the not-a-friend friend


Two things have floated past my Facebook feed today that have inspired enough thoughts to justify a blog post.  The first reminded me of a friendship I took a long time ending but, in the end, his confession many years ago that he did not in fact defend me in my absence was the beginning of the end.

10600616_729315847173351_5772921761439119439_n(Because yes, I think this stuff matters.  A lot.  Speak your truth,  man. And in this case, don’t tell me someone slandered me and then tell me, “But I didn’t correct them.”  No excuse.)

And then there was this post shared by my friend Luna, in which the author talks about the benefits of having a friend that’s not really your friend and about what you can learn from that relationship.  In particular, this quote stood out:

Between putting me down, questioning everything I did, and spreading lies about me behind my back, I realized that you weren’t actually my friend. You were just another person who was stuck in their insecurities, who needed to put others down to keep yourself up. You were more focused on yourself and your own problems than on our friendship. That’s not the kind of friend I want in my life. While I was blinded to this side of you because you were a new shiny friend for a couple months, I finally realized we had no friendship. Initially, this realization saddened me, but, in the end, I’m better off without you.

There are friendships, relationships, that never really leave you.  For better, and for worse, that connection is so entangled in your brain that even when the person is gone, their ghost never leaves you.  I’ve known people that get mentally and emotionally stuck in that ghost-relationship, rehashing the grievances, the hurt, the memorized path of how things went wrong, that they can recite the history at a moment’s notice and never move past the pain.

These are among my least favourite ‘discussions’ to have, because it’s not a discussion, there’s no resolution or healing, there’s just mental gear grinding.

The quote above reminds me of one of those people.  She’s someone I wish I could send that quote to, because that’s exactly why our friendship ended 10+ years ago and I didn’t have the words then to express the why to her then.

We were friends from 4th grade until well into our adulthood – or so I thought.  Unlike the first friendship I mention in this blog, it didn’t take me years to figure out I was better off not knowing this person.  No, sadly, our relationship started to end when I learned that she was describing me to others as ‘a waste of human flesh,’ and, when called on it, replied, “I’m sorry you head that.”  This discovery led to others, other negative descriptors that was in direct contrast to what she said to my face.

I’ve been sad about the way things went for a long time.  In part, I’m sad because I know she still hurts from the ending of our ‘friendship’ and because I know we have mutual friends wishing we could make amends.

But ya know?  I read that quote, and I thought, ‘Yes.  This.’

The people in my life today are people I trust, completely and utterly.

…I find myself wanting to say more about that, but I don’t think I need to.

People like C and L have taught me what I expect, what I need, out of a friendship.  What I want to give to a friendship.  And today, I may have just finally hit a point where I can be thankful for that lesson instead of sorry for the loss.



Sean “Bazil” Duran: November 25, 1966 – April 30, 2016


I have so much I want to write and I have no idea how to write it.

So let’s start with a present.

bazil 2

“I have a present for you,” Chris said, somewhere around 1993, and handed me this little plaster Day of the Dead sculpture.  “Bazil made it.  He made a bunch for a gallery in Chestnut Hill, but when they told him they were gonna sell them as authentic Mexican art, he said no and took them back, so…this one’s for you.”

When I think about Bazil – Sean – this story always comes to mind.  I didn’t know him well, but I knew he had strong convictions and would not only stick to them, but would also make sure the people around him did as well.

Sean was one of the iconic actors at my beloved haunt, Grisly Gothic Gables.  He joined the cast to help him learn how to talk in front of crowds (or so I’ve been told), and perhaps one of the reasons I can’t think of Grisly without thinking of him is that he proposed the haunt’s name to the owner, Allan, during a brain storming session.  His butler character was funny-bizarre, vaguely slobby, definitely frenetic…my favourite haunt memory of him is him filling in for a clown scare, still dressed as a butler.  When the time came to scare visitors, he rose out of a hollowed out bed holding a fake butcher knife and announcing, “I’m not a clown, but I’ll kill you anyway!”

(Lesson:  As long as you understand the scare and what’s expected of you, improv – even if it’s on the bizarre side – as long as it’s in the character of the haunt?  It works.)

I suppose it helps to understand that I became a haunter not because I loved scary movies (which I did) or because I thought Halloween was pretty (which I did), but because the first time I saw Grisly Gothic Gables, with Bazil and Janice at the front of the house looking like everything I’ve ever wanted to see in haunt actors…well, I fell in love with the haunt, with the cast, and at the core of my haunter-heart you’ll still find that perfect visual.

You’ll still find Bazil.

Bazil was the one that helped my ex husband understand why haunting is fun.  “Do you know what a pig pile is?” Bazil asked one day.  “You don’t?  Ok.  So let’s say you enter a room through a door on the left side of the room and the exit door is clearly visible on the right side.  How do you leave the room?  No, you don’t go out the exit door, you jump on top of each other LIKE THIS!! and then you knock down a wall behind you and you leave that way.”  Despite being jumped on and nearly knocked over, my ex agreed to come to Grisly to see what a night of haunting was like, and he ended up doing tag-team scares with Bazil.

…Good times.

At the museum where we all worked, Bazil did so much that most people don’t know, rather like at Grisly, where he designed several of our t-shirt designs with no credit claimed.  He (along with fellow Grisly Peter Cook and Peter’s wife, Lisa) worked on a book about our dioramas that has been used extensively by the teacher naturalists there, and can be found now in the Drexel University library.  He discovered a forgotten mummy by literally tripping over it in our collections. He restored Edgar Allan Poe’s raven, which now resides at the Philadelphia Free Library.  He worked on the butterfly exhibit where I became a butterfly keeper, and helped create The Big Dig, an interactive looking-for-fossils exhibit I helped maintain over the years.  (I’m told he was inspired by Peter and Lisa’s visit to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.)  He and artist Ray Troll worked together on several projects, including one at our museum. He was instrumental in creating the Crazy Critters Chuck Jones exhibit that I have…way way too many stories about working.

