Monthly Archives: February 2010
My short story “Dead Line”—about paranormal investigators who start a paranormal crisis hotline and get unexpected results—has just been accepted for the May issue of Death Head Grin.
In other news, writer Tamara Linse, whom I met at the Miami Writers Institute last May, has asked me to write an article for her blog. I’m thrilled, and am hard at work on something now. It’s an honor to be asked by a writer who’s so enormously talented—her work has appeared in Word Riot, Prick of the Spindle and the Georgetown Review, among others. Tamara’s latest short story, “Revelations,” makes its debut in Fried Chicken and Coffee this month, and it’s quite a ride (nice and dark and right up my alley)! You can check that out here.
Back in the Fall of 2008, The Pitkin Review (of which I was Editor-in-Chief) published the opening scene from playwright Craig Thornton’s newest: The High Cost of Heating. Although it was the team of Drama Editors that chose what was published in that genre and it was all done by blind-judging and number of votes, I had to read all the submissions from all the genres, so I’d have a better feel for what was selected in the end.
I remember the scene from The High Cost of Heating being one of my favorites. The play’s premise: a couple, presumably with issues, comes home on a freezing New Year’s Day to find their monthly heating bill has not only skyrocketed, but is physically growing. I was absolutely charmed. I found it a fresh, unique idea that appealed to the nine-year-old Creature from the Black Lagoon addict in me.
But it made me think about the life of a heating bill. Seriously. Here’s an ordinary heating bill, right? It goes up a few cents per month, and you pay it. It goes up a few more cents per month, and you pay it. A few years go by and you might suddenly examine it and realize that it’s way out of control. Your bill that was originally $100 a month is now $300 a month. And there’s no way to get it all the way back down again—mostly because all the rates have gone up so high that to cut your bill by $200 would mean living without your TV, your microwave, and every other gadget in your life that is now so integral to your daily routine you wouldn’t know what to do. So you make a half-hearted attempt to cut back, maybe switch to some lower-watt energy efficient light bulbs, and keep paying the bill as it goes up, and up, and up. Eventually you give up completely on cutting back and you start putting big-ticket items in your house like big-screen TVs and giant stereos, which then become, also, things that you can’t live without. And it feeds on itself. Until you die and your kids are stuck paying the last electric bill out of your estate.
Now think of that as one big extended metaphor for what goes on in some relationships. Only the heating bill is that problem or issue between two people that’s never really addressed. You ignore it, then you put up with it. Then you make compromises for it and excuses for it. Then one day it’s become this giant thing with teeth that’s threatening to rip you both to pieces, but when you look around at the life you’ve built together you realize it’s become too intertwined to really untangle easily, so you ignore the problem some more and put up with it a little longer. And the problem continues to grow until one of you dies—and the survivor is left feeling horribly guilty about never having any of those issues resolved.
Okay, so who wants to move to the tropics?
The revised, completed version of The High Cost of Heating is making its debut as a staged reading today at 2 p.m. at Trinity Auditorium in Watertown, NY. Craig was recently interviewed about The High Cost of Heating by Todd Moe of North Country Public Radio and so, to celebrate the play’s success—and because I don’t know how many of you live anywhere near Watertown so you can attend the event—I’m posting it here for you all to enjoy. You can either click on the link to go to NCPR’s archives and listen to it on their page, or, you can click on the audio and listen to it right here on mine.
“Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than the love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.”
~ Derek Wolcott, Trinidadian poet, playwright, writer, and visual artist
Knowing I was in P-Town withdrawal, my friend Pete sent me a photo on my cell phone. When it arrived and I opened the message, I didn’t know what I was looking at until I read the accompanying note: shards of an old beveled mirror. I knew why he’d sent it—I love broken, shattered, abandoned stuff; it wasn’t intended to go any deeper than that.
But it kept bugging me. I felt like it meant something.
