So I’m one of those people who isn’t really into dressing up in elaborate costumes. This is a thing that I can admit. But lest you think I haven’t a soul or something, let me say that by proxy this does NOT mean that I’m against Halloween or carving pumpkins or trick-or-treating or kids dressed up in costumes or, I suppose, even other adults dressing up in costumes. By the same sort of token, I don’t much like to dance, either. But that doesn’t mean I’m not into music or expression or letting go or … um … fun.
So why do I mention it? Well, maybe I have been feeling a bit guilty. What got me thinking about a lot of this is my eight-year-old daughter, who’s been planning her 2014 Halloween costume since the day after Halloween 2013. About a month ago, she pulled me aside to admit that she thought she’d been having some good ideas, but then when she started getting down to it, she felt like all of her ideas weren’t very original.
“What were you last year again?” I asked.
“An owl,” she said.
“A scary owl?” I said.
“No,” she said, “just kind of, like, a normal owl.”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “I remember now. You were really cute. You had homemade feathers and stuff and that pretty mask.”
“Yeah,” she said, sighing. “But that was pretty boring if you think about it.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” I said.
“Well I don’t want to be cute this year.”
“This year I’d like to be scary, and not just like a boring vampire,” she said. “Can you help me or what?”
She was getting impatient. I needed to get her going. This is what I am supposedly good for, though I realize fully that the crux of parenting is magically teaching these smallies to learn to get themselves going. “So you want to be scary and not cute, and not boring but exciting, right?”
She looked at me. I looked at her.
“You think I’m going to just tell you what to be?” I said.
“Why don’t you go get a piece of paper and a pencil,” I said.
“Oh boy,” she said. “Here we go again, I guess.”
I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Fiction writing. I’ve studied writing seriously for about 20 years now. I’ve finished three novels and half-finished about ten others. I’ve written probably 100 short stories, another 100 pieces of flash fiction. We’re not counting the false starts or half-dones with these. I’ve written four screenplays, two dramatic plays, one half-season of a sitcom. I’ve written songs and poems. I’ve written many children’s stories. I’ve spoken many more. I care about words. I pay attention to spelling. I am aware of commas. Strangely averse to semicolons.
Sometimes I wonder if it is because once, on a junior high algebra test, I wrote, in squinched letters, “I’m sorry, but my brain is on layaway until Christmas” in the blank where you were supposed to write which number X equaled—and so on down the line in the other blanks I had no chance at answering correctly. And I got a “B” instead of the “F” I deserved because the teacher said that at least I’d put some thought into my answers.
Sometimes I wonder if it is because once, when I was five or six, I told my mom I was bored. She told me to use my imagination. When I told her ten minutes later I was still bored, she made me help her clean the kitchen.
Sometimes I wonder if it is because my mother read me a thousand stories before I could talk, and a thousand more once I could.
I suppose this writing I do—and the reading that it both takes and begets—is my costuming.
An hour after she took up the pencil, my daughter had a list of animals she liked combined with surprising adjectives for each animal with a sketchpad of drawings of what these “costume ideas” would look like. Some in full color, and fully realized. We were on the couch going over her ideas, smiling mostly. The Zombie Panda was nice, the Peacock with the Bad Flu was weird, the Run-Over Puppy was way too tragic, and the Evil Bunny was the cutest thing I’d ever seen. But she didn’t want to be cute, remember?
“So what should I be?” she said.
I grabbed a book and gave it to her.
“Mythology?” she said. “What’s that have to do with anything?”
“Open that up,” I said. “You’ve heard of Medusa, right?”
-Nate LeBoutillier, editor