What I Learned From Making a Haunted House

Halloween 2016

A few weeks before Halloween I was having dinner with my friend Arron. Arron works at a center for developmentally disabled young adults. He teaches them about plants and maintains the center’s nursery.

Arron was telling me that he was building a haunted house for their Halloween party the Friday before Halloween; which fell on a Monday this year. For obvious reasons he wouldn’t have anyone jumping at people, but he was going to be working with them to design and build creepy decorations.

A few years ago, Arron and I had some mutual friends. It’s actually how we met. And for Halloween, three years in a row, we would set stuff up around there house, hide and scare people. We were all poor, some of us dead broke, we did that for free.

But Arron’s new project excited me. I said, “Hey man you should bring all that decoration over to my dad’s house on Halloween. He gets like 100 trick-or-treaters.” And, that’s how the idea was born.

I hit up another friend of ours who helped out at our friends house two years ago, Ted. “Hey man we’re gonna build a haunted house. You in?” Ted and I showed up at my dad’s house and walked around the front yard brainstorming ideas.

Where would people scare? What we build? How would we build it? What path will they take? It was exhilarating to be bouncing ideas back and forth getting more and more excited.

We decided we would use pallets and cardboard to build our structure. We went dumpster diving and found a ton of really great wood other than the pallets we took. We also hit up Costco for large pallet-sized pieces of cardboard used to separate the products. They let you take it. We filled three shopping carts worth.

Arron was able to borrow a bunch of pipes and joints that used to be used to build a carport structure at his work. This would be our main hallway. We made the roof out of cardboard that we painted random ridiculous things on. I painted a ghost and a vagina.

We also needed to build a giant wall on the front of the yard to close in the area. We decided to make the base of the wall from pallets then put some tall thin strips of wood we rescued from a dumpster. On the tall pieces of wood we stapled the cardboard to them.

On the inside we wanted the wall to look like the kind of wall you would see in a abandoned house where you might find used heroin needs. I think we hit the mark of what we wanted to do exactly. Ted, my other buddy Neil, and I painted whatever popped into our minds and then we would paint over each others paint.

On the outside, street side, of the wall, we had bigger plans!

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Arron came over Sunday night before Halloween to set up all the decorations from his work. He was actually able to use them at another neighborhood event too. It’s fantastic that they were used four times.

We hung sheets from the tunnel structure to make it closed in. The sheets had been painted by consumers at Arron’s work! Then Arron, who is a wizard at design [check out his Instagram] started to create the interior environment.

Ted and I finished setting up pallets and walls in the yard area to make it more maze-like. We were concerned that the exit was a wide opening people could see in. Then they would be able to see where we were hiding. We ended up making a doorway with a caution-tape door. One of the crowds favorite pieces.


On Halloween we had about 300 people come through. We put up signs at big nearby intersections to bring more people in. Everyone loved it! We had people screaming, people crying, people laughing, one girl in dropped to the floor in the fetal position. Out front people were constantly posing for pictures with our wall.

We even got in some of the pictures with them.

So that’s the story of the haunted house.  But when I was thinking about the entire experience of creating this project I realized that I learned a surprising amount. I’m totally putting this on my resume. Here’s what I learned:

  1. If you believe in something you will find a way to get it done
    My friends and I truly believe in making Halloween great again. That is why we spent so much of our free time working on this project. Every time we hit any little snag we would just push through and keep moving forward.
  2. You don’t need money to create
    One thing I wish I could have explained to everyone that came through was that the entire haunted house was built for free. (I think I spent $16 on burlap, but then I actually found some in our backyard! We only used about a quarter of what I bought and I gave the rest to Arron for him to create art with).

    The haunted house was built for free! We borrowed lights, fog machines, and got all the building supplies out of the dumpster. People were impressed with our work even before they knew that.

    I just wish that could have been explained to them so that they think about what they could build for free if they wanted.

