Archive for April, 2013

Road to Mo*Con VIII: Guest Blog by Janet Harriett

Okay, it’s the week of Mo*Con, so things are crazy on this end (read:  I have to edit this novel before the end of the week and get it turned in to the publisher) and I’m trying to put a few projects to bed so that I can enjoy myself.  But we have a few more guest blogs.  Next up, Apex Book Honcho, Janet Harriett, shares her story.

Harriett photoTalk Is Not Cheap

by Janet Harriett

When I was in that “what do you want to be when you grow up?” stage, I remember my parents being concerned that being a writer would make me depressed. Their concern was not without justification. Mental illness, as the meme says, doesn’t so much run in my family as stroll around getting to know everyone, and I’ve had depression and anxiety to one degree or another for about as long as I can remember. Plus, let’s face it, creative types do have a bit of a reputation for being sometimes fatally not quite right in the head.

My parents really should have been more concerned about my sister’s choice to become a massage therapist. Turns out, as an occupational group, personal care workers have the highest rates of depression, followed by food service, social services, and healthcare. You don’t get to writers and artists until #5. That’s still pretty high on the list, but statistically speaking, “troubled manicurist” is more prevalent than “troubled writer.” (For those interested in the data: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/2k7/depression/occupation.htm)

Creative folks’ reputation, while perhaps undeserved, is not entirely a bad thing. People already expect writers to be a little nuts, so we run into a lot less stigma in admitting that we’ve struggled with mental illness. So, while artists and writers may not lead the pack in having depression, we sure run the table on talking about it.

Talking helps. Not just talking with a psychologist (though I do that, too), but talking with people who have been there. They understand what I mean when I describe thoughts being epoxied in place in my brain until the days run together. They know how terrifying it is to be stuck in a malfunctioning brain that refuses to do what I want.

People who have been on the ledge or held the knife understand the difference between wanting to hurt yourself and wanting to make this all end — a distinction that is often lost even on mental health care practitioners. I still haven’t said the word “suicidal” to my doctor. On the other hand, I have swapped “when I was suicidal” stories with other writers — writers I’ve just met — without fear of judgement, because they talked first.

Calling it the “When I was suicidal story” sounds so flip, but the writer-mental illness combination provides the skill set to turn these  experiences into narratives, which make talking about it easier. All the hard work of figuring out what to say is done once, and the anecdote becomes not entirely unlike giving readings. I can tell the story because, in telling the story, it doesn’t quite feel like I’m talking about me.

A good chunk of my decision to be open about my depression came because Jim Hines laid out an eloquent argument in favor of treating mental illness like any other significant medical issue. When I first blogged about my depression, my husband, who has the monumentally difficult task of dealing with me at my worst, asked if I was sure I wanted to do that. The creative world has less of a stigma attached to mental illness, but I can’t blog just to them. Other people would know, too. After the private messages I got from some of those other people, I definitely was sure that I made the right decision. I work in a career field where admitting to mental illness is relatively low risk, but others aren’t so lucky. I got messages thanking me for speaking up, and expressing a hope that they, too, might some day get to a place where they’re comfortable with themselves and don’t fear professional repercussions from their admission.

Talking about it helps me. I have enough anxiety without having to try to keep something else about my life secret. I sincerely hope that, by talking about it, I can pay forward the work others — others who didn’t know me — did, and maybe help break the stigma that keeps people in those four industries above ours struggling silently.

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Janet Harriett is the senior editor of Apex Publications, as well as a copy editor for hire and occasional writer of science fiction. She lives in central Ohio, fearing the zombie apocalypse after her ill-considered decision to buy a house next to an active cemetery. In her spare time, she has no spare time. Find her online at www.JanetHarriett.com and, more often, on Twitter @janetharriett
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Mo*Con VIII: The Mind and Spirit of the Artist

May 3 – 5, 2013.  Indianapolis, IN

Previous Guest Blogs:

Maurice Broaddus – Being Crazy, Christian, and Creative

Lucy Snyder

Doug Warrick

Jim C. Hines

Gary A. Braunbeck

Nate Southard

Delilah Dawson

Michelle Pendergrass

Steven Saus

Janet Harriett

Road to Mo*Con VIII: Guest Blog by Steven Saus

Okay, it’s the week of Mo*Con, so things are crazy on this end (read:  I have to clean the house top-to-bottom) and I’m trying to put a few projects to bed so that I can enjoy myself.  But we have a few more guest blogs.  First up, editor/publisher Steven Saus reminds us that our mental health isn’t just a “me issue” but impacts those around us and can bleed into our relationships.

 

512_feb2012On Toxic Relationships

Guest Post by Steven Saus

 

I believe people are usually logical.  Give someone a stimulus, combine it with their “givens” – their beliefs and rules about how the world works – and they arrive at a logical, reasonable conclusion.

