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"Pretending"

Blog Post #22
Harry Potter in his Invisibility Cloak


Have you ever tried to pretend you’re not there?  I have.  It’s a ridiculous thing to do. (Although would-be “flies on the wall,” like me, understand why people do this.)

 

If you aren’t sure of my meaning, perhaps one of the following scenarios illustrating how people sometimes pretend invisibility will trigger understanding:

  • You’re in a classroom setting, and the teacher is staring down students, asking for an answer. You lower your eyes, avoiding eye contact, thereby achieving invisibility. 

  • You’re visiting the home of an acquaintance when a bickering match erupts between the person you are visiting and another family member. You slink toward the door attempting to excuse yourself, but the elephant in the room is blocking your path. You pretend you are part of the wall—not there—until you can make your escape.

 

  • You’re not feeling very sociable while walking down the street. Dog walkers and joggers pass by, but you keep your head down. No eye contact makes you invisible.
Henry Holiday “Dante and Beatrice” 

(notice how Beatrice carefully averts her eyes)

  • You spot a solicitor sitting at a table outside Wal-mart. Rather than walk the direct route to the entrance, you make a huge circuit through the parking lot entering the store behind the solicitor’s table. When you exit, you wait until someone else is exiting and walk behind them so they effectively block you from the view of the solicitor, or, if a blocker is unavailable, you focus your gaze in the distance, planting an expression of intense distraction and extreme urgency on you face, making you, essentially, invisible.

 

 

Young children are quite adept at pretending they’re invisible. When our oldest child was just a toddler, we liked to play Hide-and-Seek with her. This game revealed how superfluous an appendage the rest of her body was to her head since if her head was covered, she was—in her mind—hidden, or rather, invisible. We’d tiptoe into her hiding place to find her entire body from the neck down sticking out from under the hem of curtains, or from under a desk, or from under the bed. I suppose we fed the misleading notion that she was invisible by standing toe-to-toe with her and calling out, “Where is she?” and “I can’t find her anywhere!”


Just as our young daughter thought she was invisible when her head was hidden, so adults seem to have narrowed the range of their invisibility from their heads down to just their eyes. This is evidenced by the illusion the lack of eye contact creates as illustrated in the four examples previously given.

There are occasions when it is impossible to achieve your own sense of invisibility, no matter what you do. For example, if you’ve ever been in the presence of an incessant talker (whom we’ll call “Chatterbox”), there is no escaping his or her vision. Any attempt you make at invisibility is immediately thwarted by Chatterbox’s complete inability to “see” you as another person, or personality, with thoughts and ideas of your own, thus, in a sense, making you invisible.  This may sound contradictory, but it really isn’t. Your attempts to respectfully release yourself from a prolonged discourse by breaking eye contact, appearing distant, uninterested, or downright bored have no effect. Even if you begin walking away, Chatterbox will follow you, never pausing to catch breath. As you get in your car, and start the engine, Chatterbox is not deterred, but walks into the busy street to—not see you off—but talk you off and on your way. Essentially, Chatterbox is the only “visible” person in the world; everyone else is invisible, existing only as a target toward which Chatterbox effusively flings his or her superfluous arsenal of words. (For the record, I know some Chatterboxes and I really like them–they are my friends. But their speech can be overwhelming at times.)

 

 

There were times when I didn’t need to pretend invisibility because, in certain situations, I was, essentially, already invisible. As a teenager, I became well acquainted with this type of invisibility. In classrooms where only “teacher’s pets” or troublemakers were visible, or in settings in which I was the quiet introvert among a group of popular social butterflies, the invisibility issue was driven home in multiple ways. 


But you must not assume this type of invisibility was necessarily unwelcome–at least to me. Quiet personalities can enjoy a certain measure of invisibility, provided they have close friends and family to whom they are visible in positive and worthwhile ways.

 

Harry Potter sneaking about in his invisibility cloak

 One of the motivations for my own pretended invisibility wasn’t so I could sneak about in a secret cloak like Harry Potter, spying on people. Rather, it was to enjoy conversation and interaction without the strain of interacting, which is often wearying, or difficult for more reserved personalities.

