Friday, October 1, 2010

What Is Under The Covers?

There is a common English idiom, that everyone has been told by their parents at least once in their life time, "Do not judge a book by it's cover". The funny thing is, the only way I survive, is to judge books by their covers. What other choice do I have? In our fast paced, high tech gadget world, multitasking is the norm. Having several thoughts racing through my brain at the same time make it impossible to take time to intimately acquaint myself with every aspect of everyday life. When I go to the grocery store, I might be searching the aisles for a bottle of laundry detergent. I might even have all three kids with me as I try to decide what type of laundry detergent I want. I might base my purchase on a some claims by the manufacturer on the bottle and ring it up. I have a certain level of trust that the bottle contains what I want, and will do what it claims. It might not be until I get home and a rash develops on my child's skin that I will realize I need to read the next bottle more carefully. Next time I go to the store, I do some research on the Internet about allergens and detergent. Of course, the Internet sites I browse are the ones Google suggested, and I look over the most visually appealing sites, with the least amount of advertisements. I trust the medical research I have just read and feel as though I am not going to fall victim to the aforementioned idiom. I will buy my next bottle of detergent based on a well thought and researched game plan. When I buy my next bottle of detergent, I am armed with a list of brands that the American Medical Association has recommended. I see all three brands on the shelf, and I grab the bottle the catches my eye and pleases my senses the best. What is the difference between the bottles at this juncture? Nothing but the packaging. I have done exactly what my mother told me not to do. Time and time again, judging a book by it's cover can work, until it doesn't. The times I am wrong, are the moments in life I generally remember the most. The "light bulb" moments, that nothing or no one can be as exactly as it claims, are what remind me that life is not predictable and never will be. This unpredictability keeps me awake as I walk through life everyday, appreciating that at any moment a skunk can cross my path or the trail can come to an abrupt halt.

After trials and tribulations, filling our minds with research, and attempting to be as informed as possible; the final choice of which proverbial path to walk along or which book to pluck off the shelf, is decided by the cover. We knowingly proceed with our instinctual choices, based on appearance, because sometimes we have no other choice. Time restrains us, and honestly, we want to trust what our senses reveal. We want to be instinctual. Consider these commonplace scenarios: simultaneously cooking dinner, talking on the phone and helping little Johnny with homework, or working through a meeting while our spouse texts us about something to pick up on our way home, or talking to a doctor who finally calls, while you are in the bathroom changing your daughter's diaper, and your other child has just escaped your line of sight. Examining things at face value becomes a survival technique. When we do get a quiet moment, we want the world to remain predictable, because it is comforting.

Looking at the mating habits of different species is a great example of successfully judging a book by it's cover. The brighter colors and more ornate plumage are the bragging rights of male birds. Knowing the most effective way to lure a female is to have the most elaborate feathers and a captivating mating dance, the male birds of paradise have evolved with fancy long tails feathers. Their ostentatious feathers serve no other purpose than being eye catching to females. Even birds have a busy life: migrating, hunting down food, building a nest, and raising their young. The best way to attract attention is with a good cover. It makes courtship seems like a no-brainer, but that is when the surprise left hits us. Just when we become comfortable with the norm, that is when the curve balls come at us.

Recently, I was carpooling some kids to choir practice. In my car, were my girls and my 4Th daughter Mona. I call her my 4Th pseudo daughter, but she is my 16 year old neighbor. She has been coming over to hang out with my family since she was 8. She also has a sister, who is my 5Th pseudo daughter, but that is a whole other story. The point is, Mona is in the car, and we are waiting for our carpool companion, who is still at track practice. We are parked on the side of a busy road waiting, along with hordes of other parents, for track practice to end. Suddenly, a fancy car pulls up in front of us. The driver of the fancy car opens her car door, disregarding her poor, parking/stop in the middle of the road technique. As she steps out, she looks like a movie star. She is a beautiful woman and dressed to the nines. She has long, blond hair that is blowing elegantly in the wind. She is completely unaware, or does not care that her car is precariously making it difficult for others to squeeze their cars past. In this moment, Mona turns to me, and with her smug little 16 year old attitude, and says, "Whose trophy wife is that?" Hysterically, I start laughing because Mona could not be more far from the truth in her assessment. I gain my composure and tell Mona this: "Funny thing, you are WAY off the mark! Actually, she has a trophy wife of her own and she plays football in a female football league". The look on Mona's face was priceless. She has this perplexed expression, she does not understand what I just said. So I say again, "Mona, she is a lesbian with a wife of her own. She is no one's trophy wife". In that confounding moment, in which Mona was dead wrong, Mona learned a great lesson: do not determine the character of a person based on their appearance.

