. Everything happens for a reason. Easy.

Sure, one can see in hindsight with some clarity how things build upon each other. Some consequences are so clearly related to things that came before that one can’t help but make the association. And there are those segments of our lives when things just seem so perfectly scripted that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t all “meant to be”, or that we might not have just earned the perfect outcomes through a withdrawal from some sort of energetic bank account.

I’m a mass of conflict these days. Just a few months ago I could not have felt stronger, more hopeful. Great things were within my grasp – I’d say I even sat squarely in the middle of some moments of pure perfection. Things I’d dreamed of for ages had finally come to fruition. And somehow it felt as if I’d earned all of it through my years of sacrifice and toil and hope… The world owed me some good shit now, cuz I’d been through a lot, and I certainly deserved it. Right?

A lot of people deserve good things. And a lot of people will never, ever receive these things. Most people on the planet will live fairly crappy lives, ones in which merely existing is the only goal, lives in which nothing out of the ordinary will manifest. But what on earth have they done to deserve these horrible fates? Not a bloody thing. Not in this life, at any rate.

Where is the parity? There seems to be none.

Not to say that there isn’t a direct correlation between hard work and its reward. Of course that can exist. But to me, that kind of opportunity seems a luxury. For me personally, I feel that reward doesn’t always seem to be a reliable outcome of hard work. Cuz I work a shit ton. I toil, I clean, I sort, put away, file, fix, tend, check in on, shop, cook, learn the tunes, learn the gear, teach the students. All for what ends up being not enough income to pay bills in anything like the real world. Were it not for the home provided for me by my mother (the Hillhouse itself), I truly would be out on the streets. And at 59, that’s a crappy thing to know about myself. All this work, just to exist in another person’s dwelling, and without the means to sustain myself in the most primitive way. Demoralizing.

Yes, I might see my reward as existing in my son. He is undoubtedly a remarkable human, and he’s destined for great things, he’s happy and launched. Yes, I’ve enjoyed a life densely packed with experiences that most folks don’t have.

But here I am on the other side, with the remainder of my life an expanse of nothingness. No rewards in view, no destinations. Got some ideas, a couple of projects I’d like to accomplish, idealized visions of what I’d like to write or perform. But any one thing on the list seems to require an investment of energy which I just can’t seem to summon anymore – or money, which I simply don’t have. My gear is old, my clothes are outdated, and the blog isn’t free. So what now? As I see it, it’s a game of waiting and simply slogging it out, hoping for a few more good moments before the finish line.

My inner conflict is further stoked by a secret disdain which I feel for some people. Shameful, but true. Look at those ham hock arms, listen to the horrible way in which they speak to their children, look at that antagonizing shit they post across their vehicles… And then I realize that if there were to be a catastrophic event and we were all thrust together, I would see their humanity first. My heart would soften when our eyes met… I would see the fragile person within. I would feel forgiveness, and I would understand that their life was a product of the situation into which they were born. And I wouldn’t care that they still believed in Trump. (Many of my friends would disagree with me on this quite fervently, but I say humans are humans at the end of the day. I don’t have to hang out with them, but I don’t have to hate them either.) How dare I feel so superior?

As I was standing at the window just now, looking out at the tall weeds surrounding the vacant chicken coop with a deep feeling of despair growing inside, my eyes landed on a moth, clinging to the wall. That creature and I both have hearts, I thought. A vague feeling of hope overcame me. For just a second, I felt some relief. It felt as if we were all in this together, every creature on this globe. Good outcomes and bad outcomes, we all experienced them. Moths too. Imagine flying towards a thing that your whole essence tells you to be the ultimate goal, only to find your life extinguished? That doesn’t seem fair, to be sure.

“Who ever told you life was fair?” my mother would often say to us as children. I could never form a response, shamed, scolded and immature as I was back then, but now I understand what I had been thinking but couldn’t articulate. “Everyone”. From the time we’re tiny, we’re told to play fair. What a strange incongruity. Play fair, nothing in life is fair. I suppose that both are true.

We earthly creatures are all linked in some way, sharing this bizarre brew of the tragic and the magic. And strange as is may seem, in view of the unfavorable odds with which we are presented, it appears that each one of us somehow manages to maintain a tiny feeling of hope. Each one of us has a heart which continues to beat.

Even a moth.

