How to Love a World that Sucks Sometimes

Be still.

Sit in a quiet room, alone, and stop moving. Get comfortable first, because, seriously, stop moving. Be still.

Let your emotions be what they are. Rage. Despair. Fight. Grieve. Numb out. Give up. Stop caring. Feel guilty. Feel brave. Feel self-righteous. Try not to change things. Try not to overanalyze them. Try not to censor yourself. Be whatever you need to be, but be still. Let it happen for as long as it needs to happen.

Slowly, when you’re ready and/or exhausted for the moment, draw your attention towards the fact that you are sitting. You are mostly still. You are breathing, swallowing, wavering. Scan the feeling of physicality for as long as you need to, with an intention toward relaxing tense things and seeking mild comfort. Unfurl your fingers. Uncrease your brow. Loosen your jaw. Drop your shoulders. Notice your toes, your knees, your tailbone. Let out your belly.

Become aware of your breath specifically. Feel how it comes in through the nostrils or over the tongue, what it’s like down the throat, into the lungs. Notice how your ribs move, your spine, your shoulders, your diaphragm. Feel the reverse, the release, the billow out. Don’t seek peace. Don’t think Zen. Don’t worry about Nirvana. Just breathe and be here, still, noticing keenly what that entails and how it feels.

Thoughts will come and distract you. That’s fine. The brain never stops; that’s not a fault on your part. Let thoughts come, and once you notice them, let them drift away as you refocus on breathing.

Do this until you stop itching to check your phone, shift around, or look at your calendar. Do this until you become poignantly grateful for the fact that we breathe despite how complicated a process it is, that we live despite how complex our bodies, that we exist in spectacular and mundane frailty – every single moment.

Good. Thank yourself for taking the time to do this. (There are other things, but you don’t have to do them all at once.)

Now go for a walk somewhere with trees. Try not to find any humans. A sidewalk will do if it must. If you live near a hiking trail, go there, even if it’s hot or cold or you’re tired or your shin hurts. Walk slow, if you need to. Take breaks, if you need to. Wheel yourself, if you need to. Don’t look at your phone. Don’t listen to music. Don’t time yourself. Just go to the nearest, most undisturbed nature you can find and move around.

Trees, you may notice, are easy to love. Trees are still and silent and unerringly generous. Trees are flexible but strong. Trees are tall and stately. Trees are absolutely perfect, and you can spend as much time under and around and in them as you please. Hug one. I won’t tell. Just to see – notice your breath while you’re there, with the trees.

Look up at the sky. Let yourself feel foolish and small and allow yourself to re-find that awe you feel at how large the ceiling is. The sun warms your face, or the wind chills your neck, or the moon lights everything with a strange glow, or the clouds draw a blanket over the sky. Regardless, it’s amazing, isn’t it? Just think about how large it is, how far it goes over and around our world, how distant on and on into space. Just try to fathom an existence so big that even the largest trees feel minute within it. You and trees share that.

Now, here’s a good part: find a cat. Or a dog. Or a hamster or sweet bird or rabbit or any warm and friendly critter that will let you hold them. If you don’t have your own, borrow a friend’s or visit an animal shelter.

Lavish attention and affection on them. Give and receive. Look deep into their eyes, study their face, stroke their ears or soft bellies or downy chests. Snuggle up or rough house a little – whatever you both want. Sit nearby if they’re shy. Talk to them. Tell them anything you want. Ask them questions. Wait for answers. Be as ridiculous or morose or cuddly as you feel like being. Do this for as long as you can reasonably allow yourself to. Try, if possible, to do most of it without other humans.

Other humans are last.

Reach out to someone that you know and care about. Your mom. Your sibling. Your best friend, spouse, or mentor. Your child, your colleague, someone you may not even know all that well just yet, but want to. A therapist or counselor. A trusted teacher or coach. Ask them to go get dinner or coffee. Set up a meeting or a phone date. Skype. Write them an email, or better yet, a letter. Ask them all about what’s going on in their life and how they’re doing and what they feel, and don’t talk about yourself unless asked. Be honest. Be open. Don’t pretend to be happy if you aren’t. Don’t pretend to be brave or smart or anything impressive, really. Just try to be authentic. Nervousness certainly counts as authenticity, when necessary.

