Over the river and through the woods…

Posted in Uncategorized on August 8th, 2009 by admin – 7 Comments

It’s been one of those tumultuous sort of weeks when I go from being restless and bored, to excited about upcoming projects, to extremely sad, to ridiculously worried and anxious…wash, rinse, repeat…in a continuous cycle, day and night. There is plenty for me to do, but I’ve been here before and I know that before long, my chemicals will change, and this will pass and I will be productive again.

We are still in the midst of moving. It will be a slightly drawn-out process, but that’s probably for the best. I’m hoping the days between now and when we are settled will buffer the strangeness I feel every time I go to the house and remember that my grandmother is no longer there. It’s been nearly three months since she died and I have been waiting and waiting for it to stop taking my breath away, but it hasn’t yet.

I have also been waiting to write this- to write about her- and now that I’m here I’m not sure I’m ready. But I’m going to try.

The night before she died, we were on stage in Charlottesville, playing the last show of the Bella Morte tour. It was May 16th. My mom called two days before to say that Gran was in the hospital with pneumonia, but she was hanging in there. In her 90s, she’d already kicked pneumonia a few times, and I suppose we took it for granted that she’d kick it once again. But that Saturday, before the show, my mom called again to say that the doctors weren’t sure if she was going to beat it this time. Fluid was collecting around her heart and lungs and it was a waiting game to see if they could get it under control. I wanted to come home then, but mom suggested we just play the show and come home in the morning. Gran was still holding on well enough.

That night, on stage, I did something I’ve never done in the ten years we’ve been performing. I cried. My voice cracked and I had to force my mouth to form the words to a new song called ‘Thirty-Year War’. And I simply could not stop the tears. I knew then, despite the little bit of optimism everyone was trying to muster. I knew because that was how it was between my Gran and I. It always had been.

We drove home that night, and arrived at the hospital around 7am. By noon she was awake and aware, but it had become clear to her doctors that she wasn’t going to be able to get rid of the fluid that was suffocating her. Her organs were failing and, after 93 years, wouldn’t be repaired. We could keep her alive on machines or we could make her comfortable and let her go. I’m still so grateful that there was no argument over the decision. She had always been such a strong, sensible woman.

Around 1pm, the machines were phased out, as the morphine drip was turned up. She and I talked, but not about what was happening. We talked about The Young and the Restless. We talked about the miniature horse farm we’d driven by in Ohio a few days before. We talked about the cats, and how lovely the Mississippi River was on the day we were in Lacrosse, and every other little thing until the morphine carried her away. Initially, I didn’t think I could be there when she died. I was utterly terrified. But as the minutes passed, I did not leave. I laid on the bed with her, kept my hands on her back and on her head, smoothing her hair back from her face. And this was how we were until she took her last breath. It was almost 4:30 in the afternoon.

Maybe I shouldn’t have written all of this. Maybe it’s too indulgent. I don’t know.  I’m resisting the urge to delete it right now, but something is giving me pause. I want to go on, I really do.

I know how lucky I am to have had her for so long, when some never know, or never have a deep connection to their grandparents.

I know she was 93 and had a life full of wonderful and terrible times.

I know everyone loses loved ones.

I know these things. But in the end, it doesn’t make me miss her any less. I’m not asking why, I’m not cursing any god for taking her, nor am I consoled that she’s in a better place. These things don’t matter to me. What matters is that the woman who raised me along with my mother is gone from this world, and I miss her.

When we were careless in the woods, and the wolves would catch our scent and we’d lead them right to the door, Gran would be there waiting for them, unafraid. Even when they got in, she held her ground, and eventually they’d run off, and she’d help us pick up the pieces.

I’m older now, and the threat of wolves is not as great as it once was, but when I get to grandmother’s house, she won’t be there.

She won’t be there to remind me to stay on the path she cleared. She won’t be at the top of the hill with a flashlight to guide me when I come home from the creek too late. She isn’t there to tell my mom and I that things will always be ok.

But I won’t let what she taught me be in vain. I intend to stay on my path, and I will carry my own flashlight in case I stay at the creek too long. And I will know that no matter what happens, things will always be ok.

And as for the wolves…

Well, let’s just say we have an understanding. I am my grandmother’s kin, after all.


July 28, 1915 – May 17, 2009


Posted in Uncategorized on August 1st, 2009 by admin – 11 Comments

We are in the process of moving; leaving the city after more than a decade and returning to the house I grew up in, which means we are about to become one of those crazy artists couples that live in the woods making their crazy art and getting crazier in their solitude. Except we’ll still go on tour, which is good, because it means we will still experience civilization for a few months of the year, although it might also mean we’ll end up as one of those crazy couples that drives around the country selling their crazy art, picking up stray animals, making really out-of-the-way side trips between shows to see the country’s largest rubber band ball or The Salton Sea or some other oddity, and digging in desert canyons to find animal bones in which to make more crazy art.