For Now

My son is at the kitchen table adding to an already thirty-five thousand word essay on his unfavorable feelings about Abrahamic religions, and I am sitting just outside the door in the sunshine, putting the world off just a bit longer, myself also writing. Or at least trying to. The material isn’t coming the way it usually does. There is a dull sense of dread present in my gut today which is making everything much harder to do. There is quite likely a bit of unpleasant news waiting for me soon in my inbox, and I cannot bring myself to look. And there is some information forthcoming from my mother’s doctor which also might not be good.

This day, however, is a counterpoint to the threatening unknown which awaits.

It is the most perfect sort of late spring day one could wish for – clear skies, just the right temperature and no heavy humidity to weigh things down. The occasional breeze delivers the rare scent of irises. Every so often a single-engine plane buzzes by overhead, preparing for its descent into the nearby community airfield. Water trickles endlessly over the rocks in our small pond, and the usual backyard birds do their thing. The chipmunk who I hand feed each morning has paused for a very un-chipmunk-like length of time in a crook of the apple tree, as if he too knows how perfect a day this is and wishes to take it all in. Knee-high grasses dotted with stands of pink and yellow flowers bend in the wind, common fritillaries and the occasional Karner Blue butterfly dancing among the blossoms. This is a moment I do not take for granted. I hope to linger in this pleasantness of the day and in this state of unknowing for as long as possible.

My mother has had a recurrence with breast cancer. She’s 87, so when I heard this, my first thought was that this was the ‘get out of jail free’ card she’d hoped for. There would come a decline in her health, a need for increasingly generous doses of morphine toward the end, and then finally she’d die a peaceful, pain-free death at home, something she’d long made clear that she wanted, and something which I had promised her I’d make happen when that time arrived. Instead, she is choosing to have a mastectomy, followed by a home-based recovery. No chemo, but likely radiation. If she were a decade younger, it might not concern me as much as it does. If her strength and mobility were a bit better I’d be more confident that the surgery would do more benefit than harm. As things stand, I’m apt to think this action might make her remaining time on the planet less than ideal.

I think some skilled nursing might be in order after the surgery, maybe a few days at a rehab center. But my mother is insisting that I’m making a big deal out of this and says if her doctor’s not concerned, then why should she be? She insists that she won’t need help and reminds me that there’s hardly anything left of her breast now anyway, as if that somehow mitigates the trauma. But she’s a good planner, and so has already made and frozen food for the recovery period, something which will certainly help. (Recently she made a slightly dramatic comment about maybe finally being able to get her favorite pizza after the surgery – as if for the past several years she has been actively prevented from enjoying this perceived luxury. Her Silent Generation stoicism and predilection for passive-aggressive comments drive me positively nuts.)

So tomorrow we’ll learn whether the cancer has metastasized or not. Mom got a funny feeling from the way in which the doctor talked about her case, and it has her suspecting that the news might be bad. I’ve got a funny feeling about a recent situation in my life that has me suspecting bad news, too. And so here we exist, in this perfect spring day, neither of us knowing the outcomes that await us.

My son being home offers a nice distraction from my empty calendar and ignored inbox. There are still meals to be made and a bit of shuttling around to be done while he’s here. Errands, haircuts, doctor appointments and prepping the Airbnb all help to fill the space. But my students are just about wrapped for the summer, and there are no gigs on the calendar, aside from a few solo shows in the fall. There’s time for a few farmers market dates I suppose, but still, those offer very little motivation to get out of bed in the morning. When Elihu goes to Europe with his dad for the summer (he leaves in a week), I will be faced with long days. But then again, mom may need my help. From where I sit right now, I just can’t tell.

The following few months contain a lot of unknowns.

It’s times like this when I need those lists, those spiral bound notebooks which I filled up when I was light-of-heart and full of inspiration. It’s times like this when I’m so grateful to have reconnected with my high school bestie. There is no tribe to which I belong in this town, and now that my son’s life is expanding and taking place mostly elsewhere, it has me further questioning where home should be, and what it is that I should be doing in this world. I almost don’t even feel that I can say with complete integrity that I’m a writer or a musician, when there is so little pay and work isn’t consistent. The only thing I’ve ever known myself to be with absolute conviction is a mother.

I hear Elihu moving about the kitchen making some food. He and I have both done very little today. I didn’t make anything to eat, just couldn’t find it in me. I called out to him to bring me some naan just now, and he did. I’m glad for the company, and for the bread. I’m glad for the fine spring day.

