By January of 2009 I was out of money. I had spent what I had left on new hearing aids trying to get my hearing back and on learning once again a new trade. Catharine suggested I apply for the Ontario Disability Support Plan (ODSP) – essentially a disability pension. I applied with her help. For the first time in my life it was beneficial for me to have disabilities. Once I had described all of my disabilities to them and how they impacted on my life it wasn’t hard to qualify. ODSP gave me the breathing space I needed to regroup. My disabilities had gained the better of me and I needed time to get a handle on them. Being on disability allowed me access to the counselling I needed to deal with my depression.
Three months after I started receiving disability benefits a program called Building Bridges (BB) started. Building Bridges was for anyone who wanted to start a business and become self-employed. BB participants could either supplement their ODSP income or get off it altogether. I jumped at the chance. After my longstanding troubles with trying to find paid employment, I now saw self-employment as my most viable option if I was ever going to get back into the workforce. I was determined. This time being in business would be different. There was very little stress in copywriting, virtually no overhead and I could work from where I lived.
The timing of this program couldn’t have been better. Building Bridges was formed through the partnership of two agencies – Ontario March of Dimes (OMOD) and Independent Living Resource Centre (ILRC) – plus the PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise (PARO), a not-for-profit business helping women start a business to achieve their independence. ODSP oversaw the progress of the BB participants. The beauty of BB was that social service agencies were partnered with the corporate smarts of a business.
I was in the pilot project for the Building Bridges program. In its 15 year history I was one of the first three men to receive business help from PARO. As you can imagine the men were widely outnumbered by the women. I called it “mixing it up with the ladies” and it was an experience. PARO helped me complete what I’d tried unsuccessfully to do by myself which was to compose a business plan and start a copywriting business. On February 16, 2010, I proudly started BGS Communications, (Brian G. Spare Communications). I became a freelance copywriter with PARO as my first customer.
Then I had an idea for Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. I really liked the story but the 1850s English was hard going. “Somebody should re-write this into modern prose,” I thought. I decided I would do it. Over two years I abridged and translated Moby-Dick. When I was finished my work was different enough in from Melville’s novel to give it its own title. On October 12, 2012, I launched my first book The Hunt for Moby Dick.
The Independent Living Resource Centre (ILRC) ensured that the Building Bridges participants, given their disabilities, could apply the business skills they learned at PARO. The workshops and seminars at PARO and ILRC provided me with much needed practice in listening to lectures and participating in group discussions. My confidence level was boosted enormously as I learned to adapt my hearing. I was inspired to join the Board of Directors for the Independent Living Resource Centre Thunder Bay.
Ontario March of Dimes’ part in the Building Bridges program was to test for and to teach me the basic skills that I needed to work such as computer and typing. Their aptitude test showed me to be suited for writing among other things.
There was a constant conflict inside me. I wanted to forge ahead in life but at the same time go away and hide.When I explained my situation to OMOD they found me a counsellor for my depression. His name was Hugh. I was expecting Hugh to have a Dr. Phil look with a regular hair cut, standard sports jacket, dress shirt, dress pants and shoes. The man I met was ten years older than me with thinning, grey, shoulder length hair. He wore a denim vest, button up shirt, jeans and moccasins. I found Hugh to be a very knowledgeable, highly intuitive, warm and peaceful man. He wore a broad smile, had a genuine concern for people and was sincere in everything he said. Hugh and I worked well together.
During two years of monthly sessions Hugh coached me out of my depression. It took me that long to change my mindset and really catch on to what he was telling me. Hugh got me to face the hostility in the dark, craggy, cold, gaping hole in my chest. He said the hole was not hostile. It was my space and I had no reason to get rid of it. I learned from Hugh that the hole – the deep emotional wound I couldn’t heal – was my parents’ influence on my life which left me the morning Mom died. What I lost that morning was what I needed to lose if I was truly going to find myself. From then on that hole became a friendly, clean-edged, light-filled space – my space – a womb full of warmth that I could expand to accommodate and nurture all my thoughts, dreams, feelings and experiences. I was released from a feeling of deficiency and found that I am, in a word, complete. I could believe in myself again.
