Before the coronavirus pandemic, I enjoyed an unsolicited FaceTime call about as much as I liked tripping on a sidewalk in winter. (If we are related and you refer to me as “Uncle Mikey” and have found this via Google, this definitely does not apply to you.)
Much like Mariah Carey, I think it’s important to never be captured in the wrong lighting, and to always be shot at your best angle.To hit me out of the blue with a video call without asking permission first and/or scheduling it is to deprive me of the opportunity to give you the best that I’ve got. Why do that to me? Why do that to you?
Also, I love that either of us can be chilling in our preferred look of laziness without having to share that sight with anyone else. I don't need to see your messy ponytail and cat-hair-covered shirt. Do you need to see me in boxers and a Sade concert tee that’s probably really a bootleg? You don't need to know me like that.
Is that vain and stupid? Maybe. So what? I still don’t want to look at you when I talk to you on the phone if I don’t have to.
For the record, I don’t really want to be "on the phone" with you at all. Being good at running my mouth doesn’t mean I want to exercise that talent in every medium. I use the phone the way most people do: to text, to listen to music and to look at social media.
However, in light of the fact that, when I have to go outside, I have to do so in a mask and gloves — the white cotton ones that are really for moisturizing, but no one else had the nitrile ones in stock so I went with it — I have stopped behaving like a grouchy old man about FaceTime and all other forms of video calling.
Much like when I lived in my strict mama’s house and couldn’t go anywhere, I have turned to video conferencing and actual phone calling to maintain my sanity and some semblance of human connection. Surprise FaceTime is no longer my arch nemesis — and my other new app besties include Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and Houseparty. Well, maybe not besties; we’re very cordial frenemies. (Progress is progress.)
I miss my friends and some of my family — don’t act like you don’t relate — so being able to see their faces at a moment when which showing mine in the open air constitutes a risk is necessary for my well-being. I am happy to have this technology, even if it took a global pandemic for me to truly acknowledge its allure. Everyone is so impressed with me for finally acting like everyone else under the age of 40 (or 45, depending on the region).
But just as I'd finally made a kind of peace with video-calling people I liked, a new enemy reared its ugly head: work-related video conferences. We also have to virtually invite people — strangers, even, into our homes, while fearing for our lives or the lives of others, and present and perform for them — on camera at that.
In my case, I am releasing a book next week and, because I can’t go outside, I have to do everything — including press and book events — from my apartment. Yes, that is a blessing so, no, I am not at all complaining.
But, like many of you, I have lots of questions. Do I have to still dress up? And if so, it's accepted that we're all just wearing work-tops now and sweats on the bottom, right? I barely know how to dress like an adult anyway — I'm a freelancer — so if I can spare myself ironing slacks and not have to relearn how to tie a tie for the billionth time (please leave me alone about this), I want in. I mean, I'm probably going to be wearing basketball shorts anyway, but has there been any consensus on dress shoes?
Since I don't really have a choice — there's a lot of that going around — I've set some video conferencing limits. I only handle work-related video calls from one spot in my apartment, and only during select times of the day, in order to maintain my sense of structure and control. (That has also spared me from having to torture my arm any further in trying to nail multiple angles.)
After that, I catch up personally with the folks I require most: I need to see the people I can show all my faces to, not just my best and most professional face — or even just my least afraid one.
How are any of us even functioning? Never mind: I know it’s because we have no choice. We all do what we have to do, until we won't or we don’t. But as I sit and capture my face on camera for so many different audiences — friends, family, editors, readers — during so many different parts of the day, I am certain it must reflect how strange and disconcerting the world feels right now. I try to make sure my mind doesn’t drift away thinking about how incredibly dark a time this is, knowing someone will see that manifest on a camera I never wanted there but now I need.
And, as hard as I try to adjust to this new normal, I know there’s only so long I can keep my game face on for everyone — myself included.