For now, I’m glad for the simple things.

Imposter’s Roster

All in all, things are going so well these days that I’m starting to become suspicious. I’ve had such a challenging run over the past fourteen years, I can hardly believe the recent and rapid cascade of events.

Firstly, I have been welcomed into a new band under the leadership of one very intelligent and creative individual, a man whose work has been known to me for many years.

There was a time when I’d held him in such high esteem that he seemed altogether in another league. And I still assert this to be true; the guy is super-prolific and uber-talented. But, if I will remember my own sentiments from a recent writing, he is still just a man. I get this. I’ve spoken to him on the phone and very much enjoy his energy from those conversations alone. And after having watched a few interviews and having begun to read one of his novels, I’m feeling much more familiar. I can feel the love and sincerity present in him, and frankly, I’m beside myself with happy anticipation at our first meeting in just two days’ time. I so seldom meet individuals whose energy comes close to mine, and this time I think I will definitely have met my match. I cannot wait.

At this writing it is Thursday, and my very first rehearsal with the new band is on Saturday in Brooklyn. I’m hoping to capture my experience as it unfolds, because this, the “time before”, will be an interesting thing for me to look back at some day. It feels a bit bold to be revealing this part of the experience; is it not cart-before-the-horse? Is it too much like a flat-out diary entry? Perhaps. Nonetheless, I shall continue to document the process.

I keep telling myself to be realistic; things could still change. I might not be a fit. I might not be good enough. Oh, but man. I know I am. I just know it. But wait. Do I?

There is a constant feeling living in me these days which I must combat. And having learned recently that it’s an identifiable “thing”, I feel a bit better. Perhaps I’d heard the term at some point in my life, but previously it had meant nothing to me. “Yeah,” my friend had said as I described the unpleasantness I was experiencing, “You’ve got ‘imposter’ syndrome.” “Yes! That’s it!” I’d shouted when she named it. What a relief! She told me that as a working architect she too often wondered if she hadn’t been fooling people all along. “I think to myself: Why am I here?” she said, “There’s got to be a mistake, do they understand it’s me?“. Exactly. That was how I was feeling too. Somehow, I musta fooled someone. Right?

Likely not.

It’s just that is has been nineteen years since I’ve played in a band with other musicians. That’s a very long time to be on hiatus, and it makes me wonder if it’ll be just that easy to get on the horse again. And I can’t say that I don’t write that with a bit of inner animosity; curse those musicians who had supportive spouses to share the load of a household. Curse all of those people whose lives didn’t change with the advent of children, whose music didn’t come to an abrupt halt. I admit it, it makes me jealous. But keeping in mind the wondrous result of my almost two-decade hiatus – a successful, creative and thriving child – I can temper these thoughts and instead focus my energy on the adventure that awaits.

As some readers may know, I recently had a piece of writing published in a very public way. It happened so very quickly, and with no foreknowledge whatsoever. I’d been upset at the headlines surrounding the death of drummer Taylor Hawkins and immediately set out to express what I was feeling. When I finished, it was 1 a.m., and as an afterthought – I have never once submitted a single piece of my writing to anyone before – I decided to send it to a couple of newspapers. I perused their requirements, amended the piece accordingly, then sent it off to the Boston Globe, New York Times, San Fransisco Chronicle, and lastly, from my hometown, the Chicago Tribune. I had a tiny voice inside my head saying that the Tribune would pick it up. Ages ago I had written a grant proposal and mailed it off, never thinking of it again. Turned out I was the winner. The grant had been from the Chicago Cultural Center. So, I had a feeling.

I slept very little the night after I’d written the piece, and by the time I arose and checked my inbox just a few hours later, there it was. A rejection from the NYT, but a letter of interest from the Trib. I was excited, but I was conflicted by the subject matter. Seemed strange that I should revel in a success made possible by a man’s death. I smiled to myself all morning, but then would scold myself for doing so. Just how was I supposed to feel? Within two days the paper’s syndicates had in turn published the piece for their weekend papers, and shortly after that my inbox was filled with emotional letters from people all over the world. This time, however, there was no imposter thing going on. These folks all just wanted a witness to help them process their grief. I set aside several hours to respond to all of them. It was the necessary and right thing to do. For once, I knew that this was my job, and I was good at it.

