When I heard there was going to be a horror-themed book signing at The Stanley Hotel, I decided I needed to participate. My first signing experience at Behind the Mask in Nashville was staggeringly disappointing and left me resolved to never try such an event again. The main failure of that experience, as I saw it, was that I was mistakenly positioned with all romance writers with an all romance audience. I did not fit; my audience was not there. However, surely a signing staged at the infamous haunted hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining would be where I belong… right?

I would be willing to visit The Stanley Hotel any time. I first entered the famed walls when I attended The Stanley Film Festival, which was a fantastic experience. Estes Park is gorgeous (and only a short drive away). The location definitely helped convince me to go for it. Even if the signing turned out as unsuccessful as the previous, at least the trip would be easier and still amazing.

Another perk of a local(ish) venue was the availability of my entourage. When I chose to go to Nashville, the fact that I could visit the Corpsewax Dollies (my belly dance troupe) encouraged my decision. They were able to attend the signing and save me from the soul-crushing monotony and disappointment. Then I was able to go participate in a show before returning home.

In Colorado, so close to home, I was able to enlist a group of support to join me on the entire trip.

I brought Graphics Smith, the artist who drew several of my book covers and does cross promotional collaborations with me. I brought Pratique Photography, the photographer who makes all the bloody pictures with me. She also dressed up as the “twin” to my Grady sister costume. I even brought a Jack and Wendy to join in the cosplay. If ever there was a place to dress up as the cast of The Shining, this was it.

The night before the event, I hung out alone in the hotel (not The Stanley) while my entourage soaked in the hot tub. As I tried Kava for the first time (so pleasant but tastes like shit, by the way), I was overcome by a crippling wave of impostor syndrome. I do not experience impostor syndrome often, yet this flare seized me. As I slipped pictures of myself into sleeves for Pratique Photography, I kept thinking, why would anyone want to buy pictures of ME, hang me on their walls? That rapidly dissolved into, why would anyone want to buy the words I write? What am I even doing here?

Thankfully, the wave of insecurity and self-doubt was flattened by the sedative effects of the Kava, yet the thoughts lingered and teased at the edges of my brain nonetheless. It is always challenging to put myself out there with my art, something I truly care about, a tender and sensitive part of me. Any of my recent adventures ruffle the edges of that doubt. Submitting a book or a story, posting pictures from a photo shoot, belly dancing onstage, speaking about my writing in front of kids, displaying my wares on a table and asking people to invest their time and money in what came out of me.

The next morning, we gathered my massive amount of stuff and headed to the event. The Stanley was just as gorgeous and interesting as I remembered. Every step caused the film festival to echo in my memories. We set up my table early, my deadly assistant Pratique Photography working her magic on the setup. Then it was hours of milling around and waiting with the other authors, typical to these events.

I didn’t really take the time to assess the other tables or the other authors. I chatted with several but never evaluated their wares. I was focused on the upcoming customer traffic. I’m typically more engaging and social, yet after the madness of October, I kind of just wanted to be more introverted, especially in preparation for being “on” for the attendees all day.

VIP attendees entered the room first, people who had paid for the event, invested to attend early and have access before anyone else. This was truly the best opportunity to sell some books and art. Yet things, unfortunately, seemed familiar, reminiscent of the last signing. A few people recognized Pratique and I as the Grady sisters from The Shining; we took some pictures. People were friendly and approached my table.

But then they were horrified.

It seemed very strange to me. My horror and the associated art do not appear to be that hardcore of horror on the surface. The Waning, for instance, definitely goes there, but you would never guess that from just the cover. Yet no one got close enough to read the blurb on the back. Phil had drawn horror movie killers, and we made magnets with little poems I wrote. One was Jack Torrance. How was that upsetting at the fucking Stanley Hotel?

I have been in horror a long time. I never mind or judge if it’s not someone’s flavor, just as I expect people to do the same for my love (obsession) for it. Yet I expected this event and this venue to have my audience. I anticipated horror readers and horror movie lovers. And even if I did not find that group, I didn’t expect people who were unnerved or appalled by a bloody cleaver on a cover or a picture of a pig heart.

And yet.

The hours passed (slowly). I talked with people, took a lot more pictures with strangers, made some author friends. I passed out a lot of bookmarks; most people cringed when they looked at the images on them. In the end, it was much more successful than my previous signing. I have no complaints about how much art or how many books I was able to sell. One always wants to sell out, but any sale is awesome. And, like I said, more sales than last time.

Instead, I was nagged by the reaction to my offerings, by still not being able to locate my audience. Maybe they don’t attend book signing events, even at The Stanley Hotel. Or maybe people just do not want the art I collaboratively create and the books I write. But I honestly just feel like my audience was not there, and that was disappointing. My minions later reported that the majority of the other books were of the paranormal romance or fantasy persuasion. If that was the desired genre, I was equally misplaced here as I was with all romance readers.

