How Not to Be Invisible

Ever feel like a ghost before your time?

You come home from grocery shopping with three bags on either arm, fumble for your keys, loudly shove them in the lock, stagger through the front door to the kitchen… only to realize that every member of your family is sitting in the family room, in technology-induced trances, and not a single soul even glances your way as you slam the bags on the counter.

Or maybe it’s a girls night out — you head to the local watering hole, saddle up to the bar… and watch, for 20 minutes or more, as the bartender serves everyone else (from cute 20-something girls to bros and even men of a certain age that look like good tippers) BUT you.

Perhaps you catch the eye of someone you know from PTA or somewhere else where being visible gives your kid a boost (so you hope/pray/guess) — and then that person plays the “You see me, but I don’t see you game” and looks right through you.

While you might feel invisible, the reason these things happen is easy to see:

You want something from them.

Whether it’s assistance, acknowledgement or just plain old human connection, in today’s world it’s far too simple to make excuses, glom on to distractions and avoid interactions.

Look, I get it — as a chronic multi-tasker, I have plenty of random things that can easily occupy all of my time and attention. Left to my own devices — and by devices, I primarily mean my senses-numbing smartphone and the vast abyss that is Words with Friends — and I can go hours if not days without making eye contact with another human.

And what a lonely, meaningless pit that whole shebang can be.

It’s the spring from which a short play I wrote called Home is Where the Park Is, uhm, sprung.

My alter ego, a turnt (off) ‘n burnt (out) mom, Jessica, hits a wall when her car breaks down outside a park. Her lunatic rantings summon a sage hobo (his word, not hers =) to her rescue.

How he saves her is simple: he listens to her.

Conversation, debate, sympathy, understanding and empathy ensue. A satisfying connection is made. And preconceived notions of what another person is all about are blown apart because in the end, we are all just one breakdown away… amiright?

But this of course is fiction, so I decided to take my theories on the road… all the way to Venice Beach where I decided that I’d put myself out in the real world to see what it would take to genuinely connect with strangers by asking and giving all at the same time.

And truthfully, this exercise was not for naught — I’m in the throes of helping raise money through Kickstarter to fund the Home is Where the Park Is short film, which is based on a short play I wrote, and I definitely want the campaign to be successful. So before I set out, I re-watched Amanda Palmer’s kick ass TED Talk, “The Art of Asking.”

If you don’t know Amanda Palmer, she’s a freakin’ amazing musician, artist, writer, visionary, and all -around kick ass broad. (That’s my opinion — she can be pretty controversial out there in the wild world of the Internets, too.) Amanda is also legendary for perhaps the most successful music Kickstarter of all time: she had $100,000 as a goal, but ended up raising more than 10x that — $1.2 million.

Amanda’s early career included her busking (being a street performer) in Cambridge’s Harvard Square as “The 8 Foot Bride,” where she acted as a living statue that handed flowers to strangers in meaningful, connect, albeit silent ways.

While I’d be at that sort of thing because I’m not theatrical like Amanda, I decided that I should work with my strength, which is writing — I figured offering up a custom-crafted, perfectly complimentary sentence should do the trick. Doing it in a pink wig, purple sunglasses, a t-shirt that read, “Careful or you’ll end up in my next novel,” and a pair of universe-splattered leggings was my nod to the joie de vivre of street performance. For good measure, I brought along my rescue Chihuahua, Chazz Michael Michaels, who himself had been a man of the streets for four years before he was picked up by the pound. He has an unnerving, cold, dead-eyed stare, but he’s so small it registers as adorable.

In addition to the complimentary sentence, I’d also have available my mom’s amazing brisket recipe and a slew of Grateful Dead teddy bears, just in case potential donors didn’t have time to wait for me to write something special for them. All would be offered for free, without any expectation of raising funds, although I would let it be known that would be greatly appreciated, too.

I figured I’d make about $50 or $100, and be much richer for the experience as well.

Some, but definitely not all, of that prediction came true.

First off, busking is hard work. In an area full of street performers, it took me a while to find a spot in Venice Beach that was both “legal” and also where I would not be harassed by my fellow buskers.

That sounds like an exaggeration, but when I set up my little table and chair in the first designated area I found, a man came over and told me some “vicious acrobats” wouldn’t take to too kindly to me setting up shop in their normal spot and would likely kick my ass.