The Sunday after we buried Dad only Mom and I attended church just as we had done for the last two months. But this time was different. For a month before Dad went to St. Joe’s and while he was in the hospice unit he was unable come to mass but his presence was always with us. Only after Dad had been laid to rest did the fact that he would never be with us again become real in our minds.
As I sat beside Mom in church I thought of how our life roles change as the years go by. Mom and Dad had raised me from childhood, nursed me through the trials of my brain tumour and did all they could to get me established. Over the last few years I had assumed more of the responsibilities of running the house. I did more for my parents’ care such as cleaning, laundry, shopping and yard work. Now I drove Mom to appointments and ran errands just as Dad had done. Given the longevity of the women in Mom’s family I decided that taking care of Mom would be part of my life for some years to come.
On the radio that afternoon I heard a doctor speak about cancer patients nearing the end of life. He compared what he was talking about as like the tears of a dying man. This moved me deeply because in all my 39 years I had never once seen Dad openly cry until he knew he was on his death bed.
By 9:00 AM Monday I was back at work. Tara like an old friend was waiting for me. She had become my second home and the dream for my future. I was comforted to be surrounded by the lab I built and spent so much of my time and energy on. As I looked around I couldn’t help but notice how every part of Tara had been touched by Dad’s hand. I missed him. When the phone rang and a customer came through the door my thoughts turned to work.
Tara would continue much as she had started. I worked in the morning by myself. Mom came back with me after lunch to take care of the office while I did whatever needed doing. I also had the melancholy task of finishing off what Dad had been working on, collect his notes and clear his desk.
Two weeks after Dad’s funeral Mom listened to me apologize on the phone to a long time customer for an erroneous result. It was a mistake. My mind had not been fully on my work. When I put the phone down Mom looked up at me from her desk and said, “Brian, it’s time to close Tara.” I knew she was right. But Tara was my baby. I gave birth to her, nurtured her, worked hard to see her through thick and thin, and until then, I couldn’t bring myself to give up on her. I agreed with Mom. We were both drained. The lease was up at the end of December which gave us the three months we needed to cease operations. The timing seemed right. Once we decided to close Tara shutting her down became our goal albeit with regret.
Tara had an overhead for those last months. We needed to have as much work coming in as possible. For that reason I wasn’t advertising that we were shutting down until two weeks before our closing date of November 27th. Just as I anticipated, after I called and sent out letters to all our regular customers to say we were closing, the work coming into the lab dropped off sharply. Some of our long term customers stayed with us right until the end. A company sent us work once a week by courier, Freddy, who brought boxes of samples to test. On the morning of November 27th Freddy showed up. After I signed for the package I said, “Last one Freddy.”
He looked at me. “No,” he said in dismay. Freddy knew about our situation but he was genuinely disheartened when the final day arrived. It turned out to be the last work we received.
The work that came in the door took care of the lease. Once the testing was finished in early December I started to dismantle the lab. Tara’s debt, a bank loan, I paid off by selling the assets. I became the salesman I didn’t know was in me. What I couldn’t sell I gave away to get it off my hands.
Just as Catharine had helped Dad and I put Tara together she came to help me take Tara apart. We cleared the shelves and took them down. As the equipment was sold, we dismantled the benches.
By December 31, 1998, the last day of Tara Scientific Laboratories, all that was left of Tara were the walls, a desk with the phone sitting on it and the overturned cardboard box we used for a chair.
Mom came back with me after lunch for one final look around. I gave the desk to the business down the hall. We stood in the lab area where we thought of all the things that had taken place in it. We walked into the empty office, looked at the walls and then at each other. There was nothing left to do. I unplugged the phone, tucked it under my arm and followed Mom out the door. I turned and looked in at the office for a few seconds before reaching around the jamb to turn the lights off. I closed the door and we walked away. There was sadness in both of us but more a sense of relief. I could finally do what I had worked so hard for when Tara was operating which was to gear down.
Tara Scientific Laboratories was an experience I will never forget. I built my lab as Tara shaped me. I charted Tara’s course as she led me along a path of personal enrichment through my interactions with all the people I met and worked with. Tara challenged me to grow professionally to become a successful businessman, entrepreneur, manager and employer. Tara was my life.