Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Art of Pretending

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. In fact, aside from Christmas, this is probably it. I should, in the grand tradition of thing, devote this to my top horror reads or something, but the truth is I don't read a whole lot of horror. Nor do I watch a whole lot of horror films, in part because so many of them are just so very, very bad or else very, very stupid. Sometimes both - looking at you, Saw franchise. I'd have a tough time coming up with a top ten list, and it would likely be derivative of somebody else's.

Instead, I thought I'd try and figure out why I like the holiday so much. After all, I don't eat a lot of candy anymore, and I've not been to a costume party since I stopped being home for the annual church party - which was back when I left for college. My daughter and I do make a big deal out of it, creating our own costumes and taking months to plan out what we'll be. (Don't hate me. My costuming skills rely largely on a hot glue gun, a minimalist approach, and heavy imagination.) So sure, some of that enthusiasm rubs off. But my love of Halloween goes deeper than that.

I think part of it can be explained by the same part of me that likes the creative part of the writing process. In writing stories, I get to imagine different people, different settings, and to some extent pretend to be them. I don't see myself living vicariously through my characters, nor are any of them extensions of myself beyond the usual psychological borrowing we all do when we write. But by the same token, when I put on a costume I don't really see myself suddenly getting to do everything that person or creature would do, either.

Which is good, because one year I was a fish, and really, who wants to be a fish? It's not like it was in Finding Nemo, folks.

But there is a bit of that vicarious aspect to it. We can, by putting on a costume, pretend to be something. We can play at being someone we're not, from a Star Trek redshirt (should that be capitalized?) to a shuffling zombie, from a mermaid to a rock star. And if we're not pretending to be something, we get to capitalize on our sense of humor, or irony, or whatever other trait we put on display via our costume. It's not perfect, it's not complete, but it is there.

Which makes Halloween the only holiday where as writers we can vent the kind of creativity we normally only get to display on the printed page. Unless you're the arts and crafty type that does all those homemade Martha Stewart-esque home deco things. In which case you probably don't write, because I have no idea how you'd manage to find the time to do both. Assuming that's not the case, though, Halloween is the one time of year our creativity gets turned into something tangible. Something that can be - is meant to be - displayed, in probably the most welcoming venue any of us will ever submit anything to. (Neighbors and friends tend to be far more forgiving than editors and critics.)

Plus, there's candy. Lots and lots of candy.

PS: I was sorely tempted to start this little missive with the opening credo from The Pretender, but I'm not sure how many people would have actually remembered that.

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