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Invisibility Ho! And How to Escape It

In fiction and real life, invisibility is a two-edged kind of magic.

I haven't had much luck believing six impossible things before breakfast. Not even aided by espresso. However, in pursuit of more achievable goals, I've been thinking about the nature of invisibility.

Many big accomplishments have been made possible by the i-power. Midnight explorations at Hogwarts. Escapes from nasty relatives. Thievery in goblin tunnels with far-reaching implications for Middle Earth.

In certain moments, who hasn't wanted to be totally unseen?

But invisibility is a double edged magic. While most of its achievements occur in the pages of fantasy books, its downsides are usually not fictional.

For me, one of the ongoing mysteries in life is how many people manage to go seemingly unnoticed. Not because they're Jason Bourne and they want to disappear. Because...well, it's hard to say.

Some people seem to live in an alternate reality, removed just a couple inches from this one, and they glide around quietly, attracting no interest from much of anyone for months or even years.

To say that people go unnoticed because they're simply not very interesting would be an easy answer, and just as easily debunked. Social media can reveal a lot of things, but one of the most obvious lessons is that many famous people have the intellectual lives of warmed-over pasta. Stuck in a cycle of endless cliches.

That's kind of beside the point, though.

In A Gentleman in Moscow, one of my favorite reads in 2019, the protagonist spends most of a year being overlooked and ignored. This despite being the most intriguing character in a sprawling hotel–and yes, the entire story. The explanation, when given, makes you smile. He has earned the disapproval of a beautiful woman, and his punishment is social invisibility, until her chagrin fades.

It's a minor stroke of magical realism, but it doesn't strike you as totally outlandish. Or even impossible. Because there are some people who seem to live in an alternate reality, removed just a couple inches from this one, and they glide around quietly, attracting no interest from much of anyone for months or even years.

It can actually be quite hard to explain. I mean, aside from magic.

I think the more pressing question for someone stuck in this kind of predicament (which is probably more common than any of us would like to think) how to get out of it?

Forget the cloak, the ring, the shadow-skillz. How do you shrug all that off? How do you become someone people recognize as a real live human, with agency, a backstory, and the possibility of danger and intrigue? A person who occupies space, who has thoughts about any number of things, who is worth knowing?

I'm not gonna try to answer that in a blog post, although I have ideas, but this question is central to my debut novel, CASEY GRIMES, aka THE MOSTLY INVISIBLE BOY. Thoughts or observations about the curse of invisibility and how to escape it? I'd love to hear 'em in the comments.

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AJ Vanderhorst
AJ Vanderhorst
Nov 06, 2019

Yeah, I think taking action has to be part of the anti-invisibility protocol, even if it's not a complete answer. Think it's also true that before we can take action, the dreary status quo has to be disturbed, at least a little, by a glimmer or trace of hope.


I wonder if invisibility is negated by action. When I have been stuck in the drudgery of hopelessness and disbelief that any of my circumstances can change, my feelings were verified because I no longer have any desire to do anything. My feelings become my reality. The only way out is to act against a negative feeling, believing that possibly those feelings may not be true reality.

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