  3. Time spent working with friends is not working
    When i first told my dad we were commandeering his front yard for a haunted house he said, “that’s gonna be a lot of work.” And maybe it was. But, I don’t know. Because every time I went dumpster diving with Ted, was building with Arron, or painting with Neil I was having fun! I was working on a project with my friends. We were building off of each other creativity. We built something together that not one of us could have done alone.
  4. The path to happiness is doing what you love
    I felt so happy while working on this project. Every time we had an idea and then completed it I was thrilled. I was working on something that I wanted to do and it made me very happy.

    Maybe we can’t always do this in our jobs but that’s no excuse not to create something or do something you enjoy after work. We all work and we did this nights and weekends.

  5. You can accomplish more by working together
    I mentioned earlier my excitement that came from us brainstorming together. A lot of our ideas were collective. One person would say one thing then another person would be say we could do that if we did it like this. That’s how things got accomplished.
    When building the metal carport structure, Arron and I just started putting pieces together. We had a problem though because we need crossbeam structural support to hold up cardboard. Ted came up with the idea to use a hole saw to drill into wood and make it the size of the pipe then connect the pipe to that. Genius!
  6. The only way to fail is to not start
    Sometimes you just need to dive into something and figure it out as you go.
    For example, with the caution tape door. I had an idea of how to attach it on side and so I just started. While, Ted was holding up the other side he asked, “How are you going to attach this end?” “I don’t know yet, but we’ll figure it out.” And we did.
    I think that if I waited to start working until I had it figured out it either would have taken a lot longer or maybe it would have never happened at all.



I just want to add that when it came time to clean up the haunted house we recycled all the cardboard, we sent the wood to be turned into mulch, and even random scraps of plastic were recycled at local facility that has a collection place for “mixed plastics.”

I believe it’s important to try our hardest to reduce waste regardless of what we are doing. But you can clearly see that it did not hinder our fun!

Use Earth911.com to find recycle collection for any item near you.


Walden On Wheels ~ Book Review

I recently finished Ken Ilgunas book Walden on Wheels. I was really inspired by his story. The way that he thought really resonated with me because we have very similar opinions on a lot of things. He just has a much better ability to showcase them beautifully.

His story is this: He was a recent college graduate and had $30,000 in debt. But, society wasn’t right with him. He spent some time in Alaska and longed for that lifestyle. However he couldn’t just drop out because his mom was the co-signer on his loans. Determined to pay off the loans he takes a job in Alaska that pays for room and board. This allows him to use all his earnings to pay for his debt.

I don’t want to talk to much more about it because I want you to read his book.  However, I do want to share some experts that I really appreciate.

We can only miss what we once possessed. We can only feel wronged when we realize something has been stolen from us. We can’t miss the million-strong flocks of passenger pigeons that once blackened our skies. We don’t really miss the herds of bison that grazed in meadows where our suburbs stand. And few think of dark forest lit up with the bright green eyes of its mammalian lords. Soon, the glaciers will go with the clear skies and clean waters and all the feelings they once stirred. It’s the greatest heist of mankind, our inheritance being stolen like this. But how can we care or fight back when we don’t even know what has been or is being taken from us. (page 72)

This paragraph is a perfect description of why some people simply just do not care to protect the environment.

I remember when I was starting to learn about climate change, more than ten years ago now. It was around the same I started go camping and hiking. I would go back to the same meadow a few hours from my home for more than a decade.

In that time, I watched the ecosystem change. I watched the changing climate affect a place dear to me. There used to be two lakes. One seasonal and one three-times-as-big-year-round laek. I remember wading out to rocks and catching frogs in the seasonal pond. But over time it stopped showing up. Then a few years later the year-round lake dried up completely. I haven’t seen water there in over a year.

Other people suffering from nature-deficiency disorder can’t understand what they are missing. They can’t understand the negative impacts of their actions because they live life inside.

