The Art of Believably Smiling

I would like to start out with a nod to a post by Sabrina Bramwell entitled “Say Cheese!” There is indeed something quite eerie about the way the Guardians smile all the time and the connotations that accompany this. In fact, I would like to go even further by including one quote from The Fifth Season I find especially intriguing, plausibly in reference to Father Earth. It reads, “There is an art to smiling in a way that others believe. It is always important to include the eyes; otherwise, people will know you hate them.” (Jemisin 5) The way this quote is presented makes me uneasy, and I’m assuming others as well; this is most likely because it implies the subject of the quote must consciously remind himself to smile, as if it is never simply natural.

According to an article from The Guardian (no pun intended), “Psychology of smiling: can you tell a fake smile from a genuine one?”, Father Earth is right. Genuine smiles use more facial muscles, and the eyes crinkle up more during genuine smiles. However, the article also says that “If you lack empathy, you are very bad at differentiating between the two photographs,” in reference to the photographs included at the top of the article comparing a feigned smile to a natural one. Perhaps we can presume that, because Father Earth is viewed as subhuman, the few people that actually have contact with him tend to lack empathy for him in particular more so than they would for someone who they judge to be more similar to themselves.

Father Earth and the Guardians aren’t the only ones who have issues with smiling. In The Stone Sky, Hoa says in his narrative of Essun, “There is an art to smiling in a way that others will believe, and you’re terrible at it.” (Jemisin 170) Essun’s lack of an ability to believably smile to others, similar to the Guardians’, as Sabrina pointed out in her post, may indicate a constant pain as well. However, if Essun is in constant pain, I would speculate that it must be some kind of emotional turmoil. In the very scene that Hoa points out Essun’s difficulty smiling in his narrative, Essun is pretending to be a Guardian to put a comm member of Jekity at ease by her presence (as best as an orogene is able to do this). Having just discovered what is left of Jija, and that Nassun is with Schaffa and Steel, both of whom Essun believes to be a danger to her daughter, Essun is having a particularly difficult time smiling and hiding her devastation. Essun is constantly on the run, often fearing for her life in one way or another, whether she is afraid of the Guardians or people of The Stillness that want to kill her for being a rogga. She has also experienced great loss, including the mental loss of her family when she was a child (Damaya), and the passing of Corundum, Uche, and Alabaster, to name a few. While Essun often presents as emotionally guarded, maybe the rarity of her smiles, at least her genuine ones, is proof of the toll her life has taken on her.

In Schaffa’s case, smiling is not the only thing that relieves pain. Touch relieves pain, too, and although this is mostly referring to the countless times Schaffa has put his fingers at the base of someone’s skull, mainly those of orogenes, and gained some kind of relief, touch is relevant in other, much simpler ways, too. In The Stone Sky, Nassun’s touch relieves Schaffa’s pain, even when it is a simple hug rather than the more complex pain relief Schaffa can obtain from Nassun’s sessapinae. According to an article entitled “Repattern Your Hormones With The 20-Second Hug,” one of the greatest benefits to an elongated hug is a lower blood pressure, especially in times of stress, which can help us more effectively manage stressful situations. When dealing with the aftermath of Steel withholding the whole truth from Nassun about what it would take to power the transportation vehicle she and Schaffa need to get to Corepoint, Nassun and Schaffa share a hug that helps them both feel better about their current situation and calm down. Nassun even notices a visible change in Schaffa after this contact, as the text reads, “When he speaks at last, the horrible blurriness has faded, as have even some of the pain-lines around his eyes.” (Jemisin 200) If Schaffa had someone who truly loved him like Nassun did his whole life as a Guardian, maybe he would not have had to smile so much to chase away his pain. Maybe a simple hug would have been enough.

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