Someone told me a few days ago that they thought happiness was a form of self-delusion, or at least was heavily leaning toward that idea. (He’ll know who he is when he reads this, but I don’t think he’ll mind.) I used to think that was a valid idea, and I’ve seen it repeated often enough. If I have to be honest it made me feel smug and self-satisfied in my unhappiness. If, after all, my unhappiness was a result of my intelligence and inability to deceive myself to the cruelty of the world, then I couldn’t be blamed for my inaction or the ways in which I perpetuated my own misery.
The execution of happiness can be extraordinarily complicated, but the premise is simple: Find things that make you happy, and do things that make you happy, and happiness will result.
Not what other people say will make you happy. Not what you -feel- should make you happy. Not what’s easy, and not what’s right. But what will legitimately, assuredly, speak to the little creature that rests in your heart, and stirs at the sight of something wonderful.
There are children starving in this city and if you stab me I will die, but sometimes my boyfriend will get me Redbull and smile at me and I know what it feels like to be warm between two sleeping puppies.
If nothing makes you happy, then it’s not because you’re just so intelligent that you see too much. It is a processing problem. Plain and simple. If you go out to eat your favorite meal and someone is rude to you in the parking lot or someone is talking too loud and that ruins your whole experience – That’s not being smart enough to see the world for what it really is. That’s being stupid enough to focus on an aspect of something that makes you unhappy instead of the fact that you just ate something you enjoyed.
If I look at my dog and instead of seeing how much he makes me happy in that moment and instead, I see the moment when he dies or worry about him getting sick or focus on how he smells weird – I’m not being smart – that’s a fundamental processing problem. That’s an INABILITY to focus.
Maybe that’s why I’ve had so much trouble reading and writing horror lately. Some people write about ugliness like it’s revealing is a profound thing, but I want to write about more than ugliness, or the supposed evil inherent in all men, or how everything beautiful carries a little dark seed of dissent. We know people murder. We know people beat their wives. That tells me nothing profound about the world we live in or why any of it matters.
I get that terrible and sad things happen – and they should make us feel sad. That is good and proper.
But wonderful and good things happen as well – and they should make us happy. That is good and proper as well.
If a sunset or a cup of coffee doesn’t inspire a flutter of appreciation at being alive, that isn’t because the world is inadequate. It’s because you’re just not looking at it.
I write a lot about transformations – women turning into butterflies, into glorious skin-filleted vampires, into robots that carry their memories through hollow unconscious wastelands. I don’t think I’ve written a single narrator in a novel that hasn’t carried a wound that begins to warp them, or travels on a journey that fills their mouth with the blood that begins to redefine them.
And now I’m transforming too – not in the way that I always imagined I would, abruptly, immediately, with the tearing of skin, like a howl ripping through the center of a tornado, or some kind of eucharist machine. My transformation is deliberate. It’s purposeful. I change with a heaviness that feels like everyday I roll out of bed so that I can walk miles across a windswept desert.
But there are things happening in this transformation that I’m not aware of. The human brain has a processing power of about 30 quadrillion calculations per second. For reference, in 2011, the K computer built by German and Japanese scientists to attempt to mimic the human brain, with over 83,000 processors, was only able to mimic one percent of one second of the human brain’s capability – and that took 40 minutes.
It’s easy to forget how extraordinary complex we are, how even the most simple of actions is a glorious culmination of millions of years of synaptic music. There is a lot going on under the surface that we’re unaware of. Subconsciousness, underwater processes, that shift and move the pieces of us around to accommodate a whole shape.
When the werewolf transforms, it does not deliberately and with conscious effort control the new homeostasis of its body, or its newfound hunger for human flesh. Its brain and body shift to eaccommodate its new skin in ways that it’ll never really understand.
Every deliberate action has an unquantifiable amount of data and pathways that was made to get to that action, and the ways in which it transforms the entire system may never be completely known.
I was talking about shame today. Specifically, shame that is used as a motivation to compel action. For years I’d get myself out of bed by calling myself lazy and useless. I’d whip myself mentally to write. And if I did something, but didn’t find it to my satisfaction. I’d castigate myself, say that I was worthless. I thought it was fine. I was getting the results I wanted, or so I thought, so I surmised it didn’t matter how I achieved them. I worked on the video games, I wrote the books, I got the money, the boy, the job offer, the contract, the invite, another motion, another circle, another check-box, another day in which I survived hurtling around the sun without falling off the side of the planet.