My relationship with nature was changing. No longer did I think of it as something to conquer, like a mountain summit. Nor was nature something to be glorified, which we tend to do at scenic road pull-offs. Nature, to me, was no longer beautiful. Nature, I realized, is only beautiful when you’re at a safe distance from it. Watching a setting sun from a windshield can mean romance, serenity, beauty. On the water, though, it was a warning for mosquitoes, storms, and the cold. When I was mesmerized by nature before, I was merely disconnected from it. After more than forty days on the voyage [paddling in a canoe]. I no longer saw nature and myself as independent entities; rather, I was nature…” (Page 117)

This backs up my earlier comment. People who don’t spend time in nature cannot come to terms that we are from nature. We are nature. To harm nature is to harm ourselves.

Dave Foreman, one of the co-founders of Earth First! talks about how the current trend to save nature as a playground for humans is wrong. Nature, the wilderness, he argues should be protected because it is wild. It should remain wild.

The yuppie lifestyles of Outside Magazine and Backpacker use nature as a playground. They protect National Parks so they have something pretty to look at. These two men see nature as so much more. Nature should be wild!

From my home, I could see suburbs in all directions. When I was a boy, at least there were pockets of woods to stoke my imagination. But now all I could see were endless rows of cookie-cutter homes, bland corporate parks, vast retirement complexes, all separated by a grid of loud, fast, angry roads. The suburban landscape, before, had never produced any thoughts in me or incited any ire, but now, having roamed the Brooks Range, the Canaduian wilderness, and the Mississippi jungle I could imagine the terrible genocide of trees and swamps and fields that took place here years before. We got rid of all that for this.” (Page 149)

Up until now I was never anything but a worker and a student. When I looked up at a dark arctic night sky, I thought I could be something else. I didn’t want a job, a salary, a home. I didn’t want to be a bold in the consumer-capitalist machine. Or a boring Ph.D student. When I looked up at the stars, I could see my path. I wanted to be a comet hurtling through the sky, governed by no one’s laws or expectations but my own. (Page 89)

Me too.

When we are raised by institutions, we are fashioned, in ways big and small, to be like everyone else. But, when we go on a journey – especially a journey that follows no one else’s footsteps it has the capacity to help a person become something unique, an individual.

While Western society never had anything quite like the vision quest, we do have a heritage of journeying laced into our cultural DNA. In the 1930s, Americans hopped trains. In the 1950s, beat poets wrote about road trips. In the 1960s, we hitched rides. Today, however, it seems like the whole “coming of age” adventure has been abridged from a young person’s life experience, leaving no gap, no bridge, no moment of real freedom in between school and career. (Page 116)

I’m lost. I’m in a crossroads in my life. I don’t know where I should go next or what I should do.

I’m constantly comparing my life to the life of my peers. Wondering if I should follow their footsteps. At least they are doing something! But this life is my experience and mine alone.

In order to live the experience that a human life is to it’s fullest potential I must live mine to my fullest potential. Only I can decided what this means for me. And, only you can decide what it means for you. It’s just hard though.

“Our relationship was kind of like our hitchhike adventure. It wasn’t supposed to last forever. It was simply a means of getting from our past selves to our future selves. And like the hitchhike, we’d take from it, learn from it, say good-bye to it, be better for it, and think back on it fondly.” (Page 163).

Sometimes I have a hard time not getting sentimental for past experiences. Great times I once had. I wonder why this moment right now isn’t as amazing as that moment. But, they can’t all be.

Good or bad experiences, I am learning to appreciate them all. Friends and lovers who are no longer in my life, I forgive for our drifting. I look back on the times, good and bad, and learn. All of my mistakes, my fucks up, the time I was an asshole, the times I was taken advantage of, I’m okay with them now.

I have learned.

I must keep moving forward.

“When I thought about my hitchhikes, the voyageur trip, Duke – I was happy to have suffered; i was happy to have been miserable; i was happy to have been alone… That’s because it was in those moments, when I was pushed to my limits, that I was afforded a glimpse of my true nature.

I learned such a glimpse cannot be gotten with half-hearted journeys and soft endeavors. Nor could I hope for such a graphic feature, like getting to the top of a mountain. Rather, I knew one must confront the very beasts and chasms that haunt our dreams, block our paths, and muffle the voice of the wild man howling in all of us, who calls for you to become you – the you culture cannot shape, the you who is unalterable, uncivilized, pure. You.” (Page 272)

As plans are coming along for my own great adventure Ken Ilgunas words give my heart the encouragement I need. He tells us that the only way to become the best you, the true you, it to suffer. Suffer while thriving for what you most desire.

