Everything No One Warned Me About Earrings

About a year ago, I got my ears pierced—for the first time, ever. This makes me a cultural oddity; a woman who had gotten into her early 30s without ever having worn earrings. Here, it’s not uncommon for girls in kindergarten to be taken to have their ears pierced, and some even take their infants. It’s seen as an intrinsically female thing; without pierced ears, are you feminine?

What Took So Long?

My reasons why not are pretty basic: my parents didn’t think it was appropriate when I was little, then when I was a preteen and all my friends were getting it done, they told me I wasn’t allowed until I was 16 and “could make my own choice.” But by the time I was 16, it didn’t seem like that big a deal. In fact, it started to feel sort of counter-culture, being the only girl who didn’t have pierced ears. I sometimes joked that it would be a good way to identify me if I were a victim of a horrible accident: I’d be the only one without pierced ears. My aunt was horrified when she heard I didn’t have pierced ears, and sent me multiple pairs of clip-ons—because, again, it just isn’t done for a girl to not have earrings. But clip-ons hurt like the dickens, and I am not the one to suffer needlessly, especially just because someone else thought I ought to, for fashion. I also sometimes joked that I could tell if someone knew me well by whether or not they gave me earrings as a gift; a few boyfriends definitely fell into that pitfall, but again, it’s just assumed that woman have pierced ears. It’s the default.

But then again earrings are the most convenient mechanism to display stealth nerdiness. It’s a way to quietly rebel from the norm; you’re dressed business-casual, but there, hidden under your hair—unicorn earrings. Or Star Wars ships. Or a pendant that says “SherLOCKed.” All the coolest nerdy jewelry, it seemed, was for pierced ears.

When I get anxious about something, my default is to research it, so I tried to research ear piercing. Basically, there just isn’t a lot of information out there. There was no information about standard pricing, a huge variety of information about piercing children’s ears, and some about getting the more unusual piercings, but next to nothing about being a grown damn woman getting your ears pierced for the first time. Most everything talked about getting piercings at places like Claire’s, and that you shouldn’t because it did Bad Things. And most of the women I asked didn’t remember much, if anything, about the experience: after all, it had happened when they were children, at places like Claire’s.

Finally my sweet husband got tired of my fretting about it, and packed me into the car to take me to a highly reputable tattoo parlor/piercing shop. That in itself was very anxiety-inducing for me: What if they tattooed me by accident?

Getting Pierced

Well, it was fine. It was way more expensive than I had thought—about $150-200 for the piercing itself, plus you HAD to buy special gold earrings from their shop, plus a bottle of saline solution to clean your ears with—about $600 total. But the piercing specialist—herself so studded with piercings I doubt she is able to go through airport security—was very kind and professional. She helped me get situated in the dentist chair/massage table piercing chair, helped me mark the spots on my ears where she would put the piercings, explained how her tools worked, readjusted the marked spots to make sure my ears were level.

She was also mildly astonished that I was an old lady without having ever gotten my ears pierced, but she covered it well. I appreciated that.

The actual piercing barely felt like anything. Like a mosquito bite, then a little warm. It was easy as pie. It wasn’t until later in the day that it felt a little sore, throbbing. It was incredibly easy and definitely not a fuss at all.

The Routine

The piercer also explained the rigorous cleaning they expected of me. No pools or baths for six weeks (which was agony to get through for me, baths are delicious!), plus twice-daily spray with the special saline or ridiculously dunking my earlobes in a warm salt water solution. I can’t imagine how kids do it. It was bad enough getting myself to do it. And, most frustratingly, it wouldn’t be healed for six months. Six months before I was allowed to switch out the earrings! For someone who was only doing it to get to wear cute earrings, that felt like an absolute eternity.

Plus on top of that it wouldn’t be until 9 months, at least, that my ears would be “really healed.” Until then, I had to always have earrings in my piercings. That meant, when I did get to change them out, I was suddenly going from never doing it before to doing it all the time.

I obediently followed the routine, sprayed and dunked and didn’t submerge (thank goodness I did it in winter, or summer would have been a real trial). It was both extremely horrifying and also satisfying when I was first able to remove the teensy expensive gold earrings, to see them caked with skin gunk even all my assiduous cleaning hadn’t been able to reach. (Bodies are gross, I can’t believe we’re allowed to do this kind of thing.)

