My wife has a tell. If she’s about to lose her cool, you know it. The kids know it. I definitely know it.
“Uh-oh,” we whisper in chilled tones. “Cheekbones…”
That clenching of the jaw is the signal to abandon all hope. Whatever the argument was, you have lost. Those cheekbones are domestic kryptonite. “Come on, let’s see that beautiful smile!” is a thing you never want to say when you see those cheekbones.
I never thought I had a tell. I’m more of a closed book—a book your grandmother gave you for Christmas when you were 14 (Thrilling Adventures in Christian Hygiene), a book that you just can’t bear to throw away, mainly because it’s just the right thickness to keep the table from wobbling. I’m that kind of book.
But these days, I feel like I’m nothing but tell. The older I get, the less able I am to disguise my expression. I’ve completely lost my poker face.
I’ve been in countless meetings over the past months dealing with all the things we have had to deal with in 2020, and most of the time I simply sit quietly and listen, because someone has to. But there have been a couple of instances when the speaker has paused to say, “Ross, you look like you disagree…”
I can’t tell you exactly what my face looks like in those moments. I expect it is somewhere between a frown and gas retention. The problem is my disagreement has become clear, and now I actually have to commit to a position, which was what I was trying to avoid by sitting quietly in the first place; there is a 75 to 92 percent chance that my position is imbecilic.
I recently participated in an online workshop on how to run an online workshop. (I wonder if the online workshop leader took an online workshop on how to run an online workshop on how to run an online workshop.) When I signed in for the first time on Zoom, the leader said, “Hello, Ross. You look confused.”
“That’s just how I look,” I replied.
Was I confused at that particular moment? It’s 2020, so chances are, yes. But my point is I had no intentions of displaying confusion to people to whom I was hoping to give the kind of impression that says, “You know, that Ross guy, I bet he could workshop a mean workshop on workshops…” Instead, I was the “has he stumbled onto the wrong Zoom?” guy.
(As an aside, have we ever been so conscious of our faces as we have these past eight months? Whether it’s how our ears stick out when we put on those masks or staring at yourself in Zoom calls but frustratingly never able to look yourself in the eye—and is that really what my hair looks like?—we have spent a lot of time with our face, and it is not pretty.)
I know that for the past decade my face has slowly and irrevocably been losing its structural integrity. I first noticed this when my eyelids started getting eyelids. My beard has been nothing but a sad attempt to buttress sagging jowls. Now it seems like my face muscles have thrown in the towel. They no longer have the capacity to resist the slightest emotion.
I can feel my perma-frown furrowing as people speak, my mouth pursing as they go on about something boring in their lives, my eyes glaring because they won’t stop talking long enough for me to say my much more important thing, namely that no one has ever, ever said the sentence, “Mmmm, that was the best banana I’ve ever eaten.”
It’s not just expressions. I notice my face doing its own thing at other times as well. When I pull the lid off a tin of cat food, for instance, I’ve started doing this sort of grimace that is part effort, part disgust and part fear I’m going to fling cat food juice in my face. I can’t help it.
Perhaps my face is just getting ahead of the rest of me. After a lifetime of being emotionally guarded and keeping that book closed (101 Stories About Yarn), maybe my brain is preparing me for the future. One of the few benefits of aging is that you feel the freedom to no longer give a hoot what other people think. My face is just getting ready to say whatever is on my mind.
Except to my wife, of course; I don’t want to see those cheekbones.
Those of us with expressive faces, have an awesome burden, and an endless duty-of-care. We guard our words so carefully, to avoid giving offense, but who can ride herd on our irresponsible and childlike eyes, cheeks, foreheads, and mouths, all at the same time. People have complained of my sarcastic ears so often, I’m growing my hair longer. This stuff is just beyond our control.
When you wrote, for example, that no one has ever said “…that was the best banana I’ve ever eaten,” my eyebrows shot up, and actually left my face for a time.
