I’ve been thinking lately about invisibility.
About how easy it is to shrink behind the forms of others. As children we learn to defer to booming authoritarian voices. We learn that exhibitionism can be rewarded with a slap on the face or unkind word. We learn that our bodies attract often unwanted attention from creepy old men or boys who had never been taught how to treat a girl. That she is more than her body.
We become experts at shoving away hunger. Craving—synonymous with the desire to be seen. As one is. But we don’t think that is possible. Something is wrong with us. Maybe society taught us that. Or religion. Or those authoritarian voices. So we manipulate ourselves and shove ourselves into tight clothes and tight shoes and tight opinions, none of them ours. Because we are human. And we want to be loved.
What is more primordial than that?
But something about all this toying with ourselves leaves us unsatisfied. I am reminded of the oft-quoted Anais Nin line, And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
Yet we live at a time when many conflicting voices are anything but invisible, as they scream their condemnations and assertions of rightness. What is better, then, to be visible? To be invisible?
I had a conversation with my youngest daughter earlier this week. She, as a visual artist, me as a poet, shared our thoughts on finding one’s artistic voice, on how we find that balance between listening and learning and asserting one’s presence. How easy it is to defer to the famous, the already trodden path, the examples of those most visible. We, neither of us, want to be performative, or be followers, or arrogant, or invisible.
She is 18. I am 51. This is a conversation that is never done. It is a beautiful conversation. We need to have more of these conversations—with ourselves, with each other, and as we open these conversations, perhaps we can coax each other out of the shadows, and shine light on our visibility. And goodness, what a beautiful world this can be, with so many lights shining.