We Are All Invisible

To be honest, I always intended to write about this at some point.  Since one of my dear readers asked directly, that’s an indicator that it’s time to do so.

What do I mean by “invisible”?  I mean anonymous, to go about unnoticed on purpose.  There have been advantages to being invisible throughout my life, so I have cultivated more invisibility.  Here’s some of the backstory:

If you were to look at me, you wouldn’t be able to easily tell my ethnicity aside from the fact that I’m white-ish.  The gene pool in which my family swam includes branches from six different diverse known cultural sources, and there may be more.  I’m a bit shorter than average, but not so much that it’s noticeable.  The same goes for weight.  I did get chubby at one point, from poor nutrition and a long period in a desk job, but I’ve lost those pounds so now I’m back to average-thin.  I shave my head as a matter of convenience, so my hair color and style don’t provide clues about me.  I’m older than I look, which is an invisible advantage because I look like someone right in the middle of age ranges.  Young people don’t perceive me as that old, since I don’t look it and I’m aware enough of current culture to talk about it.  Older people accept me because I can speak their language and act like them.  I wear generically comfortable clothes, and drive a small, common make and model of car.  My wife pushed for me to buy a bright blue car, which I did.  It’s attractive, but a bit too noticeable for invisibility.  My previous cars were that gray-silver color that no one notices, including police.  I’ve gotten two traffic tickets since buying the blue car.

When I was a teenager, this country was in the period of rapid social change and tensions called THE SIXTIES.  If I took a strong stand in class, it usually ended up in a visit to the school counselors.  On the other hand, if I shut up and smiled generically, everyone on every side of an issue assumed I was one of them!  I began to explore the uses of invisibility for observation.  This is the method employed by undercover police too, but my motives were more innocent.  I was just so amazed at how much people will assume about you if you don’t say anything and are just…there.

I’ve gotten a lot of jobs over the years that I wasn’t really qualified for on paper, because invisibility works so well in an interview.  I got more positive response by just mirroring the positions taken by the interviewers than I did expressing my own opinions.  I didn’t offer dishonest opinions.  I just didn’t offer any at all, but rather spoke in support of the attitudes the interviewers put forward.  It turns out this is a big part of the Dale Carnegie method, to gain influence by supporting the positions of others before advancing any of your own.  Was I being manipulative?  Well, yes, I was trying to make them hire me!  More often than not they did.  I’ve had very few job interviews that were unsuccessful.  Many times I’ve been offered the job on the spot.  Sometimes employers got angry and fired me once they realized I wasn’t qualified, but they only had themselves to blame for offering me the job in the first place.

I try to adapt and learn quickly, so I have worked in a variety of industries.  I worked in retail sales for a decade, managed a couple of photo studios, and then temped for seven years.  I did some performing while I was a temp, worked at a press clipping bureau and had short-term jobs in various areas of the entertainment industry.  The only job I excelled at for a significant length of time was as an audio restoration specialist, revitalizing and remixing old films and TV shows for re-release.  Now that the studios have exhausted most of their catalog of classics, that kind of work consists of spit-polishing episodes of The A-Team and other programs of similar “quality”.  That job was great for ten years, then not so great for another four.  I went back to school to gain additional credentials.  Now I work in medical imaging, which I like because it helps people directly.  I hope to become excellent at it, but it’s too early to tell.  I started writing a blog to have something constructive to do while I wait for another state to issue me a license.  My wife and I intend to move there because the rest of my extended family lives there already, and she wants to retire from her job of 30 years.

Finally, I’m invisible in here because even if I were to write long posts about who I am you wouldn’t really know me, nor I you.  We can know and accept and enjoy little things about each other and spend some pleasant time exchanging ideas, but that is not the same thing as being close to someone, being known, being understood personally (as opposed to intellectually.)  It’s the same kind of illusion of intimacy you get in a phone call with a nice person you haven’t met face-to-face.  When you do meet, there’s a profound difference.  Much of the message that passes between people is non-verbal and can only be experienced when two people share an actual, physical proximity.  There’s a BIG difference between cyber-reality and REALITY.

So there you have it.  If we passed each other on the street, you wouldn’t recognize me.  You might not even see me.

I would, however, still offer you a smile.


Filed under Communications

22 responses to “We Are All Invisible

  1. Christina

    And pleasant you are. Thank you. I enjoyed reading it.

  2. And I am smiling back! I am enjoying your perspectives, though I don’t know that your way is my way. I am not sure I ever liked being anonymous, though perhaps I might have conquered and achieved more if I had chosen that at times. I work with people to really claim who they are and achieve what they want and they often want to stop being or feeling invisible. I do a lot of bereavement/loss work and sadly, people who go through this so often DO feel invisible and not noticed or understood.

