Everyday Terrors

For some reason, the notion of ghosts has followed me from early childhood. I blame my mother. For a good, wholesome Nebraska girl, she sure delighted in telling spooky stories. She’d begin a story told by such-and-such, way-back-when, and subtly shift into an untrustworthy narrator. Just like that. Therapy has helped.

I wrote my first story at age six. An underwater adventure, it could best be called derivative. Perhaps I had a gift for writing, or maybe it was self-defense.

Two to three years later came a stunning development in my supernatural education: some television network broadcast Robert Wise’s 1963 film The Haunting, an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s astounding novel, The Haunting of Hill House. If you’ve never seen the film, it can scare you sideways. Double that for book. (Personally, I find the resemblance between Shirley Jackson and my mother unsettling.)
Though I’m sure that, at some point, I’d been far more frightened by life than by that film, let’s put it this way: I don’t remember those instances. Not to spoil anything, but, during the scene where the door begins breathing, I was in that room, no other reality within reach. The shock and terror and unstoppable, flowing imagery followed me straight to bed, where I was expected to sleep.

Sometime during that long night (which probably involved 15 minutes of waking consciousness), I began to realize that a relatively clever and devious individual could simply make up a story and scare people silly. (I don’t remember if I shared this realization with my mother.) I do, however, recall that the next time that The Haunting came on television, I asked if could tape it with the family tape recorder. I’m not sure how this happened, but my parents said yes. To be perfectly frank, they probably had started worrying about me long before that.
Time passed, and, at a second-hand, paperback bookstore that my family often frequented, I found a book full of true ghost stories. They had to be true—it said so right on the cover. It might have been a Frank Edwards collection. I liked his books quite a lot, and the story of the Romanian girl attacked by an invisible vampire (while the police watched the bite marks appear) truly freaked me the hell out. Hey, it says it’s all true. Right on the cover.

Those books probably provided much inspiration when I finally connected the dots and realized that I could tell ghost stories, and people would completely lose their minds, particularly when those people were my cousins, clustered together in my aunt’s stone fruit cellar. With the door shut. Atmosphere makes such a difference.

Life rudely drew my attention from ghost stories, but something—a mysterious presence, let us say—remained. I’m not much on horror movies. It’s just not my thing. But a new ghost film, hmm, I might give it a chance. (As with most ghost hunters, I almost always come away disheartened.) I grew up and I calmed down, and, though I tried not to work for the clampdown, I favored blue and brown. By chance, I found one of those true ghost story collections in a favorite bookstore and, on impulse, bought it. I didn’t even know why. Perhaps I was beginning to feel the weight of responsibility and needed a vacation I couldn’t afford to take.

I learned an amazing thing, though. True ghost stories, read right before bed, relaxed me. Maybe they echoed from childhood; maybe they blunted the future. No matter how it worked, reading true ghost stories became my go-to when I wanted to loosen up before sleep. (Not insomnia. That usually required turning to Being and Nothingness.)

So I’ve been reading these damned things for years. It’s gratifying to read the good ones, but I’m not sure that it matters. What matters is the story. I can hold aside hyperbole, credulity, and even grammar for a solid ghost story that brings the chills and fills the shadows with unease. Maybe it feels like home.

Which is a long way to say I’ve written a new, full-length play, and it’s a ghost story. Somehow, I feel like I’ve been writing it for years.

Dallas

kennedyThe 22nd, and it becomes inescapable: the Kennedy assassination, 50 years ago. A before and after, where-were-you event.

I was a very young boy. In fact, the assassination may be my earliest conscious memory. There’s a fine way to start off a life: televised murder and national grieving before you know what death is. And people wonder why my work has a dark sensibility.

Here’s how the political becomes personal.

Continue reading

The New Thing


I’ve been away from the blog for awhile for (I think) a reasonable reason: I’ve been writing. Seriously.

I took the morning off from writing and spent some time reading my friend Jack Boulware’s very sharp and funny book Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day. You should check it out: it’ll make you want to immediately dye your hair green and stick a safety pin through your cheek.

I felt like I had the carte blanche to blow off the muse for the morning because yesterday I finished typing up Immaterial Matters, a new, full-length drama with which I am very, very pleased. I’m never a very good judge of my own work. First off, you’re always in love with a play when you’re writing it, even if it’s putting you through fits. Second, others often really like the stuff I end up a little indifferent to, and the work I become besotted with tends to be the stuff that generates an “eh” from others. I have no explanation for this, other than I have perverse taste. Sometimes, it ends up being vindicated; sometimes it just stays perverse.

But this one feels a little different. Writing’s generally hard, hard work, even when it goes well, but this thing was just a breeze from beginning to end. In fact, it was coming so easily that it began to freak me out—like I’d inevitably sit down with the notebook one day and be suddenly dry, dry, dry. Never happened. It was always there for me when I called upon it, which is a joy. It continually surprised me—another good sign—and, when I was typing it up (I write all my drafts in longhand, then type them, revising as I go), I’d slightly change a line, then pause and change it back to the original. This almost never happens.

So I don’t know. But I’m guardedly optimistic. As to the play itself: it’s set in 1880s, and it’s about a photographer, death, and a ghost.

And that’s about all I’m saying for now.

How Bizarre

At 3:00 AM this morning, they found Mitch Mitchell, drummer for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, dead in Portland’s Benson Hotel. That’s about a block away from where I work. Apparently natural causes. Sixty-one.

Jimi Hendrix’s drummer, Mitch Mitchell, found dead at Portland hotel

Strange. I guess when you go, you go…but who would have thought Mitch Mitchell would cash his check in Portland? (And Jimi being from Seattle.)

Well…rest in peace, sir.

I "Heart" Wonkette…or…Don’t Make Any Long-Term Plans

So, like, there’s this huge sattelite, see, that we put up last year, but, like everything this administration does, it doesn’t work for shit, and it turns out it’s going to, like, enter the atmosphere or something, and, like, the fuel tank’s full of this really toxic crap because, well, it makes sense to use really toxic crap when you’re putting up something that rotates around the world and burns up into zillion pieces if it re-enters the atmosphere because we screwed it up or something, and so the really, really simplest way to deal with it is the way Americans have always dealt with shit that goes wrong: we’re going to blow it up into a zillion million pieces on March 6th so all those pieces can re-enter the atmosphere like everywhere. This is called supply-side aeronautics (and that’s an economics joke, so nevermind).

Which normally would kind of upset me–the idea that burning hunks of space junk are going to be falling from the sky and we don’t know where–but the Wonkette and her readers are so absolutely cynical and funny about the whole thing that it somehow makes me feel better: kind of like the surgeons in the film version of M*A*S*H who could crack jokes while arteries are spurting.

The Lovely Wonkette

It just goes to show, snark will get you through burning hydrazine every time.