Saturday, February 03, 2018

One year as a motherless child

Last year at this time my Mother crossed the veil. 

Today has been marked by that day leading to her death, which is somewhat conflated with the days that preceded it, as the week itself was a kind of trance.

Today is a brand-new day. Exceptional and not so, in so many big and small ways.

In the morning, I joined community members in the court house to support other community members who confronted nazism in 2017. My head is spinning as I integrate the experience, but my heart has grown. Midday I bought flowers and a small wreath to decorate my mother’s grave. In the late afternoon, I enjoyed an African dance workout, where a half dozen drummers laid the rhythm and I struggled to find mine. In the evening, I observed some excellent art exhibits in the galleries, heard sacred singing, and spent time with friends and family. When I got home I fell into a deep sleep on the couch and woke shortly before the exact time of my mother’s passing. 

So once again I am in a place of no-time.

Many, if not most of us, experience these anniversaries of a loved one’s passing. Perhaps we were there with them, if not physically, then in so many emotional ways, positive and negative.

My mother is gone. She passed one year ago on Feb 3, shortly after 1am. She wanted to wait until the 3rd of the month because that is when her social security check drops into her bank account. This is a small thing we giggle about.

My mother became non-verbal about four days before she passed. I had spent long stretches of time at the Hospice House for two months, but in this last week, I kept vigil in that padded realm of whispers. It was safe in there, and warm, and so very beautiful. And there was the daily embrace of exceptional nurses, and chaplains, and social workers, and aids. They were a supportive family for a short period of time. 

That's not to say there weren't less gentle hands in the mix. Once my mother said, “If you are going to die in hospice, don’t die during the night shift.” But overall, my mother couldn't have passed in better care. It's where she wanted to be. And I am deeply grateful.

On the day of Feb 2, 2017, she lay in stillness, with mildly labored breathing. I remained at her side, studying her, caressing her at times, but my relationship with my mother was never one of much physical affection. I held space with her, which is what she wanted most from me––being there. I probably ate lunch in the hospice dining room, where food was sometimes shared with other families and the workers. 

This was important to my mom––that we share food. The week before she passed she insisted we buy eight rotisserie chickens for the hospice staff. We fed the whole house and its patients for days with that meal. Over the holidays, she contributed several Panettone Cakes. On February 2nd, I may have contributed some Greek delicacies: Grape Leaves and Hummus and Teropita. The staff appreciated my mother’s generosity with food, and in turn mine, which was a theme of our lives, really.

On February 2nd, the nurses thought my mother had a couple of days yet. But I kept watch into the night. My friend Megan came by to keep me company, the only friend who had stepped into my mother’s death chamber. She held space with me there for some time, and then we walked the three blocks to the Tin Whistle pub, where I enjoyed a stiff drink, and the sense of being alive. It was cold and cozy and surreal. 

When I returned to the hospice house, the night nurse told me she felt certain my mother would make it to morning. I was trying to decide whether to stay or go home to sleep in my own bed. As I was considering my options, my mother moved for the first time in hours, days really, stretching her arms in a downward struggle that implied discomfort. She was clearly distressed, reaching. I asked a nurse if she could turn her, or try to troubleshoot her discomfort, but the nurse said they had just attended to her, and that she was fine. I decided in that moment to stay the night, prompting the nurse to come in and adjust her, and up her morphine. My mother had refused the morphine until the very end. On this day, her dose was high.

A lot of people have exceptional stories of a loved ones passing. A last word. A moment of sublime contact. A very strong sign. Some people crawl into to bed with their loved one and hold them. But I sat by my mother’s side in an easy chair watching her intermittently while watching late night tv. I assumed we had a morning ahead of us, perhaps a day. Shortly after Seth Meyers’ sketch, A closer look, which lambasts Trump with comedic investigative journalism––something my mother loved––I dozed off a bit. 

I woke to the nurse saying, “Zoe, she is gone.” 

Just like that. As I fell into a sleep beside her, she took her final breath. Seamless. No drama.

