We recently published Rachel O’Cleary’s stunning “The Invisible Woman.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I love how you play with the idea of invisibility here — is the invisible woman really invisible, or have people merely stopped seeing her? Do you think there is a specific kind of person who tends to become unseen like this?
That is a great question. I was actually thinking about this quite a lot when I was writing this story, because I wanted to write a hopeful ending, and it felt essential to me that the hope was earned, rather than feeling like a hollow, fortuitous rescue scenario. In order to do that, I had to understand why she was invisible in the first place, and I concluded that, in my opinion, there are two types of people who are more likely to become unseen. The first group includes people who are in a position of relative powerlessness, and I think society doesn’t want to see them, maybe because we feel we can’t or don’t know how to help them. The second (often closely-related) set are those who go invisible almost as a safety behavior, and become unseen even by themselves. This is how I envisioned my invisible woman. At some point in her life, she suffered a trauma, and that, along with the fear of negative, unwanted attention, would have led her to decide to make herself smaller and smaller until there was almost nothing left of her. She has to find the courage to make herself seen again, even if it feels (and might actually be) a little bit unsafe, and that is what I hope she is doing by the end of the story.
2) The idea of the invisible woman helping the flickering girl is so powerful. I love that she tells the girl all the things she wishes someone had told her. What is something you wish someone had told you?
Thank you! I’m so happy to hear that this resonated with you. I think this is a case of “write what you know,” because the things the invisible woman tells the girl in the story probably are the things I wish someone had told me. They are certainly the things I try to tell my children. Wanting to fit in is all well and good, but there is nothing lonelier than being unable to see yourself in the life you are living. I feel like, as a younger woman, I got a lot of messages that suggested I could or should find my self-worth in the approval of other people. Yes, I was given that ubiquitous vague directive to “be myself,” but I was also quietly passed a long list of rules about how I was expected to behave and which aspects of “myself” were acceptable. And I definitely underestimated how much pressure there is to become a particular type of woman. This is true in any scenario, but I think especially if you end up going down a more “traditional” route of getting married and/or having children, and therefore have a role to fulfill. I was blindsided by the pressure (not only external, but also internal) to fulfill that role perfectly. So I think keeping a strong grip on my own identity, and having the courage to hold on to it when society would suggest I should be completely selfless all the time, is something I have learned – am still learning – the hard way, and I wish I’d been more prepared, because it’s easier to hold on to something than it is to have to search for it once you’ve lost it.