Whenever life threw me a slap, my mother told me, “Everything will come right. Just work hard and don’t give up.” Even as an adult, my mother’s eternally sunny mantra made me feel better, and I would wrap it around me like an invincible cloak that could soothe my disappointments and push me toward dreams so big, they seemed impossible to attain.
On the day I finished my manuscript, my mother died. And so did her ever-reassuring words.
Hers was the end of a very long and agonizing farewell. Alzheimer’s is a cruel thief. It snuck in slowly and snatched away the small things from her first. Just little memory slips due to aging, I convinced myself at the time. My mother constantly misplaced her glasses, forgot how to make a cup of tea, and when she finally moved in with my family, I discovered the woman who once swiftly completed the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in pen now wrote her name, Marjorie Haseldine, in a shaky, unsure hand as if she were seeing those two words for the very first time.
But then the greedy vulture dug in deeper, and I finally had to call it by name. My mother, a former newspaper reporter and consummate lady who always wore pearls, even when she washed dishes, had Alzheimer’s. In a matter of nine months, the disease stole the always proud, smart, and fiercely supportive person I loved and replaced her with an angry, confused, and sometimes violent stranger who no longer knew I was her daughter.
On the day of her service, I stared at the small and elegant box that held the remains of my mother, and prayed she finally beat the devil that tried to eat her whole. And somehow, just somehow, she was herself again.
After my mother’s service, I returned home to California, feeling cold and beaten and refusing to acknowledge the manuscript file on my hard drive— despite the fact I worked so hard on the damn thing. But even more so, my story was often my savior, offering me a creative outlet to channel my frustration and rage against my mother’s disease, where my heroine could take down the bad guys with everything she had, just like I wished I could have done for my mother.
I decided to wait for some indefinite date before I started to send my manuscript to literary agents. I wasn’t up for the rejections, and the mother I once knew, who assured me everything was going to be okay, had been gone for a while.
But sometimes, music can be the muse, the healer, the catalyst a person doesn’t even realize they need.
One morning, after I dropped my seven-year-old son off at school, I turned on the radio. And there he was, Eminem, virtually rapping his translation of my mother’s words from long ago through my car’s speakers:
Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted. One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
(Disclaimer here: As a former Michigan resident, you can’t live in the state without being crazy proud of its music, otherwise, you’d probably get deported to Wisconsin. So Eminem has been a personal favorite since his Slim Shady LP).
The odds my mother was familiar with Eminem’s music were about as equal to Eminem being familiar with my mother (zilch). But these two extremely different people had one thing in common: they made me feel like I could accomplish anything, despite whatever new setback. Eminem’s song Lose Yourself reminded me I had to conquer my fear of failure. I realized I couldn’t give up without at least trying.
After the song ended, I pulled out of the school parking lot, drove home, and stared down at the unsent manuscript file on my computer. I cranked Lose Yourself, soaked in every lyric, and mustered enough courage to hit the send button.
Yeah, about those rejections. Sure, they did come in. Lots of them. And I didn’t have my mother’s reassurance to turn to this time. But I did have the song. And my mother’s memory.
What I’ve learned so far, as meager as it may be: whether we are writers, singers, IT experts, or dig ditches for a living, each one of us who walks this earth will go through horrible times that we might not think we can endure.
And we will get judged—often harshly— for our work whether we ask for it or not.
My wish for each one of us is that we have someone to turn to when we fall hard. And if we don’t, I hope we have a song or something else that inspires and give us the courage to keep on trying.
You can do anything you set your mind to, man.
Thanks Eminem. My mum would approve.