(The spot where my brother’s ashes were poured, Mira River, Cape Breton Island)
Hi. Your friendly neighborhood insanity writer here. Fresh off a deathwatch in the Maritimes. My brother and only sibling Edward died in Nova Scotia, with bowel cancer. He was ten years my senior. And he moved out of the house when he was Eighteen. We were roommates in recent weeks for the first time since I was eight.
My brother had a tough life. He was bipolar. A psychiatrist who cared for him said Edward was unusual in that his manic spells were extremely protracted. A fact that tore friends and family apart, put him afoul of the law a number of times, and eventually left him burnt out, fried by these brutally long highs.
Edward never stayed on his medication. He once explained why. “Imagine a life of amazing technicolors, one where you saw parts of the spectrum other people couldn’t. Your own Oz sorta thing, only better. Then someone comes along and says ‘Here, take these pills.’ And when you do all the colors go away, and you’re left rotting in shades of gray.”
I told him I sympathized. But at the time there was a warrant for his arrest, and I thought that was what really mattered. My brother disagreed. There were only those colors that only he could see.
We got to spend the last three weeks of his life together. A gift from on high. At the end his mental illness, which had morphed into paranoid delusions, simply left him. I had my old brother back. The one I worshipped as a kid. The guy who saved my life once. The eternal optimist, who believed we will escape our earthly cradle and reach the stars.
I talked to staff about this odd absence of the demons that plagued him. They nodded, and said it was not unusual. Although studies on the matter are lacking (the mix of mental and terminal illnesses would make for a tricky double blind) I was told that people often even out in their final days. From where I sat it seemed as though the thing that possessed him looked around at a house that was falling down and said, ‘That’s it. I’m out o’ here.’
Sleep was elusive on the lonely night watches. I wandered off to the cafeteria and played a piano there, songs that were big hits with my music students this past year. Hall of Fame, Counting Stars, Demons and Daylight. I chucked in ‘To Love Somebody’ at no extra charge, because it’s a damn good tune.
And I came to a realization as I sat there and played. I realized that I, the self proclaimed insanity writer, have been living a tired old definition of insanity for decades now. The one about doing the same thing endlessly, in hopes of a different result.
I’ve always resented music. In the world of the Arts it is the one area where people have told me I have talent. And the only area in the art world that has led to remuneration. I worked in musical theater in my college days. In the fulness of time I became a private teacher. A successful one. I have 56 students, and schools let me in to ply my trade.
But none of it mattered to me. Only my words did. I’ve written four novels, twenty-five novellas, a handful of shorts. Some nifty Tales in 20 Tweets too. My failures in pitching my product left me bitter. Hell, I’ve been an asshole about it. (After a school concert this Spring a mother came up with gracious words of affirmation. I shrugged and said, “I’m a frustrated writer. No one cares about that part of me.”)
All this coursed through my mind as I sat playing in a hospital cafeteria, down the hall from the room where my brother lay dying. I thought about my online persona, the insanity writer (the Neo to my real life Mister Anderson) and I saw the simple truth, at long last.
I stopped playing and stared at my hands. “It really is insane,” I muttered. “Hating this part of me. Resenting my music. Instead of accepting it for the gift it is.”
I am a writer. I am also a musician. All my life I saw those aspects as incompatible. It took my brother’s death to make me realize that they are not. Both are parts of me that I should honor and cherish. What’s more, they are parts of me that are fully capable of working together.
In the wake of Edward’s death, back in my Cape Breton homestead, I wrote a couple songs. Then I returned to the West and wrote some more. Here’s one, a hard core Celtic offering called ARISE:
And so from death I have found new life. One where things are integrated, with the different aspects of me working together for the first time, well, ever.
Am I a songwriter? Was I meant to be that all along? Have I drowned myself in a sea of prose, when I was supposed to be giving myself over to verse?
I don’t know. But there’s one way to find out.
The only way that any artist can.