    I will also let you in on a secret. Since I am a not a visual person, I might pass you on the street and not recognize you even if I knew you reasonably well, and saw you just a couple of weeks ago. That’s my confession for the day. This goes double if you changed your hairdo or some other identifying feature you had when I last saw you. It’s likely that if we have had a personal or professional relationship I could recite your life story, list everyone in your family and your hopes and dreams and when you identified yourself, would greet you with warmth and real affection but I might pass you on the street, even if you were not a cyber acqauintance. There, now that I have confessed that, I feel better.

    However, since so much coaching is done via telephone and some e-mail, I can attest to the fact that it is indeed possible to establish meaningful communication, trust an even intimacy this way, even without face-to-face contacts. You might not have the visual cues but you listen to tone, pace, pitch, and a number of other things and you read between the lines and use your intuition about people.

    • You offer a fascinating point of view, Iris. I agree with you that many people probably find invisibility to be unpleasant. I may be unusual in how much I enjoy it.

      I would obviously agree that one can communicate meaningfully without proximity. We are doing so here! Perhaps our difference is only based upon what each of us would require to qualify as intimacy. While I think (for example) that cooperation in order to achieve a goal can be emotionally involving, redeeming and important, such as in the work you do, I would still not consider it to be intimacy.

      Another example would be run-of-the-show romances. Actors working intensely in close proximity on a play or film often think they have fallen in love, and they may even have sex etc. When the show ends, the energy source of the supposed intimacy evaporates and they find the relationship unsustainable. It’s an interesting phenomenon. It also happens between patients in rehab. They are so SO close during the process. When they leave rehab, they drift apart. To me, goal-oriented closeness is important, but not quite intimate because it doesn’t last if conditions change.

      • Hi Mikey,

        Thanks for taking the time to write this thoughtful response. I understanding the examples you give but I think you would need to know more about how personal coaching works, and also the kind of coach and person I am before you conclude that such a relationship does not create intimacy. I believe strongly in relationship building and in the value of human contact and understanding. In running an adoption agency for 28.5 yrs I never subscribed to the “distant, traditional model” of doing adoption work and interacted with my clients in a way that fostered intimicacy, sharing and creating long term relationships with our families. That made our agency quite unique.

        While a coach must not intrude on the client’s time and impose his or her own agenda since it is all about the client, with permission and when it is of perceived value, we do share our own perspectives and insights. The client, in turn, opens up and shares pieces of him or herself because of the great trust that is built in the safe space the coach creates. The coach is very much on your side and your team and when the process works well, there is most assuredly a kind of intimacy I have not seen or experienced in other professional/client relationships. In therapy, for example, which is not what coaches are doing, there are different kinds of boundaries. We have to set boundaries sometimes also, but there is much more give and take.

        Don’t know if I have explained it.

        I do enjoy reading your blog

        • I think you’ve explained it. It’s intimacy, of a kind, just not the kind you get face-to-face. Intimacy in proximity doesn’t even require talking, or seeing. I’m sure you have sat silently with a loved one, and know what I mean. As one of my therapist friends put it, “You have to be touched, to be touched.”

  3. Jia Jia

    Hi Mr Invisible,
    Thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving a nice comment.
    Your avatar reminds me of a person I know.
    It looks kinda spooky though 🙂
    Anyway, I really like what you wrote in your blog. It is interesting.
    But if you really smile at me when I walk pass you… I guess I will do the same thing. 🙂
    Will read your blog often !
    Take care,

  4. fromhousewifetofilmmaker

    Okay, so I had to come over and read this rather then hitting the hay. And glad I did. Interesting. Leaning more about you. From…in the distance 🙂
    Theresa Jane

  5. If this were Slashdot you’d be modded +5 Insightful. As someone who posts as oldbus, clearly I believe there is a time to be anonymous. I’ve been posting things on the Internet for a long time now (whether Usenet, joining a MUD-style meeting site, discussion sites like Slashdot, or now my own blog), often anonymously.

    People often focus on the negative aspects of this: people hiding to spread malicious rumour or the fact that it is not a substitute for relationships in the real world. Sadly the first happens, and I think almost everyone would agree with the second point (even – or perhaps especially – if they didn’t have any real life relationships).

    But I’ve come into contact with all sorts from all over the world. We’ve been able to exchange ideas on topics we had in common without worrying about looks, gender, race or species. About the only issue was time zone (on the instant communication sites particularly).

    We’ve exchanged a few ideas on bad films and history. Maybe we would get along if we met, maybe we wouldn’t. The important thing is that it’s not important. We’ve communicated and thought about stuff. It’s what makes us human.

