Halloween & the Quarter-Life Crisis

The Last Word

Halloween Dress-UpReinvention Takes on New Meaning During
the ‘Quarter-life Crisis’  

By Beth Nabi

Halloween never was about the candy for me. Even as a kid, I’d choose savory over sweet any day, and most houses were doling out Smarties and Sugar Daddies, not Slim Jims. As a shy child, going door to door asking strangers for treats probably was the scariest part of the holiday. For me, the allure of Halloween was being able to transform yourself, however briefly, into something you weren’t and reinvent yourself every year.

My favorite Halloweens were the ones I spent dressed as a punk rocker. I use the term liberally … or, rather, conservatively; my punk-rock inspirations were more the Bangles and the Go-Go’s than The Clash and the Sex Pistols, so maybe “punk pop” is more accurate. My low-maintenance costume usually involved any or all of the following: an oversized hot-pink sweatshirt, black leggings, a gold-chain belt, silver face paint, plastic sunglasses, gaudy hairclips, colored hairspray, dangly earrings and, as the finishing touch, some Christmas-tree garland. The transformation was physically simple, but spiritually transcendental. Punk rock embodied social defiance and, at 7 years old, wearing sunglasses inside was about as socially defiant as it got.

Fifteen or so years later, I no longer was concerned with what to be for Halloween, and was consumed with what to be … period. I’m not sure if people who know from an early age what they want to do with their lives really exist, or if they’re just the stuff of ghost stories. I do know I’m not one of them.

After getting an undergraduate degree in English, I decided to pursue graphic design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I surveyed my fellow students-to-be on the orientation tour bus and realized immediately that art-schoolers had a certain look. No two were exactly alike, but they seemed to be made of the same stuff: dyed hair, myriad piercings, mixed bright and black clothing, black nail polish, chains connecting a nose ring to an earring or a wallet to a belt loop, or a nose ring to a wallet. These people were hip. These people were edgy. Subtract the pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes and these people were the materialization of my 7-year-old self’s ideal punk-rocker costume.

I attempted hip. I pushed my limits with four simultaneous facial piercings: three earrings and a brow ring that looked more like a staple keeping my eyebrow attached to my face. The last stayed in all of three weeks.

I felt like a white sheep in a school filled with black sheep, but I soon found that the graphic designers were more Art School Lite. The edgier ensembles were reserved for artsier majors: fashion, painting, printmaking, sculpture, etc. My version of edgy – wearing a short-sleeve T-shirt over a long-sleeve T-shirt – was plenty adequate in my department. Besides, adopting the art-school punk-rock costume would have been as out of character for me when I was 23 as it was at age 7.

I finished my degree at SCAD with the same number of holes in my face as when I started (though I had a substantially bigger hole in my wallet), and I found a great job that actually lets me put to use what I studied. However, in trying to come to terms with the responsibilities of being a grownup, I seem to have wandered into a spooky stretch of life some call the quarter-life crisis – the tumultuous transition into adulthood that’s taking longer these days because we’re paying back student loans (check), competing intensely for jobs (check), moving back in with parents (check) and waiting longer to get married (check). Twenty-somethings have such unprecedented freedom in exploring any career they want that knowing the right one to pursue can be overwhelmingly tricky.

Some researchers say the average American job-hops eight times before age 32. How punk rock is that? After all, punk was about youthful rebellion. And what says youthful rebellion more than delaying adulthood? Maybe I’m more punk rock than I thought.

I wonder if this graphic-designer costume I’m in now still will fit me in the years to come. In the future I might want to reinvent myself – maybe dress up as a psychologist, or a massage therapist, or a professor, or even a lawyer. In the meantime, I think I’ll ease my transition into adulthood by regressing into adolescence: I’m already planning one serious punk-rocker costume for the office Halloween party.


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