All in all, the trip was awesome. I had a great time with my entourage and relished their support. The book signing event was fun and productive, even if I deeply felt the absence of my audience. The time in Estes and at The Stanley Hotel was well spent.

Before and after the signing, we took our costumes around to take pictures in the hedge maze, in front of the hotel, on the staircases, in the hallways. It will always be fun to terrify people, especially by simply walking quietly in a blue dress.

I have no regrets about attending the event. However, once again, I don’t think I’ll do a book signing event again. My people, the audience I am searching for, are not there. I just need to get more creative in finding them outside my personal life and beyond the internet.

 

Christina Bergling

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Oh, October. October has always been my favorite month. I look forward to it whisking me away from the misery of summer every year, heavily laden with its Halloween festivities. However, I’m skidding out of this October on my face barely a shell of a person. Is there too much of a good thing? I think I can now safely say, yes. October 2019 nearly killed me with all the awesome things.

Here is my October in review, otherwise known as my excuse list for being so dormant on here and behind on all things writer-ly.

I kicked off the month on October 1st by going to see The Shining in the theater. The theater screening was a surprise but perfectly timed for my Halloween costume cosplay and the upcoming sequel release. I then continued my Stephen King binge by going to see IT Chapter Two in the theater for the third time later that week.

I countered my sluggish inactivity in a theater recliner with 13 miles of activity when we descended Pikes Peak the first weekend. Two years ago, we began our initiative to hike Colorado 14ers by ascending Pikes Peak, the mountain in our backyard. The next year, we returned to the same trail but only went up to Barr Camp (about halfway) and back. The trail was gorgeous, as usual, the perfect euphoric fall hike. And descending was so much better than dragging myself up.

That same weekend, while my calves were still knotted up from the miles, I did a horror photo shoot with the Mistresses of Macabre. I struggled to hold poses with my depleted muscles, but hopefully some good shots come out of it. At least, for once, it was fake blood free.

Next, I went to Denver to see Goblin in concert, performing the live score as they showed the film Deep Red. I had seen Goblin live before, a few years ago. They played a collection of their songs while projecting scenes from the associated movies. I really enjoyed watching the full film and having the music live. It was a great show. Following the movie, they did also play some classic hits in front of movie clips.

Then it was the event of every October the past three years: the Telluride Horror Show. I love going up to the mountains in the fall to watch horror movies and hang out with horror lovers for three days. My husband abandoned me for a different obligation, but otherwise our party grew. We also augmented the experience with cosplay from The Shining. It was ridiculously fun to walk around the fest and make friends dressed as one of the Grady sisters. I even got to write reviews for Daily Dead again.

After traveling for the Horror Show, we immediately traveled again for a surprise wedding in Tennessee. I got to reunite and celebrate with my dark sisters in the Corpsewax Dollies. There was a lot of love, partying, and dancing.

We couldn’t leave our children out of the horror fest, so we had to take them to see The Addams Family. I ended up enjoying it more than I expected, and the kids loved it.

We went equally hardcore on group costumes for the annual Creepy Crawl 5K. Our entire, large group dressed up as characters from Mario Kart, complete with cardboard box karts. The kids joined in as turtle shells, stars, and banana peels. My youngest spent three miles shoving me off the icy trail. We won best family costume.

We hosted our annual Halloween party, thankfully at not at my house this year. I dressed up as a Grady sister again but with less conviction than at the Horror Show. Instead, there was a mountain of food, drinks, kids, and good friends.

Despite a Colorado snow storm, I attended a book club that had read my novel The Rest Will Come. The weather greatly reduced the turn out (and I actually did a second makeup session today), but it was still a good experience. It is always surreal to me that an entire group of people read my book and want to talk about it, but I love to hear their opinions and questions, the outside perspectives.

I returned to the theater for a fourth time (not counting the 10 movies in Telluride) to see a sneak screening of Doctor Sleep. Stephen King and The Shining were apparently my theme of the month.

In addition to all these activities, I did my typical 31 Days of Horror movie watching with accompanying bingo and Hallowear posts. Horror movies and festive clothing every day.

Then it was finally Halloween itself. I took the day off from my day job to fully participate. In the morning, I talked at one school. Three 5th/6th grade classes crammed into a classroom to ask me questions about horror and writing. Then, in the afternoon, I spoke at another school. At this middle school, I gave a speech in front of 600+ students (the entire school) in the gym.

I don’t have a problem with public speaking. However, I am much more comfortable when there is not a stage or microphone, somewhat ironic since I dance onstage. The scale of it was intimidating. Then the microphone didn’t work. I messed up my speech a couple times. But then it was awesome. The kids asked questions until we ran out of time. Several of them thanked me or told me about their writing as they left the gym. One girl approached me to tell me how much hearing I struggled as a child helped her. It was amazing. I can honestly say I love these moments of talking to children, baring my soul for them a bit in hopes that impacts at least one of them.