That’s important to understand about me.  It’s a kind of comfort.  It is, itself, a given about how the world works for me.  It means that other people are reachable.  That no matter how bad things have gotten, there is hope.  There is a way to reach common ground, to slowly crawl back.  It means there is hope for me.
I didn’t really know what codependency was, or how a relationship could be “toxic”…or why someone would stay in a relationship like that for a second longer than they had to.  Too often, “codependent” is mentioned in the same breath as alcoholism or drug use – and none of that applied in my case.

The term is even a little confusing.  Dependent on each other?  Together?  That’s supposed to be a good relationship, right?  Even St. Paul – in one of the more misquoted bits of the Bible – argues that each person in a relationship takes care of the other… and lets the other take care of them.

And it can go so horribly, horribly wrong.

It’s hard to find good, simple definitions of codependent or toxic relationships.  Codependency is a dependency on other people’s moods, behaviors, sickness, well-being, and love for happiness.  A codependent relationship is one where other people’s moods control my emotions so I try to control their feelings.  A codependent is a person who has let another person’s behavior affect them and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.  That was me.

It’s hard to write about my codependency now.  I remember it.  I remember how awful, how trapped, how hopeless I was.  But I don’t understand my own reasoning any longer.  My givens have changed.

I know the process was gradual.  People are not born codependent.  They are trained.  A thousand little interactions, a thousand times left confused and upset, a thousand times knocked off-balance and trying to figure out how I, once again, ended up being the bad guy.  A thousand little nudges to my assumptions about how the world works.

The axioms about boiling frogs are largely true.  Increase the heat slowly, slowly, and the frog will never think to jump out of the pot.  I did not pay attention to the slow, small changes, the little nudges that ended up twisting my worldview.  The nudges that eventually left me in front of Despair’s mirror.  I was about to quit college a term away from graduation.  To stop writing fiction.  To stop blogging.  To stop going out.  For the second time in my life, I seriously considered killing myself.  The despair was far, far deeper than anything I’d felt while clinically depressed.  The water was boiling, and I barely noticed.

It took someone else to point out the bubbles and the heat.

And even though the air felt frighteningly freezing, I slowly – so fucking slowly – crawled out of the boiling water.

It was messy.  It was slow.  It was almost two years before I truly began to understand how badly skewed my worldview had become.  Another year has passed, and I’ve finally gotten to a point where my head is largely screwed on straight.  It’s often been two steps forward, one step back, a step to the side, and a small jig.  But the direction of progress has stayed the same.  During that time I badly hurt people I care deeply about.  That’s why I am writing this.

I call my situation “codependent”, but more broadly, you can call it a toxic relationship.  It’s irrelevant to assign fault or blame.  It’s a waste of energy to assign motivation to the other person.  It simply doesn’t matter.   The structure of the relationship will perpetuate the toxicity.  The other person might be malicious.  They might be scarred themselves.  These things Do. Not. Matter.  You can only observe their behavior, and decide whether or not to accept it.  You are in charge of what you let into your life.  You control your givens.

Toxic relationships could be anywhere – not just in our romantic lives.  They’re in the way we interact with our families.  In our offices and our workplaces.  It’s embedded in our culture.  We have to be awake, aware, and alert to recognize what’s happening.   It’s hard to recognize the toxic elements of a relationship – even when the whole thing has gone sour – when you’re in the middle of it.  Like depression, you may be aware there’s a problem, but not what the problem is, or where it comes from.

Naming it gives you power.

If you’re not sure about your relationship, or just think there’s something wrong, try reading “Sick Systems: How to Keep Someone With You Forever”.  If it resonates with your current situation, that’s a strong signal.  Melody Beattie’s classic “Codependent No More” was invaluable in extracting myself from a codependent relationship — once I realized that it applied to my situation.  “How to Avoid Problem People”, while specifically directed toward romantic (and sexual) relationships is a SFW post that has a lot of good tips and practices for staying out of those kinds of relationships in the future.

I’m heartened to see more and more things pop up about toxic relationships.  Learn them.  Educate others.  Know what your boundaries are for letting other people – other behaviors – into your life.

If you’re already in a toxic relationship, if things seem hopeless, it is possible to get out.  It is possible to find a way out of – or through – your situation.  I believe this.  It’s a given.

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Steven Saus injects people with radioactivity as his day job, but only to serve the forces of good.  His work has appeared in anthologies and magazines both online and off.  He also publishes and provides publishing services as Alliteration Ink.  You can find him at stevensaus.com and alliterationink.com.

