Why Can’t I Stop Staring at Myself on Zoom?

But why, O foolish boy,
so vainly catching at this flitting form?
The cheat that you are seeking has no place.
Avert your gaze and you will lose your love,
for this that holds your eyes is nothing save
the image of yourself reflected back to you.
It comes and waits with you; it has no life;
it will depart if you will only go.

Echo and Narcissus, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses

“I hate it’s called that—a vanity.” Mom shakes her head. I’m placing jewelry boxes and books on either side of the mirror. Cherry red, purchased in 1986 by my self-indulgent equal, Great-Aunt Lilly.

But “vanity” is the right word. Derived from the Latin vanitas, defined as empty, aimless falsehoods. It’s said that if you ran into yourself on the street, the mirror would never prepare you to recognize the person you confront. How old were you when you learned that years of dragging your finger across the contours of your face in the glassy pond have taught you nothing about yourself? And how devastated?

“I am Narcissus and my little Zoom square is my pond.” It’s an instant retweet from me. Variations of the modern myth proliferate online at the start of the semester, are then swallowed by the 24-hour news cycle. So why can’t I stop staring at myself on Zoom?

Nothing about this is new to me. I’ve adapted to collegiate cyberspace, though I find virtual learning unpleasant at best and surgically painful in general. Poke and prod around Canvas to locate the Zoom link. Primp in your grainy laptop camera that was once a sacred tool reserved for FaceTimes and maybe the occasional stint in Photo Booth. (Alternatively, Join without Video.) Pray you haven’t turned into an ogre in the 10 seconds it takes for your preview window to vanish and reappear in the gallery of grainy laptop camera views. The TA thinks your shirt is cool, notices your makeup. So you unmute to acknowledge the acknowledgement of your cool shirt or the color smeared across your lids. And then back to mute. It’s a whole thing.

Creative Direction Jonah Thornton
Words Kennedy Morganfield
Editor Emily Hanson
Featuring Isa Zisman, Izzy Jefferis

Armour Magazine Season 25 — F/S 2020

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