The Perils Of Being Invisible
Imagine a pocket Sumo wrestler of 280 lbs.; with a bushy gray beard; dressed in khaki pants and a knit polo shirt; carrying a cane with a leather wrapped handle as well as a notebook sized cordovan leather briefcase; and wearing a broad brimmed, flat crowned, white straw hat, with gaudy titanium dioxide beads strung on the hatband. Does that sound like a stealthy Ninja warrior--whom nobody sees--to you?
Apparently I am one, though, and completely without trying to be. I know that my own awareness has been trained to be quite different than most. This is the lingering result of 20 years as a photographer, starting back in the Nixon Administration. But it seems to me that I shouldn't be invisible, despite the fact that I often apparently am.
Back then, I did a great deal of darkroom work with the old wet line and open tray chemistry under dim safelight. I also had to load light-tight film tanks in total darkness. This led to the automatic mental habit, which I still retain, of keeping an inventory of all objects in my immediate vicinity, noting quickly, and remembering, any changes I see in them. Consequently, I can still walk through my entire house at night without the lights on and not run into anything.
Also, when out in the field searching for the best shot, I learned a peculiar thing very quickly. You were often in a location where your training and intuition let you "know" that a superb photo opportunity was somewhere near, but you couldn't put your finger on it. In most cases, it would be directly behind you. So I also developed an automatic mental habit of inventorying what was behind my back.
Finally, shooting a camera, hand-held, on a daily basis, taught me the art of staying totally still and motionless. Most people I see do not really know how to do this. Even at rest they vibrate with a slight fidget beyond the rhythm of their breathing. Subconsciously, we are all aware of this, and rely on it, perhaps a little too much, to track who is and isn't in our immediate area. I know I am most likely to become invisible to others if I am stopped and looking at something intently, for I am usually, again from habit, absolutely still.
But I don't need to be still not to be seen, and there are definite cultural differences modulating whether I am seen or not. No recent immigrant from Hispanic America, Africa, or South Asia ever runs into me. They clearly come from places and cultures where not to notice things is very bad for your health. African-Americans seldom miss me either. Japanese, Koreans, and Southeast Asians are perhaps a little less aware, as are Europeans. Young Chinese students (we have Large Midwestern University here, so we have lots of both from the mainland and Taiwan) are very inattentive, and frequently have near collisions with me, though their elders are far more aware.
But the most unaware of all are (you guessed it) native born Caucasians, particularly those of the middle and upper classes. Invariably, they have no awareness whatever that anything is behind them, sometimes to the degree that leads me to wonder if, functionally, they even know that "behind them" exists and has the rest of the world in it.
Of course, most of them don't seem to be that aware of what is in front of them, either, if my experiences as an invisible Ninja warrior are any indication. So what are they aware of? As near as I can tell, only a fantasy of the immediate future, largely consisting of what they intend to do to shape it and trim it to their liking. This is readily apparent in the grocery store, where I can read in their faces the week's meal planning going on, but I think it is a matter of it happening in most cases and everywhere. They live their lives predominantly in a world of fantasy and wish projection.
This is functional in context. No one does anything that, on some level, does not pay off. For if you are currently comfortably well off in America, there is no absolutely immediate need to look behind you, or even in front of your nose. And if you do, you will cease to be comfortable, in mind at least, if not in body. Far too many of the facts you might see are truly disturbing. We don't need to go into a roll call of them here. I have noted some of them in other posts, and different and better blogs than mine, like Daily Kos, My DD, or The Left Coaster, are filled with the litany of the really disturbing facts which are more comfortable not to see.
One such instance will do, and we don't even have to discuss it, but merely link to it. My friend the Anchoress, has put up a post celebrating the fact that the economy has started to bring more revenue than expected to the several states. Its title implicitly suggests the short-term fantasy of the Insane Bush Borrowing finally and permanently bringing us better economic times. It's a good thing to look at in front of your nose. I, for one, wouldn't want not to see it, run into it, and have to apologize to it.
But as an old photographer, with an old photographer's awareness and intuition, I have written a comment on her post which suggests the real picture is behind her back.