I looked at the picture again and again, trying to figure out why I felt so drawn to it, what it was trying to say. I’m in Danbury, CT, so the day I received it was miserable, gray and snowy with the promise of four more days of it and horribly plowed roads, of course. Where he was in Provincetown, Mass., it was a clear, warm day: in the photo, the sun glinted brightly off the shards of glass.
I figured it out.
A year ago, I read a short story called “The Party Over There” by Jennifer Rachel Baumer. It was one of those pieces that blew me away to the point where it still haunts me.
It has to do with a woman’s desperate desire to escape her life. At first, she takes solace in what she finds in her mirror. Then she realizes she can take it one step further—but it will require shattering that which has given her comfort. Forever. She has to give up what is safe and comfortable so she can take a risk and go forth into the unknown. Which might end up being worse.
Enter the cliché: the grass is always greener on the other side. I believe this phrase’s original intent was to remind us that we need to be happy with what we have. That life will not, couldn’t possibly, be any better if we go shakin’ the tree. Desire for something different is dangerous. So what if you’re a little unhappy? You should be glad things aren’t worse. Some people do, I’m sure, get up every day, look in the mirror, and say, ‘this, what I have, is truly awesome. I am so happy with my life I don’t want to change one thing.’ But what about those who get up and say, ‘this, what I have, is good enough. It’s convenient and safe. I can put up with some stuff I don’t like so I don’t have to deal with the pain of change.’ In this context, the grass is greener sounds like an excuse. I’m convinced, now, that this is what some people say when they’re just too afraid to make any kind of change. This is what they say to console themselves, to justify the fact that they’d rather sit around and stagnate.
But on the positive side, the grass is greener is a romantic notion: I could have a better life if I did X. This can inspire change. The grass is greener is really all about hopes and dreams. I mean, if we were that wise and could see the results of all of our risks before we take them—positive or negative—would we even think about shaking up the routine? Would we even bother examining our lives, would we even bother looking in the mirror and trying to change ourselves? Would we need mirrors at all?
Where’s the adventure in that?
I, for one, think all those shards look pretty in the sun.
If you’d like to read “The Party Over There” by Jennifer Rachel Baumer, you can find it in Ghost Writing: Haunted Tales by Contemporary Writers, edited by Richard Weingarten. Any lover of horror stories should have this anthology on his shelf: I’ve read many, many collections, and this one is by far the best because the stories in it totally break the mold. If you enjoy what I write, you’ll enjoy this collection. You can purchase it here.
As most of you know, I love a good ghost story. The most recent feature we’ve got over at Read Short Fiction is just that! If you’ve read my short story “Wailing Station” and enjoyed it, I’m pretty sure you’ll like this one—Farrell has done a beautiful job with atmosphere, and the tale is reminiscent of Jack London’s scarier pieces. For best results, read “The Tale of Rauðúlfr” in the middle of a snow storm in front of a roaring fire.
For those of you who don’t know I’m back from P-Town. It was the most productive month full of interesting adventures! Re-adjusting to the real world will be a long, slow process. It’s all good. And so is my recent news!
“Paisley Surprise” was accepted to Lame Goat Press’ upcoming Inner Fears Anthology due out a little later this year.
“Punctuation” is now available in the Winter 2010 issue of ESC! Magazine. If you’d like to read the story, you can click this link and read it for free: http://media.libsyn.com/media/escwebs/ESCv13n2w_contrib08t67.pdf
I do, however, encourage everyone to support the small presses that give writers’ works a home. If you’d like to purchase a hard copy, you can head over to this link here: http://www.escmagazine.com/
The great and terrible beauty in Robert Frost’s work.
I experience my first touch of regret
for a voyage undertaken
too early, while wholly too late.
~ Melissa Duckworth, from the poem “Adrift”, first published in The MacGuffin, 2004
On my last day in Provincetown there was one place I’d never been: The Dunes. While most known, probably, for the presence of dune shacks—where famous writers and artists stayed to work—they’re also a popular tourist destination. But when we pulled the car over at an entrance point on Route 6, I had no idea—although I’d seen pictures—what venturing in would mean.