Having survived all that, I bundled up my kids to take them trick-or-treating. Then I watched my traditional movie (Trick r Treat), and my month came to an end. Everything was great. I did so many things, awesome and fun things with wonderful people. I fully appreciate how ludicrous it is to say there was too much fun in October. I cannot think of anything I would sacrifice, but engaging in all the awesomeness while still working the day job and being a mom and doing regular life might have finally crossed the line into too much.

That is a bridge I will cross next year. Of course, next year, I will be refreshed and excited and back to saying yes to everything. For now, I am taking November to recover. Back to work, back to routine, a little vacation in there. I am also using NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to edit my latest novel. I recently completed the first draft and read over it during our travels to Telluride (an apt time since I included Telluride in the story and it was the perfect opportunity to fact check).

Writing my last novel was a bit of a struggle. I was initially infatuated with the idea, but then it fizzled in drafting. Yet I remained committed to finishing it. Then I kept getting sidetracked by short stories. I would make minimal progress then shelf it to write a short. When I returned to it, it would take time to engage with the story again. All of this left me insecure about the book. I was convinced it was boring and terrible. I was relieved to find that I did not hate it upon first read.

November is the time to get back on the normal track and also get this book edited.

 

Christina Bergling

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For the past three years, October has meant the Telluride Horror Show for me. It became our tradition when the Stanley Film Festival left Estes Park to become the Overlook Film Festival. Our tradition has now grown to include more people in our condo each year.

I could spout the same euphoric babbling I do every year. How I love the autumn drive across Colorado. How beautiful the mountain town of Telluride is. How the small festival has a fantastic community feel and atmosphere. How the films rarely disappoint. How fun it is to interact with filmmakers. BUT all of that has been true since Telluride Horror Show #8 (and remained true this year). Though I was disappointed to see no snow.

This year, in particular, the movies were particularly strong. Most years, there are some weak selections or ones that are not quite my flavor, but I was not disappointed. I did not enjoy one film, but I knew that going in from the synopsis in the programming guide.

Here is what I watched this year:

Making Monsters: A fantastic little film that felt like Hostel for the more digital age. The plot and the acting are on point. Great watch.

The creature shorts: A solid selection of short creature horror films. While one or two fall flat, none are bad. My favorites include Pathosis and It Came in Through the Window.

Mutant Blast: Stupid, stupid ridiculous movie, but it’s Troma so obviously. The main two characters are strong and engaging, but I could not get past the bullshit. Others in my party thoroughly loved it though.

Z: See my full review on Daily Dead.

1BR: THE FAVORITE! See my full review on Daily Dead.

Daniel Isn’t Real: Another movie about an imaginary friend (following Z) with a very Fight Club vibe. I love the character dynamics, but the ending wanders off a bit too far. A weak end but still a decent flick.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil: Still just as funny 10 years later!

VFW: The mindless splatterfest I needed after a cerebral day. The characters are good enough for you to care about, and the gore is strong enough to keep your attention. Entertaining as hell.

The Deeper You Dig: A solid supernatural slowburn. Though I nodded off in a couple scenes, I was quite tired. Needs to be viewed on the right mood.

Extra Ordinary: Hil Arious. My friend nearly pissed herself laughing in the screening. The lovable character are so funny, and I can’t wait to watch it again.

We didn’t really get to participate in much beyond the movies. I was too jealous to listen to other authors read their works by the fireside. We ran out of time to walk down to the pig roast. However, we absolutely did make time for trivia.

…and we won it!

Congratulations are not entirely in order though. We hovered solidly in the middle of the pack until the final Jeopardy round. One of us was the only person who knew the lost footage from Event Horizon was found in a Transylvanian salt mine, so we were the only team to gain points while every other team lost. And that launched us to #1.

I’ll take the win however it comes. Trivia has never been my strength.

Our group also decided to increase our festive participation. We dressed up as the cast from The Shining—Jack, Wendy, Danny, and the Grady sisters. I never really miss an opportunity to go all in on a theme and dress up, but this was an exceptionally good environment in which to dress up as iconic horror characters.

Having someone who can pass as my twin only made it better.

It was endlessly entertaining to creep people out, speak and move in unison, and take pictures with a whole bunch of strangers. A good costume is always an awesome icebreaker to make new friends, not that that is hard to accomplish at a fest. We dressed up during the day on Saturday then again for the Last Call party on Sunday night. The Grady sisters are much more fun intoxicated, in my opinion.

Then it was over. The weekend flew by faster than usual. It was a blur of movies; then we were packing the cars back up to drive home. We even quickly overcame car issues to get on the road. I spent the long commute reading over my new WIP novel for the first time. Since I didn’t hate my work as much as I anticipated, it helped to ease the hard drop back into regular life.

If only we could always live at the Horror Show. If only it could always be October.

