I love Halloween. It is my favorite among all the holidays, and has been since I was a child.
My love for Halloween and all things eerie and uncanny manifested itself in me decorating my mother’s yard to unnerve candy-seeking visitors. These days, I still adorn the garden with spooky items every October, and elements of the supernatural frequently recur in my plays and short stories.
In 2015, the spectral season converged with social media postings and an unforeseen burst of creativity and, out of all that, I produced a “poem.”
Well, poem may be too strong a word, even though the piece has meter and it does rhyme. It is a bit of doggerel, a bastardization of Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” and the idea come to me because my friend Brenda dressed up as a sozzled clown by the name of Boozo, presented herself to her mother, Edna, and received the usual and expected maternal reaction of consternation and dismay.
Oh, and Brenda’s middle name is Kay, and her maiden name begins with the letter “B,” and Brenda Kay B. instantly intertwined in my mind with Annabel Lee, and my odd little ode was born. My sincere apologies to Edgar Allan Poe.
BRENDA KAY B.
It was now, in the present, not long ago past,
In a green house beside a dead tree,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know,
By the name of Brenda Kay B.
And this maiden she lived with a great many thoughts,
Of her Ghoulies and Ghosties set free.
And now, in the present, this right saucy lass,
In her green house beside a dead tree,
There she lives with much vigor and passion and vim,
The lass who is Brenda Kay B.
Much vim and much vigor as herself she surrounds,
With her Ghoulies and Ghosties set free.
And now, in this season, not long ago past,
In a green house beside a dead tree,
The Halloween spectres and spirits are rising,
To the delight of our Brenda Kay B.
Rising to startle and frighten and panic,
Brenda’s Ghoulies and Ghosties set free.
And now, in the present, not long ago past,
Far from the green house and dead tree,
The maiden did journey, clad garish and rainbow,
As clown Boozo, not Brenda Kay B.
A truly bad car wreck. Sad pigs in a fire.
Who needs Ghoulies and Ghosties set free?
Not now, not the present, but the most recent past,
Left behind – the green house and dead tree,
See Boozo confronting the Mother confounded,
She who bore our dear lassie, you see.
With a stare and a sigh, puckered brow and eyes wide,
Quoth THE EDNA, “OH, BRENDA KAY B!”
Way back when, many a long year ago, when I was a pre-teen, I was decking the halls with fear and horror, all in honor of October 31.
I began by fashioning tombstones out of old boards and paint. Every October, for the next several years, the tombstones graced the small garden plot beneath the living room window. I later added some spare parts from mannequins (discards from the store where I worked as a teenager), and bloody hands burst forth from the soil around the tombstones. My mother lent me some ragged old clothes which I stitched together and stuffed with crumpled newspaper to produce a saggy corpse perfect for a hanged man.
It wasn’t going to be enough simply to leave the cadaver slumped over near the front door, though. I wasn’t going to get the reaction I wanted with a scheme so modest. I began eyeing the tree in our front yard.
I found a rope and made a noose. I slipped the noose around the corpse’s neck. I tossed the rope over the tree limb that so conveniently overhung the concrete path to the front door. I hauled the hanged man aloft. Now, anyone seeking candy would have to pass directly beneath a dangling cadaver.
And yet, that wasn’t quite enough for me.
I eyed the tree again. I eyed the front window. There’s the ticket, I told myself.
I ran the rope over the tree limb, across to the house, and through the side window of the living room. The rope was high enough that, as darkness fell, it became difficult for approaching children and their parents to see the line strung overhead. They could, however, clearly see a cadaver dangling above their route to the door and the candy that waited there.
I lurked behind the drapes in the living room window. I couldn’t easily see the trick or treating children or their parents. I had to listen closely for their voices and for their footsteps as they shuffled through the fallen leaves on the driveway and the walk. I lurked and listened and gauged their approach as best I could, then I loosed the rope and let the hanged man fall. More often than not, I got exactly what I wanted. I heard shrieks and screeches, frequently from the parents rather than the children.
These days for Halloween, my front garden sports tombstones, a corpse bursting from the earth, zombie flamingos, spider webs aplenty, a spooky black trellis that glows with garish orange lights, and eight or so Jack-o’-lanterns.
No hanged man plummets from the sky to scatter crowds and cause screams, but...maybe... next year?