I’ve got some exciting but rather intimidating challenges ahead in my immediate future. I suppose just meeting the fellows in the band and spending an afternoon rehearsing in earnest will be the first thing on the list. Then comes the show in Chicago. And then comes a photo shoot. And finally, on my 59th birthday, I’ve agreed to perform some absolutely on-the-fly, improvised and through-composed songs as part of a storyteller’s program. When the host asked me, I didn’t allow myself to say no. Many have been the moments I’ve wanted to call her back and tell her to find someone else, but I can’t. These days my life is about saying “yes”. Even when I am fairly certain there must be some mistake, I need to behave as if everything is just fine.

I’ve got to trust that people know what it is that I am capable of, even if I myself am still not quite sure.


Visit my future bandmate Wesley Stace (formerly known as John Wesley Harding) here.

Chameleon

big hat 2

I am not a fan of change. Not at all. I pretty much like things the way they are. I like things simple, and I really like routines. I fairly thrive on the predictability in my life. But I’m also big on wild, serendipitous romps, and those who know me well will understand I’m not terribly keen on rule-following, which can make for some fun life adventures. These two approaches to life might seem at odds with each other, but for me they’re not. It’s not terribly hard for me to slip into other people’s worlds, observe, participate as if I belonged there, and then retreat back into my own private universe when the party’s over. I’m pretty good at wearing a bunch of different hats. Seriously. You should see my closet.

Recently, I enjoyed an unexpected foray into the horse racing culture here in my town. I’d had a good look at it from the inside the year before, so this year I had a much better idea of how to dress, what to say, what not to say. I was thankfully in the company of pals from back in my high school days on Chicago’s Northshore, so my edit function was a bit softened. But not so much so that I didn’t ask questions, that I didn’t pull out my small notebook and jot down some observations. And when my friend shouted, “Liz, winner’s circle, now!” after a race, I readily dropped my phone, bag and journal and followed the entourage down the stairs and out onto the side of the racetrack, where we lined up for a group photo of the owners and trainers. My host’s girlfriend refused to join us, maybe because the whole affair was intimidating. I can see how it could be. But me, all I could think as I looked back up at the grandstand was “once in a lifetime”.  And although the cheap fascinator clipped to my head had seemed a weak choice all afternoon, it turned out to be just the ticket for the photo op. I could just imagine my mother saying to me as she had all throughout my youth and young adult life: “Kid, you live right”. Yup, I admit it. Sometimes I’m lucky.

If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been raising poultry for almost a decade now, I might still not believe that I myself really am a country girl. It flatters my ego to pass insider small talk at the feed store, and especially at the livestock auction house – where for goodness’ sake the workers always remember me and ask where I’ve been after long absences! – but secretly I almost always feel like I’m pulling one over on everyone. I’m not posing, not at least at this point in the game, but deep down, I always feel as if I kinda am. My muck boots and brown felt farmer’s hat guard against anyone being the wiser, but me, I always know better. Am I a country girl? Yes, and no…

When you play piano for three hours at one sitting in a busy restaurant, you never know who’s listening. Sure you can eye the crowd, get a good feel for the demographic, overhear a conversation or two to help inform your musical choices, but at the end of the day (or the end of the night as it were) you really can’t know. A couple of weeks ago an unassuming middle-aged foursome left the room after tucking a tip in the jar. “I really enjoyed Where Are You? ” one of the men said, smiling and waving as he exited. That was a tune very few would’ve known, and the generation that did was getting a bit too old to be making their way to this downstairs dining room. Musta been a musician, I’d guessed. You just never know the hats that folks are wearing which you just can’t see…

At the age of seventeen I was hospitalized for depression. I guess. Back then folks didn’t know the nuances of mental illness; panic attacks were simply lobbed into the mix with bipolar disorder and anorexia and any other possible affliction of the mind and spirit. We who suffered from any of these ailments were all sent to live with each other in close quarters, and made to push our chairs together in a circle each day to unburden ourselves to the room. It was there that I met a very drugged up man in his late twenties (all ages from teen to elderly shared the unit) whom I’d been quick to dismiss as all but lost. I remember his round, balding head, that he shuffled about, unable to lift his feet individually, and his lips were always shiny due to a constant drool (which I knew he could not control but which did not stop me from passing an unfair judgement of him). He and I were talking once and I had lamented how no one could understand me. How I just plain felt different from everyone (yeah, I know this is the song that every 17-year-old on the planet sings, but please just go with me here). Tom said he knew what the problem was: I was a chameleon. He’d observed how I’d changed my way of speaking to different people based on what I thought would make them comfortable. He said that he’d watched as I’d become someone completely different with each interaction. Immediately, it hit me. Yes, I did that. Yes, he was right. This man, so terrifically slowed by his meds, so dulled by his interminable residency there, he had observed me as no professional had. “You’re a chameleon” I remember him repeating, to make sure I understood. He wasn’t just saying some shit inspired by antidepressants. This guy saw all the hats and knew that none of them were mine – and all of them were, too.

