Autumnal Revelry

This is an exciting time of year for me, ushering in as it does explosive displays of color in members of the tree community, increasing bouts of cloudy and occasionally rainy weather, and a succession of particularly enjoyable holidays.

I have long been an avid fan of Halloween, for its encouragement of creativity and identity experimentation. Past disguises I have donned in celebration have included a Haunted House, a Fairy Pirate, Time, and Rain. I have always been a particular supporter of the portrayal of abstract concepts in costume form, and so this year I combined the fabric scraps from my prom dress and some gray polar fleece from an attempt at a cloak I once made, creating a somewhat obscure but not wholly inexplicable representation of The Dream State of Sleep, of which I was quite proud. I greatly enjoyed the process of creation, which involved a lot of draping and sewing directly on the only mannequin on hand, namely myself, which made things slightly tricky at times. But somehow, miraculously, it all came together in the end, and I felt that the somewhat disjointed combination of different fabrics and styles was appropriate to the patchwork nature of the mental state I was attempting to embody.

Ever since I was ejected from the golden days of my elementary school youth, however, there has been a twinge of sadness lacing my experience of this particular holiday, as the enthusiasm and spirit of those around me has waned even while my own remained unabated. I mourned the day when it became, according to my peers, "uncool" to wear your costume to school--not that this stopped me from doing so; rather, I felt sad sympathy for the poor souls who had deprived themselves of their one opportunity to express themselves, physically, in ways not even open to contemplation on any other day of the year. Likewise I pitied the adults, with their suspicious queries of "aren't you a little too old to be trick-or-treating?", who were unable to rejoice in the retention of an inner innocence that kept my friends and I traipsing door to door to smile at our neighbors rather than sneaking around in the darkness pelting eggs and crushing pumpkins.

But of late an even more tragic development has come to my attention, as our collective societal rejection of imagination has caused us to respond to political and academic pressures by eliminating the celebration of Halloween from school even among our elementary and pre-schoolers. So that my little cousins, so excited to don their monkey and jackolantern suits for the third time in the past four days, were the only kids at school attired out of the ordinary. So that I, who went out walking through town in the morning despite the near-freezing air temperature and my costume's distinct lack of insulation in order to maximize my Dream State's public exposure, and, hearing the strains of children playing float merrily over the elementary school fence, decided to take a detour past the schoolyard to admire the frenzy of witches, princesses, and grape bunches I remembered from my halcyon youth, was shocked and disappointed to see nothing but your everyday jeans and jackets.

I have heard different explanations for the reasons behind the apparently universal costume bans in even our most primary school systems--some claim it is in response to religious objections against the pagan influences of the holiday (HOLYday) and some of the costumes, others that it is a symptom of the test-centered tunnel vision resulting from the ever-increasing competitiveness of our society, or the No Child Left Behind Policy, or the threatening expansion of Eastern economies. I strongly believe that a lack of imagination is both the source of these problems and the inevitable outcome of our chosen response, thereby removing much hope that we will find a way to overcome them. If we truly understood the nature of the problems we are trying to address, we would create monthly opportunities for children to costume themselves however they desire, and we would forbid them from purchasing storebought representations of their favorite TV show characters, while we were at it.

However, I have by now grown used to overlooking the general disregard for the holiday's unbounded potential and enjoying myself immensely in spite of it all, so I had a marvelous day.

As if that weren't enough excitement, last weekend there was a Ceili (essentially an Irish square dance--for an account of my first experience of this incredible cultural institution, see my previous blog post Feis and Ceili--Pretty Much The Most Fun Ever) a short and absolutely lovely (although incredibly freezing) ferry ride away. Unfortunately, my costume was not completed in time to debut it at this momentous event. Still, the experience was every bit as enjoyable as I had expected it to be. As I boarded the ferry the sun had just set, leaving the horizon ablaze in a deep, smoldering red. The evening chill over the water could not keep me from drinking in the crisp fall air tinted with woodsmoke, and so I rode on the bow as the sky darkened, the stars emerged, and the moon's reflection dappled the water racing by. It was almost painfully beautiful.

When the boat landed I followed the strains of fiddle music into a small dance hall, where a band of merry revellers had already begun to gather. Soon the rounds of dancing began, and people of all ages--from small girls in bare feet (I gleefully followed their example in this), to rosy-cheeked middle and high school students (some such specimens do still, against all odds, somehow exist), to young adults, grown-ups, and grandparents--mingled and bungled through intricate celtic knots of footwork and formations, laughing and dancing and skipping and clapping with strangers as readily as with family.

As at my last ceili, I felt the approbation of my ancestry awakened within me, nodding contentedly at the rightness of this form of interaction. I could imagine myself transported back to a place and a time when such a gathering would have been the most natural social ritual, serving all the necessary functions--chatting with the neighbors, tiring the children, showcasing the local talent, and seriously, if you're looking for a new form of speed dating, you should try out the Bonfire Dance.

Although I arrived alone and knew not another soul in the room, I danced every dance and was never left without a partner, and felt instantly welcomed and appreciated from the moment of my arrival although I had not been directly invited and had warned no one of my intent to attend. To my delight, this event is held monthly, and though sadly the next few months I will be back home when it occurs, I will definitely be sure to get a few more in while I am living in the area.

Ceilis are held by small groups of Irish dance devotees all around the world, and there is likely an opportunity to attend one wherever you live. I strongly advise you to consider doing so. You need know nothing whatsoever about Irish dancing--the steps are typically taught at the start of each dance, and then reminders are called out as the dance itself progresses, and most of the time at least seventy-five percent of the people have absolutely no clue what they are doing, so you will be in company both understanding and hilarious.

In the writing arena of my life, things are going rather well. I have committed to participation in NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month, which happens to be November, in case you were unaware. Hordes of people annually take this opportunity to join in solidarity in a mad rush to produce 50,000 words in 30 days, operating under the principle that sometimes it is best to rush so fast through your writing that you don't have time to think your ideas away. I have a basic novel idea I have been wanting to work on for some time, and I have recently developed my protagonist to the point that I am sufficiently interested in him to start writing his story, but at the moment I am still struggling with the setting, in terms of things like latitude and the precise composition of the mixture of ancient and futuristic influences, which has my slightly stymied. Basically, I still harbor some resistance to the "Stop thinking and start writing" mentality that NaNoWriMo requires, so I just need to let go of that for now, and if my characters find themselves in a different continent, millenium, and gender with each subsequent chapter, well, that's what NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month) is intended for...


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