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  • Writer's pictureMatt John

Genre Salves Trauma

Trigger Warning: deals with terminal illness and grief

Conan the Barbarian 1982
Contemplate this on the Tree of Woe...

I’ve spoken publicly on many occasions about the tough few years through which my family and I struggled. As Covid dropped on the world, another kind of horror decimated my family as we knew it, and it snatched my big brother away from us. 

I’m an extrovert. That’s probably pretty clear to anyone who knows me, listens to our podcast, or follows me on socials. I think it’s fair to say I suck a lot of oxygen out of any room I enter–sometimes with reckless abandon. So, even at the lowest part of my life, even with my mind blasted by existential dread–even when watching my brother slowly die, I shared my grief with anyone who’d listen. I’m sure for some, it was too much, especially those who've dealt with similar things. If any of my words served as triggers for the grief of others, I apologize. But I suspect anyone who's lost a sibling–or any precious person–would understand my need to vent.   

Sadly, I’m a faithless heathen. I’m jealous of those who find comfort in concepts such as Heaven, or, to keep things on-brand for this blog, Valhalla. But I can’t. I believe the universe beyond our world is cold, chaotic, and often cruel without motivation. Mind you, this isn’t as dark for me as it sounds. In fact, knowing I only have one life to live and that a great suffocating nothingness awaits, has forced me to count all my good fortunes and to pull close to me those whom I love. You must do the same. Faith or no faith, live now, squeeze your loved ones tightly, and remind them why they matter. 

Well, I think I’ve buried the lead far enough, eh? Would it surprise you to learn I’ve recently been diagnosed with ADHD? It probably shouldn–


Anyways, where was I? Ah, genre salves trauma. What does that even mean, Matt? While I can’t guarantee this will work for everyone, I can tell you, for me, genre storytelling is far from trivial. The things I read and viewed growing up came to my rescue in a big way when the dark years dawned. And the stories I consume everyday continue to suture my wounds. 

My big brother Sean introduced me to the coolest s**t out there. I’m sure many of these things would have hit my radar eventually, but, folks, timing is everything. Masters of the Universe, Arnold Schwarzenegger films, comic books, heavy metal, and, of course, Conan the Barbarian. Sean wasn’t even a big nerd himself–at least not in any way you’d easily spot. He was the handsome, charming, all-the-ladies-love-him type. He was an athlete, a sports fan, and he knew how to, like, get sh*t done, you know? 

That wasn’t me. I stood in that shadow, glommed onto the choice cuts he showed me, and grew into a lifelong geek. I did eventually learn that one can be nerdy and have confidence and muscles, but that was a forced affair. Mostly, I've just escaped, time and again, into the art I love–the art he placed at my feet when I was a young, boney weakling. 

And things haven’t changed, folks. I have grown out of NOTHING! In fact, my love of genre fiction has only gotten more intense, and that’s especially true since my brother’s ALS diagnosis (F*CK ALS!) and every day since then. 

So how has Conan rescued me from the torture chamber of trauma? How has He-Man helped me see that I have the power? How has Ellen Ripley’s life-long struggle against body horror helped me deal with the body horror that took my brother? Honestly, I don’t think I need to explain it, do I? 

He-Man Action Figure
I have the power!

I believe the stories we love become part of our hearts and minds. He-Man isn’t just He-Man; He-Man is my brother, golden haired, muscle-bound, charming, and one who helps others. Ellen Ripley isn’t just Ellen Ripley; she’s my mother, struggling to keep her head while monumental tragedies unfold. Now, when Mac grieves the death of Blain in ‘Predator’–a film my brother sneakily let me watch when I was too young–I’m there with him, grieving the loss of my brother while that soul-crushing score crushes my soul. Ever cried while watching Predator? I have, and it was surprisingly cathartic.

Genre fiction is my faith. It is my religion. It helps me make sense of the world and is far from trivial. While my brother still lived, he was sure to let me know how proud of me he was for my work on Conan and Terminator stuff. That just wasn’t a thing any of us in Nova Scotia thought was possible. 

As my brother, my role model, and an inspiration, he has my eternal love. As someone who introduced me to “the good stuff” he has my eternal thanks.

When crisis finds you; when tragedy strikes; when some horrible thing seizes command of your life, don’t forget to escape into whatever brings you joy–at least for moments. It’s not wrong. It’s not cowardly, and it doesn't mean you aren’t where you should be. Stories help us make sense of the world, and sometimes the world sews cruel chaos. Face it with whatever weapons you’ve got, and hang on to whatever makes you you. 

Predator 1987
"Goodbye, bro."



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3 commentaires

10 juin

I really appreciate you sharing this and I'm sorry for your loss.

You're my favorite Rogue and now I know why. It's because I'm a goof ball just like you and genre fiction has been my religion too. I can't remember a time in my life not knowing what superheroes were. While my family was very religious and my dad a preacher, that was never my thing, but I got a Superboy comic at age 4 and never looked back. Somewhere I latched ontoTarzan which led to Conan. Now at 57 and I more of genre fiction geek, than ever.

Rogues in the House makes me happy because it let's me know that my people are out there even though…


09 juin

Matt, thank you for sharing. Your brother sounds like he was an awesome guy, I'm sorry for your loss.

Matthew Sullivan
Matthew Sullivan
09 juin
En réponse à

Thanks for reading, man. Appreciate you.

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