Everybody loves to be seen. I don’t care how shy you are, or how modest you are, or how good you are at lying. Everybody loves that moment of recognition. When someone says, in one form or another, I see you. Or it’s cousin, I totally get you. Being acknowledged in and of itself is its own little high. When we get awards, even if it’s only minor - say, “ACME International’s Mail Sorter of the Month in Building D in Tuscaloosa” - we still find ourselves inordinately happy with the award. Why? Because the most important feeling in that moment is that you were seen... Seen for what you’re worth, or seen for what you need, or seen for who you are, or just seen, standing there, waiting to acknowledge the seeing. It all feels the same way. Like you exist.
In Nicole Krause’s “History of Love,” an old man, who lives alone and is old enough to be taken by old-age any day now, says he does something every day to make sure he is seen. He might be at a store, unnoticed by the shoppers, so he’ll drop some coins so there’s a little commotion as he scrambles to pick them up, even at the high cost of the pain of getting down on his knees while people watch, and some people help, and all the while he’s content that he was seen. His worst fear is that he’ll die on a day that he was not seen...
That kind of deeper recognition - that ‘existence affirming’ one - is a rare occurrence, which gives it its weight. That’s why that moment of “I looked across the crowded room, and there she/he was - looking back, our eyes locking as the moon shone blah (I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit) blah blah blah.” Although a cliché, it’s still pretty awesome when it happens to you.
That’s why the idiosyncratic practice in tango, of the Cabaceo, is so fascinating. At it’s purest, there’s no verbal asking for dances in tango. You have to look. They have to see. You have to be acknowledged. When it’s busy, and it’s crowded, and you don’t know anybody...it can be nerve-wracking. Especially the first time. And it isn’t until the first time you’re out of your home community that you really feel the effect. When you aren’t surrounded by your friends, where you might do “the look”, but it’s just for the ritual, because you could just as easily go up and say, “hey, get off your ass. Let’s do this.” Or something to that effect.
Now, you have to enter into the realm of that secret, non-verbal language that gives permission to long stares that would otherwise be considered rude, not de-rigour. I look at you from across the room; you look away, and settle on somebody else you want to engage, but alas, his eyes move straight past yours while directing his own laser look that careens off a bored cat and continues its ricochet until it lands.
But. Sometimes you scan scan scan and you see someone - a complete stranger - and you connect without saying word, where eyes locking is the contract, and perhaps a tiny smile is the signature that seals the deal: ‘yes, I see you.’ ‘I see you seeing me...”
The best part of tango is that little acknowledgement. Over and over. All the gazes that previously turned away are rendered meaningless in that moment of recognition.
This ‘being seen’ is important enough that I think the French should have a term for it. after all, they have the very perfect ‘le petit mort’ for orgasm. ‘Le petit voir’ perhaps? Well, I know this much: that little moment, especially with a stranger, never gets old...
That feeling of acknowledgement comes in a variety-pack. We can feel acknowledged in different ways, including feeling acknowledged by those who govern us. And lately, I’m left with the feeling that I haven’t been ‘cabaceoed’ for a long time by the Canadian government. I think there’s a lot of us who are feeling that way, and with elections coming up in the fall, well, there’s a lot of looking going on, but who’s being seen? We wait, with our vote in hand, to nod.
Young people are getting a bad rap for not participating as voters. “Africans walk for days in the sweltering heat to cast a vote once the privilege has been granted”, they’re told - a variation of the “well, when I was a child I had to walk for an hour through a blizzard in my sneakers to get to school.”
Be that as it may, when people have been been starved of meaningful participation (in addition to actual starvation), of course they hungrily accept the opportunity. But if you’re left with the feeling that nobody’s really seeing you, it’s hard to get enthused about staying at the dance. I don’t think the reason people under 30 vote in small numbers is because they’re lazy - it’s because there’s no faith in a system where split votes lead to an asshole being declared dictator with 40 percent of the vote. And then, just to complete the “fuck you”, he sings John Lennon’s “Imagine there’s no heaven” as if it were meant as lullaby for Ayn Rand.
Harper could be guaranteed toast if the NDP and Liberals could get their act together to have a coalition government, but Trudeau is throwing a hissy fit about dancing with Thomas Mulcair. In doing so, he’s not just averting Mulcair’s gaze, but all of ours. I think that Canadian youth will participate in droves if they ever come to feel that their votes will count.
As for the rest of us? We’re just standing around. Waiting to be seen.
Lalo Espejo is a writer, monologist and political satirist whose work has appeared on CBC radio, campuses across Canada. He has also taught writing and presentation skills at career colleges in Vancouver. email@example.com