I even shamed myself out of not killing myself – calling myself weak and worthless for even thinking that it was an option. So I’d hunch over my laptop in a cafe, drinking an americano, trying to force myself to keep working on my novel, to keep going, clinging to my coffee like it was the only thing keeping me grounded to reality.
To this day sometimes when I smell an americano I’ll get this bitter sharp Pavlovian thought of suicide.
In today’s culture, self-hatred is an acceptable vehicle of growth. Just yesterday on Facebook someone deridedly made fun of women who “loved themselves,” and took duck-faced selfies, indicating that self-love was some kind of character flaw. And it does often seem a little self-indulgent, a little unaware, for people to take pride in themselves. We’re still under the Puritanical influence of our ancestors, and it’s sinful to be prideful in our bodies that are the objects of such sloth and indignities. So we often look down on self-love, without even really understanding why, and so perpetuate this cycle of self-flagellation.
So result of those years of shame-induced movement was that when I achieved something, I never got the satisfied feeling that I was expecting. I feel dull, empty, hollowed-out, looking onward to my next goal with glazed-over eyes. No matter how much I achieved, the internal voice was still whipping me as it screamed into my ear.
Because I’d used shame to try to achieve growth, I was operating under the idea that whenever I achieved something, I shouldn’t be proud of myself, I should be ashamed for not achieving it faster. I was working on the karmic balance of my evil birth – no tabula rasa for me – and every achievement, every good thing I ever did, was only trying to tip the scales toward achieving balance.
Everything we do is important. Not just what we do, but why we do it, and the processes that we use to motivate ourselves. Because everything in the machine is constantly working to achieve internal balance. The consequences of what we do today, may not be seen until years later.
But if you think those things are not reverberating through you right now – building the frequency of dreams – you’re wrong.
In my transformation, I begin to shed the body that hate itself. I can’t quite conceive what the thing underneath looks like, but it’s building itself toward achieving a new kind of efficacy.
Slime, and werewolf blood, and something coiled that glitters. I’ve been writing about this moment for years.
Sometimes I sit for hours inside myself- listening to Chopin or Dvorak or Massive Attack. I look at the trees outside, or the pretty girls on Youtube, and in the spaces between the notes, I begin to hear something. It’s difficult to describe what I hear, because, it’s not a sound, not exactly.
It’s a new way to live. My mind, learning a new rhythm, shifting synaptic waves to build an ocean of gold blood inside of me. An ocean that will carry me through worlds yet unknown.
Because everything we do is transforming us, in every moment, in every space. How we think, feel, breathe cascades into every future moment. Every motion we take, is building us a scaffold down into hell.
Today the table of contents for a Lovecraftian-inspired possession anthology was announced from Martian Migraine Press. My previously unpublished story, “Skin Suits,” will appear alongside stories by other writers such as Garrett Cook, Cody Goodfellow, and the eponymous Lovecraft himself. It should be available this summer.
Sometimes getting an announcement like this feels like coming out of the bomb shelter of my isolation to check the skies, breathe, see that I’m still a part of the human race. It’s always a shock, to pierce the veil of my mind with the realization that my writing continues to reach out further into the world.
Learning about wine feels like entering a deeper universe.
I keep thinking about infinity, how it’s not only forward and backwards, but inward and outward. Infinity is the capacity of every object and idea, and its interconnectedness with everything else. The sommelier spends years dedicating themselves to learning about the vastness that’s inside of grapes. GRAPES. And how these grapes intersect with taste, personality, terroir, culture, geography.
Everywhere you look, there’s something deep to explore, subterranean waters of consciousness.
I’m in my late twenties, so I feel like I want to begin to bring all my motion inward, to learn things like time management and cooking and wine now that I have a more stable sense of self. And also – to incorporate those sort of things into a deeper understanding of the world, and subsequently, my writing. I’ve been reading this book called “The Wine Bible”, scouring blogs, watching Youtube guides, prowling the local Specs, trying to compel my tastebuds to pick out subtleties of flavor.
