Piercing No. 7

The euphoria's wearing off a bit and my ear has started to throb, ever so slightly, but I'm still really glad I did it yesterday. "Why?", you may ask, as, in fact, one of my friends at fencing did the other night at practice when, showing off my new navel ring, I mentioned that I was thinking of getting another piercing at the top of my ear: "Is it that you want to feel young again?" You'd think so, yes? Piercing is one of those things that the young are really into; mature adults like my 44-year-old self should not be adding holes to their bodies. We should--if this is true--be content with the ones we already have, right?

Well, I don't know. Certainly the majority of my piercings (two each in my earlobes) I got when I was young, the first set in middle school when I was old enough that my mom could be persuaded to drive me to the mall, the second set in high school when I could drive myself there. I once had a third hole in one of my lobes, but I can't remember which one. It was too high for the thickness of my lobe and I couldn't keep the piercing; I might have still had it in college, but I don't really remember. And then, at the ripe old age of 27 came the nose ring. I had been hankering after that piercing for a good four or five years, after meeting a British girl on an excavation in Italy with one. I think maybe she was the first one I knew who had her nose pierced; it's hard now not to find women with nose piercings, and not just the ones who shop on Devon.*

It was fun in those early years having my nose pierced, particularly coming out of graduate school. "Will you take it out for your interviews?" was the usual question, after, of course, the obligatory, "Did it hurt?" To answer the first question, no, I didn't take it out for my interviews. The whole point of having the piercing was to be a little bit unusual; why, in the very situation in which I most wanted to stand out, would I lose that edge? I should say that my nose rings have always been very tasteful; my husband refused to buy me anything that wasn't elegant and he has a very good eye for how big they should be. Now, of course, nobody really notices nose piercings unless you're wearing a huge gem or hoop; they're everywhere, nearly as common as ear lobes. But then, in the mid-1990s, yes, it was still odd for someone wearing a suit (interview clothes) to have a jewel in her nose. The funny thing was, even then, when I had only had the piercing for a few years, it was still so much me that there were colleagues in my department who were asking years later whether I had been wearing the ring when they first met me. So much for my edge. Maybe they registered it unconsciously.

My sister had her navel done only a year or so after I got the nose piercing. In fact, she and I had our noses done the same day, but hers didn't heal well and she let it close up. I'd wanted the navel piercing almost as soon as I saw hers, but I suppose at the time it seemed too much like copying her, not really a decision I would be making for myself. So, more years of longing, until two summers ago when, as I've said, walking along the beach in Florida I saw so many people--men, too--with their navels done and I realized I really liked the way it looked, provided one had a great ring (and, okay, having a great stomach helps, but that didn't stop many of the women I saw from having rings, so there). Was it that I had just lost, yet again, in a big tournament? Well, much as I wanted to do it then and there in Miami Beach, I still needed to get home, so it probably wasn't a good idea just then to add a wound to my physical body to match the wounds that I was feeling inside. But the desire stuck even after I got home, so a week later, there I was at the Chicago Tattooing and Piercing, Co., getting my navel done. 

I had my husband drive me downtown so that I wouldn't be coming home by myself and afterward we went next door for Mexican food and I had a margarita and texted my sister and fencing friends about what I had just done. Unlike the nose ring, this was not a piercing that everyone could see, which, in an interesting way, made me even happier: it was a secret, something I had done for myself and myself alone. This piercing took the longest I had ever had to heal; the piercer told me nine months, although in fact it seemed fine for most of that time, probably because I cleaned and rinsed it absolutely every day. And then came the great day when I could change from the barbell that I had had put in at the piercing into a more elegant flower, complete with dangling petals. I remember the man at the piercing studio saying how impressed my friends would be with my new ornament, to which I replied: "Oh, but nobody will really be seeing this but me." Not so with my newest navel ring--it really is that amazing--but last year I was still content for the piercing to be a secret. Somehow, just knowing I had it gave me that edge. 

Which brings us to the most current piercing: in the cartilege on the top of my right ear. This one--I'm a copycat, if you haven't already noticed--was inspired by several of my fencing friends who have their upper ears done. Again, it just happened that one day I noticed how much I liked the look and said to myself, "I want that." But I know there is more to it than that, otherwise I wouldn't be writing this post. Is it about feeling young? No, I don't think so. Recall what it meant for me to get my ears done the very first time: I was old enough. Piercing would seem to be something that I do to mark my maturity, not my youth. I was a middle schooler--old enough to have her ears pierced! Then a high schooler, old enough to be a bit more daring, and have not just one set of holes, but two. Then I was in graduate school, having just met the man to whom I am now married (and have been for nearly 15 years!). Then, two years ago, I was embracing my age as a fencer: I might have lost at Nationals in the Veteran Women's Foil, but I was old enough to get my navel pierced. So there!

