“Her Life’s Work” – By Kate Hill Cantrill, Guest Blogger

Kate Hill Cantrill - Walk Back from Monkey School
Walk Back from Monkey School by Kate Hill Cantrill, available now!

I’m reposting Kate Hill Cantrill’s guest stint because her short story collection, Walk Back from Monkey School,  is NOW AVAILABLE, and that’s how we treat our guest bloggers here at A Life’s Work headquarters.

Kate Hill Cantrill’s writing has appeared in literary publications including Story Quarterly,Salt Hill, The Believer, Blackbird, Mississippi Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Swink, and others. She has been awarded fellowships from the Corporation of Yaddo, the Jentel Artists Residency (where we met), the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (where we spent time together), and the James A. Michener Fund. She has taught fiction writing at The University of the Arts, The University of Texas, and the Sackett Street Workshop. She lives in Brooklyn where she curates the Rabbit Tales Reading and Performance Series and is completing a novel. 

I want to write this about my reconnecting with my mother. I can’t write it. There are drums thumping in my backyard and a bum singing in my front; I love both on some occasions, but not all occasions. As hard as this is, as frustrating as this is, this is my life’s work, and I need to find a way to make it happen.

My mother is a brilliant sculptor. She once went depressively insane — full bodied and real — and I stayed with her for my first year after college to keep her from both blowing up herself and blowing up the block on which she lived—Brownstones in Philly tend to link arm and arm and what happens to one might happen to all—just ask Osage Avenue. The Philadelphia Fires. Just Google it.

I told her to leave — not just leave the foot of my bed at 3am when the 3am Crazies happened upon her, but just to leave. I told her to stop crying, to stop threatening death and to allow me to become my own person. She listened (or perhaps she was simply called) and flew to Scotland to an environmental and spiritual community to become at first a maintenance person (and then, I think, a student, a clown, and then the cook) for—give or take—five years.)

For the sake of brevity I will just say this: I mourned my mother and felt full body and soul that I didn’t have one anymore — a mother that is. It felt easier than one might think since she had not been there for real for many years before that. She had always had my awe and admiration, but she had not always been there to be my mother.

Why do I say this here? I know why I say this here. My mother — for the duration of her motherhood — has needed to pursue her Life’s Work. And when I write need, I mean need.

Soleri Bronze Bells by Niall David Photography

She returned to the states to care for her own mother in her final days and wanted to drive with me across country where I was to teach for the summer — I won’t even get into the details of it even though I thought at first that these details were the purpose of this essay, because we stopped at Arcosanti and smelled the soil, rang the bells — she just knew that after five years we needed to re-connect. We were both broke — we made rice and beans to have tacos on the way. We feared and therefore avoided the “gators” (the busted-blown truck tires) on the road the best we could. We listened to Moby and Johnny Cash. We slowed down when mean truck drivers got up in our rear. “It’s really great becoming a graying old lady,” she said. “I get away with this kind of thing.”

She became my friend, maybe again, maybe for the first time for real, I don’t know. All I truly know is that I had my mother back, and she had just returned from 5 years of pageantry, puppetry, cooking, and healing. And when she came back she took hold of the carving tools, the patinas, the C-grip clamps, and she went again to pursue — but closer to me this time — her Life’s Work. And I felt holy-hell proud of her for it, and I learned from it, too, once again.

7 Replies to ““Her Life’s Work” – By Kate Hill Cantrill, Guest Blogger”

  1. Thanks SO much Jane!!! I’m planning on expanding on this story at some point soon– it was sort of a hard one to put out there. I told my mother that I was sorry I’m a writer and she said “Love means never needing to apologize for your art.” I’m blesses to have her.

  2. It’s great to see both of your names here together. Like a reunion almost.

    Kate, I’ve found writing these things is often a way into to a bigger piece. I’m glad and deeply honored I could provide a little venue for your jumping off point.

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