I’m a part-time alcoholic, but I restrain it most days. And I’m not typically picky about my food, or my drink. I don’t have any compunction about downing an entire bottle of phosphorescent blue MD 20/20 if the times or tough, or if I have a little extra money, grabbing a bottle of absinthe off the shelves and sending myself down the blissful, black-licorice of blackout lane. The first time I got drunk I was 21, and my roommate offered me some Evans Williams, which everyone in the room was drinking straight from the bottle, with shooters of Pepsi or beer. I remembered eating a piece of pizza, vomiting all over my clothes, and then lurching around the backyard. From that day forward I was hooked on the low-high-low of the alcohol swing. I still can’t smell whiskey without imagining grease, dirt, the possibility of excitement like a little shining pulse where my heartbeat should be.
But when learning about wine, I have to be picky. I have to pull myself out of the disassociation fog I’ve spent most of my life in and really explore the complexity of subtlety. It forces me to slow down, to make informed choices, to really -think- about each action and motion that I make.
Trying to get wine pairings right is like Robert Johnson level sorcery. I tried to pair wine the other day with some spicy mac and cheese. I picked a sweet Riesling – which didn’t quite hit the mark, but I like the idea of pairing wines with foods that are out of the ordinary realm of what would be traditional pairings, like macaroni or ice-cream sandwiches or gummy octopus. (Although I should probably learn traditional first.)
The other day I made steak and paired it with a cabernet sauvignon. Robert showed me how eating the steak and wine at the same time brought out the flavor of cherry in the wine. He told me that after a hundred bottles or so, of categorizing and marking different tastes, I’d eventually get a sense of different tastes, and differences in the varietals.
People spend a lifetime dedicating themselves to learning these things.
That’s a lot of dedication, for something that doesn’t really make you a lot of money, if any, and honestly, makes you a little insufferable if you start spouting off about it at parties. It’s knowledge for knowledge’s sake. But hey, I drink a lot of wine.
Like I said, infinity. There’s something really delicious about how knowledge can never be complete, or our desire for more of it, never satisfied.
In order to be a writer, one must build a life that is conducive to writing.
For most of my life I found scraps of time to write, moments of soft isolation inbetween work, relationships, the everyday minutiae. I wrote pieces of The Crooked God Machine on the bathroom floor of an apartment, parts of We are Wormwood when I was a video game tester at Zynga. But as time went on, writing kept getting pushed further and further back in priority, and I stopped submitting, stopped promoting myself. Everything I wrote felt muted, flat, like I was forcing each word through a little keyhole.
I arrived back in Austin in 2014 feeling broken. I never thought I could reach a point where I felt drained of all creative energy – it seemed impossible to me to feel burn out, so I never treated the possibility with the respect that I deserved. Here I was, coming off of my antidepressants, feeling zapped, bewildered. I was angry, and I wanted to murder people for existing in my space on planet Earth. And all of that directed energy was not going into writing. So when I came to the page, nothing felt genuine. It was like I was a sleepwalker, going through familiar motions.
I wondered for a long time if I just didn’t want to write anymore.
But it’s easy to ignore all the work I put in, throughout my life, to prime my brain to be productive. And how such a machine may run for quite a long time, but without maintenance or proper care, would eventually break down.
Writing is a full time job. The work doesn’t happen once you arrive at the page – it starts from the moment you wake up, and has to carry itself with you throughout the day. The brain has to be working on these problems constantly. You have to synthesize your experiences, test creative problems. Writing is a record of sensory data, distilled into stories. If you don’t do the prerequisite work, to understand and analyze your experiences and what you want to convey – you may have nothing
I think a lot these days about how to create for myself a life that would best enable me to accomplish my goals. For the last several years, I’ve struggled to find a cadence with my writing, and I’ve tried to understand how I want it to define me, and how I want to approach it.
Now I have the time and the freedom to build something wonderful, but building something takes time.
I want to taste books like big meals, and make big meals to taste the universe. And I want to refine, test, and experience more of the world so I can bring that knowledge back to my quiet room. Not to get back to where I was post burnout, but to make something even more wonderful. A beautiful infrastructure, in which I can live, and write. I’m already seeing flowers growing along the back of my spine
The more I read about Edgar Allan Poe, the more that I can feel his loneliness permeating every word, how the trauma of being denied love in early life can chase you until you’re exhausted with the pain. For all my suffering – I can’t fathom what it’d be like to be Poe, with a father who abandoned him and a mother who died when he was barely three. With an engagement that was broken off, several mother figures who died, a wife that died, and a storm of poverty and broken poet-loves and rivalries and lost jobs.
