The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Chameleon August 13, 2018

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.

 

 

 

Words of Wisdom Won March 10, 2018

I know, right? Who am I to be offering up words of wisdom? For one, I just blew one of the cardinal rules of blogging for the first time in my 616 posts here: never begin a post with the personal pronoun “I”. Off to a good start…

Lying on my side in bed this morning, ruminating over the many things I have to do, and working on defining the most effective ways in which to execute them, I was inspired. Ah, you know that fragile window in time, don’t you? Those first fleeting moments of the morning when just a hint of inspiration overcomes you, and for a split second all things feel possible – and the stirrings of these possibilities begin to motivate you… But like a dream which one struggles to remember upon waking, the spark begins to fade the harder you try to bring it into view. And then you realize, fully, what you are in for. Yes indeed. You’re back. Phooey.

Yeah, it’s easy to feel inspired when you’re horizontal, when you’re warm, when you’re not hungry. That brief moment before anything really starts to hurt, before you remember that you forgot to wheel the garbage out to the side of the road… it’s easy to feel that lifting of spirit when your mind is empty of static, and the fragments of possibility sparkle there in your thoughts, beckoning you to rise from your bed and do, do, do, be, be, be… The challenge then becomes somehow holding on to that feeling, and coaxing it alive as you move through your day.

The idea that best helps me out when I want to forget the whole affair and just go back to bed is this: Face the Monster. Lately I’ve been taking the single most frightening thing I have to do each day and putting it on top of my list. It’s actually brought some impressive results. I’m still really scared, but I’m forcing myself to do things that I dread, and it’s not all that bad of an experience. I’m still rather consumed by insecurity and trepidation about my future survival, but I’m wading forward through the muck in spite of it. I’m in absolute awe of the human beings for whom this earthly life is but a trifle. Those folks who find their path, make a livable wage and own late-model cars. How in the world do they do it? I sometimes wonder if I will ever get it. Will I ever be unafraid? Will I ever earn a living wage? Sigh. Back to the list…

So, today “Facing the Monster” will entail going out to schmooze, where I will meet some artists and non profit types (they intimidate me greatly as they all seem to know exactly what they’re doing; they write grant proposals and deal with all that administrative nonsense while continuing to produce their art, uncompromised) and hopefully sit in at a local piano bar. Now if this doesn’t sound all that daunting, you’re probably right. But from where I exist, here on the inside of my skin, it has “panic attack” all over it. Really? Meh, not as bad as once upon a time, but still…

As many may know, The Studio has experienced some tremendous milestones over the past few weeks. Firstly, a local news channel produced a lovely piece on the venue, which was just what we needed. But then? A day before it aired we lost ALL of our power to the free-standing venue. After forty years the original underground power line went kaput. Who knows how, who know why – and at this point, who cares? Bottom line: ALL programs had to be cancelled as I set to figuring out how – or even if – I was going to make this pricey repair. At the end of the day it’s still just me piloting this silly ship, and I was completely out of money and answers. For several days I chose not to even think about it, because I was just plain out of steam. Metaphorically speaking, I went back to bed.

Then one morning, I said ‘fuck it’, and I Faced the Monster. I created a GoFundMe page for The Studio, held my breath in and hit send. I had no idea, really, that it would work. I knew a couple of folks would help out, but in fact the response has turned out to be so much more than I’d ever expected. It’s been deeply touching, yes – that would seem pretty obvious – but what this experience is also helping me to understand is that this venue, while ‘mine’ in some ways at this point in time – is not really mine. And soon, in order to survive and thrive, it must be handed over to a greater population. At some point, this simply cannot be my baby anymore. It needs to belong to a community. Seems obvious, right? I mean it’s a ‘community arts center’. But until now, it’s been basically my personal pet project (and my mother’s too; she would very much like to see the Conant/Studio legacy live on). And I won’t lie; surrendering control and seeing other folks come in and make it their place too seems a little scary. I need to learn how to keep my vision for the place clear and evident while at the same time sharing the reins with others. It’s obvious that I, by myself, cannot do all of the things which successfully running an operation like this entails, so I’ll need to Face the Monster once again. Next up, I need to find my posse…

But first comes today. Art opening, piano bar. Sounds fun. I get to wear nice clothes for once. Even sparkly things, which I secretly love. I’ll meet some people, share my vision for The Studio, sing some songs and make some people happy. And I’ll remember today’s piece of wisdom; Face the Monster and scare him back under the bed – at least for now.

 

 

Five Hundred and One October 21, 2014

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.

 

Woman of Oz July 27, 2013

When I write my posts, I sometimes remind myself of the Wizard of Oz. Or rather, the man behind the curtain pulling the levers and speaking into a mic. It’s an interesting feeling to sit in my comfy chair, alone in my room, ‘talking’ into the box on my lap. Feeling quite alone as I do (except for the constant crowing of roosters outside my window), it’s nearly impossible to realize I’m speaking to a group. And yet, luckily for me, I’m still able to do my thing, relatively unaffected by my growing and invisible audience. I had wondered recently if this might become challenging as time went on, but I’m happy to find that I can still tap into that universal mind and enjoy a line free of outside interference. As those who create will know, when things are going good and stuff is just coming to you, that’s a spiritual sweet spot. It’s kinda like getting in a canoe and joining the already moving water. Off you go… The trick here is not only knowing that I’m not exactly alone in my thoughts (nor would I want to be; the point of a blog is to share ideas), but that everyone in my life’s wake is privy to these thoughts and observations. Because of this, there are sometimes repercussions. But this is my life’s art for now, so on I go, broadcasting from my little chair behind the curtain.

