Midlife Rebellion (or Why I Decided to Get a Tattoo)

Be warned: If you are young, hip and completely cool, look away. This is an old broad’s lament, with dated references and yesterday’s news, when twittering was something only birds did.

If I’m fortunate, I will be hitting an age that I’ve always thought of as the middle of one’s life. And I may be going off the deep end.

I was raised conservative, Christian and poor. I was raised to be neither seen nor heard, speaking only when spoken to and quieted with a smack across the head. Invisibility was key to surviving my childhood. I carried that skill far into adulthood, testing the waters occasionally outside the mainstream, only to rush back to the camouflage of mediocrity. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become restless and irritable. The status quo makes me nervous – is this it? Even in midlife, I’m a walking cliché.

What is mainstream now, statistically speaking, seems foreign and exotic to me, while other things are starting to repeat themselves. If you live long enough, that seems to happen more frequently. The “Soylent Green” of yesterday is now “The Hunger Games”. The churn is happening faster and faster. Vampires in movies and literature have been through at least three cycles in the last twenty years. Bell bottoms and polyester came back. Apparently bad taste has no decade.

I’ve gotten tired of keeping up and now understand why my grandpa continued to listen to big band music like it was the latest pop sensation. Information, music, trends, culture, politics, books – there’s so much of it and duplication is unavoidable, even if the players are younger. Then one day you read the news and you have no idea who the story is referring to or have never heard of someone just nominated for a Grammy. And it’s okay. I’m part of the “sandwich generation”- raising a young child and helping to take care of aging parents as well. Priorities have changed – I know more about geriatric issues and children’s books and less about American Idol winners.

This brings me around to how I’ve decided to celebrate my midlife urgency. It’s not a “crisis”, which seems like too much of a commitment. I’m exhausted. I really can’t afford to have a crisis. People are counting on me. My bucket list has, in many ways, been emptied. I was always a late bloomer and didn’t settle down until my early thirties, by which time I’d traveled, loved and lost, did my booze and drug experimentation, tried out hobbies and interests. There’s no regrets unresolved, no lost loves that didn’t deserve to be and no desire for death-defying stunts to make me feel alive.

Now this is where being hip, cool and “with it” will make this seem like nothing, no big deal at all. I’m getting a tattoo. Combine my age, my background and my fear of needles and this IS death-defying to me. I find myself trying to justify it to friends who could care less, confessing my plans to people who I know won’t approve, just to get disapproval out of the way. Like any properly trained adult, I did the research, got a recommendation to an artist, weighed the pros and cons and asked myself the hard questions.

It turns out, a lot of middle aged women are getting “inked” (I’m not hip enough to even pull off the terminology). One friend suggested it was a way for women to truly take ownership of themselves in a society that seems intent on telling them what do with their bodies. For me, it is a mark of departure from my first half of life, a mark of departure from where and who I’ve been. It’s a message to myself that moving forward, I am going to be braver and more daring in ways that I’ve only imagined. I won’t be particularly cool or hip, but in my mind, I feel like I did the very first time I got on a plane to go overseas. I was nervous with anticipation, but knew that I was about to embark on a wonderful journey. The journey thus far has been rocky and amazing. I’ve worked through pain, overcome obstacles, and learned to swim on my own. I’m ready for the deep end.

Update: It’s a done deal, folks. See Tattoo Accomplished: The Follow Up. Thanks for all the great comments!