 

Christina Bergling

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Yesterday, I got my semicolon tattoo in a now cliche display of suicide and self-harm survival. It was a last minute addition when I was sitting to get flowers added to my seasonal sleeve. The tattoo may be fully mainstream now, hiding on the wrists of strangers all around me, but the metaphor still speaks to me. As a writer, a punctuation mark to symbolize choosing to keep going speaks to me. I could have ended my story with a period but chose to keep writing.

It was 24 years ago when I was first suicidal and continued for roughly a decade after that. Years saturated with depression, pain, self-harm, self-abuse, awful life choices, and consequences. As my oldest child approaches the age I was when I first wanted to die, when her problems appear so simplistic and her understanding of life and the world so rudimentary, I remember how adult those emotions felt.

Wanting to end everything at 12 felt exactly the same as cutting my arm open at 19, feels exactly the same as when the depression gets black now. The emotions are exactly the same; it is my understanding of them and ability to deal with them that has evolved. I have matured and grown up around them. Yet they were just as real then; they only looked bigger and scarier. They filled my small body then. Now, they curl up in a corner in the back.

I need to remember that as my children approach that age. I need to remember that age and experience don’t decide what the pain feels like.

The dark time in my life somehow simultaneously feels like yesterday and another life completely. It both feels like the core of me and something that happened to someone else. In either case, it left a mark on my mind and who I am. Now, it has left a small mark on my flesh.

I’m not sure why I chose behind my ear. Maybe I’m just running out of canvas. Maybe I wanted it close to my brain, where the darkness has lived. I chose the right side because that is the side I write with and to balance out the wedding ring tattoo on my left hand.

I have a strange unbalanced symmetry in my ink. Both wrists, both upper arms, both shoulders, both shoulder blades, both ankles, a couple along the center of my spine, a finger on one side, and behind the ear on the other. Ink therapy. A map of many of the places I have been. How could I not have such an early milestone, such a formative part of me?

I think that dark and self-destructive period of my life is important. It taught me potentially the most about myself and about life. I continue to learn from it as I compare the way my life unfolds to that baseline. Perspective. It gives me and keeps things in perspective.

So now, I keep going. I keep writing.

 

Christina Bergling

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Wait, wait… Hold on… It’s July?? How did that happen? I swear it was just May. Where have I been?

You’re right. Where the hell have I been lately?

May and June passed in a blur of me riding on airplanes, commuting in cars, summoning Ubers, and bouncing around the country. Mostly, it was for the day job, but some personal travel converged in there. My schedule these past two months completely embodied the saying, “when it rains, it pours.”

Join me on a tour of my sprint into summer.

It all started with a Mother’s Day trip to Breckenridge. It was supposed to be an easy and relaxing family weekend but instead included mostly strep throat for me and ear infections for my babies. Not the strongest start to a whirlwind. I began my marathon already weakened and limping along.

Later in May, I was supposed to go to Washington DC for project meetings. Instead, over Memorial Day weekend, I rushed to Minnesota. My aunt passed rather unexpectedly, and I needed to be with my family. The trip was necessary but very emotionally intense. As it should have been. The weekend shook me, deeply, and put me very much off balance. Again, as it should have.

After Minnesota, it was back to life and back to work. This meant traveling across the country to San Diego.

The trip was somewhat intimidating for me, a step I needed to succeed at to prove myself in this role. While leading my first solo analysis workshop for the day job, I stayed near the beach and ran to it every day. My body and my hip might not have been ready for six straight days of running, but my mind relished it. The company I worked with was a pleasure, and my time outside of the office was euphoric. Even under June gloom. I never liked the sun anyway.

From the West Coast, I skimmed through home then over to the East Coast, to Boston for LiveWorx.

Conferences are a different beast than customer and project meetings. While customer sites are more demanding individually, conferences are overstimulating. It’s a blur of events and social events. I attended sessions at the conference and hung out at the company kiosk. Several of the sessions I attended were very interesting, including augmented reality training from a neuroscience perspective and the future of mobility as a service.

I love visiting Boston. I fell in love with it when my younger sister lived there and we would visit her. Despite the long hours at the conference and sneaking work in before/during/after, I wore myself down running early and drinking late (especially the night of the Stanley Cup). I woke insanely early to run to/from a barre class. I walked miles to one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants and along the water. It was all worth it, but my body was pretty depleted from the preceding weeks.

I left Boston a shell of a person, physically and mentally wasted. Thankfully, I had a couple days back in mountain time before flying back out to Washington DC. I needed my family, time with babies to reset. I needed to do laundry and sleep in my own bed. Then it was out to the capital.

The project meetings may have been painful in DC, but I had good company (who I would happily hangout with at any time) and was able to squeeze in some quick sight seeing. Sometimes, working in the A&D contracting world can be a bit soul crushing. It was necessary to balance that out with some non-work time. Plus, it seems like a crime to visit DC without ever seeing any of the many sights there.