I am terrified of being alone. Lost in thoughts that take me down dark places in my mind; self-loathing. I want to overcome these beasts. I want to struggle my way through my great adventure and come out alive strong than ever on the other side.

Thank you for writing such an amazing book Ken! I look forward to reading your other works soon! Safe travels.


Ken Ilgunas recently walked the entire length of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. You can head about here.

Other People’s Lives


“Other people’s lives seem more interesting ‘cuz they ain’t mine” ~ Modest Mouse Other People’s Lives (1999) 


It’s so hard for me not to compare my life with my friends, my colleagues, acquaintances, or even social media personalities.

I have friends that seem to be just moving with the flow easily. Always taking some next step with their life. Or maybe they are just partying and having a good time. Regardless of what they are doing I’m always comparing myself.

What I am doing?

I see my friends moving to a beautiful area in Northern California. One to go back to school, studying what she love, the other her husband following the one he loves.

Should I move there? Should I have followed my passion in school? Maybe I’ll go back.

I see my friend busting his ass hustling to get in at a good firm to become a financial advisor.

Should I be looking for a corporate job? Am i falling behind in the career world?

I see some of my friends working in the service industry making “good money” and partying a lot.

That looks fun! Should I just relax and do that?

I see my friends from exchange on Facebook posting pictures from their travels.

Damn I need to get back out in the world!!

– –  –

The next thing I know I have all these conflicting desires in my head. Each one pressing on unique emotional stressors. There isn’t any type of guilt that hasn’t been twisted to hurt me.

But why?

Why are other people’s lives causing me so much stress in my own?

I’ve concluded it’s because of a few reasons. The most important being I really don’t know what I am doing or what I want out of life. When I see other people doing what seems like what is right for them, I see their happiness, and then I wonder. If I did that, would I be happy?


My Solution:

Create a list of the things I want. What are the things that make me happy? What do I want out of life?

The things that I want are what is most important in my life. The things that I want are the things that will make me the most happy. I have to honest with myself about what I want from life. Then go out them! Don’t worry about what others are doing. Just do me. As long as I can do the things that make me happy, I will be happy.

But, be cautious. Drugs, alcohol, and partying are fun! But it might not be your life goal. It might be what you want right now. But, not what you want for forever. It’s about balancing. Working towards your future while having fun in the present.

The best thing I can do is create an environment, more importantly a mental state, that allows me to see the fun in the process. Self-improvement is a process. It’s not always fun, but if I can learn to love the process I think I will be okay.

Last Minute Trip to Chicago

Chicago is probably my favorite big city. Every time I have been there I have a great time. I have been a few time before this trip but it has been eight years.

Eight years ago I stayed with my cousin in her dorm and she took me around to all kinds of really cool spots.  Before that, my trips there were with family and we did all kinds of tourist activities.
This trip I was determined NOT to do any touristy things. I had family and friends who might as well be in the city. I really didn’t give a fuck what we did, I just wanted to spend time with them! So that’s exactly what I did.

I showed up in Chicago the same day as Cindy and her mom. They had planned to stay at my friend Justin’s apartment by he was still out of town. I tagged along with them. I told his roommates who I was and how we met in Taiwan. No problems, slept on the couch.

The next morning my cousin picked me up to drive out to Naperville to see her mom. Cindy was leaving to Minnesota for a couple days and Justin wouldn’t be in until for a couple days. I had nothing better to do then go to the suburbs. But, I am super grateful that I did.

We stayed up all night with her mom drinking wine, eating cheese, and talking about our family history. I learned a lot of things that I hadn’t known. It really puts certain family situations in perspective.

The next night, we had dinner with my cousin’s boyfriend. After that, we went to a bar and played darts. I almost won my first game. Does that count for anything??

The next day, a Friday, I was alone in Chicago. Everyone I knew was either working or not in town. A made myself vulnerable and tried out Couchsurfing’s new Hang Out function.

