And so I devote this column to the silly business of making and make-believe in trying times.
First, let me say that Halloween is my kind of holiday. It is an intoxicating cocktail of glue guns and spontaneity, material-hacking and thrift-store-hopping, laced with peanut-butter cups and just a smidge of anti-consumerism.
It all sounds a bit contradictory but after a lifetime of costume-making I've pretty much found the place I need to find a little meaning in this sugar-cranked occasion.
It starts in late September, that one time of year when the little people in my life are willing to share their full-throttle imaginations (before their emerging Inner Critic begins to outshout them).
Then I strike out for my usual haunts (thrift shops, ReStore) with an opportunistic eye. My rules for costume-making have been distilled down to one: 'nothing new.' Except for tools and fasteners (glue, thread, pins etc.) all the fabrics and bits must have already finished their first use. There is more than enough stuff already in existence without creating a new market; it's just a matter of moving goods from their past use (clothing, construction scraps, bolt-ends) to my costume purposes.
Finally, there is the fabrication stage, which may or may not involve the tykes in question, depending on age. I encourage them to at least draw something about the costume they envision, or be 'in the manner of' to help me conceive it. I will make a portion of the costume early on for them to play with (business types would call this a progress meeting) and revise as I/we go.
For the price of some semi-toxic treat from their loot bag, I will ensure the costume will be durable and comfy enough for dancing and leaping around during their sugary highs.
To wit, we have three-year-old Mimi's costume this year. She showed me that she needed to be a lock-kneed, arms-extended robot so I scoured the second-hand aisles in search for a way to create the all-important illusion of stiffness. A small bundle of metalic-polyfiber pipe insulation found at the VGH Thrift Store on Broadway and Main fit the bill, coupled with a metallic girls' sweater and silver shoes from the nearby SallyAnn. I found the other bits around the apartment: a couple of unlistenable CDs, metal washers, jar lids, orange wire nuts and silver buttons she selected from my button jars. (Not shown: the extendable treat can made from accordion air duct tubing.)
Not a Halloween goes by when someone (always a woman) will say to me, "You have too much free time." It's one of those jokey putdowns but now that I've embraced making full time, I see that throwaway comment for what it is. Mister Rogers sang it to me when I was a kid and I sing it when I'm making with kids: I like to take my time.
My costumes have nothing to do with perfection or approval but are a maker's way of engaging with kids to play in a whole new way before they are fully seduced by the marketing complex.
Like the Mister says, you can think about things and make-believe; all you have to do is think and they'll grow.