We also had a social event at Artechouse. I love art. I worked at an art gallery for work study through college, with a boss who was particularly influential in my life prior to his suicide. And I live in tech. Usually, in my life, these two things are at odds, segregated in my day. I found the combination quite fascinating and very entertaining. I lay on a marshmallow-like pillow, watching visual data flow over the walls. I drank a cocktail with an augmented reality coaster. I almost walked into the mirrored walls of the data tunnel. I would have gone, even if it wasn’t work-related.

I made it home from DC long enough to pack a bag and load up the car to go camping with the commune. I don’t think I even unzipped my suitcase from DC. I kissed my babies before they went to their grandmother’s. The mountains were calling, and I had to go. The air may have been extra thin, and caterpillars may have assaulted us from the pine branches all weekend, but altitude is just what I needed to come back home.

I was supposed to be home over the holiday and to celebrate a couple family birthdays before jumping on a plane to Austin for another big project meeting. BUT today that travel got cancelled. The timing could not have been more perfect. Personally, I need some time to catch up; I need some time with my family. Professionally, I also need some time to catch up, since working on the road just means only working 24/7.

I love my day job. I am finally coming into the full role and enjoy how it challenges me. It makes me work to prove that I can handle it (some days, I question if I can). I also like the travel. In moderation. One or two trips a month strikes the perfect balance between being a work-from-home mom and being a real professional. This run, however, definitely tested my threshold. Too many project timelines aligned, and personal drama layered on top of it.

Now, the real question: “Have you been writing?

…um

…well,

nope.

Things have been so crazy, personally and professionally, that I haven’t had the time or the mental capacity to do it. All things (novel, short stories, this blog) have sat idly by as I napped or wrote statements of work on the plane. I have finally discovered the line where I just can’t, where I actually need a mental break. That is new territory for me.

I don’t know how much I like it.

No routine and no writing means no balance for me, and it is wearing on me. However, now I have a week back to regain my composure and return to my novel. It has been a rollercoaster, fun and exhausting. Now, a little normalcy will be good.

Where am I now? Home, on a keyboard, writing.

 

Christina Bergling

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Welcome aboard! Please stow your baggage (emotional and otherwise) in the overhead compartment or completely under the seat in front of you. Buckle your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride as we fly through the randomness that pours out of a writer’s mind when she has spent too many hours sitting on planes…

 

***

 

I always thought I would be a good mother because I had such an exceptional example of a mother to follow. My mother made many mistakes along her way, but her love and sacrifice for her children were flawless. I did not seem to inherit those attributes.

Now, I am aware that I am far superior to the crackhead who births her baby addicted or the resentful woman who leaves her children loveless or even the hypercritical mother who can never be pleased. However, at the most simple, I am just too selfish. There is too much ME in my mother-child relationships.

Maybe it was because my mother loved me too well, implanting the seed that I mattered so much. Maybe it was because my mother’s love cost her so dearly, her sacrifices so grand and painful that I refused to duplicate them.

I do love my children, completely and whole-heartedly, but I also do sometimes resent the demands of being their mother–mental and physical. I think I would have made a much better father with the elimination of the physical requirements and reduction of the social demands of motherhood.

I wonder if the guilt I feel at this maternal deficiency indicates I care or only signifies what I’ve been told I should feel. I wonder how my mothering style will shape my children. Will it teach them to maintain and prioritize themselves even in the troughs of love, like I hope it will? Or will they internalize my lack of obligatory doting and masochistic self-sacrifice and blame themselves?

At the bottom of it, I think about aircraft safety procedures. Perhaps because I just had to listen to them recited yet again. Put your mask on before you put on theirs. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them. I also think about how children learn by watching more than being told. I want to live a life I would be happy to proud to see them live, a life where they always mattered and advocated for themselves, a life where they did what they needed but also made sure to do what they wanted.

Or all of this is what I tell myself to help swallow the lump of mom guilt that has swelled up in my throat with each day of this business trip.

 

***

 

This has to stop. It has been too long. I am too fucking old and smart for this to continue. I did not work my ass off to tame bipolar unmedicated to be dismantled by a bullshit eating disorder. I did to adapt so far as to expertly manipulate myself and others to be seduced and swayed by a sad, shallow cultural flaw.

I refuse to continue to define myself by standards I do not ascribe to other people. Cognitively, I get it. Logically, I know the truth. Yet something about my deformed emotions and that scar tissue in my brain keeps me imprisoned in this utterly fruitless cycle of self-loathing.

My body does not help as it relentlessly undermines me. I am continually undone by its incessant betrayal. I had figured it out. I had successfully decoded dieting and slipped the noose of bulimia. My body decided to reward me by heaving a large wrench into the machine–into me.

