The Noh Smile.

The Noh Mask, Photo by Snake Cats (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I have never danced the tango. And I have never been on a space walk. Yet somehow, my life at the moment feels like a strange amalgamation of both. A back and forth I can’t seem to stop and a certain lack of gravity. The pace slows down and speeds back up, carrying me away to the beat of a melody I can’t even hear. Is it playing at all? Or am I simply floating in space to the deafening sound of silence?

I want to stop the metaphor. I want to be honest and straightforward but this isn’t a diary. This is a public space where emotions have only half the right to exist. The other half belongs to me and I don’t seem to be able to part with it just yet.

There is a quote I will always remember. It comes from Memoirs Of A Geisha, a book that still resonates with me, years after my first read:

I long ago developed a very practiced smile, which I call my “Noh smile” because  it resembles a Noh mask whose features are frozen. Its advantage is that men can interpret it however they want; you can imagine how often I’ve relied on it.”

I have a tendency to keep my emotions bottled up (or so I’ve been told) and I’m sure this is no alien feeling for a wannabe writer. I assume we’ve all developed our own Noh smile and used it at least once in our life, whether it be while disagreeing with someone politely, accepting an insult with dignity or playing pretend with our feelings so the others can’t see past the “frozen” features.

The truth is, the Noh smile is a double-edged sword but I am not here to share motivational crap thoughts. I won’t tell you how dangerous wearing the mask is and I won’t scold you for holding it all in because at the end of the day, that would be hypocritical of me.

What I will tell you is that today, I’ve got my mask on. Maybe it’s a self-preservation thing. Or maybe I should be channelling my emotions into my book. Yes, that would be a productive use of my time. Blame it on me if one of my characters bursts into tears with no warning.

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26 responses to “The Noh Smile.

  1. This is a sad and powerful post Elissaveta and written so tellingly, especially that first paragraph. You’re very right. I too have used the Noh smile and now you’ve named it for me. May a real smile defeat it soon.

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      • I read it long ago. Which is, unfortunately, as good as saying I haven’t read it. I think I read too fast and don’t pause enough for reflection before I pick up the next book. Maybe this year I change!

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      • I read it long ago. Which is, unfortunately, as good as saying I haven’t read it. I think I read too fast and don’t pause enough for reflection before I pick up the next book. Maybe this year I change!

        I did like it – a completely different world

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  2. To wear a mask in public is often a form of self-defense. For me it is at times both useful and mandatory. But never wear the mask to hide your feelings from yourself. That would be a very dangerous path towards self-destruction.

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  3. Pingback: The world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as…? | A Writer's Caravan·

  4. Beautifully written, Elli, but oh no! (Or should that be oh Noh!) Sounds like you’re not having a good time of it right now. Hope it soon passes, and you are feeling yourself again. Xx

    I loved Memoirs of Geisha too. So long since I read it though. Could be time to revisit.

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  5. This catching up and reading in reverse order isn’t doing me any good. Spoilers and all that stuff. Interesting post, though. I used to think I could hide my feelings, but apparently I can’t. Whether I’ve got a face that’s too expressive or there’s something in my nervous system that just transmits straight to my face, I don’t know. So now I don’t bother to try. But you’ve probably noticed that I’m quite open about them in my writing anyway – though usually after the event when I’m able to give it some perspective.
    So let’s see behind the mask more, Ellie – when you’ve got perspective.

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    • Well I’m certainly flattered you’d go through all the trouble of catching up on older posts. Must be quite a funny feeling, like watching a movie on rewind.
      I think it’s undoubtedly better to be open about your feelings in your writing, it’s that vulnerability that touches readers but somehow, I struggle to do it in person. Go figure.
      In any case, you’re all getting a much more in-depth perspective of my thoughts & feelings than most my friends do in person… (Whoops.)

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