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.

 

 

***

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