Trying to live haunted by loss in such a way that the loss begins to define you. So that when he writes, he can only see beautiful things through how they’re framed by melancholy.
To have the people that he loved reject him, turn away from him. A cruelty that was heartwrenching, but often, self-imposed.
In his letters, Poe often lashes out like a child.
He writes to his aunt, Maria Clemm, after learning that Neilson Poe offered to take her and his wife Virgina in:
“I am blinded with tears while writing this letter — I have no wish to live another hour. Amid sorrow, and the deepest anxiety your letter reached — and you well know how little I am able to bear up under the pressure of grief. My bitterest enemy would pity me could he now read my heart. My last my last my only hold on life is cruelly torn away — I have no desire to live and will not ”
I see myself in those words and it hurts, to feel the childish gray warmth of sadness. Its familiarity. To think that if other people knew my pain, they would take pity on me, love me.
But it was never pain that drew people to me – it was all the things that’d survived in spite of it.
When I read about Poe, I see a sort of learned helplessness. He longs for other people to take care of him. Over and over I see him put himself into danger and poverty as if he’s trying to shine a beacon for help. He writes several letters to his adoptive father, John Allan, alternating between lashing out and asking for money and pity, until he’s forced to cut him off. He gets drunk so that his Maria Clemm must put him to bed. He broadcasts his pain, blaringly loud.
There were so many moments in his life where he could have found a way to pull himself together – to have his own magazine, or get steady employment, or after Virginia’s death – to have someone to love. But he deliberately destroys all of it with a startling, steadfast deliberation. Over and over again he puts himself into misery because he wants love to pull him out of it.
Poe never learned how to take care of himself. One of the greatest American writers of all time, a brilliant mind who actually wrote about the Big Bang years before it was an actual scientific theory, and his childlike desire to be picked up and helped and given affection often seemed to supercede all of his intelligence and insight.
It hurts to see the slow, spindling destruction of a life. An unnecessary destruction. It hurts because I see in many ways how he could be me, and I could be him, and all the paths my life could go.
I would not wish Poe’s life upon anyone. The writing hardly seems worth it for the constant, drilling, abject suffering that he puts himself through.
Not for the writing. He doesn’t suffer for the writing. He suffers for the child inside of him that comes out to wear his skin and sob across letters, desperate for the love of a mother that he can never have
I spent so long waiting for something beautiful to happen to me, that I thought maybe I could make waiting and sadness and inertial longing beautiful.
I often dreamed of Edgar Allan Poe coming through my window, holding out his hand to take me away from the hole that was my life. Virgina, Edgar, and I often played hide-and-go-seek in the dark woods. In my dreams, we weren’t exactly happy, but we were at home, together. Two melancholy writers holding out for the sun, one wife between us.
But nobody is going to come through my window and give me all of my dreams just because I want them. The beacon of my sadness doesn’t even penetrate my skin.
For all the ways I’ve struggled to stay independent and support myself, the child inside of me wants to be rocked and held and loved without conditions. It wants people to see our pain and take pity on us. As if by the virtue of our pain – we deserve affection.
But the reward for suffering is only more suffering.
He wept on her grave. He pressed his cheek to the cool dirt.
He wrote about the inception of the universe in “Eureka”, its expansion and eventual contraction, to try to come to terms with the way things died.
Women in his stories died, but they rarely stayed dead. They moved through death like a transformation. They lingered in the narrator’s mind, in the walls of his home.
I feel like he was trying to come to terms with the way things you loved died and left holes so enormous that it was as if you were forced to now live life looking up from their bottom.
We’re so afraid of loss that after a while, it felt like all we knew how to do was scream, to cling -please don’t go-. We built our lives around the fear of it. We tried so desperately to see it before it happened that we ended up perpetuating it. Loss becomes the raven, perpetually sitting on a bust of Athena. It is the constant, cawing companion.
