I’ve spent most of my life attempting to be as unremarkable, as invisible as I can be; and for most of my life, it’s worked out pretty well. When teachers are looking for someone to pick on with questions about the lesson, they look right past me to someone naughtier, smarter, or quieter. When people are looking for volunteers, their gazes slip right past me and to someone else. I have mastered the art of balancing visibility and audibility so that I’ll never stand out, unless I explicitly volunteer myself for the task.
From time to time, though, I don’t balance it nearly as well as I think I do, and before I even realize it, the full attention of everyone in the room is upon me, and everyone is waiting to hear what I have to say. This, as you might imagine, comes as a surprise to me all the time; and it takes me just a second longer than everyone else to realize that the person in charge is referring to me.
It has led to many awkward situations.
There was one time when my youth group leader was looking for someone who could show up early in church on Sunday morning, so that some seats can be reserved for the people who were coming a little later. He looked at me and said, “Think you’re up for it?”
Being me, I stepped out of the way and looked behind me, wondering who was he talking to – and the space was empty.
Another time, I was walking the streets of Phuket with Dale Carnegie’s book on public speaking in my hands, and I don’t know how long the man have been shouting to get my attention, but it must have been quite a little while, because he came to me running to commend me on my reading habits.
Then today, some time in the morning, the phone on my desk started ringing.
I’ve never had to pick up work calls before. As a freelancer, people called my personal number to look for me; and at the former office where I served as a copywriter and video editor, I was nowhere near a phone, so I never had to worry about identifying myself or the company when I picked up the phone. You can imagine my confusion when the phone rang this morning – the one on my desk in particular – and there was no one around who was going to pick it up but me.
The lady sitting some three meters to my left gave me an odd look, as though wondering if I had never heard a telephone ring before, as I stared dumbly at the machine with the blinking red light. I caught her gaze as the telephone continued to ring.
“Is that – for me? Should I pick it up?”
Now she looked at me, as though wondering if I was an imbecile. I picked up the call. It was the lady from HR, calling from just two doors away.
Damn it, people. Can’t you make life easier for me?