Promotional headshots for my mother, electronic multimedia artist Victoria Gibson, for the Guelph Nuit Blanche 2011!
My mother brought me a small, wooden jewelry box yesterday. It’s a beautiful thing, laquered marquetry and celadon tinted birdseye maple, as finely crafted as an expensive guitar. Inside is a music box mechanism, one of those spring-wound revolving cylinders, that plays Impossible, a song hauntingly familiar yet difficult to place, (always the mark of a classic). I adore it. I am a sucker for music box mechanisms. I used to regularly carry them, the manual kind that you place on a surface and wind by hand to control the rotation of the barrel, hey jude, canon in d, as time goes by, until the constant wear against the other things in my pockets would break the metal keys off the comb. I love how clever they are, how much clockwork goes into them, how very simple yet complex they can be, how much strange and wonderful history they contain, the first mechanical music, the basis of the first programming, the melodic birth of the computer. Now there is a small graveyard of them in my room, each one flawed in some essential way, each one with a snapped off spot in the melody, a haunting gap where a remembered note should play, as perfect as a zen garden.
Really she came over for a photoshoot, the box was a bonus, something she bought me years ago, but lost in her house until recently. Rather than cash, she’s paying me in Burning Man gear, a good sleeping bag, two 5L water jugs, and a big, hefty cooler, which is completely fantastic. Also, due to a mix-up last year, Lung has a spare tent I can use, and Tony’s offering to split a bunch of our left over supplies from last year. Crowd-sourcing for the win! Now I need a ride, a place to camp, a bedroll, and to figure out a week’s worth of food, sugary electrolytes, and wet wipes, all on a budget of close to zero. Andrew’s bet twenty bucks I can pull it off. Screw being reasonable, I’m not going to let him down.
This evening my mother and I went through some of the things Brenda left behind in the storage bench when she died. Everything neglected, yellowing, ten to twenty years old. Music notation, folders for a defunct band, rejection letters from Island Records and Virgin, acres of her hand-writing, pages upon pages that she touched with her hands. The dust made me sneeze and created a film on the top of our shared cup of acai tea.
We found black & white photos of her, hair teased, badly posed, her lips coated in an 80’s shade of lipstick, impossible to name, improbable anyway. When I think of her, I think of her sitting at the table she had in her front yard, singing jazz while she chopped organic vegetables for soup, or dressed as a beautiful wood elf for Hallowe’en, almost androgynous, a knife at her belt and two streaks of pale bronzer slashed across her cheeks in the colour of fake ivy, a sparkling green. I was too young to remember her as the rocker wannabe, even though I recognize her in the pictures. Her smile is the same, and her bones.
Louisa May Alcott’s Letter to Her Mother
“Whatever beauty or poetry is to be found in my little book is owing to your interest in and encouragement of all my efforts from the first to the last; and if ever I do anything to be proud of, my greatest happiness will be that I can thank you for that, as I may do for all the good there is in me; and I shall be content to write if it gives you pleasure.”
My mother brought me a chunk of organic steak from Capers last night.
I steam-fried it this morning for breakfast and now I’m like “OH HAI, COLOURZ R BRIGHTER NAOW.”
I was approximately four years old when my parents became involved with another woman, Sarina. My clearest memories of her involve cigarettes, dark hair, and a lean, shrewish voice. As the story goes, she met my mad father at a bar and found him interesting enough to follow home, pretending that her car had coincidentally broken down in front of our house. Apparently, somehow, this worked. She moved in soon after, bringing with her two little children – Daniel, age three, and Brianna, age two – from her marriage to another man. It was unexpected. Suddenly, not only did I have another mother, I had young siblings, the first children I had ever encountered.
All three of us were incredibly blonde. We were thin kids, the sort with exceedingly clever hands that like to climb bookshelves and get in behind furniture. (Once, in a fit of crackling genius, we gave Brianna a safety-scissors haircut coloured with our favourite smelly markers.). In the few photographs that survive, we look unquestionably related. It wasn’t official, however, until our parent’s decision to have children together – Robin in January then Blake in September.
My mother left soon after, young, worn, and tired, taking Robin and I with her. We moved out, (really it was more of a midnight raid as we ran away, with Daniel helping me out of the bedroom window), and settled into a nice apartment on the Drive above Nick’s spaghetti house. Silva lived across the hall, I began going to school. Life continued. Very rarely did I see that branch of family after we left. Not only did they move every year, Sarina became increasingly difficult, systemically explaining to we-the-children that everything we lived had been delirious make-believe, even to the point of raising Blake with a fictional name. Eventually, they became impossible to find. Vancouver Island swallowed them whole.
All of this was so long ago that I never expected any of them to remember – Blake certainly couldn’t, he was a tiny baby, maybe three years old the last time I saw him, and Daniel and Brianna had likely been quite thoroughly brain-washed by their unappealing mother – but I continued to hope I would find them again. Vancouver Island is vast, but population small, and Blake’s birth certificate, after all, had my father’s name on it. One day, eventually, he would need it, if only to apply for a driver’s license.
