Eyes Without Faces

We’ve been back at school since August here in my part of Georgia, and say what you will about whether we should or should not be, and whether we’re doing enough to protect these kids and their families (to say nothing of teachers and their families) from COVID (in my not-so-humble opinion, we are not), but it’s been good to see the students again.

I mean, last year ended so abruptly and catastrophically that it was hardly an ending at all; it was like going to a movie theater, and having the film cut off just past the 1 hour mark — and then the manager comes in and says the film is totally borked, it can’t be fixed, and they’re just going to have to refund your money. And you’re like — what??

Anyway. I started out thinking about masks and who wears them in schools (they aren’t mandatory, here), and what that says about them… but I figure that’s too cliched, and it’s also not entirely a useful examination. I mean, kids are hardly reliable narrators of their own stories, let alone the stories that get told through them. A kid not wearing a mask isn’t indicative that the kid thinks COVID is a government conspiracy, for example, the way an adult not wearing one is. It could be that the kid just forgot to wear a mask. Or that they lost it. Or that they just got tired of wearing it and took it off. Or that (I had one kid tell me this was the case) their parents forbid them to wear it. Or any number of other permutations. So while it’s interesting to see which kids wear masks, it’s not particularly instructive.

No, I want to mention a very strange phenomenon in this era of mask-wearing, which is: I am forgetting what my students look like.

Not in a broad sense, of course. But a student of mine pulled her mask down in class to have a sip of water and it struck me that I hadn’t seen her mouth in a year.

Okay, so that’s a pretty odd observation to make, but I made it, and there we are. Then I started thinking about it, and I realized that there is no small number of students whose mouths I haven’t seen since February of last year.

And your mouth is half of your face!

And, okay, I teach theater, so I’m sort of hyper-aware of the amount of information that gets conveyed between people through the use of the face, and … we’re covering our faces up (those of us who are attempting to help, in our own little way, our society to get through this mess OKAY NO MORE SOAPBOX), and it’s doing this strange thing to our interactions.

I mean, we can see each other’s eyes, and that’s not nothing, but you take away facial expressions, and you suddenly have a lot less information when you’re talking to somebody.

It’s just a very strange phenomenon, to have that strange moment of “oh, right, *that’s* what you look like” with people you’ve seen every weekday for six months.

It’s just one more way that this pandemic has made us feel alien to each other.

I’ve always thought that Billy Idol song, “Eyes Without a Face” was sort of creepy and beautiful. (I can’t claim to have ever paid attention to the lyrics.) I heard it the other day and I realized… so many of us, now, are eyes without a face to each other.

These are strange times.

P.S. I learned that after shooting the video for “Eyes Without a Face”, Billy Idol’s contact lenses had fused to his corneas, and he had to have surgery to have them removed, so THAT’S HORRIFYING.

P.P.S. I also learned that “Eyes Without a Face” was first a film, and the images from it are …unsettling. Do a google search. Or better yet, don’t.

P.P.P.S. I’ve also decided, after thinking about mouths for the past couple days, that “mouth” is one of the worst words in the English language.