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My Invisibility Cloak

I was invisible once.

For a long time.

And I couldn’t figure out how I got that way.

I noticed it first when I moved back to the States from Germany, and the ward I was in for the first five months never bothered to learn my name. For five months the young women in the ward referred to me as “That New Girl.”  They were as nice as peach cobbler and vanilla bean ice cream with those little praline pecans sprinkled on top, but they never learned my name. I even had a part in the road show as a dancing tube of toothpaste, but no one so much as called me “Cresty” or “Pastey.” I was irrevocably “T.N.G”—That New Girl.

I would have blamed it on the ward, except it happened again when my high school was split and I left most of my friends at the old one. No one figured out who I was until the semester before I graduated.

Then again when I got married and had a few kids, I moved to a ward where everyone was thirty-two years old. Everyone. And the ward was huge. At the same time I was pregnant with my second child, there were 30 other women pregnant too. And when I successfully popped the little pipper out, I received the food and the cute little kitchen towel from the Relief Society, just as I should. But beyond that I was a ward statistic and a chunk out of the RS budget.

Well, I could rationalize all of this. My high school social life had fallen victim to a soulless dividing line in the city, which created instant rivalry between old friends. And the people I was with at the new school? Well, they had their own established crowds. I was just unlucky. And as far as the epically huge ward was concerned, the words “epically huge” pretty much answered that. So I felt pretty okay about things for a while.

Then I moved into an established ward. Not too big. Not too small. There were people there I had known for a few years. And  no one referred to me as “That New Woman,” that I recall. In fact, everyone was quite friendly.

However, I began to notice a distressing thing: people smiled, people answered when spoken to. But few said anything to me of their own accord. If I didn’t say “hi” first, “hi” wasn’t said.

What the hoo-hah was going on? It couldn’t be me. I was nice. I was friendly. I smiled. I started conversations.

Finally one day when I’d had enough I decided this was going to stop. I would show them. I was tired of doing all the work. It was time for THEM make the first move. So I stopped talking. I stopped smiling. I stopped doing anything but walking and being spiritual. And I felt pretty good about the whole plan. Soon they would be coming to me.

Except no one noticed.

Seriously. Not one blessed soul stopped me in the hall and said, “Janiel! Whatever is the matter? You are not talking! You are not smiling! What have we done? Have we hurt you? Please let us be friends and we shall talk and talk and all shall be well!” (I had become a little irrational at this point.)

No. Everyone just walked right on by in the halls, unsmiled at, untalked to, and completely unnoticing.

Huh.

Was I wearing an Invisibility Cloak? I was going to have to think about this. And I did. For a few years. It hurt my brain. But I believe I have finally come up with an answer: in the end people did start talking to me, because after my “punishment” of the ward resulted in a collective neighborhood yawn, I decided I didn’t care what they thought of me anymore. I was just going to get right up into their faces and say “hi” and be all friendly until they HAD to notice me. And they could think I was stupid and get sick of me and I didn’t care! In fact, I got obnoxious with it. “Hi! Hello! How are you? How are your kids? How’d that surgery go? You’re writing a book? What’s it about? I didn’t know you painted. Cool! Iraq, huh? Bummer. Stay away from camel spiders. Those things are narsty.”  Felt good to not worry. I. Was. Fine.

And then a curious thing happened. I had friends. Many of them. Nice people who cared about me and talked to me and brought me food when I had a surgery I’d not told them about. And who laughed and joked and reassured me that my Gospel Doctrine lesson hadn’t led any of them to leave the Church. And who asked about my husband and my children, and invited us over for dinner.

Wait. What?

I didn’t get it. I’d been nice before. I’d been friendly. I’d smiled. I had not had on an actual Invisibility Cloak insofar as I could tell. Why, suddenly, were these people my friends?

And then I hit upon it. Or, rather, it hit upon me: I had, indeed, been wearing a Cloak of Invisibility. And it had come in the form of smiling, laughing, joking, distance. Oh, I’d been friendly all right. But I was so sure that people weren’t going to like me that I didn’t let anyone in beyond the depth of a potato chip. Behind my friendly exterior was a paranoid, trembling wall of surety that no one really wanted to know me. So I’d keep them at bay with my jokes, a disarming smile, and my Cloak of: Try-To-Get-In-Any-Closer-And-I’ll-Turn-This-Thing-Into-A-Rat’s-Tail-And-Snap-The-Living-Shortcake-Out-Of-You! An effective Invisibility Cloak of ever there was one.