And, then, yesterday: I felt so empowered driving up to the piercing studio after yoga class (all my fencing partners were at Sectionals, so no fencing practice for me) and having a new jewel added to my ensemble just because I wanted to. I didn't tell my husband what I was doing before I left, although I'd been talking about it off and on for several months. And then, afterwards, as I was driving home--by myself this time, although I'm lucky I made it home through all the Cubs traffic; I was ditzy enough to leave my jacket in the piercing studio and then, later, as I was coming back from shopping for my husband's birthday presents, to lose the car in the parking garage--I was hugging this fantastic secret to myself, if only for a few hours, and, yes, composing this blog post all the while. What had I learned? That getting the piercing was about power over my life; about making a decision to change something permanent about my body simply for the pleasure of looking a particular way; about daring myself to change ever so slightly (yes, I was a little bit scared, nattering on with my piercer about what it had been like designing the navel ring, hoping I wasn't being silly about wanting another place to wear gems); about beauty and difference and pushing myself that little bit further to become...who? 

I hate when people think that they are able to guess what I am going to do next (a good trait for a fencer, yes?); I hate when I feel like they can look at me and can say, "Oh, she wouldn't do that." Oh, wouldn't I? It doesn't take much; I am, after all, in a fairly conservative profession--teaching, writing history--but for me surviving as a professor means always being willing to take yet another risk: at saying something my colleagues may not be ready or willing to hear, at trying out new ideas in the classroom or in my writing, at looking into the abyss of our knowledge about ourselves and not going mad, at claiming to understand something that nobody else ever has, despite the thousands of books that have been written on the topic. I can't afford to get stuck in a rut, saying the same thing over and over again, being predictable. Well, maybe I could; some of my colleagues purportedly teach the same lectures over and over again year after year. But somehow--much to the detriment of my ability to shorten my preparation time--I can't. There's always something new to understand, always an angle from which I have not yet explored a question, always a new source to add to the picture; every time I come back to material I think I know, it has changed.

And that, of course, is the beauty of it: as our knowledge grows, so does our ignorance--or, perhaps more accurately, our perception of ignorance. The more I know, the more I know I don't know. How tempting it would be to get comfortable with what I do and simply stick there! And yet, how deadly. I don't know what this current piercing symbolizes; often I don't realize for years why exactly I made the decision then. There are pragmatic reasons for having my ear done now: it's no longer hat season (fingers crossed!) so my ear will have time to heal (barring, ahem, the pressure from my fencing mask, which, thanks to the piercing, I've just spent the morning trying to clean); the flowers are finally blooming and the birds singing away; it feels like a good time for a change. Plus, of course, this way it will be healed enough for me to be able to go swimming at Nationals. I'd love to think it was symbolic of the progress that I've made this year on my book or maybe in celebration of keeping my blog so consistently, but as I've been thinking about it for nearly a year, I know it is more complicated than just something that has occurred to me now. What I do know is that no. 7, along with nos. 1-6, was important for me to do, something that marks my own confidence in myself as someone who is always willing to go that little bit further than others around her so as to stay on the edge. The thing is, it (the edge) keeps moving. I doubt very much this is going to be the last piercing I ever get. For the moment, however, I am enjoying the symbolism of the number 7.

*Although, truth be told, that's where you can still get the best nose rings, diamonds and everything.


  1. "... it's hard now not to find women with nose piercings, ..."

    "Now, of course, nobody really notices nose piercings..."
    You, my dear, clearly do not live where I live! This alleged trend is nowhere near full-blown in a suburbia which in some ways is barely into the 1960s. :-)

    "The more I know, the more I know I don't know."Truth, truth, truth! I have a lot more respect for people who say "I don't know" instead of blustering their way through something.


  2. LOL! Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating even in my own neighborhood. I did a quick survey while at the local shopping area just now (bakery, shoe store, toy store, Walgreen's, grocery store) and I saw two other women, both younger than I am, with nose piercings, one with an upper ear like my new one as well. Perhaps my definition of "everybody"="more than just me," but I do think it's striking that every member of our condo board (all three of us, in a six-flat building) have our noses done.

  3. I loved reading how you came to the decision to get your different piercings. I have several (most under my clothes) and the reasons for getting them are as individual as the people who have them.

    For me, it was (and is? I've not had a new hole in awhile) a way of experiencing the physical and owning my body. It's not for everyone but I love mine, and at 36 they're not going anywhere!

  4. and at 36 they're not going anywhere!This is another thing I like about getting a piercing: it's actually an affirmation of the future more so than an attempt to recapture a lost past ("feel young again") because the piercing is something that you will grow old with.


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