The moment of finding her gone was a terrible one. No poetic words can really describe that sensation of sitting beside my mother’s empty body, turning skeletal before my very eyes. It was entirely expected, yet not. Wasn’t she going to make it until morning? Weren’t there yet more signs we were waiting for? The nurses were apologetic, saying they truly thought she had longer. But the moment had come and gone like a leaf falling. She had drifted away and settled into a place I can hardly imagine, that I have no strong spiritual or religious or cultural preconceptions of. A dark and empty space, that I can illustrate with light and liberation and a great winged flight. 

The funeral home attendants wheeled the husk of my mother’s diminished body away under a bright red blanket. I packed all her things, all the tidy clothes she brought to hospice but never wore, her cologne, her under garments, her big thick robe stained with food and medicine, her bible, and Greek Orthodox icons. I packed them carefully with my tears, and loaded them into the car. 

I drove away from death and into life under the great star of memory, which sheds an illuminating light on the relationship I had, and continue to have, with my mother. 

RIP Tatiana Efthyvoulou  9.27.31 – 2.3.17

Sunday, December 31, 2017

December Songs 31 (2017)

It's New Years Eve! Time for a final December Songs 2017. And I am so very glad I found a recording of Devon Sproule's new song, "Turn Back to Love." The first time I heard her sing this––I believe it was at a recent show at the Batesville Market––I found tears streaming down my face and had to choke back audible sobs.   

I’ve got someone new, you may have heard.
She’s hanging on my every word.
I’m becoming the master decoder.
So much to see, so much to show her.
Are you making it safe and OK?
Are you shrugging and turning away?

She wrote it after the events of our Charlottesville Summer and every word of it goes straight to the heart: as a mother, as a community member who was present at the events of July 8 & August 12, as a citizen striving for systemic change, as a human who loves. 

What am I gonna say, when she asks what I did?

Devon is so generous, not only can you listen to her new song here, you can also download it. There is no video as of yet, just her beautiful voice and deeply moving lyrics. I take these words and this experience into 2018, knowing that all that has passed in 2017 is a dangerous, frightening, but enlightening springboard toward change. May 2018 be a very different year for all of us, where we "turn back to love."

Turn Back to Love, by Devon Sproule

Stuck under the northern border,
Why did I let my passport run out?
That clean air is a foggy memory
Getting burnt off in the south.

I thought this was this optional hobby
Before the Nazis came to my town,
Are you quiet or crying it out loud?

I’ve got someone new, you may have heard.
She’s hanging on my every word.
I’m becoming the master decoder.
So much to see, so much to show her.
Are you making it safe and OK?
Are you shrugging and turning away?

Turn back to us.
Turn back to love.

Faster and funnier, you hate 2 lose.
Doubling down on those dangerous views.
I can’t begin to know what you’re thinking.
But I get a whiff of the koolaid you’re drinking.
Are you sneaking beneath your own mind?
Do you really believe he’s a great guy?

That’s not your voice, that isn’t you.
I know because I’ve lost mine too.
I’m terrified to get specific.
What am I gonna say, when she asks what I did?
Are you trying it on for a day?
Are you shrugging and turning away?

Turn back to us.
Turn back to love.

Overnight, overyear,
This little life is long, I hear,
Long enough that I can see a time,
That's quiet enough to listen to the pines.

And while you're here, check out this awesome Wes Swing video (another magical musician I saw for the first time this year) with a cameo by Devon Sproule.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

December Songs 30 (2017)

How about Alice Coltrane for December Songs 30. This really speaks to me right now.

Turiya and Ramakrishna

Friday, December 29, 2017

December Songs 29 (2017)

I'd like to feature Steve Gunn because he is one of my very favorite musicians of late. I saw him in June with Lee Ranaldo and Meg Baird and aside from being incredibly talented, he has a very authentic and humble quality.

Here is Way out Weather, a video that features some Buddhist imagery as we approach 2018.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

December Songs 28 (2017)

Another awesome talent I got to see in the very intimate setting of Low Vintage was Glenn Jones. Here is someone I could spend an entire Saturday listening to, fire in the wood stove, mug of hot tea on the table, notebook in hand, gazing out the window at the snow or rain or sunbeams falling. So very grateful for this sound.

