He’d been snorting coke again, I think, and drinking in his room. I could see it in his manic friendliness, his hands gripping the beer can, the way he leaned in to talk to me as if the entire universe was rushing in and he could barely hold on. He’d grabbed me and pulled me behind a car during an outing to talk to me.
“I just wanted to tell you again,” he said, “I don’t think you should go on antidepressants.”
“Why?” I said, because this was one conversation of many, “why? I don’t understand why this means so much to you.”
“Because you’re a wonderful writer. You’re beautiful and talented. Your personality is a bit dramatic, I mean, don’t get me wrong, but I’d hate to see all that go to waste.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Autumn, you are dumping a dangerous amount of chemicals inside your brain. You have no idea how that’s going to affect you.”
“So is everyone. I mean, so are you.”
“Don’t trust the pharmaceutical companies. Don’t trust the doctors. And don’t ever go to a mental hospital. They will take away from you everything that is human.”
He was an artist living out of a warehouse, a welder and a painter with a tattoo of an Egon Schiele print on his arm. He drew beautifully disturbing and surreal paintings that reminded me of Clive Barker’s work, dripping with vibrant colors and broad, bold strokes. He introduced me to writers such as Jean Genet and Colette, He called me beautiful daily, told me how much he liked me, but promised to never touch me. He was diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder and rapid-cycling bipolar, and the summer before I moved into the warehouse he’d stay in his room reading Hemingway with a gun pointed to his head. The perfect embodiment of the artist – bug trapped in a sheet of glass – tragic, dramatic, and addicted.
But despite his emphatic opinions, I started taking the antidepressants. I ended up moving out of the warehouse and I stopped sitting in the bathroom staring at the shiny row of razors all lined up along the bathtub. Most importantly, I kept writing.
I remember during the worst part of my depression I went to the World Horror Convention in Austin and met Stephanie, who slipped me her card. Her card fell down into the murky haze where I’d stopped writing. I had a book to finish editing but I could barely bring myself to get out of bed. Only six months later did I find the card and contacted her, and she invited me to submit a novella to Dark Continents. I put together some of my stories, and that’s how A Gentle Hell was created.
The idea of the tragic artist is so compelling because we want to believe that our suffering can be quantified, that for X amount of suffering we get X amount of beautiful art. But it doesn’t always work like that. Suffering isn’t profound or important in itself, and for those of us who suffer it can be a difficult reality to live with, especially when you may have other artists espousing its benefits. I often think of how successful my friend the artist could have been if he’d been able to take the gun from his head and paint more than a few times a year. And I also wonder if he’d have been an artist at all without the mania offered by his bipolar, or the need to express yourself that comes out of trauma.
It’s a line that some of us walk between productivity and desperation, and any misstep could leave us dead.
And that’s where the concept of A Gentle Hell came about: the quiet place I often find myself in those moments when I’m writing, caught between calm and hopelessness. The place that I run from that always finds me. The lingering inactivity juxtaposed with the frantic compulsion to finish my body of work before death catches me. Inside you’ll find atmospheric and dark stories about carnivorous deer, dead children, and strippers implanted with sleep machines – but it’s all about coming to terms with living in this universe when you own a body that wants to betray you.
About suffering: it is not necessary, or something that needs to be nurtured with coke and Hemingway, it’s simply there, and like many artists and non-artists alike I’ve been caught in the inner machinery of it.
And I hope when you read these stories, you’ll find that even in depression there’s a seed of hope, and for those who struggle with suffering and their art, sometimes that small seed is all we have to grasp on. But at least we can see it. We’ve seen the place where the light filters in and we don’t have to stay down here in the dark, suffering and sad. Not for art. Not for anyone. Not for long.
My name is Autumn Christian. I am a horror writer currently living in Austin, Texas.
I grew up in Fort Worth and attended university as an English literature major before I decided to drop out and run off to an Oklahoman dairy factory for six months. I became small town famous after writing a blog about the monsters that lived in the town pond, but soon after took off for a Texas commune. After getting kicked out of the commune for my ex-boyfriend’s suspected communist leanings, I ended up on the East side of Austin and lived in a Burning Man enclave with a haunted blues band. Later I arrived on the South side of Austin and moved into a demon infested apartment above a coffee shop where I continue to this day to write stories and wake up in the middle of the night to junkies screaming outside my window.
I’ve been a freelance writer, an iPhone game designer, a cheese producer, a haunted house actor, and a video game tester. I consider Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Katie Jane Garside, the southern gothic, and dubstep as main sources of inspiration. I’ve been published in numerous literary magazines that are probably too obscure to worth mentioning. I also find writing biographies the proper way in third person intensely uncomfortable.
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