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20th Century Women

Posted on | December 18, 2017 | 2 Comments

I’m 15 minutes into rewatching Mike Mills movie 20th Century Women.

And there is a part where the son plays a game where he hyperventilates as another kid pushes on his chest.

He passes out and can’t come to. His friend runs as fast as she can. Until she reaches his mother.

His mother sits in the back seat of a car holding him.

And Annette Benings face is lit with terror. And she looks like my mom.

And I remember how much my mother loves me. And how tightly she’s held onto me in the worst situations.  And I think of my sister and my mother and my wonderful friend Jennica and my mind explodes a little at the strength of the women I know. Starting with the first woman I ever knew.

Jeanie Steinbock Kimber.

And the power of my love for my mother hits me viscerally. Where it feels like there isn’t enough time in my life to express it properly.

I’m in that odd emotional zone that for some reason we spend a lot of our time avoiding. The sadness that comes when you realize what everything is stuck in time and will become unstuck. That everyone you love will die one day. And that day could come at any time. I understand the hysteria that this understanding  can inspire.

It’s easy to forget the beauty it holds. That when you let sadness into your heart you open yourself up to truly seeing the intense preciousness of the people we love.

You rarely get to say all the nice things. So you have to choose a random Monday and pour it all out. Because you shouldn’t keep the beautiful things in your heart to yourself. Those truths belong to the people who need to hear them.

20th Century Women is a movie made by Mike Mills to remember the unique and utterly eccentric human his mother was before she died. The movie was made after she died. She never got to see it. To fully understand how magical she was.

I think about all the nice things that are never said. How much of our childhoods we spend dreaming of futures when we should be watching as carefully as we can, studying our parents so we can learn to love them with the same depth they love us. It’s really easy to forget that each moment is precious until we lose our ability to have them.

I think about my mother who is in good health and has this sweetness about her and these strange ways of doing things that make me laugh.

We used to pass her salad dressing while she was speaking and she’d hold it in her hand without noticing and continue talking. She planned our family vacations like an assassin plots Presidential assassination. Whenever I am home no matter how much time I spend with her she wants a little more. When my dad comes to Toronto for vacation she sends clothes and demands pictures. When I am a lunatic on social media she calls me on it with a knowing smirk or an annoying public statement. She has a temper that lasts for five minutes and disappears completely after that. When I was a kid I told my principal to go fuck themselves when they backed off on a promise to our student council. My mother told them they really should have kept their promise and didn’t make me apologize. She used to wear jewelry that was shaped like the moon. She took me and my first love for Halloween costumes. She preached Dim Sum until I became a die hard convert. She introduced hugging to the Kimber family. She told my dad to write about subjects outside of Canada and began the journey to my parents become Cuban revolutionaries. She gives excellent advice and will remind you of it at every opportunity. She loves her friends and talk about them like they’re celebrities. She hangs out at an abbey with them. She sporadically breaks into dance.

She is…full of things only she does that she does perfectly.

My mom was a costume designer and spent a good portion of my childhood calling me from other parts of Canada.

Letting me know she loved me and experiencing a little boys bitterness over the phone masked by his best intentions and attempts to be more of an adult than a child can be.

Growing up it was an open secret I was more my dad’s kid than hers. Because he was so much like me and I thought he was perfect and exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.  And I didn’t think about whether this hurt her because children don’t think about that. I wasn’t particularly precocious in seeing my parents as people. Like most kids I idealized them, believed they had all the answers and held their small flaws against them. Because I thought when you grew up you knew everything and all of your choices were actually choices.

But as I aged we have only gotten closer. This started when she stopped taking work outside of the city when I was in 12th grade. Where she saw that distance and wanted to step into that awkward space until it disappeared.  She sacrificed opportunities to be close to me. She saw all of my resentment and she walked right into it and stayed until I actually started to see who she was.

When I was 25 I developed an anxiety disorder.

My mom walked me through it. Giving me advice on how to accept that I hadn’t caused this through some gross negligence. That the pain I was experiencing wasn’t my fault because no one would ever ask to feel this way. And that I should stop blaming the earlier version of myself who had only intended to be happy and had no idea what would happen as a result. By this time I knew how much she cared about me. How anything I suffered she suffered too and multiplied by ten. But she was good at hiding it. So when I stopped sleeping she didn’t show that she was worried about me. She just enjoyed my company a little more. She called me a little more often. Whenever things get bad I always call a little more.  She came with me to the doctors when I was prescribed anti-depressants. She called me the morning after to see how I slept.

She is like me and sometimes blames herself for things that have nothing to do with her. She once apologized to me for passing on a genetic predisposition to anxiety and depression.When I got older I started realizing how many of the best parts of me came from her.

She’s attracted to strange people. The unique freaks of the world, she finds them and she brings them close. She’s fiercely loyal and I have taken this from her and made it into my religion.

