On pretending

31 October 2015

Every October, my neighborhood closes down sections of the main street for a weekend afternoon, fills it with bales of hay and games, and lines the sidewalks with business owners handing out candy and neighborhood kids filling their bags. Halloween without the walking in the dark, crossing car-filled intersections or deciphering houses of ambiguous candy-giving status. As a parent, I like it a lot. I also like the more contained, mid-day atmosphere because it gives me a better opportunity to enjoy the costumes kids pick out for themselves.

Kids in costumes are adorable, yes. But, beyond that, I am always drawn to whatever representations people make of their wishes and desires. However cartoonish or inconsequential they may seem. Who are you? What are you pretending to be? I love learning what people in general wish to be, what their hopes, dreams, visions are. I love being around people who believe in themselves. Children tend to naturally believe in themselves. They haven’t yet capitulated to the reasons everyone else makes up why they shouldn’t. And so their hopes, dreams and visions are often charmingly sincere and emotionally refreshing.

Adults dress up for Halloween, too, I know. But not usually with the same devotion. It’s more difficult for adults to express what they want to be within the complicated grown-up world of other people’s expectations and desires. I see costumed men who are careful not to seem too silly. I see costumed women who are intent on being sexy—but not too much, because then that might seem silly. If anyone goes completely over the top, well, it’s just for laughs. Which are nice. Another nice side effect of laughs are that they deflect and diffuse sincerity.

For adults, Halloween is not for expressing what we want to be. We don’t really do that anymore. Maybe we already are what we want to be. Maybe we’re already skilled at pretending to be something else. The older I get, the more I suspect the latter. We pretend more than children do. We don’t admit flaws, mistakes, weaknesses. We don’t admit we have hope, dreams, visions. We believe we’re done with growth. We laugh about what we’re not. We don’t tell the truth about who we are. As long as no one disturbs the masquerade, peeks behind the curtain, rips off the mask, we’ll have a fine time.

Who are you? What are you pretending to be?

I indulge every choice of costume my daughter makes, attempting to not let cost or convenience get in the way. She takes it seriously as a method of expression and experimentation. Displaying who she is underneath matters to her. If we’re lucky, it will continue to matter beyond one day of each year.

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