In 1974, my father wrote a paper called “Robert Frost: An Alternate View.” Not a very exciting title, I know, but accurate. His paper establishes that “the stereotyped portrait of Robert Frost is that of an American romantic—a “Farmer Brown,” so to speak—who loved nature and wrote affectionately about it” and then posits to the contrary: that “Frost is presenting a view of natural process which is always uncaring and often cruel and heartless” and that he “pictures a dark and hostile world bent on breaking the spirit of man.”
My journey into The Dunes brought his thesis alive. Just like in Frost’s poetry, everywhere there was a strange beauty born of nature’s violence. Sea grasses whipped in the wind left intricate geometric patterns in the sand; a tree repeatedly brow-beaten by storms seemed to be rooted on both ends, forming a graceful arch; a freshly-dead seal carcass’ blood gleamed like a ruby against a monotonous beach. Simultaneously, there was the ugly presence of man-made objects in various states of decay. A rusted washing machine; shattered wine bottles; cracked and sand-filled plastic containers; splintered painted boards. This lent the landscape an unsettling air: these objects were alien beings in a warring world in which they couldn’t possibly survive.
But, as my father wrote, “The darkness, however, offers a strange fascination that entices man. It is a lure of beauty that is commingled with a lure of destruction.” The Dunes is a beautiful and irresistible danger-fraught wasteland.
Like many situations in life.
 Charles W. Petersen, Robert Frost: An Alternate View. (Unpublished: April 30, 1974), p. 1
 Ibid., p. 3
 Ibid., p.17
 Ibid., p. 8
This was taken from a high point up off of Route 6 and shows The Dunes, where we were headed. The body of water you see in this photo has an interesting history. Originally, it was called East Harbor, and was Provincetown fishing fleet’s winter home. 1868, however, brought the construction of a dike to accommodate a railway and a roadway (where several seasonal resorts and cottages sit now). In 1910, the US Geological Survey re-named the body of water Pilgrim Lake.
The name stuck until 2008, when the USGS agreed to change the name back to East Harbor. If you’d like a much more detailed history, here’s a great article by the Provincetown Banner’s Kaimi Rose Lum.
The video below shows the full panoramic view: from this hill, you can see Truro, P-Town, and the bay beyond.
* WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT AHEAD: ANIMAL CARCASS. IF SQUEAMISH, YOU MAY NOT WANT TO CONTINUE, OR SCROLL QUICKLY DOWN THROUGH TO THE NEXT RED TYPE YOU SEE*
Major. Score. Well, for me, anyway. When we were sitting on this quiet beach with not a soul around us, we noticed two large sea birds picking away at a carcass—a stunning dollop of red against miles of brown monotony. “That looks like a seal,” Pete said. I don’t know how he could tell what it was from that far away, but it turned out he was right. I’ve never actually seen a beached dead mammal up close, and having volunteered at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut and helped out with animal rehabilitation, this was exciting—and a perfect example of what I’d discovered on our journey about the violence of nature.
Although Pete noted he thought it odd there were only two birds around the carcass—two birds who politely stepped away and let me take my photos and then returned when I was done—the markings in the sand indicate that there probably had been more than just these two at one time. I also thought—because of the brightness of the blood, the moistness of the innards, and the lack of smell—that the animal had been killed very recently (within the past twelve hours, maybe?) and most likely washed ashore and was left behind as the tide started pulling out. I took these photos at 12:45, and the last high tide was at 11. So it could have either been left behind just then, or left behind earlier, when the tide pulled out at 4 in the morning. I’d probably have a better answer if I’d paid attention to how wet the sand was. I’m regretting that now.