People Actually Live Like This?

But the real stuff I didn’t know didn’t come until after that six-month mark, when I finally got to try out different types of earrings. I didn’t realize all the things people (women, mostly) go through all the time with earrings. Like it’s no big deal. Such as:

  • There are things on the back of some earrings, particularly dangly ones, that are meant to keep the earring on. You shouldn’t throw these nameless plastic doohickeys away or you WILL lose an earring somewhere in the office.
  • Heavy earrings actually hurt. Sure, they are fun at first, but over time it will feel like your head is dragging down.
  • Even non-heavy earrings sometimes make you feel like this. Earrings will be the first thing you take off when you get home; shoes are second.
  • Dangly earrings will constantly tangle in your hair. This makes them less cute.
  • Getting dangly earrings stuck on your jacket/sweater/anything can make them pull. And hurt.
  • Studs are fine but the ones with pointy edges will poke you. Stars are awesome but so pokey.
  • Flat cellphone faces are the worst for earring wearers. It’s so much harder to talk on the phone when you have to hold it out at an angle to get it close to your ear without hearing the scritch thunk of the earring over whomever you’re speaking to. It’s a huge bother.
  • It’s also a huge bother to take off earrings for a work phone call.
  • Sometimes, for no discernable reason, an earring will refuse to go into the piercing. Trying harder just makes it madder. You end up with both earrings properly in, but one ear red and slightly swollen.
  • It is possible to spend quite a lot of money on Etsy all at once to stock up on earrings.
  • Buying earrings from Claire’s is a rite of passage. Realizing why you shouldn’t buy earrings from Claire’s comes only after learning from personal experience.
  • (See above) There are levels of quality of earrings. Your ears can tell when you cheap out.
  • Even when you are very new to the earring game, it is possible to quite quickly become known as “the one with quirky earrings” at work. Then you have to buy some normal earrings to blend in.
  • Related to the above: Some women wear the same earrings every day, which just makes you wonder what the point of it all is anyway.
  • For some reason, the year you get your ears pierced, no one will get you cute earrings for Christmas, even though it seemed like an obvious gift idea.

I enjoy my small but mighty earring collection now, but I don’t always know it was worth it. I wear earrings every day, but am still sort of fascinated at this cultural tradition. (And when I watch shows like Vikings, I wonder how ancient folk did it. Ouch! Ear aches!)

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Review: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Resonant. Powerful. Distinct. The Fifth Season is all these. A dystopia with the depth of a fantasy epic, this book is potently unlike most anything I’ve read.
I mean that mostly in a good way. The story is unexpected, spooling out in three strands to unwind the central problems. My issue: I liked two of the three story lines, which left the one I liked less because it switched to second-person and felt gritty and weird in the flow. But that was probably intentional.
The story is about a place that is dramatically geologically unstable. It also has people with the power to stop—or cause—these tremors and volcanos. The world is harsh, and so the people are harsh, especially toward these oregenes. They are afraid and so they act out, and the oregenes suffer. Author N.K. Jemison is creative in her torments: another reason I both liked the book and can’t give it my full “I loved it” endorsement. This book will make you uncomfortable even while it wraps you in beautiful prose. I highly recommend it—to most, but not all, audiences.

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Facebook Be Gone

I very quietly went on strike from Facebook recently. The news reported—for what feels like the 400th time but may officially only be the third major incident—that Facebook “accidentally” gave away private information. Not that the platform was hacked; that they “oops” let companies have access to photos, posts, and even direct messages that people had posted. Vast, unknowable amounts of information, and I’m supposed to believe that no one at Facebook realized it might be a bad thing to let companies have anything but a free-for-all. The company chafes at allowing users to actually control their privacy, then when we do, it “oops” gives it away. For millions of users.

So I just quietly stopped checking it. I didn’t say anything, just moved the app to a hard-to-reach folder on my phone to break myself of the habit, and stopped going (I’ve already stopped using the desktop site as the phone merges with my hand or at least my pocket, and I had never glommed on to the Messenger app).

I am an administrator on two groups, so I am unable to delete or otherwise hamper my personal account—Facebook doesn’t allow that, must keep your personal one going if you want any other kind of account at all. So I’m just going dark.