 

 

 

References/Resources

Sick Systems:  How to Keep Someone With You Forever

How to Avoid Problem People

All quotes defining codependency are from “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie.
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Mo*Con VIII: The Mind and Spirit of the Artist

May 3 – 5, 2013.  Indianapolis, IN

Previous Guest Blogs:

Maurice Broaddus – Being Crazy, Christian, and Creative

Lucy Snyder

Doug Warrick

Jim C. Hines

Gary A. Braunbeck

Nate Southard

Delilah Dawson

Michelle Pendergrass

Steven Saus

Janet Harriett

RECENT SALES AND STUFF

I’m finally able to announce some recent sales that I’m quite proud of:

“The Electric Spanking of the War Babies” written by me and Kyle S. Johnson (in a process we’ll describe as “fueled by Gummy Vodka”) will be a part of the glam (and now funkified) project, Glitter and Mayhem (Apex Books).  Check out this TOC:

glitter and mayhemIntroduction by Amber Benson

Sister Twelve: Confessions of a Party Monster by Christopher Barzak
Apex Jump by David J. Schwartz
With Her Hundred Miles to Hell by Kat Howard
Star Dancer by Jennifer Pelland
Of Selkies, Disco Balls, and Anna Plane by Cat Rambo
Sooner Than Gold by Cory Skerry
Subterraneans by William Shunn & Laura Chavoen
The Minotaur Girls by Tansy Rayner Roberts
Unable to Reach You by Alan DeNiro
Such & Such Said to So & So by Maria Dahvana Headley
Revels in the Land of Ice by Tim Pratt
Bess, the Landlord’s Daughter, Goes for Drinks with the Green Girl by Sofia Samatar
Blood and Sequins by Diana Rowland
Two-Minute Warning by Vylar Kaftan
Inside Hides the Monster by Damien Walters Grintalis
Bad Dream Girl by Seanan McGuire
A Hollow Play by Amal El-Mohtar
Just Another Future Song by Daryl Gregory
The Electric Spanking of the War Babies by Maurice Broaddus & Kyle S. Johnson
All That Fairy Tale Crap by Rachel Swirsky

 

speculative fiction 2012Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary announced its lineup of contributors, Wednesday. Edited by bloggers Justin Landon (Staffer’s Book Review- US) and Jared Shurin (Pornokitsch – UK), SpecFic ’12collects over fifty pieces from science fiction and fantasy’s top authors, bloggers and critics.

-This collection of the best in bloggery includes my blog post “Using Your Platform.”

 

My story “Iron Hut” has had a long and winding journey to publication, but it will finally see print in the Sword and Mythos anthology (Innsmouth Free Press).  Another TOC I’m stoked about:

  “No Sleep for the Just” by William Meikle

  “The Wood of Ephraim” by Edward M. Erdelac

  “Sunsorrow” by Paul Jessup

  “The Bones of Heroes” by Orrin Grey

  “The Call of the Dreaming Moon” by Thana Niveau

  “And After the Fire, a Still Small Voice” by E. Catherine Tobler

  “Spirit Forms of the Sea” by Bogi Takács

  “Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises” by Balogun Ojetade

  “The Serpents of Albion” by Adrian Chamberlin

  “The Sorrow of Qingfeng” by Grey Yuen

  “Jon Carver of Barzoon, You Misunderstood” by Graham J. Darling

  “Truth is Order and Order is Truth” by Nadia Bulkin

  “In Xochitl in Cuicatl in Shub-Niggurath” by Nelly Geraldine Garcia-Rosas

  “Light” by Diana Paxson

  “Iron Hut” by Maurice Broaddus

 

There are a couple more sales and as soon as the contracts are signed, I’ll announce those, too.  This next thing isn’t a sale, but it’s something I’m geeked about.  The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design is pleased to announce the 2013 Origins Awards Nominees.  A couple projects that I’m in received nominations:

– Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game – Margaret Weis Productions (Best Roleplaying Game)

– Eighth Day Genesis: A World Building Codex – Alliteration Ink (Best Game-Related Publication)

It’s been a pretty good year so far.

Road to Mo*Con VIII: Guest Blog by Nate Southard

I invited Nate Southard to do a guest blog for this week.  I knew I could count on him to have a story or two on this topic.  As always, Nate doesn’t disappoint.

NSouthardWebBioGuest Blog by Nate Southard

July 11th, 2012.

It was a Wednesday, and I had a plan. I’d made it through the first couple of hours at work, but I really didn’t want to be there. My boss had already told me it was okay to leave early, and I planned to head straight home. Once there, I would set up my cat’s automatic feeder. I’d run hot water in the bath. While it was filling, I would send an email to my ex-girlfriend’s home account, the one I knew she only checked once every few days, that would tell her I was sorry, to please take the cat that had once been ours, and that she was listed as the sole beneficiary on my life insurance. The door to my apartment would be left unlocked. Then, I would take a kitchen knife, shut myself in the bathroom, climb into the warm bath, and slit both my wrists. It was a scenario that I’d thought about a lot over the previous few years, but I was done thinking about it. I was ready to do it.

