The Pain Journal front cover

Front cover for The Pain Journal

By Bob Flanagan
Published in 2000 by Smart Art Press

Let me begin this review by saying Bob Flanagan is my personal hero.  I am aware that this is sure to color my response to this book so I want to be upfront about that.  Now you, the reader, have been informed. I find myself rather confused as to how to write this review without it turning into a persuasive essay intended to draw the reader into their own personal aspiration to be have Bob Flanagan become their hero. Fear not, I doubt that what draws me to him is in many folks.  Generally speaking, I am a bit bent.  That said, with no further ado, I will begin.

Bob Flanagan was an artist, masochist, and slave who had cystic fibrosis (CF).  He described the Pain Journal as “intended to be just a daily record, a minimum of a paragraph a day, and never meant to be read unedited by anyone but me.” His summery beats any I could write so there you have it.  The first entry is dated December 27, 1994 and the last December 16, 1995.  Bob died a few weeks later on January 4, 1996.  Though Bob became known best for his BDSM exhibitions, the pain detailed in the journal is mostly related to his CF and the dying process he goes through.

The journal is indeed a daily record of his thoughts, a simple chronicling of his day’s activities mostly.  Things like watching too much TV, feeling bored, losing his ability to orgasm, losing his desire to be sociable while at the same time missing contact with his friends. It is mundane for the most part yet within the entries you get more than you might expect.  He is authentic.

Authenticity is sort of a catchy phrase these days.  Lots of self help books tell us to be authentic, relationship guides insist on it as fundamental, and hipsters vet their idols on their perceived authenticity. We see being authentic as noble and expect to be able to receive it from others. Meanwhile we are ourselves cloaked internally and rarely even let ourselves be aware of what our own inner demons are up to.

We do not reveal ourselves to anyone, especially not ourselves.  How often do we wipe a booger under the front edge of our car seat and send an updating email to our lover?  Is it the norm to give voice at a dinner party to our predilection for wishing people in our lives dead so that we inherit money and can sleep late instead of going to work Monday mornings? Or that we fantasize about gang bangs and dogs and lust for power and freedom from being kind or nice or polite or even clean? No, we don’t even say these things in whispers to ourselves.  We are hidden and unknown.

In the lifestyle I choose to live, I am a slave like Bob. What is the life of a slave?  Exposure. It is belonging to another, fully.  Even the dark little twisted places.  Those places belong to the Master.  All is theirs. Nothing is hidden.  Bob is the slave of his wife Sheree Rose.  She tells him to write and so he does.  He writes all of it, the pretty, the boring, and the shameful.  It is all there, even his own musing about his internal thought editing as he wonders if he is trying to think ‘noble’ things so that he can write things people will admire once he dies.

It is his authenticity that makes him my hero.  I see his life as a model of authentic living.  The model of who and what I try to be as a slave and a woman. The Pain Journal is his real experience of coming to his own end.  If I can live my life even half as authentically as Bob, I will be proud of myself.

Perhaps the section of the book that touched me most though was not written by Bob.  Sheree Rose writes a short essay as the last chapter titled “In Semi-Sickness and in So Called Health, I’m Still in Love with You.” She tells of falling in love with Bob, their life together, and finally his death.  Then she shares an experience she had after Bob died where she felt he was haunting her due to their forever vows of love. An acquaintance tells her that these eternal vows will prevent her from ever finding happiness with another person.  She does not feel regret at having this affliction, instead she is “elated that Bob is still so close.” That is the love I hope I will always have for my husband and Master. He is truly my whole world and I wept as I read Sherri’s words because that is a fate I also aspire to. She loves him though he is dead and what could be more powerful than that.

I can’t promise you will enjoy this book as much as I did.  I can’t promise that you will even get through it. It is, after all, an unedited personal journal written by a man who is dying and many times heavily medicated. But I do promise you that if you do read it, you will think differently about your own authenticity and how you choose to spend your days until you too come to your own end. It is worth your time.