When I was in the sixth grade at Barcelona Hills Elementary School, our teacher had us embark on what today might have been called a multi-disciplinary creative project.
I can’t recall if everyone had the same project, or if I had decided, among several choices, to make a book.
I gave it the title Fan-Fac-Sci because it would have elements of fantasy, fact, and science fiction. It included a character — a wizard named Yim-Yam-Yamo — who spoke entirely in rhyme. I wrote it in pencil, with colored pencil illustrations. And, undoubtedly with the teacher’s help, but if memory serves, not too much help, I also created a cardboard cover, sewed the pages, and bound the whole thing well enough that it’s still in one piece four decades later.
I got an A+. That semester, I was among the students who received a “Principal’s Award” on the strength of Fan-Fac-Sci.
Then, my limited-edition-of-one book… disappeared.
I’d brought it home for a while, I’m sure, but I had to bring it back to school to be on display for the Principal’s Award ceremony, or some such. Memory fails.
Point is, it was stored in my classroom, and then… no one could find it.
For weeks. Maybe months. Again, memory fails. I was a kid.
I was disappointed.
My mother, on the other hand, was furious.
My teacher had raved about it. She had told my mother she bragged to other teachers about the book, what her student had made.
Something about that zeal, and the mysterious absence of my little alliterative masterpiece, raised my mother’s suspicions.
She didn’t believe Fan-Fac-Sci has simply vanished.
Again, I was a kid, however old one is in sixth grade.
Eleven? Probably eleven.
So my persistent mother kept digging, and I don’t know exactly how, but eventually… Fan-Fac-Sci re-materialized.
Years later, my mother told me that teacher had taken it with her on a retreat, and that after that, it had just been misplaced.
My mother was certain my teacher intended to keep it.
Instead, thanks to my mother, I’m still in possession of the first “book” I wrote, laid out, and bound.
In other words, it was my very first DIY creative endeavor. My first indie publishing project, if you want to stretch things.
My mother’s name is Priscilla Suzanne Brieck. She died on August 28th, 2019, aged 83 and eight months.
She was my champion.
When I decided I wanted to play bass guitar (age 15ish), she took me to Sears and bought me my first instrument, a red Korean-made Hondo with a white pickguard. She helped me learn how to tune it with a pitch pipe, which, our lacking any real reference as to how it was supposed to sound, led to my over-tuning and snapping strings more than once.
Once I figured out, more or less, how to tune that thing, I taught myself how to play by sitting in front of the combo stereo in my bedroom, turning the radio dial and trying to play along with any music I’d find, even classical pieces. I played until my fingers were bloody; until the blisters turned to callouses.
Always learn on the crappiest instrument possible. You’ll be that much better when you finally upgrade.
My first gig at a real venue, playing bass and sharing the vocal chores in psychopathway (we didn’t capitalize the first “p” ’cause we were cool like dat)… my mother was there.
As she was for many, many gigs across the next decade and then some, taking photographs, collecting set lists and flyers, and often recording the cacophony on a little portable cassette deck.
When I added solo gigs, playing acoustic guitar and singing across Orange County in the pre-Starbucks coffeehouse boom of the nineties… my mother was there.
Not every time.
More often than not.
Sometimes, as a baby rockstar in his twenties, I’d be mildly embarrassed she was out there in the often single-digit audience, conspicuously related to the kid on stage.
Mostly, though, I was fine with it.
She earned the right to enjoy the fruits of her persistence, after all.
I wrote Fan-Fac-Sci longhand, in pencil.
That’s only because I didn’t have access to my typewriter, there in the classroom.
The Royal Quiet DeLuxe manual typewriter in the sturdy tweed case, to be exact.
The typewriter that had belonged to Charles Joseph Brieck, my mother’s father, my grandfather, who died eight years before I was born, at the age I am now, as I write these words.
I can’t remember how old I was when my mother first let me use it. I can’t remember a time that it wasn’t part of my life.
I put reams of onionskin through the platen of that Royal, churning out what would these days be called “fan fiction” featuring my own adventures of Marvel Comics characters, as well as embryonic, serialized versions of my Sovereign Era and Shaper’s World storyworlds I passed around among my friends, who all had thinly disguised starring roles. A few years later, I’d use that typer to peck out Carver- and Bukowski-flavored short stories in the studio apartment I shared with my first live-in girlfriend.
It needs some loving care, and it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything on it, but that typewriter has occupied a place in my creative space everywhere I’ve lived, my entire life, and it always will.
My mother must have had fond memories of her cherished father using that Royal, and she trusted it with me.
Entrusted it to me.
When I released my first novel in 2005, my mother was seventy years old and suffering from cataracts. She’d eventually get them removed, but right then, reading the small print of a paperback book was difficult for her.
So, we sat in her apartment together and, over the course of an afternoon, I read it to her.
She’d earned that, too.
In the last years of her life, my mother often wondered aloud: why was she still around?
Her son was grown, independent, and we’d long since swapped caretaker roles in every obvious way.
Her daughter lived on the other side of the country and rarely reached out.
Her grandsons had grown into excellent men with their own active, engaged lives.
She’d never met her youngest granddaughter.
The middle grandchild, a young woman she’d mentored and loved more like a daughter, had been taken, tragically and suddenly, years before.
“What’s the point of my still being here? What am I supposed to be doing?”
Invariably, my answer was to remind her we don’t always get to know our purpose. That often, we don’t even get to know the influence we extend, or the impact we have on the lives of others.
I’d tell her of the woman I met at a podcasting conference who told me she’d been moved to tears by my first novel.
(I didn’t tell her of the other woman who offered me a very… personal… gift (which I declined with as much grace and resolve as I could muster) as a thank you for that book… but if I had shared that story, I know my mother would have said something like, “Well, you deserved it.” And we would have laughed.)
I told her about the writers who credited my example as inspiration to self-publish their own books and / or start their own podcasts..
Entire careers are due to my mother’s advocacy and encouragement of my own creativity. And those careers have brought entertainment and meaning to thousands.
That’s what she did, through me.
It’s what we all do when we encourage the people we love to do the things they love. To be the people they most want to be.
Of course, I understood her “but what have I done lately” lament.
I know I fell short when it came to relieving her sense of uselessness.
But that just proves my point, I guess. We don’t get to know; not always.
Maybe my mother’s final reason for living was to bring me these last experiences, the transformation that comes from moving into the complete adulthood one can only reach once you’re no longer anyone’s child.
She did her work. Her persistence; her dedication; the dogged and steadfast ferocity of her love… her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren live and extend their own ripples of influence and inspiration, knowingly or not, as a result.
And while I’m still really processing, and while I haven’t completely embraced my grief just yet… I do have this sense… this excitement… for what comes next.
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