The creative impulse


Nothing highlights the differences between the Swensen children like Halloween. What characters they choose to portray, what costumes they elect to wear, and the process each adopts in “becoming” the character of choice is very revealing—a veritable dress-up Rorschach test.

Daniel is a parent’s dream in this regard. He requires no preparation, no diva-like pampering. We don’t have to worry about any last minute drama or demands.

“Daniel, have you thought about what you want to be for Halloween?”

“Umm. No. Whatever. Maybe Batman or something?”

Awesome. Check that one off—we’ve got a couple of Batman masks in the bin upstairs and a variety of accoutrements (e.g. a black cape) he’s certain to be satisfied with. Getting Daniel dressed and ready for his annual tour of neighborhood candy dispensing houses typically takes all of three minutes. No makeup! No trip to a discount store for an obscure-yet-“necessary” accessory! No problem!

Then there’s Abby. As discussed in last week’s column, she’s become enamored with a wide range of graphic novels and anime programs/books/movies/videos. This has given birth to a love of “cosplay” (costume + play), and because she participated in a cosplay activity in Dayton last week she had her Halloween outfit ready to go as well. Thank goodness, too, for we almost had a collective family meltdown simply listening to/quasi-helping her get dressed for a birthday party/trick-or-treat event Sunday afternoon. Though I witnessed it up close and personal, its genesis still eludes me. I gather she felt acute time pressures and dissatisfaction with how Krista and I were trying to assist. In any case, the kerfuffle passed, she made it to her activity, and had a great time. Whew.

Which brings us to Luke, who is (to my admittedly simplistic mind) both creative and mildly obsessive-compulsive. A week or so ago he decided he wanted to be “Pyro”, a character in a video game. One source describes Pyro as follows: “… a mumbling pyromaniac of indeterminate origin who has a burning passion for all things fire related… [he] appears to be insane and delusional….”

Alrighty, then. Not exactly something out of “Father Knows Best”, but I reasoned it could be worse (every father’s go-to rationalization) and assented. I immediately nixed his request for a costume available on the internet for the oh-so-awesome price of $85 and gently quashed his “let’s make a flame thrower out of this and that and the other thing!” impulse. I was gratified that instead of griping Luke shifted into inventive overdrive. Luke had already acquired a very cheap and appropriate mask, as well as a plastic hatchet which closely resembled an item Pyro wields (in addition to his flame thrower, naturally). He rattled off a series of additional items he’d need to adequately satisfy his creative costume impulse and I anticipated—accurately, it turned out—a lengthy visit to the Goodwill and other stores on Saturday.

That day arrived and we embarked on our quest. Luke thought a red jump-suit would be best, but (praise God) he settled on a red t-shirt and red sweat pants combo instead. $5.00 total. Given that finding red pants seemed unlikely, this was a significant early victory. Next, we looked for long dark gloves with a yellow stripe on the end. Oh, yeah, sure. After several minutes of searching for this needle-in-a-haystack, he okayed a cheap pair of dark winter gloves (which we can both use come December-March) and acquiesced on the yellow stripe detail. C’est un miracle!!

From this point Luke grew more innovative and I became more anxious. Our tacit $25 budget was intact by a solid margin, but now he “needed” a strap across his chest with black and yellow canisters affixed, AND a reasonable facsimile of a tank or tanks ostensibly containing flammable liquid attached to his back. Oh, is that all??!!

Then I lay back and watched the maestro at work. He found a khaki-colored mesh belt for his chest and demonstrated how he’d strap it across his midsection. $2.49. Not bad. Next he discovered a black satchel to serve nicely as a receptacle for the “fuel tanks” on his back, and another cheap belt to thread through the satchel’s loops and around his neck. Total for both: $5.49. Wow. But what about the tanks and the aforementioned canisters? We moved on to another store and the maestro, after a solid 30 minutes of scanning the sporting goods and houseware aisles, discovered perfectly sized, clear plastic jugs, each 99 cents. Remarkable.

Ah, but the canisters! Those dreaded (but “necessary”!) canisters! After trekking to two more stores we finally hit pay-dirt—a trio of very light, plastic, battery-operated, Halloween-themed faux candles. “Dad, if we tape black construction paper here and a strip of yellow construction paper there, and then tape them to my strap in front, they’ll be perfect!” he exclaimed with such excitement and certainty I couldn’t help but believe his vision. Total for the three: $2.99. Fantastic.

With a couple of minor tweaks (he had to draw a flame insignia and tape it to his right shirt sleeve, for instance), the maestro was ready to go the following afternoon and came home an hour or so later with an impressive, sugary haul. He was appropriately satisfied with his creative vision and execution, and so was I. The ensemble came in at less than $25. And what about the cost of watching him in action?


By Tim Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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