Of course, nobody knows when or how this poor creature died. But I have my romantic notions about shark attacks and boat propellers because of the way the body is twisted. While there’s a possibility that the seal washed up intact and then a large animal ravaged it, I don’t know if coyotes or whatever would have left this much meat behind. WHERE ARE YOU, BRUCE SHILLINGLAW, MARINE BIO GUY EXTRAORDINAIRE? YOU’RE GOOD AT THIS STUFF! COMMENT!
Because I just wanted more for the record, the video below is a roundabout of the carcass. There’s no sound except the wind, so it’s actually eerie.
* END GRAPHIC CONTENT*
The video, below, shows Pete checking it out. It’s an old washing machine, turned upside-down, and it’s full of wine bottles and trash.
There’s an abandoned geology lab in Truro, so we geared up and headed out. Despite the fact that Pete said it wasn’t the place he was thinking of—there was an even cooler place just down the road—the lab was not only a beautiful example of art in decay, it was crammed with dated core samples and littered with items that didn’t seem like they’d belong in a geology lab. I love stuff like that, so I think it made a pretty fine “big ticket item.”
So I’ll give you the big news first: WE THINK WE CAUGHT TWO EVPs. I stress the word think–they’re still being looked at. An unexplained whispering in the “Pill Bottles” video, and an unexplained moan in the “Pete with Butt” video. I wish my camera had better audio, but there’s something definitely there. I have sent both videos off to qualified people with forensic experience in sound and better equipment. We’ll see what happens.
In the alleged EVP in “Pill Bottles”, I think the key will be if we can actually understand what the hell it says without totally front-loading. What we do know is that it’s not the wind (it was a still day and there was no wind in the building), it’s definitely broken into specific words, it wasn’t me (holding the camera and I’m rather loud) and it’s not Pete — his voice, although soft, is clearly masculine; this whisper has that spooky androgynous quality I’ve heard on far too many of Nathan’s EVPs.
As far as the “moan” in “Pete with Butts,” I can’t deny it could’ve been natural causes, although I think I would’ve heard something with my own ears if it were that loud — we were both very aware of sounds around us for safety reasons and pretty much stopped to listen if we heard something odd. But I must admit, those woods are full of coyotes, and people do walk their dogs there. If we can clean it up enough to hear it better, we may be able to identify it as an animal.
There’s very little about this location that pops up in any online research; however, I’m certain the NPS on the sign is an acronym for National Park Service, which manages, of course, the Cape Cod National Seashore. What I did find online was a very interesting Geologic Resource Evaluation Scoping Summary prepared by John Graham of the Geologic Resources Division of the National Park Service (US Department of Interior) and published on July 15, 2008. This fourteen-page PDF may give us some clues about the work they were doing in the building.
First, the document details exactly what they do know about the area’s geologic make up, and discusses extensive mapping procedures, especially of the area they call “North Truro”, which is where this lab is located. I have a feeling that this lab may have been partly responsible for some of the information contained in the report and many of the maps, possibly, that he refers to which have now been “digitized.”
Second, the building is littered with core samples. In the report, Graham talks a great deal about “stratigraphy” — a branch of geology that studies rocks and their layering. As far as I can remember, one of the practices used in any of the types of stratigraphy (I won’t go into it here, you can look it up or just read the PDF) is coring.
Third, there were several signs in the building that must have been put out in areas where terns were nesting, and this would tie in with the core sampling, maybe, because terns are particularly susceptible to disturbances in their nesting areas. These signs might have been used to tell people where they weren’t allowed to core.
Fourth, Pete did find a few rolls of unused paper that would have been used in a seismograph. In Graham’s report he specifically points out that seismic activity in Cape Cod is monitored, due to an earthquake in the 1700s. According to him, if such an event were to happen today, Boston would be in a lot of trouble.
