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Hick or Treat Halloween 2018

It’s nice to meet someone who loves Halloween as much as yourself. It’s also great if they too have dreamed of creating a homemade Halloween yard display. Better still if they are a gifted creator. Fantastic if their talents work complimentarily to your own. This was the experience which ultimately led to Hick or Treat and a magical Halloween in 2018.

Disclaimer: Hick or Treat refers to the last name of co-creator Susan Hicks. Nothing more. We promise.

I had been already been thinking about decorating for Halloween, but the plot thickened when I was approached by Thomas native Andria DiBacco. The concept was simple: Create a scene featuring the trio of witches known as The Wyrd Sisters as created by British writer Terry Pratchett, also known as Sir Terence David John Pratchett. His title surely indicates his stature in British literature.

He created this trio as a comedic fantasy partial coven, loosely representing the Maiden (the green Magrat Garlick), Mother (the bawdy Nanny Ogg), and Crone  (stern Granny Weatherwax) female symbols and added overtones of Macbeth. His writing is stylistically similar to movie scripts of the beloved comedy troupe Monty Python. He’s not afraid to throw a punch and is wickedly funny.

Hick or Treat 2018 Thomas West Virginia
Hick-or-Treat witches by Andria DiBacco and Susan Hicks

When Andria approached me about making the scene, I believe she already had a pretty good idea of what she wanted to do. With a surplus of currently unused chicken wire (there were once chickens up the hill) and old PVC piping formerly used for same, she had a ballpark idea. Determining the figures’ poses and final stability was a dual task, and my husband lent multiple  tools. I was given the task to make the faces and hands. My as-of-late unused polymer clay supply was revived, and my assortment of acrylic paints opened. I had never sculpted a face before, and my portrait work was mainly limited to drawing cat and dogs.

Creative Minds Don’t Always Think Alike

That’s no biggie. In the case of Hick or Treat, this was a great thing. I feel the two of us compliment each other nicely with ability and style. Andria’s technique for creating the chickenwire armatures was different than what I would have suggested, but it worked out wonderfully. The witches took impressive form. I am used to felting garments where no sewing is needed. Andria has the mind of a tailor. There was a lot of wire to clip and fasten, so we both pitched in.

We brainstormed on how to cover and clothe the figures, and a sort of landscaping cloth was chosen as the material of choice. We needed something that was lightweight and preferably waterproof. Thomas weather is very erratic and can waver to extremes. Imagine my surprise when the basic covering turned into full fledged dresses, plus divine hats for two of the witches in Andria’s hands. For Nanny Ogg, we used thrift store clothing.  No need for a tailored look there. I made amulets of polymer clay. Andria had made suitably witchy potion bottles with hand lettered calligraphy to help set the scene.

The thrift store did indeed come in handy. Thank goodness for B-thrifty. Not only was there witchy clothing a plenty in September, but the perfect wig for the Maiden, and sundry Halloween decorations to scatter about and upcycle were also scored. Instead of buying black cloth for a black light banner, a black duvet cover was chosen at a high discount. Dollar Tree was also a preferred destination.

I found the perfect used buttons, lace trim, and long pins for fastening, plus the fabric for face and necks at Fabric Place Basement. The gracious owners were getting used to me squeaking in at the last minute for Halloween fixings, and never hesitated to quickly help me find what I needed. Next year I promise to get the hours straight. We tried to avoid store-bought  main props, but the Spirit of Halloween was helpful for lighting, cobwebs, and a really cool cat. It’s also terribly fun to visit when getting in the Halloween mood.

Hick or Treat 2018 Thomas West Virginia
Hick or Treat witch in snow prior to Halloween.

While Andria was feverishly working outside, I respected my health (see blog topic Myasthenia Gravis) and worked indoors in the unseasonably warm weather. I modeled the three faces and painted them to character. There was a bit of drama with cracking during curing, but it was mended in the end. Then was the issue of affixing the “masks” to the head armatures. The technique applied gave extra stability to the heads in addition to the sturdy PVC “skeletons,” and helped keep Nanny Ogg’s noggin from being battered off in the wind one night. She was kinked strongly at the neck, but that was reparable. I have become a true believer in E600 adhesive. The witches were pummeled by wind and rain, and as the picture above shows, even snow. Our girls survived through sturdy construction and deft ground attachment.

We had no idea what kind of weather to expect on Halloween night.

