“Halloween comes earlier every year” is a thing we say with all the regularity of Halloween itself. In part this is because of how time collapses: The 12 months between my first Halloween (costume choice: bumblebee) and my second (tomato) equaled 100 percent of my lifetime. The time between my grandmother’s most recent Halloween (costume choice: retiree) and the one to come (she’s thinking about it) will account for 1.08 percent of hers. Our first Halloween is a titanic overload of ghosts and goblins and glitter and our mothers, usually so familiar, dressed as lions. Our 30th might be a parade of sexy teachers, sexy nurses, sexy peacocks, sexy bananas. Our 92nd—pfft. Halloweens arrive with the regularity and insignificance of passing commuter trains.
This is a situation compounded by matters not of perception but of science, and broken seasons, and catastrophic dislocation. Last Thursday, the third day of October, the high temperature in New York City was 91 degrees, and so our bodies said Where is the beach? rather than What can I be for Halloween that is not a sexy banana? Meanwhile, pumpkin spice lattes have been on sale since the week before Labor Day, because Starbucks decided to test the limits of our appetites for PSLs and PSL season writ large. And so, seasonality—and the underlying pleasures of a thing that it is more valuable because it is less available—becomes just another kind of scarcity. Why have scarcity when you can have more, and everything, all of the time?
No wonder Halloween feels like it comes earlier every year: As a percentage of our time on Earth, it does. Our bodies are telling us that it’s mid-summer, not early fall, while our flavored coffees, with entirely their own agenda, would have us believe that mid-fall starts in late summer.
It’s a mess. There is, though, a way to right some of these wrongs.
Last year, I was “too busy” to come up with a costume until Halloween morning, and ultimately decided to go to a party in Paris as “an American woman”: camo T-shirt, camo Elizabeth & James jeans, Forever 21 camo sweatshirt, French Army camo jacket. (“Et voilà, I am both celebrating and satirizing your French expectations of American fashion norms!”). I slowly walked up rue Oberkampf, knowing my costume was a failure; I bought the cheapest possible pinot noir at a convenience store, went to my friend’s apartment, knocked gently on the door, put the wine next to the doormat when no one answered, and turned to go home, though I could hear the party stirring inside. Halfway down the stairs, though, I passed a man on his way to the party I had just abandoned. Eleven months later, I see him perfectly: He was dressed as a French mime, his face painted chalk-white, with a lemon-yellow beret and a blue-and-white striped marinière. In his arms, he cradled two baguettes, wrapped not in standard paper but vintage French linen. It was like seeing a deer walk through my living room. I can barely remember the five Halloweens that came before that one, but I will never forget that mime.
His commitment was magnificent, and in its magnificence, we find a solution for our problem. We cannot force Starbucks to respect the natural timeline of the pumpkin harvest, but we can reconfigure our sense of time, and how we spend it. When we create things that are magnificent, we regard their debut with apprehension, and excitement, and wonder, and trust me, if you sit down today and dream up the greatest Halloween costume anyone has ever created, the time between now and Halloween will dribble by, like the slowest trickle of seasonally appropriate maple sap. Things we want seem to arrive more slowly; for proof, let us momentarily return to those commuter trains, which never appear more irregularly than when we are late. I am too busy, you are too busy—and yet I just spent the last ten minutes busily staring out my window. An amazing idea rarely takes much time—it takes, instead, the desire to have one, and a sense of the possibility that we might be magnificent. (Pinterest can help.)
Without that sense of possibility, we will be caught off-guard, in our camo non-costumes, and Halloween, and the holidays that follow, will hurtle toward us, another undone task coming due. With it, though, we can do the hard work of making our holidays magical ourselves. Like everything worth having, they will take forever to get here. The alternative is a world moving ever-faster, filled with sexy peacocks. We can do better, and be brilliant.
Graphics by Coco Lashar.