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Observations of an invisible woman

June 16, 2008

My husband and I did an unusual thing, for us, and attended a party over the weekend. We stayed an hour and a half; then it was time to come home and give the Cat his insulin shot. I cannot say that I am ungrateful for the providence of this excuse for early departures.

The gathering took place in the most fashionable neighborhood of Seattle and represented a collective IQ in the nine-digit range.

The Sesame Street riff, “Which of these things doesn’t belong?” wafted through my mind. I started to raise my hand, but remembered in time not to.

I began looking around. I declined the garden tour; the estimated 15% grade on one end of the property looked a little daunting. I’m happier observing people than engaging with them; I’m a “strongly expressed introvert,” and besides, I was tired. Tired is my home terrain.

A Bright Young Graduate showed up with a Stage Mother who took charge of her being properly noticed. A husband was introduced; I didn’t catch whether he belonged to the Bright Young Graduate or the Stage Mother. Silver-haired and attentive to his shoes, he appeared as a suitable consort for either. The Stage Mother beelined for the host and retained him for the duration of my observation.

A circle formed. I had never seen anything like it before. It seemed like dolphin, or perhaps high simian behavior. A large group was standing in a perfect circle that included the Bright Young Graduate, the Stage Mother, and the universal husband. I asked my husband whether people read a magazine to learn how to form a circle like that. He said, no, that was what people did, it’s called, “dynamics.” Oh. Well, live and learn. I added dynamics to the list of things about which I am clueless.

Nearly all the women were wearing the same type of dress, a sort of black skimmer, accessorized with several strands of faux pearls and extremely high heels. I wore my best travel pants and a T-shirt, accessorized with a medical ID bracelet and Mary Janes with hand-knit wool socks. I wondered how everyone knew to wear the same dress. But such a dress, if I owned one, would have looked stupid with Mary Janes and wool socks anyway.

The People of the Circle were very fit. Fitness is everything; these are some of the most successful and potentially successful lawyers in America. Show no weakness: competition is lunchmeat.

The women stood on pavement for over an hour in high heels. A huge, heavy bag hung on a shoulder of each. None of the women ever opened her bag; it simply hung there at the ready. Proper accessorization does not come orthopedically cheap.

I am orthopedically bankrupt. I left my backpack in the car, sat in a chair, and continued my anthropology.

My husband and I remained on the fly-by route. We sat at a table; if anyone needed to sit down for a few seconds, they talked to us. I had fun drawing “from what planet?” looks when I expressed the simple fact that we live in Tacoma because we prefer to live in Tacoma and not Seattle. I tried to walk people through the amazing concept. “We’re from Montana.” That usually explains everything.

They were pleasant people, good people by all secular reckoning, interesting people. I was pleased for them. I begrudged them nothing. I was grateful my husband and I had taken a totally other path through life. We’ve worked hard, but never wanted to work the way they do, never required the things they worked to get, the things that broadcast exceptional ability.

The following morning, our pastor lead the reading and singing of Psalm 73, and I understood where I had been the evening before.

“They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.

Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment.”

No one there struck me as remotely violent, but I don’t think that’s what Asaph meant, either. “Violence covers them as a garment” seems more to imply a class of people protected from hindrance by their power and the power they can bring about. I don’t think of it but it’s always there. It’s political power without the need to grind one’s own knuckles in politics.

Maybe I lack ambition because I distrust power. I just want to remain snake-proof. I don’t keep anti-venom in my pantry and I’ve never had a rattlesnake in the kitchen.

  1. June 16, 2008 10:53 am

    After thinking about it for a while, I remember that the technical term for the circles is “clustering.” I read an MIT paper a while back that used an example of spontaneous circles at cocktail parties to analogize to the “boson effect.” And there are odd social science studies involving something called “dramaturgy” and chaos theory.

    It is a strange world. I’m glad Asaph wondered about it so long ago. It helps to remind us that (1) nothing is new under the sun and (2) we are not the first to notice.

  2. June 16, 2008 11:23 am

    Well now I don’t feel so dumb not knowing about dynamics. Dramaturgy isn’t my beat; I’m up on chaos theory but in another context…unless these people are merely stochastic lifeforms.

  3. June 16, 2008 12:04 pm

    Well, I recall that the individual behavior of a stochastic object in a collection of similar objects is computationally and practically unpredictable.

    Sounds about right.

  4. June 16, 2008 12:41 pm

    If I were much, much smarter, I would be into game theory so I could ponder algorithms for predicting the unpredictable.

    But I’d still never be able to wear those high heels, so what would be the point…

  5. Jane permalink
    June 17, 2008 7:26 am

    Fascinating reading about your experience. I’m so far removed from this sigment of society that unconsciously I think that they only exist on the news or in movies as the figment of some writer’s imagination. I never see them. But now I know they really do exist. Sounds like a very scary but insightful scenario. ( I love your dress as opposed to theirs, by the way. A refreshing glimpse of an authentic person not afraid to be her real self.) And yes, Asaph says it perfectly.

  6. June 17, 2008 7:53 am

    And yet, I think we’re the ones most people don’t think exist.

  7. Jane permalink
    June 17, 2008 8:07 am

    Hmmmm…yes. However, there is One who knows us:

    “My sheep hear My voice, and I KNOW THEM and they follow Me…”
    John 10:27

    “I am the Good Shepherd, and I KNOW MY OWN and My own know me” John 10:14

    …nevertheless, the Lord KNOWS THEM that are His…(can’t find the Scripture address for this one)

  8. June 17, 2008 8:24 am

    It’s 2 Timothy 2:19.

    Yes, and there is only One by Whom we need to be known.

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