Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
I love my house. It’s cozy, it’s in a safe neighborhood, and the layout is perfect. There’s only one little drawback to living here: We have a massive, never-ending scorpion infestation. These things are horrible. Their venom is specifically designed to be painful; they fluoresce under blacklight (I am convinced this is just to be more creepy and weird); they’re nocturnal; and, for whatever reason, they tend to gravitate toward beds. Of all my Texan relatives who have had scorpions in their homes, every single one has been stung in bed during the night at some point. I am the only one to whom this has not yet happened. It is a matter of when, not if, I am woken in the middle of the night by a scorpion attack. As you can guess, this is a thought that keeps me up at night. (Literally. As in AAAAAH-WHAT-WAS-THAT?!, jumping-out-of-bed-and-frantically-brushing-myself-off-every-few-minutes up at night.)
The upside is that I am told that I do my best writing after encounters with these creatures (I’ve received more than a few complaints from readers asking me to stop blathering on about this Catholic stuff and get back to the scorpion posts). So when I asked the readers of my personal blog what I should be for Halloween this year, I got a bunch of responses saying, of course: SCORPION! A friend even found an adult-sized costume for me.
I have a feeling that the full, eight-legged adult outfit will be out of my price range, but the kids latched on to this idea, and we spent some time figuring out how to create a homemade scorpion costume for mommy. We didn’t get very far before the girls drifted from insisting that it be a princess scorpion to just a princess, but the brief time I spent in my thrown-together scorpion outfit (mostly just wearing all black with a tinfoil tail and stinger) taught me something about Halloween and the value of dress-up.
As I lurched around the house, chasing the giggling kids in the role of a six-foot arachnid, I realized that, in an odd but surprisingly effective way, I was working through my fears. I fear scorpions because I cannot control them. It is up to them, not me, if I will be startled awake by having a venomous stinger jabbed into me repeatedly tonight. It would be my preference not to have them in my toilets, my kids’ toys, and hanging out by the baby’s crib, but neither my requests nor my skill with a can of Raid can convince them to go away. This fact causes the occasional burst of angst in my life—and something about walking around as a scorpion myself helped me channel those negative feelings.
We often play with our fears in ways that can be beneficial to our souls by establishing a proper context for them—otherwise known as theater. This can take the form of scary movies, murder mysteries, ghost stories ... any artistic enactment that, with our permission, presents to us something frightening within a clearly delineated milieu. Under such circumstances, we then have the power to grab hold of our fears, to manipulate them, even laugh at them. It diffuses fear’s psychological and emotional hold over us: We vent bottled-up anxiety and are led to a better understanding of both ourselves and of the things that frighten us. Throw in the visceral thrill that comes with facing our fears, and you have yourself an all-around good time. That’s why I love Halloween.
This is exactly what I found as the kids and I laughed through the house playing scorpion. There’s something inherently campy about wearing costumes, to put on the form of something you’re not. Like when kids play dress-up in their parents’ clothing, it allows us to laugh at ourselves, and at whatever it is we’re imitating. (Of course we’ve all seen a few outfits that are just offensive with their skimpiness or their goriness, but I would make the case that those are more cries for attention than costumes.) And so when I imagine my neighborhood street being filled with little goblins and skeletons and prisoners next Monday, and think of my own experience playing dress-up, I begin to see the value of this holiday. It’s a chance to take the things that we fear—evil, death, the malice of our fellow man, scorpions—and to take back control in a silly, theatrical way. Because there is only so much you can really fear something once you’ve learned to laugh at it.