I was asked to contribute to a piece for Sunday Life Magazine in which three writers tell of the parts of their bodies that consume their attention. I was tempted to write about my feet, but Fay Weldon beat me to it. So I wrote about my mouth. My friend Kirsten Krauth wrote about her ears and Michelle Law wrote about her hands (see here for the full article).
What about you? What body part would you have chosen to write about?
by Angela Savage
I’ve never considered myself a beauty, but I look all right when I smile – a teeth-flashing, eye-crinkling grin. I’ve tried toning it down, but end up looking either devious or half asleep. So I’ve never affected the cool, serious author photo beloved by crime writers. My grinning mugshot sits at odds with what one reviewer called the “hard-boiled quality of menace” that underpins my prose.
My mouth mostly stood me in good stead when I was growing up. Public speaking gave me confidence. Singing got me into school musicals – which, coming from a girls’ school, was essential for meeting boys. This enabled me to indulge in another favourite oral pastime, kissing, a skill honed role-playing with the girl next door.
Of course, I often put my foot in my mouth. I still cringe at the memory of having asked the neighbourhood bad boy to “just say no” to drugs. No wonder my love for him went unrequited. Looking back, I reckon most of the smiling I did in my teens was to mask my embarrassment or hide my heartbreak.
I taught my mouth new tricks by learning languages: in French, I became pouty; in Thai, I’d jut out my chin and part my lips to make new vowel sounds.
Living in Buddhist countries required me to get my mouth around a whole new lexicon of smiles – part of maintaining the social harmony so valued in the local culture. In Thailand, where I set my novels, I learnt to smile appreciatively (yim cheuun chohm), to smile while masking sadness (yim sao) and to smile apologetically (yim yaae yaae). At times I felt my mouth strain with the effort of forcing a smile (yim mai aawk).
I held on to my laugh, though. Despite living in countries where women stifle giggles politely behind their hands, my laughter remains loud and bright. I like to think it matches my lipstick.