Wearing so many hats can be thrilling, but it can also become a tad burdensome. The hats that I present to the world here in my writings can give some folks the illusion of having a personal relationship with me, when in truth, there is no such relationship. Recently I’ve been getting a little insight into what being familiar to a lot of people might look and feel like in real life (I hesitate to use the world ‘famous’, but well, you know what I mean). Mostly I’m pretty thrilled to get private messages from folks, and I’ve even made a few friendships through this platform, but wearing so many hats – and wearing them so publicly – makes it easy for folks to think they know exactly who I am. As a friend once said so candidly about my writing: my words are ultimately self-selected. One might take this to mean: how would you know if I was making it all up? How would you know when I embellished or when I omitted things to skew the results, to make you like me better or sympathize with my plight?

The answer is: you cannot know. Because I simply have too many hats in my closet, too many dresses in too many colors. I am, after all, a chameleon.

 

 

Five Hundred and One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderful Spam

IMG_5723

Seriously, I don’t get it. What is up with this crazy spam? Who in hell generates these messages? What are they thinking when they write this stuff? What makes them think English readers will understand them, let alone take the bait and respond? I’d like to think I myself would never take the bait, but I guess I finally have.

I remember a time a few decades back when I first became aware of the gorgeously bizarre ways in which English could be used by folks who didn’t know the language… I saw t-shirts, greeting cards and pencil cases from places like Pakistan, Indonesia or China with crazy slogans, sayings and jokes that were nonsensical in ways that could only be achieved by people who had no clear idea what they were saying. Often the intended vibe came across – but there could be no literal understanding made of the near-gibberish. These pieces of writing were both exceedingly creepy and irresistible all at the same time.

In the beginning, when I started to write this blog, they came only occasionally in the comment queue. But before too long the spammers began growing in number until they surpassed the amount of regular subscribers. And in the beginning, I was naive. Some messages were almost coherent; they almost seemed like genuine attempts at communication. I would hesitate for a moment, wondering at the intent of the clumsy messages… But then I’d see a pattern begin to develop… Similar messages came in, differing from each other by only a couple of words. At first I felt duped that I’d even taken the time to read them, but then, the sillier they got, the more entertaining they actually became, until I finally decided that they’d at least earned the honor of being published. They went phishing, but I ended up getting the catch…

Whether your Spam arrives in a tiny tin can from the supermarket or poses as urgent correspondence in your inbox, neither one is particularly good for your health, yet each beckons your indulgence with its own unique form of seduction. I suppose you might say that I’ve succumbed to a guilty pleasure in that I’ve come to enjoy the stuff. Both kinds. Yes, I admit it, I like Spam.

____________________________________________________________

I have decided to number these little gems for the convenience of future reference… Here is a sampling of the many spam comments I have received here at The Hillhouse:

1) Right here are eight strategies you’ll be able to use to prepare your chicken:.
The acceptable affair is that Creatine Ethyl
Ester does not account bloating. without these I would
probably still be a lampost,haha. You need to
think of rest as part of the bodybuilding process; as important as
the workout itself (when combined into a proper lifting
program). Want to get ripped successfully with the
right bodybuilding supplements.

2) Whether you want talk shows, or just have the desire of viewing popular movies or sports or any other program you
have the scope to watch them all during your vacation period.
Episode 106 (Another Simpson Clip Show) Air Date:
09-25-1994. He is always at Moe’s, he has no family to speak of, his appearance is disheveled,
he diction is terrible, and all of his accomplishments are always voided by alcohol.

3) You share interesting things here. I think that your page can go viral easily, but you must give
it initial boost and i know how to do it, just type in google for
– wcnu traffic increase

4) I like the valuable information you provide to your articles.
I will bookmark your blog and test again right here regularly.
I am moderately certain I will be informed
plenty of new stuff proper right here! Good luck for the next!

