Saturday, August 15, 2015

How Not to be Invisible

            Kim and I were walking down the main street in Cedar Key, Florida. Two young men approached us. Ignoring me, they each had words for my wife:
            “I love your ___________!”
            “That’s a nice ___________ you have there!”
            Now, Kim has reached an age where, beautiful though she is and young looking as she is, she finds herself increasingly invisible. At the parties we infrequently attend, she is ignored. Young men’s eyes drift toward younger women. (So do old men’s, but that’s a story for another day.) And when she does engage someone in conversation, it’s all about them – Kim does not appear to have a history or existence of her own. Kim’s friends – women our age – have mentioned the same invisibility.
            After the two smiling young men passed, Kim asked me, “Does it embarrass you when people talk about my  __________ that way? Do you think I’m showing off?”
            “Not at all. I think it’s great.”

            When Kim was in her 20s, the blanks would not be filled in the same way they are now. She was a model, and when she walked down the street or into a room, she drew lots of attention because of her figure, her hair, her eyes, her walk – the way it all comes together in her “look.” People might not have come up to her and expressed admiration for her assets, but they were no doubt thinking it. There were, I’m sure, stares and whistles. She still turns the heads of older guys – including me – but it’s not the same.
            A few years ago Kim bought a 100-400mm lens for her camera, and more recently, she upgraded to 500mm. (For you non-birders unfamiliar with camera gear, it’s the size of those shoulder-held missile launchers you see terrorists using.) Combining her newfound passion for photography with her longstanding passion for birds, she felt the long telephoto lenses were necessary. And they were: She typically uses them to take 200-400 photos a day. Really.

Nice lens!
            Kim’s “Nice lens!” makes her more visible at the same time it makes the birds more visible. When we walk out on Paynes Prairie to take pictures of Sandhill Cranes, she’ll draw comments from many of the people we see – mainly men, who seem more interested than women in photographic gear. (I almost wrote “more interested in photographic gear than women,” but that probably varies with the individual guy!)
            How do I feel about this? I think it’s great. All Kim’s assets are still working for her (though she doesn’t think so), but her age throws a gray age-veil over the eyes of young people, so they don’t really see her. She’s invisible. But when she is birding they do see her lens, and they are ready to compliment her on it. Kim receives the admiration radiating from her lens. Maybe there is an anomaly in a middle-aged woman carrying a young man’s long lens. Maybe there is some complex Freudian dynamic going on – I don’t choose to speculate very far in that direction. But whatever the dynamic, I love seeing Kim emerge from invisibility to bask, however briefly, in admiration, for her happiness enhances my happiness. And somehow her “nice lens!” reflects on me. You know, it’s like the guy walking with his well-endowed woman: He must be doing something right! My woman is endowed with a 500mm lens – a nice asset.

Kim with nice lens

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