When I was a young girl and later in my twenties, being in a crowd brought out one or two things in my personality. Either I was petrified or tried too hard. Just the idea of going somewhere by myself was enough to make me stay home and hide. Socially I was a washout. Despite being a broadcast journalism major, I both dreaded and delighted in being the center of attention. Society gave me some leeway because I was sometimes cute or pretty.
Now that I’m in midlife, or old age if you ask younger people, I’m much less shy and much more confident, but the pretty left a long time ago. One day I woke up fat, middle aged and frumpy, and it was a shock. Where once men had found me attractive and would flirt, I’d become so motherly, grandmotherly that I was a nonentity. Painful. That’s what aging is on so many different levels. Just about the time I gained enough confidence in myself, I’d lost my looks.
Good thing my husband still sees something in me.
Last weekend I found myself in a new situation. Amongst young graduate students at a writing event, I found myself mostly ignored by the youngsters. I was greeted by the organizers who were friendly and welcoming, but for a long time sat by myself and felt a bit like the kid not chosen for kickball. Decades ago this would have been my worst nightmare, and an affirmation that I shouldn’t get out and try to meet new people, try new things. As a woman who was almost old enough to be their grandmothers, I didn’t need affirmation from college or graduate students of my worth. I settled in and typed out over 2300 words, revised, added bridges to a narrative, and generally was productive.
The kids around me broke into loud conversations, participated in writing games, and had a wonderful time, and it was refreshing to be around people who were so in love with writing. Their joie de vivre was intoxicating. When the fresh coffee and candy was brought out, they were so funny, and I watched “the wild rumpus” begin.
I learned something that day: invisibility has its uses. Like a painter free to paint a landscape in a busy park without interruption, a photographer unhindered in snapping pictures of a crowded place, I was finally free to just be without worrying about judgment or inclusion. Society worships the beautiful and young, but woe be to those who do not adapt to wrinkles, gray hair, or body fat. We all will hopefully wake up one day aged, and judgement will not hold us back from realizing who we should become. I had my youth, and now it’s fun to watch from the audience and make notes.