Fasting was the answer. My body granted me an entire year of success and freedom before invalidating the accord. The weight flooded back on and the madness, the fixation, the obsession that it inspires. Causality no longer aligned. Unearned consequences twisted my perceptions into deformed figments. Right back down to the bottom, sinking like a heavy stone.

I tried all the things–past failures and successes. I went to the doctor and a nutritionist. I went back to binge-enticing restrictive diets. I returned to injury-demanding levels of exercise. All roads slammed into the same fat wall. Yet I can’t relent or abandon any of them for fear that I will continue to inflate.

So, I am back to my Hell–starving myself, punishing my body, scrutinizing my reflection, fixating on the numbers. I am back to obsessing about things that do not matter.

It has to stop.

I realize I cannot control my body, so I, once again, need to tame my mind. I need to remove my damage from the equation.

As age continues to wear on my body at an accelerating rate, I realize that youth has nearly entirely slipped from my grasp. I will only steadily continue to wrinkle and sag and reform. Do I want to waste the preceding time wishing I was something else, the way I regret hating my many youthful states before now? Do I want to reduce my assessment of my body to the numbers on a scale or measurement of any circumference, dismissing the dance vocabulary it has learned, the strength it has built to climb mountains, its bizarre flexibility? Do I need to forsake everything to be “skinny”…

And WHY?

What does it matter against a clever and successful mind? What does it get me as I am already loved?

When I ask the questions, I know the answers–without hesitation. Yet these old and perverse trains of thought still snake and steam through my mind on distorted tracks. My emotions trickle and pour through the canyons worn by my eating disorder like bad habits. The core of me always reels for the familiar comfort of hating myself.

But I cannot claim that I will not waste a moment of chronological life to then squander my emotional life like this. The words and compulsions and habits of my former mind are not true; they do not need to be heeded.

I can let it go. I can exercise because I love it and it balances me. I can eat clean because it is beneficial to my body and makes me feel physically better. I can make these choices for my own wellness rather than an aesthetic.

Because this has to stop.

It is killing me and poisoning my days. It gains me NOTHING. It has to stop.

 

Christina Bergling

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Exposure

Posted: May 28, 2019 in real life
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Sometimes, I think I need to learn to shut up. Just a little bit.

My aunt died last week. Her death was rapid and largely unexpected. We, as a nuclear family, hurried on a plane and attempted to race the reaper out there. We did not win. Instead, we were there to say goodbye before she was cremated and to help absorb the initial impact with our extended family.

My family is bipolar. Not in the sense of the actual disorder but in the extremes of the emotionality of its members. We have one extreme who cannot keep their emotions in, who talk too much and share too much, who misdirect their anguish into inane irritations better left ignored (read: me). And we have the opposite extreme who cannot let their emotions out. At times like these, the space between these poles seems all the wider.

When I was in Iraq, I openly and publicly blogged about my sadness, confusion, and rage. This did not shock or alarm any of the guys who were stuck with me in the trailer every day because they heard me singing those same notes loudly beside them. However, stateside management assumed that I struggled in silence, packing my emotions like an IED, wiring myself to combust at any time. This made me a liability and resulted in mandatory meetings with my boss anytime I posted.

J: Did you post a blog today?
C: Yep.

J: Are you OK?
C: Yep.

And on we would go. That kind of transparency, that aggressive emotional expression was uncommon in a war zone. Perhaps it was inappropriate there too. Maybe all of those words were better sealed in my paper journal, unseen and unread.

I have been hesitant to write anything about this since biding the hours in Minnesota, since my flight home. I know my compulsion for expression and my emotional transparency and needs make times like these more difficult for my family who is not that way. I can read it off of them, yet I cannot stop myself. When I try, I end up doing the same things, only larger and sloppier. The only thing that makes the tragedy sting more is the idea that my constant words and waves of feelings make it worse for any of the rest of us grieving.

I worry that my family would not want me to publicly air the events, that it is something she would not want me to post about. Granted, if she was here, she would probably be too busy living her full life to be concerned with what her niece was rambling about on the internet. While some prefer to fold into themselves, I am the annoying bard, documenting everything and sharing too often.

Instead of publicly processing this family event or analyzing the differences in my family, I will shift the spotlight solely to myself, preserving family integrity through unabashed narcissism.

So, this experience, like so many before it, has left me questioning if I should reign it in, put a cork in my emotions and expressions and start keeping some of them inside.

I question this with my children. Am I too honest with them? Do I tell them too much, expose them to things too early? Is this one of the many ways I will damage them?

I question this with my job. Should I say less? Share less? Should I draw a harder line between professional and personal? Should I keep my complaints or irritations more quiet?

I question this with my writing. Should I stick to fiction and keep myself out of it? Should I put myself out there less, promote and push less? Should I write under a pen name? Should I separate my work and my life?

I wonder if I should insulate myself from the world a bit, retract back from other people a little. Perhaps I need to try to grow a filter, in all aspects of life. Truthfully though, I don’t know if I can anymore. My radical honesty, unfiltered demeanor, and emotional sharing has been steadily increasing as I age. Like a runaway train.

