The act of writing day to day is such an isolating experience. I rarely leave my little den except to take my puppies to the park, or maybe go to the grocery store to pick up more chicken jerky and k-cups. Mostly I enjoy my quiet. It gives me the focus to take the everyday deep-dives into the snarled web of my consciousness, and occasionally bring back something useful. But it can also be derealizing – you can lose touch with reality, with the idea that what you’re doing has any use or value. Live too long in a dream, and the dream begins to warp you.
The moments when you can actually see the effect that your writing has on the outside world are rare. Going into a reading and meeting with other writers often seems to give me shellshock. Everything is actualized and real. You get to see the writers themselves, projecting forth the creations they made inside their isolated neurological soup. This past Friday I was asked to participate in Laura Lee Bahr’s “Bahr Crawl,” in which she travels across the country taking part in readings with other bizarro authors.
I read an except from my short story, Skin Suits, which will be out this year in A Breath from The Sky from Martian Migraine Press. You can see my transformation – from the protagonist in black, to the suit of “Sara” in the blue fur. I hadn’t really practiced my transition – so I think there were a few seconds where everyone thought I was stripping in the middle of my reading. Gabino Iglesias said he thought I’d finally snapped.
Laura read from her short story collection Angel Meat, out from Fungasm Press this year. Everytime I step into a room with Laura, she seems to make the air brighter. She’s radiant and vulnerable and open. I think the cover of her new collection manages to accurately capture her likeness
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.
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.