Also, I mentioned Meg Baird in an earlier post. Glenn Jones sometimes performs with her sister, Laura Baird.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

December Songs 27 (2017)

I've fallen behind again. One of my December Songs must be dedicated to Adam Ostrar, who is one of several amazing performers I caught at Low Vintage this autumn. A modern troubadour of celestial song, and excellent guitar player, his was another intimate show that transported me to a quiet healing space. His new album, Brawls in the Briar, is masterful.

Warlock is a favorite, with a quiet work-of-art video.

Spare Me also is lovely, and another excellent video.

Enemy pulls you into it's plodding rhythm and wraps you in poetry. And then it enters some excellent sonic weirdness.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

December Songs 26 (2017)

I found myself being pulled toward "Mutual Benefit." Their music is like a great massage. Sit back and let it uncoil your tension. Visualize a breathing planet. Watch the breeze send a ripple through oatstraw. Street light and the snowy dusk.

Monday, December 25, 2017

December Songs 25 (2017)

I heard this Peter Tosh song on Reggae Vibrations, another favorite WTJU show, while I was loading presents under the Christmas Tree (I was streaming the show from the archives as I'd missed its actual air time). It brought an introspective atmosphere to the culmination of consumerism and stress that surrounds Christmas, inviting reflection and prayer in my moment of privilege as I distributed our gifts. This holiday plays an unsteady rhythm across a variety of families and individuals, christian and not, and has deeply harmful and meaningful affects, alike. I've centered myself on the idea of Solstice––the growth of the light in the darkest season––and a time to refill the coffers, if possible. But I always feel conflicted about perpetuating the materialism and am keenly aware of the impact: the bar set too high for so many by the privilege of a few, the back breaking grind on workers, the heart breaking reality for those who can barely manage the day to day, let alone some big cultural spending event, the anxiety for those who are trying to maintain family tradition but not go overboard or off balance. The aesthetic of Christmas is everywhere, flashing in the faces of a huge percentage of people who have no cultural or religious or personal or familial connection to the tradition. The season can bring people together yet finds people at their loneliest. This song, the cadence of it, the commitment to an enlightened spiritualism, ripped me open a little. I'm grateful. This day is a heart beat that we all share, regardless of what we might have or have not, do or do not. May we bonded in one love.

Creation by Peter Tosh

Sunday, December 24, 2017

December Songs 24 (2017)

What would December Songs be without a version of Joni Mitchell's, River? Yes, Joni is another she-hero, though it seems, realistically, attending a performance is one thing on my bucket list I won't get to tick off. I have seen Beth Orton perform, however, both in San Francisco and Charlottesville. I've learned that if people don't like Beth Orton's voice, they hate it. But I'm cool with it. And she does a pretty sweet version of River, I must say.

I'm not a huge Sarah McLachlan fan, but her version of River is quite lovely.

And here's the real deal, untouchable really, a version of River live by Joni Mitchell. Her intro is so sweet.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

December Songs 23 (2017)

Patti Smith is one of my reigning she-heroes. Here she is singing her own unique version of Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Here is an impassioned live performance of Smith's tribute to Kurt Cobain, About a Boy

Friday, December 22, 2017

December Songs 22 (2017)

The vast majority of my music discoveries are made through listening to the rock programming at local awesome college radio station, WTJU. That's wear I learned about this compilation of lost psychedelia, Feel the Music, based on a book of the same title, by Paul Major.

Enjoy Blue Lightning, by Joint Effort. Seems like their album, Two Sided Country Blues, recorded in 1971, may be worth a listen as well.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

December Songs 21 (2017)

Happy Solstice! I heard this song on the radio yesterday, and it seemed the perfect balance of darkness and light. I wanted to share it on Solstice. Haunting and beautiful. May the light––and love––prevail. 

Blow Northern Wind by the Mediaeval Baebes.

And while we're at it, this one is pretty cool.

