365 day blog challenge Day ONE

The Invisible Man, 1933
The Invisible Man, 1933

One of the hardest things about being a young adult — teens to 20s, maybe even 30s — is how the world wants to put its thumbprint on you. You are an amorphous potentiality that others seek to control. The military rounds up young, aimless men and trains them to be cannon fodder. Colleges tell you that $100,000 will be a worthwhile debt to accumulate — without the possibility of discharging it in bankruptcy — for a few years of intellectual exploration or professional certification.

I think a lot about how this time of life feels for my sons, but I mostly don’t think about what it felt like when I was young, except, of course, when visiting distant family. Why is it when I see certain people from my childhood, as lovely as our encounter may be, it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste of remembering who I was? Casting myself back to that time is like visiting a ghost town. I recall how they told me what to do with my life, and how I mostly ignored it. 

Now, more than ever, they are story collectors (I guess everyone is), reeling off who is sick or dying and with what illness. Bourgeois boasts about young relatives’ achievements always surprise me, considering the counterculture these elders embodied. When they ask about my own household, I feel compelled to prove that my children’s lives measure up. I often suspect a whisper campaign has implied that my kids are the underperforming specimens of the next generation. 

This is just as likely my own insecurity. After all, my boys are wonderful, friendly, handsome giants. Already they seem able to shake off the world’s negative attention better than I ever could. And I don’t deserve all the credit here. Their dad is a total iconoclast who can’t help but stand out, even while being mostly ignored. He happily lives in his own little bubble. 

Natural leadership

When my younger son was in middle school, he was often singled out for punishment, but also praised as a leader. The insight I gained from that, which applies to the whole Morales nuclear clan, is that natural leadership cannot be shucked. Charismatic people can just sit there doing nothing, and someone will notice them “showboating.” Whether you do or you don’t, people will see your actions as leadership. So — at least some of the time — do.

I am pleased that the old family members are still alive and vibrant, even if that vibrance includes various percolating maladies. But seeing them brings back memories of confusion. How I tried to please the menagerie of creative, tortured adults in my life! (The fashion now is to call them narcissists — and as much as I hate simplistic generational labels, I wonder if post-World War II prosperity did shape them to be this way.) 

DIY brain hat for martian costume
Modeling my brain hat from the greatest costume I ever made.

One horrible aspect of these brief darts down memory lane is finally seeing how everyone has dealt with the “bad” members of their families. I suppose the opposite could be true — you could have a terrible criminal in the family whom you swathe in fluffy denial. But it still shocks me to hear a good child/bad child narrative running for 50, 60, 70, 80 years… Especially among enlightened types graduated from every major trend of psychotherapy from Freud to recovered memories. (There’s a reason why Cain and Abel still resonate. You can find such stories of family drama in California Indian mythology, too.)

It also brings back that yucky sense of drifting along the eddying agendas of these various adults as they came in and out of our lives (my parents divorced and remarried a lot). Youth is a prized commodity to modern adults, but only as an essence, a drug, something to be consumed and directed (see the French dystopian flick Ad Vitam for more on this theme). Youth must enjoy life fully and achieve prodigiously while not making one false move.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think I have given my boys more self-determination than I had — and, to be fair, I had a lot. This brings me to the gift of age. 

The advantages of invisibility

Looking through a book of symbols I just bought on impulse, I wonder: What symbols are associated with human age? In my 20s, I read the book Passages by Gail Sheehy and it helped me see that there are seasons in life. You can ignore them, but it was always clear to me that you should not, if possible. I always wanted to have children and I am glad I had them young. Now that they are a teenager and a young adult, my own freedom looms on the horizon. Actually, it’s already here (note that I’m not suggesting not to parent a teenager. This is one of the most important times to be present and steady, as I learned from parenting my first teen.). We’ve taught them to be self-reliant, creative, strong, capable, empathetic, questioning, enterprising, social, funny, athletic, gritty, thrifty, culinary, adventurous… I am hoping at some point they’ll also learn to do chores without being reminded (hahaha).

Now I approach the other end of the child-rearing journey. Too often, women at my current stage of life and beyond complain (at least in the media) of becoming invisible. But what if this is, in fact, a gift? I can pull attention, but only when I want to. Traveling through Europe in 2018 and 2019, I was able to do whatever I wanted — and mostly be completely left alone. Contrast this to my experiences as a 20- and 30-something traveling nationally and internationally for work. Then, I worried constantly about unwanted attention and had many strategic conversations with men to avoid misunderstandings or predation. Now, while I may sniff the winds and check my safety on a lonely street, I’m not chum for sharks.

The Invisible Man book cover
The Invisible Man, by the great science fiction writer H. G. Wells, was published both in serial and book form in 1897.

As much as we hope an expensive cream or facial injections or a plastic surgeon could fix the “problem” with advanced puppetry, in my opinion it is biological. I am never again in my life going to pull eyeballs like I did from ages 14 to 25. It wasn’t because I was more beautiful then — I think I still look damn good, and certainly more chic. It was simply because I was nubile. The same applies, to a lesser extent, to men. I see it with my boys. Their youthful looks may not be as commoditized as those of prepubescent female fashion models, but still, young men are gonna pull eyeballs. 

Perhaps I’ll look back in 20 years at the me of today and laugh at my childish ignorance of how very much more invisible I had yet to become. But I think not. I see plenty of role models, from Jane Goodall to Jane Fonda to Deborah Haaland to my mother to a host of women authors, artists, dancers, athletes and politicians who show no signs of slowing down. 

Finally, wasn’t invisibility seen as a super power in those old radio and television shows? You’re in stealth mode. No one cares how you live or what you do. And as for the supposed power of existing in the eye of the algorithm, young women seem ever more trapped in an inflationary beauty economy. I worry about how it will end up for them.

“Someday, when you get to my age, you’ll see it’s really true what they say: Youth is wasted on the young,” I tell my son as I drive my stick shift up a San Francisco hill, discussing the travails (some tragic) of his friends. “You have so much physical prowess, but you guys are all fucked up in the head.”