One night, I got home and thought about all the outfits I’d had on that day.
There was the 3 a.m. nursing mommy t-shirt and shorts, glasses, and loose hair. A little later, the polished court suit, perfect make-up, hair slicked back tight. That afternoon, the jeans, pony-tail, Doc Martens, and sweater, as I took the older kids out in the double-stroller, with the youngest strapped on in the baby-pack. After making dinner, a quick change into a church skirt to attend a training session for Sunday School teachers. Finally, home again, and back into comfy mommy-mode.
It occurred to me that all of these outfits expressed a different part of who I am. They weren’t dressing-up to be something other than “me,” they were displaying a particular aspect of my character and responsibilities.
I’ve been used to thinking of dressing-up, or acting, or writing a character, as putting on something that isn’t really me. I’m just pretending. But it doesn’t work to just pretend. If we don’t believe it, at least a little, there’s no magic. It becomes preposterous, or humiliating, like poor little Ralphie in the bunny costume.
For example, when I first wrote the scenes with Zheng He, I had a specific outline, that generally followed what Evil Bob had thought was going to happen. Part of the control I placed on it was my awe of Zheng He– after researching his incredibly difficult and monumentally accomplished life, I was scared to write of him in a familiar way. But, he didn’t let me write it the way I’d planned.
After I wrote the scenes, I went back and wrote the entire section from his perspective, to see if I really believed it. I started to see ways that I could relate my own minor experiences to his epic ones. That’s when, for me, the magic started happening, when I could start to feel how he might have felt. Without that sympathy, it can’t feel real.
In the same way, physically putting on a costume isn’t fun if there’s nothing in it we can understand. When we put on a costume we enjoy, it works because there’s something in it that we can identify as being part of us, even if amplified out of all proportion, or freed from normal restraints. You might be setting Mr. Hyde loose for a night, but it’s the Mr. Hyde that was dwelling in you the entire time.
So, this Halloween, remember that when you’re covering yourself with all that makeup and costuming, you’re really revealing your deepest, innermost soul for all to see. 😉