    • I agree Andy. Being mostly anonymous helps me cut to the chase and just deal with the ideas. I’m as liable to get caught up in other people’s personal business as anyone. That’s fascinating stuff! Some of my favorite blogs to read and comment on are written by people in various types of recovery and therapy. They are writing as part of their healing process, and being open and honest and revealing the secrets of their lives in great detail is a good thing for them. Like everyone else, I have issues too, but this isn’t the place to deal with them. This is my writing/reading/thinking room. My personal baggage is there inside everything I write. That’s unavoidable. I would just prefer (in here) to leave it inside.

  6. This post left me smiling because I can relate! As much as we like to think we can get to know a person through internet communities, you just don’t. Heck knowing some people and seeing them face to face every day, you just don’t.

    I also like your comment about this being your writing/reading/thinking room.

    • Glad you got into the concept. Isn’t it funny that some people will almost argue with you, advocating that virtual relationships give you as much as face-to-face ones? That’s how strong and seductive the illusion is. It’s SIM LIFE.

  7. Deborah

    Thanks for giving me the link to this, Mikey. Do you mean your invisibility is both metaphorical and physical? Your more recent posts would seem to contradict this, as you very movingly made yourself more visible (in a non-physical sense)? I wonder if you would write this post differently now?x

  8. It isn’t physical. The most essential way to put it is to say that reading isn’t knowing like being with (physically) is knowing. The most recent of those more personally revelatory posts (#97-100) concerned events that happened over a decade ago. Therefore they only reveal one person’s view of a person I was at a time in the past – not the one I am now. Plus, I exist in fact as more than could be estimated by one person’s view – as anyone else does.

    We are always playing catch-up when we write about ourselves. It’s like writing history. To approach anything resembling truth requires time and perspective, and then you only achieve a truth valid for a past state of your own being. We grow and change, and we see ourselves through a glass darkly. Humans, like all living beings, are subtle and complex. Getting to really KNOW and even SEE one is a lifetime task. Even then, part will remain invisible, unknown to all unless God exists.

    I may have written this post a bit better style-wise, having had more practice at blog writing now, but my views on invisibility, and on cyber-real vs. real haven’t changed at all.

    • Deborah

      Very interesting. Your comment about playing catch-up reminded me of some of the stuff the English poet Edward Thomas wrote. He was always trying to grasp the essence of things (including himself) and never quite managing it. One of his poems (The Glory) ends:

      “I cannot bite the day to the core.”

      In another poem (The Other), he is literally trying to catch up with himself, ‘the other’ of the poem’s title:

      “I travelled fast, in hopes I should
      Outrun that other.
      What to do
      When caught, I planned not. I pursued
      To prove the likeness, and, if true,
      To watch until myself I knew.”


  9. Margie

    I drive a bright tangerine color car, and my life has been one of high visibility. Even my blog is visually bold, yet I originally called it “On Being Invisible”. By virtue of my age, and my unwillingness to try to look younger (I have all grey hair), whole generations of people no longer see me.
    I’m slowly working out how invisibility can work to my advantage…

    My daughter and her husband both shave their heads. She does because she lost her hair to chemo and it never grew back. He does because she does. She would love to have the invisibility afforded to a woman by a full head of hair…

    • I think it is admirable that you accept your age, Margie. I understand make-up, hair coloring and cosmetic surgery for trauma victims or those in professions on-camera, but I think women are most beautiful just as they are, at any age. We are very happy to have moved to a region where most women wear little or no make-up. There’s more grey hair here too, so I assume less hair dye. A fair number of men here also sport facial hair (whatever color). I look forward to shaving less once I’m not in health care work.

      One advantage to invisibility for you might be that only those who care more will see you. It will raise the quality level of your associations. You can also do enormous good, and even fight evil, when nobody knows from where the action originates.

      If I were your daughter’s husband, I would have done the same, just as I’ve heard those great stories about sports teams and school classes where all shave in support of a comrade. She’s alive. That makes her beautiful. I hope she can accept that she will remind others that disease can be fought if we choose to do it. Personally, I admire people with courage more and want to be around them.

      Thanks for taking off your mask in here. That’s our in-joke at this place. I write anonymously, but reveal all – tastefully, I hope.

  10. Interesting. I certainly understand the power of silence and quiet smiles, especially when it’s an intended strategy. I sense a follow-up is needed. Or maybe it’s written & I haven’t gotten there yet. Other than getting (and losing) jobs, and generally getting along with folks, has your invisibility resulted in other benefits?

    • Oh, endless benefits. I can cross through social circles unseen and unnoticed. No one tries to take my picture or follow me. I’m not sought out by salespeople or survey takers. I can make friends, and be at home anywhere!

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