I made this strange little bird for a friend who very generously gave me a gift of pastel coloured roving. I did resist eating it, but it looked an awful lot like cotton candy in the bag.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
I was handed my teeth in a white cardboard box, as if they were hot cross buns from a bakery at Easter time. They weren’t my real teeth mind you. They were plaster casts that were used to make a mouth guard that will keep me from grinding my teeth to dust while I sleep. But when I went to the dentist to pick up this anti-grinding apparatus I was not expecting to receive a scale model of my own mouth, in gross yellowish plaster, as a parting gift.
“Hold on to these,” said the dental assistant. “If you lose your mouth guard we can likely use the casts to make you a new one.”
I held onto the box containing my teeth and felt a tear in my sense of reality begin to open up like a run in nylons.
It is always odd to see into the parts of yourself that are usually hidden. Surgery, X-rays, CAT scans, blood testing, even looking into a mirror—all of these act as windows into the private spaces of our bodies. The screens guarded carefully by medical personnel give us topographical looks at our internal landscapes and there’s always something vaguely disconcerting about that. When you look at the outline of your own skeleton you think, “That couldn’t possibly be me!” You don’t recognize yourself in skeletal form and so you reject that the bones are an essential part of you.
I felt a sense of unease as I stared at my teeth from a perspective that I am not usually privy to. I could look at the tops of my back molars and see exactly what each ridge and bump looked like. I could see the small serrations of my incisors and the sharp animal vestiges of my canines. I had a compulsion to hide the box of teeth deep inside my backpack. Somehow the thought of people seeing them was eerie. I don’t generally open my mouth wide in mixed company and invite my friends and family to peer in as if examining a horse for good health. And frankly I have no clue what I’m going to do with my mouth casts. Painting them comes to mind, but then if I ever do lose my mouth guard the casts will probably be useless. If I had a good display case full of china and prized possessions I might put them in there, just as a strange uncomfortable joke, but I have no such thing. I wonder if one day some relative will be searching my musty basement long after I’m dead and will stumble upon this odd box containing my teeth and will feel an unnerving intimacy with the embodied person I once was.
I have heard that it’s common to have nightmares about teeth—teeth falling out, teeth decaying etc. This apparently has something to do with anxieties about aging and the inevitability of bodily decay. I’ve had such nightmares myself. I wonder if having an external representation of my essential dental wholeness will fend off these dreams like a talisman.
I’ve been carrying my teeth around all day. I keep thinking of them lying at the bottom of my backpack. I want to pull them out and study them like specimens in a museum, but I suspect that would creep people out. Like so many other things in life my teeth are a secret that must be kept to protect the public from reminders of their own mortality.