When I was 19, I decided to get my navel pierced. This was not an act of rebellion, per se, because I never really needed to rebel. I was one of those terminally straight-laced kids, so a body modification that required even one iota more firepower than the sort available at Piercing Pagoda at Century City Plaza was Kind Of A Big Deal.
I found a place to get the job done and I took $60 cash from my bank account to pay for it. I rallied some of my sorority sisters and led the charge into Westwood Village to have a hunk of metal inserted through the flesh of my stomach. I still remember the piercing parlour (which was right next to Noodle Planet, for you old-timers); I still remember how the woman behind the counter told me, as I waited, Oh, you’re so lucky Janeen is piercing you. She splits dicks.
Yeah, like, she mutilates people. She’s amazing. She can turn a penis into a flower. She’s like, the most gifted girl we have.
Was that A 90s Thing? Do people still do this? Personally, I don’t think I know any dudes walking around with daisies in their trousers, but maybe I’m not running with the right crowd.
The experience of being pierced was unremarkable, and it was over quickly. From that day on, I was a secret, WASPy subversive with a navel ring. The plackets of my blue button-downs would occasionally gap to reveal the metal and friends would do a double-take. I kept that jewellery in for much longer than I should have.
Whereas most of my compatriots shed their belly piercings by the end of their college days, I had mine till I was nearly 30. This was partly because Janeen had wedged the ball of the piercing in the jewellery so tightly that it took me nearly 10 years to get the thing undone. And partly because my ex loved the cognitive dissonance of a WASP with a flash of silver under the twin set.
So when my ex and I split, I did three things right away: 1) I moved uptown; 2) I registered to run a marathon; and 3) I bought a pair of pliers and I took out that stupid navel ring. But the piercing left…a hole. Literally. I’d left it in so long that the hole in my middle was bigger and more permanent than those on the girls who’d had the good sense to remove theirs when they were 21.
I became unhealthily obsessed with covering up the scar left behind, and I decided I was going to get a tattoo instead – something massive and dramatic. Maybe a giant squid that started on my clavicle and came over my shoulder, with tentacles reaching down to my stomach.
To say I was preoccupied with the Giant Squid Tattoo would be an understatement. I found myself driving to Rhode Island and Massachusetts on alternate weekends, travelling to scrimshaw exhibitions all around New England to get ideas. But I did not realise I was in trouble at that point. No one questioned my judgment. No one thought to say: Hey, Meredith, you are putting thousands of miles on your car so you can travel the northeast investigating giant squid pictures for a massive body modification. Are you okay? Do you want to talk? Do you need a drink?
This story has a happy ending, and a friend intervened before I got a massive tattoo of a rarely-seen sea creature, all to cover up a tiny scar the size of the point of a pen. I thought everyone could see I’d been blown apart, and I didn’t understand until much later that I didn’t need to keep slathering on the layers to keep myself together.
This story also has a point.
I am telling you this because recently enough, I started telling people I was going to shave my head. Maybe not my whole head – maybe just the sides; maybe leave the top long and do something edgy, like Tilda Swinton. Maybe dye it platinum. A couple of my friends responded positively to this proclaimation (possibly because I have had super short hair before). Most people raised an eyebrow.
But it was not until I was sitting in the stylist’s chair, trying to convince her to just cut it all off that she flat-out said, I’m going to trim it, and you’re going to like it, and then you’re going to take a vacation.
It had not occurred to me until that very moment that I was not giving myself a break. The hair; the tattoo – it wasn’t because I actually wanted to shave my head or mark my body with a giant squid – it was more that I thought that completely destroying and remaking my old self would cleanse the palate; could be a short-cut for doing the hard work of resting and re-evaluating; might distract others from the fact that I wasn’t holding it all together very well anymore.
What I am trying to say is this:
Let my experiences be a horrible warning to you. Give yourself a break – especially since it’s the holidays and we’re all in misery. Are you doing too much? Are you chugging ahead when you really need to step back? Take it easy, friend. No one expects as much of us as we expect of ourselves. No one sees that you’ve been blown apart; even the greatest achievers in the world will extol the virtues of taking time off.
Honestly, you don’t want to end up with a navel ring, a giant squid tattoo in the style of 19th century New England arts and crafts, and a Tilda Swinton haircut to learn that lesson.
Or maybe you do. Maybe you live in Bushwick and sell artisanal sauerkraut for a living – I don’t know your life. In that case, I would be happy to teach you all about scrimshaw.