Thursday, September 4, 2014

Horror-Phobic

You guys know I hate horror, right? Blood and gore...can't do it. Which makes no sense, because I wasn't raised as some thin-skinned sissy lala. Seriously, Shan and I could wrangle spiders and hold snakes and weren't afraid to get down and dirty. We were the ones out in the desert building forts--never playing with dolls--and refusing to cry if we skinned our knees (my sister broke her entire femur bone once and never so much as shed a tear). So I'm not sure where this very 'girl-like' aversion to horror comes from. When I was little, my mom loved horror movies. Not that she was really into meaningless slasher flicks or paranormal horror (like Nightmare on Elm Street...remember that one? I still remember some chick getting eaten by her mattress), but she loved anything having to do with serial killers preying on guileless young women (seriously, this was my dear, sweet mother--what is WRONG with her?). Anytime the butcher scenes would flicker across the screen, I would dive under the blankets, clamping my eyes shut and covering my ears. Or I would run out of the room completely. My mom would playfully laugh and holler out "Come on, it's all just fake!" And I knew she was right; I knew it was fake. But such scenes didn't simply gross me out. They actually made me feel sick and miserable. And I wasn't the only one who suffered from horror-phobia as a child; Shan was the same way.

You would think as adults we would have grown out of this. You know...gain enough life experience to be able to separate fantasy from reality. But no. I might actually be worse as an adult, maybe because after years of convincing myself that I can't cope with horror, I've deepened my own psychosis. But whatever its roots, things get bad for me very fast if I happen to catch a glimpse of a grisly, gory death on television. First I get that miserable, sickened feeling, and I feel like I can't stop myself from internalizing what's happening on the screen, even though I know it's not real. I anguish over the character being hurt/tormented, and if I can't turn the channel fast enough, I'll start breathing hard, sweating, and going into some sort of panicked state of paralysis (my damn 'deer in headlight' issue). If for some God-forsaken reason I still can't change the channel (remember, I'm paralyzed now, and the kids probably hid the remote in the fridge), then I would be forced to curl into the fetal position and scream out ridiculous chants or nursery rhymes (i.e. "Cinderella-dressed-in-yella-went-upstairs-to-kiss-a-fella...") until the scene is over (or until someone goes to to get a slice of cheese and finds the remote). By this time, I'm probably shaking and feeling like I'm about to throw up.

And this is coming from the person who didn't break a sweat through a 7.4 earthquake and didn't bat an eye when she had to clean maggots out of an injured chicken's butt.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

But, I am proud to say I wouldn't be writing this post if there wasn't some hope. I did discover recently that my steadfast Just-Say-No-to-Horror rule does have an exception or two.

Exception #1: I can handle reading *some* horror if I know (as in, have socially interacted with) the author behind the spine-chilling story. Even if the story is something that would normally thrust me straight into a horror-phobic panic, somehow knowing the face behind the words takes away the threat. It's like I can suddenly "hear" what my mom kept trying to tell me all those years--"This is NOT REAL." Yes, I know now this is not real, because I can see the person who created it, and I can gasp at this hair-raising scene and yell at the author for writing such atrocities and tell him what a douche he was for making me feel petrified and have a big laugh about it. Phobia? GONE. Just like that. You can't be paralyzed by a spider in the midst of holding and playing with one. You can still be scared, but your fear can't win.

Exception #2: I can handle reading *some* horror if the writing is exceptional. The horror genre (like any genre) is flooded with bad writing. Sadly, even mediocre writing is bad writing when it comes to horror, given how easy it is for gory scenes to translate as cliche or contrived (there's only so many big-boobed blondes you can massacre before your readers start getting bored). But I discovered recently that horror in the context of beautiful writing can be intriguing as all get-out. It still leaves me unsettled, unnerved, and a whole slew of other "un--" words, I'm sure, but I can cope. And the story, for better or worse, leaves a lasting impression on me, which is what good writing should do.