Moving right along then, I finally found a space next to a relatively peaceful bunch of acid trippers, one of who had a sign up asking for money for his pregnant girlfriend.

At first I felt sorry for him, but after a few minutes of him telling me that I should drop the offer of the brisket recipe and stop promising people that I’d write them a “perfectly complimentary sentence” because “nobody knows what the fuck that is,” and instead to flip over to telling men they could get lucky if they’d get their lady a free teddy bear, I started feeling more sorry for myself.

Another woman, Rain, showed me how to find “beads” (sparkling pieces of broken glass), and for her payment, was very pleased with a fistful of teddy bears and a complimentary sentence about her vivid blue eyes and ability to find diamonds in dirt. She smiled as she read her sentence, and then declared that in her opinion, I’d do much better if I’d push up my boobs, and to prove her point, she juggled her own for a few seconds and then whispered a poignant, parting message in my ear: “Padded bras are how I do it.”

While connecting with members of my busking tribe was not a problem, getting anyone else to stop for even a split second proved impossible. Finally, after about a half-hour, a nice lady with a big smile on her face came right over to me.

I immediately launched into my spiel, but before I could finish explaining about the brisket recipe, she reached into a little wagon she was pulling, grabbed a sandwich and handed it to me.

“Oh no — I don’t need that,” I said. “I’m actually raising funds and awareness for a short film I co-wrote called ‘Home is Where the Park Is.’”

“I’ll just leave it for later. We also have free dog food if you need,” she said, once again not remotely acknowledging what I’d just said.

“OK, but I’m a filmmaker,” I said, more loudly now. The lady just smiled and repeated, “Really, we have plenty of free dog food.”

Either “I’m a filmmaker” is LA code for “I’m poverty stricken and homeless” or the charitable lady just wasn’t listening. And suddenly, for the first time all morning, I felt invisible once again.

A couple hours later, after screaming at people about brisket and bears and Tinder profiles (yes, on the advice of my new friend, the dude with the pregnant girlfriend, I shifted “write you a perfectly complimentary sentence” to “write you a Tinder profile guaranteed to get you laid”), I was exhausted. And feeling virtually nonexistent.

And so, I took a break. I removed my sunglasses, rubbed my eyes, and just looked up quietly. At that exact moment, I accidentally caught the gaze of a woman who was walking by.

“Could I interest you in a perfectly complimentary sentence, an amazing brisket recipe, and/or a free teddy bear?” I asked.

We struck up a conversation, and I explained that my busking was in part about doing some live-action work to raise money and awareness for the Home is Where the Park Is Kickstarter. We finished our chat with me writing all about her gorgeous, glittery sandals and she tossed a buck in my box.

That dollar was all I earned that day — well, that and a deeper understanding of how to stay visible even when you are doing uncomfortable things like asking other people to support you and/or your passion projects.

So if you see me quoting Amanda Palmer, you’ll know that I’ve experienced firsthand the transformative properties of making myself visible. Because as Amanda says:

“There’s a difference between wanting to be looked at and wanting to be seen.

When you are looked at, your eyes can be closed. You suck energy, you steal the spotlight.

When you are seen, your eyes must be open, and you are seeing and recognizing your witness. You accept energy and you generate energy. You create light.

One is exhibitionism, the other is connection.

Not everybody wants to be looked at.

Everybody wants to be seen.”

So here’s to being seen. AND if you’d be so kind as to back the Home is Where the Park Is Kickstarter, then I will craft you a perfectly complimentary sentence OR a Tinder profile guaranteed to get you laid  — just email me and let me know you’re a Home is Where the Park Is backer. (Amazing brisket recipe is below — it’s FREE and all yours regardless of if you back the Kickstarter or not =)

Here’s the link to the Home is Where the Park Is Kickstarter – 

We’ve got just one week to hit our goal of $9,125.00 US —  we’ve got approximately $3,000 to go — and with your help, we can do it!

And here is your amazing brisket recipe — enjoy!

Amazing Brisket*

5 lbs. of brisket 1 cup ketchup 1 cup ginger ale 1 envelope Lipton’s Onion Soup mix

2-3 cut up onions