Wandering a Gray and Yellow Halloween Season

September 22, 2023 — The Halloween Season is my favorite time of year, but my past two Halloween seasons were—and I’ll use a word I’ve never used in print before—fucked. Two years ago, on October 7, halfway through the season, my brother killed himself. At that point I’d written 24 posts about my Halloween and Autumn shenanigans, but I immediately stopped writing like I’d hit Kevin’s tombstone full-speed, face-first. In November, I mustered the meager words for a piece about his death, disguised as an oddity visit to a Portuguese ossuary. Other than a random piece about visiting Dollywood at Christmas, it would be the last thing I’d write for about a year. And that year was the first time in my entire life that I couldn’t write.

That’s because my life got worse. Like twelve circles of hell below Dante’s nine worse. Out of nowhere, mere months after Kevin’s death, a series of betrayals, deceits, and destructions occurred in my private life that stretched grotesquely over the entire year and into the next one. It blew up my life and my family and 15 years of work. It was bad. Bad in ways I can’t discuss publicly yet. Bad like telling the story can be traumatizing just for the listener, based on the reactions of incredible friends and random drunks on park benches whom I’ve confided in.

Still, last Halloween Season, even though I didn’t even try to do an OTIS Halloween Season because of my situation, we did manage some impressive memories privately—the Sleepy Hollow Halloween parade, for instance, and discussing the movie ParaNorman on a panel in Salem—but those were brief moments of hope between malingering times of despair, leaps of faith on my part that always ended in pits full of alligators and vipers.

Now, this Halloween Season, during what is usually the happiest time of my life, I’m a bit bereft.

My house, still the Black House, is a lot emptier than it used to be.

My life, more solitary than it has been in a very long time.

My beliefs, more cynical than they once were.

My future, more foggy than it was before.

My joys, more sparse than in the past.

If you follow me on the socials, you’ll note that I’m still posting shiny moments, but they are rare and, honestly, more gray and yellow than orange and black. A brightly painted Halloween mask obscuring a damaged face—still honest, still earnest, still holding out the trick-or-treat sack hoping for candy, but inside terrified that at any moment, the mask will slip or the bag rip at the seams.

I wasn’t going to celebrate the Halloween Season this year, either privately or on OTIS, but during a particularly dark time earlier this year (did you know there are shades of dark?), a friend advised me, “Don’t let Halloween get stolen from you, too.”

So this is me giving that a try. And also attempting to heal my relationship with writing. Writing has always helped me enjoy life. Has always motivated me to do more with life. It helps me process life to the point that I don’t know how people who don’t write live. And while writing failed me the past year and a half, I also failed it. But now I feel like I have to start using the written word in a real way again, even if I’m writing with one arm thrown across my eyes in horror. Me writing for the Halloween Season right now is kind of like that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where the guy is shouting, “I’m not dead,” even as he’s lying atop a mound of plaguey corpses.

For those of you who are new to the OTIS Halloween Season (and if you’re just here because you’re morbidly curious, that’s cool too; Halloween is a season for the morbid), here’s what happens. Or what happens normally. I celebrate Halloween starting in September with activities and trips and events both small and large, cozy and ambitious, and I chronicle them all almost daily throughout September and October. Us old timers used to call it a blog. By the end of the season, I have a die-ary bursting with pumpkin spice-scented memories and ideas.

But, in the past 13 years of OTIS Halloween Seasons, I’ve never had season like this one. I’m not sure what I’m doing, but I know it will be more reflective. More of a bummer. Maybe more raw and sloppier. Possibly, a lot more annoying to read. Certainly, much more personal. Remember I’m still sitting on that mound of plaguey corpses.

But I invite you to join me on this jaunt. You can also join my Patreon, where, among other perks, I write a newsletter every weekend that goes more behind the scenes than my writing on OTIS.

In a pumpkin shell, we’re reversing the usual holiday movie trope where a character finds themselves having to save a holiday. We’re going to see if my favorite holiday will save me.

Can Halloween save J.W. Ocker?

Or am I fucked.

Happy Halloween Season.