The Christian in me, however, along with the person who inherently hates human torment being flaunted and trivialized, will never be okay with horror, and will never choose it as a genre. I believe evil is real, and I would no sooner dive into horror than I would sit in the middle of my tumbleweed-infested yard playing with matches. Horror reveals a side of human nature that I have no desire to explore, and once its dark fingers start reaching inside of you, I don't know how easy it is to yank them out.

But I have to admit the dark little artist in me--the same one who painted THIS--


--sees the appeal (and then gets disturbed by that fact, and runs away screaming).

That being said, I have to admit that I am massively addicted to a series being written by horror/erotica writer--and twitter friend--Eric Keys. Though he is only two installments in, he calls these posts "Emails to Young Damsels." In the series, Eric draws from his collective experience from past attractions/infatuations/loves-gone-awry to create letters (or e-mails) to someone he addresses as "Young Damsel." Even though he talks to this young damsel as if she were a singular person, she is actually a symbol of all the women (aka: 'young damsels' ) in his life who have left an imprint on him. Though these letters are not exactly horror, they are deeply unsettling, disturbing, and do touch slightly on horror elements (i.e. the first one is titled "Your Screams are Like Music"). And damn are they beautifully written. I think part of it is the shock factor. They read so much like love letters, written from an eloquent, wistful soul, until you suddenly get a fork thrust into your chest via unexpected lines that give you a glimpse into the madman behind the words. For example, the first Young Damsel letter contains this excerpt:
Not sure why your absence seems more deep, today. But it does. This past week I longed for one more conversation. I felt like all the loose threads from so long ago still dangle. How long has it been? Years? Decades? And yet it seems like just a handful of days. 
And yet, there seems an odd beauty in it all. Like the threads blowing about in the wind creates a more vital art than any tidily knitted rug would ever be. 
But I still wish you were here. Sometimes beauty is painful.
That line "Like the threads blowing about in the wind creates a more vital art...," just...wow. Frankly I find this entire excerpt to be pure poetry. Oh, but wait. It gets better. He follows it with this:
Anyway, you are out of my reach for now. Consider yourself lucky as I have dreamt up some lovely, hideous things to do to you. Oh, your screams would be like music.
Um, WHAT? Enter: Madman. It's sheer brilliance. To make you fall in love with this woebegone soul, only to blindsight you with his insanity. Some readers might even find themselves feeling a little jealous of the young damsel that incited such depth of emotion and expression from him...until those last two sentences. At that point, they're thinking "Run, Damsel, RUN."

A part of me feels guilty for loving these letters. I mean, let's face it, the narrator is a bit of a sadist with morbid fantasies about the "hideous" things he wants to do to his young damsel, and he clearly gets off on making her feel scared. But on some twisted level he deeply cares about her (them), which makes it hard to outright despise him. * In other words, he is the best villain EVER. The villain that you're not allowed to root for, but you do, secretly, anyway, hoping no one will know that you empathize with his plight.

So in my whole "Am I a terrible person for liking this stuff?" debate (this debate was with myself, so it was pretty lame as far as debates go), I came to this conclusion: It's okay for me to enjoy this series. Because writing is art. And art explores all facets of human nature. It's supposed to make us curious and disturbed and intrigued. Just like any sculpture or painting, it's okay for me to let my eyes travel over it, take it in, pull whatever meaning from it that I perceive, and walk away when I choose.

Or I'm probably a terrible person making excuses. But the above sounded pretty good, right?  


*Disclaimer: (If you decide to read the first two installments of Eric's "Emails to Young Damsels," please note that while he does draw on some real-life experiences, this series is a work of fiction. In real life Eric is a very stable, non-stalkery, unthreatening, self-proclaimed "softie").**

**(Although, no offense Eric, I still wouldn't want to run into you in a dark alley at night)

23 comments:

  1. "once its dark fingers start reaching inside of you, I don't know how easy it is to yank them out."