This doesn’t have to go on forever or be a huge commitment. You’re not trying to accomplish anything. You don’t even have to set up a next meeting, if you don’t want to. Thank yourself for reaching out. Thank the other person for accepting.

Now go to the store at a time with lots of people. You can shop if you want. Multitasking is okay now. But the important part is to watch the people. Do the opposite of what we’ve been doing all this time so far. Don’t go in; go out. Forget about yourself and forget about your feelings and forget about your breath (it does take care of itself, thank goodness). Just watch.

Watch the mother red-faced trying to quiet her screaming child. Watch the college boy in baggy sweats reading the label of every bottle of dish soap. Watch the old woman slowly circling the adult diaper aisle, waiting for it to empty. Watch the little boy playing hopscotch on the floor tiles. Watch the little girl watching him with big eyes. Watch the couple begging gas money at the entrance. Watch the tweens walking on autopilot while they scroll on their phones. Watch the clerk tiredly restocking the produce. Watch the man playing at the free video game sample station. Watch them all, but don’t make up their backstories. Don’t try to empathize or judge or even understand. Watch them exactly how you watched the trees – the stars.

Notice how complex they are, how attractive and ugly and interesting. Notice colors and shapes and sounds and smells and how they come together to make up these people. These amazing, moving people who breathe constantly and watch TV and go for walks under trees sometimes and let friends borrow their dogs for emergency snuggle sessions. These multifaceted strangers good and bad. These people who cry. These people who live and die.

Look for freckles. Look for braids. Look for hunches in backs and polish on nails.

Look at them all, and feel what you feel, and realize that no matter the time or the outcome, comedy or tragedy, outer space or rumbling purr, we are a part of a rather phenomenal existence. Look at it all and believe that all of it, one way or another, is unfathomably beautiful. Be here, and check in with your breath, and understand that this, too, is love.

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All the Halloween

Happy Halloween!!

For my last post of October, I’d like to round up what’s been going on around here for seasonal sharing and steer you toward my two most recent releases, which both happen to be fantastic books to read for Halloween.

killing-it-softlyIt’s no secret that I love Edgar Allan Poe, so it’s probably no big surprise that I have a short story homage to him. “The Call of the House of Usher” is a modern story in Poe’s style that takes place generations after “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Our fateful narrator becomes haunted (stalked?) by a mysterious presence and is summoned to his ‘long lost family home’ to restore it. Things, of course, are rarely what they seem, and the past has a way of clinging.

First printed in a charity anthology that went to help save the Poe House in Baltimore, “The Call of the House of Usher” is also now reprinted in the all-women horror anthology Killing It Softly. Editor Suzie Lockhart and publisher Digital Fiction Publishing Corp. are billing it as “The Best by Women in Horror,” and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Right now you can buy Killing It Softly in ebook for just $0.99 or in a big, beautiful paperback for $14.39. (Those who like neat book tricks will want the paperback; the header images do a cool flip-book effect as the pages go by.)


Dark Hallows II

And I’m very excited to announce that Dark Hallows II is out now! This anthology put together by editor Mark Parker, published by Scarlet Galleon Publications, is bound to be a must-have.  With stories by Richard Chizmar, Lisa Morton, James Chambers, and 11 other talented writers, I can’t wait to get my hands on it myself! Right now you can buy Dark Hallows II in ebook for $8.99 or in paperback for $16.99.

My story “The Devil Take the Hindmost” has never been published before, and it’s a doozy. It’s the longest story I’ve ever sold and the most research I’ve ever done (short of my novels). Set in 16th-century Scotland, “The Devil Take the Hindmost” follows Hellen Guthrie after her mother is burned at the stake for witchcraft. When her cat brings Hellen a dangerous present, the neighbors turn their witch-hungry gaze upon her, her own family grows suspicious, and Hallowmass Eve — when the Devil’s dues are due — is fast approaching.


