Recently I’ve noticed something strange has been happening to me – people have stopped asking me questions about myself. When I pointed this out to a woman friend of a similar age, she quipped, ‘Welcome to the world of being invisible.’
I had heard of this phenomenon, but it is another thing to experience it. At first, it felt like a relief to be out from under the male gaze – to be able to move about in the world free from the wolf whistles, the cat-calls and other animal-themed behaviours. It happened so gradually that I barely noticed.
But, after a recent social event, where I had chatted amiably to around twenty different adults, I lay in bed that night, replaying my various interactions, and reviewing my performance (a topic for a whole other blog post), and I realised that not one of those people had asked me a question about what I was doing, or what I thought about anything. If I hadn’t been asking the questions, we would have stood in awkward silence, and I had to wonder, what had changed about me that nobody seemed curious about me anymore? The answer seemed to be that I am a middle-aged woman.
This is not a grand epiphany. It is just a melancholy awareness that I have reached and quietly passed another milestone, and I haven’t quite accepted it or decided what I should do about it yet. Because there is a certain irony in the fact that I am trying to emerge as a writer and be noticed by agents and publishers just at the time when the rest of the world, apart from my family and friends, can no longer see me.
I could fight back with purple hair, eccentric clothes, statement jewellery, and oversized owl spectacles to increase my visibility, but that has never been my style, and I wouldn’t be able to pull it off – I’m no Iris Apfel. Or, I could embrace the cloak of invisibility like a super power and become a silent observer, passing unnoticed among the carefree young, granny-ninja style. Except that sounds like a rather lonely life on the sidelines, and as much as I love my own company, I do need human interaction now and then.
When I look to other women who have gone before me, I am inspired by my own mother, who only retired from her career as an editor a year ago, at the age of ninety, and whose social diary is still so full I have to book ahead if I want to see her. But, she claims to feel invisible too. Elizabeth Jolly was in her fifties when her first novel was published, and there have been other late bloomers in the literary world, but I need to get a wriggle on, nonetheless.
And if my physical presence no longer commands attention or elicits curiosity, then I will have to make my writing voice stronger so that it can’t be ignored. I will make my readers curious about my characters at least, and through my writing, perhaps I can reclaim my place in the world.