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Wheat-Field-with-Cypresses-(1889)-Vincent-van-Gogh-Met

During the summer of 2014, my middle child, Jake, gave me a gift: Jake wanted me to take a vacation; an adventure away, alone.
Initially, he suggested I go away for 2 weeks. This idea was just too much for me. I needed to take baby steps; to be close enough to home and gone only a few days. He wasn’t happy with this, but he agreed. So he helped organize this trip with my dearest friend, M, who also happens to have a condo in NYC.
Jake cared for my youngest child during my absence, and M delivered me to her beautiful NY home. She spent the night, and we had a delicious 24 hours of uninterrupted visiting. We walked and talked and talked and talked. She surprised me with dinner at a vegan restaurant where the GF food was safe and amazing (Candle Café West).
M left early the following morning, and I was on my own. First time in 34 years. Let me say that again. I’ve not had child-free time in 34 years. I’ve not gone away or slept away. And I’ve not had uninterrupted sleep in 15 years.

I went to NYC to be among people. I love the energy of crowded streets and the complex smell of food from around the world. City people have always impressed me as beautiful birds with mating plumage. They’re put together, alert and focused, and generally responsive.
But this seems to have all changed.
People no longer make eye contact.
I’d finally grown accustomed to people using hands-free headsets, which make pedestrians look like crazypeople gesticulating wildly and laughing or shouting at no one.
But things have changed.  Now, everyone has a device in hand, heads bent downward as they walk, shop, travel, dine. It’s epidemic. Their heads hang forward at unnatural angles for prolonged periods of time. Their shoulders are hunched. Their gait is unpredictable. They sometimes pause, not in response to the traffic or outside stimulus, but rather some internal reaction to something they’ve read.
They use their torsos as a kind of privacy shelter for the screen. I call this “The iPhone Slump”.

I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hoping to see a shift in their countenance.  After all, we visit museums to see great works, right? Nope. They continued their iPhone Slump, peppered with the added posture of using these devices as a kind of shield between themselves and the art.
They checked messages, stopping mid-stride to text, taking selfies with Van Gogh.

These days, I’m weepier than I’ve ever been, and I’ve always been a major weeper. I don’t mean I’ve been a sad person. I’m just easily moved to tears by things that touch me: films, children, acts of kindness, stories of hardship. I’m a great audience. Tell me a story and I’m sure to respond.   My kids will tell me stories they’ve read, or share a moving scene from a book, movie, or show, and I’ll tear up just in the telling. A few times, they’ve recounted so well, I’ve really gotten choked up.

I love film, so while in NY, I attended two movies. One was very emotionally charged—a real tearjerker. When I left the theater after this one, I had trouble pulling myself together. It was dark, and no one seemed to notice me. I guess that’s a good thing? On some level, it didn’t feel like a good thing.

I walked through Central Park. Surely people here would be more social? I thought they’d at least feel the need to observe their surroundings. Nope.

I went to coffee shops with the hope of chatting up fellow coffee lovers. Generally, this would be an ideal place for small talk. Coffee drinkers tend to enjoy witty banter. We’re far smarter than the average tribe (maybe this isn’t true; maybe it’s my serious love of coffee combined with my deep need to belong that makes me say this).  Anyway, try as I might, I could not engage one human. Even the cashier was checking texts between transactions. To be fair, the young barista grinding my beans attempted to seem friendly but it was clear he was preoccupied. He smelled like heaven, so I gave him a pass.

While at the Met, I was moved to tears by Van Gogh’s irises and cypress paintings. These are breathtaking. There’s something so very sad about them. The heavy oil and curvy lines. They’re lonely, and hopeful. So, in a way, being invisible came in handy here. Weep freely through Van Gogh!   But, later, I thought about this and realized that if I’d seen a person standing in front of a painting, weeping, I’d have made some kind of human overture. I’d have said something to connect. Or maybe I’d have just sighed loudly enough to let them know I KNOW. Let me be clear: this new public weeping is in no way a cry for help or an attempt to gain attention. It’s just part of the cycle.
I cycled, and the other museum patrons did their iPhone shuffle.This new social order of isolation-in-public via smartphone has me feeling very out of place- like I’m dropped from another time. I’ve never felt so alone in a crowd as I have in the city this time around. It’s all isolation and invisibility.

And the feeling of invisibility led me to thinking about women as objects. Stick with me. It’s not as large a leap as you think.

All living things have a life cycle.

As a female, I went from being an object of conditional appreciation, to that of provisional desire, right on to derision.

Now, I’ve reached an age where I’m invisible.

No one tells you it’ll be like this. We experience the cycles, but don’t discuss them.

It’s either a shameful secret, or something we women have so wholly accepted, we fail to see it (like air or gravity).

When I first noticed the shift into invisibility, it was odd, but at times welcome. Bad hair day? Hey, no one cares anymore. Now it’s just sad.

I guess there are some conveniences, like walking home from a tear-jerking film, still weepy and red-nosed. I could have been wailing that night in NYC; no one would have noticed. I am older now and no longer an object of desire. To those individuals who might previously have cared that an older woman was weeping, I’m now invisible in three dimensions.

I know that our culture has gone though phases of its own. We’ve endured shoulder-hoisted boom boxes, platform shoes, Hare Krishna, rollerbladers.  But I think the iPhone Slump has cut off circulation to our hearts.