How Neil Gaiman Saved My Life

On friday night, Neil Gaiman gave a reading and talk at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin, TX. “A Night with Neil Gaiman” included short story readings (including one or two he had never read in public before), a couple poems, and a long series of question-and-answers — the questions were provided via notecards provided to the audience before the show; the answers were thoughtful, or funny, or adorable, or wise, or charming, or all of these at once. In fact, Neil Gaiman himself was thoughtful, or funny, or adorable, or wise, or charming, or all of these at once.

He read “Down to a Sunless Sea,” one of my favorite stories from his short story collection Trigger Warning. He read a couple of the stories he wrote for the Calendar of Tales he did in 2013 in collaboration with his Twitter followers. He talked about his marriage to Amanda Palmer. He talked his adult children, and his new-born son. He talked about his writing process, and gave advice to would-be writers and creators. He talked about books he loved. He talked about working with Terry Pratchett. He talked about falling in love, about nightmares, about ambitions, about death, about the attacks in Paris – which had happened just hours before the event. Despite, or perhaps even because of the somber tone added by the Paris attacks, it was a magical night. Like a magician’s performance — the stage was clear except for the podium and a table set aside for a couple bottles of water, but the feeling was of theatrical smoke and moody lighting and glitter from the ceiling.

I was sad to discover he would not be doing a signing afterward (I had brought a bag full of books just in case), but it was understandable: there were SO MANY people, it would have taken him hours, maybe days, if he had dared to try. Other than that small disappointment, the reading was everything I had hoped for back in July when I got the tickets.

In July, when I first heard about the reading on Neil Gaiman’s twitter page, I had been almost blasé about it. I was depressed, tired, past the point of caring. But I knew that if I dug myself out of the hole I was currently in, that I would be insanely, painfully excited. So I emailed a couple friends who were fellow Gaiman-fans, and we bought the tickets together. On Friday, we drive three hours to Austin for the performance, listening to the Neverwhere audiobook (read by Neil Gaiman himself) in the car on the way. As it is near the end of a very busy semester, I was understandable gleeful to have an excuse to be out and about and not working for a couple days, so we made a trip of it: a very nice dinner at a place called Zax Restaurant and Bar, then the event, then a midnight meal at the Kerbey Lane Cafe (open 24 hrs), and the next day we had brunch at Magnolia Cafe and spent a couple hours window-shopping on South Congress (the hipster/bohemia part of town) before heading home. The whole trip was a delight.

Unlike my two friends, who discovered Neil Gaiman through Sandman when they were children (8 and 10 respectively), I didn’t discover Neil Gaiman until my Junior year of high school. My best friend had read his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors, and lent it to me to read. The second I finished the book, I was hooked. I may have come late to the club, but I was going to enjoy every second now that I was there. I devoured everything Neil Gaiman had written to that point. All of Sandman, Good Omens, Neverwhere, American Gods, Stardust, even his children’s books. As each new book was released I read them, absorbing the darkness and the glee and hilarity and wonder in equal measure. I follow Neil Gaiman on Facebook, on Twitter, on Tumblr. I read his blog. I listen to his advice. It was only because of him, that I discovered who Amanda Palmer was, and now I am enamored of her work and her social media presence as well. All in all, I am just about as a big of fan as you can be. There are, of course, many of us, and I am not unique, but I am part of that collective.

And yet, back in July I didn’t know for sure how I was going to feel about the trip. I knew once I was there I would enjoy it.  But traveling always makes me anxious (and it did this time, I just had enough fun as well to counteract it), and it was difficult to feel enthusiastic about anything just then. And, frankly, I had been suicidal since June.

I don’t just mean: depressed and vaguely wishing to disappear. I mean: I was making plans. I was writing good-bye letters. I was strategizing when my mother would be away so that I could have a few hours to go through with it before anyone could find me and stop me. I was ready to go.

But I loved Neil Gaiman. And I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see him live. And I had emailed my friends about it, and one friend had fronted the money to buy the tickets collectively. I was, in a way, committed to being around in November. So, I made a deal with myself and the universe. I would put off my plans, and I would try my damnedest to stick around for the Neil Gaiman reading. It wasn’t going to be easy. I might fail. And I was making no promises about what happened after the reading. But for four months, I was going to try my hardest not to disappear.

And here I am.

By September I finally gave in and saw a doctor (again), and revisited my depression medications (again), and went through a series of trial-and-error with types and dosages of meds. But I’m doing better now, as I have been proving on this blog over the last month or so. I’m far from perfect. I have bad days. But I’m definitely doing better, and I’m not desperately wildly suicidal right now.

This is not to say that Neil Gaiman is the only reason I didn’t kill myself. I did it for myself. I tried my hardest, and I gave in and asked for help before it was definitely too late, and the meds have done wonders to steady me. But I am saying that the desire to stick around until November, back in July when I was at my absolute lowest point, was a huge motivation. And I cannot say for certain that if I hadn’t had that extra push, I wouldn’t have killed myself before the month was out.

So this is my shout-out to Neil Gaiman. For doing what you do, without knowing how it might affect individual people, without any expectations of larger impacts beyond telling good, human, touching, strange, hilarious, creepy stories; just for existing: THANK YOU.

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