Life is a costume party. And then you go to the banquet.
Every day, we dress up in something appropriate for the tasks ahead of us. I wear a suit and pumps to court. To the office, I wear slacks, a shirt or turtleneck, and mules. (I’m playing the role of sole practitioner in Anchorage, Alaska.) For my noon-time walk, hiking pants and a fleece jacket with cleated walking shoes over layers of clothes. For the grocery store, sweat pants and a hoody.
Certainly, clothes are chosen for the function but they are chosen as well to impart an image. My suit is expensive. The image I wish to project is that of a successful lawyer. I’ve won a lot of cases before I walked into this courtroom so you all who are watching me should expect me to win this one, too.
My hiking clothes are in trendy colors as are my walking shoes. They say, I’m having fun while I walk downtown. They also say, “Look at me! I know you see me! I’m not hiding my size. I’m proud that I’m outside moving.”
My grocery store outfit says, “Look at me if you want but I’m not here to impress you.”
But do the images I craft reveal the “real me”? No. Nor are they necessarily interpreted the way that I intend. Someone in the courtroom may see an arrogant lawyer, not a confidant one. Someone on the street might see a fat woman of a certain age with bad taste, not a fitness devotee. Someone in the grocery store might see a slob. (They probably got that one right.)
The “real me” conjures these images for effect. I disguise the “real me” with the costumes I wear while I’m playing a role. And while there is truth at the crucible, only the “real me” would pick that costume for that image for that event, it is only a shard of truth so slender that it cannot be interpreted in a vacuum.
And, so we dress our characters. We craft descriptions to convey the essence of their personality, how they see themselves and the image they are trying to project. In Tana French’s most recent book, The Trespasser, Investigator Antoinette Conway is always dressed in a sharp-looking tailored dark suit. She emphasizes that she looks different. She’s taller than most and has dark features uncharacteristic of the Irish. Feeling different her entire life, being independent and authoritative is important to her. She uses her suit to command attention and respect.
But we can also use these descriptions to show the incongruity between the image the character wants to project and the truth of that character. Conway’s inner conflict is whether she wants to stay on the police force and what she would do if she wasn’t a cop.
And that is why I say: Life is a costume party and then you go to the banquet. The question then becomes: what do you feast upon once you get there?
Mysteristas: Can you think of other characters whose costumes belie their truth?