5) Thanks for some other excellent post. The place else could anybody get that
type of info in such an ideal way of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and
I am on the search for such info.

6) I read a lot of interesting content here.
Probably you spend a lot of time writing, i know how to save you a
lot of time, there is an online tool that creates readable, google friendly
posts in seconds, just search in google – laranitas free content source

7) Hiya! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask.
Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest writing
a blog article or vice-versa? My blog goes over a lot of the same subjects as yours and I feel we
could greatly benefit from each other. If you are interested feel free to shoot me an email.
I look forward to hearing from you! Terrific blog by the way!

8) Howdy! Do you know if they make any plugins to safeguard against hackers?
I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard on.
Any suggestions?

9) Іf some onne wishes tߋ be updated with hottest teϲҺnologies after that he must be go tto see this webb site
and be up too date all thee time.

10) Quality posts is the important to attract the people to go
to see the website, that’s what this web site is providing.

11) It should take the contractor investor buys and spruces up an appointment to
discover is whether or not they are not generally have to manually enter
data from paper applications. Typically, liability insurance is considered as an award in 2012 so
far with companies that are trained professionals to be involved in the
combat zones. A US contractor accused of” IMS Powered Electrical Contractors Brooklyn, was an immediate decision. Even the project an eco friendly flooring is appropriate. Militants claimed responsibility for bills like power, weight or mobility.

12) I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was curious what all
is required to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a
pretty penny? I’m not very web savvy so I’m not 100% positive.
Any recommendations or advice would be greatly appreciated.
Appreciate it

13) Conditions requirements extract files established a priori
and independently,.

14) Things like smoking and bacopa not merely have a greater physique of evidence to start out
from, but possess larger societal implications and we already
know they perform; we can work on enhancing these now or discovering probable
concerns that might need to be elucidated before they’re
recommended towards mainstream individuals. The very first day I obtained my delivery
(from your same site), we took 400mg over the course of aday, divided in to three dosages spread-out over a total of probably SOME
time (100mg, 200mg, 100mg). The analysis centers…
Re: Best Prescription Based Cognitive Pills?
Academic Press pp 127–163
brain vitamins for students
Martinez JL, de Graaf JS (1985) Quaternary naloxone increases purchase of
the discriminated Y-labyrinth avoid and an one way effective deterrence job in rats.
Please try

15) Alpha Head is much better.
vitamin for memory enhancement
Ditto below. I could just wish persons that are more
lucrative speak about their expertise having
medications that are smart. For permitting me thanks learn. I merely do
not tune in to that. 228234657.

16) I have read so many articles or reviews concerning the blogger lovers but this piece of writing is truly a pleasant post,
keep it up.

For reasons that I’m not exactly clear on myself, this is one of my favorites:

17) A vacuum cleaner is the best of cleansing resources; it can also be the more costly.
You can find various kinds of vacuum with many different features.

Therefore prior to buying a premier vacuum-cleaner be
sure to understand what class of vacuum is best for your
own needs.

Selecting the best vacuum cleaner could be perplexing. To help make things clearer you ought
to know what the various sorts of vacuum are, what the main attributes you can
find on a hoover, and desire you sort of flooring you
will be utilizing a hoover on.

 And last, but not least… (The irregular spacing is proving impossible to correct. Part of the charm, I suppose.)

18) Hello, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i was just curious i

you get a lot of spam comments? If so how do you protect against it, any plugin or anything you can recommend?
I get so much lately it’s driving me mad so any help is very much appreciated.

IMG_5724

_________________________________________________________________________

Tip Off

The sidebar of my home page shows a tip jar, and if one should click on it, it’s possible to leave a donation. The icon was created and installed as a gift by a woman I’d only ever met online; it was truly a case of the kindness of strangers. (Visit this wonderful blogger, writer and kind stranger here.) I’d long wanted a simple means by which folks could leave the smallest amount in exchange for the enjoyment of reading – the cost of a cup of coffee – something I myself would happily offer to a friend. Something simple, something that wouldn’t be of any great hardship to most folks. My goals were always what I believed to be realistic; I never held out hopes for a great stream of income here – but that I can count on one hand the number of gifts I’ve received through the jar (minus a thumb, that is) during the eight months or so that it’s been up. And that has been surprising. Now you four kind folks who have left something there (and given far more than I ever intended when I had the vehicle installed) know who you are. While simple thanks aren’t really enough, I’ve conveyed my gratitude, and please know that I’m still thankful.

