Monday, July 7, 2014

Thursday, April 1,2005 -- "The Art of Staying Alive" by Gary Pettus for The Clarion Ledger

(FLASHBACK: This article appeared in the Clarion Ledger newspaper on Thursday, April 1,2005 -- "The Art of Staying Alive" by Gary Pettus)




When he was 10 or so he stole a kiss from his fifth-grade teacher. As a teen, he tried to steal his own life.

What happened to Cyrus Webb during the years in between? Between that triumphant moment of childhood crush and the days when his heart abandoned him?

He was trying to find his way as an artist, but it was too dark.

***

He remembers that single teardrop--the memory, a mixture of pride and regret.

It fell from the eye of a young boy, a transparent streak of liquid pain melting into his cheek.

It was a drawing. A self-portrait, of sorts.

The Real Me, he called it.

To meet Cyrus Webb today is to wonder if that could still be true. For the man who has re-created himself as C. A. Webb, his professional alter ego, how could it?

C. A. is too strong.

At only 29, without a college education, the 1994 Brandon High School graduate is now an artist, businessman, radio and TV talk show host, arts columnist, poet, novelist. He's a management consultant for two singers.

He has a reputation as a mentor. "He has a certain, almost indescribable, quality of being able to connect to the kids," says Robert Langford, executive director of Operation Shoestring, an non-profit agency that provides services for low-to-middle-income families.

Webb has translated his dreamy love of the arts into the practical ability to tutor children--in music, drama, writing and more, in Operation Shoestring's after-school program. He didn't come by this love honestly.

"I'm the only artist in my family. The only oddball," he says, with smile that is as shy as liquid mercury. "The only one in my immediate family who's left-handed."

With that left hand, he began drawing, at age 5 or 6. The writing came later, he says. "I always liked to think of other worlds, other places. Art and writing became an outlet for me. I always liked escaping."

If Webb enjoys escaping today, he has a funny way of showing it. Several days a week, he can be found inside the Jackson Medical Mall or Metrocenter manning his kiosks--mini-emporiums of his self-published novellas and books of poety, color prints, greeting cards and more.

Melvin Anderson, executive director of the Jackson Human and Cultural Services, helped Webb place his kiosk in the medical mall.

"People need to see the kinds of things he's offering," Anderson says. "He's a very talented man who has a lot to offer to the community. Probably 75 to 100 people come by his display every day, if not more."

On the third Saturday of every month, re-commencing on April 23, Webb will be found on WAPT-Channel 16 as host of Conversations with C. A. Webb. An interview show featuring the arts community's "movers and shakers," it echoes the format and title of his radio show on WMPR 90.1 FM broadcast at 7:30 on Tuesday nights.

He also can be found sitting on the boards of arts and other community organizations. He can be found giving, or emceeing, poetry readings at Smith Robertson Museum.

Now, if only someone could find The Real Me.

It was stoken from the lobby of the hotel he used to work in not long ago. He hasn't seen the original drawing since. Only prints exist.

It was the first drawing he made after the surgery on his hands. He hasn't re-created it, he says with a sigh.

"I've never been able to duplicate that tear."

***

The tears that fell later in his life might have been forecast by his fifth-grade teacher, like a far-off storm.

"He was to himself a lot," says retired teacher Sara Mason-Thomas of Jackson, who taught Webb at Brandon Middle School.

"He was well-mannered. But he always wanted to be the last in line. Never in front. Always in back, with his arms folded.

"He never wanted to play games. He would sit there and draw during class time.

"There were only five or six black kids in the classroom. I didn't want him to be an outcast. So I stayed on him, as well as everybody else in the room. And I didn't allow them to criticize him or talk bad about each other."

Then on Valentine's Day, the shy kid "shocked" her. "He asked me to bend down, he had something to tell me," she says. "I leaned over, and he kissed me.

"I said 'OK, now go sit down.' I really didn't know it hurt his feelings until I ran into him the other day, and he told me so."

***

It was just one more disappointment handed down to him by the adults in his life. one of the many hurts that were, at least in part, his fault.

"I'd always been a 'yes' person," Webb says. "But I found I couldn't be everything people wanted me to be. They wanted to live through me, to be a mirror for what they wanted to be, but didn't have the opportunity.

"And it goes back to the mindset that if you're not a doctor or a lawyer, you're not a success."

His family has since come around, he says. "In the end, they just wanted me to be successful.

"They didn't know how I could do that as an artist or writer, and without college."

But, at one time, the pressure to be someone else turned him into an enemy--a foe, not of his family, but of himself.

"I don't know why I thought I had the right to take my life," he says.

"I guess, finally, it was maturity that made me realize how stupid that was."

He tried to commit suicide three times. The last time, at age 20, with a drug overdose.

Multiplying his depression at the time was this: He began suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful or numbling condition of the hands and wrists caused by repetitive movement. "I was afraid I wouldn't be able to draw or write," he says, "especially because it affected my left hand more."

In 1995, he underwent surgery on both hands. "I couldn't cut my food," he says. "I couldn't dress myself. When I took a shower, I had to wear plastic bags over my hands."

Finally, the healing process ended. The foreboding did not. He captured it in that teardrop, The Real Me.

To this day, if he works too long at one time, the pain returns---the pain in his hands. As for the other...

"I haven't been able to draw that tear again, to re-create it, honestly, because I haven't been to that point in my life again," Webb says. "I was really feeling it then, but I don't feel it now.

"So, technically, it's not the 'real me' anymore.

"But it would be nice to have that picture."

4 comments:

Lahongrais said...

Very moving story. It is a testament of what one can do if one would just follow one's heart.

You are a success by your own measure; a blessing to us all. That is what matters. That is what inspires.

Thank you for sharing!

Linda Bello-Ruiz said...

Incredible story. I am honored to be one of your "fans"... You are proof that God takes the broken and heals them...inside and out!

Bette Phelps said...

Cyrus...I never knew the depth of your depression...You always had such a precious smile on your face the lit up the world! You are a successful man who hit rock bottom as a teem,only to be catapulted in to GREATNESS! Continuing to send blessings your way! A shinning star touched my life when I had the honour to work with you!

Clifton McKnight said...

The depth of the struggle, the height of the victory! Bless you for persisting and for ever paying it forward.