Handy Friends

I dreaded making the hands, but a friend had the perfect how-to suggestion. I am not going to give away the secret method of sculpting, but you might have caught a glimpse of the WIP in the video above. We couldn’t believe we were hanging out on Saturday night making hands. I had to confess that I’ve often been very guilty of “arting” vs. socializing. This was a happy mix of the two. Between that and goofing off with the wigs I bought, there was a lot of laughing.

Apropos hair, Granny Weatherwax’s strands were bought at Beauty Island in Alexandria, Virginia, where the cashier somewhat incredulously asked if I was going to try braiding. I didn’t quite have the nerve to state my purpose, and found the only gray hair in the shop. I brainstormed a bit, and found a satisfactory method to affix the locks. Andria then styled the long silver strands perfectly, which was quite a help to this traditionally shorter coiffured gal.

The Monongahela National Forest offered its wood for the brooms, as procured by Andria, who had a specific location up trail in mind. While we stripped branches, our pups made themselves comfortable beds of the discarded leaves on a day that was finally temperate enough for me to enjoy the much missed outdoors.

Hick or Treat Halloween 2018
Somebody insisted his view not be blocked.

Otherwise I worked inside on the faces and hands, but there was also a soundtrack to make, and I had my heart set on making my house haunted. I had my first experience with track mixing and combined many free Halloween sound files from FreeSoundEffect.com with some spoken Wyrd Sisters dialogue. My cauldron sound was said to be convincing. Have a listen to the churning bubbles and more in the wrap up video at post end.

Artists, Nurses, and Actresses

With the audio completed, it was time to haunt. I have only recently begun experimenting with video, and had only made animated shorts using still images thus far. Tongue-in-cheek video Dry Cleaner Horror is my favorite example thus far, using a Dream Series illustration and putting it into action.. We needed something more for our ghosts.

Andria and I became actresses. I gave direction and shot a simple video on my phone. Then I edited the footage to the extreme for a blurry, ghostly effect. I was thinking of horror films from Fritz Lang’s classic Nosferatu to more recent visual effects of modern ghost chillers. There was another helper too. An at home assistant kindly obliged me for some shots of clawing hands. Through crafty editing, it turned out to be pretty spooky. She was nurse number two, with Andria first in line. My part was being a bit of a magical spook. Andria was the trapped soul peering out the window before striking a ghastly pose. As a final touch, I added a few of my own graphics of macabre and skulls, plus flashes of different colors to move the theme along.

Halloween

After a lot of work and much anticipation (including both televised and printed news pieces featuring Beth Spencer’s expert photography), it was Halloween at last. We made final adjustments, and there were still pumpkins to carve. I found out exactly why my mother advised me as a child *never* to use a baking pumpkin as a jack-o-lantern. It’s an exercise in futility. If you succeed at all (as Andria did), it will probably require supporting toothpicks for the parts threatening to fall out. Imagine carving a spaghetti squash – no solid meat.

While we were finishing up, a black cat came to visit. Definitely a sign that we were doing something right. I just wonder which witch’s familiar it was. Maybe it had come to check out Greebo, the Nanny Ogg’s cat. In the end, my little black familiar (Elsa the dog) chased it away. She was also insistent upon staying with us for the festivities and even made some new dog friends. With little time to spare, Andria and I dashed inside to change and then “it was on.”

Hick or Treat 2018 Thomas West Virginia
A Halloween night filled with fog, light, and magic.

Family, Friends, and Townsfolk

As the sun started getting low in the sky, visitors started appearing. The littlest ones arrived first. Many were making their maiden trick-or-treat voyage. Baffled and wide eyed, they didn’t hesitate in the least about grabbing candy. A boy and girl who chose to run, not walk, the entire length of the long, hilly street, with their chaperone following behind in his truck tickled us to death. They were definitely going to burn off those candy calories in advance. Respect. I got a huge giggle from the brother and sister who debated whether their mom actually knew “us witches” when she told them to go down the road to get candy. The world changes so much, but kids are still kids. Thank goodness.

Hick or Treat 2018 Halloween in Thomas, West Virginia
The first lucky candy recipients at Hick-or-Treat 2018

There were characters of all sorts including a mummy, scarecrow, and my favorite howling werewolf ever. A policeman was on the scene, and as appropriate, a little witch. She looked delighted when I asked her to join our coven. Andria got plenty of help at the cauldron. She beckoned the children, asking if she could throw them in. In the end, they helped toss in frogs and snakes. Whew! I got the impression that some had watched a lot of cooking shows.

