I finished Akiko Busch’s “How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency” while I was in San Francisco. It was good fodder for contemplation, walking around in a city where I was almost entirely anonymous. According to Busch, I am also close to invisible, who includes “women over 50” in her category of people we naturally don’t see (the list also includes service workers, people of color, and migrants and refugees, among others.)
“And then not expecting it, you become middle-aged and anonymous. No one notices you.” ~ novelist Doris Lessing
We’re in an age that values Visibility, so finding yourself on the other side of that can be a depressing prospect. But traveling around San Francisco with this in mind, I was surprised to discover something else entirely. Lessing goes on to say:
“You achieve a wonderful freedom. It is a positive thing. You can move about, unnoticed and invisible.”
With the idea in mind that no one else cares about what I look like or what I do, I found myself expanding into someone freer, more generous, more aware of other people. I smiled more, talked with strangers, looked for small ways to help or encourage. I stopped other women to compliment their clothes or shoes or smiles. In short, I was friendlier and happier.
“A reduced sense of visibility does not necessarily constrain experience. Associated with greater empathy and compassion, invisibility directs us toward a more humanitarian view of the larger world. This diminished status can, in fact, sustain and inform - rather than limit - our lives. Going unrecognized, paradoxically, can help us recognize our place in the larger scheme of things.” ~ Akiko Busch
We can also make invisibility something of a discipline for ourselves. I hear my friends who are stepping away from social media talking about the same kinds of things, the power to BE without anyone’s gaze on you, to experience and love and enjoy without anyone’s approval or notice. It can be liberating!
To embrace it, Busch offers this advice from her friend, James Burns, an Episcopal minister:
“First learn to love yourself. Then forget about it and learn to love the world.”
It makes me think of Steinbeck: “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
You can read the chapter on women and aging in the Atlantic.
And I am opening the comments. By request. :) We’ll see how it goes.
Peace keep you all.