Veni Veni Bella

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December Songs 20 (2017)

It's hard to know where to begin with PJ Harvey, because she is always awesome. I came across this video, and aside from it being a kick-ass song, I thought this performance a good example of her elf-goddess-diva energy. Plus you get to meet her band.

To Bring You My Love

This is also pretty sweet, PJ with Nick Cave, another favorite artist.

And this. She can rock the short dress like no other.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

December Songs 19 (2017)

Pretty much everything that Mavis Staples does is outstanding. And I really love the various collaborations she does. This is a Gorillaz song featuring Pusha T and Mavis. So much passion and energy and inspiration. I remember seeing it on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and being wowed!

Here is Let me Out

Here is something cool too, Mavis with Chuck D, Give We the Pride

And another awesome collaboration, this one with Jeff Tweedy. Showing up quite recently on Colbert yet again, here is Build a Bridge

Monday, December 18, 2017

December Songs 18 (2017)

Here is a seasonal song that is ok by me, Snowflake, by Kate Bush, from a 2011 album, 50 Words for Snow. It's so haunting and spare, I quite like it.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

December Songs 17 (2017)

Here's a new old song that I heard on WTJU's Radio Freedonia on Saturday, Places of Light, by Brainticket, a "krautrock" band from the 70's.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

December Songs 16 (2017)

I'm not sure where I was when this Beck song, Debra, was released many years ago––in a cave nursing my little daughter perhaps? It came on the radio recently and I was all like, WHO is this? I was fairly blown away when I learned it was Beck. It's a ridiculous song, lyrically. But musically, it's amazing, and a great example of Beck's range of talent! 

Check out this live version with Beck, ever the showman, sliding around the stage and throwing his mic about.

And since surely you'll want to hear it again, might as well listen to the studio version.

December Songs 15 (2017)

I heard Greek electronic musician, Lena Platonos, recently on WTJU radio show, Radio Freedonia. I love the hypnotic quality of this song, but also, admittedly, I was pretty stoked to be hearing the Greek language on American Radio. She has a sort of spoken word style that really highlights the language.

Here is Bloody Shadows From Afar. This version is an update of an earlier more minimal version.

I wanted to include this one as it one Best Music Video Award at Cyprus International Film Festival in 2009. Bonus: It includes subtitles.


This one, called Witches, has an awesome creepy quality. I think the video is recording of a tv screen.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

December Songs 14 (2017)

December Songs 14 is by Nay Nichelle, who moved to Charlottesville about two or so years ago from South Carolina. This is a highly meaningful song and video, especially with all that is going on Cville currently. Guest appearing in the video is Charlottesville's vice mayor, Wes Bellamy.

A small write up says that Nay Nichelle got her start through a viral Adele parody! I wish her luck and hope her audience continues to grow!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December Songs 13 (2017)

December Songs 13 is a band that I saw for the first time this past year at Festy, Elephant Revival, and their song Petals. It's a great song and magnificent video!

Changes will continue, but I’ll never give in to
the woman that you’ve assumed me to be.
Thought that I had seen you,
Could feel me beneath you,
Beneath a distant longing
to arrive.

There’ll be no more waiting,
No sorrowful blaming.
I’m sitting right where I’ve wanted to be.

I am and I am not
these petals pressed into
these pages unnumbered.
I am and I am not.

But then I remember.
And when I remember,
It seems that I become more of what I remember.
Which is not necessarily insanely related
or jaded or tainted by bleak memory.

In fact I’m enjoying
the lifting of morning,
These petals intended for giving release.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December Songs 12 (2017)

I've been a Kurt Vile fan for a while now, but am pretty stoked about his collaboration with Courtney Barnett. I really like this cozy little tune called Continental Breakfast. I could watch the video over and over again what with all the smiles and kids and pretty spaces and images of friendship & domestic bliss.

This is also a great little concert in which they perform songs from their album Lotta Sea Lice.

Make sure that you listen to the end so that you can catch their incredibly sweet cover of the song Untogether by Belly.  Here is the original version. Followed by another version by Kurt and Courtney.

