Writers Conference: Eye Contact Challenge

It occurred to me some time ago that one of my characters would be blessed and cursed with a ‘magical’ talent.

You’ve probably heard the old phrase: The eyes are the window to the soul. 


Go ahead, Google it, you have my permission.  You’ll find a plethora of links as to discuss the possibility of the origin and truth behind the simple, yet remarkable statement.

Well, this character of mine, when she comes to the edge of her old life and crosses the threshold over to her new world discovers this untamed talent, and will commence the long road to mastering it. She will be able to look into your soul IF she can maintain some eye contact.  IF being the key word here.

Research is part of writing, and this particular talent, though pretend and far from reality, had me thinking. I’d prefer to not reveal how many hours I have thought about this particular piece of my writing, nor the hours I have poured into testing it out.

Have you every really held someones’ gaze and, in those few seconds, experienced an entire conversation, a realization, a moment of clarity, received an invitation, or recognized an unspoken thought?

Sure you have.  We all have.

But what about with complete stranger?  It’s harder than you think. Imagine if you could maintain steady eye contact for an entire minute. Think of the mental messages and the body language spoken in that minute.  What does it say about you? It’s a gift and a curse for my character anyway, as she’ll be able to access the soul of those she can ‘see’ eye to eye with.

And if you KNEW this character of mine could do this to you, would you be willing to let her hold that kind of eye contact?  It’s not mind reading, its soul searching.  It’s seeing the hurt, the vulnerabilities, the strengths, the hopes and dreams that make us who we are.  Not just the front lobe thoughts, or the subconscious ones either.  it’s deeper than that.  But within these windows, walls go up nearly immediately as a protection, keeping those kinds of raw emotions far from accessible.

Anyway, I digress.  Point is: TRY IT ON A STRANGER.

I decided that my trip to Arizona would be a good chance to test out the idea of looking strangers in the eyes, as if I were my character, and discover what challenges she might face.

Well, the first problem?  NO ONE LOOKS YOU IN THE EYE.  And if they do, it’s under five seconds of communication.  Without being creepy, or sending a mixed signals, it’s hard to stare a stranger in the eye. Count the seconds you can do it.  Try it. You’ll fail multiple times, because the message in their eyes overrides your mental ability to count silently.  With a friend or confidant, it’s uncomfortable, but a complete strangers?  Let’s just say mixed signals go a-flying.

I realized quickly that not only will people hardly look me in the eye during conversation, {ex. “Excuse me, do you know where a bathroom is?” or “Thank you, I really enjoyed your presentation.”} but it’s next to impossible to grab the attention of a stranger in a crowded room, on a tram, or in line at an airport. 

Eye contact in those situations lead me to realize that it was something unique and difficult to connect that way.  The few security guards that looked me in the eye, smiled and actually spoke real words to me.  The few women’s eyes I managed to hold were judgmental, harsh and cold, occasionally suspicious.   There were eyes all around me, but they studied the floor, the distant passer-bys and details of other peoples shoes, accessories, and bags.

The few men that made my eye contact spoke multiple levels of conversation. They were not all sensual or anything, but by far more interested and curious.  I reckoned briefly that more women might pick up a guy by simply LOOKING HIM IN THE EYE than by anything else.  The thought was fleeting.

I know why mothers (including myself) tell their children to “LOOK AT ME WHEN I AM SPEAKING TO YOU.”

Eye contact sends messages that the brain can  interpret- whether right or wrong- that the lips do not speak.  It’s a difficult, frustrating, and completely fascinating way to spend ones’ time while in large airports, or at certain conferences.

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