Thoughts on Being Seen

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To be seen, or not to be seen? That is the question!

I've been thinking a lot recently about visibility. Or more specifically, invisibility. The act, usually unintentional, of disappearing. Vanishing. Being overlooked or unseen.

NOT, as you might be thinking, because I've moved back to the city of my childhood where, after many decades away, I'm virtually unknown. On the contrary, I'm actually loving being incognito here in Portland. For now I've climbed securely into my shell, made it comfortable and colorful, and in it I'm enjoying day after day of happy solitude (and partner-tude with Mark, and occasional visits to/from the outside world, which I also enjoy).

Nor am I talking about lovely anonymity—being alone in a crowd, or going unnoticed—which is so good for people-watching and getting work done in cafes.

Rather, I'm talking about the kind of disappearing that often happens to people— women, especially—in the commonest of situations. It happens frequently to moms, under the guise of being good caregivers. It happens to certain kinds of wives of certain kinds of husbands. It can happen to children and teens. To people at cocktail parties. Pretty sure it happens in most workplaces, especially those dominated by men.

Since I've had flashes of it in my 50's, I'm guessing there's no age where one is suddenly immune to becoming invisible. In fact, it likely becomes more of an issue the older one (woman) gets. I can think of several reasons why that would hold true, but I'll save those musings for another post.

What I'm referring to is different from a lack of fame or notoriety, and it's not a matter of being friendless or reclusive. It doesn't necessarily have to do with your job or social status, either. In fact, even well-known, well-loved, well-respected people can become invisible right before your eyes, I'm sure of it. Right as you continue watching them. (Large chunks of me vanished years ago and you couldn't even tell. I've also disappeared on several recent occasions, unbeknownst to the people in the room with me.) And by the same token, I'll bet that some of the most reclusive people are expert at being seen when they want or need to be. (Perhaps this is my goal? Mwahaha.)

What's the big deal about it?

The reason I've devoted time recently to combing through old journals, thinking, and writing about invisibility is this: It is my worst fear, this vanishing. My blood pressure goes up when I think about it, when I'm in it, and when I witness other people experiencing it.**

It is the thing I've struggled with most over the course of my life, this dance to navigate visibility, to figure out how much feels right, and when.

My biggest hurts and disappointments, and the most stomach-twisting situations I've dealt with all seem unified under this one theme.

I'm constantly learning how to be seen on my terms. And truly, putting forth my real self. (Such a struggle!)

**Note: I am acutely aware of all the very serious disappearing that women around the world face every day, as victims of human trafficking, casualties of war-related rape, and every other horror humans are capable of inflicting on other (especially female) humans. My heart breaks for them. And because I often feel overwhelmed with despair the more I learn about these atrocities, my response is to focus on what is in my control, in my corner of the world, in my household, and within my sphere of influence. That's how I aim to contribute to the solution, not become part of the problem.**

Am I the only one?

Rather than deep-diving into Invisibility here, however, I just want to pose a few questions to you. I'm trying to gauge if I am alone in this struggle, or if the topic resonates with others, like you, for example. I've been so fascinated by this subject that I'm considering writing a whole book about it! Or at least a pamphlet. :) Or a few more blog posts. I'm wondering if anyone will be interested in reading them.

Here's where I started out in my (in)visibility quest.

You may not be like me. After all, I was a super-shy kid, so here's the baseline I'm working from:

  • When I was little, I cried when my family sang happy birthday to me, because I didn't like the attention.
  • In 9th grade I slunk to the front of home room at my new school, wishing I could vanish rather than give the mandatory oral report on whatever-it-was. I started, quietly, with, "You don't have to listen to me." Of course that backfired. Dead silence. Every kid's eyes and ears were riveted. (Crap!)
  • Fast-forward to age 38, and there's me in tears again, my quote-unquote artwork strewn around the bedroom, as my best friend—a "real artist"—helps me price pieces prior to my first-ever art show. Oh my god, the pretension of it! I could barely stomach the idea (and yet was also thrilled beyond words, so had to do it) that I was telling my unsuspecting friends and colleagues to come! look at me! come look at what I've made! it's all about ME! ME! ME! (Ugh. Where's the nearest cave I can crawl into?)

I've had a long road to tread toward allowing, let alone wanting, myself to be seen.

Maybe this sounds familiar?

Shyness or boldness levels aside, maybe you can relate to situations like this:

You're in a "conversation" where the speaker has locked eyes with you (holding you captive) but it becomes evident that he just needs to hear himself speak. Test: Could you replace yourself with a cardboard cutout and walk away without a ripple of notice? If yes, you've become inconsequential. You're now a prop. The you part of you is invisible and unnecessary.

Or this: Your ideas and suggestions are met with a reflexive "no," or a scoff, or derision. But then, when actually heard (perhaps spoken by someone else), of course they turn out to be viable -- even good. Maybe great. You notice this happening again and again and again. Yep, you're being unseen—or at the very least, unheard.

Or this: Someone is telling (not asking) you about yourself, yet what they're saying does not ring true. Your body is reacting against it. Still, you start second-guessing yourself, wondering if they are right, even though they don't know you that well. Maybe you're in denial and just getting defensive? Your chest is tightening up. But you keep giving them the benefit of the doubt, because maybe they really do have a point and you should be more _______... ? I'm sorry, my friend, you've started to vanish.

Why talk about vanishing on your art blog?

You may be wondering, "Why are you talking about this here, on your art website, in your blog about creativity?? Where are the pretty pictures and painting tips?"

I get it. Those are easier and certainly happier topics, and waters where I normally love to tread. I'll be back there too, I promise!

In fact, yesterday I finally published my previous post, which I had started on November 21st, summarizing my very fun November Daily Art "Use It Or Lose It" Challenge. (My mind has been so deep in this vanishing topic that I had to wrestle with myself to finish the last paragraph of it, add photos, and hit Publish. But it felt good to close that loop, and hopefully you'll enjoy the read!)

The reasons I'm talking about it here are:

  1. It's my blog, so I get to write about whatever I want, and
  2. (Spoiler alert:) It turns out that creative expression is one of the cures for invisibility.

For now, just hold that thought—or rather, ponder how that has been (or could be) true in your own life. I'll circle back to it in a future post.

And now I want to know about you.

I'm very curious about where my peeps stand on all this, since I've been mostly mulling it all over, alone inside my shell.

Is this "vanishing" a topic of concern for you? Have you ever thought about it? Do you notice patterns? Are you more adept as you get older, or is the problem becoming more acute? For you non-women, do you struggle with invisibility as well? Are you such a badass that you consistently make your authentic self seen and heard just the way you want? (Then I definitely want to hear from you! You can be a guest blogger. ;))

Also, who do you know that is struggling with (in)visibility—or is skilled at being truly, authentically seen? Please forward this post to them. I'd love to loop them into the conversation.

Thank you for playing along with me. I know it feels heavy sometimes, but the ultimate goal is more joy and lightness and connection. And love. <3


P.S. I was doing a daily January Challenge, too, until I realized it was muscling out my best writing time/creative energy, and writing is what I want to focus on this year. (Art is still important as my earning a living gig/playground/release!) I loved the Challenges for the ways they encouraged new thinking. I encourage you to make up your own games and rules—about anything! Invent it and be the boss of it!

You can see lots of what I did here on my Instagram feed. I'm still trying to post daily, but pictures of writing aren't quite as engaging as photos of crazy art supplies. ;)