Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays.
When I was young, I dressed up and went trick-or-treating in my Grampa’s neighborhood because we lived out in the country.
When I was in highschool, I toilet papered people’s houses. (Mostly friends’ houses, honestly. It was a sign of affection.)
When I was in college, I started throwing parties. In fact, I think the first party ever threw was a Halloween party back in 1993. The theme was “Come as your favorite god.” I dressed as Pan, and later that night, downtown with my friends, I got into the only fight of my life dressed in nothing but a leather vest, horns, and a pair of furry tights.
Later in my life, after I had sold my book but before I was published, I went to the Penguin Halloween party dressed as a garden gnome. (Penguin the publisher. It was not a party for actual penguins.)
I had a smashingly good time. It was the first time I met most of the folks I still work with to this day. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to start our professional relationships off on the right foot.
I mention these things to give you a frame of reference. Halloween is one of my favorite Holidays.
Earlier this year, my lovely assistant Valerie brought some cool news to my attention. Neil Gaiman was having an event at House on the Rock over Halloween weekend. I was thrilled. I bought tickets for me, Sarah and Oot, my sister, as well as Valerie and several friends.
True, it meant I would have to miss the World Fantasy Convention again. And that’s a convention that, as as professional, I should really make an effort to attend. But this was all the coolness of Halloween, plus Neil Gaiman, PLUS House on the Rock. It was like some sort of mythic trifecta. On top of it all, the event was close enough for me to drive to.
How could I not go?
* * *
By the time Friday the 29th rolls around I am a complete mess. I’ve been revising The Wise Man’s Fear for months. Endless revision. Sometimes for fourteen hours at a stretch. My deadline looms over me, and the thought of having to finally let go of the book forever is absolutely terrifying.
At this point I know that planning on going to the House on the Rock was a huge mistake. I have to turn in the book on Nov 1st, and they’re going to use that version to print the Advance Reading Copies of the book. It’s not the final draft of the book, but it’s the version major reviewers and bookbuyers will read. This is a big deal.
Everyone says it will be good for me to get away for the weekend. I need a vacation. I’ve earned it. Etc. But the truth is, if I stayed home, I know I could get another 30 hours of work done on the book.
But I have to go. Sarah will be disappointed if I don’t. I’m meeting friends there, one of them I haven’t seen in more than a year. I’m part of a group costume. I’m moderating a panel on Saturday. I have to go.
We’re late leaving for House on the Rock. It’s my fault, I spent all night revising and didn’t pack. Since I only got four hours of sleep, Sarah offers to drive, and I ride in the back next to Oot. It’s nice, because I don’t get to spend as much time with him as I like. The two and a half hours in the car is more time than I’ve spent with him in the last three days combined.
Oot and I hang out on the ride down to Spring Green. I make up little songs for him. We both play with his feet. He can say “duck” now, so that gives us something to talk about.
Eventually he falls asleep, and I’m thinking of doing the same when the Magellan starts giving us bullshit directions. I don’t handle it well, and I’m bitchy at Sarah and her co-pilot Joyce. They deal with my bullshit with remarkable aplomb.
We make it to House on the Rock with time to spare. There’s some confusion with the tickets, but the House on the Rock people are cool and it all gets worked out.
I meet a couple of friends. I meet my sister. She’s one of my favorite people, and I don’t get to see her nearly as often as I’d like. Hanging out with her helps me settle my shit down a little. We share Oot back and forth, taking turns holding him. The three of us talk about ducks.
7:00 rolls around. The beginning of the festivities. Neil Gaiman is doing a reading and Q&A in a big tent next to the visitor’s center. We take places in the back, partly because I’m a lurker, and partly so that if Oot gets scrawbly we can take him out the back exit before he bothers folks.
Gaiman is charming as always. Gentle and funny and well-spoken. I’ve never heard him otherwise. Oot does get a little noisy. Not fussy, he just likes to talk and doesn’t understand that sometimes he just has to shush. He gets that from me. Sarah takes him out of the tent for a bit. Then she comes back and I grab Oot so she can listen to Gaiman for a while.
Oot and I go into the visitor center so he can take off his coat and walk around. He’s a pretty good walker now, and doesn’t fall very much at all.
Sarah comes in and checks on us ten minutes later. I appreciate that. Sometimes Oot gets unhappy, and nothing can make it better but mom. But right now he’s pretty content, and I’m having a good time too. As I’ve said, I haven’t spent much time with him lately. So I send Sarah back to listen to Gaiman. I’ve heard him speak a couple times before, but she hasn’t.
Oot and I explore a the visitor center. There’s a little wooden bridge that goes over a stream, and it’s really exciting to him. Unfortunately, he’s not too steady on the going up or the coming down. But that’s what makes it exciting for him, I think. I hold his hand and he goes up and down. Up and down.
I’ve brought along a wooden spoon and we play with it. There’s a lot you can do with a wooden spoon. Not only does it go in your mouth, which is fun, but you can bang it on things. You can also poke things with the spoon.
Sarah comes back to check on us. I give her the thumbs up and make a shooing motion. She goes back to listen to Gaiman.
Oot makes it clear that he is determined to explore the trashcan. It is on the floor, and therefore part of his domain. He will not be thwarted in his desire so long as he remains on the floor.
So I pick him up and we walk around for a bit. He can say words other than than “duck.” He can also say, “that.” To the untrained ear, these might sound the same, but I can tell the difference between “duck” “dog” “that” and “dad” though I doubt any linguist in the world could do the same.
So I carry him around and he points at things. When he points, he says, “that.” I’m not entirely sure what he means when he says this, though I have theories. Sometimes I think he’s curious about something he sees, so I tell him what it’s called. Sometimes I think he wants to touch it, so we go touch it.
But most of the time, I think he’s just enjoying being able to communicate. It has to be hard for babies. For so many months all they have is one way to express themselves. They can cry. They have one note, and they have to use it for everything: hunger, discomfort, frustration, boredom, loneliness.
Later on they learn more notes. They can laugh to express joy. They can grunt or suck or grab to express desire. But that’s it. Still very limited.
But now Oot can point and say, “that.” This is a big deal. This is levels beyond what he could do a few months ago. This is abstract. He’s not just feeling something, he’s actively focusing his attention. He’s apprehending. This isn’t just expression, it’s communication.
What he’s really doing, I think, is saying, “Look. I can see a thing. I’m aware of it, and I want you to know that I’m aware of it.”
At this point in his life, this is the closest he can come to telling me a story.
This is a big deal. So we walk around looking at things. There’s a plant with a bright flower all yellow and red. There’s a wooden bench. There’s a wall. He points at them. He says, “that.”
I nod and point, too. “That,” I agree.
I put him back in his coat, and together we go back to the tent. We listen to the very end of Neil’s Q&A. People laugh. People applaud. Oot claps too. He smiles. He doesn’t really understand what the applause is for. He’s not clapping for anything. When he claps, he’s saying, “I know something good has happened, and I’m a part of it. We’re all happy.”
And he’s right.
Part two [soon]