It was a great experience. I think I met up with the group at around five p.m. and ending up closing a bar at 4 a.m. Couchsurfing makes it easy to never travel alone.

One of the guys I met was named Darren. He was interested in going out approaching people and meeting girls.  I told him the truth, “I am down to go to talk to people, but I am awful at approaching strangers.” “It’s easy,” he said.

He told me, “just go up to this group and ask them what a good bar is.” Before I could come up with any excuse not to, he literally pushed me into them.

We went from bar to bar doing these all night until I left him to go to sleep. I learned a lot from him. It actually is no big deal to approach strangers in a bar. Everyone seemed quite happy to talk. This is not something I have personally experienced in my life before.

I’ve led a shy existence. But, that is changing.

The next day, technically it’s the same day because I went to sleep at 4:30 A.M., I met up with my friend Justin. He had another friend he met in Taiwan, Carina, visiting too. We all went out for a late breakfast. Justin had to go work. I wanted to go to the Lincoln Park Conservatory to see the plants. Carina came with me.

After the Conservatory we rented some bikes and rode by the lake. This was such a relaxing way to spend the day. It reminded me of the bay in San Diego. I wanted to go home and make a point of riding along the bay regularly. (I have not done this.)

The plan was to meet up with Justin for dinner. But apparently Carina is just naturally late. Justin told us to meet 30 minutes early so we would be one time. Fantastic! They went to a play and I went back to my cousin’s to get cleaned up. We met up for drinks after.

Ended up getting drunk. Getting hungry. And, dropping a watermelon in the grocery store. I also through a cantaloupe at Justin while he was trying to sleep. I went to bed at 4 or 5. Two hours later Cindy showed up.

She had pie from Justin’s mom. She feed it to me while I was barely awake. Life can be good sometimes.  😉

I spent the next two days doing some touristy stuff with Cindy and her mom.

I took only four pictures. Mostly of Lego versions of the Chicago skyline.

And a fat Tinkerbell graffiti piece.


Chicago was wonderful.

How I Got Happy

This post is about how I realized I was following a path in my life that was making me extremely unhappy. I was leaving in a constant state of high-stress. I was depressed, angry, and always on edge. Thoughts of self-harm were not uncommon.

I snapped regularly.

I would yell at people and treat people like shit. But, it wasn’t me.

It felt like I was watching someone else take over my body to use it to spread negative words and actions. I ended up hurting a lot of people during this period of my life.


Fortunately, for me I got out of this slump. And, when I did it was like coming down from a trip. The stressed mindset just disappeared and I was able to reevaluate the past year or so of my life from a new perspective.

I was able to do this reevaluation essentially by myself. I view depression and stress entirely differently than I did before I experienced it (or before I knew I was experiencing).

I want to share what I did in hopes that it may help someone else change their mental status.


  1. Turn off TV
    This is about reducing the negative inputs in your life.Watching TV doesn’t make me happy. It numbs me. Then it dumbs me. The shows aren’t for me anymore. I am passed that stage in my life.

    The TV is designed to make you unhappy. I consider it mind altering substance. I would categorize it as a depressant. The more you use the more you need it to be “happy.“ Before you know it you’re watching dumber and dumber shows.

    For me it wasn’t hard to stop watching TV because I grew  up on movies more than I did TV. But, I gave up watching movies as well. I’m sure most people reading this don’t watch TV, they have Netflix. In my opinion, Netflix is just a higher quality version of the TV-drug.

    For other people it may be hard to quit TV because when something becomes a constant habit in your life it’s not easily given up. People use it to eat, as background noise, or simply to “relax.”

    My suggestion is to use music for background noise instead.  Or try to fall asleep reading. If you aren’t a reader it takes some time getting used to it. I know the transition was hard for me. But stick with it. Like anything else it gets easier the more you do it and you get better at it.


  2. Go For a Walk/Hike
    Just get out of the house. The easiest way to do this is to just go for a walk.I was lucky I live right across the street from a large open space area. In the middle of the night I would go out there to be alone with my thoughts. I would just walk and keep walking.