And I remembered her voice reading me the Chronicles of Narnia when I was a kid. The joy in her eyes because she recognized she was good at this and had me hypnotized and reveled in the power.  I remember her making fancy dinners for her friends. Usually the same recipes because she likes food but was never a passionate cook. She isn’t a big drinker but when she drinks she dances like a mad woman and books vacations to Cuba. She can be smartly manipulative and passes her advice through proxies because she knows that often I don’t listen when she gives advice. I’ll get an email from my sister Emily out of the blue and know she was sent like a carrier pigeon with my mother’s well meaning advice and tender care.

I learned things over the years that changed the way I saw her.

My mom quit on her first dream of being a fashion designer because her boss tried to sleep with her and she said no and he fired her as a result. My mother like many women accomplished everything she did against a tidal wave of misogyny that tried to limit who she was. She taught the world you can’t fuck with Jeanie Kimber because she’s strong as hell and will not back down. She’s sacrificed opportunities because she wasn’t willing to lie when the world wanted her to to.

She became a costume designer on the movies. She worked on the movie Titanic and watched Bill Paxton hallucinate on PCP. She dealt with a variety of sociopaths and got into argument with James Cameron. She has a magnificent eye for detail that she now captures in painting. She started a business at sixty and made it a success.

There is no circumstance where she wouldn’t be my side and that includes if I killed someone. I get my manic sense of loyalty from her. And a rage that threatens anyone who hurts the people I love.

She once told me she thought I could sometimes be an angry person. I told her that she was one of the only people who made me angry. Because she’d try to improve me and give me advice and I was too old for that. And when someone tries to make you better, it makes you feel like you aren’t enough.

I said it once and she really listened to me. And thought about it. And apologized to me for doing it. How many people in the world can hear something that’s hurtful and make something better out of it?

So much of the reason we are close is because she’s brave. Which doesn’t mean things don’t scare her because they do. She just knows that everything great thing we ever accomplished happens when you’re scared. She’s done more than most people could ever dream, and if she’s as much like me as I think she is,  she was scared the whole time.

She’s in her 60s and she’s still capable of such massive and impressive amounts of growth and change. Because she doesn’t let the world limit her. She doesn’t just this is me and stop there. Not for the people she loves.

Very few people I know have been gifted a relationship with their parent that has consistently gotten better and better. At 33 I love my mother more than I ever have and we have become closer than we ever were even if we are separated by a thousand miles.

I don’t know if I’ll ever write a movie about my mother.

But she’s a 20th Century Woman. Who definitely looks like Annette Bening.

Who lost a dream because men are stupid and for most of time could be as dumb as they liked and evil as they liked and nothing would happen. So she found another one. She chased it even though it hurt to do so because she wanted to provide for her family and she wanted to know that she was good at something.

She once grabbed a baseball bat and headed with me  to Tantallon to defend my 16 year old brother from some thuggish guy who was annoyed that Matt was with his ex-girlfriend. Prepared to cause all kinds of havoc. Who answers the phone whenever I call with, “Are you okay.” and only relaxes when she knows I am. She adopts people and makes them members of our family on a regular basis. She loves being a Grandma. She lights up when she talks about Hannah and Avery. She takes every chance she can to love people.

She’s my mother and there aren’t enough words to describe how much I adore her.

There’s no reason to say this on this particular Monday. But there’s every reason to feel lucky to have her as my mom.



2 Responses to “20th Century Women”

  1. Innis MacDonald
    December 30th, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

    What a lovely tribute.

  2. Cliff White
    December 31st, 2017 @ 3:44 pm

    A. Lovely piece about a wonderful thriving relationship. I hope it’s shared widely.

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    Michael Kimber is a 26-year-old journalist who suffered a nervous breakdown on November 3rd, 2009. On March 28th, 2010 when he recovered from mental illness, he began writing a blog called Colony-of-losers. About falling on your face to figure out who you are and the hilarious antics of a blond jew. What began with a few friends and his mother reading has become a cult phenomenon, averaging 10,000 views a week, receiving praise from Commonwealth Award Winner Shandi Mitchell and many others. On, November 3rd, 2010, the one year anniversary of his mental breakdown he signed with Anne McDermid and Associates, the largest literary agency in Canada. In a year he went from wearing pajamas, making his couch depression HQ to leaving his hometown for the Toronto, where he exclusively wears business suits and the armor of ancient Greeks. Don't worry, he's still choking on the feet he contently sticks in his mouth and making moments awkward just by being part of them. During these struggles he met other talented bastards and drew them into his circle. Peter Diamond became his illustrator. Patrick Campbell his video editor and part time photographer. He recently added the incredibly talented John Packman as Colony of Losers Toronto photographer. Without the support of the Colony of Losers, Michael Kimber would be nothing. Welcome to the losers and the success that comes from utter and complete failure. You aren’t alone. Follow him on If you’d like to hire him for a public speaking engagement for mental health events in Toronto, like to arrange an interview, offer millions to publish his book or for another reason contact Michael please email him. And join his facebook Colony of Losers.

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