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My thoughts about Iain M Banks April 5, 2013

Posted by mattfarmer in writing.
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v2-Iain-Banks-GETTYI read on my Facebook feed yesterday that Scottish author, Iain Banks, or Iain M Banks, as he is represented on my bookshelves with great pride, announced he is dying.

“I have cancer. It started in my gall bladder, has infected both lobes of my liver and probably also my pancreas and some lymph nodes, plus one tumour is massed around a group of major blood vessels in the same volume, effectively ruling out any chance of surgery to remove the tumours either in the short or long term.”

Reading further, he proposed to his partner, if she would like to be his widow. They married, quietly, in March, and are now traveling around visiting friends and family. He says he is unlikely to see the end of the year, and the doctors give him months.

I am knee-deep into The Algebraist, a present given to me by a friend at Christmas because she knows I love Iain’s work. My friend’s biggest fear was that I might already have the book.

This news of Iain’s pending demise saddens me. I am really affected by it. Someone reminded me we lost Anne McAffery recently, and while I am sad for the literary world over her passing, I, I don’t know. It seems because her passing was quick, and not announced ahead of schedule, it has not affected me as much as reading this man’s account.

This foreshadowing by Iain, has me thinking- is it better to know? Or is it better to be surprised? If you had the chance to tie up all of your loose ends and say goodbye, is that better?

There are people who would say that it is better to live life to the full so when you do pass on, you have left nothing behind. My best friend was like that. If he wanted to do something, he’d do it. He certainly lived life. He wanted to work and travel overseas, and he did it. Skiing in Europe? Sure! Live and work in London? Why not? He was in Johannesburg, working, and we were chatting. I was telling him he totally had to go to Capetown, climb Table Mountain, bungee jump, take a trip along the Garden Route, and drink some wine. I do believe he was going to book a week’s leave and do it.

Just hours later, to everyone’s surprise, he had suffered from an aneurism.

Now, I cannot compare the sadness I feel at the pending death of Iain and that of my friend. But, in times like this, it is a thought that passes through my mind.

Terry PratchettI also read of Terry Pratchett’s descent into losing his mind to Alzheimer’s, and his campaigning for his right to die, and that saddens me as well.

As a writer, I value my brain, my mind, the creative muscle between my ears that has been my best friend and refuge for a long long time. When I read about Terry’s wish to die, at his own hand before losing his mind, I understand that. If I lost my mind, if it were to go on me? It is one of my biggest fears I have. I think I would rather go, than remain with a mind that was gone.

I don’t drink much. I enjoy beer and bourbon, don’t get me wrong. But I can tell, after 1 or 2 drinks, my mind kicks back into neutral and just idles. And I don’t really like my mind being idle. I am so used to it running at hundreds of miles per hour, that when it slows down from alcohol, I can feel it. And I don’t like it.

Having this conversation with a friend, about my fear of both losing my mind to dementia or Alzheimer’s, or having a fully functioning mind but trapped in a body which didn’t connect, brought to the topic of zombies. She told me that, she has the same fear, and it is why she fears zombies the most. And they are my fear as well. Of all the horrible beasties out there, zombies are my least favourite. I have said that it is the humanity of it, I guess. Seeing people who used to be people, it disturbs me? But now, perhaps, another level, another reason I don’t like them, has been revealed. My fear of losing my mind and becoming a mindless zombie.

I have declared? Accepted? Finally figured out that, the thing I am here to do, in this life, is write. Oh sure, I will do many other things, but I am a writer. And, if the one thing which makes me do that thing I feel I am best at, is taken from me? What else would there be?