So. After all these years of tremendous use and unsafe safety, I’m turning in my Invisibility Cloak. It’s not very comfortable and I don’t like its color scheme anyway. Getting all up into peoples’ friendship is a better cloak, because it removes their invisibility, and makes my own disappear as well. What I really think I need to look into is a Cloak of Neighborhood Block Parties.  People totally say “hi” back when you’re carrying chocolate trifle.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Darcee Yates March 25, 2011, 9:30 pm

    Yes, I’m up way too late! It’s almost 10:30 in Memphis and I have to get up at 4 am again. Terrific post. It’s funny how our perception of ourself and our relationship to others continually evolves long after we think we are all grown up.

    It took me becoming a flight Attendant to shed my own invisibility cloak. Now the world is my neighbor. One day I’ll have to learn the art of being an ‘at home’ neighbor. But until they make me quit, of course. I’ll be pushing my walker up the aisles of the plane slinging soda’s at 80 if they let me.
    Darcee Yates recently posted…San Antonio and Big- Texas DreadlocksMy Profile

  • Angie Gardner March 26, 2011, 7:08 am

    Love it! This very closely resembles what happened to me in high school. I found out 20 years later when it was time for our reunion and many of us were getting back in touch that people had thought I was stuck up.

    Because I smiled and said hi and expected them to make the next move. Honestly I’m still kind of like that. I need to do better.

  • Janiel Miller March 26, 2011, 8:26 am

    Darcee, I hope you got some sleep! I remember as a kid thinking I couldn’t wait until I was grown up and had it all figured out. Bwa hahaha! How shocking to grow up and still be figuring it out.

    Angie – Ohhhhh, painful memories. I’ve gotten that feedback too. Even as an adult I had someone tell me that when we first moved here they thought I was “Aloof”. Ouch. And my own fault.

    Sooo. I need to do better. But also, it taught me that there’s a great reason not to judge others. We have no idea what is going on inside.
    Janiel Miller recently posted…Lame-Patootie PoetryMy Profile

  • Lisa March 26, 2011, 12:06 pm

    Love this post! I came back from Germany, too, and didn’t get a calling for 6 months. I felt so out of sorts and alone. Then, I was put in the RS presidency, and I started creating activities and really trying to get to know people, and it all turned around…kudos for your insights!

  • Alison Moore Smith March 26, 2011, 12:26 pm

    Wow.

    I’ve known Janiel since high school. We were in A Cappella Choir, Chamber Choir, and on the Ballroom Dance Team together. So I’m reading this from “the other side,” so to speak.

    As I’m reading through I’m shaking my head, “No! That’s not how it was! Of course, I knew who you were! How could we perform together without me knowing you? We just weren’t really close, that’s all.”

    I will reveal (sorry Janiel) that a few months ago I told Janiel I was going to send a FaceBook friend request for her to a mutual high school friend of ours — one who also sang in A Cappella and Chamber with us. She protested — absolutely certain the person in question wouldn’t know who she was. So I asked her if she knew Janiel. She said, “Yea, sure, she was in…” She thought it odd that I would even ask.

    It was then I got to the kicker:

    I had, indeed, been wearing a Cloak of Invisibility. And it had come in the form of smiling, laughing, joking, distance. Oh, I’d been friendly all right. But I was so sure that people weren’t going to like me that I didn’t let anyone in beyond the depth of a potato chip.

    Again, wow. This insight is, from my experience, dead spot on. I knew Janiel, I spent three hours a day with her in high school. I talked to her. We worked together. But I didn’t really know her at all. She was friendly, but there wasn’t really a connection.

    It’s interesting because I became reacquainted with her online fairly recently and it was mostly through her writing (formal as well as things like status updates) that I found her amazing sense of humor and also the things we had in common. Obviously that happened because she has been willing to open up her beautiful soul to the world. I am so glad I am getting to know the real Janiel.

    That said, I think there’s some of this in most of us. My “metamorphosis” occurred one day during my freshman year of college, sitting in a health class taught by Brother Coons. Maybe I’ll write about that someday, but it was a moment of complete transformation.

    Much love to you my “new” friend. 😀
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Lifestyle DesignMy Profile

  • jks March 26, 2011, 3:45 pm

    I totally understand. I was invisible for years. I didn’t know how to not be invisible.
    I’m usually not invisible anymore. Still, it takes some effort and thought in order to interact with people.

  • Janiel Miller March 26, 2011, 5:07 pm

    Thank you, Alison. Much love back to you.I would love to read about your metamorphosis. I’ll bet there’s a lot of great insight for us to glean from it. Also, ack! it’s a bit painful to be validated on my shallow-friendly-person-character in high school, but it was true (Not literally shallow. Just in friendships. Which is everything in high school).

    I do think we all struggle with some aspects of this in some way. JKS, I’m glad you’re not invisible anymore. You sound like one of my sisters, for whom it has been painful to interact. I could interact; I just didn’t let it get further than being funny and nice.

