Monday, October 1, 2012
Motivation. Impetus. I suppose that’s what we can call it; the inevitable rallying against one’s inner negativity to finally move. Surely, some might think that only nine months after the death of the most beloved person – my mother Cynthia Brown – could be too soon to do just that. However, that same magnetic drive that convinced myself and my sister that our mother would endure the most wicked and mutating cancer imaginable, that will to endure and push through, is what has allowed me to soldier on without breaking. Not completely at least, just a few small cracks. When I stop to take in the silence, her absence is so painfully profound that I do what she did in the face of the endless adversity and tragedy that she witnessed in her life, I move on. I forge ahead. Or at least I am now, finally pulling myself from the mire of depression and inactivity. That is not to say that I do not respect or acknowledge the reality of her loss, I do. I truly do. I kiss the urn that holds her ashes as often as I remember to and talk to her picture or simply aloud as if she is sitting near me, sipping tea with that inscrutable Cheshire like grin to her eyes.
I suppose that brings us to the meat of this dialogue. A conversation that occurred in the summer of 2011 during the months while mom was out of induction therapy, free from hospital walls and actually present in the world for a while. She was sitting on the couch, dressed casually and in one of those gypsy chemo scarves that were as garish and bold as they were complimentary to her personality. She was reading the manuscript, a sum of fantastical ideas, machinations and lore, an entire world’s inception, history and drama that was accumulated in my head for over twenty years and finally spat out onto paper in six frantic months during what hours I could forage between the daily hospital visits. She was reading the most important and delicate expression of myself. There was no other I would entrust with this task. I remember nervously busying myself about the apartment while she finished the final few pages. Ultimately, I sat on a nearby chair and no doubt resorted to awkwardly staring at my mother.
When she was done, she put the last paper with the rest and held onto the section of the manuscript she’d separated. Now to understand what she said next, and the absolute weight of her opinion and its significance to me, I’d like to give you a brief education on the life of Cynthia Brown; by law born Cynthia Carol Linklater. Her father Earl was 2nd WW veteran and an alcoholic. Her mother Anastasia was an artsy-fartsy type of woman, quite the flower in her day, and with a head full of unpopular ideas for the time. The children – my mom, her sister Carly and brother Peter – had a troubled upbringing and were put into foster care during a period where I assume Earl was otherwise indisposed for fathering, or Ana was in a mental asylum. This was back when those places aren’t nearly as horrific as they still can be. There are suppositions about what happened Ana during her stay, though suffice it to say she returned quite unlike the bold and colourful mother that the children remembered (except for Peter who cultivates a passionate and irrational hatred of the woman that persists to this day, even after her death and which I will never understand). There was also some drama with a brother of Ana’s exercising his clout during the consignment of his sister to an asylum. This compounded by further rumours of Ana’s divestiture of family fortunes by virtue of her committal, which Earl may or may not have complied or have been complacent with. When the family cobbled itself back together many years later, Earl fell in and out of addiction again; at least one business was lost – a candy store – during this time and the family struggled. Let it be known that Earl did eventually assemble some measure of his shit and the couple managed to sustain a carpet cleaning business later in life. At a point that was never made clear to me the family migrated to Eastern Canada: Toronto, specifically. There was a wedding some time after Ana’s release, between Carly and a gentleman whose details also escape me despite the plentiful curses heaped upon his unfathomable name during Ana’s bouts of ranting during the holidays. As you might discern from Ana’s insightful commentary, the marriage wasn’t the greatest and after separating from her beau and while attempting to find happiness with someone else, Carly died in a house fire. We’re not done yet. The bad shit keeps coming. I should probably add that when my mother chose to fall in love and marry, years hence, she did so with a man of visible colour and suffered bigotry, including a burning cross on our lawn on Lily Lake Road in Peterborough (since reformed from its questionable stance on tolerance, I hear) for most of her married life.
I know I’m a writer, prone to aggrandizing but I’m not embellishing any of these facts, she simply had a wretched life on many accounts. Yet the magic of Cynthia Carol Linklater Brown was that not only did she not allow herself to be crippled by her past, she triumphed in spite of it. Clawing over the obstacles that derailed a normal person. It wasn’t enough to surmount the odds against her, she used each hindrance as a stepping stone to elevate herself to new heights of learning, understanding and empathy. At the age of 49, after she and my father had eked out a middle class income following years of hard work, she went back to law school. Eventually graduating to be a Lawyer for the Public Guardian and Trustee Office – the rare and noble sort of lawyer who gets paid substantially less than their private cousins and defends people who are incapable of defending themselves. Interjection: she initially dropped out of Uni, and I suspect that not coming from wealth she made her money for returning to school by being a waitress at the old Play Pen down on College Street in Toronto – true story, I shit you not. (I swear more than occasionally, you have been warned, do pardon.)
The most important thing to take away from my ramble on the magnificence of my mother – and I really could go on, is that she embraced life even more avidly than a child, she was beautiful, humble, worldly, wise and stronger than a mountain. And she had made herself that way. That perhaps, is the most incredible aspect of her story. That a human being can recreate themselves into whatever they want, at any point in their life and regardless of what trials they have faced in the past. Well, we can’t all do that, but Cynthia could, and that’s what was so unique about her.
Now, back to the manuscript and her appraisal of it. She looked at me, sincerely and with her mouth slightly pursed – indicating a measure of compunction – and offered her critique.
“Well, I’m not one for fantasy.”
My heart sank.
“But this is very good,” she added. “Quite compelling. The characters are engaging. What was that part – ” (truncated for spoilerificness)
After I burbled for several minutes about plot devices, character relations and the far spun webs of my intrigues, and conversation had dwindled a bit, she said one more thing to me that really doesn’t need much explanation beyond itself.
“This is what you should be doing.”
It took 34 years, and the death of the most important person in the world to me, but I feel that at last I’ve found my calling. So what can you expect here? Well updates on the 1st manuscript and the process of editing, marketing and publishing my work. Today I submitted my work to an editor and I’ll let you know the details of the process as it unfolds – as much of it as I can share while being bound to potential confidentialities that is. Other exciting developments are in the works, but I won’t go into them just yet. Stay tuned!
P.S. I’ve been reading some Rilke lately, and I’d recommend him to anyone feeling morose, happy or anywhere in-between!
Edit: For factual accuracy.