Keeping one’s voice the same, without modifying its tone or exaggerating the day’s events when they seem a little too common, these are some of the challenges that face me. Thankfully, they aren’t affecting me at present, nor are they really concerning me. I’m surprised at this. Thought by now things might be getting trickier. You know, running out of ideas, becoming bored with what I already got goin. But I’m alright. My mind rolls up and down all day long as I tend to my outdoor work and I make mental notes to examine things more closely when my work is done. The biggest hitch in all of this is just remembering ideas later on. Guess that’s why writers take notes. I have a dry erase board in the kitchen, and a small pad in the car. If I’m lucky I’ll be near enough to one or the other that I’ll get something down in time. And while it aint Alzheimer’s yet, I forget far more than actually occurs to me – and this has me wondering sometimes if it’s not a foreshadowing of the fate awaiting me. But I’ll no doubt write about that chapter too when it descends on me. Cuz no matter how my aged years present themselves, whether it be memory loss or the inability to get around (hopefully neither!), that will be an entirely new adventure that will bring with it its own observations. And as long as I’m able to write, I’ll probably be letting you know exactly how I feel about things.

It seems that from the observations and ruminations I’ve published through these last few and difficult years, I have actually concluded the makings of what might be my first book. In this particular moment, my life has come to something of a stopping – and starting – point. Divorced, the ex married off, small farm chugging away, son just about in his pre-teen years… All of that, plus a recent little explosion of reaction to the blog on Facebook, and I think things are fairly tidily wrapped up. A period has been placed at the end of a long sentence. Life is by no means a static thing, and I am still grappling with some of the same challenges, but I feel a bit more confident these days, thanks to the most supportive readers and loving friends a gal could have. It strikes me as a bit ironic that at the ‘dreaded’ age of 50 my life is beginning again! I feel possibility now. As I watch the new garden outside my door begin to take shape and become real – all from the birth of my simple imaginings – so too I feel the birth of whole new future taking shape. I feel a little relief with the onset of this new chapter, too. A friend had suggested to me recently that this was the start of Elizabeth 2.0. I really like that. Nice way to welcome the new into my life, in all the forms it may yet assume. And with that, I’m think I’m done for now. Off to work in the garden. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain! The great Oz has spoken…

 

Old Dog July 8, 2013

Spent the day trying to teach myself some new tricks. On the computer, that is. The most basic skills still elude me, and my excuse has been my 24/7 job as mom. I still stand by it; there’s just so much one person can do in a day, and in between writing, teaching, playing piano, keeping house and home and being mom I have about eight hours left in which to sleep – and I aint about to give that up. ! Plus I like to read at bedtime. That habit in addition to my chronic insomnia helps me define my priorities. So finally, with Elihu in Chicago for a bit, now I’ve got some time. Already hooked up my long-paid-for domain name with this blog – that in itself was a minor victory for me. Next on my list is to get some hyperlinks goin. It can’t be that difficult. I hope you’ll indulge me as I do a little experimenting in the following paragraphs…

“My son and I recently took a lovely little vacation together in Chicago. We thoroughly enjoyed a boat cruise (on both the river and the lake), one which I highly recommend, given by the Wendella Boat Line.

After that spectacular tour, we headed north for dinner at the Heartland Café in Rogers Park (which is no longer owned by local legend Michael James. Although it’s clear they’re trying to march forward in the same spirit as before, the unmistakable vibe that’s been present for the past thirty-something years is sadly no longer part of the Heartland experience.)”

Ok. That seems to have worked too. This is all fairly easy stuff. Feel kinda silly about having put it off for so long. But the linked words still show to be underlined and blue in the working copy I see in front of me. Really? Hm. Gonna save and preview again…

So. Ascertained that the links are the same color as the text. Good. And while they appear sort of highlighted, they aren’t underlined. That’s good too. I’d rather  that the text appeared the same as the rest, but then again I suppose you wouldn’t realize that it was a link. I guess. Now my only concern is that until I go ahead and actually publish the post, apparently I can’t check to see if the links actually work or not. Really? Am I missing something? Here I go again…

Although unrelated to my above ‘hyperlink challenge’, I feel I must mention that my edits aren’t always successfully saved, in spite of my quite definitively hitting ‘save draft’. It is beginning to piss me off. Gotten to the point where I save the same version a over and over a handful of times until it seems to take. (When saves don’t take, it becomes insanely tedious to go over the entire bloody text trying to re-create the previous changes. Like it did just now as I re-wrote this past sentence for the third time. Really.) Upstairs, on my tiny and ancient little Mac, I’ve noticed that updates stop saving well after just a few versions… might be due to many pages up in sequence. Don’t really know. My trick is to close em all and restart. But now it’s happening on my ‘new’ (updated) PC. Seriously. What am I missing? Screw it for now. I won’t worry about it tonight, cuz I’ve got a pile of books I can’t wait to get to beside my bed. Been at my desk nearly ten hours now and am done. I think I did pretty well today for an old gal. Schooled my own way over, around and through some unforeseen obstacles, and in the end feel like I actually learned a couple of new tricks. Good dog.

Near-immediate Post Script: WordPress just told me I have a more current version of my post in autosave. Naturally I panicked, then checked it out, and realized that no, it is not the most recent, updated version. ! And I can also now see that my shiny new hyperlinks are bridges to nowhere. Sigh. Maybe it has something to do with the domain change today. Oh how I had hoped to get over these few hurdles by now. Good thing I still got lots of time to figure it all out. Thanks for your patient audience as I fumble about here…

A “refreshed the next morning” Post Script: Have re-pasted the links. Ok. Got in now. !

 

20/20 Vision June 17, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 1:40 pm
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Two thousand and twenty visits to my blog. In the grand scheme, very modest. In the personal realm, a triumph. My gratitude, thanks and love to all who’ve visited and taken the time to read my stories. I appreciate your audience; it’s more meaningful to me than singing before a sold out concert hall.