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It was a couple of years ago now that I realised I had what I like to call a listening face. I became aware of this after a work function wherein a photographer captured me very much in the moment of listening – intently. My face was scrunched up into an almighty scowl, my mouth gaping open, as though to catch all of the flies ever.

When a colleague showed me this picture, I must admit, I was shocked. My face doesn’t feel like it’s scowling when I’m listening, rather I’ve always thought I did a fairly decent impression of a concerned listener, engaged with whatever conversation was taking place. This photo would reveal that actually I look at my scariest when just trying to listen.

In fairness, I’d known about the mouth hanging open to catch flies for some time. A teacher – either in university or even as far back as high school – must have mentioned it. I believe this teacher was pointing out that I looked like I wasn’t paying any attention at all, mouth agape, eyes up toward the ceiling, when the reality couldn’t have been further from the truth. I was actually concentrating, you see. If we ever meet, and I make a lot of eye contact, and my face is organised nicely, smiling, nodding as though I’m following let me tell you right now: I’m not listening at all, I’m probably making a grocery list, or thinking about the novel I’m working on.

The thing that I find curious is that The Mom has never mentioned this habit of mine, especially since she seems to take her role as improver of all things related to her children quite seriously. Time and time again, she reminds me that I look pale and thin and tired (I am always all of these things), and that I would look more appealing – to potential publishers, reviewers, and boyfriends – if only I would apply myself, and subsequently apply some makeup (her favourite is always rouge), believing that if at least one can look like they aren’t about to keel over, pass out, or otherwise render themselves unconscious, then life will improve significantly. I can’t say for sure if this might work, as I’ve never tried it. Because I feel, knowing what I look like when I’m listening, that I might too closely resemble a clown with some kind of illness derived from a serious drinking problem.

This listening face – the scowl, the open mouth – has been with me for some time now. In fact, I remember in junior high someone coming up to me in the washroom to ask if I was okay. When I queried the question, she said that I always looked so miserable (and pale, but never mind) that she just assumed I was terribly unhappy. My listening face must’ve intensified, because she quickly backtracked out of the bathroom, even as I was assuring her that my happiness was in line with everyone else’s.

And I suppose what you might call my listening face these days is ‘resting bitch’ face. I generally look wildly unimpressed with whatever’s happening. I’m not doing it on purpose, I’m really not. I don’t intend for my face to look bitchy and miserable, it just happens to look like that.

It’s a subconscious thing, completely out of my control. In order to hear properly (or what passes for properly in my world, which is one of tinnitus and an appointment with the audiologist in March) my mouth has to be open. I don’t know why, maybe it does something to the ear canals, opens them up, lets the words get back the low buzz of all the rock concerts I’ve seen. The eyes have to squint, as this increases focus (yes, even with my big glasses, squinting can never be fully replaced with spectacles), and my brow furrows.

I’m assured that once one comes to terms with this, and accepts it as normal, it’s nowhere near as terrifying as it might at first be. I mean, one of my best friends now was terrified of me when we met twenty years ago. It took her a while to get used to the listening face, but eventually she did.