    Sometimes I would go out and walk for three hours a night for many nights in a row. That might seem like a lot, but when I was at my worst it was either that or suicide. Three hours doesn’t seem like much when it gives you your life back.

    You don’t have to go for that long. 30 minutes is plenty long. Maybe there is a park nearby you can walk to and then around. Maybe you can just walk around some city blocks in your neighborhood.

    For me the point wasn’t walking. It was to have nothing else to do but sort my thoughts. The walking just kept me going. Kept me on track.

    I prefer to be alone when hiking. Obviously I am going to recommend what I prefer. This is again the steps that I took to get happy.

  3. New Friends
    I wasn’t myself. I was a depressed, angry, asshole version of myself. I had lost some friends because of this. And the friends I had growing up were always busy at different times.I knew it wasn’t their fault we couldn’t hang out. So I decided to get more friends. More friends means more people to ask to hang out. More variable availability.

    I like to travel so I used the Couchsurfing app to find local events in my city. Luckily, there was a weekly one. I decided to go. I put myself out there.

    Now I have friends who I hang with regularly that I met through this event. We’ve gone to music festivals, hiking, lots of concerts, and just hung out bar hopping.

    It felt a lot scarier going in than it was coming out. I was scared. But relaxed after a few introductions. Everyone at these sorts of events is there because they want to meet people. Go to events where people want to meet people.


  4. New Music
    All the music I was listening to at the time reminded me of times, people, and events from when I was over stressed and depressed. I couldn’t have that anymore.I went out in search of new music and I have an entire catalog of music that I am currently in love with. All of which I found only in the last few months.

    I love the new music because it doesn’t remind me of anything.


  5. Meditate
    Everything I was reading about how to get happy mentioned the meditating and journaling (the next topic).Since they were both consistently recommended from a variety a different sources (from self-help to how to excel in business).

    I have been using the Calm app to teach me how to mediate.


  6. Journal
    In the intro I talked about how I felt like I was coming down from a trip of some sort. It’s like for the past year my mind had been working in an entirely different way. I was realizing that now.Luckily I had started to journal, although inconsistently. I was able to go back and reread how I was thinking and how I was feeling.

    The odd thing for me with this was when I reread what I had wrote somewhere inside me the depressed angry me knew that wasn’t who I was. I was writing about how I was being a complete jerk. I was writing about how I needed help. I was writing that I didn’t know what was going on with me.

    Later, when I figured out that I had been over-stressed, it all made sense. It’s not too little too late though! I feel, in general happier than I have felt in no time that I can remember.


  7. Go Barefoot (optional)
    This one is recommended as optional. I just really like nature so going barefoot helped me be more in touch with nature. It made me feel grounded in my world while it was literally turning upside down.



What did you do to realize that you weren’t happy? And, what did you do to fix it? I would love to know. Leave a comment.

Back in San Diego (Again) For a Week or So. I Really Can’t Remember.

Written in October 2016, takes place in July 2016.


Coming back to San Diego from Arcata sent my mind spinning out of control. I was envisioning myself running away to a new life in the woods. I was jealous of my friends starting new.

I felt like I have been through a lot in the past few months. It wore on me mentally and physically. How could I not want to run away?

I spent the next week in San Diego working all day, dreaming of the redwoods, and spent my nights smoking DMT. A lot of it…

I learned a lot from my experiences but I am definitely forgetting some of my days.

I ended up canceling my trip to visit a friend in Montreal because I wasn’t sure what was going on and I was pretty sure I was moving up to a farm in Humboldt County. Something about inter-dimensional  travel makes you think.

I decided on a whim to buy a cheap round-trip ticket to Chicago. My Taiwanese friend was to be visiting there, I have a great friend I met in Taiwan who works out of Chicago, and my cousin lives there! I haven’t seen here in eight years.

And, I was a little worried that if I didn’t force myself to take a break I would have just kept experiencing DMT. Which isn’t a bad thing. But, I was letting myself prioritize that over what I knew I wanted to make my priorities.