You know the one I’m talking about. That glazed-over, gazing-calmly-into-the-middle-distance look that writers get when they’re stuck or distracted. Depending on how close the deadline is, or how long the writer has been stuck, the Vacant Stare may or may not have an edge of unhinged panic to it.
This can fall into the ‘unobservant’ category that I talked about last week, but it goes beyond this as well. The vacant stare seems to be reserved for the moments that are either the most desperate or the most embarrassing.
Gossipy aunt won’t stop talking your ear off? Cue vacant, smiling stare as you automatically nod every few seconds and begin to plot out the next chapter of your book.
Someone you like is sitting next to you? Without a doubt, you will begin the Vacant Stare just as they ask you how you’ve been lately. Rather than use this as an opportunity to get to know your crush, you don’t even realize they spoke to you. You come out of it just as they leave in a huff, never to speak to you again–and you always wonder what you did wrong.
I’ve been that person before–the one who just stares at someone without realizing it. Even though it was only at a good friend, I still rated it as one of the most embarrassing moments of my teenage life. The only thing that topped it, for years, was tripping on the hem of my long skirt the first time I attended the Springfield Symphony. I fell down two flights of stairs. (Those two incidents barely make a blip in my list of embarrassing moments anymore, however.)
Sometimes I wonder if the Vacant Stare is a mechanism built into a writer to prevent them from growing too big of an ego. “I make up whole worlds and characters in my head!” Yeah, see how impressive that sounds after someone catches you doing the Vacant Stare at a blank cinderblock wall with your drink dripping down your chin, because an idea caught you so quickly you didn’t even have time to swallow.
Other times I think it must be a survival system, or maybe even just a way we provide entertainment for those around us. After all, something has to make everyone forget that you burned dinner for the second night in a row. Although I would recommend trying as hard as you possibly can to keep the Vacant Stare at bay while talking to your spouse.
They might not appreciate the fact that you missed an entire recitation of their day. 😉