I’m notoriously unable to deal with horror of almost any kind.

It’s a testament to how much I wanted to impress my husband that I went to see Dawn of the Dead with him on one of our first dates (I also was held up at work, arrived at the theater late, crept up the center aisle and grabbed him by the back of the neck at a particularly scary moment, so I can really dish out what I can’t take, but that’s another story).I’ve been able to make it through only a few actual “horror” movies, and even then they were grey-area fluff-peices like Angel Heart.

Written horror is similar. There’s a Richard Matheson short story that bothers me to this day. I find horror novels and short stories terribly compelling, but once I’m about halfway through, I really wish I wasn’t. I’m not even a tremendous Clive Barker fan.

And yet I love, love, love Barker’s cenobites. I really enjoyed the Hellbound Heart novella (although I never saw any of the films) and liked the concept enough that it influenced me a fair amount in other writing. And, last night, husband and I found ourselves in a nice, long conversation about the Surgeons from Beyond.

And, naturally, since I can do nothing so cool that Jen has not done it first (including contract a bitch of an autoimmune disease) she now has an amazing new essay up at The Nervous Breakdown, likening the experience of chronic illnes to “transcendent sensation seeking,” and referencing Barker’s perfect sensualists. I strongly suggest you go read it now, and then consider checking out Jen’s book.

Jen’s essay has begun a long train of thought regarding various forms of voluntary and involuntary mortifications of the flesh, which does tend to be something of a recurrent theme with me. The ways this intersects with pregnancy are interesting (this artist deals beatifully with one possible variation); generally I find that the mystique surrounding birth comes in two flavors:

Medical, dangerous, scary, heart-pounding ER-thrillride stuff, those ridiculously unrealistic labors you see on TV where the first contraction hits like a train and the race is on with birthing-woman-as-ticking-time-bomb (snip the red wire! no, the blue one!) culminating in a roomful of shrieking medical personnel and finally, in the moment of breath-caught silence, that single perfect cry of the infant.


The Empowered-Woman model, complete with circle of female helpers, candles, Venus of Willendorf statues, the woman doing a sort of bovine lowing while a truly unsettling number of people rub her back and tell her she’s so strong and primal, the squatting delivery and finally the nuzzling of the newborn covered in birth fluids while the woman’s “partner,” if male, is appropriately awed by her utter transcendent majesty during this transformative moment.

Given the options above, I’d pretty much say that the latter has it all over the former, don’t get me wrong. And yet somehow, I can’t really see myself in it any more than I can in the first (for a start, I get the cold, shivering horrors at the idea of being surrounded by that many women). I’m sort of trying to find what my own version of the above scenario might look like, while trying not to worry more than I have to about the problems that illness might introduce into the birth experience.

I know a major, cataclysmic change is coming. I know that I’m not very good at self-hypnosis, perceiving pain as “energy,” “sensation,” “pressure,” or anything other than pain. I know that, as Sam Peckinpah pointed out and Haruki Murakami reiterared, nobody gets shot by a gun without bleeding. I’m not a particularly empowered person, but rather one who submits to experience. So, while I’d like to imagine that I’ll have a peaceful swim through the female energies, that really isn’t what I see on the horizon.