    Ah life. We’ll learn it all perfectly by the time we kick it, I think. 🙂
    Janiel Miller recently posted…Lame-Patootie PoetryMy Profile

  • Kayla March 26, 2011, 5:59 pm

    This blog post is incredible. It’s like if my life decided to write a blog post, this would be it. Can I just say thankyou for sharing? Because really, I guess I needed to know that other people have this same problem of seeming invisibility, and I REALLY needed to know that it’s possible to overcome! My husband and I just bought a house and tomorrow will be our first day in our new ward, and I’ve been nervous that things won’t go well, I won’t find a friend or connect with anyone like I haven’t done since forever, and in my heart of hearts I think I’ve known the answer to the problem all along, but it’s just so scary to think about changing your habits. Y’know.

    Sorry bout the long comment, but I jes’ wanted to let you know I’m really grateful that you shared. 🙂
    Kayla recently posted…Give me a house alreadyMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith March 27, 2011, 3:14 am

    Janiel, I hope that didn’t come off wrong. I never thought you were shallow. I didn’t think poorly of you at all. You were cute and talented. There wasn’t anything wrong. It just seemed you weren’t really interested in being close friends. Does that make sense? You know how some people already have their friends and they don’t seem to need more, so they are cordial but not really warm and inviting or looking for new friends? That was my impression.

    There is something that females seem to do. It’s kind of this give and take thing. I’ll tell you a little bit and then you tell me a little bit. Kind of like, I’ll trust you enough to reveal something to you and, if you still like me, I’ll trust you with a little more of who I really am. And I’ll do that until I see signs that it’s not being accepted anymore.

    It’s as if we kind of find where we fit with different people and how much they can see and still accept. Maybe that makes no sense to anyone else. That’s just how I see it.

    So I guess what I felt — being my own immature, insecure self — was that you didn’t want to share too much. I didn’t think that was a bad thing or a problem, I just assumed you had your own friends already and you just didn’t need it. So strange how wrong we can be, eh?

    Given the two feeder schools to the high school (Orem had 3,600 students our sophomore year) and the later split, it seemed there were always people I didn’t know. I had no idea if they had just moved in or were always there. Jennie Taylor was my very best friend the last two years of high school. We went all through junior high and high school together, but didn’t know each other at all until half way through junior year. And Dallas Howard was one of my best friends in college and one of my bridesmaids. We went through most of junior high and all of high school together but weren’t friends at all. We got to know each other doing pageants.

    I always thought you hung out with the drama group: Brent Elwood, Jennifer Gappmeyer, etc. It always seemed that you had a group of friends, you know? So putting the two together, it didn’t ever occur to me that there was something you really needed.

    Isn’t that a sad thing? We are so often surrounded by people, but we feel alone. 🙁

    Does anyone else ever wish they could go back to being a kid, but keep their adult brain and see if they could turn some of those things around?
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Blog Post Promotion- The Ultimate GuideMy Profile

  • jennycherie March 27, 2011, 5:39 am

    Great post, Janiel! I think *many* women struggle with really making friends. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and your TRIUMPH in learning to connect with others!
    jennycherie recently posted…The Good Old DaysMy Profile

  • Janiel Miller March 27, 2011, 9:10 am

    Kayla, thank YOU for sharing. It’s hard, isn’t it? I remember complaining to my mom that I didn’t have any friends right after our school split, and she told me that if I wanted a friend I’d have to be a friend. Rather obvious. But I remember getting sarcastic and saying something about wearing a t-shirt with “Will You Be My Friend?” emblazoned across it. 🙂 But she was right.

    And thanks for your kind comment, Jenny.

    Alison – Honey. In a million years I didn’t think you were implying that I had been shallow. That was me. And it isn’t quite the right word. “Self-centered” is more accurate. And I don’t even mean that in the usual narcissistic way. But I do think, as I’ve thought about it (and I’ve had a LOT of years to think about it. I had a hard time figuring out, as an adult, why people I’d thought were friends barely remembered me. It was painful to come to the realization that I had shut them out and not been much of a friend myself. I did have a crowd, and they were awesome people. But I doubt I was even as good a friend to them as I should and could have been, had I not been so focused on my own fears and pain, etc.)

    Anyway, I’ve realized it’s self-centeredness that keeps us from reaching out. And it is based, I think, in fear. Not narcissism. So by “self-centered” I mean “self-concerned,” or worried too much about what others think of me. And I think that is often the basis for our feeling alone and being unable to make friends. We’re worried about how we’ll do, or whether or not anyone will like us, or whether we’ll fail, etc. Which is all about ourselves.

    So, the key, I am learning, is to focus outward. To trust that if you reach out and be a friend, you will receive friendship back. And–to be even more evolved–we’ll have more success if we aren’t reaching out just to receive back. It’s the old “lose yourself to find yourself” thing. If we really reach out and don’t worry about what we get back, we’ll be blessed with abundance.

