The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Invisibility is more than a refuge in this field guide to disappearing

Rachael Conlin Levy

Illustration from “The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher” by Molly Bang, 1981.

I stood on the sidewalk that edged a bluff, watching mist float above a Puget Sound that glinted dark as a tarnished coin. The sky’d been emptied of color with the return of the rain, a thick, soft drizzle that soaked my coat and plastered my hair to my forehead.

On the north side of the sidewalk, moss grew in the shade. All summer, it had been less than a memory, but now it swelled, plump and bright. It had been here all along, but it was only when autumn quieted the city, turned it wet, dark, and verdant, that the moss moved from the invisible to the visible.

In “How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency,” author and essayist Akiko Busch asks whether invisibility might be more than a refuge, but a condition with its own meaning and power. Can going unseen be a sign of decency and self-assurance, she asks in her 2019 book that challenges the modern assumption that visibility equates to happiness.

“Human endeavor can be something interior, private, and self-contained. We can gain, rather than suffer, from deep reserve,” Busch said. “The impulse to escape notice is not about complacent isolation or senseless conformity, but about maintaining identity, propriety, autonomy, and voice. It is not about retreating from the digital world but about finding some genuine alternative to a life of perpetual display. It is not about mindless effacement but mindful awareness. Neither disgraceful nor discrediting, such obscurity can be vital to our very sense of being.”

I found comfort in Busch’s words, and in the moss. Turning to walk home, I was careful to avoid crushing the lushness underfoot. Now I noticed it on the garden wall, the garage roof. The small, spongey pillows were soft as velvet and cool under my fingertips. I lifted a damp finger to my lips. Shhhh. What lay hidden, what had been small and overlooked, has been revealed in September’s waning daylight and steady rain that envelope Seattle and obscure its grander views.

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