Karolyn Sherwood, Author

It’s for Appearances’ Sake, Dear

Ah, vacation mentality: When you read books you wouldn’t normally read; wear clothes you wouldn’t normally wear; drink drinks you wouldn’t normally drink.

A few weeks ago my husband and I went to Panamá. The first two nights we stayed in Bocas del Toro in a jungle tree house, yes, with geckos, spiders, and toucans. Then we flew to Panamá City and stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, with 25 floors, marble entryway, and hot water. Well a funny thing happened when we arrived…

My husband went to check in, and I went to ask the concierge for a dinner reservation. We were hot and tired and it had been a long day getting there, but we were on vacation so it was okay as long as we had a nice dinner to look forward to. Ernesto was happy to help. “La Posta,” he said. “Bery good food. You lub it.” My husband came over and sat beside me, and I told him we had a reservation in one hour at a great restaurant. “We’re lucky to get in,” I said. “What kind of food do they serve?” he asked. “Good food,” I replied. Well, this hotel was full of business people dressed in suits and carrying briefcases, the polar opposite of our former tree house, and we were dressed in shorts. But we didn’t care, we were on vacation! So my husband asks Ernesto, “Can I wear shorts? That’s all I brought with me.” “Oh, no, señor. Not to La Posta.” So we thanked Ernesto for getting us in, but suggested he find us another restaurant. “I call them,” he said, “to cancel.” Okay, so my Spanish isn’t very good, but I did overhear Ernesto telling the hostess our problem. He said very loudly, “El hombre – tiene – no los pantalones!” My husband asked me to translate. “The man – has – no pants!” My husband turned red (not sure if it was anger or embarrassment). This had never happened to him before. You see, for the past 40 years, my husband has owned a chain of clothing stores. He sells pants!
(Fortunately, La Posta let us come anyway, happy to take our money.)

Here in Costa Rica, we live in a tiny beach town. We wear shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops every day. It’s fine because no one really knows us and we have no one to impress. In Des Moines, we work there, we’re on boards, we know people, we must keep up appearances! We wear real clothes, and we shower BEFORE we go out. (Here you shower when you get home because of the 95 degree heat.) But the people who live here in Costa Rica year round, the ones who work here and know people here, they wear real clothes and the women even wear makeup! The way people dress is acutely tied to the image they want to impart—everywhere.

So this got me thinking. As a writer, when my “value” comes from my words, from my brain, I should not be judged by my shoes, my clothes, or my purse. It shouldn’t matter what I wear. How liberating! But that’s not the way the civilized world works. We do judge people by their appearances (at least at first), and we do judge books by their covers. I wonder how many books lie in anguish on the shelves at Barnes & Noble because their covers are not enticing? I wonder how many people get overlooked because their appearance fails to impress.

Certainly there are exceptions. Bravo for those brave enough to be themselves at all times and let the world figure out how wonderful they are the hard way – by LISTENING to or READING or WATCHING – their skills. And what about when actors like Brad Pitt grow nasty beards in feeble attempts to downplay their natural good looks, or when Charlize Theron and Halle Berry make themselves look ugly to play certain roles? THAT is when they win Oscars.

Aha! It shouldn’t matter what’s on the outside ~ we’ve all heard the cliché… But, it does to a degree. Therefore, when I get home, I’ll wear makeup again, and high heels. And when my book is published, I will care very much what the cover looks like.

Meanwhile, I’ll write the best book possible so it can live up to it’s appearance.

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