Today Sailing, a Denver wife, writer and mother of two, says she enjoys a healthier mental state through occasional acts of self mutilation -- from burying needles in her skin to deliberately opening her epidermis with razor blades. "This is a way of dealing with the problems I had in the past," Sailing says. "It's a way of turning it all around and putting the pain in a situation that I'm in control of, that isn't hurting me or destructive. It's very therapeutic on that level."
This Friday, Sailing will dose herself with another session of blades and blood, and the public is invited to watch. As the organizer of the Death Equinox '99: Cyber-Psychos Convergence III, she will be the center of attraction in DE's annual "Torture of the Chair Tyrant" session. For one hour, Sailing, who pens dark fiction novels and publishes the Cyber-Psychos AOD magazine, will read one of her works while being subjected to treatment more at home in a slasher's dungeon. "Last year they used razor blades and hot needles, melted candle wax, things like that," Sailing says drolly. "From what I've heard, this kind of thing isn't done anywhere else, and yet you'd think it would be. Everyone wants to see the chairperson get tortured at a convention."
But DE '99 is not a typical convention. Hailed as a celebration of all things "bleak & absurd," it is certainly the most ghoulish get-together of the year. The conference features crypts full of Addams Family-styled fun, everything from sci-fi art, gothic erotica and gender deviations to "spider sex" and do-it-yourself torture equipment for the home playroom. And for Sailing, there will be blood. Her time in the spotlight may provide evidence for people who would argue she's hardly a successfully recovering abuse victim.
But Sailing looks at her unique brand of self-help and performance art as "basically a carnal alchemy ritual where you transmute yourself into gold through pain. It's a transcendence ritual: You go through the pain and see how you come out in the end, which is a big aspect of Death Equinox -- transcending pain and surviving the tough aspects of life." Reading while bleeding, she says, "is a good test of the will" and offers an immediate payoff with heart-pounding, mind-clearing rewards. "I get a really good buzz from it," she reveals. "I get a huge endorphin rush. It's the best natural high I can get, and afterward I feel completely invigorated."
Attendees interested in playing with pain can take part in a pointed session of "play piercing." Willing participants become human pincushions, wearing dozens of needles for extended periods of time. "It doesn't really hurt that much," Sailing says, "and the only time you bleed is when they're being taken out. Everyone I've ever known who has done it didn't want them taken out."
Other strange pleasures at the event include a workshop on cocooning, in which visitors are enlightened on the joys of being immobilized in a body wrap of latex, plaster or, for the big-budget cocooner, fiberglass. There's a contest for "best artistically modified genitals." Contest rules remind competitors that "the more creative/bizarre/disturbing your genital enhancement, the more likely you are to win." And spider sex expert Gene Santagada will also be on hand with exotic spiders, which attendees can have climb over their bodies for creepy, crawly thrills.
Local horror author Edward Bryant is a veteran DE attendee, one of the many national and local authors who'll be on hand promoting their fringe fiction works. "People think I write weird," Bryant says, "but there are people at Death Equinox that make me look like Danielle Steele." He's not the S&M type at all ("I don't like pain," he says), but he feels that the more grisly aspects of DE are all part of the noir-arts sense of expression. Besides, he notes, they're carried out with care and precision. "The degree of decorum is astonishing. The people who do it in the context of Death Equinox are very sensitive about the idea that what they're doing might be misinterpreted as wacky behavior. They see it as a genuine aesthetic and go about it as grimly as any classically trained painter would take on an art project. And, no, it won't be to everyone else's taste, but what kind of art is?"
For those who may be terrorized by the thought of people slicing and pinning up their skin, Sailing offers a few insights. For starters, the work is carried out with an almost overwhelming concern for sterility and hygiene, and she says those who wield instruments of torture are professionals. "You have to be very careful about how you do these things," she says, "or you can end up hurting yourself in ways you didn't intend. These are serious, positive people, very concerned with safety and not self-destructive at all," she adds. While many people might snicker at this last statement, Sailing's not concerned about the uninformed perceptions of others. "Maybe," she says, "you have to really go through a lot suffering in life to be able to turn around and look at it from this viewpoint.
"Most people at DE have been through a lot," Sailing adds. "They've been suicidal in the past, been diagnosed with mental problems or drug problems, and they're looking at it as a way to purge all of that and hold yourself together. This is a way to meet your fears head on. The basic focus is a rebirth of any type, spiritual, emotional, whatever. The Death Equinox is the autumn equinox, and the basic concept is that in fall, people tend to be depressed while it gets cold for the winter."
Whatever gets them through the night.