To Find, to Lose: to Create

Thomas Merton once famously wrote in No Man Is an Island, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” For Russell Seymour, that notion rings true every time October rolls around.

I first met Russell one cool, autumn evening in Charlotte, North Carolina. My girlfriend and I had heard about him on the local news—how there was a carpenter who had been building a Halloween-decorated front to his home every October for the last 25 years. Since we both love Halloween and had dedicated our evening to trying out different pumpkin beers on that side of Charlotte, we decided to check it out.

We pulled up to his house, and the sight was even more amazing than what we had seen on the television…as things always are. Six castle-like towers reaching into the sky. The intricate, stone-painted structure aglow in the southern night. A spooky graveyard out front, dimly lit by the lights that hung on a giant oak tree that stretched over his house. Passersby might think he lived in a mansion, but it was just something he had built around his modest brick house. We admired each detail, as if we were in the Louvre.

A scrawny man with parted wavy hair, probably fifty years old, approached us from the driveway. He introduced himself as Russell. All I heard was “Raphael.” This was the man we had seen on the news. For the next several minutes, my girlfriend, in her strong southern accent, asked him questions about his creation, which he answered, in his strong southern accent. I tried to follow along. The long vowels helped.

Russell told us that he sets a budget for himself each year, takes one to two months off of work, and commits to building as detailed of a castle as he possibly can within his budget. He also invited us to his annual Halloween party. It was apparent just how kind and hospitable this man was. A true southern gentleman.

When we left, however, the lingering question on my mind was: Why? Why all that sacrifice for one day? Why Halloween? Why was he so passionate about something so obscure? I’m drawn to people like Russell. I think they help me to feel less alone as a writer.