 

The idea of being a fly on the wall is terribly appealing to people like me.  It isn’t so I might listen to idle gossip, or be privy to secrets not meant for my ears (types of interaction I try to avoid). No, it’s not that at all. It’s simply because I am clumsy at conversation. It can be stressful and tiring to interact with large groups—draining, in fact. Still, I’ve practiced conversing for years and years, partly out of necessity, and partly because I really do love people, and enjoy getting to know them. To be a true participant in a conversation is more rewarding if both people are present. The truth is, if you put someone like me one-on-one with someone, I have no trouble making conversation. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy delving headlong into a deep and heartfelt exchange. It’s group interaction that I shy away from. I haven’t completed my study of being a good conversationalist, but even with all my efforts, I still find myself wishing to shrink into invisibility at times.

 


 There are occasions where attempting invisibility is useful in sharing joy with others in an anonymous fashion. Our family often employed the Ding-Dong-Ditch method to drop-off goodies to friends. In this method, the driver sits in the darkened, idling car a short distance away, while runners secretly place goodies on the front door step of the homes of friends and neighbors, ring the doorbell, and run back to the car without detection. We’d done this as a family activity so many times over the years, we were quite expert. However, one particular time didn’t follow the typical pattern of success. I was driving our old 1982 yellow Suburban (which is roughly the size of a school bus). The kids got out of the car to Ding-Dong-Ditch the goodies while I quickly pulled around the corner to hide our car in an inconspicuous spot—behind a small parkway tree. It was like trying to hide the Goodyear Blimp behind a toothpick. By the time the kids ran back to the car, the folks receiving the goodies were out of their house and flagging us down! We tried to pretend we were invisible, but there was no fooling them! Anyone remotely acquainted with us could spot that yellow car from dizzying distances. If you ever want to remain incognito, be sure not to drive a conspicuous yellow Suburban. (Either that, or find an airplane hangar to hide behind.)

1982 Yellow Suburban like the one we had. 

The desire to be invisible, in this instance, was a worthy one. Doing good—to “let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (Matthew 6:3)—is a positive occupation. There are, however, attempts at invisibility that are not as admirable.

For example, there was the time my daughter and I had spent a long day working in the heat, and ended the day sweaty, grimy, stinky, and hungry. Normally, I wouldn’t have ventured into a public place on such a day, but we were both famished and fatigued. We stopped at a café to grab a quick bite to eat. Standing in line to order, in a state of exhausted oblivion, I didn’t notice an old acquaintance enter. As we waited to place our order, I casually glanced at the line of people forming behind me and saw the old “friend.” (I put friend in quotation marks because, for all I know, we may possibly no longer be friends. There’s no explaining to someone that you had pretended you weren’t there.) That’s right. I was the invisible woman. The sweaty, stinky, grimy me did not, at that moment, exist. In a sense, it was my version of Hide-and-Seek all over again. If I don’t acknowledge my existence in circumstances such as this, perhaps no one else will. Faulty reasoning, but there you have it. (The fact that the friend, having seen me, did not acknowledge me either made it much easier to rationalize that I was invisible.)

 

You must not assume that because my behavior was beyond ridiculous that I wasn’t aware of just how foolish it was. Nor must you assume that I was Okay with my behavior. I wasn’t. I was, in fact, ashamed of myself. Such behavior was inexcusable. Ludicrous. Pretending invisibility did not make me invisible.  If truth were told, it made me completely transparent. Certainly, anyone in that café could see me plainly. The only one I fooled was myself—thinking I could fake “invisibility” to protect my vanity—without truly protecting it, having obviously been seen. 

I have since repented of this foolish flaw in my nature, and my unfriendly behavior. There is a price to pay for vanity—wanting to be seen as a “put together person” (or at least as a non-stinky person!).  Isn’t it ironic that “wanting to be seen as” (or not to be seen at all), more than likely exposed me as oblivious, unfriendly, vain, and anything but “put together.” So sad, but so true.   

 

My mother used to repeat an old saying, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” (Sir Walter Scott). I don’t think of myself as being a deceptive person. Nor do I intentionally “practice to deceive.”  Deception is contrary to my fundamental beliefs, and is repugnant to me in every way. The day and circumstances just mentioned caught me completely off guard. I strive diligently to be honest. I rejoice in honesty, in light, in truth, and in simplicity. However, —given my beliefs—the irony of the whole charade was not lost on me.  I swallowed a giant café-sized slice of “humble pie” after pondering the true nature of my pretended invisibility.


