31 Days of Halloween

I'm something of a Halloween addict. As soon as the first pumpkins begin to appear in the waning days of August, I can feel the excitement building and, by the time the calendar flips to October, I can barely contain myself. This mania culminates with the Carving of the Pumpkins, a ritual that takes on an almost Holy reverence in my home, but a close second to the joy I get from slicing and dicing those orange bundles of joy is the act of watching at least one horror movie every day. This year, I decided to keep track of what exactly I watch. I wish I'd have kept it in chronological viewing order, but I lost track early on and going through piles of DVDs and blu-rays which I still haven't bothered to put away had to suffice. And so, here it goes.

1. Emelie
2. Dark Exorcism
3. He Knows You're Alone
4. The Funhouse
5. The Howling
6. Man VS.
7. Dark Fields
8. Martyrs (remake)
9. Rites of Spring
10. Sleepwalkers
11. A Nightmare on Elm Street
12. Hell Night
13. The Crazies (remake)
14. Candyman
15. Deathdream
16. Flesheater
17. Inside
18. Creepshow 2
19. Trick 'r Treat
20. Husk
21. Hellions
22. Grizzly
23. Slither
24. House of Wax (remake)
25. The Town that Dreaded Sundown
26. The Town that Dreaded Sundown (sequel)
27. Don't Look Now
28. The Mist
29. The Fog (remake)
30. Thinner
31. The Tooth Fairy
32. Deliver Us from Evil
33. The Burrowers
34. The House of the Devil
35. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
36. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
37. The Evil Dead
38. Night of the Demons
39. Night of the Demons 2
40. Night of the Demons 3
41. Pumpkinhead
42. Rest Stop
43. Murder Party
44. Mask Maker
45. Satan's Cheerleaders
46. The Hole
47. Clownhouse
48. Halloween
49. Halloween II
50. Halloween H20
51. Halloween Resurrection
52. Happy Hell Night
53. Monster Squad
54. Night of the Creeps
55. Satan's Little Helper
56. The Hollow
57. One Dark Night
58. Body Parts
59. Haute Tension
60. Lady in White
61. Trick or Treat
62. Mischief Night
63. Silver Bullet
64. Primal Rage
65. Madison County
66. 31
67. Dartmoor Killing
68. Mortuary
69. Hell High
70. Fender Bender
71. It Follows
72. Halloween III
73. The Purge: Election Year

Looking over this list, I feel accomplished and lame at the same time.  Pretty much how I feel every day. Happy Halloween!

Lessons from strangers

About 2 months ago I was in New Jersey doing research for an upcoming book. At the end of the day I left the hotel and went searching for food within walking distance. When I left the grocery store, I spotted a fairly disheveled guy who was probably in his 50s wandering aimlessly around the parking lot. He saw me and started in my direction. We met halfway and he asked me if I knew where he could find a shoe store.

Before I could get a few words out, he started talking. Over the next few minutes he told me that he and his girlfriend had just got out of rehab and lost their apartment and all of their possessions. They were living in a hotel and trying to get back on their feet.

He told me all of this before I could even inform him that I lived 6 hours away and had no idea where they could buy shoes. When I did manage to get in a word in and told him, he didn’t mind. I could tell he wanted, or maybe needed, to talk. It was a sweltering afternoon so we sat down on the sidewalk in the shade of the store awnings and ended up chatting for around 20 minutes as he told me about their lives and struggles. He wasn’t complaining though and I could hear the optimism and hope in his voice. We even got in a little hockey-related chat (he was an Islander fan, poor guy). At the end of the conversation, I told him that I was sorry things were so rough for him and wished him the best. He responded in a way I didn’t expect. He said something like, “This is the happiest I’ve ever been. We’ve got our lives back and it’s a wonderful day. That’s all that matters.” I’ll never forget that.

As someone who is not married and has no children and for whom the future holds neither, I tend to define myself by my work and my “art” (I hate using that word, so pretentious). I’m always striving to create more, to get better, to do bigger things because that will ultimately be my only legacy. At times, I feel like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill. When I get the to top, with a new book or another successful year in business, the boulder just rolls back down the hill and I start over again. It’s a never-ending cycle and as a result, I occasionally struggle with discontentment, usually only for fleeting moments, but others times long stretches where I feel creatively lost and empty and wonder if I’m on the right path.

On that day though, I learned so much from that guy, with his almost comically thick Long Island accent, ragged clothes and positive attitude. It’s amazing what lessons other people, even perfect strangers, can teach you if you’re willing to listen. It’s a daily struggle, but I keep reminding myself to live in the day and not get caught up in what could be or what might have been.