    That's the truth. Perhaps I'm the victim in all this. Hmm...

    Anyway, I'm really touched that a horror-phobe might like my work. The EtYD series means a lot to me and I'm glad it seems to mean something to other people, too. Anyway, I'm hoping to continue it, but I might need to slow down. I guess we'll see.

    Perhaps one day I'll convince you to read Grace and Blood!

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    1. Oh no you don't, Eric. You're not going to pass yourself as a "victim" here, Mr. Villain.

      But yeah, you should be touched, because if you have something in your writing that draws someone as anti-horror and sissy as me, then you're really on to something.

      Isn't Grace and Blood one of your more horror-esqe horrors? As in, it will make me cry, curl up into a fetal position, and shriek out nursery rhymes? Yeah...good luck, Sir, convincing me to read it. ;)

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    2. Hmm... I think you'd like it despite that. It has a wee bit of gore, but most of the horror stems from the way the characters are motivated, etc. Sort of a psychological horror with a bit of the supernatural mixed in.

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    3. I'll give it a try Eric. No promises I'll make it all the way through. Just be ready for me to wake you up at 3 a.m. bellowing about what an ass you are for scaring me so badly.

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    4. Horror writers take being woken up at 3AM and called an ass as a profound compliment!

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    5. Damn it, I need a better threat. Don't make me pull out the teddy bear card.

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  2. You obviously know that I relate to the Horror-Phobia a 1,000%! (I think I even wrote a post on it before? Albeit a far less interesting post than this one). My horror tolerance has decreased substantially as I've gotten older, which is baffling to me as well!

    I think you are onto something with Exception 1, because Grandpa's horror novels never bothered me as much. I haven't had the chance to experience Exception 2 yet.

    Our "dear, sweet mother...."? Am I missing something?!

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    1. I have to find that post now Shan!

      You're right about Grandpa. Though I probably can't call him a douche for petrifying me. But the rest is true. It's pretty hard to feel horrified by the scenes he writes when I'm imagining his sweet, cheery face narrating the story.

      Okay, "dear, sweet mother" might have been pushing it a touch.

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    2. I actually copied and pasted the first 2 paragraphs of this post for Jeremy to read, because I've tried to explain to him how terrible it is for me to even catch a glimpse of a horror scene, but I don't think he understands (or maybe I'm just coming across as an over-sensitive whiner). He will constantly say, "It's just fake honey!" And I'm like..."Golly gee. Thanks. I feel enlightened now."

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    3. That's usually the first line of reasoning horror-lovers use--"It's all fake!" And I'm kind of thinking the same thing as you--like, "Wow, thank you, that is BRAND NEW information."

      Clint views my nuances as much less insane when he sees you have them too, but I think Jeremy just thinks we're both nuts. Sorry. ;)

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    4. That's true. Rather than this post offering him more clarity, it will probably generate a response like, "Ohhhh...the whininess is genetic."

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    5. Ha! That sounds exactly right.

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    6. I agree, the fakeness of it is almost irrelevant. It's the thoughts and feelings the images trigger that are the truly horrifying part. Knowing that such thoughts can be thought, such feelings can be felt, such scenes can be imagined... What does that say about us as a species?

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    7. That's a good way of putting it. The images might be fantasy, but it's real minds producing them, while other *real* minds are relishing in them. Oh the observations one could make about human nature...

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  3. Dude, you painted that?! Firstly, wow, you're really good, and secondly, OMG, that's creepy! And speaking of OMG, just those few sentences blew my pea-sized mind. Like, AAH, IT'S SOOO GOOD!

    I am not horror-phobic, I do love to be slightly creeped, but I'm not a huge fan. I avoid it and watch horror movies with a buddy in the daylight. Anything I think might be remotely scary. If I have to watch it alone, I hold hands with a teddy bear. Lol! Seriously. When I was a teenager though, I loved it, though, I scare easy and was a tad afraid of the dark. I always set a timer on my tv so I could fall asleep with a light on without it being on all night. ^_^

    In any case, those letters are AMAZING. WTF moments...