And who knows what poem, or play, or story might emerge because of this particular Halloween season?
I’m never sure where a plot point or a character or a line of dialogue will spring from. Like every other person on the planet, I’m bombarded with stimuli ever moment of every day. I overhear conversations (sometimes purely by accident). I meet “peculiar” characters on the street (and, yes, other people can see them, too). I watch a person think through an interesting choice or take a curious action (at least, I find it interesting and curious).
There is a LOT going on. It can be a real challenge to take it all in. But if I don’t pay attention, I won’t have the raw material to create characters and plots and dialogue.
Now that I’ve paid attention, I have to bank the goods. I have to record the remarkable person I’ve seen or the noteworthy incident I’ve observed. I can either write things down or commit them to memory. My memory is somewhat less trustworthy than it once was. A written record usually serves me best.
I’ve paid attention. I’ve recorded my observations. Now I have decisions to make to help me use the goods I’ve banked. I don’t try to preserve everything I witness, but I do save an awful lot.
I have to sort and parse. I need to discard the dross and keep only what is worthwhile. It’s hard to know how to go about doing that and how to make wise choices.
I have my written record - the resource that I draw upon when I write. It’s the seed bank in my own little plot of soil. But it’s a seed bank that offers up as much rubbish as it does treasure.
Horticulturists, crop scientists, and plain old gardeners reckon with seed banks when they work to coax plants from the earth. The soil those growers contend with is lousy with so much that they simply do not want, things like weeds, invasives, and toxic plants. All of those plants have to be rooted out in order to create the garden envisioned or the crop desired.
A first go-around is never enough. The gardener attacks with trowel, hoe, and garden knife. The writer attacks with red ink and the delete key. Eventually the plot looks clean and perfect. That lasts a moment. The weeds are still in the bank. The seeds will germinate. Weeds soon poke from the soil, mocking efforts to bring order and to make the plot tidy. The gardener and the writer attack again, and again, and again. And will attack until the end of time. There will always be more of what is not desirable and what is not wanted.
When I write, it’s reassuring to have so much to ponder and appraise. In theory, I can profit from having paid attention and banked the goods. But, more often than not, what at first pokes up in the plot is not of lasting value. I have to cast a cold eye on what I see germinating. I may say an immediate “yes,” to a few things. I will say an instant “no,” to many more. And a fair amount I will leave be for now in order to study and to calculate potential.
Most of what I see and store I will eventually root out. More will go by the wayside than will ever be used. It’s a luxury, though, to have so many options safely tucked away in that seed bank.
I’m very happy to announce that two of my plays are being produced by Evolution Theatre Company during the 2016 season. Evolution announced the 2016 season from the stage during the run of “Sordid Lives,” in September. The official announcement, via press release, should come soon.
My plays, “Sticks & Stones,” and “A Point of Diminishing Returns,” will be presented during the two weeks of the Local Playwrights’ Festival in May 2016.
“A Point of Diminishing Returns” will be offered the first week, one of four short plays, all written to feature a gay character involved in some way in the political arena.
The play revolves around Ulysses McKinley Rutherford Harding Garfield Hayes III, a venerable but clueless Ohio politician, who is hot on the campaign trail - busily shaking hands, kissing babies, and seeking votes. Unfortunately, Ulysses has chosen the wrong venue and the wrong audience for the stump speech he is about to deliver. And, when Ulysses decides to abandon his prepared remarks and speak from his heart, there’s nowhere to go but down for him and for the event.
“Sticks & Stones” will run the second week of the Festival. This is the play for which I received the 2014 CATCO and Greater Columbus Arts Council Playwrights Fellowship.
CATCO produced a staged reading of the play on June 28, 2015. One hundred twenty-one people attended! Audience response was positive and encouraging! And after the reading Evolution Theatre inquired about producing the play during their 2016 season!
“Sticks & Stones” tells the story of Janice Sanders, an older art critic, who uses her review to savage the works created by Kyle Jones, a young, transgender artist. Kyle uses a blog to out Janice as a closeted, hypocritical lesbian, and Janice threatens to sue for defamation. In conversations with their attorneys, with ghosts from their pasts, and with each other, Janice and Kyle struggle to understand each other and their very different lives.
I’m very excited about these two plays.
I’m very grateful to CATCO, GCAC, and Evolution Theatre for their interest in, and their support of my work.
Looking forward to 2016!