Dear Readers, now that I have exposed myself to judgment and possibly to ridicule, let me assure you that it has become one of my goals to rid my life of the pretense of invisibility. To rid my life entirely of pretense would be even better. I shudder to think I have been, at any time, guilty of pretending invisibility, but I must admit, I have been guilty.

To pretend is to be fake.  In reflecting on this topic, the word hypocrisy reared its ugly head.

hy·poc·ri·sy
həˈpäkrəsē/
noun: hypocrisy
 
Middle English: from Old French ypocrisie, via ecclesiastical Latin, from Greek hupokrisis ‘acting of a theatrical part,’ from hupokrinesthai ‘play a part, pretend 


Hypocrisy is, essentially, to pretend. What greater hypocrisy is there than to pretend invisibility? To pretend invisibility is to deny existence, which reeks with ingratitude to God, The Giver of Life. As His child–His daughter–there is never a time when pretending invisibility in any uncharitable sense is appropriate or desirable.

I so admire people who are straightforward, respectful, forthright, interesting, interested and real—people who put you at ease and make you want to be visible because you feel trust and security in their presence. I hope to be that way, too—to be plain, honest, interested, respectful, present, and kind in all aspects of life—in other words, to be

visibly real.

 

Being “visibly real,” (according to my definition), has, by its selfless nature, the capacity of making you the best kind of “invisible” you can be as you “lose yourself” in the service of others. 

 

 “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

 

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for reading.

© January 24, 2015
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January’s Physics of Writing

Blog Post #22

Fresco: Sappho from Pompeii, about 60 C.E
I haven’t written for a while. Nor have I taken time to notice anything. Only when my mind is alert to subtle (and not so subtle) connections existing in the world around me, am I able to find inspiration to write. Too much stimulation can overwhelm a quiet, introverted spirit (such as mine). What is the result? My mind’s vision narrows, becoming more focused, or blurred; tuning out, instead of taking in. Some stimulation is desirable, of course, but a surge creating too much stimulation, can overpower, perhaps destroy, tender and underdeveloped thoughts, causing my brain’s circuitry to spark and short out. 


It’s the steady stream of routine flowing in and out of every day, intermittently switching-off for restful periods at night, I find most productive. Small sparks of stimulation are welcome, provided they spread themselves over days or weeks.  




Sadly, my brain ground to a dull and listless halt back in about November. Now that the speeding locomotive of holiday commotion has passed, I find myself scrambling to clean up the confusion left in its wake. Gradually, as one day rolls into the next, the dust of confusion settles into a sense of calm and predictability. My train of thoughts begins gathering momentum, chugging into action again. 



Slowly at first, the gears begin to creak and turn. Fueled by the beautiful, bright, warm weather, that—like an old friend—dropped by to sit a spell, my creative engine begins creeping along. Sporadic wanderings outdoors and idle walks through the neighborhood commence anew. I wander the backyard, looking at new growth fresh from winter rains. I touch the earth, prune the rose bushes, and pull up poor, brittle plants that failed to survive my neglect during earlier seasons. I rearrange my workroom, “The Studio,” for the first time in years. I tackle a long overdue project. I’m feeling invigorated, moving more swiftly down the tracks. I blow the whistle to announce the one or two goals I’ve already checked off my list. Pressing forward. Picking up speed. Thoughts are churning into words and images.
“The Thinker,” by Auguste Rodin

Maybe I still have something to write about, after all. I was beginning to doubt. It’s been so long. Like Michelangelo’s sculptures desperately struggling to immerge from the stone, thoughts long imprisoned in that dark, forgotten fold of my brain fight to get out. Writing is the chisel and hammer that will free the captives. I am their Michelangelo. I am the sculptor. A blank page is the marble.
Michelangelo’s “Young Slave” (unfinished sculpture)
Accademia Gallery in Florence


Today is a beginning.
Even if tomorrow doesn’t reveal a masterpiece, it will reveal a little bit of my soul.

I welcome the New Year and I welcome you! 

© January 16, 2015