Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cemeteries, Beaches and Horror Movies

Last month, Marissa and I made the trek out to Los Angeles where she met with and agreed to be represented by an agent. She saw the Pacific ocean for the first time and fell in love. In fact, there was little else that impressed her that much. She woke up every morning and said "Can we go to the beach?"
Of course she was wildly impressed with our trip to the set of Desperate Housewives where we sat and watched them shoot a scene for several hours and Marissa got her picture taken with Eva Longoria.
This is the beginning of something for her, something that I sit and take one step at a time because to think of the enormity of it or to plan any further than that presumes something I can't begin to think about. So, I do only what I can do right now and let the future take care of itself.
When we returned, I rested for a few days and then packed again to take off for Florida. I was so excited to go from one beach to another, especially as I favor Florida beaches. The sand is softer, the water warmer, the weather more to my liking. I have never been there in October and I found it exquisitely perfect, achingly beautiful and blissfully free of crowds. I did twelve hours straight through to Forsyth, Georgia and arrived at my grandmother's house.
She passed away in 1983, but we still call it her house, for lack of anything else to call it- though it actually has a name. My grandmother called it 'Hillwreck'. It's a magnificent plantation house in great disrepair except for the wing that the 200 year old oak tree fell on, that part is new and shiny and smells nice.
The house should be full of ghosts but I just don't feel them. I feel nostalgia and wonder and history. On the second floor, amongst many family portraits, hanging in one bedroom is the college diploma of my great grandmother, Stella Viola Baker. 1891, that woman graduated from college. Her mother, Sarah Louise Strickland Baker had gone to college but the war interrupted her and she was unable to finish, so my great grandmother was the first to graduate college. All five of my great grandmother's children graduated as well and one went on to be a teacher like her father- all three daughters have diplomas. We have had teachers in the family since then. Several weeks before my own college graduation, my mother told me "I didn't want to mention this earlier but if you had not graduated college, you would have been the first woman in four generations not to do it."
No pressure.
I feel great women of achievement in that house. A steely determination to succeed. There is wisdom in those walls. If anything, the ghosts pick me up and move me along.
But the house is musty and kicks up my allergies, so I got out of there and headed to the beach that night. I spent my first night in St. Augustine, so I would have a short drive to Orlando the next day and woke up to a short walk to the ocean and a gorgeous clear blue sky and lapping waves. There were about three people out there so I was able to walk the beach in solitude and gather my thoughts. Hot enough to swim, not too hot to be unpleasant at all.
I then drove to the hotel, checked in and found the appropriate people to get my complimentary VIP weekend badge. Sweet. If you have never been to a horror convention, it really is a whole experience. It's not something you want to take the babies to. Not as tame as the world of sci fi and fantasy. And this convention was huge. Just walking the length of the hotel was a challenge. I wore sandals the first day and had to discard them for my super padded walking tennis shoes and still my feet hurt!
At one point, I was strolling through the dealers room looking at all the wares that people had to offer. The Chucky dolls, and miniature hats, creepy contact lenses for vampires and ghouls and zombie survival kits and I noticed a woman with a pair of identical dark haired twin girls. Normally, I would have found those twins adorable but there was something distinctly creepy about them in the context of the surroundings.
The convention kicked off with a zombie walk where hundreds of people in costume paraded through the length of the streets next to the hotel. There were home made signs and low growls of "Braaaains" reverberating through the crowd.
I knew immediately this was going to be a fun weekend.
My film was playing at 2 PM on Saturday. I put up my super cool poster with "showing at 2 PM Sat." taped to it and told everyone I met about the showing. In fact there were people there who stayed from beginning to end. Then there were those who wandered in and out of the room.
Afterward, I did a short Q&A session where I answered questions about how we did the special effects and what inspired me to write the story. All of this was generally thrilling. There is something to be said for being up there talking about my film.
I met some very cool people, famous and not famous. I shook hands with John Carpenter, and babbled and made a general fool of myself- then I met Robert Englund (who had a sign that said NO POSED PICTURES), Jason Mewes, and three Ghost Hunters, all generally very nice and personable, among the celebs were Elvira and the Lost Boys but by far the biggest asshole prize goes to Gary Busey.