Of course I remember that day, The Day of the Most Delicious Perfectly Stalk-Ripened Banana Experience, and have told countless people about it. If only I’d had some peanut butter there, it would have just been perfect.
I sympathize with you. I see from your 3rd photo, that like me, it’s the eyebrows that are the worst offenders. Sometimes small children perceive them as dancing caterpillars, and are either giggling, or scared.
Have you considered Face Yoga? It’s a real thing.
Laugh yoga, hot yoga, beans-on-toast yoga, I’ve tried them all. And, c’mon, bananas are the most boring of fruits. You can have a bad banana (too soft, too hard, bruised), sure, but even if your banana is just right, it’s still going to be nothing but banana.
I’m surprised at you, Ross, this is a terrible attitude, a humorist who doesn’t appreciate bananas and banana peels?? You’re talking about the everyday Cavendish, as you’d expect from the British name, it’s bland. You need to get to town and consult a reputable greengrocers, see if they’ll order you a Blue Java, Barangan, Mysore, etc. there’s a world of bananas out there. And please tape down your eyebrows before the grocer quotes you the price to get them shipped in overnight.
Robert Parker, you’re my hero.
I realize from the facial expression on your gravatar photo, plain as a pikestaff, or possibly a pike, that you’re being sarcastic. But now that I’m living in a banana republic, you gotta know this stuff.
I love this. We women get the whole “resting bitch face” (which I have even when I’m not resting) and “you should smile more”/”you’re pretty when you smile” nonsense. Nice to know the expression anxiety hasn’t skipped over the guys! But, really, I have zero facial expression awareness, and my family calls me out on looking mad or sad or fed up. During this 2020 b.s., I guess my face has probably been doing all three most of the time.
Yes, this year has definitely taken its toll.
Meanwhile, I strive for a resting butch face. Not pulling it off.
Oh, yes. Been there, just yesterday, in a Zoom social exchange meeting – the animator asking me if I had a question. Nope. Just furrowing my eyebrows, struggling to remember who everyone else was. I did recall myself, though that person has changed with the virus for sure!
Ha! You do have a querying expression sometimes.
Mixed feelings here. Relief that I’m not the only one, and empathy (with a twist of sick triumph) that someone else is (1) either broadcasting their feelings or misleading the audience, and (2) aware of it, and most importantly (3) unable to do a dadgum thing about it. Feel my pain! Sorry! No I’m not! And then I’m sorry that I’m not sorry. This is not a joke about Canadians saying sorry. I’m American and we really shouldn’t about anyone else. Thanks for being here and sharing your self-awareness with us. It brightens the day/night.
I’m glad. I’m actually smiling reading this, no lie.
I really appreciate that you are one of those willing to sacrifice themselves and sit quietly and listen. It makes talking over everybody a lot easier.
Just a beta taking one for the alphas in the room.
With a grace worth celebrating.
i have always had a lack of tell, much to my dismay, and my family and friends and poker competitors have confirmed this. like you, i have the visceral cat food juice spray in the face reaction, but it seems to cut through most of my life. why i am a pre-kinder teacher and not a pro gambler.
I’m pro kinder and pre-gambler.
probably the safe route to go
I don’t what my face looks like. but when ever I get called out in a meeting, I usually tell the presenter to hurray it up I have to go to the bathroom. I has made them stop calling on me.
My wife has the clenched jaw as well. We scatter she can’t get all of at once, and my daughter is slower than the rest of us. Survival of the fittest
I do this also but with bear attacks.
So How does that work out. Can bears figure out your tells?
I tell them to chase someone else. (Ba-dum TISH!))
I don’t understand all the fuss about face masks. Old broads like me love them. No frown lines. Definitely make our faces look thinner. And it is really quite easy to mouth things like “suck it, asshat” from behind a mask. As long as your eyes are smiling, no one will ever know.
This was endlessly entertaining, made even better by the banter between you and Mr. Parker. Funny guys!
Parker’s the best.
Winter coming on, I think of the mask as an extra scarf. I’m on board.