But a life cannot be built around the fear of loss. Stability is a dream and nothing is permanent. If you could see the atoms of a boulder it’d look like the swirling of a catastrophic ocean.
Even the dream of forever doesn’t last forever.
One day you will lose the greatest thing that you possess – yourself. Your molecules will collapse in on itself, rearranged in infinite combinations, and continue on, but it will never recreate you again.
I can’t cry for the things that I lost anymore. Maybe one day I will become a brilliant writer, but I’ll never be able to enjoy it, entertain it – as long as I nurse the brink of loss and struggle to keep the ocean from slipping out of my hands.
You are always going to lose.
So I think – if I want any kind of peace, I have to ride the waves of loss, and write about the things that hurt, but also the little wondrous things, and look eastward, past all the sepulchres, to see what gifts that loss will bring me next.
Because loss did not just take things away from me. It is the same mechanism that brings me new joy, and people to love, and inspiration, and surprises, and warmth.
I wonder if Poe understood that, when he wrote Eureka, so close to his death. When he saw the universe perpetually unraveling and curling up, over and over and over again.
I got my first royalty payment from Eraserhead Press today, and it makes me think that occasionally the dream collides with reality.
In 2009 I ordered one of the ‘Bizarro Starter Kits’ in the mail and read it in my grandparent’s basement. I’d just heard of Carlton Mellick III and the whole bizarro genre, and was coincidentally reading “Naked Lunch” at the same time. I remembered thinking I wanted to be published by something like Eraserhead Press, even though my fiction never quite fit in with their aesthetic. Even at the age of 19 I was already “too weird to be mainstream,” and at the head of a cavalcade of rejection slips. But occasionally something beautiful and weird pushes its way into mainstream consciousness – Naked Lunch – and that’s what I wanted to do. Not because I had grand aspirations, but because I didn’t know how to write any other way.
At some point I pushed the idea out of my head – it seemed impossible. I was no one, and nothing I wrote would ever be good enough.
Those things that I carried for years, the hopes and dreams and fantasies that I thought would pull me out of the dense, black pit that was at the center of me. They formed a kind of exo-skeleton, an insectile armor plate, so thick that I could barely see out of my eyes. I froze inside of there. I simultaneously wanted something, and knew that I couldn’t have it. I mastered the art of dreaming without dreaming, of wanting something just enough that I could feel the pain of having it being denied. For years I lived this way.
But sometimes I realize, I CAN have what I want – and little cracks appear in the armor. I see out of the eyes a little more.
Even in the center of hopelessness, I never really stopped writing. There’d be periods I’d think about giving up. I slept on the floor in a house with no heating, shivering in all my clothes. When I woke in the morning my fingers would be so cold that I could barely type on my keyboard.
So I got gloves, and I wrote through the stiffness.
I can finally come to terms with the fact that I haven’t had an easy life. I’ve been told a thousand times over how ungrateful I am, for the things that I’ve been given. And I read stories about people who have mothers that force them to drink bleach, or sleep in their own piss. I’m white. I was raised middle-class. I’m educated. As I’ve gotten older, I haven’t always had the money to eat what I wanted, but I’ve never gone hungry, except by choice. I’ve been homeless for a brief period of time, I’ve lived in more places than I’m able to remember and almost never more than a few months, but I’m resourceful, so I was always able to find some kind of job. By the age of 22 I was making yuppy money and presenting design documentation to a bunch of directors, leading the design for multi-million dollar features. Now I don’t even have a job – but I have a computer, enough money to buy beer, my own office, no real responsibilities except the ones that I impose upon myself.
But the body doesn’t lie. It remembers what it’s like to be a frightened animal. Hissing, caught in the trap. Sometimes when someone stands too close to me panic will cascade through my body. A certain word, a certain phrase, will dissolve into me like an angry ghost. The child that can do nothing but scream is so close to the surface of the skin.
I keep writing – even though the whiskey is making something inside me twitch, and when I stare at the words on my laptop, cross-legged on the floor – something comes through. Something awful, and buried. It has no words. I only see the reflection of what I’ve written, and see how broken I am. It twists its way through my body. I’ve spent too much of my life crying because inside, I’m a desert.
I keep writing.