Likely, many things might be easier, maybe even better, if I was able to temper myself. It could simplify my life, avoid certain issues. Maybe I would be easier for some people to deal with, more palatable. But it wouldn’t be me. People frequently ask me why I write horror, why I would pick that genre. My answer is always that horror is what was already in my head and I just have to let it out. The same is true with all of my emotional expression, sharing, and exhibitionism. I have to let it out. There is no room in my head and my heart for all that flourishes there. I wouldn’t be able to deal with it if it was all trapped within me.

As far as why I have to share it, I think it makes it feel real. With so many figments in my mind, I almost need another witness to confirm the experience. And I crave connection and community, both virtually and tangibly. I have been opening a window to my mind on the internet since blogging first started.

In the end, I don’t know. The way I am may be helpful in some situations, hurtful in others. It may comfort one person, irritate another. I don’t know how to manufacture a demeanor or tame the one within me, so it doesn’t really matter. We are stuck with what I am and the volume at which I express it.

As far as my individual experience with my aunt, she was a strong influence in my childhood. The last time I saw her was last summer. Hard to believe that has spiraled into nearly a year ago. I was in Minneapolis for work. She insisted on picking me up from the airport and having me stay with her, even on driving me to my meeting the next day. And that is where she and I end and my memory of her lives on. Not beside her last hospital bed but as she gave me sage woman wisdom about work and life, things I should have long figured out already, as we shared a beer and a meal.

Typing it out makes that moment feel more vivid, documents it somewhere outside of myself.

 

Christina Bergling

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Releasing my novella Savages as an audiobook was a new and bizarre experience as an author. As many nights as I spent writing the book and as many times as I’ve read it over, it was something completely different to hear my entire story aloud in another voice. I loved it, so I decided I wanted to create some YouTube videos reading my own works.

I had to start with “How to Kill Yourself Slowly.” This is the first piece that I ever had legitimately published. I think this piece is where I discovered myself as a writer–my style, my themes, what I had to say. It also got so much response. The people in my creative writing class reacted very strongly. When I posted it on my blog at the time, I received hundreds of comments and emails. I have talked about it at high schools. People have found me on social media from it.

“How to Kill Yourself Slowly” has been out there in the world for maybe 15 years. Yet somehow when I started reading it aloud, it felt more vulnerable, more exposing. The feelings were strange and unexpected, and it actually made me nervous and hesitant to go through with releasing the reading. I felt freshly embarrassed about my past; I worried about how it would sound and how the people referenced in the piece would feel. It feels like being naked in a crowd of people. More than that, it feels like then peeling off my skin, cracking my rib cage open so you can get the full show.

I turned 36 yesterday. I felt compelled to post this because I almost didn’t turn 13 or 18 or 20… That is important. That matters. Aside from the fact that it has been out there for so long already, I kept thinking about all the comments and emails, the people saying that reading the piece helped them or saved them. And I had to post this.

 

 

 

Christina Bergling

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Go with It

Posted: January 10, 2019 in military, nonfiction, psychology, real life, survival

As our plane began to land in Baghdad, it went dark. The crew extinguished the cabin lights, floor lighting, exit lights, indicators. The resulting black consumed us, startling and unnerving. It felt so unnatural to be floating in a darkened aircraft. If it weren’t for the engines still vibrating under the wings, the plane could have been mistaken for coasting dead. A few passengers tugged their window shades down to solidify the darkness.

The more experienced contractor beside me leaned over.

“They go dark so hostiles can’t target the plane from the ground as we land. They’ll use any small bit of light,” he whispered. “Oh, and be prepared for the evasive landing.”

He eased back into his own seat, gathered up his phone, and brought the bright screen to his face, a tiny beacon of light broadcasting to the open window. Confusion contorted my brow as I stared at him, dumbfounded. If a seatbelt light could get a rocket launched at us, why did he have his phone blazing in his face? It near-blinded me against the dark. I just kept looking from him to the open window beside us.

The plane descended toward the small lights below as my heart ascended into my throat. The shapes on the ground dilated in size. Pinpoints of light grew into buildings and roads; the dots articulated into the darkened city. My body automatically braced itself out of practice, habit from so many plane landings. I knew what the final descent should feel like, the way a gentle suspense gripped the air until the ground hopped up into the tires. Instead, the plane glided down then banked sharply. I groped startled at my armrest.

Anxiously, I glanced around me. No other passengers reacted. No one spoke. They sat as if nothing happened. The man beside me remained glued to his glowing phone, inviting the enemy to shoot us down.

The evasive landing.

No one else reacted, so I took a deep breath and went with it.

As I stepped out of the plane and onto the gravel in the surprisingly cold Iraqi night, I smelled only shit and burnt fireworks. I stood alone, unsure where I needed to go next—a 25-year-old female civilian contractor in an active warzone.

