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Essays by Karen Anderson: Becoming Invisible

Illustration by Kacie Brown

When I was young, I wanted to be special, to be different, to be noticed. At home, I learned that being special meant getting good grades. At school, I learned that being special was about looking good, about being outgoing and friendly.

For me, being outgoing was harder than getting good grades. I watched the popular kids for clues about how to be friendly. It seemed to include smiling a lot which wasn’t easy with braces on my teeth. “Be more confident,” my mother said, “wear brighter lipstick.”

Sitting at her vanity table, I found a tube of “Fire Engine Red” and painted my lips. I looked like a clown which might have made people notice but didn’t enhance my confidence.

On rare occasions, I put on the right outfit and the right attitude—and suddenly felt special, different, noticed. But it was a lot of work and always temporary.

Now, I’m old and I rather like being ordinary, being similar, being invisible. And it’s no work at all because it’s mostly about being myself. May Sarton wrote, in her book called “At Seventy,” “Now I wear the inside person outside and am more comfortable with myself.”

Could I have learned this when I was young? Probably not.

Karen Anderson contributes "Essays by Karen Anderson" to Interlochen Public Radio.