I read recently that when rats are scared they will always run back to their nest, even if that nest is crowded and dirty and inhospitable. There is a thing inside of us, some kind of mechanism, that has us always moving back toward the origin.
But what if they have no home to go to? What if the thing that is home has been obliterated, so that nothing is left but a gaping hole?
I carry around the skeleton of dreams.
I keep writing. Even though I entertain the idea of stopping often. I know it’s the only thing that’s holding me together. There have been very few people who have seen me go completely insane, but trust me, it’s a theatrical production. But writing always brings me back. It’s the reason why I can’t become a cocaine addict, or go to the mental hospital, or lose what’s left of myself. It’s the reason why I can’t become a thief, or a murderer, or throw myself off a balcony. Even though -I want to-. I want to know what it’s like to lose. To give up completely. I want the thrill of fucking over what I have often perceived to be a worthless life. But I can’t, because I have to-
I couldn’t help but often be disconnected from other writers, especially in college, or growing up, or in the Austin “scene”, where art is really just a disguised social activity. I hear people who say that they have to write to live, or if they’d write they’d die. Or that they’re CRAZY, they’re WRITERS. They BREATHE words.
And I have to wonder, do they know what it’s like to turn the headlights off in the middle of a rural road and drive plunging into the darkness? To touch your skin and be unable to feel it, because you’re so far gone into the ghost that is you? Did they ever wake up gasping almost every night, for months straight, terrified they were going to die before they finished their novel?
I stood in the center of a storm once, because I wanted to learn how to transmute the feeling of terror into words. I wanted to take all the awful feelings I’d ever felt and stretch them out, grow them, place them in the nursery and cradle them so that they’d go out into the world carrying the truth. I wondered if they went to therapy and the therapist recommended sunlight, yoga, exercise, pills, cognitive behavioral therapy, chocolate-
And they had to resist the urge to scream: “Don’t you understand, I don’t want to feel better. I want to walk through hell?”
But after a lifetime of hell, it begins to obliterate even the thing that was holding me together. And if I kept going, even writing wouldn’t be enough to keep me from falling over.
The armor has to collapse. I have to let good things in.
So you see, occasionally the dream collides with reality. Sometimes, we do get to have our quiet. We get to fall in love. We get to be published by the publisher who we thought in a thousand years, we’d never be good enough for.
We have to build our home. We have to grow something in the desert again. We have to learn how to retrain our body to stop walking into nightmares, night after night.
Not only because it’s right, but because we have to keep writing.
You can purchase Ecstatic Inferno here, now out from Fungasm, an imprint of Eraserhead.
I took a hiatus. I know some people expressed concern about my absence, so I’m here to put to rest any rumors about my supposed death or dismemberment. A lot of things have happened to me in a year: I got a design job at EA Mobile. I adopted two dogs. I broke my glasses. I got some new glasses. I lost my underwear out by the creek after I went skinny-dipping (But thankfully didn’t lose my can of PBR.) My book Ecstatic Inferno was released. I’ve started working on a new book. I’ve done three readings. I got cut off at a bar. I went to Bizzarocon 2015 in Portland. I’ve lost 7 pounds. I’ve spent a lot of alone time, planning, reading, writing. I sat underneath the Blood Moon with my dogs and a glass of whiskey.
Ecstatic Inferno by Autumn Christian
So, anticipate at least semi-frequent updates on this website, with more of an Internet presence from me. And check out Ecstatic Inferno.
From the Summary:
WARNING: THIS BOOK IS A PSYCHOACTIVE SUBSTANCE.
From the moment you start to turn the pages, it will soak into your central nervous system, subtly and subversively reprogramming you at the DNA level. Each of these ten stories is engineered to disrupt a different psychic threshold. Pierce the layers between dimensions. Unleashing visions, demons and demiurges of the deepest collective unconscious, both beautiful and terrible.
From deeply haunted Southern gothic strangeness to interplanetary quests of illuminating doom and profound cosmic transformation, Ecstatic Inferno is a heroic dose of hallucinatory modern speculative fiction, uncut and unforgettable.
So taste the brain of Autumn Christian, where every line of idea-drenched, intoxicating prose bleeds with razored wit and revelations so sharp they poke holes in the night. Side effects may include: flashbacks, unshakeable awe and terror, the sense that your reality will never be the same.