My husband Steven is happy to be moving; certainly for the space and the art-related possibilities living in the woods affords, but mostly because the house and property are ideal in the event of a zombie apocalypse. It’s a very old and sturdy house that sits high on a hill, surrounded by densely wooded cliffs, making it difficult to access, but easy to defend. It also has its own well, and could easily go off the grid, so Steven says. He’s probably right… after all, the house was built before there was any real grid to speak of. The land is rocky, but fertile enough to garden, and there is a fresh water source at the base of the hill.

Also, it has a hot tub. A modern one, too, not just a metal trough that you fill with water and let heat up in the sun like mom had when she was a young girl. And not like my “swimming pool” either, which was just me in the bathtub, in my bathing suit, sitting in about three inches of cold water after 45 minutes of whining. I probably could have used more than three inches of water, but I didn’t want to be the reason the well went dry. And according to my Gran, that is exactly what I’d have been.

So, yes…hot tub, seclusion, safe from zombies…I’m happy to be going home, too. The house is part of our family, but its more than that. In an ironic way, it is an exercise in non-attachment. Now, I know I just personified the house, like, two seconds ago, but that’s just the sentimentalist in me; the girl that used to name the rocks in the driveway and the multitude of squirrels in the yard. But it’s that very sentiment that has brought me to this place of resolution. See, I love my house. And I love my family. And I love every single happy and ambivalent moment I spent there. I love that my grandfather designed it and built it. I love my memories of holidays celebrated there, all the years I had with my Gran, all of the things I made there with my mom, the animals we had, the way the woods looks when it snows, the red-tailed hawks that nest there, the foxes, and the colts that play in the neighbor’s field every spring. I remember all of the drawings I did by the fireplace while Gran and I watched The Young and the Restless. I remember the games I made up and my playhouse, and the black snake that lived in the shed for years. I remember mom and I taking care of our goat, and picking blackberries. I remember so many wonderful, wonderful things.

But I also remember the terrible things. The fear I felt, the anxiety, the shame…consequences of deeds done when I was too little, or later, too helpless to stop it. The house was the witness and there were times I hated her for betraying me. Why did she let those people in? Why did she ever let them stay so long? I’d thought we’d had an understanding. I loved her, and she’d protect me, shelter me, as any good house should. But in they came, slipping in through the cracks the way the mice and salamanders do. And it seemed she could not stop it.

But it’s a house, you may be saying. Isn’t this blame just a tad misplaced?

Of course. But when you are young, you blame the constant, because the constant won’t leave you. I had some constants, and regrettably, I blamed them all. The house was no exception.

I have since made peace with my constants, recognizing now that even the things that would never choose to leave you, will, in fact, one day have to leave you. Knowing this, it seems silly to waste even one moment ever being bitter.

So, I have forgiven the house. And I am pardoned for ever being so angry at her. I can not erase what we saw and felt there, and I no longer need to try. I will simply do what one does in a house. I will make things, and write music, and read, and sleep. When we want to go south, we will take what we need and go for a while, then we will come back to her. When we want to go to the desert, we will leave what is not essential and we will go for a while, then we will come back to her again. We understand each other now, and I am ready to live there once again.

Plus, you know…the zombie thing.


Posted in Uncategorized on July 31st, 2009 by admin – 11 Comments

My name is Donna and this is my blog, as the kids say. I’m not very fond of that word; I think because it isn’t very lyrical, but such is life. I’m  not very computer savvy, not particularly political, nor do I live a life filled with absolutes. I don’t enjoy complaining about society, or pop culture, or traffic, or the weather, or gas prices, my job, or reality television.

In fact, other than the occasional, but inevitable, sabotage by faulty brain chemistry, my life is exactly what I want. I have a very strong and loving marriage. I write books, and make music and travel with my partner. When my life settles into a routine I’m not pleased with, I work to change it.

Well, goody for you, jerk, you might be thinking.

But it’s not all rainbows and tiny magical ponies made of gold. You see, the reason I don’t often complain about the world around me is because the worst offender of all lives in my head. Years of therapy and currently, Lexapro, have worked wonders, but the storm is always brewing; the tape is always looping. This is my OCD existence (colloquially- crazy brain). I know now, at thirty-five, that I will probably never be able to function properly without medication, and I am ok with this.

So, here I am. I take my pills and do my best to keep the loops focused on things that I love, because if I don’t, the tapes will play some very ugly, very terrifying things. And they will not stop until I have become ugly, too.

Consequently, I am compelled to love many things. Some, very lovable (baby goats). Others, not so much (abandoned quarries). But these things are what save me. I weave them into the things I make, and around me like a blanket. My husband is a gracious soul because he agreeably lives in this nest of maps, and mines, bizarre animals, fairy tales, books, hidden rivers, haunted places, biological anomalies, and varied religious icons with me, and seems to feel quite at home with it all. Our mythologies, it turns out, are not so different. We drink from the same well.

So, in writing this, I’d hoped to figure out exactly what purpose this blog will serve, and I suppose I have. This will be the place where I write about the things that keep me sane and happy to be in the world. There are many, so there should be no shortage of words here. I just hope there will still be enough time for me to post obsessively on Facebook.