For someone who touched so much of my professional life at the Academy, you really would think we would have seen each other more. Alas.

Bazil moved on to work at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, where his resume is truly amazing. Like, amazing in a way that you look at and you think, ‘What couldn’t this guy do??’ I think I speak for many of us when I say that Bazil was the kind of person you quietly make a role model and you hope someday to be even a fraction as good at..well..ANYTHING as he was.  Because he touched so many people’s lives and varied worlds, I’m sure there’s an incredible amount of stories and discoveries to come that will astound those of us that knew him.  (Heck, just from the bit of research I’ve done here, I’m in awe of the man.)

Bazil is survived by his wife, Kat, and his daughter, Bridget…and he’s mourned by too many people to count.

Thank you for touching my life and for inspiring me, you most perfect Grisly.


Info about a celebration of his life:


More info about Sean: – Dinosaurs of China exhibit – Amazon exhibit




let’s go fly a kite: Chris Silvia


With tuppence for paper and strings
You can have your own set of wings
With your feet on the ground
You’re a bird in a flight…

I can’t remember when Chris  told us about his adventures in competitive kite flying in Japan.  I’d known he spent time in that country – when I first ‘met’ him in 1998(?) via the online community Halloween-L, his nickname was “Isolated Loony” because he was living overseas at the time – but I had no idea he had a love of kite-making.

He described an incident in which he had been doing some synchronized team kite flying and an unexpected gust of wind had grabbed his kite hard enough to lift him out of his chair.  “I just held on because I didn’t want to interrupt what we were doing,” he laughed, “so it dragged me across the beach until someone finally noticed.  After that, I started wearing a seat belt so it wouldn’t happen again.”

It’s maybe my favourite example of how Chris was not limited by his wheelchair.

You can dance on the breeze
Over houses and trees…

Chris created beautiful costumes and haunt props.  I watched him do demos on creating bleeding portraits and intricate foam tombstones (he was, in fact, the first person I’d ever seen work so much magic on sheets of pink insulation foam), and he inspired me to want to learn how to make props myself.  Truth be told, he is the biggest reason I’ve been a pain in the ass about wanting to learn as much as I could about how to make things, and he’s the reason I’ve remained so frustrated at myself for not creating a mechanical prop or learning how to program a controller.

He also built the most amazing costumes that embraced his wheelchair.  From being a passenger in a Doombuggy to being a wheelchair-bound werewolf, he not only created fantastic things for himself but for his partners in crime to wear as well.  I don’t have photos to share, but rest assured each one was FANTASTIC.

It seems very fitting that, when I started driving, I traveled to Salem the day after I got my license to meet up with a group of haunters that included Chris for an informal haunt gathering*.  He inspired one to  simultaneously not let yourself be limited even as you dealt with your limitations with grace and dignity.

During that trip, I stood next to him outside a historical building we had traveled to see and, when we realized he couldn’t make it into most of the building, he said, “I understand. And I’m glad I can see some of it.”  That response is perhaps the biggest reason I’ve focused so hard on maintaining wheelchair accessibility in my haunts.  There are enough limits in the world for such a chair…why add to the count?

With your fist holding tight
To the string of your kite…

As an east coast haunter, my path crossed Chris’ often enough for me to define him as a friend.  When the Transworld trade show started making it harder for haunters to score access to the show floor, I offered Chris a press pass if he’d write an article for me.  This came as a surprise to my boss, who saw Chris’ badge and commented, “Oh?  You work for me..?

“Yes he does,” I replied, and walked Chris over to the show office, where I had a vaguely heated argument with a security guard who wanted to know why Chris couldn’t get out of his chair and walk up the small flight of stairs in front of us.  I may have never wanted to punch a security guard more than I did at that moment…but Chris was, as always, calm and rational and sweet, and within a minute we were given use of another access point.

I have a terrible temper.  I really do.  I’ve never admitted before that it was Chris that taught me to have a slower-burning fuse.

Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear…

Something else I’ve never admitted, but I’ll whisper it here: I’ve been a tiny bit in love with Chris for a long time.  Just a little.  Just enough to follow his adventures via social media after I moved to Pittsburgh, and then to Michigan.  Our paths crossed more and more sporadically at conventions and, with my usual awkward shyness, I became less and less willing to go over and talk to him because he always seemed to be busy.  And so I’m not sure when I last actually communicated with him.  I should, of course, have written to him, checked in with him.  He’s never had any idea how much of an impact he had on me as a haunter and as a person.  He is such a shining example of how much one person can influence another’s life and have absolutely no idea of the fact.

Chris passed away last night.  It seems an impossibility.  It was unexpected and as I write this, no details have been shared yet as to what happened.  I was going to wait to write this until I had more information. I  don’t have a right to be as sad as I am, because I was not a close friend.  And yet.  And yet.

Thank you, Chris. You were one of the kindest, sweetest, most creative and patient people I’ve ever known.  You have been inspirational and amazing and I feel so lucky your life touched mine just a little.

…And I’m still gonna learn how to create a mechanical prop someday, dammit.

Oh, let’s go fly a kite!


* I still have a small pirate flag that he created for that weekend, as we were all running around Salem dressed as pirates for a good deal of the time. With all of my moves, all of my varied pirate things, and all of my jettisoning of stuff, I’ve managed to not lose that flag, and it makes me smile every time it makes an appearance…