I figure I can’t stem the tide of the information that they already have on me, but at least I can stop feeding the habit.

(Sidenote: I have a friend who never got on Facebook, who is now gloating that she was right all along. But Facebook probably has a “shadow profile” for her anyway, as her friends have talked about her and posted pictures of her. She hasn’t stopped them from knowing about her or leaking her information, as she thinks…but at least she has helped stem the tide.)

But while I think this is the right decision, I’m frustrated, too. I joined Facebook when it was college-student-exclusive and called “TheFacebook.” It was a touchstoen and a great way to meet people. It was a way to keep in touch. Facebook is very good at two things that seem to be otherwise lacking in our increasingly digital-exclusive world: maintaining distant or passive social connections and organizing groups. Both things are proving hard even with Facebook’s influence, and may be treacherously hard without it.

For example, my cousins have never been very well-connected with me, but through Facebook I could see when they went on trips, or had new achievements in their lives. I could cheer them on from a distance, send a reassuring “like” or wish them happy birthday. Now, I’ll have to rely on that old-school technique: waiting for my mom to tell me a half-remembered snippet months later. It’s not a great swap.

I miss the old internet. Back before we all realized how cruel people could be, before countries had really gotten the hang of spreading lies and misinformation to harm other countries, before shitposting and cruel groups proliferated, it feels like there was this golden era of interest groups. I made genuine friends over some forums; sometimes we crossed over and sent real gifts. I even went to London and stayed for a week with a friend I otherwise knew exclusively through an internet forum (he is a dear man, and I am forever grateful he let me disrupt his life for a week!).

It doesn’t feel as likely for that to happen now. Several of those types of forums have closed forever, and the replacements—Facebook/Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit—all seem far more surface-dwelling. The user bases are wide and so not very deep.

And here I am pulling away from those replacements, too. Will I be the only one still in the non-digital space, trying to meet people, connect, arrange groups? Sometimes it feels that way. But I don’t want to be complicit in the wholesale theft of the information that is integral to who I am. So I have no choice but to leave the door open only the slightest of cracks, and do my best to muddle through.

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Extra Extra

Artsy and creative people are often told to get out there, march to their own drum, be an original and true to themselves, no matter what. To be artistic is, in some ways, to be “extra.”

But if you are in marching band and just break out your own snare and march around to your own drumbeat, what will happen? You’ll run over the clarinets, get crushed by the sousaphones, and kicked out of marching band.

Sure, wearing a cape to school might be the right flair in a teen rom-com, but in real life you’re going to be sitting by yourself at the nerd table.

Being extra is only a good thing in narrowly defined channels, and people who are different are way more likely to be mocked for it than praised. It’s not something to aspire to.

So it creates a paradox. Creatives are told that this outward show of creativity is a requirement for being who they are, but anyone with any awareness will also learn that standing out from the crowd in this way will just make you a target.

At least, that’s how I reacted. I kept to my richer inner creativity but worked hard to blend in. And I think I’m worse for it now; I’m too offbeat to be totally straight laced and too normal to be part of the weirdos. No mans land of not fitting in.

There are some people I’ve met in creative circles who lean in to the kookiness, some in ways that make me wonder if they aren’t also faking–that they think “creative” doesn’t exist unless it is outwardly odd. That also doesn’t make sense to me.

How much weird is part of the creative package? Is it just a matter of finding the crowd in which your drumbeat matches?

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Review: The Wise Man’s Fear

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Wise Man’s Fear is a colossal read. Rothfuss retains his breathless storytelling style, rich with detail that folds you immediately into this believably fairytale world. But it’s also constrained by the choice to tell the full story over three “days” (books), so this middle book is bloated and really should have been split into two but wasn’t. This may have been the first book I’ve read in awhile where I forgot parts of what happened while I was still reading it.

That shouldn’t be a discouragement, though. Rothfuss is a spellbinding author. The retrospective Kvothe is both believably a teenager, who makes dumb teenager mistakes, while also being greater than himself, a hero perhaps even he can’t understand. The “modern time” parts, with older Kvothe in the inn, are a refreshing breath of air hinting at much deeper mysteries (will we ever get those answers?). The split between what the characters know and the readers can guess is frustrating at times, because it’s impossible to reach into the books and shake the character into realizing, say, his family lineage, when it’s so blindingly obvious to the reader.