My reasons were pure. I wasn’t trying to lash out at anyone or make anybody feel sorry for me. I just wanted to stop. Not stop hurting, exactly. Just…stop.

I sat at my desk, putting my things in my backpack for what I was sure would be the last time, and I had this small flash of clarity. Maybe I needed to talk to somebody. If there was some chance I could avoid this, no matter how remote, I had to take it.

So I called my best friend, Lee Thomas. Through recent years, I’ve learned I can talk to him about anything and everything. I begged him to let me come over for coffee, and he happily obliged. Yeah, we drank a little coffee that day. We even ate pizza at a Target snackbar. Mostly though, I cried. I cried for hours, and he held me and told me it was okay and that everything would pass. He gave me the best advice of my life, telling me I could kill myself metaphorically, just ditch the bad stuff I didn’t want and become a new person. A better person. I’ll always be thankful to him for that. To this day, I’m not sure he knows he saved my life. Because maybe I didn’t tell him everything. I know I never told him about my plan.

Nine months later, I can look back on that day with some degree of rational thought. I was on Wellbutrin at the time, and one of the side effects can be suicidal thoughts. I’d only been on that drug for a month, though. Suicide was something I’d considered for years. Often, it was a go-to joke of mine. “I should really exercise today…or maybe I could just kill myself!” A few times, people had asked me if I ever wondered how I would die, and I always said I knew how. I’d kill myself. In a lot of ways, I still believe that. I don’t want to get sick and die slowly, the way both my parents died. If that starts to happen, I plan on beating it to the punch.

But what led me to that day? Well, there were a lot of things. I have a history of depression, co-dependency, social anxiety, and low self-esteem. At last year’s Mo*Con, Maurice showed me a room I could go hide in whenever I wanted. That was the very first thing he did when I showed up, because he knows how much crowds and social interaction scare me. Two years ago at KillerCon, somebody came up to me and said, “I’ve read everything you’ve ever written!” My response? I laughed and asked, “Why?” The idea of somebody liking me or my work still seems incredibly foreign to me. The idea that others find some sort of value in my work makes no sense. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it. Throw in the rest and it just gets worse. How does it feel to constantly need affection, yet constantly be terrified of social interaction? Just within the last six months, I screwed up what could have been a great relationship because my social anxiety led to me cancelling several dates at the last minute.

A lot of these behaviors I learned from my mother. Or maybe you could say I was trained. For as long as I can remember, she had two basic emotional states: crying her eyes out because her kids didn’t love her enough and being angry as the Kraken because her kids didn’t love her enough. My brother Matt and I are the only two of six children that she never disowned for any reason. The other four were booted from the family for such offenses as meeting my step-mother and spending Christmas morning with their wives and children instead of her. When my sister was accepted into graduate school and had to move out of state, my mother hospitalized herself the day before she was set to move, hoping to keep my sister nearby.

A few years ago, my mother died. She made it one year longer than my father. A few months after her death, my brother and I were told that we were both products of a twelve year affair my mother had with her therapist, who later served as our pediatrician and performed my father’s vasectomy. I acted like I handled the news well, and I honestly thought I was okay with it. The news was more than a little entertaining in a macabre sort of way. That didn’t change the fact that she’d never told us who are biological father was or that she’d sued the man I still consider my dad for more child support when he was living in a pickup truck and my biological father was a doctor. My therapist often said it helped to think of my mother as a little girl, that her emotions had never progressed beyond that state. In a lot of ways, that does help, but depression was taking hold in a bad way, regardless.

Making things harder was a prolonged period of self-discovery. As a straight man, I was learning that my sexuality was more complex. In BDSM communities, I’m what’s known as a Switch. I have both dominant and submissive tendencies. While I do think vanilla sex and making love is amazing and a wonderful thing to share with a partner, I was finding that I not only wanted more, but I needed more. For years, I’d try to deny these things. The things I enjoyed were the kind of things movies showed folks enjoying for either comedic effect or to prove they were some sort of monster.

Look, I’ve never shared this part of myself on a grand scale. I’ve been more than a little afraid. I know a few people who are very open about sex, but the idea of that kind of honesty scares me to death. It scared me a lot more last year, when I was suddenly single and trying to navigate these new, kinkier waters. If a first date is dinner and a movie, and maybe the third date is the sex date, then which date is the “Maybe this time you slap and insult me during sex” date? Which date is the “I think you’d look great tied up and gagged” date? Today, I still don’t know. It’s not like I’ve figured all this stuff out yet.
At this point, maybe you’re wondering why I’m telling you this. First off, I’m trying to show you a certain part of my personality that caused conflict and added to my various emotional problems. Secondly, maybe there’s somebody reading this with a similar issue and my coming out as it were will help show them that there’s nothing wrong with the kinkier side of sex.