My biggest personal achievement resulted when I begged one visitor to watch my “cousins” in the window. They jumped in surprise when a “ghost” appeared. Maybe I do have a future in horror. Andria stole the show by taking the place of the Nanny Ogg figure and sitting like a statue, so that folks didn’t notice the change. She knew just when to spring into action. Listen to choice crowd reactions in the video below.

“Is that a real person in there?????” / “Look! It’s a witch!!!” / “That’s my worst nightmare!!!!!!!!”

Not only did we have young first trick-or-treaters, but we treated local Chinese teacher Mr. Duh to his first ever Halloween. China doesn’t celebrate the holiday, so I hope we gave him a proper introduction. Welcome to the US and good luck. Thank you for educating our children, and perhaps creating more curiosity about the world around them.

Many Thanks

Andria and I are grateful for the outpouring of appreciation and enthusiasm that we encountered from the first day on. We started the actual staging three weeks prior to Halloween and added elements up to the day of. Curious folks would drive by, or stop, admire, and turn around. It was amazing and encouraging to see huge smiles and many thumbs ups. I cannot speak for Andria, but that made it all worth it for me, even before the event. The gracious input and reactions received on Halloween night was extremely rewarding. It’s so rare to hear unbidden “thank you’s” for something purely creative. We hope to continue Hick or Treat next year.

Special thanks to Brian Hicks for his patience, support, transportation, and tools. Thank you to Beth Spencer for coming out and supporting our cause with beautiful photography. Dora Clemons, we couldn’t have wigged out properly without you. Thanks for lending a hand.

Thanks to our trick-or-treaters: To Jimmy Wilfong, his family, and pups – we might consider Pepsi next year (wink, wink); The Cooper girls, my first candy recipients; the Clavengers and Ponickvars who came out; the enthusiastic teachers of Davis-Thomas Elementary School; Shanna and Aldean Pennington, our expert policeman and polite jack-o-lantern extinguisher; and lastly,  Tyler Elliot, Heather Carr, and Owen with their gaggle of nighttime visitors.

Check out my Instagram account for additional work in progress posts. We’d love to hear your thoughts too. Just click the “leave comment” link below the title image. Subscribe for more from Melasdesign (see navigation menu).

Myasthenic Crisis

Crisis

On May 1 I had my first ambulance ride. I certainly believe in making it a *real* May Day. Fortunately, the fine crew of Fairfax County EMS did a wonderful job in keeping a terrifying situation calm and getting me to the hard working folks at INOVA Mount Vernon ER before I slipped all the way into the great beyond. I was in myasthenic crisis.

Living with Myasthenia Gravis - Crisis Emergency

A Somewhat Rare Disease

I have Myasthenia Gravis, and it was catching up with me quickly. You see, I was lucky to respond to relatively minimal treatment for years, since being diagnosed in 2009. Well, minimal if you count having your thymus removed as “just a thing,” and obeying the P’s and Q’s of living with the disease.

I somehow find it amusing that needing to go to the bathroom might’ve saved my life. It was the reason I woke up. I was dismayed to find that I could just barely talk, couldn’t move, but very thankfully, had just enough strength to tap my sleeping husband on the back and mumble “Houston, we have a problem.”

Help on the Way

The EMT arrived very quickly, oxygen and resuscitation equipment in tow, necessary devices for treatment of myasthenic crisis. The team navigated the course of loading me onto a stretcher and then down three flights of steps (sorry guys!) into the ambulance. I was asked how I deal with living like this, up so high. It had never been quite that bad before! Otherwise I’m a pretty determined (and possibly stubborn) cookie and hadn’t let difficulty with steps at varying degrees stop me. I was ushered out to the light of dawn and sped to the hospital.

My fretting husband followed along in his car, and we left our terrified pup at home. She’s unfortunately very accustomed to me being sick, but not to a hoard of dark-clad figures coming by when we should all be sleeping. As a matter of fact, she took the whole thing very personally and didn’t want anything to do with me for days after I got back home. I promised her I’d avoid further myasthenic crisis as best as I can. She has since forgiven the traumatic event.

During MG crisis, patients can (and possibly often?) remain lucid. I heard everything that went on. Whether the eyes cooperate and provide decent vision depends on the incident and the person. I might’ve seen a total blur, or double vision to varying extents. My eyelids might’ve refused to open at all. This time I could keep my eyes open for decent periods of time and keep up with everything. I cannot imagine how much more terrifying I would’ve been with no vision.

