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Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule

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A Silly Thing to Post About on a Sunday
Spoon
catvalente
I was looking at kylecassidy 's picture of me from Worldcon and thinking: why do I always look pissed off when I'm just listening?

My face has very little neutral ground. Well, my personality doesn't, really, either, and maybe those two are connected and maybe they're not. I'm not really a neutral kind of girl. I'm either happy and expressive like a freaking muppet, or it settles into a look that codes as irritated and angry to those who don't know me, and sometimes people who do. This leads people to think I'm an angrier or more unhappy person than I really am.

I suspect it's because of my jaw.

When I was about 12, I went to the dentist and he talked to us about my jaw. It's off, he said. Your teeth don't come together right. The two jaws are not aligned. See? And he smiled, showing me his perfect teeth, and then pointing out mine in the mirror, and how, yes, my jaws did not come together perfectly, but skewed to the left.

And then, as if I was Joan of Arc and this was a freaking Inquisition, he showed me the device he'd use to fix it.

I don't really remember what it looked like, except that it would have covered most of my upper jaw. What I remember is his vivid description of how every couple of months I would have to come in so that he could tighten the screw he would drive through the roof of my mouth until my teeth aligned.

My stepmother asked if it was dangerous, if it would cause problems with speech or eating or anything. The dentist said no, it's strictly cosmetic. But her teeth aren't right.

They left it up to me. And at 12, I said no. Please do not put a screw in my mouth for two years. I'll deal with my looks.

Actually, by 12 I was pretty good at saying no to cosmetic procedures. When I was 10, I ran through a plate glass door and carved myself up pretty good. I still have extensive scarring on my legs and a small chunk of my thigh missing--oh, the things you wanted to know about me!--in part do to a doctor who was less than an artist with the needle. For about a year, my mother took me to plastic surgeons to talk about how to get rid of the scars, how to deal with the missing muscle tissue. The answer, slowly, became clear: I could take two years off of school because surgeries would be ongoing and make it impossible for me to walk while they restructured my right thigh. And still, they wouldn't be gone, they would just be smaller. Again, it was up to me.

Again, I said no. I was sad, a 10 year old is ever so eager to grow up beautiful and I was reasonably sure this blew my chances. But I wasn't taking time off of school for some stupid slight reduction in ugliness. I said: I'll tell people I got bitten by a shark. That's a better story.

So the mouth thing was not such a big deal. And credit to all involved for letting me decide.

But to this day, my jaw really is off. You can see it most when I'm not smiling. The left side of my mouth droops down, just a little, into a frown. It makes me look unhappy, even when I'm not. I have to be full of bounce to avoid that innate frown. But it's the mark of a choice I made, and so are my scars. Control I had over my body. The first control, really, over something that couldn't be taken back.

So if you see me and I look frowny and upset and angry, or like I'm about to punch someone, it's not that. It's just that when I was 12, I said no to contraptions and ridiculous concern over the perfect symmetry of my face. It's not really a frown at all.



My neutral expression falls somewhere between "grim" and "we are not amused, peasant". I've actually found it useful to train myself to maintain constant tension in my facial muscles in public, so that when I'm out and about my face falls somewhere between "bemused" and "good-natured idiot". You may notice that when I'm tired or just really comfortable around people, I drop the mask a bit.

I'm not even sure how to do that training.

At least it keeps me from being harassed by sexually deprived fans at cons. I look like I'll cut them.

...I need you to teach me how to make that my default look.

Raise your eyebrows a little, constantly, and pull your bottom lip a bit in so that you've got the ghost of a smile around your lips. It helps a bit if you've got an excess of bottom lip, of course.

Slightly raised eyebrows with a neutral head position indicate interest and openness, and a bit of upwards tension in the corners of the mouth indicates just enough happiness that people notice, but not enough so that they wonder why you're grinning like a moron all the time.

i have to do this all the time too.

i blame my disney villain eyebrows and cheekbones. it's fantastic for when i decide that i am actually not amused at the peasantry though.

I learned this trick too! It's from years of working customer service/retail.

You're totally right about which muscles to use, too. The trick seems to be not to overdo it. I was having a bad day once, and overcorrected, which led to a person complaining that I wasn't sympathetic to her problem. oops.

:)

I also find if I push my tongue against my teeth it can change my still expression. I always manage to look sad, as if I have just found out my world was washed away by a flood.

Your still expression has a lot of great intensity which is really great.

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