    So, Alison, to summarize, I said I was shallow because I felt like my self-concern was shallow. Or created shallow relationships. It’s hard to realize that things like that are of our own making. It wasn’t some kind of persecution. It wasn’t that I was created eternally flawed in the friend-making department. It was that I wasn’t BEING a friend.

    Luckily, that’s easy to rectify. You don’t really risk anything by reaching out, if you think about it. If you don’t reach out you’re in the same place as if you do but fail. But you tried, at least. And you’ll be blessed for reaching out. And I think it is rare to reach out and be a friend, and not receive a (relieved) friend in return.
    Janiel Miller recently posted…Lame-Patootie PoetryMy Profile

  • Janiel Miller March 27, 2011, 9:18 am

    And yes, Alison, I would love to go back with my adult brain and be a better friend. Among many other things! An adult brain would be very handy in a teenaged body. For one, I’d like the strength and elasticity of that young adult body back. That would be awesome.

    Darcee, yeah, we’re all saps. Which means we’re all human. How wonderful to have been blessed with such out-reaching people in your life. And how cool that you’ve become one of them!
    Janiel Miller recently posted…Lame-Patootie PoetryMy Profile

  • Darcee Yates March 27, 2011, 8:51 am

    O.K. — I’ve kept my own BEST FRIEND FOREVER- since we were 13 years old. She had just moved into my ward, and shortly after SHE befriended ME, she introduced me to someone as HER NEW BEST FRIEND. That was one of those impact moments that stay in the memory forever— it was the first time someone had referred to me as BF.

    But it was good and bad- because she was such a great friend, and so social, I road on her wings, never having to learn the skills( that she has in abundance) to make more friends. After high school, I moved, AND HAD 2 ROOMATES IN COLLEGE THAT GATHERED ME UNDER THEIR WINGS. I married, had 4 kids in 5 years and raised them. Only 3 more new deep friendships in all that time– each on CLAIMED ME. SEE A PATTERN HERE?

    It took till I spread my own wings (flight attendants are forced to be social)- that I started considering everyone as my friend. Now, I just assume, people want to know me and I want to know them.

    WOMEN! WE’RE SUCH SAPS!
    Darcee Yates recently posted…San Antonio and Big- Texas DreadlocksMy Profile

  • Angie Gardner March 27, 2011, 1:00 pm

    Alison said:
    “Does anyone else ever wish they could go back to being a kid, but keep their adult brain and see if they could turn some of those things around?”

    YES!

    I had this discussion with a guy I went to high school with after we became facebook friends. He blogged on his personal blog about his 20th reunion and how he wasn’t going because he felt like he was perceived as such a different person than he really was. I asked what he meant by that and he said that as he came across people over the years they would say “you have changed so much” or “you are so different now” – when in reality he didn’t feel that he had changed at all. On the contrary, he felt that no one really saw who he really was then, so now that he has “grown into” himself, so to speak, no one recognizes him any more. It wasn’t that he disliked these people, it was just that he said they felt like strangers…or more that he seemed like a stranger to them. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but I did understand what he was saying because I feel much the same way. I feel like I just didn’t put myself out there, and as a result people THINK they knew me, or they ASSUMED things about me, that really weren’t me at all.

    I missed my 20th reunion for entirely different reasons (living thousands of miles away, my parents have moved from the area, etc.) but I’m not sure if I was closer I would have gone anyway. I kind of feel like I caught up with those who I cared about, and no one else really knew me (I take total blame for this…as I say, I did not put myself out there in any way in high school.)

  • SouthernMan March 28, 2011, 1:48 pm

    *click* LIKE

    Yes, and I see myself a bit here, too.

  • Keri Brooks March 29, 2011, 11:50 am

    Great post. I think I wear an invisibility cloak, too. I’m so afraid of being judged that I foreclose opportunities for closeness. I just moved to a new ward, and I’m going to shed my invisibility cloak.
    Keri Brooks recently posted…The Restoration of the GospelMy Profile

  • Michelle D March 29, 2011, 4:13 pm

    Wow. This sounds eerily like myself… There is much for me to ponder about my own invisibility cloak and how I view myself compared to how others view me.

    I reconnected with a friend from high school (one of the friends-in-class-but-don’t-hang-out-with-otherwise type). The one thing I thought he’d remember about me from high school was a total blank for him. It was eye-opening to realize this.

    Teenagers (and other age groups, as well) can be so self-absorbed…
    Michelle D recently posted…Roller Coaster BlessingsMy Profile

  • Janiel Miller March 29, 2011, 8:07 pm

    We should have a big invisibility cloak burning party. 🙂
    Janiel Miller recently posted…My Invisibility CloakMy Profile

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