A Crucial Question

I figured the best thing was to stay calm, because nothing will lead down the wrong course as quickly as being written off as a panic attack. MG symptoms also worsen with stress. I took this golden opportunity to ask my caregiver whether the fire department does drills at a certain time on Summer nights. Even though I doubted it, my husband and I noticed recurring sirens at 9 pm each night for a while. I like to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, and have a long tradition of asking the question never asked before. This earned a recorded comment during stat notation that I was “very amusing.” If I’m gonna go, I might as well keep my sense of humor. Sometimes it’s the only thing you have to hold on to.

At the ER my neurological strength was barely 2/5. That means you can only twitch a little. My breathing was very weak. My heartbeat was slow. I felt like I was sinking – as if I would disappear into my gurney. Not quite as dramatically as the scene below, and definitately not involving Freddie Kruger, but still.

via GIPHY

I still had to pee! When it came time to take my MG medicine from home,  we said “it helps with nerve / muscle communication.” My nurse didn’t miss a beat, exclaiming “THAT sounds like a very good thing!”

How I became a Gourmet Vampire

The ER was put in touch with my neurologist and I was started on a drip of IVIG – an infusion of concentrated human antibodies. I had started IVIG a month before, making me a sort of gourmet vampire. I only take choice parts of the blood.

In the course of my visit, I stated I’m on good terms with the greater power (I am spiritual, but admittedly not the biggest fan of organized religion), and found someone reciting Greg Allman lyrics can be a great comfort. I was aware of someone coding in another bay, and thanked my blessings to still be alive. At some point during the morning I was transferred to my doctor’s hospital to continue the treatment, and was admitted for 5 days – one more day of treatment and then time for improvement.

Progress

That was the most terribly spectacular day of my history with MG. The other most spectacular day was in late July, when I took my first purely recreational walk in an air conditioned mall. MG and heat do not mix. On the vernal equinox (that’s September 22) I took my first recreational walk outdoors in cool mountain breeze.

There were other scares too and so much to learn about the condition. Even getting diagnosed was a long, awful process with many misunderstandings. Most people have never heard of the disease and many doctors are very hesitant to deal with you for other maladies once they see your diagnosis. It’s complicated.

Follow along and subscribe. Don’t let news of posts get buried in social media. As health allows, I will write more about my experience and try to raise a little awareness for fellow sufferers and their loved ones. If this resonates with you, I welcome comments.

Forced Restart

I’m still here. An Introduction.

By way of introduction, let me say a bit about myself. My name is Susan. Susan Hicks, to be exact. Whereas my name is not that unique, it seems my life has been.

First off, I’m an artist. This in and of itself speaks for the need of original creation and expression of unique abilities and points of view. Secondly, I am a sufferer of Myasthenia Gravis – a not so widely known neurological autoimmune disease / disorder, which current medical articles always brag “was named Myasthenia Gravis because it was usually fatal in the past, but isn’t usually, in the present, with success of modern medicine.”

Dreaming the Muse by artist Susan Phillips Hicks
Self portrait from the Dream Series by artist Susan Hicks / Melasdesign.

The Usual was Almost Unusual.

Sounds good, huh? Well, on May 1, 2018, if I hadn’t awakened in the middle of the night, only because of needing to go to the loo, I’d have likely slipped into the great beyond, being already a tad too close to being there already. The disease is not what has defined me, but in away, this forced restart has. This is my re-introduction to life.

Susan Hicks - Artist Melasdesign
Susan Phillips Hicks - Artist Melasdesign
Yup. It’s me. No. It’s not a selfie.

As my nerves and muscles allow me, I will create and post art. This is what defines me anew, every time I put color to surface, every time I shape new objects. This is what I am. This is what quite a few people have scoffed at or denied any credence to throughout my life. Art is slipping away from us; from societal elitists who bar art and music from public education, or sanctions that make art museums unapproachable for the high price of entry, to anyone who treats creativity as a dangerous thing or only accepts creativity for the purpose of business or institution. It is free thought, after all. I only started making headway once I developed a rather spiteful streak in just not listening to these controlling haters, and I am all the better for it.

And so it begins.

After sputtering starts at blog writing over the past few years, with new found strength and resolution, I will build on the humble success I’ve recently found as an artist, while also dealing with the trials and tribulations I’ve had in getting here. And I’ll also write of the joys and triumphs I’ve had. I’ll showcase where I’m at, and where I hope to go in the future. I will explain more about Myasthenia Gravis, because there are plenty of other sufferers who probably get tired of having people have no idea at all about their disease, *especially* when sufferers can appear so normal. I will cautiously illustrate what’s gotten me through, while also touching upon the drawbacks and pitfalls of the modern US health system.

I invite you to follow along and comment. We’ll see how this life develops.