A week later, after I had been placed in my freezing trailer, been orientated to camps Victory, Liberty, and Slayer, and began riding the first unfathomable wave of homesickness, I headed to lunch with two fellow software trainers. Bored with the low level of service requests in the training trailer, Charlie and Ed decided we should venture away from the main dining facility (DFAC) and burn time traveling in the dented, dusty Mitsubishi Pajero to one farther from our trailer.

In the DFAC, we sat on metal folding chairs at plastic tables. Charlie hunched across from me, a tapestry of tattoos crawling from his jaw to his hands. Ed rest beside me in a bright blue polo shirt and fauxhawk. I nibbled on my grilled cheese and cantaloupe as they attempted to dazzle or unnerve me with their military stories, as always.

A siren shrieked through the air. The sound snatched my breath, tangled it in my throat. The piercing tone was followed by a flat voice repeating, “Incoming imminent. Incoming imminent.”

I threw wide eyes at Ed then Charlie. They continued to eat uninterrupted as if they had heard nothing at all. The third country national (TCN) workers came flooding out from the kitchen and huddled under the flimsy tables. Soldiers sat on the floor and crouched beside the buffet lines. I looked around at all the people on the floor, waiting.

“They do that because the kitchen doesn’t have any T-walls,” Charlie said, still chewing. “A while ago, a rocket landed on a kitchen. Killed all the TCNs.”

Ed sat casually, gathering a bite on his fork as he watched the TCNs unaffected. My heart battered my ribs. I tried to force out calm breaths and keep my face slack as my eyes roamed. My back tightened, and my posture stiffened.

Charlie looked at me.

“Look, there’s not a damn thing sitting under this table is going to do if a rocket hits this DFAC. If it’s our time, it’s our time,” he said, shrugging and looking down to his food.

They both resumed eating. I sliced my melon with shaking hands and shoved a bite into my mouth, unable to taste it. I took a breath and went with it.

The all clear sounded, followed by an annoying series of tones. Whining smoke detectors replaced the noise to complain about the unattended food left burning. Gradually, everyone got up and returned to their stations. Back to normal, like nothing ever happened.

Later that shift, I sat at my desk in the trailer, letting my fingers dance on the dusty keys of my laptop. I typed away, jamming software procedures into a user guide when a whooshing sound rippled past the trailer, nearly indistinguishable from the sound of an incoming helicopter as it crossed the wire and passed over us.

A boom echoed off in the distance; then a small vibration rumbled against the soles of my boots. Another deeper sound erupted in response, closer and louder. A ripping burst then a pause followed by crackling explosions in the air. I tensed and looked toward the ceiling as if I could see something of what was happening.

“C-RAM,” one of the guys mumbled.

A second rocket hit, far away. A second C-RAM answered.

The trailer fell silent, thick with anticipation, waiting for more. Another rocket, another C-RAM to rebut it. That burnt smell swelled in the air, so thick it spread onto my tongue, that same smell that assaulted me at my first step off the plane.

A voice in the distance declared the all clear, transient as if broadcast from a helicopter. Soldiers arrived in the trailer for accountability, to ensure we were all present and still alive. As we stood in the dark beside our T-wall lined with a single strand of Christmas lights, our jingle T-wall, we heard the sirens traveling in the distance. The rockets had hit something.

In the dark, I took a breath and went with it.

 

Christina Bergling

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2018 was a wild and busy year for me. Most of all, it was the year of the horror anthology. Take a look at what 2018 looked like for my publications.

Publications

January: “Jack Frost,” “You Don’t See Me,” and “Grand Slam” in 100 Word Horrors
June: “After the Screaming Stopped” in Graveyard Girls
August: “Upgraded” in Demonic Household
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August: “Personas” in Colorado’s Emerging Writers (nonfiction)
August: “Look What You Made Me Do” in Colorado’s Emerging Writers (fiction)
August: “Whole” and “Under the Rapids” in Ink and Sword Magazine
September: “Duende” in Collected Christmas Horror Shorts 2
October: “Zoltara” in Carnival of Horror
October: “Freaks” in Carnival of Nightmares
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Festivals

I attended my first author book signing event, Behind the Mask in Nashville, TN.
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As has become an annual tradition, I attended the Telluride Horror Show.
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My reviews for The Dark, Terrified, and Mega Time Squad are published on Daily Dead.
My other festival reviews are on my blog:
The year also saw me launch into some collaborations with other authors, a horror photographer, and an artist and return to performing as a belly dancer. It was a full, busy, and successful year.
Looking to 2019, I hope to add more books to my publication list, including a new novel. I also hope to be able to release more from my new collaborations.
I cannot thank you all enough for the support you give me. I wish you the warmest holidays and the best new year. And if you’re in the mood for some festive horror, check out my 12 Days of Christmas Horror