Monday, December 11, 2017

December Songs 11 (2017)

Today's artist is Bedouine with the beautiful song, "Solitary Daughter". There is an interview on NPR in which the song is discussed.


With the conviction of the woman you made me
I find
Blades of grass from the island you lent me
I find
On every floor
In every drawer
Though I'm not an island I'm a body of water
Jeweled in the evening a solitary daughter
If picked at by noon
by midnight I'm ruined

Leave me alone to the books and the radio snow
Leave me alone to the charcoal and the dancing shadow

If each blade of grass was meant here for me
Split apart, sliced, and wedged in for me
Who's gonna treat it?
I'm not going to need it

Leave me alone to the books and the radio snow
Leave me alone to the charcoal and the dancing shadow

I am a lake
don't need to be watered
I am an ocean
I don't need to barter

I play with the moon
my only friend
It pushes it pulls me
I don't pay rent
I don't need the walls
to bury my grave
I don't need your company
to feel saved
I don't need the sunlight
My curtains don't draw
I don't need objects
to keep or to pawn
I don't want your pity
Concern or your scorn
I'm calm by my lonesome
I feel right at home
And when the wind blows
I get to dancing
My fun is the rhythm of air
When it's prancing

Leave me alone to the books and the radio snow
Leave me alone to the charcoal and the dancing shadow

Sunday, December 10, 2017

December Songs 10 (2017)

Last night I was lucky enough to see David Rawlings and Gillian Welch and band at the Jefferson Theater with a dear friend. It was yet another profound musical moment in a year of many. It afforded me time to stomp off some sadness about my stepmother's passing, and also think about my daughter, so far away in Kathmandu, and tomorrow, boarding a flight to India. Life Cycles. Passages. Poetry.

Seeing Gillian Welch was a major check off the bucket list, of course. She has been a long time favorite and this was my first time seeing her live. So joyful!

"I Hear Them All" really spoke to me, though I would say each song did! But something about this felt more personal after the events of our Charlottesville summer. The version below is a bit different, as last night they had a violinist, another guitarist, and a stand up bass player. But this too is a truly beautiful version. It's a cover of an Old Crow Medicine Show song, and of course, Woody Guthrie.

I hear the crying of the hungry in the deserts where they're wandering.
Hear them crying out for heaven's own benevolence upon them.
Hear destructive power prevailing, I hear fools falsely hailing.
To the crooked wits of tyrants when they call.

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

I hear the sounds of tearing pages and the roar of burning paper.
All the crimes in acquisitions turn to air and ash and vapor.
And the rattle of the shackle far beyond emancipators.
And the loneliest who gather in their stalls.

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

So while you sit and whistle Dixie with your money and your power.
I can hear the flowers a-growin' in the rubble of the towers.
I hear leaders quit their lying
I hear babies quit their crying.
I hear soldiers quit their dying, one and all.

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

I hear the tender words from Zion, I hear Noah's waterfall.
Hear the gentle lamb of Judah sleeping at the feet of Buddha.
And the prophets from Elijah to the old Paiute Wovoka.
Take their places at the table when they're called.

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

Saturday, December 09, 2017

December Songs 9 (2017)

My stepmother Shirley Littman passed away on Thursday evening after a long battle with MDS and Leukemia. She was a strong, positive, hard working woman with a commitment to social justice. Her infectious laughter and easy smile will shine on in my heart.

I wanted to dedicate December Songs 9 to her, as she was a member of the Raging Grannies of Metro NYC. I found this pretty great video of them performing in the Hudson Guild, a community center in the Chelsea Co-op residences, where she lived.

Shirley is the one in the yellow and gray striped shirt and the orange scarf. And she's fabulous!

Friday, December 08, 2017

December Songs 8 (2017)

December Songs 8 goes to Valerie June. Not a lot of narrative here, she pretty much speaks for herself! She's truly unique, beautiful, hypnotic, and jamming!

Here's Shakedown

and Working Woman Blues

And a pretty cool collaboration with John Forte, formerly of the Fugees.

My introduction to her was via this NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

Here's a Rolling Stone interview.