Mortality confounds all of humanity. Why do we live? Why do we die? Why do some make the choice to take their own life? The answers have become taboo.
In his book, “It Helps with the Blues and Other Stories,” senior Bryan Cebulski guides readers to a direct confrontation of the taboo.
“The question of mortality is something that I think should be considered more but isn’t, because even the very idea of ending your own life is blasphemous,” Cebulski said. “I wanted to wrestle with that in a head-on way.”
Cebulski’s collection of short stories consists mainly of a novella, “It Helps with the Blues,” in which a depressed gay boy commits suicide. It is comprised of nine chapters with thirteen to fifteen pages each. The main character acts as a first-person observer.
“The main character doesn’t have problems,” Cebulski said. “He’s a white, straight boy from a very affluent family. He’s in a very clear place of privilege in his life.”
Cebulski drew inspiration for this Gatsby-like narrator from personal experience. He hails from a small Midwestern town where sports are central, especially in high school.
“If you’re not straight and white and playing football, then you are kind of an outcast. Since I don’t really fit in to any group, I always have that observer feeling to me,” Cebulski said. “Everything is so far away in the Midwest; I would just spend time in my house, reading. That definitely informed my subject matter.”
He addresses the themes that truly began to develop during these high school years.
“Through high school, I wasn’t the most cheerful person. I had a fascination with reasons why people live and why people choose to die,” Cebulski said. “I wanted people to think about this question: Why am I still alive?”
However, his message does not solely concern the morbid. He addresses another taboo: sexuality.
“I don’t know how I would define myself in terms of sexuality, but that was something I had to write about in high school a lot,” Cebulski said. “I’m definitely not just straight. I had to talk about that through my writing; writing definitely helped me figure that out.”
These universal quandaries are not simple, as society leads us to believe. Mortality, sexuality– neither is black and white. Innumerable degrees exist between gay and straight, alive and dead.
“I want people to consider points of view that they haven’t before,” Cebulski said.
With patient, open narrators, Cebulski conveys an understanding he wishes more would consider.
While he may have known what the central themes of his novella would be, the process was not quite so straightforward. He began his work after finishing high school in 2011, the very place in which these themes were so clearly prevalent.
“I’ve been slowly chipping away at it, transforming the novella as it goes. I finished it last summer,” Cebulski said. “After that, it was just a continual process of editing and re-editing and re-re-reediting.”
Through this grim process, other stories came to life.
“Between [work on] the novella, I wrote a lot of short stories; those are all the ones that you see in the book as well,” Cebulski said.
The writing may be over, but process of publication is ongoing.
“It’s only an e-book right now. I’m not going to release it in “booky book” form until I know it’s solid,” he said. “And when I have the money, which is another important thing. Some point after I graduate, maybe a year.”
Cebulski is methodical; if we do not see his book soon, it is only because he is carefully crafting his work to a meaningful perfection.
“I don’t write for political purposes. I don’t write satire. I write on an emotional impulse,” Cebulski said. “I want to leave people with something to think about.”