Life is short, and looking for loopholes to make it less complex, is sensible. I sometimes think I would love to make life predictable. If every person with tattoos, multi-colored hair, and dressed like a punk were jerks, then how simple would life be? But they aren't. Sometimes, they are your beloved 5Th pseudo daughter and the babysitter of your treasured children. Sometimes that blond, busty woman in the Prada heels and the Vera Wang dress, with a rich, good looking older man on her arm, is a retired Army colonel with a PhD, not a trophy wife. Sometimes the trail that looks the most peaceful and mundane, is actually the most treacherous. Even though I will continue to lead my crazy, fast paced life, with multitasking as my standard. Even though, I will usually be right about the contents of a book, based on it's cover. I am going to look forward to those moments in which I am dead wrong.


  1. There's nothing I love more than a surprise package wrapped in human clothing. I adore a person who is a paradox. I have a friend who is covered in tatoos. Not surprisingly he owns a tatoo parlor.

    However, he is also one of the most intellectual, well-read, sensitive and caring individuals I know. We want to write people off based on their packaging, but looking under the covers reveals great things.

    I like that you don't get bogged down in those first impressions.

    And...glad to have you here.

  2. Hey - you're back! Was just thinking about you - seeing you in passing and all that. So true - this post. I kinda pride myself on not doing this - basing my impressions on appearances; however, AFTER I have met someone, I do have a tendency to analyze a bit (and sometimes in the wrong direction, if you know what I mean) - particularly if there is a reason to do so (snubbed by the person - freaked out by something he / she did). My sister in law judged me on appearance - I'm chesty, was working in marketing at the time so dressed well (now, of course, I often look like an unmade bed ;-), a single mother with a spoiled suburban past - and... to this day (almost 10 years later), she still has that perception of me in her head - that I am a bubble head, amoral, hardened career woman - forgets that I have an MA and am a SAHM with 4 kids! Anyway.... good post :-).

  3. Sherri,
    It is very hard to come back after being away so long but I really missed writing. It helped that I was sick so could not be out running. You always make me laugh with your comments. You do no look like an unmade bed, rather a colorful quilt. You always look eclectic and great, you are never boring. You are not the typical book cover and I like that about you.

  4. Rebecca,
    I was at a wedding recently and my childhood friend's dad told me why he liked my dad so much. He said, "I like unusual people, you do not have to figure out their qirks, they wear them on their sleeve". What a great compliment, I thought of my father. As a kid, his unusualness bothered me but now I too like unusual packages.

  5. Welcome back! Missed reading your posts. Yes, things are often not as they seem, though I can usually tell right away if I will like a person. Until, as you pretty much say, I find out the person is really not as I thought at all.

  6. I think sometimes that people want to be judged by their covers, I hope that doesn't sound weird. The mohawks, the piercings, the tattooing is all intended to tell us something about the inside of them on the outside - it's a way to put a cover on them, I think. The real judging a book by its cover is when we make judgements about subtleties (spelling?) - like the band geek who's a genius, the "mom" who's a writer, the people who have a lot to add to a conversation but who may not look like it on the surface. I'm not that impressed with people who feel they have to spray paint everything on the outside to show how unique they are. I'd be more worried about judging a book by its cover that was quietly unassuming.

  7. Facie,
    I am glad to be back. Thanks for getting back to me.

  8. Linda,
    I could not agree more, it always the quietly unassuming people that are the most difficult. I would have to say though, when I am interested in that quiet person, I love when I have figured them out. I love a challenging personality. But I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that people dress their cover up in the way they want to be seen. So true, maybe even what they want you to see but really are not at all.
    ps I took my kids to synagogue for a musical shabbat! My oldest loved it and was up dancing with the Rabbi