I feel as though I have always been drawn to the macabre (hence the blood-red type). As I thought about this today, I tried to remember how far back this started.
As I remember, the first thing I can think of that in any way might have been considered "macabre" was when, as possibly an eight-year-old, I insisted on burying dead shiners (ocean perch) in my Granny's garden (Gran's idea) but then digging them back up the next day, to see what they looked like (my idea).
They looked remarkably the same as they did before, only dirtier. Now if anyone had explained decomposition to me I likely would have waited a few days before digging them up, if, in my youthful state, I'd have been able to do that!
Whether this was a macabre fascination or not, I'm not sure. Child-like curiosity probably is a better explanation. Taking magnifying glasses and burning ants alive probably falls into the same category.
A better indicator of my macabre sensibility likely more clearly dates back to the time in Grade 7 or 8 when we had an undertaker come and give us a career presentation, bringing some of the tools of his trade with him. He was not the only career presenter we ever had come to my school, he is simply the only one I remember.
One of the things he demonstrated was the tool he used for making sure dead people's jaws remained closed. It was kind of like a cross between a staple gun and a riveter. He had brought along a small wooden board and drove some of the rivets into it. These rivets had long stringy wires running from them. At the end of it all, there was four five of these metal, wiry things hanging off this wooden board. I am not sure what compelled me to do this, but I walked up to the man after the presentation and asked if he was going to use this board for anything. He said "no" so I asked him if I could have it. He gave me a little bit of a look and then said "sure' and handed it to me. Later on that evening it was proudly mounted on my bedroom wall!
I'm not sure what my parents thought about all this. Compounding things for them, I believe, was my burgeoning attraction to Leonard Cohen's music and poetry. Part of the problem there was the fact that this pre-dated headphones and I had no stereo system of my own at the time. So when I listened to Leonard, my parents also listened to Leonard. Between the dark and brooding tone of his music and the fact that I was hanging undertaker's equipment on my wall, I'm sure they felt I was one mis-step away from psychiatric treatment. More about Leonard in another blog, though...
About this same time, my best friend, Rob Anderson, had a book of his parents' that I was fascinated by. It was tucked away on a bookshelf but he and I both found it one day and I generally found the time to search it out whenever I was over. It was all about the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. There were all sorts of pictures of burn victims but what really intrigued me were the pictures they had of babies that had suffered birth defects as a result of the radiation. They had not survived and had been preserved in bottles, grotesquely, for all the world to see. No time (or inclination, really) to describe them to you but I was I was in amazement at what was really something possible that could happen to the human body.
Dead animals fascinated me, whenever I found them. Decomposed, skeletal remains were cool. Once again, it provided insight into the impending nature of the part of life most people were content to ignore, if they possibly could.
Pretty well anything to do with death holds me in its spell. At some point I realized that there were pictures of dead bodies out there. I remember reading a Time-Life book on outlaws in the Old West. In it were several pictures of outlaws whose bodies were put on display after having been killed in gun battles (or simply shot in the back). This was back in the days when sensibilities were not so delicate and there was an appetite for this sort of thing (public hangings, anyone?) Once again, these pictures and accounts held my attention quite nicely.
With the advent of the internet, depictions of the macabre were readily at my fingertips. At this point, I found I actually had to decide what I wanted to be able to see and what I didn't want to have to look at.
As an example, I was now able to watch the JFK assassination, over and over. In this day and age, I'm not sure how many people know you can actually do this. Part of it was the sense of history around it, more than anything. Hard not to look at his autopsy photos, for the same reason.
At the same time, I made conscious decisions not to look at certain things. Back when Limewire was popular, I accidentally found myself with the opportunity to view the beheading of Daniel Pearl, a journalist being held hostage by al Qaeda in Pakistan and subsequently murdered by them. I would not do this. My sense at the time was that viewing this video would alter me somehow and in a way that I wouldn`t likely be able to fully recover from. It was almost as if I was happy enough to view the aftermath of violence but didn
So apparently I am able to draw that line in my fascination for the macabre.
I think being familiar with something makes you more prepared to deal with it, when and if that time comes. I could barely handle the first time I was in a funeral home. When I was about 15 my best friend`s father died and I attended a visitation with my Dad. I remember shaking like a leaf as I was walking up to where the open casket was. I had no idea what I was expecting to see and was relieved to find that no true horror greeted me. Every time since has been okay.
I think the same thing applies to physical violence as well. If you have never experienced it at all, the first time you do it will be hard to handle. Afterwards you will measure your response and try to tailor it to the next time you are faced with more violence. Whether the violence is being bullied or simply a hard hit playing some sport, experiencing it makes it easier to cope with the next time.
My macabre inclination is certainly not all-consuming and it is not that I seek it out. When it crosses my path, though, I do not shy away and am happy to be lost, investigating.