Thoreau wrote, I think in Walden, “It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.” When you look at your life, it’s easy to think about what you want. A better job, a nicer car, a bigger house, more money, a new city, etc. but contentment won’t come from any of those things. Instead, when you look at your life, see what you do have. I’d wager you have more than a guy living in a hotel room with nothing more than the clothes on his back.

Take a moment and close your eyes and think about someone you love or care about, even if they can annoy the heck out of you sometimes. That’s where you’ll find your peace. Appreciate life’s simple joys. Love your friends and your family. Be grateful for the breath you just took.

And be happy. Above all, be happy.

Life

When I was a junior in high school, I began writing a monthly column for a magazine. It was a job I would keep for nearly a decade and it gave me my first real experience as a writer. When I graduated, my mother offered to buy me personalized stationery, which I could use when querying publications and production companies. I took her up on that offer and made sure to include a quote on the bottom of the paper. It was a quote by Robert Browning that I’ll never forget.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a Heaven for?”

At the time, as an 18 year old with adulthood seemingly far ahead of me, that struck me as an incredibly insightful declaration. I had set many goals for myself at a young age - I even made a list. In the years since then, I have achieved every single goal I set. The most improbable (writing a movie and getting it produced by a Hollywood film studio) happened when I was only 21. I still remember being on set and seeing actors who I had watched in countless films and TV shows growing up, acting out roles and reciting dialogue which I had created. It was surreal, to say the least. But please don’t bother seeking it out, it wasn’t that good.

Over the next few years I kept ticking off more and more of those “goals” until, in the fall of 2014 the last one was accomplished when my first book was published. I have 2 more non-fiction books in the works and my first novel should be available later this year (unless I pull a last minute crash and burn, which is certainly within the realm of possibility). In the meantime I’ve also started a successful photography business and photographed everyone from movie stars to a US president.

I write all of this not to pat myself on the back in the least. My goals were not that lofty to begin with and much of the success I achieved was of the middling variety. I write this because my grasp has finally caught up to my reach and I’m now at a point where I’m fine with that. I’ve also realized that Browning’s quote, while certainly meaningful and inspiring for many, constantly wanting more has no interest to me anymore.

I have nothing against those who dedicate their lives to bettering themselves. They’re the people who cure diseases and start missions to Mars and run countries. But for most of us, we’re not going to do any of those things. We’re going to live our lives in relative anonymity and when our candle winks out, our legacy will not be of the “First man on the Moon!” variety.

My life has been filled with more blessings and good fortune than I ever thought possible, but when I look back at the things I’ve done, I see how little any of those goals mattered. Achieving them didn’t make me a better person. If anything it hindered me at the time because it only made me want “more” and not be happy with what I already had accomplished. It’s easy to get caught up on that hamster wheel of life where you keep working harder or going for more schooling or trying to get a better job and you ignore the present because you’re too busy trying to plan for a future that none of us are guaranteed.

Happiness, for me, doesn’t come from my job or my accomplishments. I find happiness in watching my dog bark and yip like a wild coyote when he sees a deer. I find happiness in the first flowers of spring after a long, cold winter. I find happiness in the laughter of my loved ones. Happiness is a state of mind.

I have many young people as my “friends” on Facebook and if you’re reading this, please know that I’m not trying to dissuade you from following your dreams or achieving great things. I believe setting goals is an important part of life. But that’s all it is - a singular part of a huge puzzle. And a small piece at that - not even the border. ;)

Your life is much more than the things you accomplish. It’s your friends and family and pets. It’s waking up grateful and content. It’s being able to be completely alone (and I know from experience that you can be every bit as alone in a crowded room as you can be sitting atop a mountain ridge and watching the sun rise) and appreciating the solitude.

I’ve always had a bad case of wanderlust. Traveling is my passion and anyone who really knows me also knows my love of Maine. I’ve even gone so far as to look at real estate in that majestic, beautiful state and for a few years thought that, if I moved there, I could find peace. I know better now. While I’d love to return to Maine again and again on vacations, making it my home wouldn’t change anything. Home is within you. The actual physical location is simply window dressing.

On my travels, I frequently don’t reach the intended destination and I’m okay with that. There’s an ancient Taoist proverb that says, “The journey is the reward.” Now that’s a quote by which I can live.

In many ways, life is a marathon that we’re running at a sprinter’s pace. Along the way, if we’re not careful, we miss out on all the important parts because we’re focused on the finish line. Slow down. You don’t have to win the race. You don’t even have to complete it. You just need to have fun and appreciate the scenery.

tl;dr -Enjoy your life and don’t focus on the future.