There’s only one part of the story itself that really bothered me, and that’s only because it was so jarring and out-of-left field, and felt mostly like a way for the author to develop Kvothe’s reputation for sexual prowess–his startling trip into the fae when he chases Felurian. Literally between one page and the next we are whisked out of the story and into another realm, an impulsive switch that seems out of character for careful Kvothe. But it has several narrative reasons for existing–outside of Kvothe suddenly emerging as a sexual master somehow *eyeroll*–so I understand and allow it. It is just the only part that felt ridiculous, which actually says a lot, when so much of the story involves magic and wonders.

Now I join the ranks of the (many) people eagerly awaiting the release of the final book. We’ll see it eventually, and hopefully get some answers.

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Hermit Writer

I’m chickening out, right this second. See, this weekend is the Roanoke Writers’ Conference, which is supposed to be great, and some people sorta a-little expected me to go. But the idea of going felt like carving my own guts out with an ice cream scoop, and when I finally decided not to go, I felt nothing but relief. (It’s not like I just laid on the couch today, though; instead, I worked all morning at a sweaty-hot garage sale. Not that it matters. The important part is I still didn’t go to the con.)

I didn’t want to go to that con because I recently tried—to prove to myself and to anyone who might ask if I’m really committed—to sell my books directly to customers at FenCon, a science-fiction convention. I figured, aliens and zombies, of course my people will be at a sci-fi convention! And making small talk isn’t my favorite thing, but I was a Girl Scout, I know how to sell things, plus I love my books and sincerely believed they would sell like hotcakes.

Well, you can see where this is going. I sold enough to break even, but it was a near thing, and a ton of work. A (more famous than me) author twice came to my table and glanced through Beamed Up: Decide Your Destiny and when I made small talk about my book, he sneered at me and made snide comments about how he was a real writer (you touched my book, dude, I’m just trying to make a sale!). It was emotionally exhausting to the point that the next day I crashed so hard I could barely spoke to anyone.

Basically I sat at a table, cheerful smile plastered to my face, for two days with very few breaks… and it just didn’t feel worth it.

I sincerely came back after that and declared that I should just be a hermit author, like Harper Lee or J.D. Salinger. They don’t seem to be in style much lately, but I just don’t know of I can muster the kind of energy it would take to be something else. See, the authors I met at FenCon overwhelmingly also have day jobs and yet spend nearly every weekend at some kind of writer event. That kind of schedule isn’t sustainable for me; I need to curl up and feed myself emotionally, sometimes. It makes me feel like I’m not “committed enough,” not “real” enough somehow, not “good enough” to be trying to write.

And maybe that’s true. But I just keep thinking there has to be some other, better way. I don’t write for the money, and maybe that’s my problem; I should care more about the money. But, to me, the money is just a way to keep getting to do the writing—but it’s currently a paradox, because to get the money for writing I have to spend time and energy not writing. I just don’t have enough fuel cells to burn for that. Props to those who can, I guess. I wish I could be in your club.

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Review: SLAM

SlamSlam by Nick Hornby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nick Hornby has an incredible talent for writing realistic narrators, so believe me when I tell you this book is well-written even though it made my skin crawl with frustration. It’s charming even though the story caught me by surprise. Give it to your teenager.

That’s because SLAM covers a teen boy with his first real girlfriend and his completely realistic mistake to have sex “sort of” without a condom—and all the consequences that entails. We don’t see many books about the subject, so it is brave, but it made me feel a little squeamish, so maybe that’s why.

But the voice here is incredible. There are two twists that give the book something special: one, the narrator, Sam, has a penchant for talking to the poster of his idol, Tony Hawk. He helpfully supplies advice, in the form of quotes from an autobiography of Tony Hawk, in return. This makes for some rather hilarious and yet possibly deep conversations.

The other twist—possible time-travel. Sam blames this on TH, and maybe it’s all a dream, but Sam is given the opportunity to experience a day in the near-future, not that it is particularly helpful. In this way, Hornby muses on whether, even during particularly rough times, it would be any help at all to know what is going to happen a bit ahead, like that your mom won’t kill you when she finds out. But seeing the future and actually being in it turn out to be two different things. That’s a lesson for us all.

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