Compass Points

As I mentioned last week turning 40 might have been affecting my brain a little. Nothing too terrible, but some general malaise and discontent with where I am in life, you know. Nothing terrible, actually I think it is in someway just another thing they don’t prepare you for in graduate school. How, even if you get a job, it can take so long to get your life on track. For the last few months, however, I have been a little more willing to take risks and make changes, which was clearly illustrated in my last hair cut. In about an hour I went from this:

to this:

Keep in mind my hair hasn’t been shorter than my chin since 5th grade, when I tried an ill advised Dorothy Hamill wedge cut. The other thing to understand about this hair choice is that, for me, it was an incredibly fast decision. Normally, making a decision about my hair takes months. I took about a week to decide to go for this cut.

Which leads me to the next part of whatever mid-life crisis I’ve been having. For many people, the DH include and you dear readers, this one masquerades as a quick decision, because once I started talking about it I got it done. Last week was probably the first time I talked about getting a tattoo, but actually I have been thinking about this for a couple of years now. I have had the basic idea and image on my iPad for over a year. In fact when I went to the IWCA conference in San Diego last fall, I got a henna tattoo of the same general design in the same location to test it out.

After graduation I was very tempted to act on this decision, but life just kept getting in the way. With my birthday approaching, this really just felt like the right time. A way to commemorate, not one but two milestones — finishing the PhD and turning 40.

So, I began yesterday with an arm that looked like this.


And after waiting two hours at the tattoo shop, which was interesting to say the least, my arm looked like this:


The most descriptive thing I can think to say about the tattoo shop is that it was a decidedly masculine environment. I’m pretty sure your imagination can take it from there. In the end though, the wait wasn’t that bad, and I am happy to say that I tolerated my tattoo experience better than the young kid in front of me. The most disturbing thing to me was the 20-25 year old kid working the front counter that kept calling me sweetie. As much as I might not be in love with being called “Ma’am” most of the time these days, the sweetie from a much younger man is definitely not preferable.

And this morning after the swelling went down some, my arm looks like this:


Many people have already asked what the alternate letters mean. The thing is, I chose those letters in part because they can stand for any number of things. There are so many people in my life who’s name start with, or contain B’s that it seemed a natural element for the North point of my compass. At this point in my life however, it also serves to remind me of the importance of being my own North, my own guiding point on the compass.

For me, there was never any other choice but to put an H in the NW spot, because the more and longer I live elsewhere, the more deeply I know that the Pacific Northwest is my home. The DH spent some time this week probing and questioning me about my letter choices, which I was a little grumpy about at the time. In the long run, however, it was nice because it made me consider all the other “H” words that inform both my work and myself: hospitality, host, hostess, hope, etc.

Part of the DH’s probing about the letters I would choose has to do with a distinctly Grabow quirk, which is that the family seems to have a genetic need/desire for symmetry. The Captain and my sister-in-law couldn’t even look at a house down the street as they passed it without being annoyed that a decorative window in the garage was not appropriately centered under the peak of the roof. When I showed the DH the compass I wanted to use for my tattoo he was concerned that if I replaced NW with just an H, then the other NE, SE, and SW would look unbalance because they had two letters instead of just one. Yep, these are the things the DH thinks about.

In the end though, it at least got me thinking about the other points of the compass. The only other point that I would want to replace with a letter is the SE, but I couldn’t think of a letter for that — S for stroke didn’t really make much sense and would just be confusing. G for graduate school, ummm … given my current feelings about it, the less said/thought about graduate school the better. I really didn’t want it carried around on my skin forever. PhD feels the same way — plus it would put me in the same letter symmetry quandry. The other night it came to me – V. V could stand for so many things; something cheesy like Victory for my recovery from the stroke and graduation from graduate school, something a little sardonic like the vissitude and vagaries of fate, or a word I had forgotten how much I love — verisimilitude.

Versimilitude, to me captures my current relationship with the SE. It is like home in that I have developed friends and family here both in graduate school, and in my current position, but it is not really home in the way that the Northwest is. So, V it is because it does mean everything I’ve just said, and is also undetermined enough to allow for change over time.

At at the tattoo shop last night I also solved the problem of letter symmetry by having them just leave out the NE and SW points of the compass, which I think was the best choice because it kept the tattoo relatively clean and simple. And who knows where I will end up next. Maybe I will have letters to add in the future. As Ouiser said when I texted her the pictures, “It’s all about direction, isn’t it.” It is, it is about remembering where you’ve been to guide you to the path to follow.

One Commentto Compass Points

  1. Alisha says:

    Happy belated birthday. The haircut is super cute.
    I still have three weeks to my 40th. Can’t say I’m looking forward to it.

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