This morning, I woke up to some solid news. An essay I wrote in 2015 that appeared in Narratively was selected as one of their all-time best in their five-year history. Narratively has such incredible writers publishing work, and I’m honored to be included.
Looking back on the piece was strange. It was certainly a hard essay to write, and I often wonder, years later, should I have written it? It’s very personable, it’s intimate, and I probably share too much information on a subject that most people consider private.
But when I wrote it many years ago, my intention was to shed light on an issue that is extremely important: Mental health. I still think that one of the biggest problems in our country is how we treat mental illness. From the stigma still associated with people who are struggling to the quiet conversations we have hidden away in small corners of isolated rooms about illness to the trauma it takes on families, we are nowhere near where we should be as a society when tackling these challenges.
I understand all that. However, when you reveal details about someone you love for a bigger ideal, it’s so easy to tear yourself up for trying to make a point, to share an experience.
But even though I still question whether or not it’s a good idea to share intimate details of family for the sake of art, for stories, for a bigger idea, I do believe there are a couple points from the essay that still really resonate with me, and two years later, it still strikes me in a way that felt honest, good, and true. This one stands out: We will always have breakdowns to remind us we are family.
When I opened the door to our office in Ocean Beach, San Diego, one of our office dogs ran out into the street, and I started sprinting after it, yelling and trying to get it to stop from running into traffic. It’s a bizarre feeling, attempting to convince a dog who is on a dash to consider their safety. It’s an almost impossible task. Words fail. So, this incident got me thinking about how many times I have found myself trying to help when dogs run away. Then it got me thinking about language and how challenging it is to communicate with not only animals but people when they are running toward disaster. The result is my essay at the LA Review. Find out what happened when I opened the door to our office and began chasing after a beloved dog loose in the streets of San Diego. Read the article here: When Dogs Run Away.
In the May/June 2016 of the Huck, a London-based magazine that is “refusing to be civilised since 2006,” released their new Freaked Out Issue, and I had a profile appear within the issue on McKamey Manor, America’s most extreme haunted house. As you’ll see in my piece, I drove out to Rancho Peñasquitos to talk with Russ McKamey and a group of actors who run McKamey Manor.
Before I went to visit the manor, I conducted some preliminary research, and the videos I saw of the haunt truly freaked me out. The videos showed Russ McKamey and his actors dunking their “guests” heads into toilet bowls, shaving their hair and making them eat it, and mentally torturing people to the point where they would break. If you’re brave enough (I’m not kidding; these videos are fucking crazy), then you can check out their YouTube Channel. In his videos, Russ McKamey seems like a madman–someone who was only interested in sadism and torture, but when I actually went and visited McKamey Manor, I was able to talk to Russ, get to know him, and understand him a bit more. The way I learned to see Russ was more as an artist whose medium was fear.
Please give the issue a read to learn more about my experience at America’s most extreme haunted house. But just know that you might have nightmares. If you’re interested in reading more of my horror writing, then I suggest checking out my writing samples and reading my story, “The Castle on the Hill” — or learn how I ended up burying a body in my backyard when I first moved to San Diego.
On Friday night, Heron and I joined our family in the Willamette Valley outside of Portland, Oregon, where we drank so many pinot noir that I felt like my blood had literally been turned into wine. It was my first time in the valley, and I was surprised to find that it reminded me so much of my home in New England. In the photo above, you can see the thick fog that hugged the grape vines at Domaine Serene, a fantastic winery with some earthy and complex pinots and a dry rose. It rained the entire weekend, but I enjoyed it. The fog enveloped the entire scene, and it forced me to examine what was right in front of me, and I was in the moment and focused on family and friends. Below you will find some of the photos I took in the Willamette Valley to highlight some of the places we drank and ate.
What struck me about the Willamette Valley is how green it is. My brother-in-law went on a run, and he came back and said he felt like he just ran through a jungle. The views are lush, and the rain warm.
We drank a lot of wine, but we did something that I never did before: an olive oil tasting. It wasn’t my idea, and we almost went to a local brewery instead, but I was so glad that I stuck around for the olive oil tour at the Oregon Olive Mill at Red Ridge. We tried olive oil in official tasters, and what I learned was that when tasting olive oil there is a peppery, almost spicy taste at the finish. I had one olive oil that hit me like I had just ingested a bunch of pepper. We had a lunch after the olive oil tour, and everything was drenched in olive oil, including coconut ice cream with a bit of sea salt.
The rose above was taken on the grounds. Someone who is a part of my family pointed out the rose above and said: “Take a photo of that rose. It’s Mother Nature at her finest.” Hope I did it justice.
Final shot is of a hazelnut. At the bottom of the olive plants, they use hazelnut shells as ground cover.
In early November, 2015, Heron and I went to Yosemite National Park. We almost didn’t go, because we were worried about the cold weather and the snow, but I’m so glad that we just put the fear and uncertainty out of our mind and drove from San Diego to Yosemite. Below you will see five of my best nature photos from Yosemite.
1.When the Trees are Bigger than You Could Imagine
2. Running to Catch the Last Glimpse of Light on Half Dome