Of course, what we don’t know is why this place was shut down. Perhaps someday we can get to the core of it. Someone’s got an answer somewhere. But until then what we do have is speculation, and Pete’s romantic spin on things. He quickly pointed out that the abandoned biology lab we’d visited back on January 23 was full of the evidence of partying: tons of beer bottles, graffiti, two-thirds-full packs of cigarettes. All we found at the geology lab was one beer cap from a Newcastle, but Pete was pretty sure he knew who it belonged to, because he had a friend who’d come up there once by himself and had one beer but then left. “We found one beer cap,” he said. “Not a six pack, not a pack of cigarettes, no graffiti, nothing recent, nothing. Now, it’s the furthest point out, and it’s also the highest point, and who the hell wants to be hammered walking back from that shit? But, you know. Do you get what I’m saying?”
Yeah, I get what you’re saying, Pete.
These are all totally wild guesses on my part and I could be completely wrong, but it’s fun to think about. If you’d like to read John Graham’s report, it’s available here as a PDF hosted on this blog: CACO_scoping_summary_20081223. For purposes of citing the original source, which is the appropriate thing to do, here’s the link where it can be found online: http://www.nature.nps.gov/GEOLOGY/inventory/publications/s_summaries/CACO_scoping_summary_20081223.pdf. If you want a good ghost story or two, head on over to the “Read My Work” tab and check out “Screams of Autumn” or “Wailing Station.”
Photos and videos below; my little camera doesn’t do well with audio, so I put transcripts of what was said in the videos below each one. Keep in mind, also, that when we finally get around to analyzing those EVPs, we may not be able to decipher what it says due to the audio’s low quality. But for now you can try to listen to the whisper and the odd sound and make your own call.
About Walking on Insulation (Video)
This was a room at the back of the building which wasn’t locked, but the door to get in was badly warped. Pete managed to shoulder it open, though, and the ceilings are rapidly approaching non-existent–most of the material has fallen to the floor and is so decayed and wet you can’t even tell what it is (it also felt grossly squishy, like walking on sponges). The room featured several collapsing racks of geologic core samples that had been left behind. Most of the samples are dated, but don’t have any information as to the location from which they were taken.
Walking on Insulation Video Transcript
P: There’s racks and racks of core samples back here.
K: My God. I don’t even want to know what all this shit is we’re walking on right now.
P: It’s just old, smushed insulation.
Working Crank (Video)
Working Crank Video Transcript
P: Look at that, it still works.
P: That [wheel] makes it go…the crank makes it go up and down.
K: It still works?
P: Yeah, yeah. (Eerie sounds) Reminds me of that old game Myst.
About Pill Bottles (Video)
Of course, these weren’t really bottles of pills. They were probably sand samples; we couldn’t get into the mess to really pick any up and identify them. This was also the room–you’ll see it in the video–where there are signs warning about disturbing nesting terns. In addition, listen closely–with good headsets, or try to load it through your i-Tunes, it helps–to the moment before I say, “wanna go hit the warehouse?” This is the first of the alleged EVPs we picked up.
Pill Bottles Video Transcript
K: Just, the deterioration on that roof is like–
P: Did you ever see so many pill bottles in your life?
P: Those look like sand samples, maybe, or I dunno, that’s what it looks like.
[Unexplained whispering JUST before K says ‘wanna go hit the warehouse’; neither of us spoke, this could be an EVP, I’ll have to check it out. We will keep you posted either way in a future blog post.]
K: Wanna go hit the warehouse?
P: Get what you can from here [referring to photos]
About Pete with Butt (Video)
Honestly, I just shot this because he was holding paperwork and reading it with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and for some reason this cracked me up. But the paperwork he found was pretty interesting, so I’m sharing this here. He’s been to this location before and noted that there was much more paperwork in the drawers of the desk, but since the last time he visited, the drawers have completely rusted to the point where they can no longer be opened.
Also note that this is the video that contains the second alleged EVP that sounds like a moan. It’s noted in the transcript.