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    1. Aww Krystal, thank you! Yes, I painted that on commission. I would have never painted that for myself...I tend to stick with "pretty" things like flowers and trees and sad fairies. It was awesome to do a painting that forced me out of my comfort zone, and I had SO much fun with it. I kept laughing with my client, telling her how her painting was giving me nightmares.

      Your description of 'little Krystal' coping with scary movies and the dark is so freakin' adorable. And I officially want a teddy bear to squeeze now...maybe that'll do the trick. ;) The weird thing for me is I have NO FEAR of the dark. Like, the dark is actually comforting to me. I think it might be because of how crummy my vision is...if there's even a little bit of light, it casts shadows, and I can't tell what those shadows are. But complete darkness takes the shadows away. So I'm like this little guy from Shel Silverstein's poem:

      "The little bat cried out in fright,
      'Turn on the dark, I'm afraid of the light!"

      I'm glad you enjoyed Eric's letters. I concur...AMAZING.

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    2. Thank you for your kind words about my letters, Krystal. Be sure to check out my "best of" page for some other good stuff.

      http://erickeys.wordpress.com/the-best-of-eric-keys/

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  4. I'm very sad that you are a horror phobic. It would have been nice to talk to you about my ER experience at LA trauma center. Oh, and The Walking Dead is the best thriller series EVER. But if you like really well written horror you should check out the Hollowmen series. I thinks it's really good. Had my heart racing while reading it. Miss you Jojo!

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    1. That's the odd thing Jewls...I'm not squeamish about blood or real-life trauma (I even took classes toward becoming an RN in high school, before I decided to become a teacher). I know it makes no sense--to be repulsed by human suffering in fiction but be able to cope with it in reality. I think it's because the idea of human torment being exploited for the entertainment/pleasure of others feels so twisted and wrong. So feel free to tell me your ER experiences--I'd love to hear about them! (And I might check out the Hollowmen series, if I can work up the nerve).

      Miss you too Jewls! I'm still going to support your race in October--I was just SO SWAMPED this week.

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  5. Thanks for drawing my attention to Eric's work. Really good stuff!!

    I think this is another thing about which we're sort of opposite. I'm actually quite drawn to horror. As a kid, I didn't like it, but as I got older I've grown to really respect it as a genre. But there is a whole lot of badly done horror out there (books and movies)--'Drag Me to Hell' comes to mind--so when something really good comes along I like to really embrace it. The only horror I have a little bit of trouble with is the stuff that strikes too close to reality. It took me years to watch Blair Witch (stupid, considering it's such a crappy bit of film).

    I do have to say, I find it pretty amusing/interesting that you're not scared of real life stuff that would make others run screaming (me included), but that fictionalized horror makes you freak! :D

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    1. Yeah Kristyn, I think we've established that you and I are opposite in every category possible (except for high school, and our mutual love for writing). ;) But I will say that I am becoming a little more open-minded to horror, and I don't think I will write off stories in the future simply because they fall under that genre (though I'll still be pretty picky--I don't think I'll ever be able to handle torture/senseless killing--the horror needs to have a context and it better be good).

      I know what you mean about the Blair Witch Project. As crummy as it is, it translates to something pretty realistic.

      And regarding your last observation, I agree--I'm rolling my eyes at me, too.

      Glad you are enjoying Eric's work! He's a pretty damn talented writer.

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    2. Thank you for your kind words, Kristyn! I have a page that lists some of the best work from my archives if you're interested in reading more:

      http://erickeys.wordpress.com/the-best-of-eric-keys/

      And here's my amazon author's page:
      http://www.amazon.com/Eric-Keys/e/B008CH49PK/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

      Most of the stuff on that page costs a bit of money, but where I am able, I try to keep the prices low.

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    3. Thanks for the links, Eric!! :)

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