All of the tools of the trade were present. Knife, spoon, tons of newspaper, a few wet napkins. Certainly a pumpkin. The only thing missing was a streak of creative ability.
Let’s be clear. When it comes to arts and crafts, I’m more copycat than creative genius. Those cool wooden crates I use as shelves on my living room walls? Totally stolen idea from a tap room. Those framed watercolors? Not by my hand. The occasional flower art adorning one or both of my big toenails? Sticker. Sometimes a $5 investment at the salon. Point is, a girl who could barely attach fake, glittery costume eyelashes before a Halloween party can’t be trusted to freehand nail art.
And yet every October around this time I willingly pick up a sharp knife, tilt a slightly unmanageable squash in the other and feebly attempt to turn a pumpkin into a work of an art by that day’s stroke of midnight — consider it reverse Cinderella.
I should know better. I do know better. I look at sculpture pieces and marvel that the artist was able to visualize his or her idea in a block or wood or stone or what have you before making that first chip or slice. I, too, visualize but somehow the reality never comes close to the amazingly detailed and frightening pumpkin face I have in mind. The resulting mess tends toward the scary, maybe even unnerving, but not quite in the spooky yet amazing way intended.
In past years, I’ve tried compensating for my pumpkin carving deficiencies with paint and attachments although both feel like I’ve cheating. More than once, I’ve opted for premade patterns of scary faces, witches flying across the moon and bats. I even traded in the kitchen steak knife for better instruments. Carving kits provided tiny little orange-handled tools with rounded ends for punching and serrated blades for slicing. I laid them out like the best of surgeons, picked the smoothest side of the future jack-o’-lantern and got to work cleaning out the seeds. Let’s be clear on one more thing — I’m a much better scooper than carver. I may be all thumbs with the artistry but when it comes to the uninspired chores I’m golden. Side note: toss those plastic, rounded scraper that come with the kits. Nothing really beats a basic metal spoon and some elbow grease.
Unfortunately, the trick-or-treaters who come calling at my door probably aren’t going to peek at my pumpkin’s innards and give me a gold star. They’re more likely to think — if they even give the gourds a passing thought while judging the bite-size sweets offered at my door — that the pumpkins are a young child’s handiwork.
So much as I finally admitted after years of buying holiday cards and never mailing them that it just isn’t going to happen, I’ve now accepted that acclaimed pumpkin carver will never be among my skill set. Though if I were, would I be considered a “squashbuckler?”
It’s now at a point of merely defaulting to the basics — two triangle eyes, another triangle for the nose and a toothy grin (although not too many teeth; that’s a lot of tiny knife cuts which means in my hands half those choppers will end up reattached with toothpicks). Sometimes I make the teeth pointy like a vampire if I’m feeling particularly creative but working within my limits.
Now, when someone dare point out the simplicity of my annual pumpkin pattern, I embrace rather than apologize for the lack of embellishment. Consider it a throwback, I say. Vintage, even. Let the experts have the swirls and curls and textures and patterns. I’ve carved out my own niche.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.