And no, we didn’t leave any cigarette butts behind. We’re explorers, not litterers.
Pete with Butt Video Transcript
P: It’s a contract work schedule.
K: Really? (Thumping of boots on broken door; to self): Gotta make sure this holds (unexplained moan or sound in background immediately ensues. This is the second thing that may be an EVP we have to check into. We’ll keep you posted whether we think it’s legit or not).
P: Contract work to commence immediately on June 1, 1976.
K: Oh my God, it’s like the old typing.
About Attic Ladder (Video)
This was the total jackpot of this place, I thought, because of the awful memories it evoked for me. This video was when we first discovered the stairs, and we’re talking about it; this is just before Pete convinced me it was safe enough for me to climb up there (he did it himself, first). The roll of paper you see him checking out on the desk is the one that I suspect would have been used in a seismograph that I mentioned earlier in this post.
No transcript for Attic Ladder Video — it’s me and I’m loud.
Had lunch at the Governor Bradford in P-Town on Friday, went to use the Ladies’ Room, and this was on the door inside the stall facing the john. TOTAL WIN! Had I been drinking wine at the time, it would have come out my nose.
This probably won’t make the Fail Blog since it’s not obvious in the photo that the ad is on the inside of a bathroom stall and that’s really the joke, so I decided to upload it and just share it with all of you here. If you’d like to check out the original, however, you can do that here.
Let’s be honest: Provincetown is a giant sandbar. Many of the homes here are built on sand. Some have basements, but there are some that don’t, especially the older ones.
I had to opportunity to go exploring beneath one of the older homes here on Thursday. My next-door neighbor Pete had to go beneath a house to make sure there wasn’t anything that needed immediate attention, like broken water pipes. We opened up an access hatch in the kitchen floor and shimmied down a narrow ladder into a musty, spider-infested jigsaw puzzle of rocks and boulders.
The floor was beach sand peppered with brittle driftwood; mats of dried seaweed—probably from prior to the foundation’s caulking—were thick over old rusted sewer pipes and broken cement. What was most interesting were the concrete blocks stacked in odd places. “Holding up the joists,” Pete pointed out. “Just wedged in there. Totally unstable.”
Rooting around down there made me think. Sometimes a situation in life is like a house built on sand: even if the house itself is simultaneously old, familiar, comfortable, and charming, underneath, it can be unstable and full of issues and dead seaweed. My little journey served as a reminder that sometimes we need to make the decision on whether or not it’s worth it to make repairs—or simply let the damn thing fall into the sea.
Pictures and video of our trip below. The video is of a seaweed-jammed broken sewer pipe; we shined the flashlight on it so hopefully you can get a sense of what it looked like.
While there are many uses for calculators, I think the average person uses them for one thing: keeping track of money. What’s in their checkbooks, what their bills will amount to this month, what’s in the budget for groceries, vacations, or necessities. But earlier this week, I met someone who uses a calculator for something entirely different.
Her name is Merissa and she is a February writing resident up here at the Colony. She makes jewelry out of the keys from old calculators. Cool, huh? She mentioned it the other day at dinner, and I thought this was the neatest thing.
Today is my birthday. I’m 39. Merissa arrived only on Monday, and has, as I have, been chipping away at her work, so we haven’t spent much time together. But leave it to an Aquarian (her birthday is next week)! This afternoon, she knocked on my door and brought me a present: a pair of earrings made from calculator keys! Number 9’s to be specific.
“You can wear them as 66, 99, or 69!” she said (of course, as 96, too, but that’s just not as fun a number). I was so touched by this gesture that a woman I barely know cared enough to bring me a gift when I was so far away from home. Merissa also had no idea how much this particular gift meant on this odd birthday (it has been odd). The beginning of today was a little bit rough, and this gift sent the message that I needed to remember what’s really important to me—and it’s got nothing to do with calculating.
I’m wearing the earrings right now. They’re so cool! Here’s the pix: