I am always teething. My gums are so sensitive that any time I even think of them (as now, writing) I want to fiddle with them. My tongue pries at the little points where my gums tuck between adjacent teeth. I like to floss or pick my teeth because I like the pain, and the more it hurts the more pleasure I get from it, so I saw and dig with ever-increasing brutality. My gums start to bleed. Every so often I stop to gingerly clack my jaws together. There is a metallic taste in my mouth. Behind the last tooth on my lower jaw on each side there is a chubby flap of skin where it seems another tooth is always on the verge of coming in, and where even poking with my tongue gives me some pleasure. But the sturdy smidgens can take a lot more abuse. Sometimes, though I know I'll regret it, I take a spoon and poke it under the flap, prying up until I feel the fibers strain and pop. I wrenched out my baby teeth with similar relish. Later, when the riot is over, I feel both amused and ashamed, my gums swollen into caricatures, so sore I can hardly chew.

The first teeth I drew belonged to monsters and were shaped like long, tapering V's. The first human grin I drew also looked like a monster's. The problem was that if I outlined each individual tooth„as an impulse toward accuracy instructed me to do„the smile seemed ghoulishly crowded. What's more, teeth are all different, and to stuff a smile with a row of identicals threw a drawing subtly out of whack, yet to try to sketch the idiosyncracies of each tooth seemed as finicky as painting a portrait of every single leaf on a tree in the background. I had seen ads in which the teeth were painted as a single bar of white. That looked better at a casual glance, but viewed more closely it looked like the happy surfers and smokers had a mouth guard clamped in their jaws. Teeth made me wonder what realism really was. When you drew a tree you didn't draw each leaf, but only because, I thought, it was too huge a task. But with teeth it seemed there was such a thing as too much accuracy. Realism lay slightly short of the exact copy. This surprised and unsettled me.