My Memories of Cynthia
In 1994 when I queried Caitlin Press about a book I was writing
chronicling our family's experiences with my son's schizophrenia,
Cynthia Wilson assured me that she was intrigued by the story
and would be interested in reading the completed manuscript. Five
years later she remained supportive but with reservations. The
subject matter was not one that everyone would read, she realized.
But after sitting on the manuscript for over a year Cynthia made
the decision to publish it anyway. She confided later that she'd
encountered students with schizophrenia during her years of teaching
and had understood very little about their symptoms. She felt
that my story was significant one that needed to be told.
Cynthia had been of two minds that January afternoon when I called
to assure her that a number of mental health advocacy groups and
individuals in British Columbia were supportive of my efforts
to find a publisher. One other thing she was concerned about was
that I might be uncomfortable communicating before an audience.
I had mentioned that the public speaking confidence I'd developed
during Toastmasters had more than likely worn off. Cynthia admitted
that she too was nervous in front of a crowd. "But if it
is something we believe in, it is much easier," she advised.
It was during our telephone conversation that Cynthia made the
decision to take a chance on a brand new author with a book that
very likely would never make the best seller list. She had decided
she liked me and our relationship would go well, she said later.
There were times during the editing process when it became shaky
though from my point of view anyway. Particularly after I learned
that a few of my most brilliant paragraphs were to be deleted
and the entire manuscript needed to be changed and rearranged.
And then there were problems with my punctuation. To this day
I am fearful of inserting too many commas into a script. Cynthia
had explicitly directed me to forget everything I'd ever learned
in school about commas. If it was up to her, she emphasized, there
would be very few commas used at all!
Cynthia and her assistant Melanie Callahan were a wonderful team
of editors. I soon realized the revisions they demanded of me
improved the book tremendously. Cynthia always used a pencil when
making corrections, rather than the red ink I would have expected
and abhorred. The final editing process came as a series of directives
received by fax machine. Each was prefaced with a friendly rejoinder
such as an inquiry about my health before bloodied swords were
once again unsheathed to slash at my carefully crafted pages.
I finally met Cynthia Wilson in person while attending a doctor's
appointment in Prince George after having recently been diagnosed
with breast cancer. My daughter had formatted the final version
of the entire manuscript onto a computer disk. Cynthia met me
at the doctor's office to retrieve the seemingly insignificant
but important plastic wafer.
Any preconceptions I may have had about Cynthia being merely
a hard-nosed businesswoman vanished as I chatted with this friendly,
attractive woman who was about ten years younger than myself.
Cynthia was a picture of glowing health, but she appeared to empathize
with my predicament. Months later she confided that someone near
and dear to her had died as a result of breast cancer.
Cynthia must have experienced some trepidation about my upcoming
book tour particularly if the disease happened to be fatal, or
even if chemotherapy with all its adverse side-effects were to
be prescribed as a part of my treatment. Luckily neither of these
scenarios came to pass.
I will never forget that frosty October morning when I waited
impatiently in a state of rising panic outside the doors of the
Prince George bus depot for Cynthia to pick me up for an early
morning interview with Mark at CBC Radio. We were already late
for that appointment and I itched to contact her but the unlisted
number for Caitlin Press had completely disappeared from my mind.
Thankfully I finally heard my name being called over the loudspeaker.
Cynthia apologized saying she'd attempted to contact me at home
in Fraser Lake regarding changes in our schedule, not realizing
that I'd already left for Prince George. Our first interview was
to be with Bruce Strachan at an entirely different radio station.
The CBC appointment had been changed to a later time.
I fell into panic mode once again when Cynthia failed to appear
at the time she'd said she would. As it turned out she had been
delayed on the wrong side of a road construction project a short
distance from her home on the Blackwater Road. Despite picking
me up literally on the fly and wheeling her powerful little sports
car at breakneck speeds through the streets of Prince George,
we ended up being a minute or two late for the interview. Bruce
and Cynthia remained as calm as cucumbers but I was stressed to
the roof. My armpits had perspired to the point where I was thankful
that I was on the radio and not television!
The following morning was my television debut with Bob Harkins
whose voice I had listened to for years on our local radio station.
He had reported regularly from where he then lived north of Fort
St James describing interesting happenings from the bush-country.
Bob was a warm, encouraging gentleman. He and Cynthia were communicating
in a friendly jocular manner and my stress levels had finally
bottomed out. The interview went rather well, I thought.
A year later when my book received the "BC 2000 Book Award"
Cynthia was even more pleased and excited than I was. "It
is quite an honor," she said enthusiastically when she called.
I am now a senior citizen an entire decade older than Cynthia
Wilson was and a cancer survivor. I have trouble believing that
such a youthful and energetic woman as Cynthia Wilson could possibly
have passed from our earthly existence before it became my turn!