So there was a lot going on in my life. I needed help for all of these things, so I bit the bullet, swallowed my pride, and started therapy.

I began therapy because I was depressed over my parents. I stayed because I slipped into clinical depression. Others have described the feeling of real, deep depression better than I can, but I have a comparison I’d like to make. To me, depression is like The Nothing in The Neverending Story. There’s this emptiness that you just can’t beat. You can’t fill it with anything. You can’t do anything. I spent hours and then days and then weeks on the couch, just wanting to do something, do anything. I couldn’t, though. I can’t even describe why I couldn’t except to say I was filled with nothing. In the movie, The Rock Biter has this great line: “A hole would be something. This was nothing.” That’s clinical depression. It’s nothing, and it’s everywhere, and it destroys you one day at a time.

My therapist helped me with a lot of things. She helped me navigate the breakup of an eleven year relationship. She taught me coping mechanisms for dealing with depression. She showed me that I tend to decide how things will end before I reach the end (she calls this “telling myself stories,” which I find to be a good metaphor). She gave me the courage to try standup comedy. She even did research outside of office hours and helped me find local BDSM groups. Later, I had to switch therapists when she moved, but we still keep in touch. I’m not allowed to be one of her best friends, but I consider her one of mine.

Here’s the thing: life is anything but easy. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. There is no reason to be prideful about your feelings or those mental and emotional crises that happen to all of us (and they do happen to all of us).

If you need to, talk to somebody. It can be a friend, family member, or therapist. If they care, they won’t be judgmental. People are amazing things. We’re all different, go through different experiences. We like different things, and it took me a long time to learn that depression is nothing to be ashamed of. Neither is your past. Neither is kink. There’s no such thing as abnormal, because there’s no such thing as normal.

It’s been nine months since July 11th. I consider it my second birthday. That’s the day I started shedding the bad. Really shedding it. In those nine months, I’ve gotten off antidepressants. I’ve grown strong enough that I was able to leave therapy. I’m better in every way. Things are looking up. They can look up for everybody. Just…look.
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Mo*Con VIII: The Mind and Spirit of the Artist

May 3 – 5, 2013.  Indianapolis, IN

Previous Guest Blogs:

Maurice Broaddus – Being Crazy, Christian, and Creative

Lucy Snyder

Doug Warrick

Jim C. Hines

Gary A. Braunbeck

Nate Southard

Delilah Dawson

Michelle Pendergrass

Steven Saus

Janet Harriett

Road to Mo*Con VIII: Guest Blog by Gary Braunbeck

Gary Braunbeck, a veteran of Mo*Con (I had the dude give the sermon–part I and part II–at my church back in the day) and one of this year’s Guest of Honor, begins his guest blog with this all-to-true disclaimer:  “As you may have already gathered from the theme of this year’s Mo*Con – “The Mind and Spirit of the Artist” – spirituality and creativity (and how the two inform and/or battle with one another) will be much discussed; you may also have mistakenly inferred from Maurice’s description of the event – specifically, how the writers and editors and visual artists will be examining how their own battles with mental illness in all its unkind guises have helped and/or hindered them in pursuit of their craft – that it’s not exactly going to be Happy Hour at Forest Tucker’s Chuckle-Hut. This is the first time that Mo*Con has decided to focus on this subject, and although it is one that is close to my personal heart, it ain’t, as the saying goes, everyone’s cup of lye, but I can promise you that the writers, artists, and editors participating in the programming are, in the end, waaaaaaay too goofy to allow the whole shebang to degenerate into an angst-drenched whine-fest. Yes, there’s going to be some damned serious discussion, but there’s also going to be an equal amount of tomfoolery, cooking, and RPGs. There may even be belly-dancing; it’s Mo*Con, who knows what’s going to happen?”

gary_kittyWithin Reach of My Arm
Guest blog by Gary A. Braunbeck

With that out of the way, Maurice asked me to write this guest blog and talk about my own personal struggles with mental illness, suicidal depression, and the occasional heartbreak of the middle-finger hangnail. If you’ve read my non-fiction book To Each Their Darkness, you already know most of it, and the idea of repeating any of it here drives me to despair; so, if you’ll permit me, I’m going to discuss the single biggest concern that lies at the core of not only my work but my you-should-pardon-the-expression heart, as well: understanding the purpose of suffering.

Albert Camus said: “Everything we learn or think we know is drawn from suffering; despite my dislike of it, suffering is a fact.” No arguments here, Al, but I genuinely want to know why. No, I’m not going to qualify any form of suffering as being more important than another, because it all sucks the Imperial Big Red One. But you can make yourself crazy if you think about it too long or too deeply. I know. I’ve been a guest in the Cracker Factory more times than I care to admit to. So a while back – not that far back, actually – it occurred to me that if I didn’t find some way of reconciling my desire to figure out a reason for suffering with my limitations as a human being (which are legion), then I was never going to be at peace with myself. Or get invited to many parties. Or one party, even.

Then … I received a diagnosis of Type II Diabetes. I received it at the same age my father did, and his diabetes had no small role in helping to kill him. That’s when I realized that, for me, the Final Countdown has definitely started. I’m almost 53 and I want to live to be at least 90, or 94, or however long I can live without being reduced to a babbling bone-bag dribbling oatmeal down his chin and telling those nurses who’ll listen that, “I once wrote stories, y’know … some people even read them ….”

Wandered off the highway for a moment there. The point is that I have, for all of my adult life, tried to find some enigmatic First Cause for suffering so that I can reconcile it with the concept of a Just multiverse wherein everything we do, regardless of how small or how important, means something. Because if our daily actions and thoughts ultimately have no meaning, then suffering in all its forms is simply a sadistic joke, and I can’t cotton to that.

Okay, the diabetes thing; I remember very clearly the moment I opened the letter from my doctor and read the words, “You definitely have Type II diabetes.” My stomach dropped and I felt a chill course through my chest. My wife, Lucy, and our friend Nayad Monroe were in the room, and both knew from the expression on my face that the news was, as the saying goes, Not Good at All.

It was the moment when the 5th-decade me realized that I was going to croak before my time if I did not do something about it. And I did: all sugar immediately vanished from my diet, I take in no more than 60 carbs per meal, and my job at the library requires that I move a lot of heavy boxes full of books. Since my diagnosis on December 19th of last year I have, as of this writing, dropped nearly 40 pounds and – if my wife is to be believed – have gotten somewhat “buff” (a word I thought I’d never hear a woman use in reference to my build).

This was the catalyst for my at last coming to grips with my absolute, inexorable, complete powerlessness to relieve the suffering of others – but, like the realization that the Final Countdown for my life has begun – accepting my helplessness in the grand scheme of things brought home one undeniable fact; just as my own health and welfare were in my hands and my hands only, so was my goal of reconciliation: in short, I cannot relieve suffering in the grand scheme, but when I see or sense it in others, I have a new mantra: The world will not be this way in reach of my arm.

And it’s helped. I sleep better most nights. I don’t have to worry that I’m going to be assaulted from behind by memories of my sins of omission and break down crying for no reason. I can glimpse my reflection in a window or mirror or inverted in a spoon and not detest the man who stares back at me – and I never thought I’d reach that point.

And I genuinely believe that I could not have reached this point had I not been diagnosed with diabetes. In an odd way, it’s turned out to be one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It’s given me a new outlook on the type of fiction I write, and the stuff you’re going to see coming out later this year and during 2014 is going to reflect that.

Because the world will not be this way within reach of my arm.

 

 

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Mo*Con VIII: The Mind and Spirit of the Artist

May 3 – 5, 2013.  Indianapolis, IN

Previous Guest Blogs:

Maurice Broaddus – Being Crazy, Christian, and Creative

Lucy Snyder

Doug Warrick

Jim C. Hines

Gary A. Braunbeck

Nate Southard

Delilah Dawson

Michelle Pendergrass

Steven Saus

Janet Harriett

Road to Mo*Con VIII: Guest Blog by Delilah Dawson

As we countdown to Mo*Con VIII, I’m running blog posts to encourage the conversation that we’ll be having there.  After Jim Hines’ blog post, (the AWESOME!) Delilah Dawson wrote to ask if she could share her story.  The answer was “OF COURSE!”.  I especially resonate with this line:  “I might be broken, but I’m me.”

 

DelilahGuest Blog by Delilah S. Dawson

As she helped my son from the car, the perfectly put-together woman gave me a sugary crocodile smile and said, “Oh, looks like your mommy put your shoes on the wrong feet.” She paused meaningfully. “Again.”

I just told my son I loved him and pulled away. But this is what I want to say to her and to anyone else who has something snarky and self-righteous to say.

Dear Carpool Harpy,

I am a writer, mother, and wife living with depression. It arrives at
the oddest times and takes over everything. I almost always expect it
in February and August, but sometimes it sneaks up or overstays its
welcome. Even when things seem good, even when I’m smiling, everything
feels wrong.

Yes, my son’s shoes are on the wrong feet because that’s how he did it
and it didn’t seem worth the fight to put down his accomplishment and
change it. He’s only four, and he felt pretty good about his shoes.
You’ll also notice a smudge of raspberry on his cheek, and his hair is
spiky because he wants to grow it out. Because he’s a kid.

And because let’s be clear: I’m barely staying afloat.

I’m giving hugs, I’m enforcing the Clean Underwear Rule, and I’m
making sure that what my kids are wearing out of the house is
seasonally appropriate, even if it’s a size too small. Because that’s
all I can handle before I drag myself back into bed. I just went five
days without washing my hair. I don’t want to eat and generally won’t
unless someone reminds me. I don’t want to watch TV or movies or hang
out with my friends. When the phone rings, I cringe. And when you open
the door of my car, that’s as close as I get to praying, because I
can’t take another word of criticism in my life, especially not from
you.

When depression strikes, writing feels like the only thing that keeps
me going. Sure, my husband takes amazing, tender, thoughtful care of
me, and my children hug me constantly, but losing myself in a story is
the only way to hold the hopelessness at bay. When I’m not writing,
right now, I want to cry. My stomach is constantly in knots. Nothing
seems worthwhile. And even though it’s a beautiful day with a bright
blue sky and flowers blooming everywhere, I feel no joy in it.

I have one book due April 1, another due June 7. Neither is done. I
have guest blog requests mounting up, reviews to write, and a social
media presence to keep up. Which I don’t mind, since the little
seratonin hits I get when someone @s me on Twitter are like tiny rays
of sunshine. In one way, I’m more stressed than I’ve ever been. But in
another way, I’m grateful. I have to keep working. I can’t give up, I
refuse to let my writing or my professionalism suffer.

Worst of all is that when I look at my life, I know that I have
absolutely no right to complain. I have every single thing I want. I
should be happy. But there’s something broken in me, some chemical
slip-up, that means I’m not. I’ve been this way since I was a kid,
sometimes manically happy and other times barely capable of getting
out of bed. I tried to take my life when I was a teen, and surviving
taught me how strong I truly am. I know now that I can get through
anything.

And yet I’m afraid to talk about it, because I don’t want anyone to
doubt my ability as a writer or my stability as a professional. I
can’t remember the last time I vacuumed or put on makeup, but I’ve
never missed a deadline.

So when you imply through your sugary-sweet words and stupid, cutting
smile that I’m failing at motherhood because my son’s shoes are on the
wrong feet? It makes me angry. You don’t know a thing about me or
about where I am as a human being; you only know that my son has a
smudge on his cheek and mismatched socks. And that is no basis for
judging either of us.

You don’t see me fighting to stay afloat. And you don’t see his
radiant smile of pride when he puts on his shoes by himself, which is
one of the few things that can make me smile, too.

But I appreciate you. Because you are a reminder that I’d rather be
depressed and fighting it, depressed and raging, depressed and
working… than judging people for all the wrong reasons. I might be
broken, but I’m me, and one day soon, I’m going to smile again. And my
smile, unlike yours, will be real.

*

Peculiar-Pets-2Delilah S. Dawson is a native of Roswell, Georgia and the author of the paranormal romance Blud series for Pocket, including WICKED AS THEY COME and an e-novella, THE MYSTERIOUS MADAM MORPHO. The second book in the series, WICKED AS SHE WANTS, and a second novella, THE PECULIAR PETS OF MISS PLEASANCE, will be out in spring 2013, and her first YA, a creepy paranormal called SERVANTS OF THE STORM will be available in spring 2014. RT Book Reviews has called her “a wonderfully fresh new voice!”

Delilah is a member of the Romance Writers of America, the Georgia Romance Writers, and the Artifice Club. You can also read herproduct reviews at www.CoolMomPicks.com and www.CoolMomTech.com, where she is an Associate Editor. She’s a geek of all trades, a synesthete, and the sort of person who saw Spawn in the theater and made other people angry by laughing. Find her online at www.delilahsdawson.com. Bring cupcakes.
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Mo*Con VIII: The Mind and Spirit of the Artist

May 3 – 5, 2013.  Indianapolis, IN

Previous Guest Blogs:

Maurice Broaddus – Being Crazy, Christian, and Creative

Lucy Snyder

Doug Warrick

Jim C. Hines

Gary A. Braunbeck

Nate Southard

Delilah Dawson

Michelle Pendergrass

Steven Saus

Janet Harriett

Road to Mo*Con VIII: Guest Blog by Michelle Pendergrass

As we continue to countdown to Mo*Con VIII, with the theme of The Mind & Spirit of the Artist, I’ve been stunned by the reaction from folks.  The outpouring of e-mails of support, and more importantly, reports of “you’re writing my life.”  In fact, you ever run across one of those stories and your reaction is “wow, even them?”  That was my reaction when Michelle Pendergrass sent me her guest blog.  Michelle will be having her own show (yay!) during the First Friday event of Mo*Con, but will be back Saturday the 4th for her very popular art workshop.

Guest Post by Michelle Pendergrass

I’ve always pondered whether the abuse made me a creative, or if my creative saved me from the abuse.

Or both.

It’s a long, sordid tale of all sorts of abuse that started so very early in my life. Physical, sexual, mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse tore through the fabric of my youth and ripped it to shreds. I diligently picked up the pieces, braided them, and became a woman with a very thick coat of triple-braided cord. It was me, myself, and I who fought against them all. I wrote to myself in my journals, gave myself advice, criticized, chastised, hated, loved, loathed, wished, wondered, and wanted to die.