I hope you’ll consider buying one or both of these fantastic anthologies for some creepy reading. And in case you missed it, treats I’ve also shared this month:

Happy reading, watching, and listening. And happy, happy Halloween!

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The Shed

“The Shed” was first published in the HWA Poetry Showcase Volume III. ($2.99 for the ebook or $7.99 paperback.)

If you prefer to listen or want to read along, I really enjoyed Pete Mesling’s reading of “The Shed” on his show The Bare Knuckle Podcast! In this episode Pete reads a selection of several poems from this year’s Showcase. If you’re in a hurry, my poem starts at 16:50, but they’re all worth listening to. Listen above, read below — or both. Enjoy!


The Shed

The lawn lays wide
and bright with yellow
sunshine, spread flat
with no corners,

except the shed.

The shed’s paint is pale
but dull, as if the owners
who inherited it
thought the best
they could do was make it
“blend in.” And it does,
for a second

until your eyes catch
the black rectangle
of the haphazardly open doors
stuck in their tracks
gummed up with debris putrefied
to the same color of black,
jarring in all that wide bright.

And you try not to picture what lies in there
what things might collect and colonize in a structure
so low and squat,
but there you go picturing centipedes
and scorpions, spiders and weevils, snakes and rats,
and other, darker things that can’t be
– can’t possibly be in that shed – yet there
you go picturing them: tentacles from corners
and tall, pale men standing against the walls,
and chittering, creeping things that slide down off the ceiling and
open your doors  at night, when they can’t be seen,
but then, then, that’s not the most disturbing
part of that old shed.

The most disturbing part is how the structure itself seems sly and sentient with its thin metal walls propped like foldable gills, with its near-flat little roof peaking subtly like an eyebrow, how its rotted wood floors lie in panels, like they could all be rolled back like a tongue shoving food to the gullet, how that open rectangle of black at the doors sits still, patiently, waiting, and how eventually, when this moment of feverish imagination has regressed under the rightful armor of adulthood and you have nearly forgotten all about it (nearly),
you will have to go inside it.

© Annie Neugebauer, 2016.

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Listen to Hide at Pseudopod

I’m thrilled to share that my flash horror story “Hide” is now out in podcast at Pseudopod! “Hide” was first published in Black Static Issue 43 by TTA Press in November 2014. It was subsequently included in Ellen Datlow’s recommended list for Best Horror of the Year Volume 7. And now you can listen to it for free at Pseudopod. My story starts at 13:26 and is only five minutes long (but both of the other stories in this episode are well worth a listen).

A note: unlike my story “Jack and the Bad Man,” also podcast by Pseudopod, “Hide” is not family-friendly. Here’s what reviewers have to say about “Hide”:

from Des Lewis at Dreamcatcher Real-Time Reviews:

“This is what I call the perfect horror ‘short short’. To describe its plot would spoil it. It is powerful and surprising…”

from Gareth Jones at Dread Central:

“Annie Neugebauer’s ‘Hide’ is possibly the shortest entry that I’ve ever come across in the pages of Black Static, but it’s an enjoyable little slice of grim micro-fiction – twisting the jargon of the ‘pickup artist’ into something much more horrendous than it already is.”

I love what editor Shawn Garrett has to say about this flash story episode, too, which is focused on body horror. Listen to his intro for some really cool thoughts about Walt Whitman’s poem “I Sing the Body Electric.” A classical poetry reference to illustrate body horror? Yeah, I love Shawn even more now. 🙂

Thank you to readers Marc Bailey and Heather Welliver who both did a fabulous job narrating “Hide.” I couldn’t be happier.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to go listen to “Hide” at Pseudopod. Remember: it’s not for the faint of heart. 😉 Enjoy!

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