When I was growing up, Halloween seemed magical. (Not just because it was a time that ghosts and witches were imagined to be real, and not just because as kids we could knock on the doors of neighbours and strangers, who subsequently gave us candy that we were allowed to eat.) Every Halloween, during our trick-or-treating years, my mother was able to conjure costumes for my siblings and me out of thin fabric.
I remember (sometimes on Halloween, itself) my mom coming home from work and asking us what we’d like to be as though anything was possible. If we couldn’t think of something, she would suggest some options from her magic workshop, and then upon us making our selections from the future, she would set about creating them. I think that may have been my favourite part—watching my mom create something out of nothing recognizable was both exciting and, in retrospect, inspiring.
For the Halloween in which I was seven years old, the small town we were living in was feeling rather rainy. So, after work, my mom asked my dad to go to the store to buy a collection of as many coloured garbage bags as he could find, and then, as always, she turned to those of her children still of trick-or-treating age and asked what we’d like to be.
A few hours later, we travelled into the damp night wearing costumes that were intricately-detailed as always, but also shiny in the dark, and perfectly rain proof because they were made out of plastic bags. The next day, at school, all students in the elementary school were taken in our costumes on a parade of the city. It was still raining, and so while some of my classmates moaned about water-logged limbs, I remember smiling around every sparkling puddle.
Perhaps in part due to my warm mood, I won the costume contest (I think it was for the whole school, but my memory might be exaggerating for effect), and I was given a decent prize for it, too. If I may boast for a moment, I was aware that it was unjust for me to win an award for my mother’s talent, and I told her, at the time, that I thought she should get the proceeds, but she insisted that I’d earned it by wearing the costume so well. I’m glad to say that I wasn’t convinced. (In retrospect, I now like to think I learned something that day about how the world sometimes rewards the wrong people.)
Growing up, my siblings and I knew that my mom could create anything because the evidence was always around us. Instead of buying a Barbie camper or Hot Wheels race track, my mom built them for us, and they were better than the ones on TV. I think as a result I see creativity not merely as an expression of one’s individuality, but more significantly, as a means by which to solve a problem.
It seems to me that some want to instill creativity in youngsters by telling them they can create anything and then praising whatever they produce. Perhaps this works for some, but it certainly wouldn’t have worked on me. I have never had a natural talent for putting things together, and I was smart enough as a kid to recognize that my four much-more-skilled siblings could produce results much more impressive than my own. But that doesn’t mean I’m not creative. When I see a problem now, I am able to imagine plenty of possible solutions (and then to choose from them the option that could actually fit my particular limitations).
For instance, when I was in university, I was invited to a costume party with the theme of “white trash.” I was offended by the idea, and yet I wanted to attend the gathering, so I found a white garbage bag, and with a few incisions, turned it into a shirt. It was the least impressive costume at the event, but it may have been the most creative. I’d learned from the best.