I read Stephen King because I watched Carrie from the same couch on which certain abuse took place. I never had pig’s blood poured on me but I did want to set fire to things with my mind. I became thoroughly focused on the supernatural–with ESP and out-of-body experiences, I could change things. I could control my environment instead of being a victim to it.

Writing fed that need of survival as well. The characters were mine. The story was mine to tell. The words, the sentences, the paragraphs–all mine. And because they came from my mind, no one could steal them from me. And it was very private. It was the only thing that I had that fully belonged to me, that was not violated. Drawing and painting manipulated the ugly reality and turned it into beauty.

And then in high school, they found my creative and they broke her. You’re not good enough for art school, they said. Writing isn’t a career, it’s a hobby, they said. Those aren’t careers. Study this calculus, this chemistry, these honors classes. Be a lawyer or an accountant, you’d be great at those. Stop daydreaming and study for a real career.

I be{lie}ved them and they won. It was just so exhausting trying to fight their opinions of who I should be. So I drank. And fucked. And drank. And got straight A’s–because I could. And drank. And graduated top ten–because I could. I went to college my senior year of high school. After graduation, I took a full course load, worked sixty hours a week, pulled a 4.0, made the Dean’s list, and gave them all the finger. I married at nineteen because I thought he loved me, but I didn’t know what love was, I knew what abusers said to little girls to control them.

believe bible

During that time I went from atheist to born-again believer and then my husband left me with a God I knew nothing about, one who hated divorce and yet, there I stood. Alone again four months after our vows before God. The pastor who married us telling me I could never marry again otherwise I’d be an adulteress for the rest of my days, and God doesn’t hear the prayers of an adulteress (Obviously he didn’t hear the prayers of a scared little girl crying from violation, or a young teen wife crying over abandonment, either), but I could marry him again if he came back. I should wait for him, even if it meant being alone the rest of my days.

I wasn’t even good enough for God.

My first suicide attempt was in there somewhere. I was a coward, though. It was more because he was abusing me verbally and I wanted it to stop and I wanted to know if he valued my life (he did not.) He called my mother thinking she would think I was crazy and then he could have more power over me to lock me up. I told her with clear mind that I did it to know if he cared (he did not) and I was coming home. And she knew. I know she knew. Because she came home as a little girl to find her own mother with her head in the gas oven trying to kill herself because “he” didn’t care. Because “he” had slept with her brother’s wife and because her brother killed himself. And mom knew because dad was bipolar and had PTSD from Vietnam and tried to kill me once. She knew I wouldn’t kill myself.

I went to my first counselor at that time. He worked at a Christian counseling center. He heard me say father…bipolar…and wanted me on meds immediately. I told him to fuck off that I didn’t need meds that I needed people around me who didn’t use me and throw me away. And I read a book called Happiness is a Choice.

I made some hard choices. For me, medicine wasn’t an option. Whether it was pride or something else, I don’t know, I just didn’t think a pill was the answer to the overly complicated hand I was dealt. I felt like I needed a big, red, stacked Craftsman toolbox full of tools that I could use to navigate my path. Maybe the healing would’ve happened faster with the medicine as a tool. I can’t say for sure.

I read a lot of books. I went after healing with fervor and passion and determination. I met God along the way. The REAL God. The one who loves unconditionally and shows Himself.

That was a lifetime ago. Two decades. I sit here today, on my forty-first birthday, and know that in that time, there has been healing. I’m not completely healed. I still have a toxic family.

genogram

I still struggle. But I’ve cut off the most toxic of the relationships, I’ve moved away, I’ve traveled with my husband as over-the-road truck drivers, and I’ve learned that I am not what they say I am.

I am beautiful.
I am important.
I am loved and can love and will love.
I am valuable.
I am treasured.

And so are you friend. So are you.

I still fight these days. With words, with paint, with the girl who was born a creative. I take all of the ugly that they intended for harm and turn it over to God and pour it out as an offering. I can hold my hand out and grab yours and say, “I’ve been there. Let’s go. We’re done with that.” It won’t ever be easy. Easy is staying where you are. The fight comes in moving forward and shedding the skin of that old you.

~michelle pendergrass

MichellePendergrass.com
Visual Prayer

 

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Mo*Con VIII: The Mind and Spirit of the Artist

May 3 – 5, 2013.  Indianapolis, IN

Previous Guest Blogs:

Maurice Broaddus – Being Crazy, Christian, and Creative

Lucy Snyder

Doug Warrick

Jim C. Hines

Gary A. Braunbeck

Nate Southard

Delilah Dawson

Michelle Pendergrass

Steven Saus

Janet Harriett