Each year, for the last several years, I’ve said that I’d take Halloween off and celebrate it the way I wanted. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, but I knew it wasn’t dressing up or getting drunk or giving out candy. It wasn’t–or might not be–watching scary movies. I knew I needed to somehow pay attention to the dead, to reflect on people I’d known, loved and lost. I thought I should take one day a year and allow time for mortality.
And yet, each year, that isn’t what happened. Usually, work interfered. Halloween isn’t a national holiday, and it doesn’t appear on most businesses’ paid days off lists. Maybe if we treated the event more like Mexico…but, that isn’t the case. I was also thwarted by other circumstances, most of which I don’t recall. Finally, I didn’t commit. Death is hard enough to face without seeking it out. That doesn’t sound quite right, since my idea wasn’t to seek death, but to seek the dead. Not just remember them, though I’d be doing that. In metaphor, to converse with them.
I’m not religious or spiritual. I don’t believe in the supernatural. The dead are dead, and I can’t communicate with them except through memory. Since I own the memories, a psychologist or psychiatrist might say that I’m having a conversation with myself. I’m tricking myself. And, for what purpose?
One clear reason is to grieve. Some people dwell on misery. They are leeches, attaching themselves to the horrible in life and filling themselves with sad blood. Others refuse to see anything but goodness and light. In their worlds, murder, deceit, corruption, madness, perversity…all of these are distant fiction, as long as they aren’t affected. They can “tsk tsk” the stories, dismiss them with a momentary “well that’s just awful” that is no more meaningful a mantra than “pass the ketchup”.
Most of us are in between. We deal with the dead by habit and by upbringing. We’re forced into confronting them at funerals, or when we hear of an accident that our wives or friends or parents might have been in. We may, for a few minutes, imagine being told of their deaths, and of going to their funerals. Maybe we wonder what we’d say, if we had to deliver the eulogy. In those moments, I think we do more than rediscover our love, and we do more than momentarily grieve. We actively hug the future, we let go of trivia, and we can more easily accept our own impending deaths. We practice how we’ll behave when invited to Death’s court.
So, what have I actually done today?
The very first thing I did, after the usual morning shower, was to check email. I promised myself I’d only do this once, and so far (as of 6:50pm) I’ve stuck to that promise. In fact, I haven’t done much of anything on the computer, except write. This morning, I had a good breakfast of Huevos Rancheros at First Watch. I usually take a book with me, something that can stand interrupting. I’ve been working my way through a series of pulp novels from the 1930s and 40s featuring a character named Doc Savage. These are perfect light reading. My current title is The Spook of Grandpa Eben.
After breakfast, I watched the special features for the film A Prairie Home Companion. I had watched the film last night. If you’re a fan of Garrison Keillor’s radio show, the movie will surprise you in both what it is and is not. It is not merely a lifting of his radio work, nor a light hearted afternoon’s entertainment. It is an oddly affecting, sensitive, tale that at times plays like an art film. It’s very funny, featuring brilliant performances from award winning (or nominated) actors Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Tommy Lee Jones, Virginia Madsen, Woody Harrelson, and John C. Reilly. It is also sad, and it’s the sadness that I didn’t expect. I recommend this rich, textured movie.
A long time ago–sometimes it seems like another life entirely–I was headed toward a career in classical music. I still play my violin every once in a while, as I did today, especially when I need to remember who I am. My fiddle belonged to my great grandfather on my mother’s side. I’m lucky to come from a very musical family. Whenever I play, I hope that some of their brilliance will leak through time, space and genetics into my fingers. There’s nothing better in life than making music.
Lunch was had at the Glendale Pub, and consisted of a blackened salmon sandwich and a finely crafted brown ale from Bell’s brewery. Dessert was a pumpkin cheesecake. I went to the bank, then returned my movie and rented The Butterfly Effect, which had been on my list for a long time. But I promised myself I’d write today, so I composed the first half of this entry before watching it.
I remember reading reviews of the movie that were mildly complimentary, but not overly. I’m not sure why. Maybe this is one of those cases where the director’s version was superior to the theatrical release. I don’t know, because I only watched the director’s cut. I was not only impressed with the script, I was impressed with the story and the very dark presentation. It’s a difficult movie to watch. In the end, I’m glad I did. At any other time, I’d have merely praised it for its many merits. Today, it helped provide a much needed release from serious personal issues in my life. I got lucky. The Butterfly Effect fit perfectly–and unexpectedly–with my day.
After recovering from the film, I went to dinner at the Glendale Gaslight Cafe (not to be confused with the Pub). It’s a nice place, somewhat of an “old people’s restaurant”, which was perfect since it’s usually quiet and the staff are used to giving good service. I enjoyed a top sirloin, green beans and garlic mashed potatoes, peppermint tea, and carrot cake.
And now I’m back home, writing this second part of tonight’s entry. Coming up are a hot bath, then my annual viewing of Something Wicked This Way Comes, the film based on Ray Bradbury’s novel.
And after that, more writing. Aren’t you happy?
Here’s a little untitled Halloween poem. Very rough, but might be worth editing.
My candles don’t lie, when they give shifting light to the walls Truth isn’t incandescent. No ninety watt epiphanies here. Instead, what’s real is revealed among the horse shadows chasing behind the flame. We’re temporary, oxygenated, awaiting our day of snuffing. We waver like belly dancers who wear yellow silk, and whose waists promise dances that never happen.
Have you breathed in a room with a thousand candles? The air tastes like scorpions, you expect a lava sun, yet it’s always twilight. Monks meditate on the missing places–so they say. Like designers who construct the impression of walls by how they arrange chairs, the pillars of candle flames pretend to be day, but just move night around.
Kids will stare, retinas protesting, for an hour, waiting for a black wick to cough its fire and return to burnt string. They recognize, no adult prompting needed, that the candle eats itself, swallows its wax, puts itself out. They notice themselves the instant it’s gone. Their skin chills when a passing parent says, “Good night!” and extinguishes it.
Maybe this is why we light them in churches, in monasteries, at dinner when we want things special and, a few minutes before our date arrives, we remember our grandmother, how she smiled serving ham, we laugh and strike a match. We hear a gloved hand knock. We answer, kiss, walk her inside. For a moment, independently, its melting arrests us.