It turned out, however, that Blake found out he had a different father when he was seven years old. He and our sister Brianna were having an argument, and she burst out, in perfect cliché, “He’s not even your REAL daddy!” Way to go, girl. (Last time I saw her, she was extolling, very seriously, the various merits of My Little Ponies). From there, the facts began to trickle in. His false name was discarded when his CareCard came, (“My middle name isn’t James?”), and when that foretold moment with the Birth Certificate happened when he was sixteen, his mother threw a fit, refusing to tell him anything or sign anything until he legally changed his name from Holmes. Apparently it was a bit of a drag down war, complete with shouting matches and threats of cutting him from the will. Being a smart kid, however, he simply waited out three years and applied again when he was nineteen. At that, his mother, not relenting, but simply giving up, finally told him of my existence. That was six months ago.
Next time he was in town, he looked me up on-line in the phonebook. And that, my friends, brings us to yesterday. Tah-fiddle-dah. My long lost brother returned, remarkably undamaged and notably sane. I’m proud of him for struggling through our dubious genetic heritage, our intensely unstable parentage, and his obviously isolated upbringing. He could have gone away and come back a deeply unpleasant individual, but he didn’t. Apparently none of them did. I’m told our brother Daniel is currently scuba-diving in Thailand and our sister Brianna is living in Sweden with family. I never would have guessed.
My mother finally bought herself what we’ve jokingly dubbed her “mid-life crisis baby”. I got on to heft it and found myself intimidated. Her new bike is not a machine which goes down easy. It’s so heavy that if it falls over, she’s going to need a mother-panic of adrenaline to get it back up. That or three big men. So there, that’s my mother, proud and pleased, cradling her fast, dangerous creature. It makes me happy.
Flickr launched a new feature this week, something they call Collections. It’s a way to create sub-sets, (folders within sets). This means that I could, for example, create a collection called Local Events and fill it with sets like Avery’s Video Game Party, Ikea Adventures, and Flashmob Croquet. It’s likely going to be a long and tedious process for me to switch everything over to the new system, (I have an inhuman amount of photos), but I expect it to be worth the effort. Now if only they would announce, like Livejournal, that permanent accounts will be available for sale soon.
I watched new parents on the Skytrain today, smiling, as all three were young, attractive and happy. Suddenly, a brass thought ship-wrecked whole in my mind – “My father was never that young.” It surprised me, but it feels true. He sprang into the world fully formed at age 35 and only got older from there. I remember him smiling, but even before he went mad, he always looked tired.
Imagining my mother young is easy. I am almost the same age she was when she had me. I thought of standing at the bus-stop, hands on my belly, feeling a hard curve there, cradling The Word inside me, and I knew that she felt happy where I would feel trapped, as if my feet had been pierced through with tent-pegs. She has never been hungry the way I am, her aspirations have always pointed in a different direction, but still I can see her in my mind, thin, almost conventionally pretty, and tenaciously practicing the same six chords on the guitar until her fingers bled, until she grew callous, then bled again. The first day I kicked in her belly must have been a small personal miracle, like branches swaying Yes after you’ve asked the sky a question.
It’s my brother Cale’s 17th birthday today. She named him after J.J. Cale but got the date wrong on the birth certificate and they made her fill it out again. We are not the most cohesive family, but biology links us together irrevocably. He is stuck with us, carries us on every official document he’ll ever have to take the time to fill out and carry. See, I gave him his middle names – he’s Cale St. Patrick Gibson – and wear green every year in atonement.
Maybe with a beach party.
Starting at 3pm at the Vancouver Art Gallery (Howe and Robson).
To combat zombie exhaustion the route will be shorter!
To combat zombie boredom the route will be different!
To combat zombie short attention spans more info will come closer to the date.
. . . although these are really the only things you need to know.
Mark your calendars!
I’m at my mother‘s right now, wondering where the paperwork that was to be waiting for me is hiding in the massive piles of stuff that occlude her kitchen. It’s an oven here, perspiringly humid, especially the top floor where I am, tucked in next to antique stereo equipment and a massive plastic castle. She’s out house-hunting the Drive today, trying to find somewhere for her and the boys to live now that her school is done and her student housing’s run out. She’s been looking into grants, too, that would let her buy a house, but even with all of the bursaries and interest free loans and special dispensations for single mothers from the government, Vancouver prices are so exceedingly high that she could only raise half a mortgage downpayment. We’ve been talking about how we could fund-raise to get the rest, but I’m not sure what we could do. I’m thinking a website not unlike the one that belonged to that ditzy girl that had the internet pay her foolish credit card bills, but with perks for donors. She’s a musician, we know creative people, I’m sure we could work something out. If anyone has any suggestions, it would be appreciated.
What: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
When: Movie starts at midnight on Thursday and it will be busy so meet at 10:30. If you’ll be late, get someone to get tickets for you.
Where: The Paramount theatre, downtown at the corner of Burrard and Smithe
Who: You & anyone else you’d like to bring!
In a similar vein, though on a much smaller scale, is there anyone interested in being press-ganged by two fascinating women? Silva, my mother.2, and I need a human or two at her house to help shift some small furniture around either Monday or Tuesday afternoon. It’s a job that would take us an entire exhausting day, but an able-bodied person could handle it with us in just a few hours. You would get the extraordinary gift of her company and possibly some traditional you’re-bodily-helping-in-the-summertime lemonade. Maybe. If you’re lucky. Otherwise, no, just tea. Tea and fantastic conversation. And neat decor. And big black cats. And, well, you’ll just have to see!