While I have never been so naive as to expect to generate a stream of income from this blog – I do admit that I’d secretly hoped to buy a box of printer paper, pay something towards the month’s electric bill or fill the tank in my car just once with some blog-related proceeds. But aside from the gifts of those four generous and kind friends, not a penny has found its way into the jar. I’d hoped to make it as easy as possible for folks to leave a quick dollar or some pocket change (while keeping in mind that Mr. Paypal still finds his way to 2.9% of the donation plus 30 cents per transaction. Sigh). I’m not good at talking about money, it makes me slightly uncomfortable. My folks came from a culture where it was not spoken of. Maybe it’s helped contribute to the situation I’m in now, I don’t know. What I do know is that I am good at living frugally, but still I’m beginning to wish that my writing might net me something by way of a modest economic return. I write cuz it’s what I do… but still.

I think the expected return on a direct mail campaign is something like 2% – and that might even be ambitious. But the thousand or so subscribers to this blog are not merely random recipients of an ad insert. I know folks aren’t checking in with us here at The Hillhouse the way they are with the trendy Downton Abbey or their beloved Facebook feeds, but the readership does continue to grow – while the pot does not.

The health of my tip jar won’t in any way affect the content of my writing. I’m clearly not motivated by generating income here, but given the hours I have spent at my craft, I sure wouldn’t mind some return on the investment. But, as I said in the very beginning, I’m not here with any expectations. That I have a thousand followers is, in of itself, rather unbelievable to me. Some days it’s what helps motivate me to get out of bed. Other days I think it might be in part responsible for my resurfaced panic attacks. !! Either way, the idea of each visitor leaving a dollar in my virtual jar gives me a tiny thrill… Can you imagine? Wow. That would take care of the electric bill for a couple of months! Lest I appear to be using flagrant passive-aggressive techniques here, let me clearly state my hopes for the future of our tip jar in no uncertain terms:

Dear Readers,

If you’ve enjoyed reading of our adventures here at The Hillhouse, I hope you’ll please consider leaving a donation in the tip jar on a future visit.

My deepest appreciation for your continued friendship and emotional support!

~~~~~~~~~

A Post Script: In an effort to keep this issue living and relevant, I may re-post this or another such reminder from time-to-time. Please do tell me if and when it should become too tedious. Let’s hope it becomes effective long before we reach that point. !!

Post 400

My first post was written in March of 2011. I have a hard time realizing that it’ll be three years soon. When I started out here, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was intending to do other than to gain a little witness to what I felt to be a pretty unfair situation. While I still feel there’s much about our situation that has been far less than fair (I can hear my mother’s voice in my head ‘who ever told you life was fair?‘) I can now see with much greater clarity – due in great part to this blog and the wonderful correspondence it’s inspired – that what had started out as a personal tragedy in my life began instead to show itself as a rare opportunity. In the beginning, when I began to write, I felt like I was talking to myself, but I always held out hope that there was somebody else in the room with me. After all, I was feeling very alone in the early days of The Hillhouse and this was my only link to the world. Thankfully, it’s a big world, a big room, and as it turns out I haven’t just been talking to myself this whole time. Phew.

There are now over eight hundred of us here, there are four hundred posts in the archives, and The Hillhouse has been visited over thirty thousand times. Wow. ! That’s fun to know. And the world map – man, impressive. I’m waving hello to all of you, wondering as I stare at the list of countries – did you happen upon us by accident? Are you a local or a lonely expat nostalgic for the U.S.? Do you visit because you too have gone through a divorce, because you too can’t make peace with growing older, or because you too have chickens? Or are we a serendipitous, tangential stop on a walkabout thru cyber space? I wish I could meet you in person; I’ve seen and read many of your blogs, and you’ve opened so many windows to other experiences and places which otherwise I’d never have known.

Not meaning to sound dramatic here, but this whole blogging adventure has been life-saving for me. Really. You have all helped to save my life – my hope, more accurately – and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I so appreciate your friendship and emotional support. I send mine back to you. This planet is not for wimps, and it’s not possible to get through the adventure solo. So again, thank you, thank you, thank you.

See you again soon…

Opinions, Please…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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