Posted on 31 October 2012
It’s Halloween and tonight, after handing out little bags of candy, Shirley, Rob, and I will go to Rosemary’s for dinner, ghost stories, and fortune-telling (so says Rosemary.) Shirley arrived a week ago from Vancouver, nearly a year after we met in Toronto for a writing retreat and we’re at it again – working on our novels. Hallelujah. We have both downloaded “Scrivener” a writing resource for authors (that Rob told me about a year ago) and are organizing our thoughts.
Last night at dinner, I thought of an old essay I’d written over twenty years ago about Halloween and then updated a few years ago. I sent it out and heard nothing and so like much of my writing, it waits in a file labelled “stories without a home” in my computer, to be resurrected and rewritten (or not) at some later date. I’ve decided to publish it here:
“It’s the day before Halloween. My three children are in the living room, giggling and howling as they mimic all the marvelous creatures that appear, without effort, in their young minds. How I envy their unfettered imaginations that never give a thought to the facility of assembling costumes.
With a qualm, my mother-in-me tells them to stop their tomfoolery and be practical.“Tomorrow is Halloween. Find a costume.”
My stern voice doesn’t dampen their fun. My daughter, an impish five-year-old, decides to be a witch. Next evening, face painted a ghoulish green, dressed in rags, she sets off with a broomstick to terrorize the neighbours. My middle child, fits a curly yellow wig on his head, pads his chest, slips into my yellow dress, and paints his cheeks and lips siren red. With a handbag slung over one shoulder, the eleven-year-old boy/woman saunters out the door. Ten minutes before my eldest son is to meet a friend, he shows the first signs of adolescent insecurity. He tosses off his Indian headdress, drops
his tomahawk, and climbs into black slacks and sweatshirt. Pausing a moment to admire his face in the mirror, he paints it white, and circles his eyes and mouth in black. He shrugs at his image, gives me a lopsided grin, and leaves.
I remember having the same qualms as this son about Halloween. By the time I reached fourteen, the cost to my dignity was only just outweighed by my gluttony. (Almost) like the feasters in Fellini’s Satyricon who would gorge themselves until they vomited and then gorge again, I would consume sweets Halloween night until I felt sick.
My children return with huge sacks of edible junk. The boys head to their rooms to sort, compare, and devour. My daughter wastes no time on such superfluous activity. She delves into her bag and begins munching whatever her hand first touches. High on happiness and sugar, she gallops around and around and around until I feel dizzy. Suddenly, she stops. Her ghoul’s face lights up and a stream of garbled words erupt from her lips.
“I want to take all the dishes off the shelf and smash them I want to take all the food from the refrigerator and throw it off the balcony I want to take all the books from the case and burn them I want to take all my toys and throw them in the garbage.”
Exhausted from this imaginative activity, she rushes to the sofa and collapses.
I shiver wondering where my sweet girl child has gone.
“Why?” I finally manage to breathe.
“For fun. So there won’t be anything to do.”
Once again I admire a child’s unfettered imagination that is allowed to roam where it will without edits and guilt.
As I think about this scene from a dozen years ago, I suddenly recall another, this one from my single days when I was living alone in a small apartment. That day, the rain was mean and furious. I paced from one end of the short room to the other. Again and again. Suddenly, I found myself, staring at the dishes on the open kitchen shelf and was hit with a mad desire to take all the dishes and smash them. Unlike my daughter, I did not let the idea evaporate: I questioned my sanity.
“Wouldn’t such destruction be senseless? What if the neighbours hear the crash and call the police?”
In the end, I took one cup and saucer to the balcony and smashed them onto sopping cement. I slammed the door and collapsed on the couch.
When did I start taking myself so seriously? My daughter was happy to let her imagination flow. I questioned all in terms of reality. Does one have to be drunk to play? Does one only lose oneself while making love? Is it even possible for an adult to allow the imagination to roam?
And then I remembered Venice. Here is a place where adults indulge the imagination. During Carnival, the city and its people spend much time and energy planning a masquerade, a grand fantasy, a fairytale ball. For the most part, life is dictated by age, sex, and social position. In Venice, for a short time each year, a person’s present is transformed. One dons a mask and costume, and becomes whoever and whatever one pleases. Established in AD 697, the Venetian Republic lasted 1000 years, the longest republic in history. Some believe that Carnival is responsible.
SEPTEMBER 11TH appears. I do not have the stomach to continue thinking about fun. On television, I watch a jet flying into the World Trade Centre, not once but twice, I freeze. And then I freeze again. A friend is aboard a camera truck, shooting an epic. The director yells “faster faster.” The driver loses control and swerves. My friend bangs his head against the wall of the truck and is dead. At his funeral in a Buddhist temple, the priest said his life would only make sense if everyone present lived his or her life joyously. How is one to live joyously in a world where airplanes turn into
missiles, 110 floor buildings collapse in slow motion killing thousands, and a young man loses his life for the sake of a film? How can I contemplate play when the world is at war?
Over two years later, I come across an article by Victor Turner, anthropologist:
“Playfulness is a volatile, sometimes dangerously explosive essence, which cultural institutions seek to bottle or contain in the vials of games of competition, chance, and strength, in modes of simulation such as theater, and in controlled disorientation, from roller coasters to dervish dancing…” Although play is “out of mesh” with the day-to-day ingredients needed to sustain life, Turner asserts that it enriches and may even, in its oxymoronic fashion, be advantageous to future
generations: “Yet it may happen that a light, play-begotten pattern for living or social structuring, once thought whimsical, under conditions of extreme social change may prove an adaptive, ‘indicative mood’ design for living.”
Over the past dozen years, my children have grown up. My eldest son has left home. Although I still enjoy a wine-infused meal and an occasional fling with my man, I have grown more rebellious. I laugh and sing. I dance on tables.
I write. My imagination has only begun to flow unfettered and explore possibilities for serious play.”
This story always reminds me of my son Michael who once in class was asked by a teacher what he valued. “Fun” was his reponse. He is a wise young man.
Tomorrow, Shirley and I will take off overnight on an adventure with Susan to the Caunes-Minervois and stay in a luxury hotel… for fun.