I walked around the booth a little, checking him out, trying to decide whether I wanted a picture or not- and I watched him be charming and personable to a couple people and then a complete dick to this random girl who wanted to shake hands with him. Then I think he began barking and making odd noises- he's either on some serious medication or his brain damage from the last motorcycle accident has really taken its toll.
He was a nutcase. Even when there were not throngs of people, he wouldn't sit with any of the film makers and ignored everyone. I thought he might have done better at his table if he'd have been signing his mugshot but clearly he did not have a sense of humor. I just looked up his mugshot. I think I have been confusing it with Nick Nolte's mugshot. Eh, Gary was pretty drunk and obnoxious and clearly on the border of batshit crazy.
Anyway, Sunday night was a quiet night after everyone left and I got to spend time with the film makers and the few people who hung around, including Gary, who wandered in and out drinking and behaving erratically. Too bad I didn't get more pictures, I could have sold them to the Enquirer.
Monday I got to go to Disneyworld for free! I met a guy who worked there and spent the whole next day running around Disney! That night I drove back to the beach and spent the night in St. Augustine, the next afternoon after a few hours on the beach, I made my way up to Savannah, spending two days there in that gorgeous city. The second night I spent out at Tybee Beach and had dinner with my friend in a nice little restaurant outside close enough to hear the ocean.
I love Savannah in a pretty special way. The first time I went there, I knew I had to return often, there is something incredibly romantic and devastating about that city.
Perhaps it is the tortured past that it rose from that attracts me. There is such violence and cruelty and yet it rose to be artistic and beautiful, it stands proud of the scars and the battles it lost and reinvents itself.
Right before I left, I stopped to visit the Bonaventure Cemetery, which was a key location in the book/movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
They have moved the statue to the museum in town but never mind, there were many beautiful statues to admire.
I randomly picked a place to start walking and the first thing that struck me were the little graves- there was a whole family that perished one at at time, the parents before the age of 30, the only son and daughter a mere three days apart in 1874- ages 4 and 1. As I walked around the cemetery, I realized how common this was- so many of them had tiny gravestones. You can know something in your head, and read about it in books but until you confront these tiny graves, I don't think it really hits home.
All those parents afraid of immunizations need to tour an old graveyard- it really smacks you right between the eyes where we came from. One family had five little gravestones right in a row. My heart ached for their loss. I left from there and returned to Forsyth that night.
My mother has dragged me through I don't even know how many cemeteries so I don't get creeped out by them and it didn't bother her at all when I asked to go to the cemetery to see my grandmother's grave. The Forsyth Cemetery is also a very old cemetery, there is a whole section devoted to Confederate Soldiers, most of them unknown, and one nurse is named and buried among them. First we went to our family plot. Hill. Kind of a common name, we had to drive past some other Hill's to get to our family. Buried there are my great great grandparents, my great grandmother and grandfather, my grandmother, two great aunts and one great uncle. All who lived fairly long lives. None of them died before their seventies. One of them lived into her nineties. This plot has no baby graves. In fact, three of my great grandmother's children are buried with her. All five of her children outlived her. Kind of extraordinary given the amount of infant death I could see exposed everywhere.
My mother described to me how her grandmother, Stella (the one whose diploma hung in the bedroom) had locked herself in the room with a child in the throes of diphtheria and forced liquids until she got better, not letting any of the other children near her until she was well.
There is darkness in my family. A history of male suicides. It doesn't say so on the gravestones- to the outside world it looks like some of them died young. The suicides were usually hushed up and thereafter told as "He died of pneumonia." in polite company, but the lies and the family secrets hang in the air until the wind takes them away with time. I whisper them along the generations, some things should not be forgotten.
They make interesting late night stories, when I can get the kid's attention. Usually all I have to say is "Want to hear the family secrets no one wants to talk about?"
We drove up a way until I saw another Hill plot and I asked my mother if we were related to them. "Probably" she said. "Cousins" but as I named them all off, she couldn't definitively remember them for sure. In the back was a group of childrens gravestones. We had barely escaped this.
I drove on to Atlanta where I visited with my niece and got to see her Improv show. She's a wonderful talent. The next morning I had breakfast with a couple actor friends. I am inspired by all of them, working to make their dreams come true. I left Atlanta around noon, ready to push myself through the long drive and was at my doorstep around 10:30 PM, exhausted but home.

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