I can't help it—I've gotta do a post for Nova Ren Suma's 17 & Gone out tomorrow. She's been running this series featuring authors talking about what haunted them at 17, and I've loved reading it so much I have to play copy cat.
A bright orange belt. A large, round Chinese pointed hat. A ridiculous, second-hand, brown leather coat that smelled like death. Neon yellow pants with giant flowers on them. These were just a few of the strange things I wore to school at 17. Because as quiet and shy as I was, what haunted me at 17 was the gnawing feeling that I was invisible. (Which probably explains a lot about why I wrote a literally invisible main character in Transparent.)
More than anything, I wanted to be seen. And I think more importantly I wanted to be remembered. If that took going to school in polyester hand-me-downs and mumbling under my breath in broken Japanese, then so be it. At least I'd be known for something, and that was better than dissolving into the background and being forgotten.
Where this need came from, I'm still not sure. All I know is that it's always haunted me. I remember sitting alone at lunch or on the playground, hoping someone would just see me and sit by me and say hi because I felt incapable of going up to people without melting down in a fit of anxiety. I remember the all-consuming desire for the boys I crushed on to notice me in the same way I noticed them (they never did). I remember how badly I needed my teachers to acknowledge that I was something special, that my success would someday lead to me being pulled out of obscurity and SEEN by the world. Because that was the only way to be important—others thinking you were.
Nothing was ever enough. I never felt more than the fleeting sense that people saw who I really was and valued me for it. By the time I was 17, I was desperate for recognition and wanted so badly to scream, "Look at me! SEE ME! I'm right here!" I never said those words out loud, but they came out in my actions.
Except I was always "second best." Which at 17 was just as good as being invisible. In art, I had a friend who could draw better than anyone I know personally even now. He was truly amazing, gifted. No matter how hard I tried to get better, all I had to do was look over at my friend's work to be reminded how far behind I was, how greatly others eclipsed me, how I'd never truly stand out. I often felt like Salieri in the movie Amadeus—full of both envy and awe for my friend's talent. If only I could have that, then I would be seen and remembered and loved.
I guess you could call it fame syndrome. And it's a sad thing to have at 17 because nothing I did was ever good enough for myself. People never noticed—at least not to my satisfaction. Compliments I did get barely registered, because I was always looking at what I hadn't achieved yet. My whole life began to circle around the acknowledgment of others. I needed recognition. Not approval, mind you, but a nod my way, someone saying, "I see you and what you're doing."
I'm not sure I've conquered my haunting sense of invisibility even now. There are still days when I want to scream to the world, "Look at me! SEE ME! I'm right here!" When really I should be looking to myself and asking, "How can I see myself better?" The answer to that question changes everyday, but the more I ask it the less haunted I feel.